Choosing the Right Ammunition: Target Versus Defense
Posted On June 27, 2023
Without ammunition, a firearm can’t do its job. But not just any ammunition will do, especially when it comes to handguns used for self-defense and training. Ensure the ammunition you choose is suited toward your needs with this easy guide.
Law enforcement agencies like the FBI have specific criteria for bullet performance in their protocol testing, and those extensive evaluations are put in place to ensure agents have the right tool—and more specifically the right bullet—when lives are on the line. Those tests prove what experienced shooters already know—choosing a bullet for self-defense is not something that should be taken lightly, and it isn’t a decision that should be based on convenience or price alone. The primary objective in any self-defense situation is to neutralize the attacker, and bullet performance plays a critical role in doing that. Some bullets are simply better at stopping bad guys than others.
There are some critical features firearm owners should demand in their self-defense ammunition. First, the bullet must be well-constructed—durable enough to penetrate barriers like heavy clothing, yet capable of expanding and delivering maximum tissue damage to stop an attack.
Federal’s HST ammunition has proven itself time and again to be an effective defensive load, and it stands up well in the FBI’s strict test protocol. The hollow-point design features patented dual-skives (cuts) in both the jacket and core to initiate expansion. The durable copper jacket promotes controlled expansion, and the cannelure locks the jacket to the core to prevent detachment.
HST bullets expand effectively and maintain nearly 100 percent of their weight on impact, yet they don’t over-penetrate. The team at Federal conducts extensive testing on these bullets to ensure the design and velocity are optimized to caliber, and that means consistent performance for everything from 380 Auto to more powerful cartridges like 45 Auto and 10mm Auto.
In addition to bullet performance, reliable functionality is a critical component of a defensive load. HST ammunition comes with smooth-cycling nickel-plated cases and Federal primers, which means these cartridges function properly in a wide range of pistols every time you pull the trigger.
While HST is a proven performer, Federal offers a new load that also works well in defense handguns, Punch. While other loads were built for the unique needs and extremely high standards of law enforcement, Punch is the first line created by experts specifically for everyday defense. Engineers focused on the most popular handguns, chambered in the top calibers, and developed rounds that provide the best all-around performance for self-defense. The intent was to build a more effective option through simplicity, and the result was a round that’s reliable, accurate and terminal.
Shop for HST, Punch and other self-defense ammunition from Federal, as well as other trusted brands like Remington and Speer.
Becoming proficient with a firearm requires long hours on the range and lots of ammunition. However, the price of top-shelf self-defense ammunition prohibits some from shooting as often as they should. In addition to finding the right round, it’s also important to find an affordable practice load that allows you to spend the time on the range and become comfortable and competent with your firearm.
Federal’s American Eagle handgun ammunition featuring FMJ bullets is accurate, affordable and widely available in virtually every cartridge and bullet weight. Other great and economical range ammunition includes Remington UMC and Blazer.
Reserved for the Range
Beware, however, that FMJ ammunition’s low price and accuracy tempt some new shooters to use it for concealed carry. And that’s a mistake. Only expanding bullets specifically designed for self-defense should be used, and the consequences of using FMJ ammunition can be deadly.
That’s because, at its core, self-defense ammunition needs to quickly stop an attacker, which requires the bullet to reach and make as strong an impact as possible in route. An expanding bullet does this by creating a larger wound cavity than the original bullet diameter. An FMJ round, however, doesn’t expand at all, creating an extremely small wound channel and causing minimal tissue damage.
That leads to the second point: over-penetration. Since an FMJ bullet doesn’t expand and retains most of its energy as it passes through a target, it penetrates far beyond what’s needed for effective self-defense. This poses a serious threat to bystanders—even those in adjacent rooms or outside exterior walls.
Specially designed ammunition like Federal Premium Personal Defense HST, Hydra-Shok Deep and Punch are ideal choices for these life-and-death encounters. Not only do these bullets expand aggressively to stop an assailant, but they are calibrated to penetrate deep enough to stop any threat while posing less of a risk to others nearby. It’s why FMJ only belongs at the range.
How Do I Choose a Handgun?
To answer that question, think about what you’ll be using it for. Generally speaking, handguns intended for everyday defense should be smaller, which makes them easier to carry and conceal. Larger pistol platforms are better suited to home defense—where concealment isn’t an issue—or for target shooting. Beyond following those basic guidelines, you’ll want to:
Pick a suitable caliber
For self-defense, you want a handgun chambered in a cartridge that’s powerful enough to stop an attacker yet doesn’t produce so much recoil or muzzle flip that you can’t control it or shoot accurately. Thankfully, bullets like HST have leveled the playing field between different cartridges, ensuring effective terminal performance across the entire spectrum of popular defensive calibers. So, the right caliber for you is whichever one you shoot best. Going to a shooting range and trying different firearms they have on hand is a great way to become more familiar with handguns and will help you choose the platform and caliber that match your needs.
Make sure the handgun fits you
You should be able to comfortably hold the gun with your firing hand, properly place your finger on the trigger, and be able to aim the sights, which should align along your forearm. A properly fitting handgun will be much easier to handle and fire accurately.
Learn how to use the firearm
There are several types of handguns, including revolvers, semi-autos, single shots, and other varieties. Make sure you can use the firearm easily and don’t let someone tell you to buy a specific handgun simply because you’re new to shooting. Learn how to use a pistol that fits your needs and make sure you can operate it efficiently before purchasing.
Seek training and practice employment
Building the skills and accuracy to use your new firearm effectively requires practice at the range, even if your interest is limited to target shooting. If you’re looking to use a handgun for defense, you need to take your practice sessions further with scenario-based training. It’s best to check locally about training classes for using your handgun the way you intend, and always keep building your skills.
Range Bag Must-Haves
Finally, it’s important to realize that a quality firearm and ammunition to fuel it are only the two main components that you will need. To have a safe and successful day at the range, you’ll also want to pick up a handful of other items. First is eye and ear protection—these simple tools will keep you safe and comfortable. You’ll also want extra magazines for your firearm, gun oil, gun wipes, and a range bag that’s large and rugged enough to hold all of this gear.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into choosing the best ammunition for your firearm. Not every kind of ammunition pairs well with every firearm, so you’ll want to make a deep evaluation on the firearm you own (Or are shopping around for). With this helpful guide, you should be able to take the first steps towards finding the right ammunition. As always, you can check our website, or visit your local Fleet Farm for more information on everything covered in this guide.
About The Author
Fleet Farm Experts
The Fleet Farm Team is built with multiple product experts in every department. When our product experts collaborate to create buying guides and helpful content, we call them "Fleet Farm Experts".