Top Five Hard Hitting 9mm Self-defense Loads By Jim Grant

The new 9mm loads can supply most of the impact of a .45 ACP but with a much smaller and more controllable pistol.


For decades, soldiers, ballisticians, arm-chair generals and seemingly anyone who has ever pulled a trigger has offered their opinion (educated or otherwise) about the .45 ACP vs 9mm debate. Starting one hundred years ago when American Marines in the Philippines were dissatisfied with the combat effectiveness of their puny .38 caliber New Army Long Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers (ballistically similar to the 9x19mm), their complaints gave birth to the .45ACP M1911 pistol. For that subsequent period of time when FMJ was the name of the game, the .45 ACP held a very real advantage over the 9mm in terms of terminal ballistics and thus stopping power. That is, of course, if you subscribe to the theory of stopping power.

Personally, I’ve seen animals do strange things when hit with large and small caliber rounds. Seemingly independent of the round’s diameter… save for the particularly unlucky squirrel eviscerated by a 12-gauge shotgun slug. In these cases, only two aspects of the shot had any effect on the recipient: bullet type and shot placement.

That said, 9mm parabellum is now on nearly equal footing with .45 ACP when both rounds are loaded with expanding defensive ammunition. While this solves one problem, is creates another – the ammo companies produce hundreds of variations of dozens of bullet weights. This makes picking the proper round for your concealed carry of home defense pistol truly vexing. Good thing for you lucky readers, I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 9mm cartridges that turn your wonder nine, into a thunder nine.


Hornady 147gr XTP

Hornady has been around for a very long time in the ammunition business, and their experience is evident in the quality, accuracy and consistency of their ammunition.  One of the most accurate defensive 9mm loadings I’ve ever ran through a suppressed pistol is Hornady’s 147gr XTP round.

The jacket hollow-point features serrations around the cavity to promote symmetrical expansion on impact with soft tissue. This helps the round maintain most of its weight once it strikes the target, while equally dissipating as much of its kinetic energy as possible.

What makes it great for suppressor use, is that it’s a subsonic cartridge – traveling roughly 125fps below the speed of sound at the barrel’s muzzle. This means no supersonic, “crack” as the round breaks the sound barrier, and no loss of accuracy at distance when the round becomes transonic. Owners of the SIG MPX pistol should give this round a try, as it produces the smallest groupings out of my MPX-PSB at 50 yards.


HPR 147gr JHP Suppressor-Specific

Speaking of suppressor-friendly ammunition, HPR makes a great load for use with cans: the EMCON 147gr 9mm JHP. This ammunition functions and expands with similar effectiveness to the Hornady 147gr XTP, but is incredibly quiet when paired with a quality sound suppressor.

Packaged in jet-black 50-round packs with gold lettering, EMCON rounds are becoming one of the most popular suppressor loads on the market. In all of my test firearms, the EMCON runs without any issue whatsoever, while providing consistent accuracy. This includes my P226, Glock 17, HK VP9, Canik TP9SA, SIG P320, and even my Boberg XR9-S.


SIG Sauer 124gr V-Crown Elite Performance Ammunition

SIG Sauer makes some of the finest firearms on the planet, guns that ooze quality and just look expensive. The same can be said of their Elite Performance Ammunition line. These nickel-plated brass-cased 124gr jacketed hollow points run great in basically everything, while providing solid accuracy.

Equally as important, the rounds expand reliably while still penetrating past the FBI standard of 12 inches of ballistic medium. This makes the rounds ideally suited to reaching the target’s vital organs – a necessity when trying to reliably incapacitate a target.


Winchester Ammunition PDX-1 Defender

Winchester makes some of the best and most affordable ammo on the market today. With product lines covering basically all facets of buyer demographics. From their white box 115gr FMJ plinking rounds to their PDX-1 defensive rounds.

The PDX-1, like most of my favorite defensive rounds, shies away from the common 115gr round used for casual shooting in favor of a 147gr bonded, jacket hollow point. This round features a deep cavity that’s beveled along the bullet to provide reliable feeding in all firearms. Even those designed before the widespread use of expanding ammo.

The case is nickel-plated for corrosion resistance, and the round is just barely subsonic which makes it well-suited for suppressor use. Plus, the heavier round is ideal for penetrating thick clothing and even automotive glass, which makes the round very attractive to law enforcement officers and civilians alike.


Hornady Critical Duty 135gr FlexLock +P

Shooters who’ve been around for a while shouldn’t be surprised to see this list topped by Hornady’s Critical Duty load. The high-velocity 135gr round features a cannelured bullet, whose cavity is filled with a polymer flextip that prevents it from filling with heavy clothing.

So what?

When hollowpoints fill their hollow center with foreign material before expanding, they act like standard FMJ rounds – over-penetrating the target without transferring its kinetic energy first.


Plus, the round itself is sealed to case, so if the gun gets wet, or simply collects too much condensation, water won’t seep into the powder, and ruin the cartridge. My favorite part about this cartridge, is its effectiveness out of pistol-caliber carbines like the MPX and the MP5.

The extra barrel length of both allows for higher velocities from the rounds. By increasing the already impressive velocity of the round, the bullet’s trajectory is very flat for a pistol round. This makes engaging targets out to 100 yards require almost no holdover.


One thing to be sure of before loading up any of these rounds in your favorite sidearm, is to check the round’s reliability in your particular gun. While uncommon, sometimes certain guns just don’t like certain loads. Also, check your zero and adjust, if you zeroed your handgun with a different round. Lastly, as a rule of thumb, I recommend firing at least 100 rounds of any type of ammo through a gun without any failure whatsoever, before I consider it reliable. I would ideally recommend 500, but the cost of rounds being what they are today, that’s simply too pricey for most shooters.

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