We all search for the best ammunition, because it matters. But, as Inspector Callahan was wont to say: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” When it comes to stopping power and the “best” ammunition, the limiting factor is … us.
Oh, I can tell you what would be the best handgun load to use. It would be a bonded 180-grain bullet, in a cartridge from 10 mm up to .45 caliber, going at least 1,200 feet per second (f.p.s.). That load would put it to bad guys like there’s no tomorrow.
And the best handgun? Why, that would be a lightweight, compact, pistol that had a clean trigger, good sights and ergonomics with no sharp edges.
Alas, we can’t fit a full-house 10 mm cartridge, or anything like it, into a Springfield EMP (the first one to come to mind that is flat and light, with a clean trigger and good sights). And even if we could, you wouldn’t want to shoot it. Oh, trust me on this one. I know about the EMP (a grand little pistol by the way) and too-hot loads. I tested their .40 version (quick summary: Don’t) and was talking with Robbie Leatham about it. I mentioned I had tested it with the hottest .40 loads available, some ferocious 135-grain screamers. His reaction? “Those things hurt.” I agreed. When a couple of professional shooters find the recoil of a pistol/ammunition combination too much, you’d have to be daft to think you’ll handle it with “just a little practice.”
And that isn’t even our “perfect” stopper load.
If you tell me someone makes a .40 S&W load that puts a 180-grain bullet out of an EMP (or similar compact pistol) at 1,200 f.p.s., I’m not shooting it.
Now, change the EMP to an even smaller, lighter pistol, you know, the every-day-carry pistol or revolver that you use. Nobody would enjoy shooting that.
Can you get “the best-stopping handgun load” for your EDC? Probably. Would you want to shoot it? Probably not.
You are the limiting factor, because you (any of us) have an upper limit to recoil and controllability.
So, we have to change our focus. You know the old adage “You get what you pay for”? Well, it should come with its compliment: “You pay for what you get.” The more stopping power (however you want to measure that effect), the more you have to pay for it. So, be realistic. You cannot practice with vanilla-plain ammunition that offers moderate recoil, then load up with the hot defensive ammunition and expect good things.
This is a lesson learned by law enforcement a generation ago or so.
They had started to shift from using only .38 Spl. revolvers, to allowing or issuing .357 Mag. revolvers. The temptation to continue using .38 Spl. practice and qualification ammunition, and issue the magnums for duty, was strong. Departments could use the lower-cost ammo, gain the greater pass rates in qualifications, and all would have the higher confidence those scores generated. But the blast, flash and recoil of magnums, on the street, made all that good disappear.
And so it can be for you. All that practice with light-recoil ammunition will be tested hard enough under the stress of a real-life defensive encounter. Don’t add to it the surprise and extra burden of a new and higher level of recoil, blast and flash.
Select the recoil level you can handle for defense by testing in your practice sessions. Then carry a defensive ammunition that is that stout, and no more. The attraction of practice with “softy” ammunition and the reliance on the better-performing ammunition to save your bacon in real life is just asking for trouble. Trouble will find you easily enough, you don’t have to go asking for it.