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The purpose of this guide is to relay information which  may assist the law abiding citizen select the best ammunition for a defensive firearm.  "Best" is a very elusive attribute, and any recommendations given should be viewed in the context of the gun owner's personal knowledge and experience.

Empirical data regarding one shot stopping capability of a particular cartridge have contributed to the formulation of the ammunition performance recommendations.  Such information is derived primarily from the real world shooting experiences of law enforcement agencies.

"One shot stop" refers to a cartridge's ability to make an aggressor immediately cease their threatening behavior when shot once in the torso.  Head, neck, and multiple shootings are not considered in the data.  "One shot stop" does not necessarily infer that a mortal wound was inflicted. It merely means that the shooting created physical injury or psychological trauma sufficient to result in cessation of aggressive or violent behavior.  Death may or may not have resulted.

In addition to "one shot stop" statistics, keep in mind that a bullet striking the torso of one's adversary ideally must penetrate deeply enough to encounter and disrupt vital organs, arteries and blood vessels.  Penetration, indeed, is paramount.

Law enforcement agencies continually seek to identify "best" calibers, brands and types ammunition by conducting firearms workshops which attempt to recreate real world shooting environments.  Some workshop data on bullet penetration can be accessed on-line.  An ammunition manufacturer's website, such as Speer's, can be a helpful resource in this regard, particularly if data lend credence to a company's product marketing program.    

You will find that the penetration characteristics of various bullet calibers complement the "stopping" information obtained from actual shootings. Penetration data are largely developed from shots fired into a ballistic gelatin designed to approximate bodily tissue.  Such data also serve as the basis for the recommendations which follow regarding ammunition for personal protection.

It cannot be overstated that proper shot placement under stress is the single most important skill brought to bear in a self defense situation.  Proper shot placement involves shooting the attacker in the head, the cervical spine, or the torso.  

A head or spinal neck shot will immediately incapacitate.  The goal of a torso shot is to produce hemorrhage by rupturing the heart or any of the major blood vessels.  This will result in relatively quick cessation of hostilities.  Forced collapse from blood loss will take several seconds to occur, even when primary blood vessels such as the aorta or vena cava have been destroyed.  When the blood supply is disrupted in this manner, the brain of one's assailant is deprived of oxygen needed for conscious function.   

Vital organs and cardiovascular structures reside deep within the human body.  Hence, in addition to proper shot placement, one must possess a caliber of bullet capable of reaching them.  Under favorable conditions, 6 to 8 inches of penetration will incapacitate an assailant.   As a degree of insurance,  the bullet should be capable of plowing through tissue into the attacker's bodily core from any angle of engagement, considering that vitals may be obstructed by an arm, extremely heavy clothing, or large body mass. 

For this reason, ten to twelve inches of penetration potential is regarded to be the acceptable minimum for a caliber chosen for self defense.  Fifteen is considered by the FBI to be the maximum, considering the danger to innocent bystanders represented by a stray bullet which exits the assailant's body.  "Over kill" is unnecessary.  One gains little from enduring the blast , recoil, and potential loss of  control necessary for accurate follow up shots that are associated with excessively large "hunting" calibers.

Under identical conditions of shot placement, a larger caliber bullet with a penetration of 10 to 12 inches will inflict more damage to an attacker's vital organs and structures than will a smaller caliber bullet capable of the same penetration. 

Keep in mind, however, that disabling hits from a small caliber firearm, inflicted with deliberate accuracy by the intended victim, will devastate an unskilled, erratic attacker possessing a more powerful weapon.

Mentally review and practice the "double tap" drill: two quick shots to the chest in rapid succession.  Follow up with a shot to the head if hostilities haven't abated.   

Be aware that people can move very quickly, covering in excess of twenty feet within one and one-half seconds.  In any event, be sure to fire multiple shots at your attacker.  

Tactics and marksmanship will save lives of potential victims and diffuse or terminate violent encounters.  Using the "best" cartridge for one's caliber of firearm merely gives the armed citizen a technological edge in any defensive situation.

When compared to rifles and shotguns, handguns are not the most potent form of self protection.  In fact, the vast majority of people shot with handguns, in excess of 80 percent, survive.  Hence, seek to incapacitate an attacker with a combination of skilled shot placement and proven ammunition.  

You are encouraged to visit the Armory munitions room "Self Defense" to review the physiology  and psychology that deters an assailant when shot by the intended victim.

For recommendations regarding the "best" ammunition to use for self defense or hunting, follow the links below or in the navigation bar on the side of the page.

It is a good idea to actually put into practice the concepts embodied in the motto "be prepared".  This means possessing adequate ammunition before the need arises.  For a shotgun, in addition to acquiring at least 100 rounds of your favorite buck shot load, consider picking up four to six boxes (20-30 shells) of  rifled slugs.  While not an arsenal by any standard, this inventory will command respect should the need arise during riot or civil unrest.  

For handguns and rifles, most "preppers" will work towards assembling a cache of at least 1,000 rounds for each firearm.  Remember, those zombies don't come wandering in one at a time.  They come in hoards!

Store ammunition in a cool, dry place that is protected from direct exposure to sunlight.  Military surplus ammo cans are handy for storage, especially the 30- and 50-caliber size.  When full, the 50-caliber can will weigh in at approximately 40 to 50 pounds, so it won't be too heavy to lug around.  The 50-caliber size has a good capacity and stacks nicely.  To maintain the integrity of the lid to seal, try to find cans that aren't dented.  Cosmetically, surplus ammo cans tend to be dirty and greasy.  This isn't much of a problem: just remove the lid and run both can and lid through the dishwasher!  Let them dry thoroughly before using.

Save up those little silica gel desiccant packets that come in almost everything one buys these days.  You know, the packets that advise you "not to eat" (as if finding one with the purse, tool belt, or electronic device you just purchased is going to bring on inexplicable hunger pangs!).  They can be reused after heating them in a conventional oven for a couple of hours.  Place on an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet and dry at approximately 200 degrees F.  Make sure they don't catch fire.  Allow them to cool.  Store them in a resealable plastic baggie for later use.  When storing ammunition, add a few to the ammo can before you close it up.  Of course, you can just buy new silica gel packets instead of "recycling" old ones.  

Ammunition manufacturers consider properly stored ammunition to have a 10-year shelf life.  The experience here at the Armory suggests that this time frame is probably reasonable with regard to rim fired ammunition.  It is extremely conservative for center fired cartridges.

If stored correctly, center fired ammunition will very likely still be reliable after 50 years.  During the Cold War, the U.S. purchased, manufactured and stockpiled massive amounts of munitions that date back all the way to the 1950's.  This buildup consisted of both conventional and nuclear weaponry.

T he U.S. Army Depot at Hawthorne, Nevada stores a vast array of conventional explosives, and tests everything from grenades to artillery shells on a regular basis.  One malfunction or "dud" is grounds for condemning and demilitarizing the entire lot it came from.  Fine quality .50 caliber machine gun ammunition manufactured in the 1950's has been routinely shipped out of Hawthorne to the Armed Services, and found prolific use in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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