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Best 9mm Ammo: Range Shooting And Self Defense [2023]



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STACK IT DEEP

9mm is by far the most popular type of handgun ammo in the nation, really the world. With so many brands and types out there, it can be a mess to find what you really need.

Don’t worry, we’ll get some facts straight and will start you out right.

WHY 9MM?

From the FBI to the military to almost every law enforcement agency and army in the world, 9mm is the top choice for duty and carry. 

Over years of testing, it has been proven that 9mm is highly lethal, and the added benefit of having more ammo and easier follow-up shots greatly improves your odds in a gunfight, far more than just a bigger caliber.

9mm, 357 sig, .40 caliber
Left to right: 9mm Europellet, 357 Irrelevant, and 10mm Short.

Smaller Calibers like .380 Auto might have a place in CCW for some niche applications, but the general winner is 9mm. 

Larger calibers like 10mm are great for things like bears and other wildlife but don’t offer an advantage when it comes to simple humans.

RANGE AMMO VS. DEFENSIVE AMMO

Range ammo just needs to go bang. Being consistent is nice, but it’s pretty hard to make inconsistent pistol ammo that doesn’t have a long list of other problems on top of it. Steel case, brass case, cheap or expensive, range ammo just needs to run.

I strongly recommend avoiding remanufactured or reloaded ammo. The price is normally lower than new ammo, but it’s impossible to make it reliable. Too many guns have blown up because of reman ammo for it to ever be worth it to me.

Defensive ammo is a whole other beast. One big problem is that there are a lot of lies in the defensive ammo world. Claims that are made and are, frankly, total bullsh!t. With a nice enough package and some fancy marketing, these overpriced pieces of crap take a shocking market share from people who just don’t know better.

When it comes to the ammo you’re going to bet your life on — don’t be cheap. Don’t fall for flashy marketing. And don’t rely on what some random guy at a gun show told you.

LuckyGunner has the most complete set of testing data out there and is an amazing resource. 

WHAT WEIGHT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

For 9mm your common bullet weights are going to be 115gr, 124gr, 135gr, and 147gr. There are a few odd ones out there like 92gr, 105gr, and 150gr — but those are rare enough that we can mostly ignore them.

Very generally speaking, lighter bullets have less felt recoil and less muzzle flip but also less barrier penetration and less kinetic energy.

For example, Hornady 115gr with a muzzle velocity of 1,079 FPS has 297 ft.lbf energy. Hornady 147gr at just 994 FPS has 323 ft.lbf energy. This delta is typically what you’ll see across all brands of ammo—a difference, but not huge.

Is ~25 ft.lbf going to be the difference between winning a gunfight and losing it? I doubt it, but it is 8 percent more power, and that isn’t nothing.

For penetration through meat, bullet weight isn’t the final deciding factor. Sometimes lighter bullets punch deeper, and sometimes heavier wins. It depends on the exact brand and bullet type.

Barriers, like drywall, car doors, etc., heavier bullets almost always win for penetration. For most CCW and home defense considerations, barrier penetration is normally a bad thing. For duty carry, some extra penetration is often looked at as a good thing. 

My personal bar is I want my ammo to go through car windshields, but I’m also in an urban area where someone with road rage is a real threat. 

For range plinking, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what weight you choose. 115gr is almost always the cheapest option. I would recommend that you try to match your defensive ammo weight with your range ammo weight, but if you shoot and train enough, it honestly doesn’t matter as much.

Again, totally personally, I almost exclusively buy 124gr ammo for both my defensive rounds and my range ammo. I’ve found 124gr works really well across all my applications from CCW, to competition, to PCC. Most of my pistols, including my CCW, have a compensator of some kind on them, and 124gr helps ensure those always cycle well.

Nothing wrong with 115gr or 147gr, but for my needs, I like 124gr normally. Consider your situation and choose accordingly.

BEST 9MM AMMO: RANGE SHOOTING AND SELF-DEFENSE

Picking your range ammo isn’t rocket science. If you just want stuff that will run, you can take your pick from just about anything offered by any of the major brands. Avoid the tempting prices of remanufactured or reloaded ammo and stick with new, brass-cased ammo.

These top picks for range ammo are mostly based on availability, price, and my past good experiences with them.

Defensive ammo is more complex for reasons I already covered. Be picky about this stuff. Don’t settle for anything less than the great options. It’s expensive, but you won’t need more than a couple of boxes per year. That’s a pretty small investment in the long run.

Blazer Brass

Available in a wide range of weights, Blazer Brass is a go-to pick for range ammo. Low cost, easy to find, and I’ve never had an issue with it going bang. Having sent thousands of 115gr Blazer down range, I have a good sample to work from.

For bulk ammo that I want cheap, this is one of the first ones I look up.

That said, it isn’t my favorite. It tends to burn kind of dirty and leaves black specks on my hands and forearms. I’m pretty sure it’s just carbon, but it’s a little icky. The packaging is also kind of bulky, making it a touch annoying when I’m trying to carry a few hundred rounds in a range bag.

Still, when I’m trying to stretch a dollar — Blazer Brass doesn’t disappoint. 

Sellier & Bellot

My top choice for range ammo, and honestly, one of my top choices for competition ammo also, S&B burns clean and is insanely reliable. Prices can bounce around a bit but are normally at least the second cheapest option. 

S&B 124gr is my standard buy when I’m stocking deep or getting ready for a long bout of testing or a big competition. The package is very condensed, it’s super reliable, and I can generally find it. 

Being imported, supply can dry up. In the past few years, world events have a few times made it so that finding my favorite flavor of S&B was hard or impossible. But it was also one of the first to come back in large numbers, so that was nice.

