How To

The Seven Deadly Sins of Concealed Carry: Using the Wrong Ammo

-
Good self defense ammunition comes in all shapes and sizes. The 4th round standing from the left is a 9mm full metal jacket practice round. The one on the far right is a Federal Guard Dog expanding full metal jacket round.

Good self-defense ammunition comes in all shapes and sizes. The fourth round standing from the left is a 9mm full metal jacket practice round. The one on the far right is a Federal Guard Dog expanding full metal jacket round.

I had a lot of fun with the “Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting” series a couple of months ago, and hope you did too. I got to thinking about other sins—yeah, I know, thinking can hurt your brain—and it occurred to me that there are plenty of deadly sins when it comes to concealed carry. There are way more than seven, but as “Seven Deadly Sins” is kind of a thing, I’ll pick out seven interesting, and relevant, ones.

Ready? Let’s get started.

If you’ve ever seen a Wallace and Gromit movie, then you know that The Wrong Trousers can get you in a lot of trouble. So can the wrong ammunition. Using inappropriate ammo can ruin not only your life, but someone else’s too.

Don’t use practice ammo

I would classify “practice ammo” as anything designed to be frangible (for indoor or steel target shooting) or with a full metal jacket. Don’t get me wrong, practice ammo is not sub-par—it’s just designed for a different purpose than self-defense ammo. You can buy excellent and accurate practice ammo from all the reputable ammo companies. Some of it is designed especially for matches and is exceedingly accurate—with a corresponding price tag.

Good self-defense ammunition is designed to expand, deform, or otherwise slow down when it hits things.

Good self-defense ammunition is designed to expand, deform, or otherwise slow down when it hits things.

As good as it might be, practice ammo is designed to follow a straightforward sequence of events: go bang. Fly straight. Punch a hole in a piece of paper. Plow into a big dirt, rubber, or steel backstop. Practice ammo is not designed to deform, fragment, or expand when it hits an organic target. While it may still have fatal results, it’s less effective at stopping a determined attacker rapidly. In fact, it’s capable of making small holes and then zipping right through to hit whatever is behind said attacker. So, in addition to not being as effective at stopping an attacker quickly, it increases danger to others nearby. That closed-nose projectile will go through all sorts of stuff before ultimately stopping.

Unless your locale forbids it, always carry high-quality expanding ammunition in your carry gun. Not only will it increase the odds of stopping an attacker, it provides a higher level of overall safety as it’s designed to slow down more quickly when it hits things, thereby reducing the risk of pass-through or ricochet damage. If you live in an area that outlaws hollow point ammunition, check out Federal Guard Dog. It’s a non-hollow point design that still expands when it hits things.

Just to be clear, shoot less-expensive practice ammo in your carry gun all you want while at the range. But when you get home, put the good stuff back in.

Buy, don’t build

I’m a fanatical ammunition reloader, because tactical cooking rocks! Not only is it a fun and relaxing hobby, you can create an endless variety of ammunition that is customized to your specific gun and intended use. Pick a caliber and there are hundreds of load options available to you. Once you get to know what you’re doing, you can experiment to find the right combination of ingredients and variables that make you specific gun perform to it’s maximum potential.

When it comes to self-defense, don't roll your own. You may just avoid a heap of trouble if you stick with factory ammo.

When it comes to self-defense, don’t roll your own. You may just avoid a heap of trouble if you stick with factory ammo.

Even though I reload bajillions of rounds of rifle and pistol ammo every year, I only use it at the range or for hunting. For any gun I might use for self-defense, I only use premium factory ammunition.

