"Discussing 'Power among handgun cartridges is
much like discussing rank
among Privates." - Jim Higginbotham
One shot stops. Ballistic
gelatin. Light n fast
What is stopping power, anyway? How do I get the most of it?
If you are visiting this web site, you are probably interested in
carrying or keeping a firearm (particularly a handgun) for personal defense. Hopefully, this article will help you make a
choice about the particular ammunition you use.
(Click here to skip directly to our recommendations)
Important Point #1: Stopping power is not our first
priority. The number one most important
factor in choosing defensive ammunition (and a firearm to use it in) is reliability. Every time you pull the trigger, the gun should
fire. If you load your gun with Super Bullets
but the gun doesnt go off when you need it to, the Super Bullets dont do you
Our recommendation is to fire at least one-hundred rounds of your
chosen defensive load through your handgun before relying on it. Yes, that will cost you $50 or so, but that is
very cheap insurance. If your gun cannot fire
at least 100 rounds of your chosen ammunition without a malfunction, you need to choose
about accuracy? Accuracy is important, but it
should not be the primary factor in choosing defensive ammunition. Most defensive shootings occur within a range of
seven yards, in conditions of reduced lighting, under extreme stress. You are not going to be focused on bulls-eye
accuracy. Dont get too wrapped up
splitting hairs between a load which is reported on this web site or some magazine as
shooting 1.50 groups as opposed to one which shoots 2.00 groups at twenty-five
yards. The real world difference between the
two is meaningless.
Important Point #2: There is a difference between stopping
and killing. If you are forced to
use lethal force, it is almost certainly because you or someone else is threatened with
imminent death or serious bodily harm. In a
defensive shooting, the priority is to stop the attack immediately. Shooting someone in the leg might cause an
infection which kills eventually, but that doesnt save you from return fire.
So just because a certain round has a reputation for killing
doesnt tell you if it is effective at stopping an attack quickly. Quite a bit of the scientific research into bullet
wounds focuses on killing power, not stopping power.
Know the difference.
If your actual intent is to kill the attacker,
then a deadly virus might be just as effective as a shotgun blast. Some of those hemorrhagic viruses like Ebola have
a kill percentage in the 90s. Are you certain
your goal is to kill, rather than to stop?
Julius Chang, posted to rec.guns
Most modern defensive ammunition is
some variety of JHP (jacketed hollow point). A
JHP bullet has a hollow cavity facing forward. When
the bullet strikes something, the hollow point tends to open up into a mushroom shape. This has two primary effects.
First, the bullet diameter is now wider, meaning the bullet cuts a
bigger hole. It does more damage and has a
greater chance of hitting a vital organ. Second,
the wider contact surface meets greater resistance as it tries to push through, so it will
not penetrate as deep.
If you take nothing else from this article about choosing ammunition,
remember this: always choose JHP ammunition. Every
major law enforcement agency in the country uses some form of JHP ammunition. Every major ammunition manufacturer touts its
premiere JHP as the best defensive load. Choose
Check out this web site or any other
debate about ammo, and you will see lots of numbers.
Some of these numbers are important. Some
of them are useful. And some are just
Three numbers define a particular load. The first is caliber, which is a rough description
of a bullets diameter. Dont get
too wrapped around the axle on this. For
example, a 357SIG bullet is actually 0.355 in diameter (which happens to be the same
as 9x19mm). However, a .357 Magnum is
actually 0.357 in diameter
and so is a .38 Special! But bullet diameter is one measure of a particular
The second is bullet weight. Bullet
weight is measured in grains. One grain is
equal to 1/7000 of a pound. So a light 115gr
9x19mm bullet (which is 0.355 in diameter) weighs about one quarter of an ounce; a
heavy 230gr .45 ACP bullet (which is actually 0.45 in diameter) weighs half an
The third number is muzzle velocity.
