Quality Ammunition Matters More Than Caliber

by Sam Hoober
Alien Gear's Sam Hoober makes the case that good quality ammunition, or the bullet you carry, is actually more important than how big it is or how fast it flies.

Quality Ammunition
Quality Ammunition
Sam Hoober
Sam Hoober

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- The caliber wars are as redundant as they are hackneyed at this point, but that hasn't stopped people from going on and on about how 9mm is better than .45 ACP or vice versa, or how .40 is a great medium between the two and so on.

Some people even chime in that .380 is actually a viable defense round and everyone needs to stop trashing it.

Then the revolver guys start in on .357 Magnum and so on and so forth.

No Such Thing As Stopping Power

The truth is that stopping power is a myth, so unless you carry a .45-70 Mare's leg it's just not really an attribute that a handgun has. That said, all of the proven defensive calibers are great for a carry gun, but it isn't the number printed on the rim that matters.

What DOES matter? Shot placement, certainly, but what arguably matters almost more than anything is actually the ammunition you use. If there is anything that's held as true when it comes to the defensive use of the handgun over the decades is that quality ammunition makes far more difference than caliber.

Quality Ammunition

Fully-jacketed bullets are very good at punching through targets, be they paper or of the fleshy variety. The reason why .45 ACP was popular was that a bigger bullet poked a bigger hole and thus did more damage than a smaller one. However, what we know now is that a decent 9mm JHP round is going to be better than 230-grain ball.

Quality Ammunition Hollow Points
Quality Ammunition Hollow Points

That is exactly the reason why it took law enforcement so long to adopt semi-auto pistols. In past eras, the only quality hollowpoints or semi-wadcutter hollowpoints made on any kind of scale were made for .38 Special and .357 Magnum pistols. Since good hollow points weren't available over-the-counter for 9mm or .45 ACP, departments and agencies relied on the ammunition that was known to be effective until semi-auto rounds began to catch up.

Ammunition Has Come A Long Way

Improvements in ammunition quality are why more and more police departments and federal agencies are switching to 9mm after dalliances with .40 S&W, .357 Sig and so on. With quality hollowpoints, a round that might otherwise seem underpowered becomes devastatingly effective.

With quality ammunition hollowpoints, a round that might otherwise seem underpowered becomes devastatingly effective.
With quality ammunition hollowpoints, a round that might otherwise seem underpowered becomes devastatingly effective.

Good carry ammunition doesn't punch through a target; it expands inside the target, creating a larger wound channel and coming to rest inside the assailant. The expansion causes more damage, hopefully enough to incapacitate the threat or at least convince them to quit the engagement. Penetration is also important, as a good defensive round should be able to penetrate through several layers of clothing as well as other materials before reaching the target.

While ballistic testing is far from perfect, it can at least start to approximate what a round may potentially do when shot into a human target. Testing by ammunition makers, governmental organizations, and private citizens has demonstrated that plenty of quality ammunition is available for all of the proven carry calibers, all of which are capable of sufficient penetration and expansion to be relied upon when it matters.

Granted, some calibers will require a bit more searching than others to find the best rounds, but there are .380 loads that are perfectly adequate for defensive purposes. A bevy of quality loads in 9mm, .40, .45 and so on are available on most gun store shelves or easily online, a number of which – such as Speer Gold Dot, Remington Golden Saber Bonded, Winchester Ranger and Federal HST – have an excellent track record in police service and are very well-suited to use in a concealed carry gun.

About Sam Hoober

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

  • 19 thoughts on “Quality Ammunition Matters More Than Caliber

    1. “My Reconsideration Of The 9mm Parabellum Over Time”
      Up to the early 1970s’, I would NEVER have carried a 9mmPara for DEFENSE.
      The reason being the FMJ projectiles almost universal to it.
      It was the .357 Mag. or .45 ACP; both in FP, SP or HP only.
      Then I tried…
      No matter what commonly used handgun defense caliber/ammunition we choose, it all boils down to bullet placement!
      https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-reconsideration-9mm-parabellum-over-time-patrick-cimo

    2. (Sorry had many typos in previous post)
      Stopping power is real in handsguns. Fragmenting ammo in the torso will almost always hit some vital blood vessel or organ. Thus if you are not concerned about barrier penetration, I think it is ideal self-defense ammo. Self defense I say, not tactical though. Police and Military would not be well off with fragmenting ammo.

      The Strausbourg Goat Test’s make it clear that the pre-fragmented ammo out performs hollow-point ammo every time in speed of incapacitation; where the incapacitation time was the amount of time it took before the goat fell over. The best 45ACP Hollow-point was slower than the pre-fragmented 380 ACP ammo in time it took to incapacitate the animals. Of course the 45ACP fragmenting reached reached about optimal time before the goat fell dead from the lung shot: Approximately 3 seconds. All of the larger calibers had 3.X second incapacitation time with fragmenting rounds; while with hollow points, they were in the 7 second+ range.