PMC Bronze

Made in South Korea, PMC ammo is simply outstanding for reliability and has impressive lot-to-lot performance. Their 5.56 ammo is one I highly recommend, but their 9mm is great stuff as well.

PMC makes ammo for the SK military, from small bullets to huge howitzer rounds. While it isn’t American milspec, it is milspec. Because of the incredible volume they produce, the price is normally good. But that extra QC isn’t free. While the price is good, it’s generally a couple of cents per round more than S&B or Blazer.

PMC Bronze is one of the very few brands that I’ve literally never had an issue with. That’s a great track record so far.

Remington UMC

Remington has a rough history with everything they produce. Made in Arkansas, this is at least a cost-effective American-made option. Personally, I’ve never had a real issue with Remington UMC. But I’ve also heard some horror stories about guns being blown up a few years back.

While Remington’s QC has had some issues in the past, right now, I think this is a pretty good option. I haven’t heard of anything major since Vista Outdoor bought them up, and since Vista Outdoor also owns Federal, CCI, and Speer — my hope is that they’ve used their experience and made some improvements behind the scenes at Remington. 

All that to say — this is good-to-go ammo, in my opinion. I’ve cranked through about 5,000 rounds in the last year, and it has all gone bang.

Hornady Critical Defense & Critical Duty

Something common to a lot of Hornady’s ammo is that for expansion, it can be very velocity-sensitive. That’s how all expanding ammo works, but Hornady tends to be a bit more sensitive, in my experience. 

Critical Defense and Critical Duty are kind of the same thing in that they are premium defensive ammo from Hornady with an FTX tip that helps expand the round. I’m a big fan of both the Defense and Duty lines.

Defense is designed to penetrate less than Duty, both barriers and meat. While the Defense ammo still meets the FBI-recommended ballistic gel penetration, it barely does it. Duty, on the other hand, tends to hit the max set by the FBI, if not a little over.

One issue I’ve seen in Critical Defense Duty testing is that if you’re not using a full-size firearm with a barrel at least 4-ish inches or longer, you might have trouble getting it to expand fully. Oddly, this is one case where the +P version might be the best choice no matter what. Critical Duty 135gr +P is only about 50-60 FPS faster but has a much better average expansion. This actually results in slightly less penetration in meat.

The FBI adopted the 135gr Duty +P as their standard round back in 2022.

On the Defense side, the 115gr has a great track record for full expansion and is 10-20 cents less per round than the Duty.

Federal Punch & HST

Kind of the same idea as the Hornady Defense/Duty, but with bigger design goals, Federal has Punch and HST. 

The HST line is older and has been adopted by a whole boatload of LEO and militaries around the world. The vast majority of the HST that Federal makes is on contract for LEO departments. Born out of their Hydra-Shok line, the HST is built to perfect the FBI testing standard. This means being able to beat down hard barriers like walls, wood, car windows, and more but also not over-penetrate meat.

Almost every test I’ve ever seen has HST expanding more than any other bullet on the market and doing so reliably and with a lot of effect on target. That’s what has made HST one of the most used bullets in the world.

Federal Punch is a lot newer but has some great features. Designed for the CCW/self-defense shooter, the Punch JHP bullets are specifically built to punch through heavy clothing. They don’t score as well on the FBI test because they don’t do as well on hard barriers, but that is a design feature and not a bug. 

For a CCW/self-defense shooting, you’re not super likely to need hard penetration as much as you will need to be able to get through heavy clothing without disturbing the JHP before it hits meat.

The downside of all of this is that because HST is made in such insane volume, it’s pretty easy to find it for cheap (as far as defensive ammo goes) and in large amounts. While HST is sold in 20-round boxes, finding 50-round boxes is a lot more common. Deals on 1,000 rounds can be found all over the internet, knocking the price down to 55 cents per round or less.

Punch is sold in 20-round boxes, and I can’t find it online for less than 75 cents per round.

In stores, I tend to see this flipped with HST being a bit higher than Punch. But that’s also why I don’t buy ammo in stores.

Personally, I love HST, and I trust it. And since I am a little paranoid about car windshields, I carry HST pretty often.

Speer Gold Dot

From the FBI to the Department of Homeland Security to the French National Police, Speer Gold Dot is a gold standard for defensive ammo. This ammo is still one of the best and has a long history and loads of government contracts around the world to prove it.

Speer Gold Dot LE Duty 9mm Luger Ammo 115 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point

One downside about those big contracts is it tends to suck up any of the available ammo on the civilian side of things for a few months at a time. When you can find Gold Dot, you tend to see it for a very good price, and you see it offered in bulk — something fairly rare for defensive ammo. While most other defensive ammo runs 90 cents to $1.50 per round, Gold Dot is generally around 60-70 cents if you can buy in bulk 1,000 rounds or more at a time.

If you want to train how you fight, this is a very attractive option.

SIG Sauer V-Crown

Being in the firearm media world, I’ve received more SIG V-Crown for free than I have any other defensive ammo, but I’ve also bought my fair share on my own because I genuinely like SIG’s ammo. It’s proven to be a very reliable ammo. It always goes bang, it expands well, and the price is normally good. 

While this isn’t exclusive to SIG, SIG seems to have committed harder to the idea than the other brands. SIG offers V-Crown lines designed for micro CCW. Named after their pistol, the 365 line of ammo from SIG is built for guns that have short barrels, specifically 3.1 inches or more.

For all my microcompact guns, this is a top choice for me because I know it works even out of my small guns.

Other defensive ammo will work, but you get diminishing results the shorter the barrel gets. Federal has their Micro line, but I haven’t seen it for sale in ages. SIG 365 ammo I can actually find.

LOOSE ROUNDS

Choosing the right ammo is a core part of shooting, but for most people and most applications, it isn’t the defining choice. Buy smart, don’t fall for reman/reloads, and stick to the major brands. 

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