Selecting Ammunition – Critical Thinking

Short of being able to teach longer classes, which most students wouldn’t prefer me do, there’s no way to teach everything I think a student needs to consider during a concealed carry class or an NRA Basic Pistol class. An issue that’s been on my mind lately has been the issues of selecting a firearm that fits you and your needs and selecting your ammunition properly.

I won’t get into proper selection of handguns, mainly because the latter subject is weighing heavier on my mind right now. We always encourage students to bring and train on the gun and ammo they intend to carry with them all the time. With rare exception what we see in the classroom is a box of the cheapest FMJ ammo they can get their hands on. While this is OK for a training environment, I want to spend some time explaining why it’s NOT ok for everyday carry.

Any discussion about firearms between enthusiasts usually results in a question about your favorite load. What do you shoot in your gun? Why did you choose it? We see it during every break in class. Guys and girls animatedly compare their ammo and tell why it’s their favorite and quite frankly, some of the comments sometimes are a little scary.

One Hundred Percent of the time, when we ask “why did you choose the ammo you shoot” the answer is always the wrong one. I’ve never seen anyone that wasn’t an experienced instructor give the correct answer. It ranges from “That’s all Walmart had” to “my husband bought it for me. I don’t even know what it is. I just shoot it.” Often it’s the “because I want to blow a hole in them they aren’t going to walk away from” kind of response. Certainly there are reasons for all types of ammunition. Each one has a purpose and each one has places where it doesn’t work well.

You can take my advice here, or you can choose to ignore it, but I’m going to share my thoughts on the reasons you pick ammunition for your everyday carry or concealed carry.

First, let’s get VERY real for a moment. We’re not talking about target shooting, cost of ammo, how much you LIKE it, or anything related to things that normally go through your head. We’re talking about the fact that you are carrying a firearm because you realize that at some point in your life you are preparing for the eventuality where you will terminate the life of another human being. Be honest about it. Let that sink in. Even if you carry for personal defense (as I do) – be honest enough with yourself to comprehend the fact that the ONLY reason you are carrying that gun is with the thought that you might one day kill another human being. You aren’t carrying a gun to deter crime in general. You’re carrying a particular TYPE of gun for that reason. If that were the reason you carry a gun, then you’d also be carrying mace, a baton, a knife, a baseball bat, and a slew of other instruments you could employ before having to resort to a firearm, and quite possibly you’d have a cape stowed somewhere, maybe a mask to accompany it. You’re actually carrying the gun because you might one day have to save your life – by trading another’s for yours. Got that?

Keep one more thing in mind while you’re at it. Regardless how badass you think you are, in the split second before you pull the trigger, all of your training goes out the window. In less than one second, you heart rate will double to around 150 to 180 beats per minute. You have no control over that. You immediately lose fine motor control. It’s a fact, not an opinion. You experience auditory and visual exclusion (tunnel vision and tunnel hearing.) Your brain dumps enormous amount of dopamine, norepinepherine, and adrenaline into your system – a situation you’ve probably never felt in your entire life and no amount of practice can prepare you for. All of this… in less than a second. Your body just became the body of a stranger, one who is stronger, yet can’t see very well, can’t hear very well, and one whom can’t tell time due to the way the brain handles the emergency in front of you. What makes you “YOU” is gone for about the next five seconds of you life. This WILL happen to you if you are ever in a situation where you have to pull the trigger to save your own life or the life of someone else. Don’t believe me? It doesn’t really matter. These are facts. Your belief in them doesn’t change them. We actually are NOT John Rambo. Hell, don’t be surprised at the end of it to find your pants stained with urine. The fact that you’re alive to be embarrassed by the situation means you survived, so you’re most likely already one step up on the other guy.

Now, why the big deal about ammunition?

The choice of ammunition you carry has ramifications most of us never consider, and hopefully never will have to consider. However, on the off chance you’re one of those that DOES have to explain your actions to someone else (a jury of 12) keep in mind that there ARE right and wrong answers.

The ONLY reason you should factor into your decision when choosing ammunition is: the answers you’re going to give the prosecutor when he puts you on trial. Rest assured, if you end the life of another human being, there WILL be a court case. You WILL likely go to jail, even if temporarily. You will likely lose your firearm, possibly for life. You are very likely to have to explain to a jury of 12 people every single decision that went into pulling the trigger; from your first decision to purchase a firearm, to how much training you’ve had with it, to why you chose your carry weapon, to how you chose the bullets that you carry in it.