Muzzle velocity is simply the speed of the bullet as it leaves the muzzle,
measured in feet per second. A fast 115gr
9x19mm load might be moving 1,350fps, while a slow 230gr .45 ACP load will probably rate
important number is muzzle energy. Energy
in physics terms is the ability to do work. More
energy means potentially more work. Muzzle
energy is determined by plugging the bullet weight and muzzle velocity into a formula. Muzzle energy is measured in foot-pounds. Our 115gr 9x19mm bullet moving at 1,350fps has 465
foot-pounds of energy; the 230gr .45 ACP bullet moving 850fps has 369 foot-pounds of
More numbers! When that JHP strikes a fluid medium (such as the
inside of a human body), it expands. The size
of the expanded bullet, and the depth of penetration, are also numbers most people
consider very important. These numbers are
usually determined by shooting special, calibrated ordnance gelatin (jokingly referred to
Expanded diameter is measured in two ways. The most common is a raw measurement (e.g.,
0.65). The less common is as a
percentage of the original caliber. So if a
.40 S&W bullet (which is 0.40 in diameter) expands to 0.65, you have 62.5%
Penetration is simply the depth, in inches, that a bullet moves
through the target.
A lot of factors affect expansion and penetration. Bullet design is the most important. Bullet weight and speed also play a role (as a
general rule, the faster the bullet is going, the more it will expand and the less it will
other numbers are produced in gelatin testing. One
is the permanent wound channel (the volume of the hole created by the physical path of the
bullet). The other is the temporary stretch
cavity (the volume of space which is temporarily displaced by the shockwave of the bullet
moving through a fluid medium).
an excellent, detailed explanation of how the FBI performs this kind of gelatin testing,
see the article on the FBI Ballistic Test Protocol
located here at CALIBERS.
There have been many attempts to study
real world shootings and create a stopping power formula to predict the
effectiveness of any particular load. Because
they are easy to compute and easy to quote, many people including some gun magazine
writers tend to use them as definitive proof.
Unfortunately, these numbers are, for the most part, bunk.
So when you read about One Shot Stop percentages, it is
important to understand that the numbers are all but meaningless. The reasons are too numerous to mention here, but
you can read all about The Myth of One Shot Stops
if you would like to.
The same is true for things like the Fuller Index and Taylor Knockout
Factor, which depend on easy to find ballistic numbers without taking into consideration
what bullets actually do inside a target. They
also tend to have a very strong built-in bias toward one type of ammunition or the other.
|The Great Debate
So what makes one load better than
another? There are two schools of thought on
One school believes that light, fast bullets with high muzzle energy
are best. These tend to produce higher
temporary stretch cavities. The theory is
that such bullets create more disruption inside the target and lead to more rapid
incapacitation. These bullets tend to expand
more (or even fragment), and therefore have less penetration than slower, heavier bullets.
The other school of thought tends to favor slow, heavy bullets
usually in larger calibers such as .40 S&W and .45 ACP.
The bullets tend to penetrate deeply and cause longer (wider and deeper)
wound channels. The theory is that such
bullets are more likely to strike a vital organ because they are more capable of passing
through intervening barriers as well as protective tissues such as bone.
are very broad generalizations, of course, and a lot of people fall somewhere in the
middle. Nevertheless, they define two
different approaches to choosing defensive ammunition.
Not surprisingly, in most calibers there are three popular bullet weights
a light fast bullet weight, a slow heavy bullet weight, and a middle ground.
Its a dirty little secret which
rarely sees the light of day in most stopping power debates, but ammunition
choice plays a much smaller role in stopping an attacker than shot placement.
Shot placement simply means putting the bullet(s) where the most
damage will be done to the attacker. The
primary target is what we call the thoracic triangle. The points of the triangle are the throat and two
nipples. Shots to this area tend to make
people FDGB (fall down go boom). Shots
outside this area tend to have less immediate effects.
Within reason, this is true regardless of caliber, ammunition, etc.
