Self-Defense Ammo: What Is It and Do You Need It?

So, what is self-defense ammo? It is a specific type of ammo designed for, well, self-defense and is effective at stopping threats. But, do you need it? YES! If you plan on concealed carrying or using your weapon for home defense, this type of ammo is a must. Popular self-defense ammo is going to be hollow-points, whereas standard ammo commonly used for training are full metal jackets (FMJ).

Our friends at the Lucky Gunner completed an in-depth evaluation of hundreds of different types of bullets, studying each of the things we are going to discuss in this article. So, we will be referencing them a lot.

Let’s look further into self-defense ammo and what features to look for in good self-defense ammo has.

Round Penetration Depth Is Important

Penetration depth is the depth a bullet travels into the target. When it comes to penetration depth you have to consider over penetration and under penetration. You don’t want the bullet to over penetrate your target, because if that target is a hostile it could go through them and hit an innocent bystander. On the other hand, if your bullet does not have a high enough penetration depth it may prove useless, especially if it has to go through material or objects to get to your target.

The FBI has a standard penetration depth of 12 to 18 inches. At 12 inches the bullet reaches far enough with any material added to still prove effective in stopping a threat. And at 18 inches the bullet has a deep penetration but is not over penetrating and risking hitting an unintended target.

The Lucky Gunner’s ballistic testing compared the penetration depth to the FBI standard for all the bullets they chose to test. Each bullet type was shot into clear gelatin blocks five times to find an average for each type, as many of them were inconsistent.

So, quality self-defense ammo will have a penetration depth of 12 to 18 inches in order to not over or under penetrate your target.

Expansion Can Reduce The Risk Of Over Penetration

When a bullet impacts its target, the tip expands or “mushrooms” to create a larger wound channel and to help transfer energy. The expansion helps reduce the chance of over penetration because of this.

Unlike with penetration, there is no standard for expansion when it comes to bullets. The consistency in which the bullets expand is more important than a specific diameter they expand to. If you are trying to defend yourself you want a round that you can trust to expand every time giving you the opportunity to get yourself and your family away from the threat without over penetrating and hitting an unintended target.

The 5 bullet test completed by Lucky Gunner showed the consistency among shots for each bullet type. They include images of the 5 shots in their test results that you may find useful.

So, when you are looking for self-defense bullets be sure to consider the expansion consistency so you have a reduced chance of over penetration and consistently larger wounds in your target.

Weight Retention Makes Sure The Bullet Stays Together

Weight retention refers to the ability of the bullet to stay together after impacting a target. In specific handgun and rifle rounds, low weight retention is a design feature. However, it is widely stated this is something you don’t want in self-defense ammo. The more weight retention the better.

As the bullet impacts clothing and materials before impacting the target if it does not retain its mass it may not hit the target at all. Sometimes this can happen due to the bullet core separating or by design.

The majority of bullets tested by Lucky Gunner did not have an issue with weight retention, but when you are looking for a self-defense bullet is important to consider this key factor.

Self Defence Ammo Reliability Is Key

Have you ever shot a gun and the cartridge misfired, meaning it didn’t discharge? A quality bullet will have less of a chance of having a misfire. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are depending on your gun to fire and because of a poor quality bullet it doesn’t. While misfires can happen with any bullet, a quality one will be more reliable and have less of a chance of misfiring.

Brass has a tendency to tarnish over time, so if bullets are cased in brass and they tarnish, their reliability decreases. Modern bullets are made of nickel boron or zinc plated casing instead of brass. The decreased chance of these types of rounds tarnishing leads to an increase in reliability.

Reliability is key in self-defense Ammo, so making sure you have quality bullets will decrease your chance of a misfire, which could be the difference between life and death.

How Much Self Defense Ammo Do You Need?

The ever daunting question of how much ammo do you actually need. Some people may tell you to have a stockpile while others may say enough for each of your guns.

Ultimately, this is a personal preference. At a minimum, you will most likely want enough to have each of your self-defense weapons fully loaded. Some of our customers prefer to also have enough ammo for an additional magazine for each of their guns.

We recommend cycling a magazine or two of your chosen self defense ammo through your self defense gun initially just to make sure there aren't any problems.


We’ve covered a lot of information so lets review. Self-defense bullets are designed for self-defense so if you are concealed carrying you most likely will want to have this type of ammo. Penetration depth is important because you don’t want to under or over penetrate your target, 12 to 18 inches is ideal.

Bullet expansion also helps with reducing over penetration and creates a larger wound in your target. Make sure you get a bullet with good weight retention so it doesn’t shatter to pieces before reaching your target. Quality ammo is going to be more reliable, you don’t want to worry about your gun misfiring each time you shoot. And finally, how much ammo you have is ultimately up to you.

Check out Lucky Gunner for a comprehensive guide on many popular ammo types and brands to help you find what works best for you.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you prefer and what meets your needs. We recommend visiting our Holsters by Gun Model page if you are looking for holsters that are custom made for your weapon of choice. For all of our belt and holster options and for more information to help you choose the carry system that works best for you, visit our Vedder Holsters website.

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