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Best Self-Defense Ammunition (Hollow Points)

P365 With SIG 365 V-Crown Ammo

We talk a lot about ammunition on our website, but I'm not sure we've ever really discussed what I'd consider to be the best self-defense rounds out on the market, right now.

The main issue we see is that because ammo is marketed as “hollow point” or “self-defense” ammunition, people believe that it's the best thing to have. The sad reality is that some of the available hollow points are only marginally better than your average ball ammo is, as they don't expand consistently, or don't expand at all.

If you are going to spend a premium for hollow point ammo, it better work as intended. Otherwise, what's the point? Before we get to my list of trusted self-defense hollow points that I USE myself after years of research and my own testing (as well as some of Riley's), let's go over what your self-defense ammo needs to have.

The first trait is reliability. You want your ammunition to do a couple of different things reliably. The first thing you need is for it to feed reliably in your firearm. Your gun won't do you much good if it doesn't go bang each time you press the trigger.

Therefore, we always recommend that you shoot some of your chosen self-defense ammunition in your chosen self-defense gun. This gives you confidence that, should you need to use your gun to defend life, you'll actually be able to do so.

Also in terms of reliability, is that the bullet needs to expand about the same with each shot. Now, not everyone will be able to shoot rounds into ballistic gel, and that's where you take the word of people who have, like us, or this trusty source.

We all have ammo that we like and trust for our personal defense, and here are my best self-defense ammunition brands I've chosen for three different calibers of gun I may find myself carrying or using for home defense:

Best .380 ACP Hollow Points–

The 380 guns in my house technically belong to my wife because the ones we own recoil lighter and are easier for her to shoot. The problem with pistols chambered in 380 ACP is that they can be finicky with the ammo they will reliably shoot.

Another issue is that, oftentimes, because they're lacking in velocity they often don't penetrate far enough to create the needed amount of damage to the body, or they don't expand reliably.

I've found a couple 380 rounds that will reliably penetrate to the 12″ FBI standard while also expanding properly. From there, I've narrowed it down further to one that feeds reliably in my 380 ACP guns.

Hornady 90 Grain Critical Defense

These Hornady 90 grain Critical Defense rounds feed in our little 380 ACP guns, expand appropriately, and travel consistently in gel to and sometimes slightly further than the 12″ mark.

I can't stress enough, make sure they feed in your carry gun because they can be finicky with the ammo they feed and just because these work in mine doesn't mean they'll work in yours.

Best 9mm Hollow Points–

It's much easier to find effective 9mm ammo than just about any other caliber out there. The main reason why is because the 9mm has seen a massive surge forward in popularity over the past several years. And, if the ammo makers want to stay competitive they must make good ammunition.

Sadly, not all hollow point ammo works the same, and I'm still picky here, though I do have two companies I trust more than the others.

SIG Sauer V-Crown

Sig's V-Crown ammunition is some of the most reliable ammo I've seen in terms of expansion. I'm not sure how they did it, but it expands very consistently. As an added bonus, it feeds fantastic in my smaller 9mm guns and I cannot recall a single malfunction I've had shooting this ammo in any of my guns.

Federal HST

I also really like the Federal HST rounds, especially in 124 grains, but any will do. My main problem here is availability. A lot of the time I find that I have to travel to a bigger sporting goods store or order online. They expand into what looks like little lead flowers, to, on average, a little less than twice their original diameter while retaining a lot of their weight.

The main issue with these, which may not be an issue for you depending on your outlook on life, is that HSTs sometimes travel past the FBI's recommended penetration requirements of 12-18 inches.

Federal HST are not to be confused with Hydra-Shok rounds that actually don't expand consistently. The main difference between the two is that the bullet designs are totally different. Hydra Shok, depending on the barrier (clothing, etc) they go through first, may not expand at all because the hollow point could get plugged up.

Best .40 S&W Hollow Points —

This is a recommendation from Matthew, who carried a Glock 27 for many years. This was added after original publication as an edit since I don't currently own a pistol chambered in .40 and didn't want to steer anyone in the wrong direction.

180 Grain Speer Gold Dots

Best .45 ACP Hollow Points–

The 45 caliber guns I tend to have generally tend to be in my home defense plan. Even if I don't carry these guns outside my home, I still need to make sure I've got some reliably feeding and expanding ammunition. I take my home defense strategy very seriously.

After all, I do spend a lot of time here, and so does my family.

Speer Gold Dot +P

I really like the Speer Gold Dot +P, 200 grain rounds. They expand reliably and penetrate consistently. Back when I carried an XD Mod.2 chambered in 45 ACP, these were my go-to self-defense rounds.

