What’s the Best Grain Weight for Self-Defense Ammo?

It is very important to evaluate and use the correct bullet weight or grain for the specific purpose and use of your handgun

A number of factors and relationships between bullet grain, muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, penetration, expansion, recoil, and any load and terminal ballistics of the handgun affect a shooter’s results and accuracy

A grain (gr) is the basic measure of bullet mass in Troy

It’s not the weight of the entire cartridge, just the projectile or bullet leaving the barrel

The grain marked on the ammo box is often misinterpreted as a powder measure, when it really only represents the weight of the bullet

One bullet grain weighs 1/7,000 of a pound or 1/4375 of an ounce

So a 124 grain bullet is 028 oz

A typical box of pistol ammo will list the caliber number followed by the grain, then sometimes the muzzle velocity with pounds of energy in feet

Some 9mm self defense bullet grains, muzzle velocities and muzzle energy

The chosen ammo load has a significant impact on many factors, so choose your bullet grain and its performance carefully

The 9mm Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is a common self-defense pistol, so I’ll focus on that

Comparing two 9mm JHP cartridges from a given manufacturer can vary greatly in terms of muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, and even accuracy

Tip: It’s best to experiment with different loads and grain weights on your own handgun based on its features, your marksmanship and personal characteristics

See the table below for the various typical grain weights for various 9mm JHP rounds, their expected muzzle velocities and energies compared to the standard Frangible round

Also note the comparison between different types of Sig Sauer JHP 9mm cartridges, ranging from 115, 124, 124+P and 147 grains

9mm Ammunition Type and Bullet Muzzle Velocity- Ft/s Muzzle Energy- Ft-Lbs

Sig Sauer 124+P GRAIN Elite V-Crown M17 JHP1198395

Hornady Critical Defense 124+P GRAIN  FlexLock JHP1175380

Federal Premium LE 115 GRAIN Hi-Shok JHP1160344

Hornady XTP 115 GRAIN JHP1151341

Federal Premium 124 GRAIN HST JHP1150364

Federal Premium 124 GRAIN HST JHP1150364

Federal Personal Defense Punch 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Hornady Critical Defense 115 GRAIN FTX JHP1140333

Federal Premium 135 GRAIN Hydra-Shok JHP1060337

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Match shooting targets with different bullet grains

A shooter should know their primary use, purpose or intended use when shooting, such as concealed carry, home defense, rangefinder, hunting or other personal protection

The shooter must identify the optimal caliber for the individual’s physical characteristics, medical limitations, grip strength, comfort level of felt recoil, and other preferences

Understanding the bullet grains of specific shots and their muzzle velocities and muzzle energy and matching them to the characteristics and preferences of each shooter will lead to optimal results

There are many factors to consider when evaluating bullets and combining all the variables to achieve the best hits and overall results

Factors to consider when evaluating any bullet for self-defense

Some factors to consider for specific use and bullet weight include:

Certainly, competition shooting and spot shooting are different from fun fun at range and melee for self-defense

Long range game hunting at 100 yards is different than personal protection at five yards

For concealment and self-defense, hits on the target at standard ranges of 3-7 yards are essential to stopping the threat

Shooter skills and variables: hand strength, grip used, characteristics

My personal comparisons between light and heavy grain bullets

Lighter bullets hit from below and close

I have found in most of my 9mm handguns that lighter bullets, eg 115 grain bullets in normal and high pressure +p loads, travel faster, smoother and generally hit the target lower at close range, less than 25 yards

Distance, reduced time in the barrel, stability, drop point, arc of movement and speed are important influencing factors

Heavier bullets hit higher at close range

On the other hand, I have found for me and my specific 9mm guns and the specific cartridges used that the heavier bullets eg 124, 124+p and 147 grain bullets travel somewhat slower, stay on a flat trajectory for a shorter period of time and then start to drop but usually hit the target higher just at close range, less than 25 yards away