Why? With enough care and high-quality components, I can make perfectly safe, reliable, and high-performance ammunition as well, or at least nearly as well, as many companies. The reason I always buy instead of build self-defense ammunition is strictly for my legal protection. Of course it’s legal to use your own ammo, but if I ever had to use a gun in self-defense, it’s highly likely that the wrath of an investigative and legal system would rain down on me. If there were questions of any type about circumstances of the self-defense incident, you can expect crime technicians to want to duplicate scenarios with the same exact type of ammunition used during the incident. For all you know, an aspiring CSI: Miami actor might try to determine just how far away you were based on powder or blast residue. Do you really want to risk muddying the facts because a lab won’t be able to replicate the exact ballistic footprint of your carry ammo? I also don’t want to be answering any outlandish accusations from opposing council about how “store-bought ammunition” isn’t good enough for me, so I had to make my own “quadruple lethal atomic-powered rounds.” Yes, all of these things could be successfully addressed in a courtroom, but invite the legal battle in the first place? If you find yourself on the witness stand, you’d probably rather say something like “I use the same ammunition that the police officer standing over there has in his or her gun.”

Picking the best ammunition for self-defense in any specific carry gun is a topic of endless debate, so these two considerations will just get you started. We’ll get into more detail about specific types of self-defense ammunition in later articles. For now, make sure you carry brand name “good stuff” in your carry gun. For your own protection.

Images by Tom McHale

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • TOMD

    I agree on store bought ammo. for our legal protection.

    • durabo

      Criminal investigators will usually call the event a lawful use of deadly force, and recommend the shooter not be charged. It is the dead or wounded felon’s attorney who will come after you in civil court if you use reloaded ammo. If you exceed the propellant reloading limits, the plaintiff’s attorney will claim that you cooked up a particularly devastating round that terminated or negatively affected the life of the poor, misunderstood felon you shot. You will inherit his two 17 year old girlfriends and their 8 children to be fed, clothed and maintained by you until each reaches the age of eighteen.
      Defense ammo has been “blessed” by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) after extensive testing, and its manufacturer takes on any liability from its use.

      • Mark Lewis

        Do you have anything other than your word to support that NIJ approves defensive ammo? Bet ya don’t.

      • James E. O’neal

        As an atty who has defended such a case, I can tell you, Mr. Lewis, that the gentleman is correct. It took a LOT of extra bucks to win the case. Certainly
        wasn’t worth the savings in reloading. Shape up, Sir!
        JEO/Tx

    • Greg H.

      IF stay within the SAAMI tested load ranges that are published in all the reloading manuals, I don’t see why using your own reloads for defensive purposes would ever become an issue, UNLESS you are unfortunate enough to live in a liberal infested anti-gun fever swamp. Here in pro-gun Virginia, I can’t recall a single case of defensive use of a firearm by a criminal’s intended victim in which the ammunition used was ever an issue.

    • Gel tests, hollow point, frangible, capacity, penetration, etc…thugs must laugh at us. They know ANY bullet can put a 4″ to a 14″ bloody tunnel in them, that’s why they run like cockroaches at the 1st sight of a store clerk’s gun. If an attack happens it’s gonna be fast and mean, ya won’t have time to unholster, take a stance, extend, aim, breathe and squeeze. So quit practicing that way. Dry fire out of an old loose pants and jacket pocket, ladies can also use their purse. Then do it live at your range. Then you’ll be able to do it quickly in some dangerous dark parking garage lot because your hand is ON the gun ….not carrying the gun strapped in a damn hip holster. just sayin’

  • JackBurch

    Two issues with your thoughts here. First is frangible ammo. Having used two different ammo in two DGUs I found that the frangible was Very Effective on stopping the aggressor. The first encounter I used Golden Saber and it took 5 rounds to stop the problem. No they were not peripheral hits, all COM. The second was a one shot stop with frangible. The necropsy showed compete destruction of the organs in the chest cavity. Second is bought vs. home rolled. While it appears that it could be a problem in court I would point the readers to Mitch Vilos from Utah. Mitch is an attorney and author of Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States. I visiting with Mitch I posed this very question from a legal standpoint “Does it matter what ammo is used”? His answer surprised me. He and his staff did a 5 year study on shootings in the US and the cases that followed. In no case did guilt or innocence turn on the ammo used from any gun. While I agree that it might appear bad in point of fact it has never made a difference in court. Does that mean you should go out and buy Zombie Killer ammo for EDC. Probably not. I try to lean towards what local LE carry and make my decision from there.

    • Exactly my point on the home grown vs. bought issue. Can you overcome potential objections in court? Probably. Do you need the extra potential hassles for no real gain, ie just to use reloaded ammo vs. factory? Not in my view.

