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So, let’s start with the important stuff: the brand of defense ammunition that you choose is far less important than the type of ammunition that you choose.

Fortunately, we can cover the right type of self defense ammunition really quick, before we get into reviewing the various brands.

Here’s what you’re looking for:

  1. A modern, bonded hollow-point round.

That’s it. Seriously.

Ideally, you’ll use a round that’s on the heavy side. 135 and 147 grain hollow point rounds make great 9mm defense ammunition. But, there are some 124 grain rounds that perform very well. So, the weight thing is more of a guideline than an actual rule.

Fortunately, the bonded hollow-point design is pretty much standard for self defense ammunition. So, it won’t take much effort to meet this requirement.

So, if that’s all there is to it, you’re probably wondering what’s the point of talking about all the different brands of defensive ammunition? Why did you even come here?

The reason you want a decent set of options for self defense ammunition is so that you can choose a different brand if your first choice doesn’t run well in your gun.

Yes, that means that you should absolutely test your self-defense ammunition in your gun before you use it for carry or home defense.

Our Best Choices

Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 grain FlexLock

Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST

SPOILER ALERT: Here are two of the best options:

  • Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 grain FlexLock.
  • Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST.

That’s right. Two winners for this review. If one doesn’t run in your gun (or if one is out of stock), try the other.

For those who like options and information, we’ll cover all the best rounds in detail. Just keep reading for all the information you can handle.

The Top Self Defense Ammunition Today

Best 9mm Self Defense Ammunition Reviews: Feed Your Defensive Gun Good Food

Our winners are up first, as per usual. Everyone else is lined up in order of price per round, from most financially soluble to most financially crushing.

Let’s fire of a few rounds.

1. Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 Grain FlexLock - Best Overall 9mm Self Defense Ammunition

The FBI recently adopted the Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 Grain FlexLock round as their official duty round. That’s because it’s a great round.

First, this round produces consistent muzzle velocities, and the penetration rests right at about 18 inches in gel, which is right at the top of the FBI penetration standard.

Also, the hollow point of the round is filled with soft plastic filler. This helps ensure uniform expansion in soft tissue. But, it also stabilizes the round and improves hard barrier penetration.

It’s unlikely that a civilian will need to shoot through a barrier. But, the penetration helps ensure that the round goes through clothing and other obstructions and hits pay dirt.

There’s also a standard version of this round, Hornady Critical Duty 135 Grain FlexLock. The standard cartridge shoots a little softer, since it’s not +P load. And, it performs almost as well as the +P variant.

There are only two downsides to this round:

It produces a pretty snappy recoil impulse. The bullet is fairly heavy, and it leaves your gun at 1110 feet per second. So, be prepared for a bit more pop when you’re shooting these rounds.

The straight angle of the bullet may cause reliability issues in 1911-style guns. 1911s run best with rounded ammunition. If you’re running a 1911, make sure to do a reliability check before you use this as your defensive ammunition.

But, if you can use it, this ammunition is at the top of the performance hierarchy. You can’t go wrong using this for home defense or concealed carry.

Pros

  • Excellent terminal performance.
  • Good hard barrier penetration capability.
  • Performs as intended, even after penetrating intermediate layers.

Cons

  • Has a strong recoil impulse.
  • May not function reliably in 1911-style guns.

2. Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST - Standard 9mm Hollow Point Self Defense Ammunition

If you prefer a heavier bullet, the Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST provides excellent terminal performance, without heavy recoil like some of the hotter self-defense loads.

In ballistic tests, this ammunition achieves penetration depths of just over 15 inches, which is just about perfect for carry ammunition.

The expansion is also reliably wide, and the bullet retains almost all of its mass. This delivers excellent wounding capacity.

This round achieves this solid terminal performance even with a fairly tame muzzle velocity1000 feet per second. That’s not super fast.

And, it’s subsonic. So, it works great with suppressed guns.

What’s even more impressive is that this is standard ammunition, not a +P load. So, the recoil is reasonable, even with the heavy bullet.

However, the lower muzzle velocity means that the barrier penetration isn’t that amazing. Especially through wood.

But, if you want a heavy, standard hollow point round, this ammunition delivers some of the best terminal ballistics on the market, at subsonic velocities.

Pros

  • Excellent terminal performance.
  • Consistent expansion.
  • Retains almost all of its mass after impact.
  • Very reasonable recoil.

Cons

  • Barrier penetration is only fair.

3. Federal 135 Grain Hydra-Shok - 135 Grain 9mm Self Defense Ammunition

Federal 135 Grain Hydra-Shok self defense ammunition has passed the FBI tests, although the FBI doesn’t officially use it. But, there was a time when the Hydra-Shok round was the king of defensive ammunition.

The exceptional performance of this ammunition comes from it’s dual material construction. The expanding nose of the round is lead, which expands to produce the best terminal ballistics. However, the base is a harder metal, which ensures that the bullet retains almost all of its mass as it travels through the target.

This design delivers excellent energy transfer and wounding capacity. In penetration tests, it hits almost exactly at 18 inches.

Also, these rounds deliver a muzzle velocity of 1055 feet per second without a +P load. So, the recoil is less severe than some other defensive rounds. There’s also the Federal 124 Grain Hydra-Shok for those who want something with even softer recoil. 

