Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Don’t Conceal Carry This Ammo

REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Guns and Gear Contributor

By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

While at SHOT Show, I had a wonderful chat with the head of Vista Outdoor’s handgun ammunition team and got an mini education in ammunition. It’s not like I knew everything, but I had a bit less command of the basics than I thought. One of the things he informed me of was that their surveys of concealed carriers indicated that something like 1 in 7 respondents they’d surveyed were actually carrying FMJ ammunition.

The mind boggled.

Most people who read this section of this website, and indeed most of the websites related to the guns/concealed carry/self-defense/what have you space, probably don’t need to be told this, but it does bear mentioning.

Hardball has a place, which is at the range.

It’s also used on the battlefield, but it should be mentioned that our armed forces are actually switching to Speer Gold Dot ammunition for their new-fangled Sig Sauer pistols. As it turns out, 9mm hardball is not very good at stopping hostile personnel.

Even .45 ACP hardball isn’t that great, and before someone mentions “Moro tribesmen” it should be pointed out that most handgun ammunition in the late 19th/very early 20th century (like when the first US incursion into the Philippines took place) was cast lead. Thing about cast lead (as opposed to lead wrapped in a copper jacket) is that a purely lead bullet deforms and expands in tissue, whereas jacketed lead (which followed shortly after) does not. Thus, there was no need for expanding ammunition prior to the advent of jacketed ammunition because ALL ammo was expanding!

Again, most people don’t need to be told this.

One reason why someone might carry hardball would potentially be cost. Good hollow points are spendy; typical boxes of 20 rounds of HST or Gold Dot (those are what I normally carry) run $20 to $25 in the stores near me and those are typically the rounds I carry. Granted, you can find some decent carry ammo for less than that, so at a certain point this excuse stops holding water. White box JHPs are decent budget carry rounds and they retail for pretty reasonable amounts. I often find a box of 50 for about $20.

Another potential reason, and I have heard of people doing this, is to increase the penetration potential of certain rounds, namely the small calibers. It’s true that .380, .32 ACP, .25 ACP, .22 LR and .22 WMR are not quite up to par with 9x19mm and larger rounds. Much of the literature says .380 is at best merely adequate and much ammunition testing – even with modern hollow point design – has borne out that 9mm is something of a baseline when it comes to terminal performance for handgun rounds.

Penetration as a part of terminal performance (as well as expansion) can be overrated. Though it is certainly an important quality (a soft target must, of course, be pierced to stop the threatening behavior) too much can, of course, be made of it.

Why ammunition must penetrate deeply is so that it can pierce vital structures and incapacitate an attacker. Expanding ammunition broadens the wound channel and (on paper) increases the potential to wound vital structures, but the thing there is that in the real world, that happens less than you’d think.

Blood loss takes minutes to take effect unless you happen to directly hit the heart or a select few big arteries (such as the femoral arteries, descending aorta or the aortic arch) or one of the internal organs, which can result in faster blood loss. Cardio-pulmonary trauma, again, can take time to have an effect if the subject is high or sufficiently amped up on adrenaline. The only sure stop is a hit to the brain stem.

What stops most people when they’re shot? Shock. “Oh my god! I’ve been shot!” Or something to that effect.

Why expanding ammunition is important, of course, is that it comes to a stop inside the target or, upon exiting, can’t do damage to another fleshy person nearby. FMJ rounds will.

The bottom line is this: if you’re worried that your mouse gun won’t do the trick even if loaded with hollow points, you need to find a better load or get a bigger gun. In this day and age, there are so many tiny 9mm pistols that there’s no reason you can’t carry one. There are also plenty of good .380 loads available as well. Just because it doesn’t meet FBI specs doesn’t mean it isn’t a good carry load.

Save the hardball for the range.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit