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Everything you need to know about Defensive Ammunition for Concealed Carry

by Daniel @HolsterCentral on December 07, 2023
Understanding the World of Defensive Handgun Ammunition for Concealed Carry
Estimated 10 minute read

All you need to know about defensive ammunition

Introduction: The world of self-defense handgun ammunition may be intimidating at first, as after all these could be the rounds that save your life.

In reality, defensive ammunition serves a specific purpose.

Its primary function is to create holes that stop threats efficiently.

With enough penetration to neutralize a threat in a life or death scenario. 

This comprehensive guide delves into the nuances of defensive handgun ammunition for concealed carry, emphasizing the critical role of jacketed hollow points (JHP) over full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds commonly used in target range practice.

9mm FMJ target ammunition

TLDR Key Points - 

The Jacketed Hollow Point Advantage: Jacketed hollow points, with their hollowed tips, represent a significant advancement in defensive ammunition technology. This design facilitates controlled expansion upon impact, maximizing stopping power while minimizing the risk of over-penetration. The expansion creates larger wound channels, increasing the likelihood of incapacitating a threat effectively. To Learn more about JHP read our JHP post here

Differences Between JHP and FMJ: Full metal jacket rounds, commonly used for target practice, lack the stopping power required for self-defense. These rounds are designed for penetration and can pass through a target, posing a risk of collateral damage. In contrast, JHP rounds mushroom upon impact, transferring energy to the target and minimizing the risk of over-penetration.

Grains and Stopping Power in 9mm: The debate over stopping power often centers on the weight of the bullet, measured in grains. While heavier bullets may offer increased penetration, they might compromise speed. Striking a balance is crucial, and 9mm ammunition is a popular choice for concealed carry due to its manageable recoil and proven stopping power.

FBI Penetration Test and Criteria: The FBI, renowned for its rigorous ammunition testing, evaluates rounds based on penetration, expansion, and overall performance. Understanding these criteria can guide concealed carriers in making informed choices. Ammunition that meets or exceeds FBI standards ensures reliability in real-world scenarios.

Hornady and Quality Variations: Hornady stands out as a reputable manufacturer, producing reliable JHP ammunition. However, various companies offer different JHP variations. While JHP ammo tends to be more expensive, its quality and effectiveness make it an investment in personal safety. Cutting corners on carry ammo is not advisable, as it is the first line of defense.

Storage and Maintenance: Concealed carry ammunition must be stored in a cool, dark place to maintain its effectiveness. Regularly rotating carry ammo helps prevent malfunctions, ensuring reliability when it matters most. Additionally, swapping magazines and inspecting ammunition for defects contribute to a reliable carry setup.


If you want the full scoop - 

There are four components to standard centerfire cartridges (e.g., 9mm, .380 ACP, and .45 ACP).

Let's take a look at each component to define its function.


The primer initiates the entire process of firing a bullet. Its purpose is to convert mechanical energy into a chemical reaction. In centerfire ammunition, the primer is easily identifiable on the base of the cartridge. It’s a round, silver, or sometimes brass-colored insert in the center of the cartridge base. If you were to pull it out (don’t try this at home!), you'd see that it’s a small metal cup coated with a small amount of explosive compound. This compound is pressed against an anvil when the firing pin strikes the primer, causing it to explode and generate a flame, igniting the main propellant charge inside the cartridge.


The case is the backbone of a complete cartridge, responsible for containing the high pressures generated during ignition and firing. Most cases are made from brass due to its pliability, allowing it to expand upon firing and contract for extraction. Brass provides a tight seal, directing the hot gas forward, preventing backward discharge. While not all cases are made of brass, those using different materials like steel or polymer are acceptable, reflecting the industry's continuous search for improved methods.

The case is also the only reusable part of the cartridge if made of brass, unlike the bullet, primer, and propellant, which are not reusable.


This section refers to the powder burning inside the case when the primer is struck. While commonly called "gunpowder," the technical term is propellant. Modern propellants are not explosive like their predecessors; they burn quickly, creating expanding gas that propels the bullet. Numerous commercially available powders with different burn rates cater to various calibers and shooting needs. Users need not concern themselves with these details, as commercial ammunition comes pre-loaded with predetermined propellant types.


The term "projectile" is the technical description for the bullet, the part that leaves the muzzle and travels downrange. Bullets are typically made with a lead core wrapped in a copper jacket. This combination offers weight and density from lead, protected by the harder copper. Some bullets are made from solid copper, providing flexibility in design and avoiding potential lead toxicity. Exotic materials, like compressed metal dust or polymer-copper blends, are also used, each offering unique characteristics.

Note on Rimfire Ammunition: Rimfire ammunition lacks a removable primer. Examples include .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, and .17 HMR. The priming compound is in the cartridge rim, and the firing pin strikes the rim's outside edge. Rimfire cartridges have only three components: case, propellant, and projectile. Due to the integral primer, rimfire cases are not practically reloadable.


full metal jacket 9mm

Full metal jacket ammunition serves one primary purpose – to fly straight. Commonly used in competitions, practice, and plinking, FMJ is not designed for self-defense. It creates holes upon impact, maintaining a straight trajectory. Important points to note about FMJ:

  1. Designed for practice, not self-defense.
  2. More affordable than self-defense ammunition.
  3. Ideal for practicing, plinking, or competition.


