If you are going to carry a pistol for self-defense then you should have proper ammunition. My criteria for bullet choice is as follows:
1. Hollowpoints (some states outlaw these).
2. Reliable in your pistol.
4. Reasonable price.
5. Pass the FBI/IWBA penetration tests.
Hollowpoint ammunition prevents over penetration while at the same time expanding to produce a larger wound cavity in the bad guy.
Quality ammunition works reliably in your pistol. The greatest round in the world is useless if it doesn’t work in your pistol.
A great round you can’t purchase is useless to you. Don’t forget that you can buy them on the internet also.
Ammunition that you can’t afford is no good to you. You will need to buy more than enough to fill your carry magazines. You will need to test the pistol with the ammunition to make sure it works in your gun.
I think a round that has been in use for years in the same type of pistol you have goes a long way to proving it works in your pistol. But every pistol is different and you should shoot a minimum of 100 rounds when you first use them in your pistol. Bullets go through small changes in manufacturing over the years. The next time you buy more just shoot 25 to make sure the lot of bullets is not defective (different lot of ammunition means shoot some more).
The FBI tests for ammunition are for law enforcement. Some people feel that the protocols through glass and other barriers are not as important for civilian self-defense. If you can get a self-defense round that passes all the tests then why not buy it. If the round you want passes all the tests but does not do well through glass you will have to ask yourself if that is something you might have to shoot through as a civilian. I don’t find that test high on my list. So I just concentrate on if the round passed the penetration depth tests. It should travel 12 to 18 inches in gel tests.
Many law enforcement rounds will not pass the test from a short barrel. If you have a pistol that has a 3 inch barrel or under then you might look for a pistol round made specifically for small guns.
I took the following list from a post on pistol-forum.com which is a great forum that I have linked in the blogroll to the right. It is a list of common law enforcement rounds that have also passed the IWBA 4 layer denim test. Thank you, DocGKR for all your hard work. If you have a pistol with at least a 3.5 inch barrel then I believe that any round on the list that works in your pistol will serve you well. Remember you must still test it in your pistol. I urge you to take a look at pistol-forum. It is the only forum I read because it has a lot of good info without a lot of silly BS. Please be nice when you go over there. Keep it respectful and on topic.
The following loads all demonstrate outstanding terminal performance and can be considered acceptable for duty/self-defense use:
Barnes XPB 115 gr JHP (copper bullet)
Federal Tactical 124 gr JHP (LE9T1)
Federal HST 124 gr +P JHP (P9HST3)
Remington Golden Saber bonded 124 gr +P JHP (GSB9MMD)
Speer Gold Dot 124 gr +P JHP
Winchester Ranger-T 124 gr +P JHP (RA9124TP)
Winchester 124 gr +P bonded JHP (RA9BA)
Winchester Ranger-T 127 gr +P+ JHP (RA9TA)
Federal Tactical 135 gr +P JHP (LE9T5)
Hornady Critical Duty 135 gr +P PT
Federal HST 147 gr JHP (P9HST2)
Remington Golden Saber 147 gr JHP (GS9MMC)
Speer Gold Dot 147 gr JHP
Speer Gold Dot G2 147 gr PT
Winchester Ranger-T 147 gr JHP (RA9T)
Winchester 147 gr bonded JHP (RA9B/Q4364)
— Obviously, clone loads using the same bullet at the same velocity work equally well (ie. Black Hills ammo using Gold Dot bullets, Corbon loads using Barnes XPB bullets, etc…)
— Bullet designs like the Silver Tip, Hydra-Shok, and Black Talon were state of the art 15 or 20 years ago. These older bullets tend to plug up and act like FMJ projectiles when shot through heavy clothing; they also often have significant degradation in terminal performance after first passing through intermediate barriers. Modern ammunition which has been designed for robust expansion against clothing and intermediate barriers is significantly superior to the older designs. The bullets in the Federal Classic and Hydrashok line are outperformed by other ATK products such as the Federal Tactical and HST, as well as the Speer Gold Dot; likewise Winchester Ranger Talons are far superior to the old Black Talons or civilian SXT’s.
The 9mm list is here. If you have another caliber look at pistol-forum.com and look at the sticky under the ammunition forum. Stick to the companies on this list and even if you can’t find the exact round just research one that is available to you. Many of the rounds from the listed companies are good but are not on the list because they fail the glass/intermediate barrier test on the FBI test but otherwise is a good round.
Once you have a good round spend your time and money learning to shoot quickly and accurately. Pistol bullets are not magic. The difference between the good round and the great round will not overcome poor shooting or poor tactics.
Wipe your bullets down with a clean dry cotton cloth. Don’t put cleaners or oil on them. Police officers replace their bullets every year. That’s because they spend hours out in the rain, snow, heat, humidity. Unless you find yourself in a similar situation you don’t need to replace them so often. I replace my bullets every two years unless they get damaged in some way such as repeated loading and unloading. I try to buy enough rounds to test in my pistol and then to replace them at least once plus a few spares. That gives me around four years before I have to test them again.