Choosing Self-Defense Ammo for Concealed Carry

A 45 caliber handgun and ammunition resting on a folded flag against the United States constitution.

Concealed carry courses always prompt the discussion about which self-defense ammo is best for daily carry. Choosing the right self-defense ammo is just as important as choosing the gun you carry it in.

If you wanted to, you could find endless research on the topic of ballistics and what makes effective self-defense ammo. Not having a ballistics lab in my backyard, I like to use data from websites such as LuckyGunner or Ammoland to make my decision.

Penetration, expansion and weight retention are just a few of the things to consider when choosing your carry ammo. There are other factors to contemplate but it is best to choose ammo based on what works best for you and your environment, which we will discuss. Working as a Ballistics Range Technician taught me many things. While testing armor I learned how each cartridge and projectile were affected upon impact based on the environment and what the target was made of.

The FBI uses a ballistics gelatin that simulates living tissue. Manufacturers, dealers and backyard ballistic experts use this gel along with clothing and other barriers, to test the effectiveness of their ammo.

It is important to choose ammunition that will make it through a variety of barriers such as windshields or car doors. On a 16″ block of gel, the FBI tests for an average penetration of 12′ minimum and 18″ maximum. Personally I take into consideration the barrel length of my carry gun, the climate I’m in and my surroundings. I prefer ammo with an average penetration depth between 12 and 18-inches.

A good category for self-defense ammo is the hollow point, which essentially expands on impact to help create the most damage and stop a potential threat as quickly as possible. When taking into account test data, I like to see a bullet that can consistently perform whether it had to go through a barrier or not. I also lean towards a bullet that expands to one and half times its original diameter. Some hollow points can get clogged with substances they have hit prior to the target such as glass or clothing and not fully expand.

Another important factor is whether or not a bullet will retain its weight. If your bullet needs to go through a barrier and falls apart, its effectiveness can be greatly reduced. What may have been a 147-grain hollow point could now be separated into a lead chunk and copper pieces heading in different directions. Finding a bullet that will keep its weight and hold together will help you in stopping a potential threat.

Once you’ve narrowed down or chosen the bullet that you feel is going to save your life or the life of a loved one, you need to test in your everyday carry firearm. Making sure the ammunition is going to feed and give you the accuracy in your firearm is another important part of ensuring your gun and ammunition work together for you.

Last but definitely not least is training. Choosing a pistol, ammunition and getting a CCW is just the beginning. If you have done these things you’ve already made the decision that you and your family’s lives are worth protecting. Find a competent instructor/s or company to help expand your knowledge. I have trained with several instructors and organizations over the years. One Arizona company I personally support and have trained with is Fieldcraft Survival of Prescott, AZ. They are well experienced and are invested in teaching about firearms and survival techniques. The founders of Fieldcraft Survival use first hand experiences to teach others how to be prepared in unexpected or emergency scenarios.

There are many great companies and instructors out there. I encourage you to continue training and furthering your firearm knowledge. At the end of the day your life is your responsibility.

Author: John Sando is the owner of AZ Carry, LLC. They offer private AZ CCW classes. Visit him on Instagram at or