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