With a controversial and opinionated topic like this, I have to include a couple of explanations and disclaimers.
You do have to be careful about blanket statements when it comes to ammo performance. There are just too many variables. For example, you can’t necessarily say things like “Mega Blaster Yellow Tips” are the best. You might be able to say “Mega Blaster Yellow Tips 9mm 124 grain +P loads are the best!” It may very well be the case that the .40 Smith & Wesson loading of Mega Blaster is not so hot, but maybe the .45 ACP, 9mm and .380 ACP are. You always have to look at the specifics like caliber, bullet weight and gun type. In other words, you need to make sure the specific brand of self defense ammo you choose works in your caliber and in your gun. Some offerings, like a few mentioned here, recognize caliber variables and design accordingly. For example, DoubleTap Ammunition varies projectile types to account for such factors.
Velocity is a really big deal and performance statements always have to be qualified with variables that impact velocity. While a specific .45 ACP self-defense cartridge may work as expected every time from a gun with a 4 or 5 inch barrel, it may not work at all with that micro-compact 1911 with a 1 inch barrel. OK, I’m exaggerating, but in my testing, I’ve found that even a 50 to 100 feet per second velocity reduction can make a great bullet stinky and inconsistent.
With that said, expansion (or perhaps fragmentation) performance weighed heavily in the development of this list. After all self and home defense ammo is intended to stop things quickly.
I’ve spent a lot of time with founder Mike McNett, the Godfather of Boom!, and know what he puts into ammo development and testing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Mike buys up 84% of the annual worldwide production of gelatin blocks.
DoubleTap makes a variety of ammo types for various purposes, but for this list, stick to the DoubleTap Defense and DoubleTap Tactical lines. These loads, available in nearly any caliber you want, use either the excellent Barnes TAC all copper bullets or bonded projectiles, depending on the specific load requirements. Like 1911’s? Check out the Mann Load. It uses a 160 grain Barnes TAC bullet moving at over 1,000 feet per second, has great expansion and penetration, but low blast and recoil. If you carry a .380 ACP, consider the 90 grain Bonded Defense offering.
They’re not cheap, but they work. And it is a life and death decision after all.
Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel
The plethora of compact revolvers and semi-automatics sent the Speer engineers back to the drawing board. Speer Gold Dot ammunition has always been one of my favorite performers in almost any caliber. But, like any ammo, it’s designed with a careful balance of expansion and penetration assuming a specific velocity range. When you fire ammo from a gun with a short barrel, say 3 inches or less, you’re likely to lose as much as 100 feet per second (or more) in velocity. Then that carefully planned balance goes out the window. If you suffer from a short barrel, make sure you use ammo designed for lower velocity.
.223 / 5.56mm Practice Ammo
Well, sort of. For a home defense scenario, standard, full metal jacket 5.56mm ammo is a pretty darn good option. Here’s why. For inside use, over penetration is a potentially serious issue. Pistol rounds, shotgun slugs and buckshot go through walls like tax evaders through Congress. So do many hunting and tactical .223 / 5.56mm projectiles – they’re designed to do that.
On the other hand, small, lightweight, standard full metal jacket 55 grain projectiles tend to fragment and start upsetting when they hit things like drywall. Counter to assumption and common sense, AR-15 type rifles may present less of an over penetration risk than a .38 Special. It’s something to consider for home defense, especially since most guns that use this ammo have 30 round magazines.
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