Hollow Point Conclusion:

A mistake many folks make is that they pay a premium dollar amount for hollow points thinking that, because they're hollow points they must expand and be better able to stop a threat. This is sadly not always the case because, frankly, some of them suck.

Because your life depends on this stuff, you should always choose the best ammo for you–especially when hollow points that actually do what they're supposed to do are about the same price as those which don't. 

We recommend shopping at Lucky Gunner or Ammo Supply Warehouse for all your ammo purchases.

As always, your thoughts on this topic are welcome in the comments below.

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30 Responses to Best Self-Defense Ammunition (Hollow Points)

  1. Tom Bennett AMSOIL JOBBER May 27, 2020 at 5:17 pm #

    Also check out ARX ammo.

  2. Josh May 27, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

    One recommendation I received in my concealed carry class was to ask what the local police department uses in your area. Should you ever be in a situation where you have to use lethal force, when you eventually go to court, and they ask what ammunition you use, you have a very reasonable response- in my local area it would be speer gold dots. what do you think?

  3. Les May 27, 2020 at 5:43 pm #

    I carry a 45ACP pistol. The Lucky Gunner ballistic test gives a lot of data about the many rounds they tested. The greatest expansion with the desirable penetration is the Winchester Ranger T LE. That’s what I carry.

  4. Brian May 27, 2020 at 6:02 pm #

    What do think of Hornaday Critical Duty 9mm hollow points with silica insert?

  5. Alan Serjeant May 27, 2020 at 6:32 pm #

    SIG Sauer V-Crown 9mm. 115 gr or 147 ?? Which is best and why.

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 8:26 am #

      Hey Alan,

      For me it comes down to personal preference and what’s going to cycle better in the gun I’m putting it in. After that, it’s important to know what the chosen gun is being used for. Does it need a slower moving bullet for some reason? If that’s the case, then the 147 may be the way to go.

      Thanks,

      Josh

  6. Ern Alcala May 27, 2020 at 8:40 pm #

    Have you tested any .40 cal hollow point. I carry Hornady every day.

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 7:51 am #

      Hey Ern, I have not. However, I would say that you’re likely OK with the Hornady hollow points. Alternatively I know the SIG V-Crown and the Federal HST should also do well in .40. I just don’t own a .40 cal right now. Maybe Matthew can chime in as I know he carried a Glock 27 for many years.

      Thanks,

      Josh

      • Tony June 3, 2020 at 10:20 pm #

        I would like to know your opinion on best hollow point for a 10mm.

    • exhack71 October 12, 2020 at 1:55 am #

      A few years ago, there was a ton of surplus Winchester PDX1 .40 180-grain JHPs out there. Its designator was Q4369 and it was a version of the PDX1 made for a Federal law enforcement agency, likely FBI. People who had used it gave it excellent reviews. (PDX1 is the grandson of the original “Black Talon.”)

  7. Dan Martin May 27, 2020 at 8:58 pm #

    In 380, my choice is Lehigh Defense Xtreme Defense. 15+ inches of penetration through 4 layers of denim with a substantial wound channel. Runs well in my finicky LCP II. The Lucky Gunner lab testing has me convinced that any hollow point is a questionable choice for 380 acp. Hornady XTP is a good one. And Vcrown Sig is too but their performance is far better in 9mm. If I’m cheaping out for the range, I like to use the Sig Elite Performance FMJ..

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 7:48 am #

      Hey Dan, that’s the key. You’ve gotta use what works in your chosen gun. I used to live really close to Lehigh Defense and they make great ammo. I had a friend who used to carry that stuff in his little Kahr CW 380 and never fired it. Then one day he did shoot it and it didn’t cycle properly. Those little 380s can sure be picky.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Josh

  8. L. Pickard May 27, 2020 at 9:05 pm #

    Looked up Sig v crown 9mm on both recommended sites an they had none listed. Can you recommend another reliable source

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 7:42 am #

      Sadly, that’s just the name of the game right now with the pandemic. A lot of people are out of stock on ammo. You can try a resource like Ammoseek.com to see if you can narrow it down that way. I also just checked PSA and it looks like they’ve got some currently in stock.

      Thanks,

      Josh

  9. James Ray May 27, 2020 at 9:23 pm #

    The critical part of all this is make sure your ammo will cycle reliably in your gun and you do the training necessary for correct mind set and proper skills..

  10. Robert Mullins May 28, 2020 at 5:03 am #

    Thank you for your study’s I always wondered witch ones reliably expanded ! Robert!

  11. David Bastianelli May 28, 2020 at 8:30 am #

    Hello .40S&W?

  12. Pete Quigley May 28, 2020 at 8:43 am #

    Josh, I think I’m offended. I didn’t see anything for .40 cal.I have a Rugar SR40c and would just be interested to know your choices.

