Few topics are as misunderstood as ballistic science. Not only are we shoveled misleading marketing from ammunition manufacturers but we are also inundated with internet misinformation that comes not from first hand testing but from a web page that your wife's brother's wife's third cousin found while searching ebay for tacti-cool gear. Ammunition manufacturers feed on and contribute to widespread ignorance by purposefully complicating ballistic science to convince you that you need their particular brand of ammunition for an adequate defense. As complex as some try to make this issue, defensive handgun ballistic science can be simplified in two words. Go heavy*.
Some believe in lighter, faster bullets due to their superior simple energy numbers. This is a flawed understanding of ballistic performance. A lighter bullet with comparable charge will always have higher velocity generating higher simple energy numbers which on paper makes the ligher bullet appear superior. The gelatin on the other hand, shows the opposite to be true. The heavier bullet of comparable design and diameter (165 grain Federal HST .40 compared to 180 grain Federal HST .40) will always penetrate deeper than the lighter, faster bullet despite its lower simple energy. Simple energy is only a factor worth considering when comparing two bullets of the same caliber and weight. Don't over-complicate this, it doesn’t have to be difficult! Assuming adequate caliber (.38 special +P and up), all you need is a quality (Federal, Winchester, Corbon, and other comparable premium manufacturers) jacketed hollow point in the heaviest popular weight available for your caliber.
- .38 Special +P - 158 grain JHP
- 9mm - 147 grain JHP
- 357 Sig - 147 grain JHP (although the 125 grain loads are certainly impressive when loaded to potential of 125 grains @ 1450 fps)
- .357 Magnum - 158 grain JHP
- .40 - 180 grain JHP
- .45 acp - 230 grain JHP
- When John Browning (arguably the greatest firearms designer in history) designed the .45acp in 1904 he chose a 200 grain bullet that travelled 900fps. When the army adopted the .45acp as their issued side arm caliber they insisted on a heavier 230 grain bullet that travelled 850fps. The army (knowing more about stopping enemy soldiers much in the same way that Browning knew more about designing firearms) knew the heavier bullet would be more effective despite the deficit in velocity.
- After the lighter 9mm loads failed to penetrate adequately during the infamous [url="http://media.concealedcarryforum.com/86miami.wmv"]1986 MIAMI SHOOT-OUT[/url] it was determined (by the FBI) to be inadequate and therefore unfit for duty without significant improvement. The solution to making the 9mm more effective (thus fit for duty) was to make it heavier which is the reason why the 147 grain load was developed.
- One of the most versatile handgun calibers of all time is the .357 Magnum. Although the 125 grain load is an excellent performer, the 158 grain load makes it even more effective. If you purchase .357 Magnum hunting loads however, they start at 180 grains with many exceeding 200 grains. Why? If you want to kill black bear with the same duty weapon that you carry every day, you go heavy. The same can be said of the .44 Magnum, with defensive loads weighing 240 grains or lighter and the hunting loads exceeding 300 grains. This is not to suggest that you should use hunting loads for defensive purposes as they would tend to over-penetrate. It does however, demonstrate that heavier bullets have more stopping power potential than lighter bullets of comparable design.
In today's modern age of access to information you can find an "expert" to substantiate dang near any position you want to take. With many of these self and otherwise proclaimed "experts" directly contradicting one another, it is critical that you base your decisions on first hand experience and not this or any other page you read on the internet. I encourage you to test my recommendations for yourself as I have done so that you will know first hand the difference the weight of the bullet will make. It will only take two boxes of ammunition from the same manufacturer of the same design with the only difference being bullet weight for you to reach your own conclusions. So long as you are using comparable loads (for example, 230 grain Corbon .45 acp compared to 200 grain Corbon 45 acp) I am confident that without regard to your test medium you will find that the heavier load always penetrates deeper while providing equal if not superior expansion. Regardless of what caliber you test with what brand of ammunition, you will find that my statement remains consistant. Despite simple energy numbers that make the lighter load appear superior on paper, the heavier load simply hits harder and penetrates deeper. Every time.
All that is necessary is a pork shoulder (a whole hog, a side of beef, etc. any of which are available at any butchers shop) and fire both loads (one light, one heavy) into it. the results will speak for themselves. If everybody who debates this would simply try it we would never have these discussions again because the differences are significant and the results are obvious, consistant, and easily conclusive.
- Handgun and ammunition performance, not shooter performance.
- Assumes the shooter is using a quality handgun that will cycle the ammunition reliably
- Assumes typical handgun combat ranges of 7 - 21 feet