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Personal Defense Ammunition


Personal defense ammunition is a very largely debated subject. There are many factors to consider when choosing a personal defense round. Let's say you live in a tightly knit neighborhood. The angel on one side of your shoulder says you could miss a shot, and send a stray round into an innocent house. The results could be terrible. Common sense says penetration is the key, and you must have penetration to strike a vital organ and incapacitate an attacker. Which is right? Penetration or safety? Frangible, hollow points, or full metal jacket? First thing is first, when choosing a defensive ammunition you must weigh your ability with your common sense.

Smith & Wesson 38 special imageWHAT ARE MY CHOICES

Lets start with frangible. Frangible ammo is ammunition that more or less explodes when it hits something. It is a really cool concept and is not a new idea. It has been a popular choice amongst some folks, and with all the hype of Disneyland one could easily choose frangible ammo as a home protection round. Hell some guys at the local gun store swear by it. It has good energy, claimed safety and a hefty price tag to reflect it. It is supposed to stop a bad guy yet disintegrate upon impact with a hard surface such as drywall. Wow, it sounds like some sort of miracle bullet. Smart choice right?

Not exactly. The hype and claims are not always entirely true. In tests frangible ammunition fails to penetrate deep enough to damage a vital organ or tissue. Usually only 4 to 6 inches in ballistic gelatin before disintegration. These high velocity light weight bullets do not penetrate as well as heavy slow ones and disintegrate much to fast. They certainly transfer energy well, (shoot a watermelon with one, great fun) and are capable of stunning an attacker, but fall short in the penetration area. (12 inches penetration in ballistic gelatin is the minimum required by FBI)

So it may not penetrate as well, but it safer since it will not go thru the wall and hit and innocent right? Hmm.. unfortunately this is another false claim. Take for example, the Glaser Safety Slug. It is a pre-fragmented bullet that even has the word "safety" in the name. Every test I have seen or performed show the exact opposite. When fired through drywall, the bullet fails to expand and behaves as a FMJ solid. The bullet actually goes right thru the drywall and because of failure to expand, actually penetrates substantially more. About 10 inches! The bullet does not explode when it hits the wall but rather malfunctions defeating the purpose it was created for. What is the benefit of this? We sacrifice adequate penetration for claimed safety? Do not buy into this claim, and do not sacrifice penetration for empty hype. If Glaser, Extreme Shock, Magsafe or any other company making these over priced watermelon exploders would like to prove me wrong in person, I will gladly say I was wrong, and would consider actually using frangible ammunition. Sorry guys, as much as I love Cor-Bon ammunition (they make Glaser Safety Slugs) I tell it like it is.

So if penetration is what we are after, wouldn't a maximum penetration Full Metal Jacket round be the best? Slow down buckaroo, the answer is not that simple and here is why. While a 158 grain lead semi wad cutter (better known as the FBI Load) or a Full Metal Jacket round may penetrate 18 to 28 inches thru four layers of denim and absolutely reach a vital organ, the bullet does not expand and therefore the energy is not completely transferred into the attacker. We have all heard stories about someone getting shot and they didn't even know they were hit? That would be a Full metal Jacket Round. It simply blazed right thru them. Moreover, upon exit this round still has plenty of energy and is by no means inert. This leaves a greater chance of sending a stray round into a son or daughters room even after hitting the target. So for me, this is not practical. The less chance I have of hitting an innocent person while still stopping an attack is a win! That is common sense that I can live with. I say these rounds are better spent at the range or on four leggers, not for personal defense.

Here is where I talk about the tried and true. The bullets you will actually find in a duty pistol. Hollow Points. Hollow Points are very effective for putting down and stopping attackers, and yes they penetrate plenty. (10 to 14 inches usually) They are made to expand and also transfer most if not all their energy into the attacker. This means if you hit your target, the bullet will penetrate, make a huge hole and the bullet should have already lost 95% or more of it's energy if it even exits the target. Hollows will also travel thru the wall or glass giving you the advantage of hitting an attacker hiding behind the shower door. However much like the Glaser Safety Slug, hollow points can become clogged with drywall, and fail to expand. There are some new variations of hollow points that claim otherwise, but I have not tested for myself so I will not comment on that matter yet.

Here is the bottom line and where research of application comes in. The best defense bullet is one that penetrates at least 12 inches while expanding as much as possible. The idea is to transfer the most amount of energy into the attacker with the greatest effectiveness, and least amount of liability. Velocity has something to do with it as we want to obtain the 12 inch mark however, a slower heavy bullet will penetrate just as well as a lighter +p round. A heavy bullet retains more inertia after impact allowing it to penetrate deeper. Lightweight +P rounds are typically not necessary unless you are using a snub nose or the barrel length is less than 3.5".

If you have a revolver it is simple, pick any premium round in your caliber with a proven record. Revolvers will digest about anything with gun powder in it. Semi-autos are a bit more finicky. Every semi-auto has a different ammo it absolutely loves to feed, and some it does not. Try a few brands and choose the one that feeds the most reliably for you. The experienced shooter says, "Run at least 150-200 rounds of your selected defensive ammo thru your firearm. If it goes off without a hitch, then and only then can you call it your defensive load". This is costly yes, as most decent hollow points are, but what is your life worth? Try to find ammo that has a low muzzle flash and preferably not +P rounds if you have a barrel larger than 3.75". A heaver bullet will do the same damage with less recoil and muzzle flash. In a dark room, a large muzzle flash from a +P round will temporarily blind you, making it impossible for follow up shots.

Regardless of what personal defense ammo you choose, be smart. Keep in mind, placement is key. No matter what the caliber you must to be able to place the shot and in a hurry, so practice, practice. My advice is for the sole purpose of educating others. I have weighed my education and common sense with my own ability and research. I urge everyone to do the same and you can draw your own conclusions. Perhaps when properly educated you can enlighten us as well. A gun is a tool that we must learn to use properly. Safety and education is your responsibility as a gun owner, and that is common sense everyone must apply.

- Jeff | ballistics101


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