Selecting the right ammunition for home defense use is vital to effectively stopping an attacker and reducing the risk of injury to innocent bystanders. This article addresses recommendations for shotgun, handgun, and rifle ammunition. If you’re unsure as to what type of gun to get for home defense, see this article..
Shotgun Ammunition for Home Defense:
Owners of shotguns have three basic choices when it comes to ammunition: Buckshot, Birdshot, and Slugs. Of these three, I would recommend buckshot; in particular 00 buckshot.
Buckshot refers to large diameter metal spheres, loaded into a shotgun shell. Buckshot is generally the best choice for home defense, in particular 00 (“double ought”) buckshot. In a standard 2.75″ 12 gauge shell, there are nine .33 caliber pellets, meaning that firing one 00 buckshot shell is roughly equivalent to firing nine rounds from a .32 caliber handgun. Buckshot is less likely to over penetrate and injure innocent bystanders than shotgun slugs, handgun bullets, or rifle bullets, but is recognized as an effective means of stopping a home invader.
Birdshot refers to small diameter metal spheres, loaded into a shotgun shell. Birdshot is generally not recommended for home defense, due to its inability to penetrate deeply enough to stop an attacker. On the other hand, it does have the benefit of not penetrating walls as deeply as buckshot.
Slugs are large, single, bullet like projectiles loaded into a shotgun shell. Slugs tend to over penetrate and are therefore not generally recommended for home defense. Another disadvantage of slugs is that they take away a main benefits of the shotgun, which is that shot will spread out and make a hit more likely (this doesn’t mean the shooter won’t miss, of course, since the shot only spreads to about 6″ when fired from across the room). Slugs also tend to produce more recoil, which can make follow-up shots less accurate for those unaccustomed to heavier recoil.
Handgun Ammunition for Home Defense
Handgun users can choose between hollow point and other expanding bullets, and non expanding full metal jacket bullets. Hollow point bullets are recommended because they are more likely to stop an attacker, and less likely to over penetrate and injure an innocent bystander.
Hollow point bullets have a hollow cavity in the nose of the bullet, which cause the nose to flatten or “mushroom” upon impact. This causes the bullet to be more effective, and also less able to overpenetrate and strike an innocent bystander.
Full metal jacket bullets, and other bullets that do not expand well (such as soft nose) or at all (such as wadcutters) are less effective than hollow point bullets. They are also more likely to overpenetrate their target and strike an innocent bystander.
Rifle Ammunition for Home Defense
Rifle users can choose between hollow point and other expanding bullets, and non expanding full metal jacket bullets. Hollow point bullets are recommended for medium and large caliber rifles, because they are more likely to stop an attacker, and less likely to over penetrate and injure an innocent bystander.
Hollow point bullets have a hollow cavity in the nose of the bullet, which cause the nose to flatten or “mushroom” upon impact. This causes the bullet to be more effective, and also less able to overpenetrate and strike an innocent bystander. In smaller calibers, however, hollow point bullets may be less effective than full metal jacket bullets, because they do not penetrate deeply enough to reliably stop an attacker. An example would be .22 caliber hollow points, which often won’t penetrate deeply enough to stop an attacker quickly enough (and .22 is not a great self defense caliber to begin with).
Full metal jacket bullets, and other bullets that do not expand well (such as soft nose) or at all are less effective than hollow point bullets, at least in medium and larger caliber rifles. They are also more likely to overpenetrate their target and strike an innocent bystander.
A Note about Recoil
It is important that the user is able to handle his or her gun’s recoil, so that they can quickly stop an attacker before it is too late, and so that they can do so without losing control of the gun and hitting an innocent bystander. Recoil that is excessive for a user can interfere with accurate follow-up shot, or cause the user to flinch in anticipation of the recoil. For this reason, a user should select a gun and ammunition that deliver tolerable levels of recoil. That means that the right home defense gun for some people will be a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 3″ magnum shells of 00 buckshot (which will recoil substantially but is incredibly effective), and for other people a .32 caliber pistol loaded with hollow points (which will have very light recoil but is less effective) will be the right choice. Select a home defense gun you can comfortably handle.
A Note about “Exotic” Ammunition
Some ammunition manufactures offer specialty ammunition that is designed to stop a home invader, but to not over penetrate. Some are frangible bullets (which will shatter on impact), others have hollow projectiles that are filled with small metal pellets, and others are very light bullets traveling at extremely high speeds. While many of these products look great on paper, they are often newer products that lack the known effectiveness and reliability of standard ammunition. Further aggravating the problem is the fact that these products are usually more expensive than standard ammunition, making it more costly for a gun owner to fire many rounds in their gun in order to test the recoil and reliability of the exotic ammunition.
A final note on self defense:
The decision to fire a gun at a human being, even when the human being is a home invader, is not a decision to be made lightly. From a moral, and likely from a legal standpoint, it is only justifiable to shoot at a human in order to prevent them from inflicting death or grievous bodily harm upon upon you or another innocent person. Firing a gun is the last resort, not the first resort.
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