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Best Handgun Ammo for Self-Defense in Common Calibers

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Best Handgun Ammo for Self-Defense in Common Calibers

Old 12-14-2022, 09:25 PM
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Default Best Handgun Ammo for Self-Defense in Common Calibers

Choosing the best handgun ammo depends on the caliber youíre using and your circumstances.

I primarily use my handguns for personal defense and target shooting, so thatís what weíll focus on in this article.

The four most significant factors I focus on to determine the best are price, bullet weight, muzzle velocity, and muzzle energy.

However, there are other contributing factors, such as brand credibility and functionality.

Letís get started!

Best Handgun Ammo for Self-Defense

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115 Grain JHP


  • Bullet Weight: 115gr
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,140 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 332 ft-lbs


  • Trusted brand by law enforcement agencies
  • One of the best bullets for self-defense, no matter the caliber
  • Medium recoil
  • Fast and hard-hitting


  • Expensive
  • Some people find them a little too snappy

Why We Chose It

The Hornady Critical Defense rounds are one of the most loved rounds by full-size pistol concealed carriers and law enforcement agencies, regardless of the caliber. I just happen to think 9mm pistols shoot one of the best self-defense rounds due to their high mag capacity and a medium amount of recoil.

These are the rounds I currently have in my concealed carry 9mm Luger Smith & Wesson Shield. I trust them to be accurate and fast, and take out a threat if the circumstance calls for it.

I consistently shoot better groups at the range with these rounds than other personal defense rounds, maybe because Iím more comfortable with them, but I trust them to protect my family and myself.

The biggest downsides are that theyíre expensive, as most defense rounds are, and theyíre snappier than target loads.

Because I donít shoot these every time I visit the range, the expense isnít as much of a concern, and they still kick less than a .45, so donít assume theyíre overpowering. Thatís why I and many others consider these the best self-defense handgun ammo.

Honorable Mentions

The Hornady Critical Defense Lite 100 Grain FTX is the best option for shooters looking for a step down from the 115gr full power Critical Defense rounds in recoil. These lighter 9mm rounds still offer solid terminal performance.

However, it wonít have the knockdown power weíve come to expect from modern 9mm pistol rounds.

Going in the other direction, the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep 135 Grain JHP has a heavier bullet, which means more recoil and a lower velocity. However, the muzzle energy is increased, so in theory, it will pack more of a punch than the lighter bullets.

Best .45 ACP Round for Self-Defense

Speer Gold Dot 185 Grain JHP


  • Bullet Weight: 185gr
  • Casing Type: Nickle-Plated Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,050 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 453 ft-lbs


  • Quick
  • Heavy-hitting
  • Designed with personal protection in mind


  • Expensive

Why We Chose It

The Speer Gold Dot is fast and hard-hitting when compared to other JHPs of similar weight. This means youíll be able to end the threat faster, even if itís just by a second.

The recoil isnít terrible, but thatís the main reason most people donít like shooting a .45, so be prepared for some recoil out of these rounds.

Jacketed Hollow Point bullets are the standard for self-defense bullets; though theyíre not the latest design, theyíre time-tested, so you can know theyíll do the job.

The biggest downside for these rounds is how expensive they are; they are some of the most costly .45 ACP rounds, but the cliche is true, you get what you pay for. So I donít mind paying a little extra for high-quality ammo.

Honorable Mentions

If youíre ready to embrace your gunís recoil, the Remington Ultimate Defense 230 Grain BJHP is the round to test it with, thanks to its 230gr heavy bullet. These Remington Golden Saber rounds are less expensive than the Speer Gold Dot, but youíre sacrificing speed and getting less muzzle energy.

As I said above, the Hornady Critical Defense 185 Grain FTX JHP are some of the best self-defense rounds in any caliber, so itís no surprise Iím mentioning them here! Despite having the same grain bullet, theyíre not as fast or as hard-hitting as the Speer Gold Dot, but theyíre less expensive.

The Barnes TAC-XPD 45 ACP +P 185 Grain SCHP has similar ballistics and the Hornady Critical Defense, but theyíre a little more expensive. However, theyíre cheaper than the Speer Gold Dot, so if youíre firearm doesnít cycle the Hornady Critical Defense rounds cleanly, try these rounds by Barnes.

