Selecting the ammunition you're trusting to perform should you even need to defend your life is an important decision. Because of that, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the many brands and lines of jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammunition. Here is my attempt to simplify the process for selecting self defense JHP ammunition, and a list of my top three defensive 9mm ammunition choices.
Hollow Point Ammunition is the Way —
Whether that be your everyday carry (EDC) 9mm, Sig Sauer P365, or a full size Glock 17 in a quick access handgun vault next to the bed, self defense ammunition should be what's in the chamber. However, if you're still not sold on why using hollow point ammunition is the way to go, here is one post that lays out the major reasons.
With any type of ammunition, there are lots of metrics to compare. However, for most citizen defenders, those every day carriers who aren't performing a law enforcement mission, there are really only three major criteria to consider. They are:
- Reliability — does the ammunition cycle reliably in your gun
- Penetration — does the projectile penetrate consistently between 12″ – 18″ in ballistic gelatin
- Expansion — does the projectile expand consistently in various tests
Once you've looked at the data on penetration and expansion and verified the particular cartridge works in your handgun, you can fill your mags and go on with your life. No matter what type of ammunition you carry, check its serviceability from time to time. The frequency will depend on how often you carry, and if you unload and chamber the same few rounds daily.
Top Three 9mm Self Defense Ammunition Choices —
The team at Luckygunner put together a great resource for anyone searching for self defense ammo. I have found no reason to question the data, so I use their results in all my ammunition research. I've also selected 9mm because it is probably the most commonly used handgun caliber.
Speer Gold Dot 115 grain 9mm JHP —
Professionals universally recognize Speer's Gold Dot line of ammunition as being both reliable and performing well. Many law enforcement agencies use Speer Gold Dot ammunition on duty.
I selected the 115 grain 9mm cartridge as one of the top three because it met my three criteria mentioned above. While I obviously haven't tested it in every handgun, I have tried it successfully in several of my own. The list includes several Glock models, Sig Sauer P320s and P365, and Archon handguns. This round has been around for quite some time, and has overwhelmingly positive reviews for functioning in a wide range of semi-autos.
In testing, the 115 grain projectile had a 5-shot median penetration depth of 16.6 inches. You can see the ballistic results in the photo below.
It is not uncommon for expansion to vary between projectiles of the same line. While some variation is expected, I look for a projectile that fully expands to a consistent size. In the same 5-shot testing, each projectile fully expanded as designed to a 0.54″ median diameter.
At an average price of around $1.15 per round, it's my first choice. I found it in stock on many online ammo dealers.
Sig Sauer V-Crown 124 grain 9mm JHP —
Most people probably recognize the name Sig Sauer as a firearm manufacturer. But the company also put together a great self defense round that performed exceptionally well even in semi-autos with shorter barrels like the Sig Sauer P365 and Glock 43.
I haven't used this round personally, but know several people who have and say it cycles great. Feedback from various sites also seems to back up the fact that this cartridge seems to work in many of the popular, modern 9mm semi-auto handguns.
As far as penetration goes, the 5-shot median depth came in at 17.8 inches. In the testing, two projectiles penetrated slightly beyond 18″ however, the median still falls within the 12″ – 18″ and the outliers wern't as excessive as other tested brands.
The projectile performed well in the expansion metric as well. The median 5-shot expansion measured infinitesimally smaller than the Speer Gold Dot at 0.51 inches. Still, each projectile expanded fully, which, in my estimation, is more important than looking at diameter alone.
This projectile comes in with an average price of $1.19 per round, and is still regularly available online.
Hornady Critical Defense 115gr FTX 9mm —
Hornady may not be your favorite ammunition manufacturer after the whole vaccine mandate debacle. Nevertheless, their Critical Defense TFX, 115 gr 9mm cartridge is a solid choice in terms of performance. I've shot this round through a Glock 19 without issues, and from my research on forums and such, it seems like it also functions in most of the popular modern semi-autos.
This round had a 5-shot average penetration of 13.3 inches. It is on the shallow end of the 12-18 inch spectrum. However, for the citizen defender, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The average penetration is within specs, consistent and acceptable. This round wouldn't be ideal for law enforcement, as their mission requires a round that can penetrate vehicle skin or glass but is perfectly appropriate for home or EDC use.
Expansion was also consistent across all rounds. This is the only round on the list with the conspicuous red polymer plug. This plug is supposed to keep the hollow point from clogging with material as it passes through clothing or other material. The idea is that a plugged hollow point can affect how the projectile expands. The 5-shot average expanded diameter was 0.504 inches, and there was little variation between projectiles, which could be attributed to its design.
Hornady's Critical Defense FTX 115 grain cartridge is very easy to come by, but is the most expensive on the list at $1.20 per round on average.
In Conclusion —
I'm quite positive I didn't include everyone's favorite 9mm self defense round. Here's the thing, I make no money if you buy any of these rounds or anything else for that matter. If you like the round you currently use in your EDC, fantastic. Provided you've research and like how the projectile performs ballistically, and it cycles in your gun, keep doing what you're doing.
It's important to understand that a certain line of self defense ammunition may perform great in one caliber, but not so great in another. So it's important to look at how the cartridge performs in the caliber you have. Also, cartridges perform differently based on the barrel length. It may not be a huge difference, but because carry gun barrels varies, when it comes to recommendations, I tend to go with something that performs consistently within specs, rather than something that performs great in a particular barrel length.
The advice I've given is strictly from my experience and an example of how I select a round for self defense. Your favorite round may not always be available or you may be looking to switch, so hopefully this information helps.
Thanks again to Luckygunner.com for the fantastic research.
What self defense ammunition and gun are you using for EDC? Let us know in the comments.