Best 9mm Ammo: Self Defense & Range Shooting

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

Popular 9mm Ammo

Plus the best range plinking ammo for bulk shooting.

Ballistic Gel Testing
Ballistic Gel Testing

*Update*: Pricing and inventory was getting better but the Ukrainian and Russian war has kickstarted another round of mass ammo buying. Here’s what we’re seeing in stock at the time of writing:

PSA is doing a decent job of stocking up during weekdays. See all their 9mm.

As so does Lucky Gunner.

Brownells also has an in-stock ammo section.

Check out GunMagWarehouse as well.

How We Picked The Best Ammo

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

Lots of Ammo
Lots of Ammo

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.

9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147 HP)
9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147 HP)

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.

Best 9mm Ammo

Self Defense

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
  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


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
  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


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

Best 9mm Self-Defense (124 gr)

  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


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. 

Federal HST 147gr 9mm
Federal HST 147gr 9mm

My personal favorite since I like the shooting impulse of 147 gr bullets.

9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST
9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST
  • Average Penetration: 15.2″
  • Average Expansion: .61″
  • Average Velocity: 973 ft/sec

Best 9mm Self-Defense (147 gr)

  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


147 Federal HST Expansion
147 Federal HST Expansion

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.

5. American Eagle 9mm 115 gr

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

Federal American Eagle 9mm
Federal American Eagle 9mm
  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


6. CCI Blazer Brass 9mm

When pennies count…the cheapest reliable brass cased 9mm.  But…the brass is a little difficult to reload. 

CCI Blazer Brass 9mm
CCI Blazer Brass 9mm

Perfect for ranges or classes where you can’t pick up brass.

One of my favorites and what I shoot the most now.

  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


7. PMC 9mm

What I’ve shot the most previously. 

Always goes bang and the brass is great for reloading.

  • 25% off all OAKLEY productsOAKLEY25


Conclusion

These are our favorites for 9mm self-defense and range ammo.  If you want to see the full results from Lucky Gunner, check out their post here. Want more calibers and choices…check out Best Places to Buy Ammo Online.

More Popular Ammo Brands
More Popular Ammo Brands



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