One of the most overlooked defensive handgun cartridges, the .32 H&R has never gained a tremendous following. This is unfortunate because its recoil is lighter than that of a .38 Special, and with Hornady’s 80-grain Critical Defense load it comes close to the standard. (<a target=blank href=http://www.hornady.com>http://www.hornady.com</a>; 800-338-3220)
With this powerhouse you have a formidable defensive handgun cartridge. DoubleTap’s 1,500-fps-plus load, which utilizes a 75-grain Barnes TAC-XP bullet, will penetrate about 17 inches and expand to 1.7 times its original diameter. It is also comfortable and controllable to shoot. (<a target=blank href=http://www.doubletapammo.net>http://www.doubletapammo.net</a>; 866-357-1066)
Working up the caliber ladder, many consider the .380 ACP the minimum caliber for personal protection. The problem with the .380 ACP is that loads capable of penetrating over 12 inches, with 1.5 times expansion, are as rare as unicorns. Lehigh Defense feels the same way, which is why it offers a non-expanding Xtreme Penetrator load for the .380 ACP. It will for sure meet the penetration goal but does not expand. However, the 85-grain bullet, with its skived nose, does create wicked wounds. (<a target=blank href=http://www.lehighdefense.com>http://www.lehighdefense.com</a>; 215-536-4100)
The 9mm cartridge probably offers the best balance of power, shootability and capacity. And, there may be more 9mm loads to choose from than any other. I’ve tested many of them and prefer the new Black Belt load from Remington, which is soon to be released for civilian purchase. This stuff is barrier blind, offering 14 inches of penetration, 1.5 times or more expansion and almost 100-percent weight retention. (<a target=blank href=http://www.remington.com>http://www.remington.com</a>; 800-243-9700)
Though not as popular as it once was, the .38 Super is like a 9mm Magnum cartridge. However, this increase in power is not accompanied by a tremendous increase in recoil. One of the most devastating .38 Super loads I’ve tested is Buffalo Bore’s 124-grain bonded load. It will expand to at least 1.5 times its original diameter and penetrate to a surprising 18 inches. (<a target=blank href=http://www.buffalobore.com>http://www.buffalobore.com</a>; 208-756-3434)
This is a very popular cartridge for personal protection, and .38 Special ammunition is also commonly, and wisely, used in .357 Mag revolvers to reduce recoil. There are lots of good .38 Special loads to choose from, but like with the .380 ACP, few meet the performance benchmark in every category. Winchester’s new Train & Defend load comes close, and it does so without intense recoil. The 130-grain bullet penetrates to almost 12 inches, retains near 100-percent of its weight and expands to 1.5 times its original diameter. (<a target=blank href=http://www.winchester.com>http://www.winchester.com</a>; 800-945-5237)
Unless you’re using a full-size service revolver, .357 Mag handguns can be a handful. But they don’t have to be. Remington’s 125-grain Golden Saber +P load will provide more than 12 inches of penetration, more than 1.5 times expansion and almost 100-percent weight retention. (<a target=blank href=http://www.remington.com>http://www.remington.com</a>; 800-243-9700)
Though not as popular as many thought it would become, the .357 SIG is a very formidable defensive handgun cartridge. One of the best loads for it is in Sig Sauer’s new line of Elite Performance Ammunition. The 125-grain, non-bonded bullet will push to 14-plus inches in gelatin, retain all its weight and expand to 1.7 times its original diameter. Sig also has .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP loads in the lineup. (<a target=blank href=http://www.sigsauer.com>http://www.sigsauer.com</a>; 866-345-6744)
Considered the ultimate compromise cartridge by many, the .40 S&W offers a terminal performance and capacity balance between the 9mm and .45 ACP. Federal’s 165-grain Guard Dog load is a good choice. It will push to about 12 inches and expand to around 0.64 inches. Weight retention is 100 percent and recoil is mild. (<a target=blank href=http://www.federalpremium.com>http://www.federalpremium.com</a>; 800-379-1732)
Many consider the .45 ACP to be the ultimate for personal protection and many loads are available. After testing most of them, I settled on the 160-grain Barnes TAC-XP bullet. Several companies load this bullet at various velocities, but DoubleTap created a load just for me—the company calls it the Mann Load. It’s a non +P load with a muzzle velocity of about 1,050 fps from a 4-inch barrel. It will penetrate to about 15 inches, retain all its weight and expand well in excess of 1.5 times its original diameter. (<a target=blank href=http://www.doubletapammo.net>http://www.doubletapammo.net</a>; 866-357-1066)
With the popularity of the AR for personal protection, a host of new loads have been developed. Many offer deep penetration, while others deliver tremendous wounding potential. To prevent the concerns of over-penetration and put as much damage on target as possible, I’m fond of CorBon’s Urban Response load. This very frangible bullet will create a nasty wound cavity, but only to a depth of about 10 inches. (<a target=blank href=http://www.corbon.com>http://www.corbon.com</a>; 800-626-7266)
Many believe the ultimate load for the home defense shotgun is 00 buckshot. Buckshot is nasty but will penetrate very deep. For that reason I keep my home defense shotgun loaded with birdshot, but in the Mesa Tactical side saddle there are three rounds of Hevi-Shot’s Hevi-Duty frangible #4 buck to reduce the worries of over-penetration and shooting through the walls of my home. (<a target=blank href=http://www.hevishot.com>http://www.hevishot.com</a>; 541-367-3522)
Any cartridge/ammunition combination you rely on to save your life needs to provide 100-percent reliability, but, from a terminal performance standpoint, is there a benchmark to reference when making these decisions?
For the most part, the de facto standard lies with law enforcement. As a result of wound research and ballistic testing the FBI has standardized, law enforcement generally considers a handgun load to be suitable for duty use if it will penetrate at least 12 inches, expand to at least 1.5 times its original diameter and still retain at least 80 percent of its original weight. The penetration stipulation carries over to carbine and shotgun ammunition, too.
As definitive as these specifications might seem, they are really nothing but a guide because these criteria are based on the notion that 10-percent ballistic gelatin replicates the bodies of bad guys. Lots of loads from lots of cartridges meet or exceed this standard, but the existence of the standard does not mean loads that fall just shy in one or more of the performance categories will not work. Just as important is the fact that for concealed carry or home defense, you may not need the same level of barrier-defeating penetration as required by law enforcement.
As a bullet geek, I spend a lot of time testing ammunition in gelatin and through various barriers. It’s given me great insight into terminal performance, and based on what I’ve learned, here are what I consider the centerfire loads I would trust for home defense and/or concealed carry.
For More Information
Buffalo Bore Ammunition
Federal Premium Ammunition
The Viridian R5-XDS is a complete carry package with a belt holster included.
by Personal Defense World / Dec 9, 2014