7 Top Choices in Self-Defense Ammunition

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Nosler Defense is some of the newest self-defense ammunition available. The Bonded Performance bullets feature a tapered jacket and lead alloy that assures penetration and expansion.
Nosler Defense is some of the newest self-defense ammunition available. The Bonded Performance bullets feature a tapered jacket and lead alloy that assures penetration and expansion.

Gunfights aren’t won just because somebody can clear leather faster or because the sun gets in the bad guy’s eyes. Nor are they won simply with tactics. There is another factor that may be the most important: ammunition. Experienced handgunners and personal protection experts stress that one should never skimp on his or her self-defense ammunition choices when their lives may depend upon a bullet’s ability to stop an attacker.

Nosler

Perhaps the newest entry in this technology race is Nosler, now producing a line of ammunition called Nosler Defense. The inaugural entries include two loads apiece in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The 9mm selections are both loaded to +P levels, one with a 124-grain Bonded Tipped projectile and the other with a Bonded jacketed hollowpoint. The .40 S&W loads both feature 200-grainers, also in the Bonded Tipped and Bonded JHP, and in .45 ACP, both loads are also +P rated and the bullets weigh 230 grains.

Barnes

Another new entry in the defensive ammunition community is TAC-XPD Defense ammunition from Barnes, another renowned bullet maker now expanding into the ammunition market. Every load in the series is topped with the Barnes TAC-XP bullet, and there are offerings in .380 ACP with an 80-grain pill, a 9mm pushing a 115-grain bullet loaded to +P velocity, a .40 S&W featuring a 140-grainer and a .45 ACP, also loaded to the +P level with a 185-grain bullet.

Winchester

Winchester’s PDX1 Defender offers excellent expansion and is available in a number of popular calibers.
Winchester’s PDX1 Defender offers excellent expansion and is available in a number of popular calibers.

Winchester’s PDX1 Defender selection of handgun ammunition delivers the goods in calibers ranging from .380 ACP to .45 Colt, and there are selections in .357 SIG and .357 Magnum. In addition, Winchester’s PDX1 family includes a couple of .410-bore loads for handguns in the Taurus Judge and Smith & Wesson Governor families. There’s a 2 ½-inch round with a trio of copper-plated “Defense Discs” and a dozen copper-plated BBs. At close range, this is a nasty combination, but even more so is the 3-inch round that has four of those discs and 16 plated BB-sized shot.

Remington

Remington came up with a nifty combo package this year for these popular .410 revolvers. It’s the “Ultimate Defense Combo Pack,” and it holds 10 .45 Colt cartridges and 10 2 ½-inch .410 shotshells. Available in either a clam pack or box. The .45 Colt cartridges are loaded with Remington’s superb Golden Saber 230-grain hollowpoints and the .410 shells hold four 000 buckshot pellets. I’ve used Golden Saber ammunition in .45 ACP and .40 S&W over the years in various tests and for the street, and it’s also available in .380 ACP, 9mm, .357 Magnum and .38 Special +P.

Federal

Practice makes perfect, or at least pretty good, and Federal has a combo pack as well featuring 100 rounds of practice ammunition loaded with FMJ bullets and 20 rounds of Premium Personal Defense rounds topped by federal Hydra-Shoks. The bullets in all calibers—9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP—are all the same weight.

A fourth combo pack holds 50 rounds of .45 Colt loaded with 225-grain jacketed soft-points and 20 rounds of 2 ½-inch .410 shells loaded with four 000 buckshot pellets. For home defense, Federal has a round called the Guard Dog, and it’s got a bite. The bullet can fool you because it looks like an FMJ, but it’s skived on the inside of the jacket and it has a polymer front end in the core so when it hits, the jacket opens up on the sides and the bullet actually expands. Guard Dog loads are available in .45 ACP (165 grains), .40 S&W (135 grains) and 9mm (105 grains).

Gold Dot

I’d be remiss without mentioning the line of Gold Dot ammunition from Speer. Available in several calibers for both revolvers and semi-autos, they’re loaded with Gold Dot bullets, which have a good track record for expansion and stopping power. They are the choice of various law enforcement agencies and for good reason: They work. The alloy core is bonded to the jacket, which is designed to expand along “memory lines” that start at the mouth of the hollowpoint cavity where the lead is exposed between sections of the jacket.

CorBon

CorBon has developed ammunition that really cooks, including the .25 NAA and .32 NAA that add a sizzle to the .25- and .32-caliber bullets. The CorBon Self-Defense JHP family has loads ranging from .25 NAA to .357 Magnum. Utilizing these lighter-weight hollowpoints, CorBon produces good velocities and delivers solid downrange energy.

CorBon's high velocity gives the rounds solid downrange energy.
CorBon's high velocity gives the rounds solid downrange energy.

Ditto for the CorBon DPX line of defense ammunition. Utilizing all-copper hollowpoints, these loads are simply awesome. CorBon reports that some bullets recovered from various testing media have expanded 150 to 200 percent of their original diameter while retaining 100 percent of their weight.

