The Parabellum (the name derives from the German manufacturer's telegraph code) dates from the turn of the 20th century, served as a weapon in both world wars, and became something of a European standard as well. While the sizeable 9mm service sidearms proved useless for civilian everyday carry, the cartridge aroused a lot of interest nonetheless, as NATO standardized it.
The 9mm Parabellum has, in recent years, become almost the world-standard handgun cartridge for LE agencies. The use of the 9mm as a sporting or defensive round has grown alongside or slightly in the wake of its official popularity.
Comparison of the Best 9mm Ammo
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How to Choose 9mm Ammo
Whereas the selection of a compact carry weapon (CCW) is relatively easy, ammunition selection is a complicated job, especially if you are in the market for the best 9mm self-defense ammo.
Before we explain the best qualities of 9mm ammo for self-defense, here’s a basic rule to remember: proper shot placement and hitting the vital regions of the attacker are a must when using pistol caliber ammunition for the self-defense.
A 9mm bullet has to achieve adequate penetration to disrupt the vital organs, stop the bad guy, and not cause any collateral damage. The perfect 9mm self-defense load for sidearms, according to the FBI, must provide penetration depths of 12 inches minimum and 18 inches maximum when fired in 10% ballistic gel.
Another notable 9mm ammo feature is a bullet’s ability to enter a target and expand to create as large of a wound cavity as possible. This type of projectile designed for expansion is usually a JHP, as the opening in the bullet’s exposed, soft nose will enhance expansion once the bullet hits the target, creating a larger wound channel.
A heavier bullet penetrates barriers better and causes more damage if it remains in one piece. All well-made defense rounds should demonstrate excellent weight retention; i.e. the bullet has to stay in one single piece while it penetrates light or heavy clothing and travels through the soft tissue.
What is 9mm Ammo Best For?
While many harbor well-founded doubts about the 9mm's terminal effectiveness, actually, the 9mm Parabellum`s virtues in the last century were largely logistical. Its modest dimensions permit the use of high capacity, double-column magazines in pistols. It is precisely the firepower factor that has led many American police departments, as well as sporting shooters worldwide, to prefer the 9mm.
However, recent technological developments in bullet and propellant design have contributed to the 9mm's skyrocketing popularity. The 9mm caliber is having something of a renaissance these days because people are more interested than ever in concealed carry compact pistols purpose-built for constant wear and reactive use.
In the world of personal defense, the 9mm has become the most popular concealed carry caliber due to the solid ballistics, wide selection of self-defense ammunition, lower recoil, and affordability.
But in a gunfight, the guy who wins is the one who can place well-aimed shots at the right time and we recognize that training and practice are mandatory to every handgun owner.
Compared to other high-powered handgun cartridges, 9mm ammunition is less expensive, especially when purchased in bulk. That same lower cost also encourages handgun owners to practice more for less money.
However, you have to differentiate between the 9mm ammunition intended for defensive purposes and the practice ammo that you would use for the range. For training and even plinking, you can purchase FMJ ammo cases or buckets of 500 or more in order to lower the cost per round.
On the other hand, many experts have advocated for years the "bigger is better" theory of defensive handgun rounds, but with engineering and performance of modern 9mm cartridges, lighter and faster 9mm projectiles can rival the slower and heavier .45 ACP in terms of wounding capabilities.
Ammo 101 - Bullet Types Explained
In the market, you usually have the following types of bullets: lead non-jacketed bullets, FMJ or full-metal-jacket bullets, and finally, the JHP or jacketed hollow point bullets. Since most major handgun manufacturers forbid the use of lead bullets in their firearm, the other two are most often found in our arsenals.
FMJ (Full-Metal Jacket)
A lot of criminal records and serious tests have proven that full metal jacket ammunition achieves great overpenetration and minimal expansion, making this type less suitable for self-defense. This causes the round to go clean-through the target and continue on.
JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point)
On the other hand, the modern, bonded jacketed hollow point 9mm bullets are superior to full metal jacket projectiles, providing the minimum performance standards we are looking for self-defense. Hollow point ammunition with modern bullet designs such as JHPs is designed to expand upon impacting soft tissue to stop your attacker efficiently.
Today, there are a few newer bullet designs which have evolved from the “fourth generation rounds” such as the notorious Cor-Bon Glaser Safety Slug that comes with an excellent reputation when it comes to stopping power.
Statistically, 87 percent of people shot with 9mm FMJ ammunition survive, yet to date over 90 percent of people shot with Glaser rounds have died. In fact, the estimated survival time of a person shot in the front, mid-abdomen with a Glaser slug is about three days.
Although they come with benefits like the minimal risk of ricochet or over-penetration, the Glaser Safety Slugs are totally defeated by any form of angled cover, such as glass window or indoor soft-wood door.
The best examples of improved and advanced designs are the Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator cartridge and the Novx Extreme Self-Defense ammo. Lighter than a typical 9mm bullet, both provide deep penetration, whereas these projectiles create a permanent wound cavity diameter that far exceeds wound channels made by most expanding bullets.