Almost any popular defensive JHP load (Gold Dot, Hyrda-Shok, SXT,
Golden Saber, etc.) in a major caliber will be effective if shot placement is good. More importantly, if shot placement is bad, a
more powerful round wont do you any good.
OK, shot placement is key. But that is no fun!
We dont want an average or ok bullet, we want the very best. We want every tiny edge we can get. How do we choose?
First, make sure you are buying name-brand, quality ammunition. Gun show reloads, bizarre specialty
ammo bought out of the back of comic books, and the like is not a good idea. Companies like Federal and Remington spend
fortunes designing and testing their ammunition under the widest variety of circumstances.
Second, if at all possible choose a premium JHP. These are the name bullets, like
Hydra-Shok from Federal, Golden Saber from Remington, SXT from Winchester, and Gold Dot
from Speer. These are the top of the line
choices from the big guys, and this is where the development and testing is at its
greatest. Sure, there are
standard JHPs which are also good, but choosing a premium JHP will eliminate
the guesswork on your part.
In certain calibers, some defensive ammunition is labeled
+p or +p+
this indicates that the ammunition is loaded to a
higher operating pressure than standard ammunition in that caliber. Such +p ammunition is available in .38
Special, 9x19mm, and .45 ACP. There
is no such thing as +p .40 S&W ammunition, even though some
companies advertise their ammo as such. You
can read more about +p ammunition in the Plus-P
Facts section of this web site. As
a general rule, we recommend +p loads for .38 Special and 9x19mm, but not in .45 ACP.
What about all those numbers we talked about before? For caliber, read the different advocacy articles
here on CALIBERS (.380 ACP, .38 Special, 9x19mm,
and .45 ACP). For
bullet weight and muzzle velocity, it really depends on which caliber you are shooting. Smaller calibers (like .380 ACP, 9x19mm, and
357SIG) tend to work better with lighter, faster rounds.
Larger calibers (.40 S&W and .45 ACP) tend to work better with heavier,
Penetration and expansion numbers can be harder to come by, but they
are frequently reported in shooting magazines and on the web. As a general rule, you want a cartridge that gets
reasonable penetration (10 is a good number to start with, though some advocate as
little as 8 or as much as 14) and expands to at least 150% of its starting
diameter (0.53 for 0.355 bullets; 0.60 for .40 S&W and 10mm; and
0.67 for .45 ACP).
We constantly get e-mail asking us
whats the best? Hopefully,
the discussion above has helped you realize there is no simple answer for every possible
shooter. Still, we keep getting those
e-mails. So we have tried to list some of the
better loads in each major caliber. Whenever
possible, we have given at least a couple of different brands in each caliber. Loads are listed by bullet weight and
manufacturer, and the order in which they appear is not intended to indicate that any
particular load listed is better than another.
115gr +p+ Federal 9BPLE at 1,300fps
124gr +p ProLoad Tactical Gold Dot at 1,200fps
124gr +p Remington Golden Saber at 1,180fps
147gr Remington Golden Saber at 990fps
In 9x19mm, most shooters prefer lighter bullets (115gr to 125gr) at +p or +p+ velocities. The
Federal 9BPLE load is technically sold to law enforcement only, but is usually available
at gun shows and over the internet. A very
similar load is the ProLoad 115gr +p Tactical Gold Dot, which also has a muzzle velocity
The middle weight ProLoad 124gr +p Tactical tends to have
greater penetration than most fast 9mm loads, and is one of the most accurate rounds we
have ever tested. For those who want more
reliable expansion through heavy clothing, the Golden Saber is a good choice. If you can find it, the Law Enforcement
Only 124gr +p+ Federal Hydra-Shok has a very good reputation as well.
For those who want a heavyweight in nine millimeter, the Golden
Saber from Remington probably has the most consistent expansion at such slow speeds. And while it has something of a jaded history, the
147gr Federal Hydra-Shok is another good choice in this category.
