What Defense Round Should I Carry?

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but hollow points expand on impact.” I teach this saying to every student.

There is a ton of stuff written about the testing of defense ammo and what works best. Many of the different studies try to compare the different rounds to identify the best defense rounds. Of course, some of them say to use X and some of them say to use Y. On a side note, NONE of the credible articles recommend using the stupid and worthless G2 Research RIP round.

I will take a shot (pun intended) to answer this question. The answer is, “It depends!”

The Goal

If, hopefully it does not happen, you must shoot to defend yourself or your loved ones, there are a few very important goals:

  • Achieving a Good Hit – You must hit a vital area that will result in the attacker(s) stopping the attack.
  • Deep Penetration – The bullet must penetrate any barriers between you and the target, and go deep enough into the attacker’s body to do the damage required to stop the attack.
  • Not Over Penetration – Yeah, I could have combined it with the one, above, but sometimes, it is important reinforce the concept of penetration. Over penetration is a huge concern. If the bullet passes through the attacker, and hits an innocent person, that is, potentially, worse that missing the attacker.

The Factors

I have given it a great deal of thought, and what I believe are the most important factors when it comes to the choice of defense rounds. I believe the following are the most important factors to consider:

Comfortable to Shoot – It is important that the round be something that you can shoot, comfortably, and accurately. Many people choose +P rounds to get the extra velocity, and the extra energy. However, with the extra energy comes the extra recoil and extra snappiness. Obviously, if you are under stress, it is not exactly in your best interest to use a round that does not react the same way as the rounds used when practicing.

Energy – The amount of energy is the one measurement that is easy to compare from one round to another, despite the caliber. 

Penetration – The FBI protocol calls for between 12-18” of penetration in 10% ballistics gel. The idea is that there is sufficient penetration to reach vital organs or the central nervous system, without over penetrating. Many of the different tests used try to measure common barriers like heavy clothing and glass. Some bullets can become clogged with heavy clothing which can prevent their expansion.

Stopping Power – There really isn’t any such thing as stopping power, however, it is a common term. What is really measured is the transfer of energy from the bullet to the target, which is often achieved through expansion of the bullet once it hits the target’s flesh. The material of the bullet is a significant factor in the expansion of the bullet, and the transfer of energy. For example, an all lead bullet will expand, quickly, and may not achieve the necessary penetration, while a full metal jacket (FMJ) will not expand and not transfer energy. The FMJ will most likely over penetrate the target. The preferred bullet is a jacketed hollow point (JHP).

Weight Retention – The bullet must retain its weight, and not shed the jacket which will result in poor penetration.

Wound Cavity – The energy, the expansion, penetration, and weight retention of the bullet all contribute to the size of the wound cavity. A larger wound cavity will cause more damage to vital organs and the central nervous system. The greater the wound, the more likely the attacker will be stopped.

Barrel– The type and length of the barrel of the gun that you have chosen will also have an impact on the type of ammo that works best. The FBI tests were performed using full sized service guns, not subcompact and compact guns.


I highly recommend that everyone visits the Lucky Gunner Labs site. It is an excellent source for researching the different rounds available.

Personally, I have found that the go-to defense ammo choices for 9mm include the following, but you may find different top contenders for .40 and .45 caliber:

  • Federal HST 147 or 150 grain – These are generally acknowledged as the top choice.


  • Banes TAC-XPD 115 grain
  • Corbon 115 grain
  • Magtech Guardian Gold 115 grain
  • Remington Golden Saber 124 or 147 grain
  • Sig Sauer V-Crown 124 grain
  • Speer Gold Dot 124 and 147 grain
  • Winchester Ranger T-Series 147 grain

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