Gun Skills | Choosing the Right Defensive Ammo

posted on May 4, 2024
Defensive Ammo

Defending your life presents the gravest of situations—one in which you must come out on top. Much thought, planning and research goes into most people’s decisions regarding which firearm and accessories they want to carry. Holsters, sights, lights and so on are all dwelled upon to make sure the carry setup suits them and their style. But, if you’re facing a determined attacker, the projectile is the part of the equation that actually ends the threat. Everything else is a means of delivering that projectile. Thus, the ammunition chosen must be utterly reliable. Now, for newer gun owners particularly, the dizzying array of options may be intimidating. Confusion isn’t limited to the new, though; I’ve seen fancy and well-thought-out defensive rigs fed by some of the worst ammunition available.

So, what should a person look for in their ammunition? The most-important considerations are accuracy and reliability, of course, but what bullet type and weight should you use? What caliber? What if you prefer rifles or shotguns? Let’s examine the various parameters that go into defensive ammunition, and how to make the most of your firearm and the time you’ve spent training with it.

First, let’s address accuracy and reliability—we’ll address other considerations in later issues of this magazine.

Accuracy and Reliability
Many handgun ammunition choices are notionally good for defense, but you must test for accuracy and ensure your chosen ammo feeds properly in your gun. I’ve seen nearly every brand of semi-automatic firearm fail to feed or eject at least one brand of ammunition, and that could mean the difference between life and death. I like to put at least 100 rounds of any chosen ammunition through my gun to make sure it will chamber, feed and eject every time, whether fired slowly or in an erratic manner (simulating a stressful situation where the need is dire). Any misfires will quickly indicate that you need another choice; unless, of course, something is awry with the firearm.

The case’s material is one thing many people fail to consider when it comes to reliability. Do you carry every day? Does the constant handling of your brass cases result in tarnished ammo? I have severely acidic hands and can tarnish a brass case in no time, so nickel-plated ammunition makes sense for me. It prevents feeding issues in my 1911, and it surely aids in ejection when it comes to my S&W Model 36 snubnose. So, for me, nickel-plated cases matter. You won’t know if it matters for you unless you pay attention to how your brass is holding up. And, while it may seem to be a small point, when the game is for all the marbles, small points matter.

Now for accuracy. How does that brand of ammunition print on the target? Ammunition reviews are a great place to start, but they are only a report of that ammunition in one particular gun—this is not even necessarily true for others of the same model. Your ammunition must be tested in your gun, in your hands. First, we want to ascertain how the firearm performs with each brand of ammunition, not how well the shooter performs, so use a sandbag or other type of steady rest to get the most-consistent sight picture for each shot. You’ll often hear a statistic that most defensive situations happen within 7 yards, and, though that may not be exact, 7-10 yards is a good target distance. Take your time with each shot; focus on keeping all the shots within a group with a spread of two to three inches. If your handgun has fixed sights, you’ll want to pay attention as to where the bullets are printing in relationship to the point of aim—tight groups aren’t any good if they are too far from the point of aim. (If your gun has adjustable sights, they may be adjusted to shift the point of impact.)

In our next installment, we will look at the penetrative qualities of different projectiles, and how that matters to the defensive shooter.


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