Best 9mm Ammo [2017] for 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

Can’t wait?  Here’s our picks for the best 9mm ammo:

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

Best 9mm Ammo for Self Defense

Testing Background

The below pictures and data are from a super in-depth post from Lucky Gunner plus a little bit 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 a 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.

Recommendations

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

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

Magtech Guardian Gold 9mm 115 gr

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

115 Magtech Guardian Gold Expansion
115 Magtech Guardian Gold Expansion

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

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

147 Federal HST Expansion
147 Federal HST Expansion

Best 9mm Ammo for the Range

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.

American Eagle 9mm 115 gr

Like its 5.56 and .223 counterparts, American Eagle is running a great 25% off rebate for their pistol ammo until December 31, 2017.  So until then…it’s definitely the BEST deal.

Editor's Pick

American Eagle 9mm 115 gr

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

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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18 Comments on "Best 9mm Ammo [2017] for Self Defense & Range Shooting"

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

John O\'Renick
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Too bad you don’t really know what you are talking about, Eric. The U.S. Border Patrol gets in more gunfights than any other American police agency. When high-capacity “wonder nines” became popular in the 1980s, Border Patrol agents wanted to carry them. The BP was skeptical; macho types have always denigrated the 9mm. Two BP agents were tasked with researching stopping power, and after a year’s work recommended that BP agents not be allowed to carry anything producing less than 400 ft. lbs. kinetic energy at impact. 9mm doesn’t cut it. 9mm+P and +P+ do. The “12 to 18 inches”… Read more »
Stephen Boland
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I’ve put at least 1000 rds of American Eagle 115 through my M&P9c without a single malfunction. It’s a really great range choice!

Mark Wynn
Guest

Curious why Hornady ammo not considered. My favorite for “defense” purposes in ..45 APC, .9 and .380. A bit costly for range use.

Ellwood Greiner
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do you have federal critical duty pistol ammo 147 GRAIN +P ON SALE

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