We live in a world where many people do NOT want you to have the right to own a firearm. There are HUNDREDS of books prosecutors study with regard to handgun trials. It is their JOB to put you in jail. They will NOT be going lightly on you because you’re a nice guy or the local youth pastor at the church. No amount of Boy Scout camping trips you’ve helped sponsor are going to take away this person’s desire to do their job. That job is to convict you of murder.

Handloads: No.Never. Under absolutely No circumstances! If you carry hand-loads in your firearm for everyday carry, you are making a HUGE mistake. You are absolutely, in every possible manner, making a mistake of grave proportions. Don’t EVER carry handload ammo in your concealed or open carry weapon when you’re carrying for defensive purposes. It’s fine for shooting targets, matches, or for fun. However it can potentially bury you in a courtroom, and while it MIGHT not bury you, it provides zero assistance to your defense.

Why no handloads?
Many court cases today rely on advanced ballistics investigations. Your defense might very well depend on you being able to prove the person you shot was indeed four feet from you approaching you with a knife, rather than forty feet away like some other witness (or the assailant themselves) might be claiming. The difference between four feet and forty feet can be the difference between voluntary manslaughter and an acquittal of all charges. If you shoot a handload, even if you keep all your recipe and load data, it’s useless to you in a court room. After all, you or someone you know made the recipe and the court will assume you’re biased (which you are, right?). No prosecuting attorney worth his job title will let your handload recipe make it into the courtroom. There are too many ways your information can be refuted. After all, you’d be asking the court room to take your word for it that you were shooting what you said you were shooting that day.

On the other hand, every manufacturer’s load data has GSR and ballistic information on file for police departments and federal agencies to use specifically in cases like yours. (GRS stands for gunshot residue). There are 100% accurate tables of information the crime scene technicians can use to corroborate your story if you use a store-bought boxed load. A 185 grain .45 ACP Critical Defense hollowpoint has a perfectly tabulated pattern of dispersal at various distances. It also makes perfectly calculated holes at certain distances. It makes perfectly repeatable ballistics performance in certain kinds of targets under certain conditions – all of which the police can verify with ease. Don’t think for a second that your life is worth of an episide of CSI. The local government isn’t spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to go test your ammo in every situation to determine if it’s possible you’re telling the truth. Its your job to prove you are.

If they find your gun loaded with a manufacturer’s standard round, the police can actually be your friend because they can actually PROVE the bad guy was 4 feet away, not across the room when the bullet entered his chest cavity. You said he was four feet from you and the ballistics data agrees. The prosecution has no wiggle room and can’t make anything up. He or she can’t dispute that part of your story. If you use handloads, you shoot down this aspect of your defense completely.

To make my point – never in the American court system has a defensive handload recipe been accepted as evidence for a defendant in a murder trial.

Ball Ammo, JHP, or other.
The choice in the kind of projectile you shoot in your bullet will also likely come into play in your defense. While it can be perfectly OK to explain to the judge that you chose FMJ target ammo because it was cheap and you could afford a lot of it, that translates to a prosecutor as “Mr, Jones. Are you telling this court that you know enough to buy a gun but didn’t do any research on the kind of bullet you carried when you knew you might have to use that gun one day? You want this court to accept “I didn’t know” as a reason your bullet went through the assailant and then killed little Suzy?” Remember, he might not be a bad guy, but his job is to is to put people who kill other people in jail. He or she might very well use your own lack of knowledge of your ammo as a weapon against you.

Hollowpoint Ammo

Hollowpoint Ammo

If you want to practice, and I encourage you to do so diligently, using FMJ ball ammunition is perfectly acceptable, but occasionally you need to practice with an ammo you plan to carry for defense, so you know how it shoots compared to your normal FMJ ammo. What you might not know, but will know now, is that cops carry the ammo they do for a reason. It’s not because it’s the cheapest stuff they can buy. When a police officer considers pulling the trigger, the people that provided him or her with the bullets they are shooting have already done the research you should be doing yourself! They’ve chosen hollowpoints almost 100% of the time, mainly because they break apart on impact and have LESS chance to over-penetrate than standard ball ammo.

