Best 9mm Ammo for Self Defense & Practice

The 9x19mm cartridge, also called 9mm Luger or just 9mm, is one of the most popular and enduring chamberings in the world.  The number one handgun round by a substantial margin, it should come as no surprise that there are also a wide variety of options for 9mm ammo out there.

45 ACP, 10mm, 40 S&W, 9mm, 380 ACP
45 ACP, 10mm, 40 S&W, 9mm, 380 ACP

What follows is a (far from exhaustive) list of some of the best 9mm ammo available, with a focus on range and defensive ammo.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the options out there, or just want a better idea of what’s available, this should give you everything you need to know about choosing 9mm ammo.

Choosing 9mm Ammo for Self Defense

Choosing a good defensive round is about two things.  

First and foremost, there’s finding a round that works reliably in your chosen firearm.  Many guns can be picky about which bullet shapes they like, and it’s important to know that your gun will perform when you need it to.  

That means testing your chosen ammo fairly extensively to ensure reliability.

In general, you’ll want to run at least a full 50 rounds of your ammo of choice through your firearm of choice to see if you’re satisfied with the performance.  Some things to be especially wary of are rounds not feeding properly, or “stove-piped” cases on ejection.

The former can indicate a problem with the feed ramps of the weapon not working with the geometry of the bullet.  Polishing the feed ramps of the weapon, particularly in something like a 1911, can sometimes address this issue.

You may also want to try another magazine as sometimes the feed lips, particularly on aftermarket mags, can be slightly off which can cause issues.

A stove-pipe malfunction can indicate a round that isn’t quite cycling the action firmly enough, meaning a lighter recoil spring can fix things, or you can just step up to a higher-pressure cartridge, or some other load.

Stovepipe Glock
Stovepipe Glock

The second thing to keep in mind is terminal performance and accuracy.  For this reason, you’ll want a hollowpoint round, usually in either the 124gr or 147gr range.  These are the rounds that will maintain velocity the best while maximizing projectile size for the best performance against a living target.

Accuracy is mostly determined by the consistency of the ammo in its manufacturing. The more consistent the ammo, the better the practical accuracy is.

This is, of course, a concern, but may not be as important as the average shooter thinks.  

Most modern ammunition is going to be “good enough” at combat distances (7-10 yards) in the hands of the average shooter that the minor load inconsistencies you get with factory ammo aren’t going to matter.

Fortunately, high-end defensive ammo is very carefully and consistently manufactured, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it anyway.  Find something that you (and your gun) shoot well, and you’ll be just fine.

Best 9mm Ammo for Self-Defense

The following rounds are all from reliable manufacturers with proven track records of performance in difficult situations.  While there are a number of great ammo manufacturers making defensive ammo that’s worth a look, these are the best of the best.

Average Penetration comes from testing conducted by the folks at Lucky Gunner. You can check out their full results here.

Velocity at the muzzle is an average also taken from Lucky Gunner’s data and is from a 5.5” barrel.

Speer Gold Dot 9mm  124gr

Speer Gold Dots are one of the most commonly chosen rounds for law-enforcement and with good reason.  Speer has earned a reputation for some of the most accurate and consistent loadings with the Gold Dot line, and the 124gr 9mm offering is no exception.

Speer Gold Dot 9mm
  • Velocity at Muzzle: 1160 fps
  • Average Penetration: 18.1”
Speer Gold Dot 9mm 124gr

Speer Gold Dot 9mm 124gr

Pros

  • Popular with Law Enforcement
  • Very consistent loading

Cons

  • Out of stock often at many retailers

Hornady Critical Duty 135gr

We’ll admit some bias, this is what several of us keep in our 9mm handguns as our defensive round of choice.  The 115gr bullet comes with a polymer FlexLok tip to ensure maximum expansion in a soft target.

Hornady Critical Defense
Hornady Critical Defense
  • Velocity at Muzzle: 1143 fps
  • Average Penetration: 13.1”

Hornady also offers a line of ammo that is very similarly named and often mistaken, Hornady Critical Duty.