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 8:51 am #

      Hey Pete,

      I didn’t mean to offend. I’m a firm believer in only giving advice on things I have experience on. Being that I don’t currently own a .40 S&W pistol, I didn’t feel confident in offering up any 40 options. That being said, I’ve seen the research on the HST and the V-Crowns and believe you’d do well with those. Maybe I’ll modify the article somehow to get Matthew’s input who carried a G27 in 40 for quite a few years to see what he suggests. That way I can cover all of my bases.

      Thanks,

      Josh

  13. Darryl M Bishop May 28, 2020 at 10:46 am #

    What do you recommend in .40 S&W?

  14. William Milot May 28, 2020 at 11:26 am #

    The Speer Gold Dot +P is a fantastic round for the Springfield XD I agree, but I have a Springfield 1911 Military & a WWII Remington Dade 1911 A1A that was manufactured in February of 1944 and was in WWII. My question is, can I use the Speer Dot Gold +P in my 1911’s as I’ve been told the +P ammo is too “Hot” for 1911’s. If they are I certainly don’t want to damage the Gun (especially the 1944 Remington Dade) trying to fire them and would like your opinion on what ammo will do the job well in regular .45 acp? I also would like your opinion on what ammo has the best knock down and terminal impact in .44 Special for my Charter Arms Bulldog Revolver (3″ barrel) that I carry every day? Due to the light weight and unbelievable accuracy of the little Bulldog my wife carries one also, but since it only holds 5 rounds I need 1 round stopping power. Any suggestions?

    • Joshua Gillem May 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm #

      Hey William,

      To be truthful, I don’t know if I’d be carrying a 1911 like yours just because they’re so collectible. If you ever needed to use it for self-defense you might find yourself getting it taken away for some period of time as “evidence,” potentially having to jump through hoops just to get it back. And, I’ve heard horror stories of some folks not getting their guns back after a DGU.

      Any modern day 1911 should be okay to run +P ammo, but I’d check your owner’s manual to be sure and if it doesn’t say, contacting the manufacturer can also be beneficial. I do believe that a modern 1911 should be fine for +P ammo, though.

      As for the 44 Spl., that’s not a round I regularly carry and don’t feel confident in any recommendations and would hate to steer you the wrong way, though I suspect that at some point I’ll be updating this list to include my revolver cartridges.

      I wish I could be more help.

      Thanks,

      Josh

  15. Richard Bilbrey May 28, 2020 at 1:36 pm #

    Nothing for the 38 special?

    • Joshua Gillem May 29, 2020 at 7:40 am #

      Hey Richard, not yet. I do carry a snubby revolver in 38 from time to time as well as a 357 magnum revolver for bear and bad guy when I hike the Blue Ridge Mountains so I’ll update this when I get the chance.

      Josh ~ Editor

  16. Alexander Martin Fernandez May 28, 2020 at 6:24 pm #

    I like your “Picks” , and I believe you’re SPOT-ON . Every choice , as you said , is a personal selection and should be tested in the gun of your choosing .
    I have had only great results with the Sig/Sauer line of ammunition . It’s ammo which seems to be produced with “Pride & Diligence” .
    And you’re “dead-on” with the Speer Gold Dot & Federal HST .

    Excellent Review !

  17. frankjbonazza3 May 31, 2020 at 10:16 am #

    Anyone have any recommendations for .357Sig ammo? I just picked up a 1’st gen M&P compact chambered in .357 Sig but have zero knowledge about the round. Thanks

  18. Jay May 31, 2020 at 6:29 pm #

    Please go to YouTube and lookup ammoquest and see the results from a comprehensive test of almost all 9mm hollow points with the FBI protocols for aamunition. Sig V Crown performed poorly where Federal HST and Speer Gold Dot performed the best. Selecting defensive ammo where you are responsible for each round you fire should not based on personal opinion, suposition or name recognition. Watch the test they spell it out for you clear as day.

  19. Arthur L. Brown Sr. June 1, 2020 at 12:25 am #

    I also use HST, but in the 147Gr. 9mm. I also practice with Fed American Eagle FMJ 147 Gr.Then follow up with a half mag or so of HST to make sure of differences of Point of Aim vs Point of Impact. My weapon is a 1911A2 MS Rock Island I also carry 2 extra Magazines on my belt.

  20. Joseph L. Sexton June 1, 2020 at 1:56 pm #

    My problem is which 380 to buy. I like the Sig’s but they are pretty expensive, then along came the SCCY’s but TRY to find a CPX 3 as in a 380, the company says any retailer but I’ve tried, always OUT. [email protected]

  21. ice June 1, 2020 at 6:30 pm #

    What states doesn’t allow hollow points?

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