Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Choosing Home Defense Ammunition

Someone new to self-defense and concealed carry asked me one time what ammo to buy. Then almost in the same breath asked what ammo I use. That’s an easy question to answer if you shoot like I shoot and defend your home in the same way that I do and have the same type of home as I do and the same number of people in your home as I do. As you can see, there are many factors to consider. Not only that, there are a myriad of types and designs of ammunition on the market.
Let’s start with nomenclature. Most Handgun and rifle ammo is classified by diameter of the bullet or caliber. The slug that leaves the gun. This is measured in decimals of an inch or millimeters. The cartridge consists of the bullet, the case, powder, and primer.
Most handgun defense ammunition is a jacketed hollow point or JHP. This is a lead core, jacketed bullet with a cavity in the front. This causes the bullet to mushroom when it hits the target. This both to causes more damage in a person and slows down penetration to keep the bullet contained. A full metal jacket or “ball” or FMJ bullet has a lead core with a metal jacket. This will penetrate through a person, the wooden wall behind them, and beyond. That’s why it’s not desirable for defense. The penetration you want in defense ammo is at least 12 inches but no more than 18 inches with the appropriate JHP and bullet weight, measured in grains or gr. Heavier bullets will penetrate more.
Rifle ammunition is different in that a hollow point referred to as open tip match or OTM is not designed to expand in the way that pistol ammunition does. It might do so in some cases but the shape is simply the result of a process intended to make bullets as uniform and precise as possible. Bullet weight is similar considering penetration though.
Shotgun ammunition is a little different in that it usually has several projectiles. It is measured in gage which means the smaller the number the larger the projectile. Contrary to common beliefs, bird shot will not penetrate like heavier shot even at close ranges. The tests have been done and at least #4 buckshot should be used for home defense. Ideally 00 buckshot is what I would recommend. #4 buck shot (there is a #4 birdshot also which is considerably smaller) is .24 caliber where 00 is .32 caliber. In a 1 1/8 shell #4 will have 24 pellets in it and 00 will have 9. But remember, weight has everything to do with penetration. #4 buckshot weighs 20.5 grains, where 00 buckshot weighs 54 grains in the same shell. If all I had was #4 I’d be satisfied but if I have a choice, and I do, I will take 00 buckshot.
There certainly is a lot of gimmick ammunition available on the market and many of them make fantastic claims. Most of these sensationalist claims are false, of course and the gimmick ammunition usually involves some degree of fragmentation. Fragmentation is desirable in a rifle bullet, if minimum penetration standards can still be met but it is not desirable in a pistol bullet. Fragmentation typically results in poor penetration for handgun bullets, but even if they did reach the 12” mark, tiny separate wound tracks do not contribute substantively to the ability of the projectile to incapacitate at handgun velocities.
Fragmentation is useful at rifle velocities because the tissue is stretched so far that those tiny fragments can cause the stretched tissue to tear. The cavity produced by a handgun bullet is much smaller and no significant tearing can be achieved. The short of it is that extraordinary claims should be taken with a grain of salt and you would be well advised to stay away from gimmick ammunition.
Let me be very clear. When you use a firearm to defend yourself or others, you intend to cause grievous bodily harm to another human being and potentially kill them. While that is not something that should be taken lightly, if you are not prepared to kill a person, you should reconsider your decision to use a firearm for defense.
Of course, the intent is not to kill. You are not a sociopath and you do not want to harm a person if you can avoid it. The objective is to stop the threat, but when you damage a person’s body to the extent that they are physically incapable of violence, there is also a strong possibility that they will not survive. This is an unpleasant thought, but one that you must be comfortable with if you intend to use a firearm for defense.
The intent of this article is to help you choose ammunition for defense. Ammunition is not going to be the “magic bullet” (no pun intended) that will stop the threat. The biggest thing that determines if a threat will be stopped is shot placement. Penetration is second to being able to control where that shot will go. Then there is expansion and/or fragmentation. A rifle is always better than a handgun. But you must determine what you can handle in the confines of your home.
In the right hands a .22 can be deadly. Ammunition is the focus of this article but truthfully, shot placement trumps everything. There is no substitute for training.
Semper Paratus
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