Stop Freaking Out About Carry Ammo

I guess this thought has been at the back of my mind for a while, I just hadn’t voiced it.

I recommend a number of different types of ammo for carry because 1) supply levels vary and 2) most modern defensive handgun loads from major manufacturers are really quite good and compare pretty well with one another. Segue to pretty photos…

Yesterday I shot some HST in .40 and .45 underwater. The photos are pretty cool.

230gr HST from a 1911

I’m totally not done with this, by the way.

.40 165gr and .45 230gr loaded ammo and expanded projectiles

As pretty as this stuff is to look at, it is also painful – I have plenty of scars from being sliced and poked by metal objects, but holding those bullets in my hand almost made me shiver. I would definitely not want to get shot by any of that stuff (duh).

Really, though, I would not want to get shot by any of the modern hollowpoint designs (duh). Although there’s a sort of evil beauty in an expanded HST, I don’t think they’d give me any more of an edge over a “less pretty” bullet that performed in a similar manner. And so, while I do carry with HST most of the time, that’s mostly because I’ve found HST easier than other types of quality handgun ammo. I also have mags loaded with Winchester Ranger T and Federal Tactical Bonded and Speer Gold Dot. My J frame is loaded with Federal Gold Medal Match wadcutters.

Yes, there are minor differences when it comes to penetration and expansion and performance through some barriers. The details truly do not concern me. I don’t feel any safer with one type over another. They all function in my handguns. They all shoot decently well in terms of accuracy and precision. By the way, I use projectile weights on the medium to heavy end of the scale for a given caliber – 124 and 147 for 9mm, 165 and 180 for .40, and 230gr for .45.

There are two main things to look for when it comes to defensive ammo, and they’re exactly the same as what to look for in hunting ammo – projectile design/construction and sectional density. Assuming that the projectile is impacting the target within its designed performance window, and that it is impacting in the right spot, little else matters. All of the modern hollowpoint designs have good construction, and heavier bullets for a given caliber mean higher sectional densities.

So stop freaking out about carry ammo. There are many things that will matter more in a self defense shooting than whether you were carrying P9HST3 or P40HST. Buy a lot of whatever you can find, make sure it works in your gun, and don’t let it sit in mags too long (say, don’t go past six months).

Have a nice day.

113 thoughts on “Stop Freaking Out About Carry Ammo”

    1. Just make sure the barrel is FULLY flooded, so there’s a consistant medium throughout and no place for local assymetrical pressure differencials to build up — that can burst barrels.

    1. Quite a bit longer than most people seem to say – sometimes six months or more. I also have piles of old, tarnished carry ammo that I shoot in big batches every few years. Never have problems, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t rotate it out more often than every few years.

      1. When you mention not letting them sit in the mags too long what are you suggesting be done after six months? Swap them out with another set? Let the mags “rest” empty?

        I had initially assumed you meant the ammo needed to not be trusted after six months but in other comments you mention years.

        I ask because though I often practice with my CCW I don’t use “the good stuff” due to expense. So after shooting about 1000 rounds of it through the firearm to make sure the gun didn’t have any problems with it I’ve never shot it again since. If you recommend something different I’d love to know as I respect your opinion.

        1. I shoot the loaded carry mag and then load it again with new ammo and carry on.

          I doubt that I have put 1000 rounds of good JHP ammo through more than a few pistols. Normally, a box or two is fine with me – although I generally take high speed video to make sure that everything really is kosher. Other than rotating out your carry ammo every once in a while by shooting it, I don’t really see a need to shoot it that often.

          1. Thanks.

            I shot 1000 partly also because I thought it would be a good idea to practice with what I was carrying. The difference between a white box of winchester .45 and Golden Saber +P is pretty big when shooting. Since then, though, I haven’t shot any as the price skyrocketed to an insane level.

            I’ll take your advice and shoot it to rotate it through.

            I assume you suggest the same for other ammo too, like 12G self defense ammo for the bedside shotgun?

        2. “Let the mags ‘rest’ empty?”

          Insert “Geeze, not this crap again!” image.

          Springs do not “take a set”. Steel and steel alloys wear (on the internal molecular level) by being stressed and de-stressed. Loading and unloading magazines wears out the springs; leaving them loaded does nothing at all, beyond accumulating dust and rust.

          Ferrous metals have a lower modulus of elasticity, beyond which they will not be damaged no many how cycles they go through. Aluminum does not; continue flexing aluminum for enough cycles, no matter how far the stress is from its breaking point, and it will eventually break. With ferrous alloys, no: once you drop below that lower limit of the strain point, you can flex it forever and it will not break.

