Deciding which cartridge to pair with your defensive sidearm can be a daunting process. Never forget that money spent on quality ammunition is never wasted.
» QUESTION: I am a reasonably experienced shooter who has been carrying a concealed handgun of one type or another for the past ten years or so. I try to practice regularly and am actually pretty pleased with my success. As I am learning to shoot better groups in my marksmanship training, I am starting to find that my practice ammunition does not hit the same place on the target as my carry ammunition. The pistol is zeroed to hit point of aim with the carry ammunition at 25 yards. The practice ammunition that I use hits 4 inches low and slightly to the right of the carry ammunition. I have tried several different brands of practice ammunition but haven’t had success in matching where the carry ammunition hits the target. I’m not opposed to buying new carry ammunition but I don’t want to be on a perpetual journey chasing an elusive goal that may be impossible to fulfill. Are there some options that you could recommend that would allow me to obtain both practice and carry ammunition that hit in the same place but not break the bank?
» ANSWER: Sounds like your shooting is coming along nicely and your practice is bearing fruit. You are to be commended that you can shoot well enough to tell the difference in the point of impact of the two types of ammunition. Many who carry for defensive purposes don’t strive to achieve that level of skill. While some may claim that defensive shooting only happens up close, I believe that if you can shoot well at distance, the confidence gained will enhance your ability to hit your intended target at closer range. In my opinion, you are on the right track. That said, we never know the circumstances of an armed encounter until we are in the middle of one.
You should validate the claims of target impact in your gun before taking the advertised performance at face value.
Recently Winchester and HSM have started marketing ammunition packaged to answer your needs. Each company includes in their respective packaging practice ammunition with fully-jacketed projectiles and enough jacketed hollow-point carry ammunition to meet your needs for the street. Both of these are so new that I have no experience with either one, which means that you should validate the claims of target impact in your gun before taking the advertised performance at face value.
I would suggest that you should be at least aware of a few considerations other than same point of impact on the target when comparing ammunition for your purposes.
In training Armed Professionals that were mandated to use one type of ammunition for training and another type for duty purposes, our goal was to have identical performance between the two rounds up until target impact. There, the training ammunition had served its purpose but the duty ammunition still had work to do in penetration and expansion.
It is important that felt recoil, muzzle flash, muzzle blast, and point of target impact coincide between practice and carry ammunition. The reason is that practice trains the subconscious to respond in a specific manner to a particular stimulus. If the stimulus is different when you are fighting for your life, hesitation and confusion may occur and affect the outcome of the event.
An example used in the Law Enforcement community when revolvers were still popular was the difference between .38 Special wadcutter training ammunition used in qualification and .357 Magnum ammo carried on duty. The officers trained and qualified with the low-recoil ammunition, which had little flash or blast. That experience created an expectation of what was about to happen every time the officer fired the revolver. When they finally shot the .357 Magnum ammunition containing a heavier bullet at almost twice the velocity—with muzzle flash, blast, and recoil significantly greater than what they had been conditioned to expect—the startle effect was, to say the least, distracting to the job at hand.
Just to keep things simple, the bullet weight of your practice ammunition and your carry ammunition should coincide.
Usually autoloader ammunition isn’t that dramatically different, but it is a good practice to have carry and training ammunition as parallel as possible in all aspects to attenuate the possibilities of distraction during a lethal force encounter.
If you are satisfied with your carry ammunition you may want to chronograph it from your gun to see how fast the bullet is really going. The numbers on the box are approximations and not ideal to go by, as there are so many variables in different firearms chambered for the same cartridge that it is impossible to provide more than what the factory measured from a test barrel. Just to keep things simple, the bullet weight of your practice ammunition and your carry ammunition should coincide as well.
Finally, I would recommend that you start with the same brand of ammunition to practice with that you use as carry ammunition. More often than not the recoil, flash, and blast factors are similar, which will round out your quest for the practice ammunition that will be as compatible as possible with your carry ammunition.