A beginner's guide to choosing defensive and practice 9mm ammunition

So you just bought your first defensive pistol, and you walk out of the store with your gun in its case, a box of defensive hollow-point ammunition and a box of cheaper Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammo for practice. No problem, because as long as it’s not +P ammo (which essentially means “more powerful than normal”), 9mm ammo is all alike, right?


Well, let’s find out.

First, a brief note about bullet weights. Bullets are just the thing that goes flying out the gun: The whole thing together is called “ammunition”, and bullet weight is measured in grains, with 437.5 of them in an ounce. As you’d expect, heavier bullets like 147 grain 9mm rounds shoot the bullet out at slightly slower speeds than lighter bullets, but because the rounds we tested are all “normal” 9mm ammunition and not “+P” (or “+P+”, which means, you guessed it, even more powerful 9mm rounds), at the end of the day, the energy of a lighter bullet going faster should be close to the same as a heavier bullet going slower and everything should even out.

Should, that is. Should. We’ll find out if this is true in a bit.

You can buy 115 grain FMJ grain ammo from any gun shop or online ammo store out there, and while it’s a very common choice for practice ammo because of its price and availability, it’s a poor choice for defensive purposes because the round nose of the bullet tends to punch through the target and not deliver its energy into what’s being hit, and when it comes to defensive ammo, you want to drop all the energy of the bullet into the target as quickly as possible and not have the bullet go through and hit something else. Hollow-point defensive ammunition is designed to do just that by expanding and slowing down when it hits something substantial, delivering its energy all at once and creating what’s known as “stopping power” onto the target. Stopping power is at least another four or five cans of worms to open up, so we’ll leave that for later. How does four years from next Tuesday work for you?

I digress.

Hollow-points are also more expensive, usually costing about twice as full metal jacketed round nose ammunition, so it’s very common for people to practice with FMJ’s and shoot their defensive ammunition sparingly, if at all.

So let’s find if there is a difference:

Given the same bullet weight, does commonly-available full metal jacket practice ammunition feel different to shoot than hollow-point defensive ammunition?

Ruger LC9 and Springfield XD9

We’ll do a blind test with two common 9mm handguns, a Ruger LC9 and a Springfield XD9, and since I can’t do a blind comparison by myself, (well, I could, but my local range refuses to allow me to shoot blindfolded. Go figure…), we’ve enlisted Robert and Jaci of TeamGunBlogger.com help to shoot the test.

Ruger LC9 Test

This is good, because they’re both at a very similar level of shooting skill: They’re both “C” Class USPSA Production competitors and Sharpshooter in IDPA ESP, which is also about the same skill level as I am myself, so I’m very interested in seeing how this test comes out. They didn’t know what they were shooting for each test: I loaded their magazines for them and the boxes for the test ammo were nowhere in sight.

The Test:

Fire five rounds of each type of ammunition with each pistol at a 8 inch steel plate that’s 24 feet away. Start position will be pistol aimed on target, finger on trigger, and the shots should be taken as fast as possible while maintaining good hits.

Springfield XD9 Test

So let’s see how we did!

Test #1: Federal 115 Grain FMJ
1180 FPS – 356 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total (secs) Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.98 .83 2.29 1.34 .83 .69
Robert – XD9 3.16 .26 .64 .75 .91 .60

Jaci: “Straight push, light muzzle flip, recoil felt like a shove and not a hammer, not snappy at all”
Robert: “Soft, light push, slow felt recoil”

Test #2: 115 Grain Hornady XTP Hollow Point
1155 FPS – 341 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.35 .79 1.57 .79 1.41 .85
Robert – XD9 3.86 .26 1.06 .79 .67 1.06

Jaci: “Poppier with more muzzle flip, less push-back in my hand, louder report, still manageable”
Robert: “Soft, with not much felt recoil, easy to shoot, would use it in competition”

