At Freedom Outdoors, we get asked all the time: what is the best ammunition for self-defense? And while we would love to give a single, universal answer, the reality is a little more complicated than that. The best ammunition for any situation depends heavily on your firearm, circumstances, and preferences. You’ll need to weigh factors like muzzle velocity and energy, bullet weight, price, and brand credibility and functionality. But just because there isn’t one best type of ammunition doesn’t mean we don’t have a few favorites to share.
What to Look For
For defensive shooting, the preferred choice is always a jacketed hollow-point (JHP) bullet. Unlike the full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets commonly used for range shooting, JHP bullets are designed to expand inside a target and cause internal damage without going straight through and harming an innocent bystander. They are certainly more expensive, but since they aren’t used as commonly as target ammunition, spending a little more is common.
Gun carriers must research and test different bullets before deciding on one for the long haul. Manufacturers will provide metrics for you to view and compare, focusing specifically on reliability, expansion, and penetration. Will the cartridge reliably cycle through your firearm? Do studies show bullets consistently penetrating to between 12-18 inches? Are the bullets expanding consistently amongst various tests? Once you review the data and are sure the cartridge is compatible with your weapon, we recommend purchasing smaller packages to test before investing in a larger stockpile of ammunition.
Best 9mm Ammo
Our favorite 9mm ammunition is the Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115-Grain JHP. This 115-grain bullet features a brass casing and the patented Flex Tip technology found in all Critical Defense ammunition, which helps to eliminate the clogging and inconsistency often found in hollow point bullets. These bullets are loaded in nickel-plated cases with premium low-flash propellants for proven performance that won’t obstruct your vision. You can count on their reliable expansion and dependable terminal performance for concealed carry and self-defense.
These cartridges are trusted by law enforcement agencies and concealed carriers alike because of their accuracy and speed, allowing them to quickly handle a threat. Saving those precious seconds when stopping a target could save lives. Be aware that these bullets create a medium recoil that shouldn’t be overwhelming for experienced shooters but could be surprising to beginners. While Critical Defense cartridges do carry a higher price tag, it shouldn’t be a bullet you practice with every day so it may be more feasible to take on the extra cost.
Best .45 ACP Ammo
When it comes to .45 ammo, you can’t go wrong with Federal 45 ACP 210GR Hydra-Shok Deep JHP. These bullets feature a robust center post and core design ready to protect you and your family in self-defense positions. Federal designed Hydra-Shok Deep ammo specifically to pass the FBI’s optimum depth test of 14 to 16 inches, and they hit their goal with a 70-percent improvement over standard Hydra-Shok bullets. While this might not seem like an exciting number, the FBI has years of results showing this test proves effective in the field.
If you’re looking for a cartridge that is reliable in stressful situations, this is it. At $39.95 for a 20RD box, it certainly isn’t the cheapest on the market, but the old adage holds true, “You get what you pay for.” Serious quality comes along with Federal’s higher price. And while we do recommend practicing with defense ammo occasionally, you’ll use it on a much rarer occasion than cheaper target ammo. Invest in quality defense ammunition so your firearm won’t fail when you need it.
As with most decisions about your firearm, the best ammo for self-defense can be highly subjective. We recommend trying out the cartridges above and sampling others to see what fits your shooting style. When deciding what to try, consider price, stopping power, recoil, and your individual firearm.
For beginning and experienced shooters alike, price can be a serious concern. Don’t be afraid to set a budget for ammunition and stick to it; ammo can be one of the most expensive aspects of this often expensive hobby. When looking for your go-to cartridge, be aware that defense ammunition can lean on the more costly side, and when you’re training you may use a lot of it. To save some money, find rounds with similar ballistics that are cheaper and conserve the more expensive ammo for when you need it.
Stopping power and recoil are equally important and related to one another. Look for bullets with solid stopping power; if the round doesn’t quickly stop an assailant, they have extra time to harm you or those you love. The perhaps unfortunate reality is that with extra power comes extra recoil. Defense rounds commonly have increased recoil due to the need for extra power. Find something with a recoil that makes you comfortable; your gun is only helpful if you can fire it without causing injury to yourself.
Most importantly, consider yourself and your firearm. Each gun is unique and may work well with one cartridge and insufficiently with another. Certain brands might perform better, others may react poorly and create a jam. While you should train to clear a jam from your weapon quickly in case of an emergency, you should also do your best to avoid that situation. Testing different bullet types, weights, and brands will help you learn what cartridge allows you to be most accurate and cycles through your gun best. Once you find that perfect bullet, trust your results and stick with it.
We hope our suggestions help you on the road toward finding the perfect self-defense ammo. Don’t be afraid to try out different cartridges and ask knowledgeable friends or professionals for their advice. Ammo choice is always a polarizing subject, so be ready for an in-depth conversation with many voices chiming in. No matter what ammunition you choose, practice is key. Spend time at the range with your weapon to develop the skills and muscle memory you need for an active situation. Stay safe.