They also shoot hollow-point because it takes less bullets to stop the bad guys. Yep, all other things considered equal, it takes less hollowpoints to stop an attacker than with FMJ ammo. FMJ punches holes, usually right through the body and out the other side, possibly into a bystander

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or "Ball" ammo

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or “Ball” ammo

behind your intended target. Hollowpoints are designed to either mushroom out into a broader flat shape or break up on entry, dispersing their energy INTO the target, not out the back of him or her and into the next person. The breaking up effect also does more damage, meaning your assailant is hurt in more places simultaneously, and is likely to be stopped quicker. Picture the expanding petals of a hollow point just like air brakes on a jet airplane- when the petals expand, the bullet slows tremendously in a short amount of time – usually remaining inside the body of the attacker if the hit was center mass.

Finally, the tendency of hollowpoint ammunition to breakup upon hitting an object makes it much less likely to ricochet and accidentally injure a non-intended target. It might still ricochet, but the fact that a bystander was hit with a tiny piece of metal that had discharged most of it’s power before hitting them, is a lot safer for you than a solid copper-laden-lead projectile slamming into someone after bouncing off the concrete wall of the mall you were standing in.

If you want a solid defensive excuse for your courtroom trial, consider calling your local police department and simply ask them what they shoot, then buy that. “Why did you choose to purchase police-grade ammo, Mr. Jones? Do you fancy yourself a Rambo? Are you a cop Mr. Jones? Why do you carry the same deadly ammo the police do? Hmm?”

Your answer is “Well, your honor, I figured the police are professionals and if the ammunition was good enough for them, then it must be the best I could get to defend myself with.” There’s absolutely NO rebuttal for that argument in a courtroom, none. (Seriously, it’s been used many times successfully by defendants who were former LEO or former military. They chose their ammunition because it was what their department or division trained them on and they figured it was good enough for them too.)

ADDENDUM:  Some cool ideas might come back to haunt you.

Picture yourself sitting in the defendant’s chair while the prosecutor stands up with your favorite brand of ammo on display on a projector to a jury. What is possibly going to be your defense when he puts up this picture for the jury or judge to see?


I can clearly picture the haughty expression I’d have if it were me as the prosecutor. “So… the defendant went armed into Walmart with ammunition specifically marketed to kill Zombies! Mr. Jones, were you expecting to encounter zombies? Do you always go around armed to the teeth with bullets to kill the undead? I mean really, sir, weren’t you in reality just looking for an excuse to shoot another human being?”

Can you see where someone would use that against you?

How about this one?


“Mr Jones, you specifically loaded your firearm with ammo called R.I.P. Rest in peace? No? Rapidly invasive projectile… that’s right. Let’s see (as he flips through marketing images) and quotes them as saying “Nine separate wound channels. Wow. Defeats ALL known barriers? It even says here that it shoots through steel, concrete, sheet metal, and heavy clothing. Wow. Can you believe that? It looks to the court like you were simply waiting for the opportunity to test that on the day that you shot Mr…”

You see where this is going folks? Zombie ammo sounds cool doesn’t it? Unfortunately most of us know it’s simply got a piece of green plastic in it rather than a red piece of plastic in it, but unless you can afford your own firearms expert to refute the arguments of the prosecutor, you’re likely going to be looking at some damning evidence – even though in reality it’s no different than most other ammo. THEY won’t know that!

In conclusion:

The moment you qualify to get your concealed carry permit, or join the ranks of us that open-carry, you are expected by the community  AND the court system, to hold yourself to a higher standard. Everything you use for everyday carry, from the firearm you choose, to the way you carry it, to the ammunition (and the amount of it) you carry can and will be called into question if you are ever forced to use that firearm to end the life of another human being. If you’re not ready to do that research, or take on that responsibility, then you need to put the gun away until you are. An uneducated and untrained citizen with a firearm, while constitutionally allowed, is rarely going to be a positive headline when the media gets involved.

If you want training, we can help you with it. We offer many firearms courses, non-firearms courses, and one-on-one training to anyone that wants it. Be safe out there and be smart in your choice to carry.

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