      Curious about your frangible ammo and which one you refer to. In my definition of “practice ammo” above I am referring to ammo designed for shoot house and steel plate use – basically designed to convert to dust when it hits something hard. Like Remington Disintegrator. There are also defensive “frangible” rounds like Glaser, Magsafe, Extreme Shock, etc. Different purposes and of course a whole other discussion – hollow point vs. defensive frangible 🙂

      • JackBurch

        International Cartridge Corp. Green Elite. These are designed to turn back to the dust they started as. The advantage is that when they hit bone, muscle and organs they perform in this manner. Yes I agree with your final statement above on Defensive Frangible vs. FMJ type of ammo. As a side note we have done some unofficial test on shoot house frangible and it has performed well on tissue and bone. Home Grown vs. bought. I guess the point I am making is that in no court case has it made any difference. That does not mean you need to be stupid in public. There are a number of store bought ammo that might raise some eyebrows as well. Remember the Black Tallon? I still have some but I don’t carry it anymore. Just be smart if you decide to carry home grown. For instance it might be a bad idea to add mercury to the hollow point of your projectiles.

    • PS – One of the things on my to do list is to develop some type of semi-objective test to look at defensive frangible vs. hollow point. That would be pretty darn interesting. Lot’s of differing opinions on that topic.

      • Jack Burch

        WOW… I would love to see that as well!! If you are using bal. gel. would you consider putting different layers of clothing to see if the HP does get clogged with differing number of layers?

      • guest

        i use ‘POWER BALL’ it is a HP with a polymer ball in the hollow point.

    • IHateLibs

      MY Q is , most LEO’s Ive seen carry Semi’s . While I carry a Snubby Revolver 357. Years ago I hand loaded ALL the time for both practice and Hunting. So Who or What LEO, uses a Revolver ?? Except in back-up . So I load Hornady Home Defense. And at the Range, I popped a few after shooting all the different Range loads . “store bought” . And those Hornadys out of my snub ?? coffee cup groups at 25 feet. And THAT is me Carry ammo

      • Roland HUGHES

        LAPD, 38 Special +P, 165 grain Silvertip Hollowpoint…

      • nowayout

        LOL@ wheel gun back up…..that brings back memories…I carry a .45 as duty, and a .45 as back up….after all if you must send it, by all means send the very best……LOL

    • nowayout

      I’ve been in a critical incident offduty used my own loads, hornady 230 XTP’s never a word of where did you get the ammo from or did you load hot or anything……now duty ammo is all store bought (dept policy) and I am a boat rower not a rocker….

    • Charles Martel

      LEO’s usually carry hot ammo with JHP’s, good advice.

  • Blake Lyon

    At the retailer I work for we sell several different types of hollow point frangible- as a stopping round for concealed carry holders that don’t practice enough or don’t get enough range time. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Azbearhuntr

      Not to ruffle feathers but what a scary thought! If you carry a gun, especially in public, you need to train hard. If you aren’t able to do that then leave the gun at home. If it’s good enough to incapacitate the bad guy it will do the same to the good guy you hit instead. My answer to someone posing that question is no ammo is the only good ammo for those who miss because of lack of training.

      • nowayout

        Couldn’t agree more AzBear, YOU WILL100% SHOOT AS YOU TRAIN….If you don’t train my suggestion is DONT CARRY… I dont want to catch a stray round from some tool who hasn’t touched their firearm in last 18months…..just my experience….I tell my coworkers practice practice practice….not just shooting but what your immediate response will be once Law Enforcement arrives on scene…research what you would say….cause cops first words will be miranda warning and from then on your on the clock………

  • justsayin’