What got my attention with DPX is that CorBon loads this stuff for virtually every handgun caliber on the map, from .32 ACP all the way up to .500 S&W, with a variety of bullet weights. You’ll even find a .45 Auto Rim in there for anybody who defends his home with an old 1917 S&W or Colt double-action.

A few years ago, CorBon added the Glaser Safety Slug ammunition to its line. Glasers have become legendary for their concept and performance. These things are devastating, with a bullet design featuring a copper jacket filled with a compressed load of lead shot, either No. 6 or smaller No. 12, topped by a polymer tip that serves a couple of purposes.

It is round, to enable feeding in a semi-auto and to insure penetration, and it also pushes back into the projectile upon impact to open up the jacket and allow that lead shot to do its job,

No matter which ammunition one chooses, if it works, stick with it. Try different brands at the range to see what performs best in your personal defense pistol or revolver. Not all guns perform the same with a particular brand or type of ammunition, which is why there is more than one line from which to choose.

This article appeared in the April 8, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. I have both 45 Govt and Officers’ Model. Is there any difference between the Win Ranger series and the PDX1’s? I’m seeing Rangers less and less. In he shorter barrel the Corbon/Glaser Safety Slug Silver. The PD stuff does it’s expansion when it contacts fluid. Otherwise it acts like std FMJ. It will plow through just about anything. Now the Glaser Safety Slug is something totally different. If it hits anything harder than itself, it “frangibles”. But if it hits flesh, it allegedly makes a real mess. I am waiting to do a wet-pac so I can see how big a mess it makes.

  2. I would be interested in what ammo would be suggested for someone full timing in an RV(32ft class A) The walls are thin with little resistance to a round. I traded my 12ga for a 410 because I felt a 12ga was way to much power. My loads for the .410 are #3 shot. Someone could stand outside and shot through the walls almost anywhere as there a few items that will stop a bullet. My defensive handgun is a .40s&w. My wife and I have practiced where to go if such an even occurs and I never stand in front of the door when someone knocks as they would then know where I am. Any suggestions are appreciated and will be considered as every bullet fired as a lawsuit attached.

  3. I particularly like the FTX and Flexlock lines and the Leverevolution line in revolvers. Their Custom XTP’s are nice too. Some of my favorite loads include: the 200g 45+p XTP, 155g 40S&W XTP, 200g 460 FTX, 175g Critical Duty 40S&W. I’ve never had any issues with Hornady self defense ammo in any handgun, even short barreled guns, including 1911’s. They may not be the best of the best in ballistics in all calibers, but they hold their own and are the best priced.

  4. Any ammo that has a heavy enough bullet at a slow enough velocity so that it will not shoot through the ‘assailant’ is a good defensive round. Remember that hollow point and soft point ammo cal and will go through walls, soors, and people.**
    .45 is better than .40, which is about equivalent to .357 SIG, .38 SUPER and just beats the .38 SPL, all of which are better than 9mm Luger, which outperformes .380 ACP and anything smaller.
    The one oddity is the .22 MAGNUM,, which can inflict nearly as much damage as a .38 Spl 158 gr bullet, out to about 8 feet or so.
    The important thing is that the round sould not be able to easily pass through the bad guy, because it can wound or kill an annocent person downrange.
    For that very reason I carry only Glaser Safety Slugs for defensive use, and have since the early 80s’.
    Glaser is effectively a shot capsule which ruptures upon impact, releasing the shot, which absolutely destroys tissue and leaves nothing to repair- if the guy lives lng enough to ge to a hospital.
    ** Don’t trust ‘gelatin block’ test examples untill they put bone- and differing density strata- into the gel block: I have never seen a human who is as soft and easily penetrated as gelatin!!! Plus, gelatin NEVER takes into account “Big Boys”, clothing, which can be thick and heavy with winter coming on… ot body armour.
    But a heavy enough bullet can knock a ‘Big Boy’ off his feet, and give you those few desperate seconds of advantage to end the threat.

    • I suspect I’ve read dozens of articles and reports on ballistics and imagine the author of this article has read 100’s or 1000’s of them. The knock people off their feet notion, seems to be just that in most instances. Not to say it is impossible, but it is not the norm when using the typically carried handgun ammunition (45, 40, 9, 357/38, 380). I imagine if you catch someone off guard, hit them in the exact right location, they may fall back or down, but as stated at the beginning, odds are it will not be that way with a handgun. Gelatin tests were created to compare all cartridges on the most equal platform possible. Variables can be added, such as other materials placed in front of the block(s) to simulate walls, clothing etc.. I guess you could say, under perfect conditions, this is how your ammunition will perform. Now you as an individual need to determine, what makes you feel comfortable?

    • I always shoot Hornady Custom 90Gr. XTP in my .380 and I have nothing but good things to say about it. Feeds smooth, has plenty of knock down power, minimal recoil, and accurate. I have also personally fired them into ballistic gel and they are effective! I did a “worst case scenario” setup with 4 layers of Carhart jacket on top of a ballistic gel block and got 11 and 1/2 inches of penetration and a 3 inch cavity AFTER it went through 4 layers of Carhart. Bullet was pretty much intact and had flowered out exactly like it was supposed to. VERY good ammo.

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