Short Barrel Ammo Why You Need it in a Subcompact Handgun

by Sam Hoober
Gun writer, Sam Hoober, reinforces the point, if you carry a short-barrel handgun, you need short barrel ammo for it to be effective.

Hollow Point Bullet
Short Barrel Ammo Why You Need it in a Subcompact Handgun
Sam Hoober
Sam Hoober

USA -(Ammoland.com)- Alien Gear Holsters' Sam Hoober would like to reinforce that if you carry a short-barrel gun, you need a short-barrel round for it to be effective.

Naturally, subcompact pistols and especially pint-size plastic fantastics are far and away the favored gun for concealed carry.

A truth about defensive gun use is that caliber matters less than ammunition. If your bullet doesn't work, if it doesn't expand or adequately penetrate, the typical mid-bore pistol (most people carry 9mm or something close to it) becomes far less effective.

Ammunition, just like a gun, is a tool, and the truth is that if you carry a short-barrel gun you probably should have short-barrel rounds. Grabbing any old hollow point won't necessarily get the job done.

Short Barrel Ammo is a New York Load Thing

The idea that short-barrel firearms should be loaded with rounds optimized for that purpose is far from anything new. In fact, the NYPD had that exact idea during the 90s. The story is that a number of NYPD officers carried snubnose revolvers either when off-duty, as backup guns or as a primary weapon during plainclothes work.

What the NYPD noticed was that the 158-grain LSWCHP +P rounds – often called the FBI load, Metro load or the Chicago load – didn't work as well in said snubbies. The bullets didn't penetrate as deeply nor expand nearly as reliably, and since those are needed attributes in carry ammo the NYPD decided to get a different round for use in snubnose revolvers.

Speer, at the behest of the NYPD, designed a new round to perform better when fired from snubnose revolvers, a 135-grain JHP +P .38 Special short barrel round that was designed to do just that. The loading was nicknamed the “New York load” for obvious reasons, which a lot of people still call it to this day.

Short Barrel Ammo with Hollow Point Bullets
Short Barrel Ammo with Hollow Point Bullets

Lucky Gunner Labs, who do ballistic testing of popular carry ammo, still finds the same dynamic in testing of .38 Special rounds; a lot of popular carry rounds in this caliber perform better from a 4-inch gun than a 2-inch gun

As a result, if you carry a short-barrel gun – and that includes you folks carrying a single-stack plastic fantastic on the daily – you had better make a good load selection.

Picking A Short Barrel Ammunition Load

The good news is there are a number of great short barrel loads out there and more are hitting gun store shelves and online ammunition sites every day. Naturally, look for those labeled “short barrel” though there are a couple of other markers to look for.

Normally, you want to carry the heaviest bullet for caliber that you can. However, a corollary is that the heavier the projectile the longer the necessary barrel length to get the most from it in terms of performance. That's why the 158-grain LSWCHP +P rounds work very well in service revolvers but don't in snubbies and also why a number of handgun experts have maintained for a very long time that you need a 4-inch barrel to really get the performance benefits of a magnum.

Lightweight ammo loadings tend to perform better from shorter barrels – not always, but usually – so it may be a good idea to select a lighter round in your CCW or everyday carry gun.

For 9mm pistols, a 115-grain JHP is a very good fit, 155-grain loadings are good for .40 S&W and for those carrying Officer 1911s or other small .45s often do well with a 185-grain load. Another good tip is that while +P ammunition is not strictly necessary, it's a good idea to select a +P load with lower-weight loadings.

My list of go-to common short barrel ammo loads include:

 

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.

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Dr. Strangelove
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Dr. Strangelove

Speer’s Gold Dot Short Barrel didn’t make the list? This stuff leaves the barrel of my Kel Tec P-11 at 1135 FPS.

James
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James

Shield 9mm, Federal 124 grain HST, also Federal AE9AP inexpensive ballistic matching practice round
Great preforming pair

Roy D.
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Roy D.

Expansion is nice, penetration is necessary. The ability to put whatever round you use in a vital spot is preeminent.

Pa John
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Pa John

A guy who goes by the moniker “ShootingTheBull410” on YouTube, tested a whole list of brands and weights/velocities of 9mm, all from a subcompact with a 3 inch barrel. If your subcompact handgun has a 3 inch barrel or close to it then these videos are worth browsing. He followed all of the FBI and etc. protocols, measuring actual velocity in feet per second and measuring penetration into ballistic gel, with and without 4 layers of heavy denim. Everything properly calibrated. The following is a YouTube link for the search term “Ammo Quest 9mm:”, so you can look through the… Read more »

Don Bailey
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Don Bailey

Outstanding ammo reviews. Very well done.

JoeIsSmarterThanYou
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JoeIsSmarterThanYou

I adamantly disagree with much of what Shootingthebull410 concludes in his reviews. He doesn’t give 2 turds about expansion… he is one of those guys who thinks penetration is all that matters, along with valuing consistent expansion… no matter how pathetically inconsequential the expansion is! His favorite 380acp rounds have about 15% expansion… pretty horrible I think.