    Tom McHale, I really enjoyed your ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ articles. Even though I have been a reasonably good shot with a revolver or a pistol for many years, I have applied some of your suggestions and improved. Everyone here seems to have an opinion based on personal applications. Here’s one for you. Caliber .32 S&W. I really like what it does to a 5 pound bag of flour (can’t afford Ballistic Gel). I collect the little guys made by Iver Johnson, Harrington Richardson, Smith & Wesson, and others. I concentrate on ‘hammerless’ models. There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of these little 5-shot gems, in very dependable working order, still available out there. Most under $200, and many for under $100. My favorite is one of the very first swing out cylinder revolvers. Smith & Wesson Model of 1896 in .32 S&W Long caliber. It is the 258th one of these manufactured. It’s condition is 70-80% and appraised at $700. I paid $78 in an on-line auction! It fits in the palm of my hand. I, also, have a few caliber .38 S&W revolvers in these same brands. Little more explosive on the flour sack than the .32 at 15 feet. The ammo is still available for the later models (post-WWI). Some of the older ones are blackpowder cartridge only, but you can find original ammo for about a buck a shot. If you like the auto, .32 ACP is more dependable than you might think. You can still get pocket size variations in most brand names, including those manufactured post-WWI.

    • A person after my own heart! Shooting flour is… fun, satisfying, cheap, explosive, messy, awesome, crazy, dirty, whiteout conditions, etc.

      Here’s my confession: http://mygunculture.com/will-it-expand-hornady-critical-defense-vs-flour/

      I’m a big fan of .32’s also. I have no idea why. They’re just cool. I’ll have to look out for some nifty old revolvers in .32 S&W etc, especially since I reload. That would really make the old stuff fun to shoot!

  • sgtbigdawg

    I use TAP ammunition in both my carry handgun and in my home defense rifle and shotgun. I have used it since it became available to the public for this exact reason of being able to specify that I in fact use the same ammo as my local LEO’s use. I also like the way it performs in all my firearms and it has great stopping power as well as not having a habit to over penetrate an object or organic material. I also am of the group of believers that the .45acp is the best when it comes to pure unadulterated stopping power. This is simply my choice and opinion and nothing more nor less. I carry a .32 as my backup piece and with good Winchester Silver Tips is will do the job should it become necessary ( I doubt I will ever need it carrying the .45acp ) which is carried on my offside hip. As we all know the biggest there is will not get the job done without correct bullet placement so I always put range time at the top of the list for handgun shooting practice. One can never practice to much.

  • Bob in Texas

    To add to your theme; I don’t think your carry gun should be
    decorated with “Punisher” accessories. Can you imagine a lawyer
    painting you as a crazed vigilante? (Though they will anyway.) Anything I do to
    my carry guns is strictly functional and Plain-Jane on the outside.

    • Brooklynresident

      Before I came to new York, one of the pistols I carried was a .25 automatic, with an old SS totenkopf on the left grip. I kept Hornady hollowpoints in it to increase its effectiveness. My Colt .32,I carried Winchester silvertip hollowpoints, which ballistically function as .45acp. Both sets of ammo were commercially made.

      My.32 was first owned by a WWI veteran police officer–who got it new with pearl grips, and had carved seven notches into it.

      The thing is, I got my permits, and no one had any idea I had any of these on me.

      But behavior during carry–that’s another column.

  • Survival Advisor

    I always use Buffalo Bore +P+. It is reliable, HIGH impact, and has VERY low flash powder fro night use. With other brands prices skyrocketing, It’s also a bargain.

    • quincyman

      Not all guns can shoot +P+ rounds. In my Glock 30 I use magtec brass jacketed hollow point +P. They used to sell them in a 10 pack but haven’t seen that for a while.

      • Survival Advisor

        Buffalo Bore also makes +P. It’s interesting that most 1911’s won’t shoot +P+…..

      • quincyman

        Thar’s because they were designed long before +P ammo was invented.

      • Kimberproud

        Increasing the recoil-spring tension of your .45 ACP 1911 by about 30% should allow the use of +P ammo. You want a spring stout enough to allow efficient cycling, without parts slamming together excessively, before the slide starts forward on its way to battery.

      • quincyman

        But, would it work on a authentic Colt U.S. Army government issue 1911 mfg. in 1918… I think I might just keep it as the 0ld treasure that it is…. My Glock 30 is my carry and it’s had a couple of mods on it.