          1. When I asked Sig about best practice for mags they recommended cleaning mags once a month if the gun goes anyplace it might collect crud but otherwise no maint needed.

    1. Expanded hollowpoints, about 4 feet away on the bottom of the pool (not necessarily traveling 4 feet with enough velocity to damage anything). Other JHPs that didn’t expand, about 10-12 feet.

        1. Depends on circumstances — shooting IN water is different than shooting INTO water.

          Sometimes, your deformation is triggered by the sudden change in medium; it depends on how the round is built. Starting in water means a slower acceleration curve, and no “sudden stop” from smacking into a denser material at high speed.

          Something like a Hornady Critical Defense probably wouldn’t expand a darned bit when fired in water despite opening like a champ when fired into water (or meat), and high velocity ball (think rifle) that could be fired in water and be marked only with rifling can practically explode when fired into water.

  1. But brand loyalty offers a position from which to argue and correlates to self-esteem! If you say they’re all the same, nobody can thump their chest and feel better than people using a different brand!

  2. If gel tests are to be believed, all-copper alloy projectiles will typically penetrate deeper for a given sectional density than lead cored ones. I like the idea of using higher-velocity, lower-sectional-density ammunition that still penetrates just as far. Thoughts?

  3. One of my favorite carry guns is a .357 Magnum (I know, dinosaur). Federal 125gr Ammunition was supposed to be the cream of the crop, but out of my gun it had very poor accuracy. So I stuck with the Speer Gold Dot 125gr ammunition that shoots very well through it.

  4. seriously cool photos!

    interesting that you carry wadcutters in you j-frame for defensive purposes. i had never heard of wadcutters as defensive rounds until a couple years back. i was buying some to practice with my j-frame and the salesman ask was that my carry round. i took him no, i just wanted something with lower recoil to get in some range time with. he said i should consider wadcutters since it makes the gun easier to handle and the little bullet has good wounding ability. ?????

  5. Hmmm… Now im curious to what a suppressed firearm would look like fired under water. Could be a good visual for the expansion of gasses.

          1. Maybe with something based on the ported barrel in lieu of pierced baffles, like the can for an MP5SD. But, I’ve really only seen that system used for shotguns or blowback operated carbines and SMGs. (Yup, the HK roller delayed blowback is still technically blowback operated.)

  6. When I pack my judge it’s got PDX1 in .410 loaded and ready to rock and roll. I’d like to see someone’s face when I pull out my judge and say “what?! Talkin’ to me?” Yeah, that’s how I roll, shoulder holster and all. I’m thinking of putting a laser on it so they pee themselves before I shoot. 😛

    1. You sound like a kid that got bullied in the 8th grade. If you’d really draw down on someone just for something they said, you shouldn’t have a carry permit. Or a handgun.

    1. Thanks. I think I am going to try again today with a few changes in equipment and technique. Writing an article about it would be fun. Thanks again, means a lot coming from you.

  7. Hey Andrew – when you say, “don’t let it sit in mags too long” what is the concern you’re expressing behind that statement? I can think of a couple possible reasons, but I’m wondering what concerns you most about rotating ammo. I normally change out carry ammo annually. I’ve never had a particular reason in mind for doing it, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

    1. My concerns are solely:

      1. Bullet setback. Can occur when the same round is chambered more than once, and the more often it’s chambered, the more likely it is to happen. Also, rechambering repeatedly can just beat up the ammo in general (especially with shotguns). NOT an issue with revolvers and tip-up barrels. Most of the time, I just shoot off the “carry” round in the chamber as the first round in a practice session — this avoids the issue of unloading the carry ammo to practice.

      2. Potential for oil contamination of the primer or propellant — the longer it sits in the gun, the more likely it is that some lube has made it into the case somehow. I’ve never had it happen to me, but it does happen on rare occaision. Generally, this ISN’T going to happen to the rounds in the magazine unless you soak your gun in oil.

      3. Environmental conditions such as sweat, rain, or (for LEOs, soldiers, and rural working guns, mostly) rolling around in the dirt. Mostly an issue with your SPARE ammo, unless you get soaked through and through or find yourself in a freak sandstorm.

      I’m mostly concerned with oil contamination of the ammo, followed by dust bunnies and grit in my mags from wearing it. Not worried about modern ammo going “stale” like out of date milk.

