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 -( 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 the 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.

Editors Note: This article was first published on AmmoLand News June, 22 2017 and has been updated and brought forward for a second look at some great ammunition content.

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, Ammoland will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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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.


It has been two years? How time flies.

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.

Matt in Oklahoma

Speer Gold Dot SB is great stuff in the 9. I use the +P 115s


Their Short Barrel 124gr. +Ps seem to be very good as well!

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

Outstanding ammo reviews. Very well done.


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.


Wow……thanks (?)


@Joel – While 15% is pretty much horrible. Under powered rounds such as 380, 38, Makarov, or more so 25acp and 32acp sometimes lack the power to achieve both penetration and expansion. Without adequate placement and penetration, expansion does not do much for you. Expansion serves to slow bullet in whatever media, for low power rounds with low penetration expansion can be counter-productive. For high power rounds such as 357, expansion may be necessary to reduce risk of over penetration. While one should always be aware of what is behind their target, sometimes shooters fail. Would be horrible to have… Read more »


My feelings on his tests, as well. BTW, I use ACTAL heavy clothing in my testing; 4″ squares cut from heavy duck canvas insulated coveralls backed by 4″ squares cut from a lined, insulated flannel shirt. These are loosely stapled together at the corners so as to not compress the insulation. 4 layers of denim is not worn anywhere on planet Earth.

Poppy Wayne

I too use the Federal HST 124 gr ( when I can find it) as it does very well out of my PX4 Storm Compact. Beretta doesn’t recommend +P, so I don’t use that. In lieu of 124, I’ll use 115…which I can find all day. Can’t say good enough things for either round.


Check out


If you reload, you can get the best results from short barrel handguns by using the faster burning powders (Titewad, Red Dot, Bullseye, Clays).


A prosecutor will bury you if you use reloads, claiming that YOUR rounds had to be EXTRA deadly.




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


i run the same Federal 124gr HST in my shield


A tip of the hat to the good ole boys at Speer!


Sig makes a good short-bbl. round. I can’t remember the name of it off the top of my head, but it’s what I keep loaded in my P365. Remington Golden Sabers used to be my favorite 9 and .45 loads until about a year and a half ago when I did a bunch of research (ha-my research consisted of watching a bunch of other peoples’ videos and studying even more charts) and found they don’t perform quite so hot compared to some of the newer loadings. The Sig short bbl load, Federal HST’s, Speer Gold Dot Short Bbl., Hornady XTP’s,… Read more »

Watch um

Some of these rounds are good some better, but have you ever read what a FMJ round does in a person ? As a rule it will bounce around in a person’s body destroying bone, organs just about anything it hits, granted it will go all the way through a person sometimes. Now read what is used in handguns to kill large animals, solid fmj heavy rounds, why ? Penetration and bone destruction. I wish a coroner would comment on gunshot autopsies and what a body looked like on the inside after being shot with known bullets


Sounds reasonable to state and ask. Accurate information / relevant anecdotes should always be of interest. Why the down votes ?


LOL! The human body is nothing like a LARGE animal, requires only the penetration determined by that FBI protocol. It is also ‘highly’ resistant to ‘giving up the ghost.’ This is a revealing example: – This cop changed over from his .45, I think because he spooked himself? 😉 I still favor the heavier calibers, if you can be effective with them. This is an example of why 75% of rounds fired by the police in gunfights are MISSES! It also reminds you that static or even moving targets on some range are NOT shooting back!!


I take the FBI standards with a grain of salt; like a 50lb. block of it. The loads that they favored most highly have performed among the worst in my tests. Did you know that the FBI, along with their friends at the IWBA (International Wound Ballistics Association), actually assigned some rounds a “negative wounding index” score??? What on earth — they decided that you somehow would feel BETTER and your physical performance would be enhanced by being shot with one?!!?


If FMJ ammo is so great, why do ZERO police departments in the USA issue same to their officers?


NYPD used to, but then they grew up. Some, anyway.


They DON’T “bounce around.” They tend to penetrate straight and deep. 9mm FMJ in particular is a VERY POOR stopper, due to its’ long, sleek ogive. Tissue (and even blood vessels that are hit obliquely) have been observed to virtually slide off of the bullet rather than being torn or “obliterated” in any way. The only reason FMJs are used for hunting at all is that you’re shooting at an animal at close range that is dangerous, often fast and is the size of a van. Expanding bullets (typically) will not penetrate deeply enough to reach vitals and many times… Read more »


Will and BobD, please see my other replies and, if you’d like, request my test results. Golden Sabres have ranged from below average to awful. Current Federal Hydra-Shoks are also very poor, except the 135gr. 9mm Low Recoil and the 135gr. .40 S&W Low Recoil. I have tested all of them, but have not posted all results as of yet. The 9mm 124gr. Hydra-Shok only performed decently in bare media. Totally failed in other tests. I will soon be testing the .45 ACP 165gr. Hydra-Shok Low Recoil load and report on how it does from my 3.3″ Springfield Armory XDs.… Read more »


My own testing (over 70 loads in 4 calibers) has shown that Remington loads for semi-autos are typically running from average at best to very poor. Velocities at 10 feet are usually 100 fps or more below spec from full-sized pistols. (Same for their .22 rimfire loads in any length rifle barrel I’ve tried from 16″ to 24″ bolt, single shot and semi-autos.) The Remington Ultimate Defense Compact Pistol load that I tested in my subcompact 3.3″ Springfield Armory XDs was absolutely horrible. Little to NO expansion, severe over-penetration, etc. Loads that worked VERY well in it? Try these: MagTech… Read more »


I carry the hottest load that shots to center at ten yards. The rest is bull pucky!!


“….caliber matters less than ammunition.” I’m not quite all on-board with that, but the premise is sound. I like both ‘caliber & ammo!’ A shout out to Speer, they designed both a ‘heavy-hitter’ with their .40/10mm 180-grain bonded bullet and a “short barrel” .40/10mm 180-grain bullet. I use the former in my G29 and load the latter for my ‘ladies’ to use in their 10mm lite .40 calibers! I think both are available in Speer factory loadings, although I have only purchased the .40 issue for testing to work up ‘my’ loadings for that caliber. I run the ‘heavier’ Buffalo… Read more »


Thanks, Will. What caliber and bullet weight, and what gun are you referring to? Help us old farts out here see the light.


For carry ammo I’ve been using Speer Gold Dot “Short Barrel” 357 Magnum, 135 Grain JHP in my *2″-3″ barrel* 357s for quite some time now. I can fire rapid, controlled pairs easily with minimal recoil and low muzzle flash. It’s tack-driver accurate and shoots very clean.