They are roughly the same thing, however, the Critical Duty line is designed for LEO professionals and has slightly more penetration (about 3-5″ more in ballistic gel).

Critical Defense is made for civilian self/home-defense and has slightly less penetration to help ensure the round doesn’t over penetrate if used in a home, it also has far better expansion making it more lethal when it does hit the bad guy.

What is right for you will depend on what you require from your ammo – less over penetration or a deeper wound cavity.

Winchester Ranger T-Series 147gr

Winchester has not only designed new cartridges for well over a century, they have also been one of the largest suppliers of the US Military for ammo ranging from 9mm to .30-06. They are also a favorite among hunters for their outstanding large game lines of ammo.

Winchester Ranger T Series
Winchester Ranger T Series

The Winchester Ranger T-Series line of ammo delivers on what you would expect from a company with their history. The only downside is that finding this ammo in-stock can be iffy at times because it sells out so fast.

Winchester Ranger T-Series 147gr

Winchester Ranger T-Series 147gr

Pros

  • Law enforcement quality ammo for the home defender

Cons

  • Hard to find in-stock sometimes
  • Velocity at Muzzle: 898fps
  • Average Penetration: 16.0”

Federal Micro HST 150gr

Federal HST has been around forever and has earned a reputation among CCW holders and law enforcement as one of the top brands and best options for carry ammo. But this isn’t the Federal HST that your father carried…

Federal Micro HST
Federal Micro HST

This is Federal Micro HST.

A failing of many other ammo choices is that they don’t work as well with shorter barrels, this is the issue that Federal Micro HST addresses.

Designed to limit recoil, fire subsonic for less muzzle blast, and still get the job done with 16-inches of penetration and amazing expansion – this is a new ammo for a new generation of compact and sub-compact firearms.

Federal Micro HST 150gr

Federal Micro HST 150gr

Pros

  • Designed for short barrels
  • Widely Stocked
  • Nickel-plated brass case

Cons

  • Higher cost than some other options
  • Velocity at Muzzle: 888fps
  • Average Penetration: 17.3

Best 9mm Ammo for the Range

The following rounds are FMJ rounds that are not recommended for self-defense except in cases of dire necessity when nothing better comes to hand.  However, they are inexpensive, reliable brands that should be your first choice when selecting ammo for practice or competition.  

Because these rounds are not meant for carrying or defensive use, penetration data has been omitted.

Also, while carry ammo is normally bought in fairly small batches – boxes of 20 and 50 being very common, training/range ammo is bought for value and the best value comes from buying in bulk. Normally by the 100 or 1,000 round case.

As such the prices listed are for bulk cases of their respective ammo, so while this might look to be far more expensive than the training ammo it is only because you’re getting a lot more volume.

Federal Champion Aluminum 115gr

Available by the 100 or by 1,000, you can normally find this ammo for between 17 and 19 cents per round. A great price for sure!

One of the major reasons why this ammo is so cheap and so consistently available is the aluminum case it uses. While not common in pistol cartridges, aluminum is a common casing for tank and aircraft shells due to the weight savings. It is also much cheaper than brass.

Federal Aluminum Case 115gr

Federal Aluminum Case 115gr

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Ultra reliable

Cons

  • Aluminum case is not suitable for reloading

The only downside to aluminum cased pistol ammo is that aluminum doesn’t handle being refired as reliably as brass does, making it not recommended for home reloading.

Sellier & Bellot 115gr

We’ve shot thousands and thousands of S&B 9mm. Every single shot has gone bang like it was meant to.

Sellier & Bellot is also one of the cleanest value ammo brands on the market. With some cheap ammo, you’ll have to clean your weapon every range trip, still others are so dirty you have to clean your weapon on the field!

Sellier & Bellot 115gr

Sellier & Bellot 115gr

Pros

  • Cheap and brass cased
  • Shoots cleaner than most value brands

Not so with S&B. This shoots almost as clean as defensive ammo.

Conclusion

If you’re after a good 9mm round for carrying, duty, or the range, you should now have all the information you need to choose the perfect round, or at the very least, a proper foundation to start your own testing to find the ideal round for you.

What are your top picks for ammo? Let us know in the comments!

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