Test #3: 147 Grain American Eagle FMJ
1000 FPS – 327 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.32 1.17 .82 .84 1.70 .79
Robert – XD9 4.46 .32 1.35 .90 .78 1.11

Jaci: “Felt like gun was jumpier, more recoil, stung hands, barely manageable follow-up shots”
Robert: “Manageable, sharp push into hand, more flip, felt like it was a heavier bullet”

Test #4: 124 Grain Speer Gold Dot – 1150 FPS
364 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.00 1.16 .95 .94 .98 .97
Robert – XD9 4.14 .49 .92 .84 1.06 .83

Jaci: “Sharp recoil, lots of muzzle flip, snappy, hot”
Robert: “Stout recoil, drove gun into hand noticeably hard, felt like a punch in the hand”

Test #5: 124 Grain American Eagle FMJ
1150 FPS – 364 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.15 1.13 1.06 1.01 .98 .95
Robert – XD9 3.90 .30 1.02 .98 .85 .75

Jaci: “Snappy but light, some flip, manageable, comfortable and easy to shoot”
Robert: “Medium-soft, comfortable, some muzzle flip, would shoot it in competition”

Test #6: 115 Grain Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point
1210 FPS – 374 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.32 .96 1.01 1.57 .91 .87
Robert – XD9 3.65 .51 .96 .79 .75 .64

“Heavy and hot, lots of recoil, felt ‘abusive’, some flip but lots of felt recoil”
Robert: “Not a lot of muzzle flip but a strong push into back of hand, felt the sting afterwards”

Test # 7: 147 Grain Winchester White Box Hollow Point
990 FPS – 320 Foot/Pounds Muzzle Energy

Shooter Total Shot 1 Shot 2 Shot 3 Shot 4 Shot 5
Jaci – LC9 5.95 1.15 1.08 1.48 1.09 1.15
Robert – XD9 4.08 .54 1.00 .83 .78 .98

Jaci: “Lots of muzzle flip, most of all the tested rounds, manageable felt recoil”
Robert: “More muzzle flip, sharp but not overly heavy felt recoil”

Shot 1, Shot 2, ETC: How long it took to get the next shot shot on target. Jaci had some problems at first with the looong trigger pull on the LC9 versus her usual gun, which is why some of the scores in the first two tests are a little weird.
Red Numbers:
A miss. Oops.
Bullet speed in Feet Per Second, or how fast the manufacturer says the bullet is going when it comes out of the barrel of the gun. This can change with different types of guns, so the numbers quoted here and from the ammunition manufacturers themselves.
Muzzle Energy: The theoretical force the bullet has as it leaves the end of the gun, which equals (Bullet Speed x Bullet Speed x Weight of the Bullet) / 450,240. More is better here, but remember, Newton’s Third Law of Motion means there’s going to be an equal and opposite amount of force to the force that goes out of the end of the barrel and that means more recoil and less control.


All 9mm “normal pressure” ammo is NOT created equal. Even though all these rounds are considered “normal” and not “+P”, there are big differences in how the ammo felt to shoot. We chose “normal” ammunition for this test because of the recent popularity of small and subcompact 9mm pistols: Because of their size, some of those pistols cannot shoot +P ammuniton safely, and even if you could, you don’t want to shoot +P ammo in a small 9mm because the added recoil and muzzle flip makes it a VERY unpleasant experience with little to no upside.

Surprisingly there wasn’t a big difference in the shot-to-shot times between each type of ammunition, indicating that while some brands and bullets weights FELT easier to shoot, and the end of the day, it’s the person shooting the gun and not the ammunition that matters. That being said, ammunition that feels easier to shoot will get shot more often, something to take into account as you choose your practice ammo.

It’s also important to note that we’ve reached a point in ballistics and bullet development that almost ANY of the modern hollow-point ammunition from the “name-brand” manufacturers will work as a defensive round and provide enough “stopping power.” I could link to literally thousands of blog posts and forum comments and reasoned opinions from some really, really smart people, but at the end of the day, with a few notable exceptions (Glaser Safety Slugs and similar “frangible” ammunition being one), all modern hollow-point ammo will do the job it needs to when it needs to it. The point of this test wasn’t to find The Ultimate Manstopper, it was to team up the best defensive ammo for your practice ammo of choice, and vice versa.

