Ammo: How Much Is Enough When Carrying for Self Defense?

By Dan Griffin

Handgun Ammo
Ammo: How Much Is Enough When Carrying for Self Defense?
Michigan Open Carry
Michigan Open Carry

Michigan –-(  When I get down to 1,000 rounds of any caliber, I consider myself out of ammo for that caliber.

However, that’s not what I’m talking about here. When carrying a gun for self-defense, how much ammo should you carry on you? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Let’s start with the easy question first. If you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation, you’ll quickly realize that you can never have too much spare ammunition.

No survivor of a gunfight has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t carried those extra magazines.”

Should one really bother carrying spare ammunition? The simple – and only – answer is emphatically “Yes!” I have heard and read more people than I care to remember state that they only carry a small compact semi-auto or revolver, no spare ammunition, and laughingly say “if I can’t get it done in six rounds, something’s wrong” or “I deserve what I get” or something equally absurd.

So how much ammo do you need? The fact of the matter is, you will never know how many rounds you need until you need them. You might read someplace that “statistically” the average self-defense encounter involves only two or three rounds fired. The problem is that “statistically” the standard deviation is so large that the average is a pretty meaningless number. It sure would suck to fire your six rounds only to find out you needed a few more.

“If you knew you were going to be in a gunfight, what would you carry?”

“If I knew I was going to be in a gunfight, I wouldn’t go!”

One year ago this month, a man named Paul Slater broke into a Georgia woman’s house while her husband was at work and chased her and her two children into a crawl space leading to their attic. When he opened the access door and attempted to enter the attic after them, she emptied her .38 revolver in his direction, hitting her attacker five times in the face and torso. That’s pretty good shooting by anyone’s standards, much less for a frightened woman crouching in a confined space trying to protect her two young boys. That didn’t kill him. She told him to stop or she would shoot him again, knowing that it was an idle threat as her gun was now empty. But fortunately for the family he did stop his attack that day, and after the mother and her sons ran past him to get away he was able to leave the house and drive away. He lived to stand trial.

But what if she had not been as accurate? What if he hadn’t stopped his attack? What if he hadn’t been alone? The woman’s revolver was empty, having hit Slater five times out of the six she fired. She no longer had a weapon sufficient to defend herself with from her attacker who was armed with a crowbar, and had Slater had an accomplice that day, the newspaper story of the attack likely would have read entirely differently.

In a firearms online forum I read a story of a man who had his own self-defense encounter while out one evening. Fortunately for him it turned out okay, but that night caused him to rethink his “six shots is enough” strategy and he traded in his carry revolver for a high-capacity semiautomatic and two spare magazines. He was so shaken up about the “what-if” possibilities that he determined to never be in that same position again.

If you are carrying a semi-auto, there are additional reasons for carrying spare magazines besides the extra ammunition capacity. If you are unfortunate enough to begin experiencing failures, you can drop your gun’s magazine and insert a new one.

If you become engaged in a protracted fight, but experience a lull in the action, or even if you are just pausing and covering while your lone attacker is down, you can quickly perform an administrative reload by dropping your partially-loaded magazine and inserting a fresh one, and you are once again working with a fully loaded gun with one already in the chamber and no need to rack the slide. And if your pistol doesn’t have a magazine disconnector, you can still cover the threat with an operable weapon while you reload.

In any event, if you are carrying a single stack pistol that only holds six, seven, or eight rounds, you can see how advantageous it would be to trade a magazine with maybe only a round or two left in it for a fresh one rather than wait until the threat resumes, and then trying to reload an empty gun while avoiding becoming a bullet sponge.

Revolver Speed Loader
Revolver Speed Loader

One suburban cop by the name of Tim Gramins now carries 145 rounds of 9mm ammunition on his person on the job, as he says, “every day, without fail.” That is because he survived an encounter with an attacker that would not go down, even though he was shot 14 times with .45 ACP — six of those hits in supposedly fatal locations. Gramins had to fire 33 times to get those 14 hits. And even then his attacker survived the ambulance ride.

So, how much spare ammunition should one carry?
Maybe 145 rounds sounds excessive, but Gramins says it’s not paranoia, but rather preparation. We would do well to pay attention to these stories and the hundreds more just like them. Gun magazines and police departments are full of tales where the bad guy was shot multiple times and was still able to seriously injure or kill the good guy. Don’t depend on one or two shots being enough to stop a threat. Don’t assume a lone attacker. If you are not carrying spare magazines, you should consider carrying at least one, and probably two if you’re carrying a single-stack. In my opinion, if you are openly carrying your pistol, there’s really no need to conceal your spare magazines, and it’s just as easy to carry two spares as it is one. If you carry a revolver, carry a couple of full speed loaders. It’s better to be prepared than, well, not prepared.

