We don’t use Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or “ball” ammo for defensive purposes, at least not in the civilian world. We use ammunition that is designed for personal defense, that is designed to expand to penetrate, but not over-penetrate. I think we can pretty much agree that modern defensive ammo, regardless of the manufacturer or the caliber, penetrates and expands like it’s supposed to. If you look at the data, as far as expansion and penetration go, there’s not a whole lot of difference between 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. For those of you who shoot .357 Sig or 10 mm, you’ve already got a winner, no matter what brand you use.
I’m interested in what would work best to stop a threat and I’ve seen plenty of evidence that just poking holes in somebody isn’t necessarily going to do it. When an aggressor is hopped up on drugs or adrenalin or just plain mean, poking holes in them may not stop them, at least not for a while. What will go a long way in stopping an aggressor is hitting them really, really hard. Think about a boxing match as an analogy. When boxers hit each other, there are jabs and punches. Jabs wear a person down over time, but a punch, a really powerful roundhouse punch, will quite often knock a guy down. I want my bullets to knock an aggressor down if I’m fighting for my life.
The way we measure the energy produced by a bullet when it hits a target is in foot/pounds (ft./lbs.) This measurement comes from a formula that measures the weight of the projectile or bullet and how fast it is traveling. The weight is measured in grams and the speed is measured in feet per second. You can look the formula up on the Internet if you’re interested in the math, but you can also look up the ft./lbs. of energy for most modern cartridges in the ballistics tables provided by the manufacturers. They typically give a value for at the muzzle, at 50 yards and 100 yards. Since most of the situations we as defensive shooters might encounter will be at 9-10 feet or less, it’s realistic to use the energy at the muzzle as a comparison.
I recently went through an exercise that would enable me to recommend some good ammo choices to the students in my Advanced Concealed Carry classes. Using the manufacturers’ data I ranked the top 5 ammo types I could find for .380, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP calibers. The first thing I noticed in this comparison is that the best you can find in .380 ammo only produces around 200 ft./lbs. of energy. You can get that with Hornady Critical Defense or Hornady American Gunner, Fiocchi Extrema, Federal Premium HST, Remington Ultra Defense or Winchester PDX-1. Speer Gold Dot comes close at 196 ft./lbs. News flash: 200 ft./lbs. of energy isn’t enough. My target is 400 ft./lbs. Is that arbitrary? To a degree maybe, but I’ve studied what happens to both man and animals when you don’t have enough knock-down power, even talking with a number of people who have actually been shot. I think that 400 ft./lbs. is a reasonable target. Would 380 ft./lbs. do the job? I wouldn’t feel really under-armed with something in that range, but with only 200 ft./lbs. of energy to put on a mean/aggressive target, I’d really feel unprepared, especially if I only had 5 or 6 rounds.
Okay, so if you’ve got a 9mm handgun, and you want 400 ft./lbs. of energy to put on target, what would do the job? Fiocchi Extrema 115 grain will do it at 400 ft./lbs. and Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P will do it at 410 ft./lbs. Winchester PD-X1 124 grain +P and Winchester Silvertip 115 grain come in just under 400 ft./lbs. My old favorite Hornady Critical Defense doesn’t do the job at only 332 ft./lbs. but their new American Gunner ammo comes in at 396 ft./lbs. but again you have to shoot 124 grain +P to get that kind of energy. Most of the other 9mm rounds come in around 330-350 ft./lbs. I’m a little disappointed that it seems you have to shoot +P ammo in several brands to get the needed stopping power.
Looking at .40 S&W, you’ve got more choices: Remington High Terminal Performance 155 grain is way up there at 499 ft./lbs. followed closely by four other cartridges all in the 480-485 range. They are: Fiocchi Extrema 155 grain, Remington Ultimate Defense 180 grain, Remington Golden Saber 165 grain and Speer Gold Dot 165 grain.
The best performing .45 ACP cartridge I found among the standard brands was Remington Golden Saber 185 grain +P at 534 ft./lbs. Speer Gold Dot 200+P follows closely at 518 ft./lbs. Remington Ultimate Defense 165 grain hits a 476 ft./lbs., and Hornady Critical Duty pounds at 464 ft./lbs.
This study has changed my outlook on the ammunition I’ll be buying in the future. I’ve been a fan of Hornady Critical Defense because of it’s flex-tip technology that allows for penetration of heavy clothing without clogging a hollow point that would prevent expansion and because it is a clean-shooting ammo without a lot muzzle flash. But, it’s not measuring up there in energy on target. One of my instructors has been touting Fiocchi ammunition for the past couple of years and now I understand why. I’ve always liked Remington Golden Saber. It appears they’re packaging it under a couple of different names, and they all perform well. Speer Gold Dot has been at the top of the charts for takedown performance in actual law enforcement shootings for years and it does well in this study, too. Hopefully, this article has given you some things to think about when picking both the caliber and the brand for your personal protection ammunition.