  • Mike Betts

    I will agree that the question of ammunition is not that important in a criminal trial. Where it can get sticky is in a civil proceeding in a state where the immunity protections of the Castle Doctrine don’t apply. If you have the misfortune to get sued for wrongful death in one of those states, even if the deceased was a career criminal, don’t be surprised if the plaintiff’s attorney makes the type of ammunition used an issue – and you will have to justify its use. The advice given here is good – use what your local LEO’s use. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to carry the same caliber, too. There are plenty of smaller versions of LEO’s service weapons out there and most accomplished shooters (which you SHOULD be if you carry) can handle them easily.

  • Sodbust

    I agree,, nothing could be worst than to explain why you load your own ammo.. Could it be you wanted more power? Or what about the fact that your home made cast lead bullet gave the shot person lead poisoning.. It could become a never ending debate while in court.. sodbust

  • quincyman

    I own an old S&W 32 cal. top break. I have it tucked somewhere (I know where) in the house just in case i’m too far away from my carry. The problem is that the 32 cal S&W is harder to find and expensive…
    but i still like it…. 🙂

  • Brooklynresident

    Hell, cause I save money.

    That ought to be a good point.

    As to answering an attorney’s leading questions, why, I just don’t think that way. I don’t even like the nose guns make. In the news, hopped up junkies are shot twenty times by the police, yet still keep coming at them–then they sure them from their hospital beds. I’m no policeman. No one trained me to be an expert shot. I need all the help I can get to defend my family. so I tried to get as many of the best bullets for the least money as I could, so that I could protect my family from harm.

    The prosecution attorney may enjoy dealing with crime day after day, but I don’t. I just want to work, and live, and enjoy my family in peace. Peace and security that was destroyed by the man (men) who attacked us.

    If he says, “Answer me–yes or no?!!” Respond, “I recognize your question to be a legal trick. There is no possible answer I could give to such a slanted question without bringing prejudice

  • hamaneggs

    Ball ammo was designed to injure (per International military rules). Hollow point/Defense rounds are designed to kill/stop instantly/asap. It Is that Simple! Common Sense Is Always Required in Life and Death Circumstances! CARRY ON!

  • USCBIKER

    Although few carry revolvers (but the Chiappas Rhino may be changing that) for concealed use, he did miss one point. A common error for those with .357 revolvers is to put .38 Special or .38+P ammo in their .357 revolver. It fits, kicks less but also has
    far less knockdown power. Years ago we had such a case in Miami and the man required 2 shots to stop the attacker coming at him with a large piece of metal pipe. He had .38 +P in his .357. The filthy prosecutor charged him with “executing” the scumbag for shooting him twice. He was acquited but spent a year in prison. Massad Ayoob was hired as expert witness and recommended, “always bring enough gun” to a gunfight.

    • Charles Martel

      NOT Buffalo Bore 38 spl +p

  • Ralph Nettles Sr

    When the man it right, he is right. I use lower velocity ammo for the range, and carry 180 JHP when I carry cancelled. I live in a well populated area and do not want ammo that will pass through my target and injure some one who is not involved. Thanks for this email, it is all good advice.

  • Billca

    Massad Ayoob makes this same point in his books regarding handloaded ammo. In most cases, this is sage advice. However, I did manage to chat with Mas at one of the GRPC events and pointed out what I considered an exception to his rule. That being the dearth of lower-powered loads for the .41 Magnum. Should this be either a carry or home defense caliber, most factory loads are designed for hunting and have an excess of power, flash and recoil. I suggested that it might be a minor problem, but unlikely to be used in court once the prosecution sees that the loads are less powerful than factory ammo. Mas simply said it would just be a “distraction” the defense team had to deal with instead of focusing on the real meat of the case.