Remember, no survivor of a gunfight has ever wished he had gone into the fight with less ammunition.

About the author: Dan Griffin is the editor of the Michigan Open Carry Newsletter, an Electrical Engineer, and Project Manager. He may be contacted at [email protected]

Michigan Open Carry, Inc is a Not-For-Profit organization that depends on our dues paying members to continue our operation.  We are an all-volunteer organization.  The objectives of Michigan Open Carry are: To educate and desensitize the public and members of the law enforcement community about the legality of the open carry of a handgun in public. To exercise a natural right to self defense using the most efficient and common tool, a handgun. Won’t you consider joining us or renewing as a dues paying member today?  Visit:

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Michael Lameyer

I see many comments concerning what will fly in court. I have taught tactical pistol since my discharge from the USMC in the year 1969. I see many comments concerning what will it look like in court. You better damn well worry about staying alive not what the hell the court will think. I have also worked with attorneys for just about as many years. This is what you say no matter what question you are asked in court concerning type of ammo, extra ammo, trigger job, aftermarket night sights. Your honor I use this and that to make sure… Read more »


Im not going to say if I agree or disagree with past comments but I will say this. Regardless of the fact that I have seen combat and what bullets really do. the ones that are against carrying extra rounds are speaking badly about it without understanding why. First of all the guy who goes to the range and fires one shot is an f-ing moron and if you think he’s a bad ass your a moron too. Fact is this, You don’t carry extra rounds because you plan on getting into a shoot out with 17 guys, the point… Read more »


I have never seen a actual instance where an armed citizen was unable to stop a threat due to running out of ammo. Police need more ammo because they go on offense against criminals, but armed citizens usually stop a threat just by being armed and do not get into sustained gunfights. Even in the Paul Slater Incident stated above the women stopped the threat. Even multiper attackers have shown in actual instances in the past that they all run in panic when one shot is fired towards them. So please, show actual instances where an armed citizen needed more… Read more »

Renegade Marauder

My EDC is 15+1, 2×15, 2×20


Many years ago when I was taking marshal arts,
My Kung Fu instructor told me the best weapon
I have is my legs. Meaning; run as fast as you
can away from trouble.
You only stand and fight when you have to and
to use deadly force.
Molon Labe


At least 10 rounds if possible, I do at times carry a 38 spl revolver 5 rounds. If SHTF my main concern is that I make every round count and hit the target as much as possible. I also carry a glock 19 with a 10 round or 15 round magazine. I practice practice practice so my focus is just trying to hit target no matter how many rounds i have.


Tom Wombat, Many people use revolvers for home defense. I certainly do. It’s a 6-shot Ruger GP100 .357 magnum with a 6″ barrel. My defense load is Speer Gold Dot 125 grain .357 magnums, six of them, averaging 1600 fps. for about 700 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. I practice every week at the range, and can manage a 2-3″ group at 15 yards easily in semi-rapid fire. For reloads I have 4 Safariland speedloaders and can reload the empty gun in about 3 seconds. I chose this revolver for it’s stopping power and extreme reliability under the worst of… Read more »

Mr Wolf

I agree. I’m 36 but am still a huge revolver fan. 357 magnum specifically. The reason I state my age is it seems like most people under 50 think they have to have 15 to 16 rounds in tap. I like the power a 357 offers w out the unmanageable recoil. Taurus Tracker 7 shot w 4 inch ported barrel and I carry 2 speed loaders. That’s 21 in all

Harry Leonard

Most gun encounters are over after 2-3 shots. The rest of you have watched too many movies. You can never have too much money, either. But most of you don’t do enough to have more.

Scotty Stalcup

Luttich I love my Bersa Thunder 380 DLX but if you can handle a 9mm the same size, I’d go for it. With a spare mag, of course.

Bersa Thunder 380 DLX Pistol

Old Curmudgeon

As a retired Law Enforcement officer I know better than to go on the internet and tell everyone out there what I carry, how much (or how little) ammo I carry and even post pictures. It can come back to bite you in the butt if, God forbid you ever find yourself in a position where you need you handgun for protection. That being said, check out the duty rig of your local police or sheriff’s deputies and see how much ammo they carry. If you carry the same amount of ammo and your attorney can’t get a judge or… Read more »

Vinny Sheehan

Got FNK 9mm 16+1 in weapon, 1 spare mag.
That’s 33 rounds. It’s for self defense not WAR.
If you need more than is in your weapon you
Either need retraining or stay out of Iraq ,
Afghanistan. You qualified ( I hope) at 75 ‘ as I did
So unless your holding off a group of 10 or more
My 33 should be enough.
I pray I never have to use mag2, I’m in trouble.