Review of the Best 9mm Ammo
In the next chapter, we introduce you to some of the best 9mm ammo offerings you can find on the market. Now, all you have to is research your load’s terminal ballistic performance to find a decent load for your Wonder Nine.
1. American Eagle - Syntech 9mm Luger 150gr Total Synthetic Jacket Action Pistol Ammo
The first on our list is a load coming from Federal Ammunition that has manufactured ammunition for nearly a century. Their sub-brand, American Eagle, has released into the market a new handgun "range" round with the exclusive total synthetic jacket (TSJ), which reduces damaging heat and friction.
Topped with 150-grain, heavy, flat-nose bullets this ammo is optimized for power factor requirements in action shooting sports. This AE soft load attains a muzzle velocity of 875 ft/s and muzzle energy of 255 ft-lb.
While Syntech loads provide reliable knockdowns on steel targets in competition, they also reduce splash back on steel targets, followed by the notable decrease in perceived recoil over standard FMJ loads.
The American Eagle exclusive polymer coating means that the lead-alloy core is covered entirely by a thick, durable, red polymer layer, so no heavy metal is exposed.
This new ammunition is loaded in brass cases and equipped with the new lead-free Catalyst boxer-type primers. Syntech synthetic jackets allow the bullets to glide through the barrel, preventing copper and lead from fouling and keeping your gun cleaner.
Although the Syntech Action Pistol ammo is very soft shooting, there are some complaints that it might not cycle in heavier handguns without changing to lighter recoil springs.
While it seems that self-defense ammo is all the rage these days, the American Eagle Syntech Action Pistol series of ammunition is designed as practice-type ammunition for a serious day at the range and for high-volume competitive shooters.
2. Remington - UMC Ammo 9mm Luger 115gr FMJ
Another venerable and honored American ammunition maker is known for its design innovation and manufacturing excellence. Of course, it is Remington Arms and their united metal cartridge (UMC) brand of ammunition, a superb choice for practice, target shooting, or training exercises.
The Remington UMC 9mm Luger is new production ammunition that is an excellent blend of value and performance, featuring a non-corrosive boxer primer and brand new brass casings for those gun aficionados that like to reload their 9mm ammunition.
This Remington 9mm Luger ammo is loaded with non-magnetic, 115gr metal case (MC) bullets, which is Remington's term for a standard, lead core, full metal jacket projectile. The 115gr ammo load reaches 1,135 ft/s and generates a muzzle energy of 328 ft/lbs.
The UMC line of handgun ammo offers reasonably priced loads for the high-volume shooter, making target and practice shooting a more enjoyable and very affordable activity. However, with such low-priced ammo, you may expect some gaps in quality control inspection reflected in a small percentage of fail-to-function (FTF) failures.
The UMC 9mm features American-made quality and economical "go-to" handgun ammo intended for plinking, tactical training, action-pistol competition, or any target shooting activity.
3. Winchester - USA White Box Ammo 9mm Luger 115gr FMJ
Our next suggestion also comes from one of the legendary US ammo manufacturers and is marketed as the Winchester "USA White Box" lineup. The USA White Box 9x19mm caliber ammunition has a default application for plinking and target because of consistent accuracy and positive functioning of full metal jacket bullet. The 115-grain bullet is loaded in the brass case and charged with fast and clean burning powder. It reaches 1,190 ft/s with 362 ft-lb muzzle energy.
While this ammo with manufacturer code Q4172 is a wise choice for practice and plinking, it is less convenient for competitions. This is due to occasional feeding or extracting issues in some handguns, but for the most casual shooters, the percentage of FTF or FTE’s is negligible.
Whereas this ammo has a bit more thump than common target/plinking loads, rare and sporadic FTF issues will provide you with an opportunity to practice clearing a stoppage, making this range ammo more similar to real self-defense ammunition.
The brass cases are good news for reloaders and also if you happen to be shooting at those ranges that do not allow you to pick up your spent brass casings.
Winchester has made White Box ammo for a long time, enabling generations of newbies to become proficient and serious shooters without breaking the bank buying more expensive 9mm Luger ammunition.
4. Hornady - Critical Defense Ammo 9mm Luger 115gr FTX
Utilizing a different approach to modern self-defense handgun ammunition, Hornady has developed a new series of ammo called “Critical” based on their LeveRevolution ammunition, intended for lever-action rifles. First, please do not confuse Critical Duty with Critical Defense ammunition, as they are different types designed to address very different needs.
Hornady’s Critical Defense ammunition is similar to a traditional jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullet but with an added polymer tip inside the hollow point. Designated as the Flex Tip eXpanding (FTX) bullet, this load delivers flat trajectories and helps with feeding as well as performance.
In this way, Hornady FTX's Flex Tip design provides sufficient penetration and controlled expansion between 1.3 and 1.6 times the 9mm’s original diameter. While all Critical Defense bullets with flexible tips are useful for preventing clogging of hollow points, they are also cannelured and case-crimped to avoid bullet setback.
Although Hornady loads their Critical series with clean-burning and stable propellants to launch the 115-grain bullet at 1,140 fps of muzzle velocity and 332 ft.-lb. of muzzle energy, it also features a bit of an excessive but manageable recoil.