125gr ProLoad Tactical Gold Dot at 1,400fps
125gr Speer Gold Dot at 1,350fps
There are very few premium JHPs in the 357SIG market, and the Gold
Dot is definitely the best of the bunch. While
the standard factory Speer loading is a great choice in fact, its the choice
of the U.S. Secret Service as well as both the Texas and Virginia state police we
have found the custom loaded version from ProLoad to be a little faster as well as more
accurate. The 125gr Federal JHP (the first
357SIG ever) is also a pretty good choice.
135gr ProLoad Tactical JHP at 1,260fps
155gr Remington JHP at 1,205fps
165gr ProLoad Tactical Gold Dot at 1,070fps
165gr Remington Golden Saber at 1,150fps
180gr Federal Hydra-Shok at 990fps
The 165gr loads tend to be the best performers in .40 S&W. The ProLoad 165gr has little recoil while
maintaining the excellent expansion and penetration qualities of the Gold Dot bullet. The Remington 165gr Golden Saber is a hotter round
for folks who want more energy downrange.
Moving a little lighter, the 155gr Remington JHP is an exception to
our normal recommendation for premium JHPs
this load has become famous for its
effectiveness and is the round of choice of the U.S. Border Patrol.
For shooters using short-barreled guns such as the Glock 27, Kahr,
etc., the lightweight ProLoad 135gr would be our recommendation for maximum performance
without maximum recoil. [See Mark
Passamanecks test of 135gr .40 S&W ammunition options here] Another low-recoil choice is the 165gr Hydra-Shok
from Federal; however, this slow moving bullet is best used in full size guns which can
get the most out of their velocity.
If you really want a heavy bullet in the more common 180gr weight,
the Hydra-Shok from Federal has amassed a good reputation among law enforcement in the
United States for its consistent performance.
The 175gr Silvertip from Winchester is the hands down favorite of
most 10mm shooters. For those looking for
more traditional large caliber bullet performance, the 180gr Tactical Gold Dot from
ProLoad (at 1,2000fps and 576 ft-lbs of energy) gives deeper penetration and better weight
165gr Federal Personal Defense at 1,060fps
200gr +p Pro Load Tactical Gold Dot at 1,000fps
230gr Federal Hydra-Shok at 875fps
The 230gr Hydra-Shok from Federal is the standard by which all
defensive ammunition is measured. Especially
for shooters with full size guns (which in .45 ACP means a long 5 barrel), you would
be hard pressed to find a more accurate, more effective cartridge. Another effective choice in this bullet weight is
the 230gr Remington Golden Saber, although most people find it to be less accurate than
For shorter barrels or those wanting a faster projectile, the ProLoad
version of the 200gr Gold Dot at one thousand feet per second muzzle velocity and almost
four hundred and fifty foot-pounds of muzzle energy is a definite attention getter. A +p round, expect recoil
to be a little greater than most standard pressure .45 choices.
For those wanting a soft shooting load out of short barreled guns,
the Federal 165gr Personal Defense load is not a bad option. Even out of shorty barrels like the Glock 30, SIG
P245, or Officer-sized 1911 variants you can expect velocities over 1,000fps.
relatively low-pressure cartridge intended for long barreled guns such as the M1911A1, the
mighty .45 is more affected by barrel length than its high pressure competitors such as
9x19mm, .40 S&W, and 357SIG. Ammunition
choice must be tailored around your intended shooting platform (pistol) to make sure you
are getting adequate velocity to see the performance you expect.
In the end, ultimately the decision is
yours. Talk to knowledgeable people and seek
their advice; be prepared for a variety of intelligent but differing opinions. Again, it probably doesnt matter nearly as
much in the long run as you think. Shot
just keep thinking shot placement.
need a large caliber mental attitude and a high capacity spirit, then the bullet caliber
will take care of itself.
Magnum, rec.guns moderator