      1. Geodkyt – Thanks for that explanation. Makes perfect sense. To this point, I had never even heard of bullet setback. Learn something new every day!

  8. Not sure I follow you on this: “…I’ve found HST easier than other types of quality handgun ammo.”

    Easier in what way?

  9. Would you consider selling some of those mushroomed casings to me? I quite like the way they look and I think they can be used for decoration/jewellery.

        1. I imagine that it would be basically impossible for you to acquire this ammo. I just need to make sure that I wouldn’t be violating US laws by shipping them overseas.

  10. Those bullets are beautiful! You could make some gorgeous jewelry out of them. Would you be interested in selling them?

  11. I’m begging my fiance to take some hollowpoints and make me some pretty kickass flowers, too, since I make jewelry and would totally wear that around my neck. Gorgeous and badass at the same time.

    Any idea if any hollowpoints against a semi-soft surface would reproduce this look?

    This pic, btw, is going around and around the internet. My coworker showed it to me from reddit yesterday, and in the evening my fiance showed it to me from a blog from, I believe, cheaperthandirt on facebook but I’m not positive. Absolutely stunning picture, and the article is interesting as well. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks. I would recommend shooting directly downward into a 5 gallon bucket full of water. I have done that in the past.

      1. Definately place the bucket over soft dirt or sand “just in case”. I would also try to shoot from an elevated position like a stool — I have seen rounds fired into water curve sharply to one side or the other (assymetrical deformation, such as one “petal” falling off due to a casting void). While _extremely_rare_, and the resulting impact wouldn’t likely be lethal or permanently damaging even if it did occur, it would leave a painful bruise or gash should you be the “lucky” winner of that day’s Ballistics Lottery.

        While the chance of occurance is mindnumbingly small (even smaller that it curves sharply enough to exit the side of the bucket AND head towards your shins), and the consequences pretty minor, it’s an easiy enough risk to avoid completely by getting all of your body parts above the level of the water first.

  12. I see those “blooms”, and think jewelry. Like a pin, or earrings or something, for gun afficionados, like me. How sharp are the dges?

      1. Also, lead is soft and, well, toxic.

        A jeweler could make a mold from them, make a wax, fix the edges to not be sharp, and then cast it in bronze, silver, etc. (As many times as you’d like…)

        That would be ideal.

        (Also, for earrings? A bit heavy in lead.)

        1. You can resin coat the existing bullet, this will help dull the edges and protect people from the lead. Good resin dries clear and hard with a glass like finish.

  13. Lead tends to leave black residue on your white shirt (or your skin) so not sure pendants and cufflinks are a great Idea…unless you plate them (gold or silver?) or clear coat them first.

    1. I’ve done nickel plating in the past, that might work – though I’m not sure if the process will work for lead.

  14. Just a technicality:
    “heavier bullets for a given caliber mean higher sectional densities, assuming identical materials.”

    What a bullet is made off isn’t relevant for it’s sectional density, sectional density = mass / (frontal) area

    The expanded HPs are like flowers.
    Of death.

      1. Let me put it this way
        .50″ steel bullet, 709 gr. (General dynamics Sniper Elite ball)
        .50″ lead bullet, 300 gr. (Hornady .50 AE XTP)

        The steel bullet is heavier and of the same caliber as the lead bullet, yet they’re made of different materials. Still, the steel bullet has the higher sectional density, don’t you agree?

  15. To those wanting the mushroomed bullets:

    Obtain a large container for water: a big plastic chemical drum will do fine.

    Find someplace where you can shoot straight down into it. (nb. The “straight down” part is very important.) We used the back deck at my boss’s house.

    Gather the ammo you want to see expand, and open fire. Make sure you wait for the sloshing to abate between shots.

    1. Most of those asking seem to be overseas – I’ll look into whether it would be an ITAR violation for me to ship them some expanded bullets…

  16. Really, though, I would not want to get shot by any of the modern hollowpoint designs (duh).

    Realistically, I wouldn’t want to get shot with .25ACP hardball.

    Turns out that can still kill you, even if it’s not as likely to.

  17. Hi, just popped by to say just awesome photos!

    PS1. “Tuohy” – would that be old American spelling of a Finnish name how its said? (“tuohi” is birch bark)

    PS2. On the old ammo. The Helsinki main Guard has MP with live ammo. Theres a block of wood with 30 holes with 30 bullets to make sure the RK62 mags don’t get any missing live rounds where they’re stored and every change you remag and count the rounds. That ammo looked… ancient… I was already in ’90 doing my service scratched my nickname in one for luck (as you know theres a bullet with your name on it) and my mate’s little brother in ’95 said he’d seen it.