Best Handgun Ammo for Bear Defense

Ammo Inc. 44 Magnum 240 Grain JHP


  • Bullet Weight: 240 gr
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,589 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,347 ft-lbs


  • Fast
  • Hard-hitting
  • Reasonably priced


  • Heavy recoil

Why We Chose It

The 44 Mag was touted as the most powerful handgun cartridge when it first came out. This made many big game hunters eager to try it, and it performed up to their standards. However, since its introduction, a few more powerful handgun cartridges have hit the market.

Itís still loved by many big game hunters, especially those looking for a caliber capable of quickly stopping a charging bear because itís fast and can quickly penetrate the bearís vitals before it causes the hunter any harm.

With great power comes great recoil, so Iíd recommend practicing with it a lot. Because heavy recoil and an intense situation mean accuracy will suffer.

These rounds can stop the threat of an angry bear, and theyíre not ridiculously priced.

Honorable Mentions

For something with a little less recoil, the PMC 357 Magnum 158 Grain JSP is the way to go. Though itís still a magnum, so you should expect higher than average recoil, the 357 Mag is powerful enough to stop a bear with less recoil than the 44 Mag.

I prefer to use hollow-point bullets, but the Jacketed Soft-Point bullets will quickly cause a lot of damage, and many hunters prefer soft-point bullets, especially in states that donít allow hunting with hollow points.

Best Target Shooting Handgun Ammo

Remington UMC 38 Special 130 Grain FMJ


  • Bullet Weight: 130 gr
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 800 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 185 ft-lbs


  • Inexpensive
  • Recognizable brand
  • Low recoil


  • Must buy in bulk

Why We Chose It

Remington has been in the firearms and ammunition industry for a very long time. However, in recent years their product quality has declined. For target shooting, this isnít as much of a concern, but we still want quality rounds for target practice.

The 38 Special is a low recoil round, so your hands and wrists wonít get sore from shooting all day, and neither will your wallet. These rounds are half the price of some 9mm and 45 ACP rounds, so you can stay at the range twice as long and spend the same amount of money on ammo.

The biggest problem is that to get these rounds at the lowest price, youíll need to buy them in bulk.

The Remington UMC rounds are suitable for practicing with a slightly smaller caliber than you typically carry.

Honorable Mentions

Though theyíre not as cheap as the rounds above, the Federal Range. Target. Practice. 45 ACP Ammo 230 Grain FMJ is nearly as cheap as it gets for 45 ACP ammo. I wouldnít want to carry these rounds for self-defense, but theyíre great for training purposes.

If you want ammo that has comparable ballistics to your 9mm carry ammo, check out Black Hills Ammunition 9mm 115 Grain FMJ. These rounds will provide a similar feel to your carry ammo, but they wonít cost nearly as much, making them great for target practice and self-defense training.

Best 22lr Ammo for Semi-Auto Handgun

Aguila Super Extra 38 Grain CPHP


  • Bullet Weight: 38 gr
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,280 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 137 ft-lbs


  • Inexpensive
  • Trusted brand
  • Excellent bullet design


  • Not the fastest

Why We Chose It

For the price and the reliability, itís tough to be these Aguila Super Extra 38gr rounds. When shooters discover this brand, they are most often pleasantly surprised at the quality of ammo for the price.

The Copper-Plated Hollow-Point bullets make these rounds feed better in semi-auto handguns, so you wonít have to deal with as many jams as you would with soft-point bullets.

The biggest drawback to these rounds is that theyíre not the fastest on the market. However, for plinking or small varmints, these rounds are plenty fast.

Honorable Mentions

At a similar price, the Fiocchi 38 Grain CPHP rounds offer shooters similar ballistics. So if you find that your gun doesnít like the Aguila rounds, test these out. However, youíll be losing some muzzle velocity and muzzle energy.

The CCI 40 Grain Copper-Plated Segmented Hollow-Point (CPSHP) is for shooters looking for a quiet round. Due to the focus on noise reduction, the ballistics suffer, but if you need 22 ammo thatís incredibly quiet, these rounds are worth purchasing.

How to Choose the Best Round for Self-Defense

Choosing the best handgun caliber for self-defense is critical. You need a firearm youíre comfortable with and trust.

Next comes choosing the best self-defense round. Many shooters judge it based on the brand or bullet type, which are critical considerations. However, I believe the price, stopping power, amount of recoil, and firearm preferences are the most important.


Itís important to stick within your budget. Self-defense ammo is expensive, and itís easy to spend a lot of money training with it, so be sure to find ammo well within your budget.

I splurge a little in this area because I donít always train with my personal defense ammo; instead, I use rounds similar in ballistics and save my expensive ammo for the moments I need it.

