How to Choose Ammo for Home Defense

Now that you have made a decision about which home-defense firearm to purchase — and which caliber or gauge — it is time to stoke it with the best ammo for home defense. The same defensive handgun ammo you use for concealed carry should work just as well for home defense. Here are some suggestions that should help with your selection process:

  1. You should feel comfortable shooting your defensive ammunition. Different loadings within the same caliber or gauge can differ in terms of recoil or blast. Some shooters can handle high-powered loads like the .357 Magnum. Other shooters can’t handle loads that powerful. Fortunately, any .357 Magnum revolver can also fire the much lighter-recoiling yet still effective .38 Special cartridge.
  2. Magnum shotgun ammo should ONLY be considered for defensive loads if you live somewhere like Alaska and have to defend against large and ill-tempered animals such as moose or grizzlies. For human threats, standard-power shotshells are more than adequate. Target shotshells are ideal for interior defense.
  3. Use defensive handgun ammo with nickel-plated cartridge cases. Nickel-plated cases make ejection, feeding and reloading more reliable. NEVER use any steel-cased ammo as your self-defense load.
  4. A “+P” designation means ammunition that is loaded to velocities 100-200 feet per second above standard loadings in a given caliber. +P+ ammo is loaded even faster and is generally restricted to law enforcement use. +P ammo is available in 9mm and .45 ACP loadings (and, to a lesser extent, .40 Smith & Wesson calibers). The same thing that I said about Magnum ammo also applies here in terms of controllability. Furthermore, some handguns are not +P rated. If you can handle the recoil and muzzle blast of +P ammo and have a handgun designed to handle it, it may be a good option. If not, stick with standard-pressure ammo.
  5. It is also important to consider which projectiles to use in defensive loads. For defensive handguns, use modern expanding bullets whenever possible. The lighter bullet weights generate less recoil. Because lighter bullets travel at higher velocities, they tend to produce greater expansion and destructive effect in human targets. Due to poor performance, you should avoid the following bullet weights and styles: 158-grain round-nose lead in .38 Special, 147-grain JHP in 9mm and 180-grain JHP in .40 S&W.
  6. Test-fire your defensive ammo for controllability and reliability. Practice regularly.
  7. Never use exotic handgun or shotgun ammo for defense. Unusual rounds are fraught with liability. Exotic shotgun ammo includes flechette and bolo rounds. Exotic handgun rounds include exploding-tip bullets. Don’t use your own handgun or shotgun handloads for defense.

Ask the Professionals About Ammo for Home Defense

You may want to see what kind of ammunition area law enforcement agencies are using. Most LE ammo passes exhaustive tests for safe and effective use in handguns, shotguns and rifles. Such information may also assist you in your selection process.

 

About Scott W. Wagner

After working undercover in narcotics and liquor investigations, Scott W. Wagner settled down to be a criminal justice professor and police academy commander. He was also a SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader before his current position as patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio police department. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi and fully automatic patrol rifle, and sub machine gun.

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