  18. Not sure if this has already been mentioned, but I was led to believe that the non-deformation of water means that submersed firing causes micro fractures to effect the hammer, chamber, barrel ans even firing pin when the percussion from the discharge hits them. Is there a way to see if this is the case on the weapon used?

    The H&K Underwater Pistol has a limited usage rate because of this issue. Can only think a .45 ACP must be 100x worse!

  19. how do you dry a handgun that has been fully flooded? do you DCOA it or do you just field strip and use a hairdryer on the parts that may rust?

    1. I put them in a ziploc bag and spray them with CLP. Heavily. Then I disassemble them and wipe them down. Drying them off won’t cut it.

      1. Try totally immersed the bowl of (non cooked) rice and left in a warm area – then disassemble and spray WD40 all over components, (magazine spring will be a big issue if not already cleaned before submersion).

        1. Skip the rice — startch in tiny creices and spring cavities will bake into rocks afterwards, if you don’t get ALL of it out.

          DON’T bother to clean the gun first — we don’t want to add oil until ALL the water is gone.

          Wipe as dry as you can, then lay the METAL parts on a towel on a cookie sheet for five minutes in a preheated oven at lowest temp. Anything below 400 degrees F won’t even touch your heat treating in ten minutes (but may scortch your towel). Anything over 150 degrees F will get them bone dry in 5 minutes. when you pull it out, FLIP all the pieces, so hot wet spots get exposed to nice, thirsty air — they’ll flash dry.

          I’ve watched a gun dry in under a minute at sub-boiling temps.

          Wipe down with preferred oil (I generally use CLP on non-black powder arms) IMMEDIATELY after removing from oven. I recommend cotton gloves to avoid the heat. You MAY have some hint of flash-rust, but it should wipe right off if you wipe it down immediately. You can simply use the same daily oily cloth you would use to wipe down a gun you’ve carried all day.

          STAY AWAY from WD40 — yes, it is specifically designed to displace water. However, it WILL leave a shellacky residue behind even if too thin for you to notice on exterior parts.

          DON’T just heavily oil a wet gun — you can actually trap the water UNDER the oil, like a used car dealer spraying undercoating over rust and salt residue. (Vapor ordnance paper was developed for this very reason — not only were guns entombed in Cosmolene a bitch for front line troops to clean for combat if issued directly to the unit that neded them, it was not uncommon to find that moisture had gotten trapped under the Cosmolene, especially in hasty preps for rush overseas deployment, and major parts of the guns had turned into a rusty slurry under the Cosmolene.)

  20. I just saw the amazing photos of the “jewelry” you’ve created. Any chance it’s for sale?
    Regardless of the answer its one of the more creative things I’ve seen in many years!!

  21. Forget the tag-line Guns N’ Roses, here’s a few others you could call your company. Boy Meets Girl, Jack And Jill, Life and Death, BITTERSWEET, Fragments And Fragrance. I’ve thought of so many cool names for you to name your own jewelry made with bullets, the name alone would sell your creations alone. BTW & FYI I’m a Florist and quite creative. I also have an easy idea how to smooth out the rough edges without changing the contour of the flower.

  22. It’s unfortunate that I can see 5,000+ people shooting through their pools and five gallon buckets so they can “copy” your beautiful creation. I hope you get to trademark your idea & work and are able to get others as excited as you’ve got me. I do not own a gun, not even a Red Ryder BB but seeing your story on AOL had me in awe. Truly beautiful, different and creative! Anyway, I would like you to add me to the list of buyers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a flower with a welded stem, or just the flower itself-no stone is just fine. All I’d like to know with my order is the type of bullet used and gun it was fired from so when people ask, I can tell them. I’ll wait for your item as I don’t want some others stuff. I live in Alabama so I hope the regulations are able to let you send them!

  23. Hello Andrew, I saw the video and was impressed and always wondered about the fact or fiction about shooting under water, into water, the oxygen etc. Also I have to say I fell in love with the beauty of the spent bullet. Crazy I know. I like them without the jewels in them. They look more detailed. Thank you for taking the time to teach some of your skills to some of us out here. If there is anyway I could buy one, please let me know. And by the way, Thank you very much for your service and protecting this country.

  24. I know some people have already asked but…I run a small, handmade jewelry business and these expanded bullets are just awesome! I’m always looking for new medium and am wondering if you would be willing to sell some and how much you would want for them?

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