The bullet itself also has a rounded nose, for better function in single action only pistols.

Although these rounds seem to penetrate soft intermediate layers like clothing just fine, the hard barrier penetration isn’t great because the bullet doesn’t retain its shape very well when it strikes a hard surface.

However, again, shooting through hard barriers is a very unlikely scenario for civilians.

But, it’s a very comfortable defensive round to shoot, and it performs very well. It’s an excellent option for any defensive context, in any defensive gun.

Pros

  • Outstanding terminal performance.
  • Retains almost all of its mass after impact.
  • Soft recoil.
  • Rounded nose for more reliable function in single action only pistols.

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer great hard barrier penetration.

4. Remington High Terminal Performance 9mm Luger 147 Grain JHP - Budget 9mm Self Defense Ammunition

Remington High Terminal Performance 9mm Luger 147 Grain JHP ammunition gives you the most bang for your buck. They come in just over 50 cents per round, which is less than half of some of the pricier defensive ammunition.

Even with the super affordable price tag, these rounds hit 19 inches of penetration in ballistic tests. That’s an inch more than the FBI standard of 18 inches. But, most rounds travel further in ballistic gel than they do through bone and other dense tissue. So, these are unlikely to overpenetrate.

The bullet itself features a rounded contour nose for better reliability.

And, although the bullet is rather heavy, the muzzle velocity is only 990 feet per second. So, the recoil is pretty comfortable. The lower velocity also makes this ideal defensive ammunition if you use a suppressor on your home defense gun, since it’s subsonic.

The only complaint about this ammunition is that the expansion diameter could be a bit wider. However, most of the data is from ballistic gel tests. Actual tissues will likely cause the round to expand more.

But, if you’re banging on a budget, this is an excellent option for both home defense and carry guns.

Pros

  • Good penetration.
  • Rounded nose for reliability.
  • Subsonic muzzle velocity for suppressor use.
  • Soft recoil.

Cons

  • Expansion in gel tests isn’t as good as it could be for a 9mm round.

5. Sig Sauer Elite Performance 147 Grain JHP - Subsonic 9mm Self Defense Ammunition

The Sig Sauer Elite Performance 147 Grain JHP rounds are designed to provide better expansion at lower velocities. This makes them ideal for use in short-barreled and suppressed handguns.

To start, the bullet itself is constructed with two expansion chambers and a cannelure that create a sort of hinge point on the round that enables it to achieve maximum expansion, even at low velocities. This makes it ideal for small, concealed carry guns with short barrels.

And, the velocity is already subsonic, at 985 feet per second. So, it’s suppressor-ready, even on full-size guns with long barrels.

And, the nose of the bullet is rounded for better feeding and reliability.

However, the low velocity and easy expansion of this round give it poor hard barrier penetration.

Even so, if you run a suppressor or carry a subcompact gun, this might be the best defensive ammunition for you.

Pros

  • Excellent expansion, even at low velocities.
  • Subsonic muzzle velocity for suppressor use.
  • Rounded nose for improved feeding.

Cons

  • Poor hard barrier penetration.

6. Speer Gold Dot G2 147 Grain GDHP - 9mm Home Defense Ammunition

The Speer Gold Dot G2 147 Grain GDHP is the next evolution of the legendary Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection ammunition. Supposedly, Speer designed this ammunition to crush the FBI terminal ballistics tests.

So, the first thing to understand about this ammunition is that it functions best from a longer barrel, ideally longer than 4 inches. That’s why it’s solid home defense ammunition. The ideal home defense gun is a full-size handgun, with a longer barrel. So, the G2 works great as dedicated home defense ammunition.

Additionally, the Speer G2 round sports a lower muzzle velocity of 970 feet per second, which means that it’s unlikely to overpenetrate and smash into your kid’s bedroom. The low muzzle velocity also makes this ammunition perfect for suppressed pistols.

However, this ammunition delivers fairly subpar performance from 3 inch and shorter barrels. 

So, stick to using it in your home defense gun. If you want Gold Dot ammunition for your carry gun, the Speer Gold Dot 124 or 147 grain round is a better option.

Ultimately, this is a fairly specialized ammunition for home defense guns. If you only use a gun for home defense or if you want dedicated home defense ammunition, this is a solid option.

Pros

  • Excellent performance from full-size guns.
  • Subsonic muzzle velocity is great for suppressed guns.
  • Low risk of overpenetration.

Cons

  • Delivers subpar performance from short-barreled handguns.

Terminal Ballistics

Most modern, bonded hollow point rounds perform well enough for defensive use. It’s most important that your ammunition functions reliably in your gun. So, don’t get too hung up on the details of ballistic performance.

Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 grain FlexLock

Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST

If you want a round that will do the job, grab one of these:

  • Hornady Critical Duty +P 135 grain FlexLock
  • Federal Premium Personal Defense 147 Grain HST

If one doesn’t work well in your gun, or you just don’t like it, try the other. In most cases, one of them will work for you.

So, now you’ve got no excuse to keep toting those full metal jacket rounds in your defensive gun. Get yourself some proper ammunition for the best defensive performance.