Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just the Basics – Care and Feeding of Carry Ammo


Defensive ammunition – that ammunition specifically designed to help defend the life of the individual that carries a defensive handgun – has a number of critical parameters.

1: It must do real damage to the life threatening threat that is attacking the defensive shooter. Real damage is caused by the energy contained in the fired bullet and shows itself in the size of the transient wound cavity, the permanent wound cavity and by expending it’s total energy within the threat and by not over-penetrating and actually exiting the body. In the event of extreme CQB where the muzzle of the defensive firearm may well be in actual contact with the threat – additional damage is also done by the expelled gases of the fired cartridge if they actually enter the threat’s body cavity.

2: It must damage the threat . . . and ONLY the threat. Assuming solid shot placement defensive ammunition is designed to expand rapidly to enhance the wound cavity, to aid in the deceleration of the bullet and helping to insure the energy is contained within the body. It is designed to not “over penetrate” – i.e. actually exit the body of the threat.

3: It must go BLAMMM!!! when the primer is struck by the firing pin or striker or hammer.

One other thought . . . every individual that carries defensive ammunition in their defensive weapon has but one wish . . . to NEVER fire their weapon in self-defense – period! And, for the vast majority of those who carry – they get their wish. Which brings about its own set of cautions and that is what I’d like to chat about in this post.

This is my current carry ammunition:


This is the Hornady 9MM 115-gr FTX Critical Defense round that I carry in my Glock 17. I carry the same round in my Springfield 1911 in .45 ACP. Geek that I am, I did more than a bit of investigation on defensive rounds before I settled on the CD round from Hornady. It meets or exceeds all FBI parameters for over penetration. The polymer core that is injected into the bullet’s hollow helps insure penetration through various types of clothing and it helps insure solid expansion of the bullet as well.

There are a number of videos of various ballistic tests, this particular video is the intro video by Hornady from 5 years ago – it does an excellent job of introducing, describing and showing ballistics tests of the round.


A trap for defensive ammunition – since it is seldom actually used – is to simply load a couple magazines (one for the weapon and a backup) and then simply carry them . . . . for a very long time. Given it’s every shooter’s fervent wish to never actually have to draw – there is a temptation for a new shooter to simply load and forget. The problem with this approach is that magazines become dirty or damaged, the defensive rounds gather lint and other “crap” from your pocket/mag holder/purse and when that “critical moment” arrives – you face it with magazines that refuse to load, refuse to feed and with rounds that present you with one failure after another. Obviously . . . this is NOT GOOD!!!

What’s an easy solution then? It’s simple really – use your weapon and your magazines on your regular range visits.


I carry a 1-quart Ziploc in my range bag. My range gun IS my carry weapon – both of them, the Glock and the 1911. When I hit the range, unload my carry weapon, remove the rounds from both the mag in the gun and the spare I carry and put them in my Ziploc. Then I reload with ball for my range work. At the end of the trip, I reload both mags and return to a “defensive status”.

This does a couple of things. It lets me move the rounds “around” in the mag so the same round is not always the one on top of the mag that is racked into the chamber. This reduces the chance of “set-back” where the bullet is seated more deeply over time, increasing the pressure inside the casing when it’s fired. It also lets me examine the rounds and the magazine as I reload them. And, it provides me a chance to disassemble the magazine and give it a proper cleaning as well.

I also have a habit of not loading a magazine to full capacity. This is a bit of a hold-over from my time in Vietnam and experiences with the magazines for that generation of M16. It simply did not like to have a full 20-rounds loaded. Reliability increased with 18 rounds in the magazines. While I have never had that as an issue with either my Glock or 1911 magazines – I carry 15 rounds in the Glock and 7 in the 1911 mag racking one round in the chamber and leaving 6 in the magazine. Old habits I suppose, yet I will continue with them.

Once you have carried your ammunition for a year – use it up and replace it – period! For ease of remembering, I make a range trip in the fall within a weekend or so of the change to Standard Time and I cycle the ammunition through the skill set I’m working on that day. This ensures I don’t get so lazy that all of a sudden it’s two or three or five years later and I’m still carrying the same ammo. Again – if you are in a situation where it needs to go BLAMM!! – doesn’t it pay to have “good stuff” in your defensive weapon?

Finally, this year I’m moving to a new round:


This is the Federal Premium LE round. The move comes because of solid reviews and solid ballistics. The two major physical differences – no “flex tip” with the Federal round but their primers are nickel plated where the CD round are not.

You defensive ammunition may well be your last line of defense to defend yourself, a friend or a member of your family. Treat it well, shoot it and change it out every year . . . your life may well depend on it.


  1. Those are great rounds, and concur on shooting the ammo regularly (I shoot at least a mag of carry ammo every time I go to the range which forces me to change out ammo on a regular basis). I carry Speer Gold Dot because that is what the local LEOs carry. It's not the best, but it works and if it ever comes down to it, no one will be able to say I was using 'special' rounds...

  2. Is it a given that ammunition will deteriorate and perhaps fail to fire over time? I had some rounds that came with the pistol I inherited from my grandfather, who died in 1975. I figured they were likely to be unreliable after 30 plus years, so I bought some fresh ammo online, and took my old stuff up to the cabin to shoot, figuring I'd get some duds. Every round fired. What are the odds?