At some point and distance in the trajectory, the heavy bullets will fall below the lighter ones, mainly due to differences in trajectories

The trajectory of the bullet, as it leaves the barrel of the handgun, forms a parabola that intersects points on the line of sight twice

In self-defense, at 7-10 yards, a heavier bullet will still rise above the pre-ignition sight and hit higher than a lighter, faster bullet that has left the barrel later in the arc of the muzzle and maintains stability at distance

At a longer distance, say 50 yards or more, the heavier bullet has passed the center of its arc and then falls faster due to gravity than the lighter bullet and then hits the target lower

For me and my particular 9mm handguns, my physical limitations and most of the cartridges I use from certain lighter manufacturers, I noticed less power on target and more “felt recoil” from the lighter bullets

Lighter cartridges have less penetrating energy, and the energy affects the actual handgun recoil, which is different from the individual’s “felt” recoil

Again, there are many variables that affect this, so you should experiment with different bullet weights in your specific guns with your specific shooting skills, characteristics, medical limitations, and usage at different ranges

For self defense shoot your particular 9mm handgun with 115 grain and 147 grain bullets at 25 yards or less and you will find, as I did, that the heavier 147 grain bullet hits the target higher almost every time

Conclusions about heavy and light grain bullets

Undoubtedly, the type of handgun, the grain weight and caliber of the bullet used, the distance to the target, the purpose at hand, and the skill of the shooter are all important factors in selecting self-defense rounds

Consider the main advantages and disadvantages of bullet grain weight for yourself and your self-defense

Experiment with different bullet weights and ammo types in your specific self-defense weapons and draw your own conclusions about the loads to use before you use your gun casually for personal protection

Tip: Probably the most important reason to choose a heavier and larger bullet for self-defense and threat stopping is the increased energy and power on the target, which improves terminal ballistics, including accuracy, penetration, and expansion

But get the right bullet weight for your needs and your specific gun

Bullet grains and types used by the author for self-defense

Among other things, I use the cartridges and weights, velocities, and energies below (not in any particular favor) for my 9mm self-defense handguns

Due to the inconsistency of the sonic velocities and energies of different bullet grains, it is important to match them and practice with your own self-defense handgun

Federal Premium HST 124 grain JHP; MV = 1150 fps; ME = 364 ft-lb

Speer Gold Dot 124 grain GDHP; MV = 1150 fps; ME = 364 ft-lb

Speer Gold Dot 124 grain GDHP; MV = 1150 fps; ME = 364 ft-lb

Sig Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP; MV = 1185 fps; ME = 359 ft-lb

Sig Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP; MV = 1185 fps; ME = 359 ft-lb

Federal Premium Hydra Shok 135 grain JHP; MV = 1060 fps; ME = 337 ft-lb

Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115 grain JHP; MV = 1140 fps; ME = 333 ft-lb

You will be able to make your own conclusions and decisions about bullet weight for your specific purposes, handguns and capabilities

While the following may not be the best for you, here are my conclusions based on my limited experience and personal qualifications for self defense with my specific handguns

Lighter bullets have the advantage of speed and straight short-range trajectories, less stability at longer ranges, less overall expansion and penetration, and reduced time in the barrel due to increased velocities

Lighter grain bullets have less penetrating energy and power on impact, are affected by wind gusts, tend to have less overall actual gun recoil than heavier loads, hit the target lower at close range on the parabola, usually with a more violent “felt” recoil

Heavier grain bullets have the advantage of increased power and penetrating energy, more stability in flight at longer distances from the weight, and better expansion and penetration (eg, better stop the threat and a more humane kill for the hunter at long range)

Heavier grain bullets withstand less wind gusts, are slightly more accurate and tend to penetrate more at shorter ranges, are slower and have more actual gun recoil depending on the manufacturer’s heavier load

* This personal opinion article is for general informational and educational purposes only, and the author recommends that you seek the advice of an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified firearms instructor for proper instruction in shooting and handling your firearms and self-defense , and a hidden stump

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