Judging by these results, if you practice regularly with Federal 115 Grain FMJ ammunition, you may want to consider the 115 Grain Hornady XTP over the 115 Grain Speer Gold Dot ammunition. If you shoot with 124 Grain FMJ’s, and unless you’re convinced that Speer Gold Dots are The Ultimate Man-Stopper, you may want to pass on them in favour of something with a little less recoil that more closely matches the ammo you train with. However, if you have 147 Grain Winchesters Hollow Points in the 9mm you rely on for personal protection, 147 Grain American Eagle FMJ’s seem to be a good choice for a practice round for you.

As for me, I’m changing defensive ammo as soon as I can afford it. I practice with 115 grain Federal FMJ ammunition, but the CZ P07 I carry currently has 124 Grain Speer Gold Dots in it, which means that if (God Forbid) I have to use that gun with that ammo in it, how the gun will react to the ammo and how I will react to what the gun is doing will be different than how the ammo I practice with reacts. I’ll be switching those out in favour of Hornady XTP’s as soon as I can, because in the end, you want your training and practice to be as close to what you’re training and practicing FOR as you possibly can get it.

Stay safe, have fun,

profile_pic_smHey, if you liked this, feel free to come back often. I write about this kinda stuff almost every day, and the best way to keep track of things is by following the site on Facebook.




Thanks to Lucky Gunner for some of the ammo used in this test, Jaci and Robert of TeamGunblogger for their help, and Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club for the use of their pistol bay and steel target.


Unc links to an interesting wallet-sized survival kit. There’s some stuff in it that I need to add to my small kit (Kevlar cord) and some stuff in it that I don’t need (non-metallic handcuff key), but the one thing that fascinates me about this kit and practically every other kit out there is the obession with fishing gear. 

I understand that fishing line and hooks have other uses and that a lead sinker doesn’t take up a lot of space, but the fact is, you’ll die from dehyrdaration or drinking polluted water LONG before you’ll die of starvation. Any Boy Scout will tell you to worry about first aid, shelter, fire and water first, then worry about food.

Cheap, fast, easy (Part One)

The Vuurwapen (that’s Dutch for “Firearm”, if you haven’t figured it out) Blog lit the candle about the professionalism of gun reviews and others have chimed in, so here’s my thoughts as well. 

The current state of gun reviews (online or not) is something that’s been bubbling inside my head since SHOT, and I’ve come to the conclusion that gun reviews, as they are now, are pretty much useless. 

And I blame myself as much as anyone else.

Let’s break down a typical gun review. It starts with a brief history of the product or the manufacturer, then swings into a paragraph or two about what features on the Überblaster 3000 make it new and exciting (or, alternatively, such a beloved classic). Next is a opinion piece on why that reviewer thought those features were good or bad, and then lastly a trip to the range where they’ll put about 200 or so rounds through it at varying distances and then pronounce (if we’re lucky) that said gun is a good value or if we’re not, they’ll just say whether they like the gun or not. 

What I didn’t learn was a) how it compared to other guns with a similar purpose b) what other people think of it and c) and what the gun is like to own and maintain.

It’s that last point that’s the biggest gap in gun reviews. Gun writing is in a permanent state of ADD: We’re always distracted by the bright and shiny new objects the gun companies dangle in front of us, and we don’t write about what it’s like to live with a gun for a long time. As I said on the post that started this whole thing, 

My main complaint with most gun reviews is they are similar to the car reviews in the auto magazines: “Look, here’s the latest and greatest thing from Detroit/Milan/Stuttgart/, and it goes REALLY REALLY FAST!!!!”