FNH FNK 9mm Pistol


My every day carry is a Glock 17 with the +2 mag extender giving me 19 down and 1 in the tube. I carry two spare mags of 19 rounds each so I have 58 rounds total. Is that enough? I hope so but you can never be sure. I do know it beats the heck out of just having 6 or 10 or 15, etc.

GLOCK 17 Gen4 Pistol


Enough to have a couple left after the dust settles.


So much depends on what you’re comfortable with. For “everyday” purposes my prefereence is to carry 3 extra 8 round mags on my person and an extra 50 readily accessable. That’s 33 rounds that can be loaded quiclky with the backup 50 available. No matter how many you carry it’s about prior training and shot placement. You can make each shot count or you can spray lead all over hell and it doesn’t matter how many rounds you have. A police officer see a gun and he doesn’t think. His weapon just magically appears and he’s getting a sight picture… Read more »


No matter how many rounds you’re packing, there’s no substitute for serious, professional training and daily, or at least frequent dry-fire practice. In a gunfight, every shot that misses your attacker is more time for the bad guy to hit you. Just do your best to avoid risky situations. When you can’t, be prepared.


in California it’s impossible to get a carry licinse in California. screw them. a misderminor is better than being dead. I carry my personal custom made wide frame 1911 officers model. 13 shot mag with 2 round extenstion to 15 + 1 in the hole. plus I carry a spare 14 round. shot placement is the key to stopping an attacker. when I practice, there 90% head shot’s, at 25 feet. at 5-10 feet its shot from the hip. never miss. practice ,practice. I’m 62 and have been shooting for 40 years. was a grand champion NRA sharp shooter. plus… Read more »

Chuck S

I carry a compact 9mm, with one magazine in the gun and a spare in my pocket. My reasoning is, despite what TV and movies tell us, the most likely scenario is one or two attackers at close range. If I reach the bottom of the first magazine, that is my signal to either pick up a different weapon or depart the premises, using the contents of my second magazine to facilitate that. I am not a police officer, so I do not have a duty to stay and fight it out, so my gun is intended to either neutralize… Read more »

Bob Macfarlane

I carry a Keltec PMR30. One in the pipe, 30 in the magazine – – – Hornady Crtical Defense Ballistic Tips, .22 WMR. Just in case I also carry two space magazines with 30 rounds each.

What is enough? Enough is what it takes to eliminate all threats.

Concealed where required and open where allowed. You reach an age where you cannot fight them, so you just let them know your only option is to kill them.

Keltec PMR30 Handgun

Dr. Strangelove

Most conflicts end at the presentation of a firearm, and those that do not are typically ended by one or two shots. But what happens if you get caught in a riot or civil insurrection? Remember Reginald Denny? It’s prudent to have extra ammo handy, even if it’s not on your person.


Why did I have a pistol and a quantity of ammo?

I do not expect my attorney to dignify that question with a response. Otherwise, it would be “Because I could”.

Ask yourself, why have a full tank of gasoline in your automobile when you are only going to the grocery store?

Why buy a week’s worth of groceries?

Why do you have a fire extinguisher in your home or automobile? Are you expecting a fire?

Why have a first aid kit?

Why have a spare tire and jack with your automobile?


Depends on the carry situation. EDC I have a PO single stack .45 and haul 3 extra mags (8 rds each) plus another in the weapon and 1 round in the pipe for a total of 33. May have to get a few more mags! However, for bug out purposes I haul a glock 22 with 3 extra 15 rd mags as well as 3 22 round mags for the accompanying Kel-Tec sub 2K in .40S&W /Glock config. That gives me an initial capability of 89 rounds in the Kel-Tec and another 61 rounds with the G22 for a grand… Read more »

Rich Luttich

I carry a little Bersa Thunder .380. And a single spare mag. I’d be fuq’d! Um…headshots only? Yeah right.

Bersa Thunder .380 Pistol


I would rather face a judge and have to explain why I had a lot of ammo,”because I like to shoot and was going to the range” seems plausible to me.Much better than to face 2 or 3 thugs intent on killing something and find out I did not have enough rounds to convince them otherwise,I dont think I could explain anything to them that would help.


