Which Round
With all the commercial self-defense ammo available on the market today, which one do we choose?

by Graham Baates

Editor’s note: We wish to thank our  friend, Graham Baates  for contributing this story. 


Which round to choose?

The deeper I look into the selection of defensive ammo available to the public the less certain I am of what to select. When I was new to shooting it was easy to choose; hollow points and not +P. Recently it seems there’s been a renaissance of new ammo loads. What’s more, a lot of them make magical claims. This impeccable round functions flawlessly, performs accurately, and somehow vaporizes the bad guy while not creating a blinding flash and, doesn’t over penetrate. It also accomplishes this in any handgun.

This ideal round, sadly, does not exist.

Just as handgun selection is always a matter of compromise so is picking the round it fires. It’s a zero sum game. To gain in one area you must give from another. That micro-compact is not going to have all the features and comforts of a full-size and you know that, so why expect it from ammunition? It seems as if manufacturers are betting that if they make the packaging flashy enough and charge you enough you won’t want to test more than a couple shots. After all who likes paying $2 for what looks like the same hole in the paper as the $0.20 shot?

How does the average consumer choose the best ammo for their needs?

With this in mind we set out to test some of the common and not-so-common rounds available on the market today. Not every gun is the same and so we tested in both a 3.2” barrel and a 4” barrel as both are representative of most defensive guns.

What difference could .8” of barrel make you ask?

What happens when the  9 mm projectile hits a block of jell? Well it all depends…

The answer ended up being a lot.

Less barrel means less time for pressure to build resulting in a less velocity and less available energy to cycle the gun. Adding to this, unless the rifling rate was increased for that shorter barrel there is less time to stabilize the round. Manufacturers do what they can with spring rates to keep them reliable with most range ammo, but the exotic stuff advertising nearly twice the velocity of normal ball and the stuff advertising reduced recoil achieves those things in different ways that may not result in enough energy to cycle the gun.

Different powder burn rates also affect at which point in the barrel the round can achieve its maximum velocity. Adding to the complexity is the reduced room for rifling. Either the rate has to be increased, or we take our chances on a bullet that hasn’t been guided as much before it leaves the gun. It was  surprising to see the same round function wonderfully in a 4” barrel and fail in a 3.2”.  Conversely, we have noted some of the faster rounds stabilize just right from the 3.2” and yet keyhole from a barrel .8” longer!

One would assume that a lot of research, development, and testing must go into ammunition before risking the liability of mass production and public consumption, but why do we never see recommended applications labeled on the box? We know that the manufacturers are aware of this when we find one manufacturer with three or four different loads in the same line, but why they might have three or four different lines I do not understand. Is there really such a thing as budget defense? Would General Motors put lesser seatbelts in their Chevy Line than in their Buicks? Does a Lincoln have better airbags than a Ford? It is entirely possible, but disturbs me none the less.

To see tests released so far check the playlist here:


Which Box
See how a particular brand fared in our tests, by visiting the above link.

Keep in mind we used our own carry guns to test the ammo and they happen to be from the same manufacturer, which helps reduce variables. The Walther P99 AS and Walther PPS. Recognizing that Walthers are not as popular as Glocks, we used a Glock 19 for the gel test as its rifling and barrel length probably represent what a lot of people use for a defensive gun. This testing will be an ongoing series so check back with the playlist from time to time. (If you have a particular brand you’d like to see, or if you’re a manufacturer and send us a box and we’ll add it).

Loads in the test so far include:

Allegiance 70gr OneShot
Allegiance 90gr PowerStrike
ARX Inceptor 74gr
Barnes 115gr +P TAC-XPD
Colt Defender 115gr
DRT 85gr HP
Federal 115gr Hi-Shok
Federal 115gr JHP
Federal 115gr JHP (grey box)
Federal 115gr JHP (blue box)
Federal Premium GuardDog 105gr
Federal Premium 147gr Hydra Shok JHP
Fort Scott Munitions 80gr
Hornady American Gunner 115gr XTP
Hornady Critical Defense Lite 100gr FTX
Liberty Ammunition 50gr LA-CD
Liberty UltraDefense USM4 50gr
Magtech First Defense Bonded 124gr JHP
Magtech 95gr JSP Flat
OATH Tango 110gr
PMC Starfire 124gr
PNW Arms 115gr SCHP
Remington Golden r
Winchester Kinetic HE 115gr
Winchester PDX1 124gr +P
Winchester PDX1 147gr
Winchester Train & Defend “Defend” 147grSaber 124gr +P
Remington Golden Saber 147gr
Remington HTP
Team Never Quit 100gr
Winchester Kinetic HE 115gr
Winchester PDX1 124gr +P
Winchester PDX1 147gr
Winchester Train & Defend “Defend” 147gr

Graham Baates is an Army veteran of 15 years who now works as a firearms instructor and journalist.  His work can be found under the name GBGuns on the blog www.GBGuns.org and YouTube channel www.YouTube.com/GrahamBaates. You can read more of his work on at OnTargetHawaii.com

Photos courtesy of Graham Baates.