That’s nice, if I have an extra $50k+ to spend on a mid-life crisis. However, I’m more concerned about what a given gun will do over it’s lifetime. I don’t buy a gun a month, if I’m lucky, it’s a gun a year, so I need to make sure what I buy will hold up as an investment, and putting 200 rounds through it tells me squat about what it’s like to live with that gun day in and day out. A pistol that can hold up to a 2000 Round Challenge is much more interesting to me than the last überblaster. 

I’ll probably never buy a Lamborghini, and even my chances of owning a Mustang are beginning to fade as my kids grow up and bills increase. What matters to me more right now is whether my wife’s Nissan Pathfinder will be as reliable as my old Frontier pickup or what are the long-term maintenance costs of a Civic Hybrid. 

The fact of the matter is, most cars are reliable for the first 75,000 miles or so and, with a few exceptions, most guns are reliable for the first 1000-ish rounds (we’ll leave the “break-in” discussion for another day). Because I don’t buy a gun a month, I need to know that what I buy will last, and the 2000 Round Challenge is good way to mimic the life of an ordinary (non-competition) gun and how a typical plinker/CCW gun owner will treat their gun.

Gun reviewers (including me) need to start thinking about what it’s like to OWN a gun and not just what it’s like to BUY a gun. 

Part Two on Monday: Learning from Car and Driver. 

How the game is played, Fourth in a Series of… um, I dunno how many.

Why do viral videos count for some much when it comes to social media? 

This is why

According to new research commissioned by Unruly Media, viewers are far more likely to recall a brand name and engage with an ad’s message if a branded video has been recommended to them by a peer. The survey, conducted by Decipher Research to measure the effectiveness of social video advertising, found that social video recommendations had a direct impact on traditional brand metrics and ad enjoyment.

The new research found:

  • Brand recall and brand association rose 7 percent among viewers who had peers recommend the videos versus viewers who found it by browsing;

  • 73 percent of respondents who viewed a peer-recommended video recalled the brand when prompted versus 68 percent of viewers who had browsed to the video directly;

  • There was a 14 percent increase in the number of people who enjoyed the video following a recommendation versus those who had discovered it by browsing;

  • People who enjoyed a video were 97 percent more likely to purchase the product featured in the video.

The study, which surveyed online video viewers, aged 18-34, across four social video campaigns from top fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands Guinness, Coca-Cola, Unilever’s Cornetto and Energizer Batteries from July to November 2011, sought to determine the impact of peer recommendations.

Quick, think of the last online video produced by a gun company that went viral. 


The old rules of “bring a dozen gun writers from the major magazines to a shooting school, have them fondle pre-production versions of our new guns and embargo what they write about it until the guns are released for sale” sorta works for now. Sorta.

However, some gun company is going to figure out that there’s a better (and cheaper) way to do it, and that gun company is going to rule the place where gun nuts rule

How the game is played, Part the Third

When I was in college learning how to be a (photo) shooter, I used to joke that “kids and dogs = the perfect photo for B1”. Of course, this was back when newspapers had budgets for feature stories and the space to run their photos big. 

Getting a good soft news photo is as much an art form as snapping a shot of the game-winning basket or that perfect spot news photo, and the same elements that make a good feature photo make a good viral video. 

Kids and dogs. Humor. Cultural memes. Portability. Oh, and cute kids acting all growed up helps too.

How the game is played, Part Deux

To review from Part One, a good viral video should have… 

Video games

So how come this video took off last year? 