      Test is here:
      http://guninstructor.net/Strasborg_Tests.pdf

    3. I have shot from 17 to 155mm and they will all take out your enemy hitting the right spot is what really counts.Most people will leave when they start hereing bullets or balls sizzling around there heads.Practice is the best solution.Either practice to hit your target or make enough noise it will scare the hell out of the culprit and hope they will leave. Any caliber any configuration, ball or hollow point will work,if you hit the target

    4. This is my opinion that has been molded through personal experience and undeniable reality. I have been privy through my line of work to see many “ammo demonstrations” given by hungry reps from most of the top players. I have also had the dubious honor to see the results of these “modern wonders” on the street and on the autopsy table. For the author say that “with quality hollow points a seemingly underpowered round (9mm implied) becomes devastatingly effective” is a dangerous exaggeration at best. Consider that in most REAL LIFE shootings (jello need not apply) fully 1/3 or more modern “expanding hollow point rounds” fail to do so adequately. Yes, even after multiple millions of dollars of testing and research, chances are great that 1 out of every 3 of your rounds will not expand as designed in a true flesh on flesh confrontation. NONE of the big ammo companies will admit that because they want you to buy their over priced, overhyped, marginal rounds while holding you and your wallet hostage on Fantasy Island. It is absurdly illogical to buy into the BS that a round that has for most of it’s career been considered “marginal at times and an outright failure at others” has all of a sudden become some top tier “death ray” of a fight stopper. To sum it up, the 9mm is a “good” round when all goes perfectly with modern rounds but saying it’s “devastatingly effective” is more than stretching it. But hey, I guess “what ever it takes to get you through” is a good thing even if it is a main course of denial served with a side of gullability.

        1. Edward, this was not a rant. I was trying to open the eyes of some of the readers who believe all that crap they read. You asked my recommended caliber so here goes……”The heaviest caliber you can shoot well”. Fortunately for most full grown men, the 9mm is not the tolerance ceiling. Armed with the knowledge that many of my “expanding rounds” absolutely will not, I choose a larger caliber simply because I know the 9mm is extremely dependent on expansion through velocity which most small carry guns rob. Bottom line, I prefer a larger caliber because my already large bullet will not shrink regardless of expansion. It’s something you have to choose for yourself but don’t believe the hype that a marginal round has recently been transformed into a tomahawk missile with modern bullets that look great in jello but may not expand in the real world. Be safe out there.

      1. Anthony,

        Your the reason why myself and a number of friends have found a home here at Ammoland…

        Great discussion. I have never been a big believer in the 9mm as the ‘next step up’ for most law enforcement agencies. I’ll keep my Glock 21 and that nice little Springfield XD Mod 2, .45 ACP (even w/a that goofy ‘wall’ trigger) any day over a 9mm with or without (1 in 3) hollow points…;)

    5. Author Sam and other commenters,

      Here is my 2-cents.

      I agree with ‘most of what everyone has said here’, BUT, with the following two (2) exceptions:

      1. Police departments were slow to move from the .38 revolver to a 9mm semiautomactic, mainly because revolvers do not require as much cleaning/maintenance as semiauto’s. Many police departments only require their officers to ‘qualify’ once or twice a year, which is only time many of their officers ever fire their service or off duty pistols. And, I say this from experience, that ‘most’ police officers are NOT shooters.

      Today, I am a shooter, where it is now Mandatory! that I go to the range ‘at least once a week’ . Which brings me to part two.

      2. Expense! I shoot at least 250-300 rounds a week (22, 9mm, 45’s) so this little sport of ours can get ‘fairly expensive’. At the range I use for target (plinking) the least expensive ammo I can find, which is Tul Ammo (Russian), which we have found to very reliable and accurate, and then load the best hollow points when I’m not at the range; after cleaning them that is…;)

      BTW: No, I will not hand load my own ammo. Just don’t have the patience or the time for that ‘savings’…

      1. @Garryowen – And the ‘savings’ realized through ‘hand loading’ aren’t what they used to be because of the current high prices of ammo components.

        1. ……Thank you. I tell them this all the time, but will pass on again to all my crazy re-loading finds….;)

    6. I hear people gripe that this brand of self defense ammo. or that brand of self defense ammo. costs so much. For example G2 Research ammunition runs about$1.50 to $2.00 a shot. Then again the stuff is incredibly deadly for self defense use (close range and exposed) and you may get only one shot off in a fight. I always ask any doubters about specialized ammo. prices like G2 Research’s stuff and other brands of high-dollar high performance ammunition… “So tell me, what is your life worth?”

      1. Very good point. Stopping power is real in handsguns. Fragmenting ammo in the torso will almost always hit some vital blood vessel or organ. Thus if you are not concerned about barrier penetration, I think it is ideal self-defense ammo. Self defense I say, not tactical though. Police and Military would not be well off with fragmenting ammo.

        The Strausbourg Goat Test’s make it clear that the pre-fragmented ammo out performs hollow-point ammo every time in speed of incapacitation; where the incapacitation time was the amount of time it took before the goat fell over. The best 45ACP Hollow-point was slower than the pre-fragmented 380 ACP ammo in time it took to incapacitate the animals. Of course the 45ACP fragmenting reached reached about optimal time before the goat fell dead from the lung shot: Approximately 3 seconds. All of the larger calibers had 3.X second incapacitation time with fragmenting rounds; while with hollow points, they were in the 7 second+ range.

        Search for the test if you want to see its results.

    7. As a shooter and hunter since 1959, and a hand loader and bullet caster since the early ’70s, I fully agree on quality being the true litmus test; quality over quantity pretty much any time.
      That being the case, I always find it interesting, almost humorous, when I read posts on gun forums asking for places to buy cheap ammunition and cheap magazines. And usually these posts are followed by complaints of this or that ammunition not working or these or those magazines being junk.
      I have a hard time understanding the logic of laying out $500-$700 (or more) on a quality handgun and then suddenly going cheap on the things that make it run properly. I guess there’s a practical reason for buying cheap practice ammunition but then I read you should shoot (practice with) what you carry. Just gets curiouser and curiouser.
      I’ll stick with cheap for things like paper plates, toilet paper, coffee filters (is there a trend here?) and etc. but for those things that have a direct bearing on my safety and well being … quality matters.

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