BET YOUR LIFE
10 Home Defense Loads You Can Trust
You’re new to the world of firearms. You’ve heard some ammunition is better-suited for home defense than others, but you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place.
In the following story, I have selected 10 loads in several calibers that are close to ideal for personal defense. They maximize each individual caliber and build upon the long suits of the caliber/handgun combination.
I have tested the ammunition and specific loads and found them to be reliable in a variety of handguns. In ballistic testing, they exhibit desirable performance in artificial medium. Overall, these loads are good enough to reasonably bet your life on.
01 .380 ACP BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION 60-GRAIN HONEY BADGER
I do not consider the .380 ACP an adequate defense cartridge by any means. Just the same, many are in use, and I would be remiss not to attempt to find a load that makes the best of the caliber.
FMJ loads may penetrate adequately, but lack wound potential, while JHP loads often under-penetrate.
So, what is the solution?
The answer is the Honey Badger bullet, a solid-copper bullet with sharp flutes in the body. This load clocks an honest 1,250 fps from my Rock Island Baby Rock.
Accuracy with this pocket-sized 1911 is excellent, which is on the order of a 2-inch group at 15 yards. I am
“THE PROJECTILE MUST PENETRATE 12-16 INCHES IN WATER OR BALLISTIC GELATIN TO REACH THE VITALS …”
impressed by this loading. It elevates the .380 ACP into a viable last-ditch defender.
The 9mm and .45 Honey Badger loads are even more formidable. No matter what material they meet, these loads offer good penetration and tissue destruction. Yet, they do not over-penetrate in testing as the relatively light bullet weight and design slow the bullet down.
02 9MM LUGER: BLACK HILLS 115-GRAIN EXP
The 115-grain Extra Power loading isn’t loaded to +P pressure. The 115-grain bullet consistently clocks 1,200 fps in a 4-inch barrel 9mm handgun. For those concerned with excess recoil and weapons wear, this is an ideal loading. Expansion is rapid and penetration is adequate. This is a formidable load for home defense.
03 9MM LUGER: BLACK HILLS 124-GRAIN JHP +P
This is a service-grade loading with the balance of expansion and penetration, favoring penetration.
The 124-grain bullet offers good expansion, while penetrating to the ideal range. This load often rides in my personal SIG P01, my favorite go-anywhere, do-anything, 9mm handgun. Velocity is close to 1,200 fps in most handguns.
04 .38 SPECIAL: SPEER GOLD DOT 135-GRAIN +P
Most .38 Special loads were designed for performance in a 4-inch barrel. At lower velocity from a 2-inch barrel carry gun, performance suffers. The Speer 135-grain Gold Dot is among a very few loads designed for optimal performance in a short-barrel revolver. Both expansion and penetration are good. The load is controllable and accuracy is good, making the Gold Dot a winner.
05 .357 MAGNUM: WINCHESTER 125-GRAIN
This is a medium-power load intended for control and accuracy in a personal defense revolver. As an example, Winchester’s 125-grain Super X JHP 1,380 fps load is reduced to 1,235 fps in the 2.25-inch barrel SP101 and the revolver will buck and kick in this light handgun. The PDX load breaks 1,100 fps, yet it offers excellent penetration and expansion. This is a reasonable load for home defense. It is controllable in double-action pairs and is a good choice for the Ruger SP101 and similar revolvers.
06 .357 MAGNUM: HORNADY 125-GRAIN CRITICAL DEFENSE
If you use a 4-inch barrel .357 Magnum for home defense, the Hornady Critical Defense loading is an excellent choice. Velocity is right at 1,400 fps; from a short-barrel revolver, such as the Ruger SP101, the velocity is at 1,240 fps. Expansion is outstanding. This is a formidable load with much to offer for those willing to master the Magnum revolver.
07 .40 SMITH & WESSON: WINCHESTER 155-GRAIN SILVERTIP
The Silvertip uses a crease fold design that allows for superb expansion while staying together in the target. The powerful .40-caliber loading breaks 1,100 fps. In a full-size SIG, Beretta or Glock handgun, this load is controllable and offers among the most attractive wound ballistics of any .40-caliber loading. Accuracy is good, and the load has proven effective in critical incidents.
“FOR THOSE CONCERNED WITH EXCESS RECOIL AND WEAPONS WEAR, THIS [BLACK HILLS 115-GRAIN EXP] IS AN IDEAL LOADING.”
08 .44 SPECIAL: HORNADY 165-GRAIN CRITICAL DEFENSE
With the introduction of the Ruger GP100 .44 Special, with its unfluted five-shot cylinder, great strength and excellent accuracy, the .44 Special may become even more popular. With the right load, the .44 Special offers wound ballistics like the .45 ACP. Using heavy loads, the .44 Special is suitable for outdoor use and hunting. For home defense, the Hornady Critical Defense loading is ideal. The Critical Defense is controllable and suitable for use even in the Charter Arms Bulldog revolver. This is among one of the best combinations for home defense. Recoil is modest in the 36-ounce Ruger GP100, yet the critical defense loading offers true, big bore wound ballistics.
09 SIG SAUER ELITE .45 ACP 200-GRAIN JHP
I have watched the development of the SIG Sauer line of ammunition with great interest. The V Crown jacketed hollow point bullet is well designed. This projectile expands reliably and offers a good balance of expansion and penetration. My favorite personal defense cartridge is the .45 ACP. With a good balance of wound potential and control in a Commander-size handgun, I find the combination worthwhile. I have tested the SIG Sauer Elite .45 ACP loads in the steel frame 1911, SIG P220 and Smith & Wesson Shield .45. Results have been good to excellent. I have gauged the penetration and expansion of the 185-, 200- and 230-grain V Crown loads in .45 ACP. While I would be comfortable with any of the three, and all are reliable loads, I found that the 200-grain V Crown offers the best performance. At 978 fps, the balance of expansion and penetration for home defense is good. The 200-grain load is controllable in even lightweight .45-caliber pistols.
10 BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION 230-GRAIN JHP
Black Hills offers a good choice in .45 ACP loads, including the all-copper bullet TAC +P and a +P loading in the 230-grain weight. I have carried the 230-grain JHP in my personal .45caliber handguns for over a decade. Quality is high and the accuracy is better than I can hold. The 230-grain jacketed hollow point strikes to the point of aim in most 1911 handguns. Velocity is higher than some JHP loads in the same bullet weight at 870 fps from a 5-inch barrel. I like to prepare for worst-case scenarios. With the penetration offered by this loading, a heavily clad home invader, or one behind cover, would not be invulnerable to incoming fire. HD
Handguns require many considerations in loads. The 9mm doesn’t kick much, but the .38 Special loadings must be chosen based on reasonable recoil—while the .40 exhibits snappy recoil with some loads.
The Honey Badger is available in several calibers. It is particularly well suited to the .380 ACP.
Bottom: The author has tested most of the personal defense loads on the market. The loads covered in this feature are among the most useful.
Right: Winchester’s .357 Magnum PDX load is sensibly loaded down, but offers excellent expansion.
Bottom: SIG Sauer loadings have demonstrated excellent feed reliability.
Top: The Black Hills Ammunition Honey Badger loads have proven impressive in testing.