Jacketed hollow point 9mm

Hollow-point ammunition, often misunderstood, is designed to maximize impact on organic targets. It features a cavity in the leading edge, allowing controlled expansion upon hitting a target. Despite misconceptions, hollow-points are not inherently more lethal than FMJ. Law enforcement widely uses them due to their effectiveness in quickly stopping violence while minimizing risks of pass-through or ricochets.

If you would like to learn more about Jacketed Hollow Point Ammunition click here for our full JHP ammunition guide!


Appendix inside the waistband holster



In states where hollow-point ammunition is banned, expanding full metal jacket ammunition (EFMJ) is an alternative. EFMJ doesn't have a hollow cavity, eliminating the classification as a hollow-point. Designed for reliability in guns not intended for hollow-point use, EFMJ expands similarly to hollow-points upon impact.


Frangible bullets are designed to fragment upon impact, serving two main purposes:

  1. Reduced Overpenetration: Frangible ammunition minimizes the risk of overpenetration, making it suitable for environments where ricochets or pass-through are concerns.

  2. Reduced Risk of Overpenetration: Frangible ammunition minimizes the risk of overpenetration, making it suitable for environments where ricochets or pass-through are concerns.

Understanding these ammunition types helps in making informed decisions based on your specific needs and situations.


Frangible training ammunition is designed to self-destruct upon hitting hard targets, promoting safety in training and reducing the risk of ricochets. It's especially useful for close-quarter exercises, preventing splash-back and enhancing overall safety for participants.


  • Frangible for Self-Defense: Some frangible ammunition is designed for self-defense, fragmenting upon hitting soft targets. However, careful research into marketing claims is essential.

  • Fragmenting Ammunition: This type breaks into pieces upon hitting a target, creating multiple wound tracks. While promising, it's not yet mainstream.

  • ARX-Type: The ARX bullet by Inceptor Ammunition uses a polymer and powdered copper blend, featuring grooved cutouts for rapid expansion. It offers a unique approach to effectiveness.


  • Caliber: Choosing the correct cartridge for your gun is crucial. Always check for the cartridge notation stamped on the barrel.

  • +P Ammo: Ammunition marked as +P or +P+ is loaded to higher pressures for increased velocity and kinetic energy. Ensure your gun is rated for this type of ammo.


  1. SIG SAUER V-CROWN: Known for stringent testing, V-Crown ammunition features a two-stage hollow-point design, ensuring controlled expansion and penetration.

  2. FEDERAL HST: The HST family, a traditional hollow-point design, offers consistent performance across various calibers, with no aids for expansion.

  3. SPEER GOLD DOT: Gold Dots utilize an electrochemically bonded jacket and lead core, reducing the risk of separation upon impact and ensuring reliable expansion.

  4. BARNES TAC-XPD: An all-copper hollow-point design, TAC-XPD bullets rarely come apart on impact and provide reliable expansion, with the added benefit of higher velocity.


Before purchasing ammunition, be aware of local and state laws, as new regulations are frequently enacted. Ensure compliance with age requirements and background checks, as these may vary based on your location.


Support your community's firearm store! Local gun shops offer valuable information and education from knowledgeable fellow shooters. If you're new to firearms, it's an excellent place to learn. While prices might be slightly higher due to lower volume, consider it an investment in the "free" education you receive. Remember, supporting the store is a way of appreciating the knowledge and expertise available.


You can legally buy ammunition online and have it delivered to your doorstep, offering convenience and potentially competitive prices. However, be aware of state regulations, as some may restrict online purchases. Online shopping is advantageous for experienced shooters who don't need expert advice and seek a vast product selection. Keep in mind shipping costs and plan ahead for delivery times.


Big-box stores, while offering convenience and competitive prices, may have inconsistent firearm and ammunition policies. Check their current stance, as it might change with shifting political dynamics. These stores may not always carry a broad selection of premium self-defense ammunition found in specialized local shops.


Ammunition is safe and easily stored, thanks to the stability of modern smokeless powder. Store it in approved containers, maintaining the segregation of rounds. Factory boxes are designed to prevent accidental impacts that could lead to ignition. While modern ammunition is relatively safe, proper storage conditions, away from excessive heat, humidity, and solvents, contribute to its longevity.


Ammunition's shelf life depends on proper storage conditions. When stored in a dry and temperature-controlled environment, ammunition can last for decades. Visual inspection is crucial; check for discoloration, defects, cracks, or dents. Dispose of any questionable ammunition safely and never attempt to shoot compromised rounds. If in doubt, contact local authorities for proper disposal options.


In summary, choosing the right defensive handgun ammunition for concealed carry requires careful consideration of JHP benefits, understanding grain preferences, and adhering to quality standards. 

Purchasing quality self-defense ammo for your defensive firearm and being mindful of storage is paramount.

Whether buying from a local shop, online, or a big-box retailer, prioritize quality above all else. 

Hornady and other reputable manufacturers offer great option but it doesn't really matter what ammo you buy if you do these things - 

You aren't carrying your gun

You aren't training with it 

You don't test your ammo

You don't store it properly

You don't rotate your magazines and ammo. 

You never shoot your gun. 

If you do the opposite then you will be in good standing and the investment in quality defensive ammunition is worth it. 


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