Best 9mm Ammo [2018]: Self Defense & Range Shooting

Find out the best 9mm ammo for self-defense based on ballistic gel tests that cover penetration depth and expansion.

Plus the best range plinking ammo for bulk shooting.

Ballistic Gel Testing
Ballistic Gel Testing

Our Best 9mm Ammo Picks

9mm AmmoDistinctionPenetrationExpansion
Federal HST 9mm 124 grOverall Best: Defense18.3".61"
Federal HST 9mm 147 grPersonal Fav: Defense15.2".61"
American Eagle 9mm 115 grBest Deals: RangeN/AN/A
Blazer Brass 9mmMost Affordable: RangeN/AN/A
PMC Bronze 9mmPersonal Fav: RangeN/AN/A

Read on to see how we chose them and the best place to buy them for cheap!

Testing Procedures

The below pictures and data are from a super in-depth post from Lucky Gunner plus a few of our personal criteria.  Here are some details of the test which closely mimic FBI protocol:

  • Shot 10 feet away
  • 4 layers of fabric in front of the ballistics gel to simulate a “worst case” scenario of clothing
4 Layers of Clothing
4 Layers of Clothing
  • Ideal penetration of 12-18 inches.  More than 18 inches might go completely through the target and hit something beyond.  While a 12-inch minimum protects against thicker targets and possibly hitting something like an arm first before the torso.
  • 5 shots for more data
5 Shots into Ballistic Gel
5 Shots into Ballistic Gel
  • Shorter barreled gun.  Most tests are run with a full-size pistol, but Lucky Gunner used an S&W M&P9C which has a 3.5″ barrel.  Their thought was most people carrying a handgun most likely have a compact sized one.  So for those of you with a longer barrel, the penetration and velocities might be slightly higher.

Here are our recommendations for each of the most common weights of bullets: 115, 124, & 147 grain.

This way you can shoot the same weight of bullet as your more common range ammo.  And because these are self-defense rounds, they are all jacketed hollow points (JHP) for reliable expansion.

We personally prefer the 124 gr since it is less “snappy” than the 115 gr to us.   But we recommend you try a couple weights and make sure they cycle 100% in your self-defense gun.

Bullet Weight Scale
Bullet Weight Scale

Best Self-Defense Ammo:

1. Gold Dot 9mm 115 gr

Penetration depth is right in the middle of the zone, great expansion, and good velocity for a short barrel.

  • Average Penetration: 16.4″
  • Average Expansion: .55″
  • Average Velocity: 1143 ft/sec
115 Gold Dot Expansion
115 Gold Dot Expansion

2. Magtech Guardian Gold 9mm 115 gr

The sweet spot of penetration, expansion, and velocity.

  • Average Penetration: 15.2″
  • Average Expansion: .56″
  • Average Velocity: 1175 ft/sec
Magtech Guardian 9mm +P 115 gr

Magtech Guardian 9mm +P 115 gr

115 Magtech Guardian Gold Expansion
115 Magtech Guardian Gold Expansion

3. Federal HST 9mm 124 gr

Great penetration, the biggest expansion, and velocity for those who like shooting the slightly heavier 124 gr rounds.  Overall best recommendation.

  • Average Penetration: 18.3″
  • Average Expansion: .61″
  • Average Velocity: 1135 ft/sec
124 Federal HST Expansion
124 Federal HST Expansion

4. Federal HST 9mm 147 gr

Penetration in the sweet spot zone, great expansion, and good velocity for the bullet weight.  My personal favorite since I like the shooting impulse of 147 gr bullets.

  • Average Penetration: 15.2″
  • Average Expansion: .61″
  • Average Velocity: 973 ft/sec
Editor's 147 gr Pick
Federal HST 9mm 147 gr

Federal HST 9mm 147 gr

147 Federal HST Expansion
147 Federal HST Expansion

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (39)

Your Rating?

Best Range Ammo:

Range ammo is more about reliability and cost-effectiveness.

Here are a couple of our recommendations for the common 115 and 124 gr bullet weights.  We’ve shot thousands of these and they are reliable, clean shooting, and economical.  We suggest trying out both weights to see what you and your gun prefer.

1. American Eagle 9mm 115 gr

Best deals on AE 9mm rounds so far since I think there’s a huge surplus.

2. Blazer Brass 9mm

When pennies count…the cheapest reliable brass cased 9mm.  But…the brass is a little difficult to reload.  Perfect for ranges or classes where you can’t pick up brass

3. PMC 9mm

What I’ve shot the most.  Always goes bang and the brass is great for reloading.

Conclusion

These are our favorites for 9mm self-defense and range ammo.  What did you end up choosing and how does your gun like it?  And if you want to see the full results from Lucky Gunner, check out their post here.

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DrRJP
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DrRJP

I like using the Winchester 147gr Train & Defend series. They are standard pressure rounds where the FMJ Train round has the same shape and ballistic performance as the JHP Defend round, Ammoquest rated it as best 147. grain round they tested:

Ammo Quest 9mm: Winchester Train and Defend 147gr Ammo Test

Tyrone Leak
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Tyrone Leak

Great reporting

John Woodward
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John Woodward

I shoot Federal’s American Eagle 115 gr FMJ for practice and Federal’s HST 147 gr hollow points for defense. I also use the Lucky Gunner tests as a primary criterion in making the decisions. Some folks want +P and other ammunition that will penetrate beyond 18 inches. I am somewhat concerned about hurting an innocent person with a bullet that passes right on through an attacker. I recognize that bones etc in the human body can turn the bullet or do other strange things that keeps it inside but the ballistics of the HST 147 gr seems to be the… Read more »

7seasdiver
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7seasdiver

Hornaday isn’t even mentioned. Am I missing something?

Jim Ahmann
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Jim Ahmann

Have you tried the Underwood Extreme Defense ammo in the 9mm?

Wayne
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Wayne

I have, and don’t like it because while all the numbers sound right, it doesn’t live up to the hype. Example: I carry a Ruger P95 with 65 grain Xtreme Defenders factory loaded in the +P category rated at 1800 FPS while delivering something like 465 FPE to the target at 10 yards. Well, it finally happened. I had to use it just the other night on 19 MAY 2018 while driving home from a night of singing in the deep-rurals of Wisconsin. First, let me clarify by saying that I don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t do drugs. I… Read more »

David
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David

I’m sorry you had to go through that, I actually had to deal with almost the same situation a few weeks ago minus the storm. This might seem cold but this is actually a great learning opportunity: what kind of ammo you use depends on what you need it for and not all meat targets are made the same. I haven’t used that ammo before because I flatly disagree with pistol ammo that tries to deliver damage through hydro-shock. The speeds required for that to work effectively is almost impossible to reach in a pistol, especially in 9mm. While it… Read more »

Wayne
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Wayne

Thank you for the kind words. We’re all bad-asses until were not. I used to sneer at war movies when I’d see a solider acting out of character, but will now see past that. Why I couldn’t bring myself to deliver a second shot will haunt me for some time, but I learned from it. And while some will surely say, “Dude, it was just a cat let it go!” they too, will one day have a reckoning when they least expect it. That’s just the way it is. For me, my soft spot happens to be dogs and cats.… Read more »