Gallery: 5 Worthy Defensive Ammo Loads

Gallery: 5 Worthy Defensive Ammo Loads

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Here's a look at five defensive ammo and two practice loads for concealed carry handguns. After extensive testing and lots of range time with them all, I’d be confident carrying any of them.

Few things are argued about as vehemently as defensive handgun cartridges. Next on the debate list is probably what ammo to use in them. Options are endless, but in reality the choice is not all that complicated—so long as you understand you need two different loads and accept a few things as fact.

First, you need a carry load intended to maximize your chances at stopping a bad guy quickly. Second, you need a practice load so that you can maintain and improve your shooting skills. After that, you must accept the brutal truth that there is no magic bullet. Likewise, you must realize that shot placement and your ability to manipulate and run your gun will have a larger impact on your survival than which loads you choose.

This column appears in the 2015 Concealed Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to download the full issue.
This article appeared in the 2015 Concealed Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to download the full issue.

With carry ammo, the primary consideration is reliability. Carry loads should be 100-percent reliable, and you should ascertain and continually monitor this. The only way to establish reliability is to select a load and try it. If you can push 50 to 100 rounds through your handgun without a stoppage, you should feel reasonably confident in that load’s compatibility with your handgun. Once each year when you rotate out old carry loads for new, continue with your reliability evaluation. You do rotate out carry ammo annually, don’t you?

With practice ammo, reliability is important, but a stoppage here and there is not disqualifying. After all, it gives you an opportunity to apply and practice immediate action, something you may have to do in a fight. The two primary concerns with practice ammo are that it’s affordable and shoots to the same point of impact as your carry loads.

As for terminal performance, or the ability of a bullet to stop a bad guy, most carry loads using conventional bullets perform very similarly. Avoid the latest hybrid bullets claiming instant incapacitation and ultra-high velocities. Not only do they go against the accepted model of balancing expansion and penetration, they are largely unproven. Additionally, don’t get caught up in the notion you need the hardest hitting +P load out there. With more power comes more recoil, and if you cannot manage your handgun, you will not make the desired hits.

More from Richard Mann:

Handgun Training for Personal ProtectionHandgun Training for Personal Protection
Handgun Training for Personal Protection teaches you the skills necessary for optimal handgun performance. With an all new approach, this book outlines the different handgun accessories & personal protection equipment needed to survive. Different lights and lasers for handguns are thoroughly explained in this must-have book. Get it here


  1. Good points in the article about 100% reliability. I have a Taurus 24/7 9mm that just will not feed hollow points, and a 1911 that will not feed HTP. You really do have to bite the cost bullet, so to speak, and send a box of your favorite defensive loads downrange in your carry gun to be sure they will not let you down with the need is high.

    But, speaking of HTP, they are not on here (and not every round can be) but they are my preferred round for my XD .45 and Glock 21. Of course, a Glock will pretty much run anything, and the XD isn’t far behind.


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