Stopping Power

If your ammo doesnít have the power to stop a threat, then I donít think itís worthy of being called self-defense ammo.

I want the rounds that will stop the threat as fast as possible. If a bad guy or something intends to harm my loved ones or me, I donít want to give them any more time than I have to to stop them.

The downside to increased stopping power is often increased recoil. However, bullet type also plays a significant role in stopping power.


Self-defense rounds are known for increased recoil to achieve the ballistics needed to end a threat quickly.

Find a round that youíre comfortable with the amount of recoil. Itís better to be more accurate and comfortable with your firearm than have a powerful gun youíre inaccurate with and scared to pull the trigger because of the kick.


The last thing you should consider is what ammo your gun prefers. Iíve found my guns cycle certain brands better than others. For instance, your Ruger will cycle the same Hornady Critical Duty ammo differently than someone elseís Glock, which cycles it differently than another personís Sig Sauer.

I donít want to be forced to clear a jam in an intense home defense situation, though I might train for it. Thatís why I tested out several different brands, bullet types, and weights to see which one I was most accurate with, and my gun cycled the best. Then I trusted the test results and currently use the ammo that performed the best.

How to Save Money on Handgun Ammo

As we all know, ammo has gotten expensive and will only get more expensive. Here are a couple of ways to save money on ammo in the long run.

Buy in Bulk

Buying bulk 9mm ammo saves you a little money per round. However, it costs more upfront because youíre buying larger quantities.

So if youíve just got a nice bonus at work, it might be worth stocking up on ammo all at once to get the bulk discount.


Another way to save a little money on ammo is to reload the spent brass. Reloading gives you complete control over crafting the perfect round for your weapon.

Itís also cheaper in the long run because youíre buying the supplies in bulk and doing the work yourself.

Once again, the upfront cost is high, but youíll begin to recoup it quickly as you hammer out rounds.

If youíre really dedicated, you can buy bulk 45 ACP and then reload that spent brass, so you double up on your savings!

Common Handgun Bullet Types for Self-Defense

The bullet type is one of the most critical decisions one must make when choosing the best self-defense round.

The bullet type often affects the price and performance of the round.

The hollow point is the standard for self-defense ammunition; however, many variations of hollow point bullets exist.

Below youíll be able to quickly reference which ones are best for which situations.


The hollow point bullet is a bullet that looks like a cone, meaning the tip of the bullet has a concave shape that aids in the bulletís mushrooming effect.

These bullets make good hunting and defensive loads; however, recent advancements in bullet technology mean these are no longer the best choice, but if itís all you can afford, they still work. You donít have to worry as much about over-penetration compared with FMJs.


The Jacketed Hollow Point is the next step up from the traditional hollow point. Itís a hollow point with a metal jacket around the lead core. This metal jacket holds the bullet shape better, which improves accuracy.

These are similar to a full metal jacket, except that the JHP has an opening for the hollow point.


The Bonded Jacketed Hollow Point is virtually the same as the Jacketed Hollow Point. The main difference is that the bulletís jacket is electrochemically bonded to the lead core.

This bonding doesnít allow the jacket to separate from the core, creating a more significant wound channel and better penetrating heavy clothing.


The Copper-Plated Hollow Point is similar to a jacketed hollow point because the copper-plating helps hold the bullet shape better that only lead.

Winchester and Federal Premium are a couple of the many manufacturers of CPHP ammo.


Solid Copper Hollow Point bullets are great for hunting in lead-free areas because the bullets donít have lead in them.

These bullets tend to be slightly more expensive than traditional lead bullets. Magtech and Barnes are the most well-known SCHP manufacturers.

Parting Shots

While choosing the best handgun ammo for self-defense is essential, ensure youíre accurate with it. If you canít hit the bad guy, then the ammo is no good.

Best Handgun Ammo for Self-Defense in Common Calibers originally appeared on Ammo.com
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Old 12-15-2022, 04:13 AM
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Why do you continually post this canned tripe regarding ammunition? I don't see you on the sponsor list yet you are in the ammo sales business.
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Old 12-28-2022, 04:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Oldtimr
Why do you continually post this canned tripe regarding ammunition? I don't see you on the sponsor list yet you are in the ammo sales business.
i don't even read this garbage anymore. I guess he thinks the more words/longer post makes him an authority. Just a bunch of cut and paste crap. But at least he keeps the forum moving even with the rambling.
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Old 01-09-2023, 03:15 PM
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I have ammodotcom on ignore...

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Old 02-14-2023, 04:44 AM
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