Why Self-Defense Ammo Is Worth The Money
If a bullet over-expands, it will under-penetrate. If it under-expands, it will over-penetrate. All these self-defense loads are made to perform consistently and reliably. author photo

Sometimes you should want to pay more for stuff. Defensive ammunition is a great example. I’m not talking about the ammo you shoot at normal range outings; I’m talking about the ammo you put back into your self-defense gun after the practice is done.

Why? Let’s touch briefly on the reasons you do not want to use practice ammo for self-defense. Then we’ll look at why self-defense ammo is more expensive, but well worth it.

The Purpose of Practice Ammo

The purpose of practice ammo is pretty basic. Of course, it has to go bang, but after that, all it really has to do is punch holes in paper or perhaps make noise when it smashes into a steel plate. With such simple requirements, manufacturers use basic powders, inexpensive brass, or alternative metal cases, and the cheapest, simplest bullet that will fly reasonably straight.

The cheapest bullets to manufacture are either all lead or full-metal jacket designs. Since they only need to make holes in paper, they’re not designed to do anything fancy when they hit an organic target. The result? They make small holes and carry a risk of passing right through your intended target without causing much fight-stopping damage. Worse yet, those pass-through bullets might hit something or someone you don’t intend.


How and Why Self-Defense Ammunition is Different

We ask a lot more of premium self-defense ammunition. When a self-defense projectile strikes a target, it is supposed to get bigger and penetrate deeply in order to cause more fight-stopping damage. Defensive ammo is expected to work every time.

It’s also expected to hold up for years in humid (sweaty) carry environments and not corrode or malfunction when called upon. In order to meet these design requirements, companies have to upgrade every component of a self-defense cartridge:

Cartridge Case

Many brands of self-defense ammo use special nickel-plated cases to resist corrosion in adverse environments. The shiny nickel-plating also adds visibility in the dark—a small, but potentially important feature.


Many premium ammo brands use special powders, blends, or extra chemical treatments on powders to achieve desired performance. It not only has to go bang every time, but it also has to generate a precise velocity with each and every shot. Additionally, many are blended and treated to provide low-flash burn so night vision isn’t spoiled during a defensive encounter in the dark.


This is the most important component. Bullets drive most of the cost of premium self-defense ammo. Modern hollow-point ammunition has to perform perfectly within a very narrow band of performance parameters.

It’s supposed to expand upon impact, whether or not it has to pass through light or heavy clothing first.

It’s also supposed to penetrate to depths ranging from 12 to 16 inches in order to reach vital areas.

This is a delicate balancing act. If a bullet over-expands, it will under-penetrate. If it under-expands, it will over-penetrate. Either situation is bad when your life depends on the performance of your ammunition.


While not a component, inspection adds to the cost as well. Doubletap Ammunition has every round hand-inspected. The folks at Black Hills Ammunition do the same.

This step is above and beyond all manual and automated inspections performed during various manufacturing steps. Why? Defensive ammo has to work perfectly—every time.

Why Self-Defense Ammo Is Worth The Money
Expanded bullets from various self-defense loads. author photo

All of these “extras” are expensive, hence the average cost per round of a buck or so. Should you ever have to use your gun for self-defense, you’ll be glad you spent the extra cash for the right ammo.

The Takeaway

So how do you choose self-defense ammo? The easiest way is to see what your local law-enforcement agencies choose. You can bet they’ve done a lot of research before committing to a large contract. These days, you’re also pretty well off sticking to known brands with solid reputations. Federal, Speer, Winchester, Remington, Hornady and now SIG Sauer all make excellent self-defense ammo.

The bottom line is that you are betting your life on the performance of your self-defense ammo. Shoot the cheap stuff at the range, but when you get home, reload your gun with the right ammunition.

And remember, shoot that self defense ammo out of your self-defense gun once or twice a year and reload with fresh cartridges.

Also, if you eject a round when you get home and re-chamber it when you put your gun on the next day, be sure to inspect that round for any damage and be sure the bullet seating depth remains the same as the other rounds in your magazine. Every month or so, depending on how often you re-chamber the round, throw that cartridge in the range-ammo bin and start chambering a fresh one.

This will cost $25 to $50 a year in self-defense ammo purchases. My life is certainly worth that investment. How about yours?