A firearms instructor should remain current on ammunition ballistics and testing relevant to his or her area of expertise. New products are continually introduced, making staying up-to-date with all the latest innovations a never-ending task. On that note, one of the most widely discussed issues in the field of everyday carry (EDC), outside of the gun itself, is what ammunition is “the best” to carry. Of course, there are no clear-cut answers for all occasions. But, by setting some parameters, the field can be narrowed to a manageable degree.

Ammunition is rated in a multitude of ways, including by muzzle energy, velocity, bullet diameter, bullet configuration, expected expansion characteristics and penetration potential of an anticipated medium. All of these ratings provide some good information but may not fully answer the questions that need to be addressed regarding what type of ammunition is likely to be the most beneficial for a specific individual.

One of the most widely discussed issues in the field of EDC, outside of the gun itself, is what ammunition is “the best” to carry.

Since most people carry a concealed handgun for defensive purposes, the circumstances and likelihoods of application are narrowed. More often than not, a defensive encounter will happen in a compressed environment within a very short time frame, and this further narrows the field. A guideline, where legal, is to purchase and carry the same ammunition that the law enforcement agencies in the area carry.

EDC ammunition should provide the best means of delaying or incapacitating an adversary, therefore facilitating an escape from harm. There are many factors that influence this outcome, some more important than others.

‘Location, Location, Location’

Bullet placement is of primary importance. There are specific areas on the human body, such as the central nervous system, skeletal system or cardio-respiratory system, that cause the desired result of delay or incapacitation when impacted by a bullet. Accuracy of the handgun and ammunition combination is relative in that the closeness of the potential encounter leaves us with the reasoning that any quality handgun — in good working order — with the appropriate factory ammunition will meet the need. While match accuracy is desired and may increase confidence in the user’s equipment, it is not necessary for success.

Deep Thoughts

Bullet penetration is next on the list. The bullet(s) must penetrate the adversary’s body, regardless of build and entry angle, sufficiently to contact and disrupt the central nervous system, the skeletal system or the cardio-respiratory system. Most of the recognized experts in the field of wound ballistics recommend 12 to 15 inches of penetration into the human body for stopping an attacker.

A contributing factor to penetration includes weather conditions, which will influence the type and amount of clothing worn by the attacker(s). Organized gang affiliation may dictate specific clothing and the possible presence of body armor to resist bullet penetration as well. Intermediate barriers, such as motor vehicles, structures and other objects, serve as factors in calculating bullet penetration.

The potential of sheer size and physical condition of the attacker must also be considered when preparing for the worst-case scenario. The ideal circumstance, which can’t be depended on, is that bullet placement and penetration be sufficient to immediately incapacitate an attacker under all conditions.

Organized gang affiliation may dictate specific clothing and the possible presence of body armor to resist bullet penetration as well.

There may be some concern about overpenetration, but with all of the potential variables of a gunfight, there is not a concrete answer to be had. Perhaps a spatial awareness of the attacker’s surroundings might help, but it is unlikely to be much of a factor in the heat of battle.

Bullet expansion, if it takes place, will happen after it traverses any intermediate barriers and clothing that may lie in the flight path of the bullet between the muzzle of the handgun and that bullet’s terminal resting place. The influencing factors of bullet construction, impact velocity and intermediate barriers are but three variables that affect the performance of the bullet on target. There are no guarantees when it comes to bullet expansion, as the variables in a defensive encounter are too great to be definitive.

Proper Pairing

It is essential to match the ammunition to the pistol to achieve the best overall performance. With the advent of smaller and smaller carry pistols and revolvers equipped with the shortest barrels possible, specialized ammunition has been developed to enhance bullet performance at the lower velocities achieved by the shorter barrels. Lighter bullets are incorporated to lessen the felt recoil in these lightweight handguns, making them a little easier to shoot.

Once the ammunition is selected and tested, practice regularly to maintain marksmanship and tactical proficiency. In order to keep from breaking the bank, less-expensive practice ammunition can be purchased that has the same felt recoil, muzzle flash, accuracy and point of impact as the more expensive carry ammunition. To that end, the major manufacturers are now offering combination packages of carry and practice ammunition that complement one another.

The Triumvirate

Placement, penetration and the specific ammunition type are essential factors to consider when choosing the right ammunition for your EDC. Each relies on the others, and armed with this information, a firearms instructor can adequately advise his or her students on how to choose the best ammunition for their needs.