Reload Image

I try to maintain a pretty steady training regimen as far as my shooting goes. I adjust my drills and use a variety of different methods to keep in shooting shape.

One thing I have noticed is that occasionally, I forget to reload my everyday-carry ammunition back into my magazines. Having separate magazines used to be my answer to that, but I find I need to use the magazines I am going to carry as much as I need to use the gun I am going to carry. I don’t want to find out at an inopportune moment that my magazine is not feeding rounds into the chamber.

Is There A Difference?

At this point, some of you might be asking, “What’s the difference? Can’t all bullets stop an assailant?”

They can, but it’s the number of bullets it takes to stop an attacker that is the concern. There is a significant difference in the terminal performance of standard training ammunition and specifically manufactured defensive ammunition.

Training ammunition, generally FMJ (full metal jacket) or “ball” ammo, is general-purpose ammo. It’s inexpensive (relatively speaking), and it’s mediocre as a self-defense ammo. Ammunition made for defensive use is engineered to create as much internal damage as possible, which will stop the threat sooner. It’s also more expensive.

Exit wound from a Winchester .45 ACP 230-grain Round Nose—standard training ammunition

Cost Difference

Cost is usually a big factor in the amount of training that someone might do when it comes to shooting. For standard 9mm training ammunition, you might pay between 22 to 32 cents per round, as opposed to $1.50 for a single defensive round. When looking at that and an average training session involving 150 to 200 rounds, the difference is not negligible.

Be Confident In Your Chosen Ammunition

Don’t get me wrong—you still need to conduct some of your training with your defensive ammunition, just not at every training session. My usual recommendation to my students is to shoot several boxes when you first get defensive ammunition to see how it shoots and feeds in your gun.

One of my students recently bought some defensive ammunition with an overall length that put the bullet so far in the barrel of his semiauto when feeding, he could not pull back the slide; the round was lodged tightly into the lands and grooves of the barrel. Because of that, he was concerned about shooting the weapon. It took some considerable force to dislodge it. That can also create some feeding problems with semiautos.

Ammunition Expiration Date

You should also occasionally cycle through your defensive ammo. I usually shoot what I have in my carry magazines about every six to eight months. Modern ammo is manufactured pretty well, so I don’t worry as much about moisture seeping into the powder … but better safe than sorry.

Another concern is that if you live in areas of constantly changing climate, there are factors to be concerned about. Those who live near coastal regions need to think about rust or corrosion—not only of the gun, but the ammo, as well. Northern climates need to consider the constant freezing/unfreezing of ammo and how that could affect ammunition (condensation), especially during the early spring and late fall, when freezing/ unfreezing happens almost daily.

If you carry every day and are in and out of buildings, that change in temperature can cause moisture to build on metal things (condensation), which is never good.

This is what is left of the watermelon after being hit with a Federal HST JHP.45 ACP 230-grain Self Defense bullet.

Gauging Performance

You can see where all this shooting of defensive ammo can get quite expensive, so it’s tempting to just carry standard ball ammunition.

The simple answer is performance. Your defensive ammunition needs to have stopping power, or what is commonly called “energy transfer.” The idea is to create enough initial trauma in your attacker to either substantially slow them down and give you time to get away or completely stop them in their tracks.

FMJ rounds can cause your assailant to eventually bleed out, but that might still enable them to continue their attack on you or your loved ones. FBI testing requires that “a handgun bullet must consistently penetrate a minimum of 12 inches of tissue in order to reliably penetrate vital organs within the human target, regardless of the angle of impact or intervening obstacles, such as arms, clothing, glass, etc. Penetration of 18 inches is even better.”

With that being said, in order to give the bullet a greater chance of being effective, it needs to either be bigger—or get bigger—as it penetrates. That is one of the benefits of using ammunition that will expand. The other advantage is that for the most part, it will start to dissipate energy quicker as it works its way through a target. That can mean you are less likely to hit something behind your target.

Shown here: examples of different bullets after being fired into 2½ feet of water. Both the 9mm and .45 ACP completely penetrated the 2½ feet of water with no noticeable distortion of the bullet. Overpenetration could be a danger for anything beyond your intended target.

Training And Experimentation

In the end, all bullets can provide you with protection in the form of defensive ammunition. However, many factors also come into play: Marksmanship, distance from the target, amount of clothing or other protection your assailant might have on, obstacles and many other variables.

A .22 with training ammo can still stop your attacker, but extreme accuracy and volume of bullets will be required. In that same sense, 10 misses with a .45 ACP—whether its 230-grain RN or 230-grain HST—won’t stop anyone.

Experimentation and practice, lots of practice, are what will be the difference between being a victim and going home to your family.

about the author

Brian Berry is a retired Army Special Forces Command sergeant major. He is a former Special Forces Weapons sergeant and has multiple combat tours under his belt. Brian is the co-founder of Spartan Defensive Concepts, at which he teaches concealed carry and defensive marksmanship courses. Brian retired in 2014 and is now a consultant currently working for the Special Operations community, as well as a senior instructor for American Survival Guide University.


Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.