Unlike Critical Duty ammunition, the Critical Defense lineup was not designed to pass the full FBI protocol; instead, it was purpose-built for defensive situations where no intermediate barrier was involved. Furthermore, Critical Defense is created to be fired from short-barreled, compact carry guns.
5. CCI - Blazer Ammo 9mm Luger 115gr FMJ
The 9mm Blazer Brass ammo made by CCI is intended for use by the casual shooters as a reliable training and practice ammunition. Featuring muzzle velocity 1,125 fps and muzzle energy 323 ft.-lbs., CCI Blazer Brass 9mm Luger is a great cartridge for practice, target shooting, and training exercises since it combines economical pricing with premium CCI primers and protected-base FMJ bullets for clean shooting.
The Blazer 9mm is loaded in brass casings and topped with an FMJ-RN (full metal copper plated jacket-round nose), 115-grain bullet. Its virgin brass can be reloaded up to five times due to its exceptionally high quality.
There are some constraints for use of the Blazer Brass Ammunition in indoor ranges due to jacket separation issues. It is also a reason why the Blazer Brass ammo is not intended for use by law enforcement.
On the other hand, from an economical aspect, the 9mm Luger by CCI is the best choice for bulk 9mm target shooting ammunition.
While this CCI Blazer Brass, low-cost ammo has some downsides, it is quite acceptable ammunition for target shooting or just plinking around at the range, as well as for reloaders.
CCI brings shooters ammunition built to SAAMI standards capable of more extended shooting sessions without a hefty price tag or operational issues.
Whether for the protection of yourself and those you care about or just for casual plinking, you must not forget that a fully loaded magazine, even with some of the best ammo on the market, alone will not achieve your goal, however, success will come through your awareness, proper mindset, and marksmanship, coupled with your choice of high-quality ammo.
Without question, all who seek the highest level of performance for self-defense 9mm ammunition should consider the use of expanding and fragmenting ammunition such as hollow-point bullets.
There are many different types and brands of 9mm JHP cartridges offering a phenomenal increase in stopping power, achieved by utilizing the bullet`s energy in the most efficient way possible. Additionally, while the controlled expansion of the jacket into “flower petals” creates a larger bullet diameter in the target, the adequate expansion will also prevent overpenetration to minimize collateral damage from bullets passing through the target.
We hope that you never shoot your firearm in self-defense, but like any reasonable adult, you should prepare yourself for the worst scenario by applying the collected information and considering your budget for purchasing the best defense ammo, as well as for training and practice.
People Also Ask
The caliber wars between the 9mm Luger and several other high-powered handgun cartridges have been going on for decades. However, neither of them have the winning combination of power, reliability, and economics exhibited by the 9mm Luger; therefore the Nine wins the popularity contest.
Though the 9mm Parabellum has always been a widely-used cartridge, there are still many misinterpretations and misunderstandings of this favorite round.
What is the Difference Between 9mm and 9mm Luger Ammo?
In the previous chapters, you might encounter different names for the same cartridge. By adopted nomenclature, the round is called 9x19mm, however, we also call it “9mm”, “9mm Parabellum”, “9mm NATO”, or “9mm Luger”, but all of these refer to the same 9x19mm round.
These are various names for the same cartridge, but you should be aware of at dozens of other rounds in the same caliber (9X18 Makarov,9mm Kurtz,9x21 IMI) that are not currently interchangeable with the most common handgun rounds.
What is the Difference Between 115 Grain and 124 Grain 9mm Ammo?
We don't think that the different bullet weight makes much difference if you can maintain fairly tight groups. Loads with lighter bullets may have a little less perceived recoil and higher velocities than heavier bullets, but since the bullet weights are similar, the differences are negligible.
On the flip side, it’s true that much of the time, bullet weight matters very little, but when we discuss self-defense and hunting, our advice is to search for ballistics gelatin tests or real-world reports of a specific load's performance.
Is Steel-Cased Ammo Bad For 9mm?
First, if you are a reloader, don't bother with the steel cases, because they are more trouble than they are worth. Second, the steel-cased ammo is designed as an economical substitution for the conventional brass offerings.
Further, harder than brass, the hard steel shell casing cause more wear and tear on the weapon and there can be more extraction problems but only in straight-walled cases. As we know, 9x19mm feature a slightly tapered case which will be less prone to the harder extraction.
Since the steel-cased ammunition is significantly cheaper than comparable brass-case ammo, it is suggested to use it for practicing and training.
How to Store Ammo?
The general rule for ammo storage is to keep it in a cool, dry, dark location. While most of you will first think of gun safes, it shouldn't be the optimal place for ammo storing.
The primary reason is the temperature swings on a daily basis can cause moisture, which is the real threat to your ammunition. One way to avoid increased humidity is to buy desiccant canisters or to get a good dehumidifier.
Another way to manage the increased humidity is to store your ammo in rubber gasket military style 30 and 50-caliber ammo cans. Useful ideas for proper ammo storage are organization and discipline, meaning you should label your ammo cans.
If you store your ammunition in nearly ideal conditions, modern ammo will last centuries. Otherwise, if you store your ammo improperly, degradation starts on day one.