Uniqueness: Oh yeah.
Portability: The video went viral, the audio from the commercial did not. Part of that is because we humans respond more to sight than we do sound, part of it is because of the “sweater full of mischief” seen in the video, but part of it is because there’s no good platform for viral audio right now. You want audio? Get a podcast. 
Humor. Oh freakin’ yes. Funny as all get out. Hilarious. Stunningly hilarious. Brilliantly hilarious. And it’s even better because it takes the same emotions we apply to warm fuzzy animals and applies to cold plastic and steel. I’m in awe. The guy or gal who did this needs to sign with Sattchi&Saatchi or Deutsch LA, and quick. 
Visuals: See comments under portability. 
Cats: No. 
Video games: No, but it does use a pre-existing meme, the tear-jerker pet adoption ad, which is essentially what video-game related memes do.This ad takes a pre-exisitng cultural icon and give it a new twist. This is why the zombie meme sorta works for the firearms industry: They take a pre-existing item on our cultural radar and tag along for the ride. Unfortunately, no one is doing that in a humorous way yet, and believe it or not, zombies and humor mix VERY well

Bottom line, if the gun companies want their stuff to go viral, it’s time to put down the tactical gear and pick up the clown nose. Guns (when used safely) are fun. Shooting stuff is fun. Gun owners are funny

Gun advertising? Not fun at all. And the sooner gun companies realize this, the more money they’ll make off the internet. 

Front Sight Four Day Defensive Handgun Course Review, Day Three

Day One is here

Day Two is here

Day Three

Today started out on one of the ranges in “Phase Two” of Front Sight, and you begin to get an idea of how big this place is. They have two 200 yard rifle ranges, plus an arroyo dedicated to shotgun and another dedicated to rifle, plus “Snipers Point”, an overlook with steel targets set out along a wash. We were on Range 14, but we soon left it for “Monsters, Inc.”, a bay with nothing but a few dozen doors set up to practice door entry with blue guns, and then it was of to the simulation bay for a live-fire “Shoot house” run.

And you know what? I’m tired and I still need to do some dry-fire practice, so I’ll leave what was in the shoot house and the rest of today for tomorrow.

Kel-Tec and SHOT Show

The phrase I kept hearing at SHOT this year was “What would Ruger do?”. Other gun manufacturers are realizng that Ruger’s had consistently popular guns recently, most notably the LCP, their .380 ACP pocket pistol, which kicked off the pocket .380 craze of a few years ago. However, the LCP borrowed substantially from of the Kel-Tec P3AT, the original pocket .380, so maybe the gun companies should look to Ruger for innovations in marketing and Kel-Tec for inovations in guns. 

And Kel-Tec certainly has new and completely original designs out there. I’ve argued online that George Kelgren is the most innovative designer out there since Gaston Glock, and I’ll stand by that argument to this day. My arguments are backed up with products like the aforementioned P3AT, the SUB-2000 pistol-caliber carbine (quick, name another carbine under $500! Time’s up!), the .308 RFB, the .22WMR PMR-30 pistol and a bunch of others. 

Walking by the Kel-Tec booth, I got a chance to examine their much-talked about (but rarely-seen) RMR-30 .22WMR carbine

Kel-Tec RMR-30

Right off the bat, this sucker is LIGHT. Very light. And skinny. It’d benefit from either a vertical foregrip or a MagPul grip, as I found it a bit hard to hang on to. Secondly, the mag relase is in the bottom of the pistol grip, not my favourite location for such a thing. 

Kel-Tec RMR-30 receiver

Other than that, though, I’m a total fanboy for this gun. Can’t wait to get one into my hands and wring it out for myself. 

The other gun that caught my in Kel-Tec’s booth was their SU-16E: A version of their venerable SU-16 rifle with an adapter for an AR-15 stock

Kel-Tec SU-16

Again, this is a very light rifle compared to other rifles in its class, primarily because it uses polymers in for the entire receiver, not just the lower part as in my CavArms AR

SU-16 Receiver

The SU-16 is an unsung hero of the AR world: It used a piston-drived action long before it was cool and takes standard AR magazines. It’s on my “will buy list” as a trunk / bug out gun, and the AR stock adapter makes it even more attractive. 

The biggest problem Kel-Tec seems to have is managing their success: The RMR-30 was announced last year at SHOT and they’re still not in your local gun shop. Not a bad problem to have, but it needs to be addressed in order for these groundbreaking guns can get into the consumer’s hands.