    This brings me to topic #2 regarding ammo. Watch your mouth. If you’re using the best and most effective JHP ammo (or home rolled for that matter) be judicious in your comments to others. Do not suggest to a neighbor that your fancy JHP bullets will puree the perp’s liver. Nor should you suggest that if you’re using “brand-x” the perp “won’t be going anywhere without a body bag”. This is especially true if you’ve reloaded your own. That’s where the prosecutor can point to your statements and indicate you premeditated killing the other guy by selecting “the most lethal bullets” you could find. Instead, I tell people I want my gun and ammo to stop someone with the fewest shots possible. When asked why, I can jokingly say I’m cheap, but the real reason is it may allow the perp to survive. One bullet hole is easier for surgeons to treat than two. Two is easier than five. My goal, I tell folks, is to stop him from injuring me or others and I stop shooting when he’s stopped being a threat. If he lives because he was only hit once or twice fine. If he dies, it should not be because the number of holes in him appears excessive either.

    • cjleete

      If you want the perp to survive, why are you resorting to deadly force? You know that if you go to court you will be asked that question.

      • Billca

        Your question can also be asked as “If you didn’t want to kill him why did you resort to deadly force?” It’s a different version of “do you still beat your wife?” No one should really want to kill another person. It’s not something we should do lightly or without due consideration.

        Don’t misunderstand what I’ve said. Most people today survive a handgun wound because we have EMS and good trauma hospitals. The defender’s goal should be to stop the attack, not “go for the kill”. And just to be clear, when someone is attacking me or my family my goal is to stop him. I don’t care what color he is, what his political or religious beliefs are or that he reads the bible to his blind grandmother every night. I don’t care if he’s a straight-A student or even that he’s nice to puppies and kittens. I only care about stopping him quickly and am not overly concerned with his survival. If he doesn’t survive then that’s the result of the choices he made. If he does survive that’s fine and I hope that he decides to change his life for the better.

  • rokpaperskizzors

    Know your State Attorney and his/her policy position on the use of deadly force. Govern yourself accordingly.

  • Home Jay Simpson

    Oh, this gun cost me everything – my wife, my kids… everything but my precious, precious gun – Homer Simpson

  • Neil Sea

    This is the 1st, and likely the last article I’ll read by Tom Mchale. I lost respect when he stated to not use handloaded ammo in self defense firearms. I realize this popular myth is widespread, but untrue. I once spent WEEKS researching cases involving defensive shootings, and failed to find even 1 single case where a defensive shooter was gone after for using handloaded ammo in an otherwise “good shoot”.

    • Sean Vesper

      Not to mention the more it is mentioned in articles like this the better chance some fresh, liberal ADA will pick up on the paranoia and use it against us all for the sake of making an example and further restrict our freedoms.

    • Since you spent weeks researching this, you also know that the first thing forensics will do is identify ammo. Spend a few hours with someone like Massad Ayoob on this topic (I have) and you’ll learn some things. If anything needs to be verified, like the distance you claim, they’ll use the same ammo to duplicate scenarios, powder residue, etc. Good luck in that situation with your hand loads. I’m an avid reloader and shoot hand loads all the time, but for carry I use store bought.

      The bigger question though is, what’s the benefit? Cost? Seriously? One box of ammo per year costs about 20 bucks. Are you seriously willing to allow even the chance of this becoming an issue for 20 bucks? No thanks.

      • Mike

        The benefit of hand loaded carry ammo is that I KNOW that every powder charge is there (and the same) and that every primer was visually inspected. I KNOW that every cartridge was loaded to function in MY gun.

  • Joe Coyle

    Spot on, Tom. I am retired LEO and still carry stock, out-of-the-box handguns with factory ammunition designed to stop an assailant quickly. I practice with hand loads weekly but when I leave the range, the gun has factory ammo in it. I have been on the witness stand more times that I care to think about and can attest that defense attorneys will stop at nothing in their attempt to trick you and otherwise fool the jurors. Don’t give them any ammo (pun intended). Good article.

  • fapprez

    Am I the only one who tried to determine the caliber of each round in the photo? Where’s the answer sheet? I wonder if I got ’em all right.

  • enchunter

    Can anyone give any example of a civil suit where landlords were an issue? And shouldn’t this article at least say “don’t carry handloads in a non-castle doctrine state”?

  • enchunter

    Handloads, stinking Autocorrect.

  • Just last week the state prosecutor said concerning the recent church shooting of 9 people…”the shooter meant to murder those victims because he used hollow point ammunition”. Google it.