“It sure would suck to fire your six rounds only to find out you needed a few more.”

It sure would suck to fire your six rounds only to find out you needed ONE more.

Wes Koehler

I’m sick and tired of hearing the broken phonograph record phrase: paranoia! Being prepared to go head on with homicidal predators is called BEING CIRCUMSPECT!


S&W 659, 15+in the pistol and 2 spare mags on the belt.

S&W 659 Handgun

James A. "Jim" Farmer

This article is thought provoking indeed. So how much ammo do I carry? My primary carry and house handgun is a Smith and Wesson Model 66 “stainless” (K-Frame) .357 Combat Magnum revolver with 4″ barrel via Bianchi IWB holster (thumb break and lined). It’s an older Model 66-1 being of 1977-1981 vintage “a beauty!” I keep inside my backpack two extra HKS speedloaders, an 18 round ammo walnut, and two boxes of .38 Special/.357 Magnum ammo. The .38 Special loading is Federal’s 129 grain (+P) “Hydra-Shok.” In additon I also have a survival knife, extra matches, etc. I think I… Read more »


Dave, when the DA asks you why you were carrying all that extra ammo, the answer is simple:
It was easier than carrying a Cop.


“The only times you can have too much ammo is
when you’re on fire or drowning.”


This is a good article, but it overlooks the post-shooting factor. Every shooting involves (a) the shooting, (b) possible criminal charges, and (c) a lawsuit by the thugs and/or their families. When you’re dragged in front of a jury, the prosecutor will describe you as a homicidal maniac, carrying all that ammo with the clear intent to hose down the neighborhood and kill everything in sight. Even if you survive the shooting and defeat criminal charges, the “walking arsenal” image will not serve you well in a lawsuit. So yes, carry a spare mag, but use common sense.


Look at it this way…it would be EXTREMELY embarassing to run out of ammo…and you still needed some.


My EDC is 44 rounds. 10+1,10,10 6+1,6

Mike Donohue

My everyday carry is 15+1 with one spare mag @15 on me all self defence rounds then have a third 15 round mag and a unopened 100 round box of fmj in my day bag(a Durango)

Hope never to need that much but rather have it, then have a empty gun. Its being prepared, just as i keep a case of water in my trunk and a few mre’s as I live in the high desert and travel from cuty ti town could be awhile for help (police or tow truck) its best to be ready.

Mr Wolf

Revolvers are still a great option for self defense. The 357 magnum offers the best one shit stops in a combat caliber handgun. Not to mention you can get them w 7 or 8 round capacity. Mine is a 7 shot. I keep 2 speed loaders which give me 21 rounds. My Glock 19 stays in my safe. The 357 magnum is THE KING


I’m going to have to agree here with it being overkill to carry a ton of ammo. Carry your pistol and an extra mag if needed but this article assumes you will even know what to do when someone is on top of you or the bullets start flying in a direction that isn’t coming from your gun. There are trained soldiers who curl up in the fetal position when the bullets start flying. My point is no one except those that have experienced it know how they will react when your fight or flight kicks in. You do all… Read more »


This strikes me as one of the most idiotic gun articles I’ve ever seen. One in the right place beats ten all over the place. I doubt I’ll ever forget the time I was at the range when a guy showed up, got out his stuff, set up his target, fired one shot, packed up his stuff and left. While I don’t practice that way, I was impressed with his approach. In the real world, your first shot may very well be the ONLY shot you get. I’m licensed to carry and do carry. It is highly probable that I… Read more »


I always carry at least one reload, be it 5, 6, 10, 12, 15 or whatever rounds. Magazines malfunction sometimes. Wheelguns can run dry too fast. Whatever you carry, have some extra ammo. My S&W J-Frames carry premium JHP .38 Special +P JHP ammo while the speed loaders carry a moderate .357 Magnum JSP. Why? The magnums penetrate better and are noisy to attract cops to help if I need them. The 1911’s operate using Federal HST or Hydrashok ammo. But the back-up magazines (2) carry only FMJ. Why? Because if things are that far gone I’m missing way too… Read more »

Lt. Dan

Cute remarks may be funny on the internet but in the courtroom they’ll be used against you and it won’t be in fun.


I think it depends on how many angry insane “anti-gun” liberals want to kill you because they’re losing the argument over “gun control”!


My EDC is 6+1. My CCW is for defense. If I ever need ted more than that, I’m probably doing something that’s not going to fly in court as ‘self defense’.