Best 9mm Ammo: Plinking, Training & Home Defense

photo of 9mm springfield sub compact xd pistol sitting on ropes

Without a doubt, the 9mm cartridge is the best seller in pistol ammunition at Wideners.com. This is not much of a surprise; it is the NATO standard, used by roughly 30 nations as the preferred military sidearm caliber. The U.S. military alone has several million 9mm pistols and stores billions of rounds of 9mm for the Armed Forces to train with and use during deployment. Around 60% of U.S. law enforcement agencies employ the 9mm and it’s the most popular civilian concealed carry caliber. So what is it exactly that makes it the most popular handgun caliber? It isn’t a power-house cartridge like the .357 Magnum, which it almost single-handedly replaced, or a heavy round like the thunderous 10mm. The 9mm is the versatile Jack-of-all-trades, doing a little bit of everything, and doing it all pretty darn well.

9mm Ammo Quick Answer Box:

photo of federal 9mm ammo
The 9mm cartridge is the most widely used pistol caliber in the world.

•Should I buy a 9mm pistol or carbine rifle for home defense?

You should buy both! In all seriousness, it is the most common handgun caliber in the world for a reason. It is inexpensive, easy to find, has very manageable recoil, and is accurate. It does several things in handguns very well:

It is great in duty-sized weapons because it has light recoil, excellent for follow-up shots, and the standard magazine capacity ranges from 12-19+1.

Manufacturers of the full-size duty pistols scaled them down to make popular compact and subcompact models. The sub-compacts are roughly the size and bulk of a 5-shot snubby revolver but routinely carry 10+1 to 12+1 cartridges, depending on the make and model. There are a number of very good and inexpensive single-stack semi-automatics tailored for deep concealment. They are slim, print little more than comparable .380 ACP pocket pistols, yet hit harder than a comparable .38 Special revolver and are much more accurate.

The 9mm carbine concept is not new and was a number of years ago by Marlin and Ruger most notably. Those earliest forays were widely accepted as quality weapons but the timing was just off. Colt has manufactured a 9mm variant of the AR-15 for a long time but it is costly and uses a magazine organic to itself.

Now there are a slew of 9mm AR spinoffs which have lower receivers built to use the common Glock magazines, along with Ruger’s brand new PC carbine which uses Ruger magazines but includes an adapter for Glock mags as a standard item.

•Is the 9mm a good choice for self-defense?

In a word, absolutely. The law enforcement community would not continue to use if it were not. The market also votes with its wallet and the 9mm only continues to grow in popularity. What caliber is almost universally released first in new semi-auto handgun designs? 9x19mm, because they know it will sell.

Munition design is the determining factor in the lethality of a caliber, within reason. The .355” diameter of the 9mm bullet is capable of plenty of power, as evidenced by the .357 Magnum. With a good, dedicated defense load the 9mm is very lethal. As the adage goes, shot placement is as important as displacement (again, within reason). With the significantly lower cost to shoot the 9mm, and better handling qualities, gaining skills in accuracy are easier to attain. If not easier, at least cheaper.

•9mm vs. .40 S&W vs. .45 ACP: What are the differences? 

The big three automatic pistol calibers, obviously each have their own strengths. Each is incrementally larger than the previous by .05” which does not seem like much until you look down the barrel of each and inspect the size of the bore.

The .40 S&W is the newcomer by nearly a century, being adapted by shortening the 10mm Automatic cartridge to do a couple of things: first, take some of the sting out of the thunderous 10mm; second, it is small enough as to utilize any existing 9mm platform as a host. All of the major manufacturers offer 9mm and .40 S&W pistols which are dimensionally identical and based on the exact same frame. The .45 ACP is so much larger that it must have larger components so the full-size pistols in .45 ACP are always a little bit bigger than the other two and considerably lower in capacity (S&W MP9 has 17+1 to the MP45s 10+1).

Ammunition design and performance have improved dramatically since the .40 S&W went into production in the early 1990s. At the time it really appeared that the .40 would render the 9mm all but obsolete; operators had a lot of the big bore oomph of the .45 ACP but retained capacities much closer to the Nines which they came from. The .40s recoil is considerably sharper than that of a 9mm, no big issue to large men but uncomfortable for small shooters. The price of ammunition was also somewhere in between.

History Of The 9mm Cartridge

photo of 9x19 parabellum cartridge blueprint

Firearms are a curious mix of old and new, and old becoming new again. Many if not most of the most popular calibers in use today are over a century old. The .45 ACP was designed in 1905, the .38 S&W Special in 1898, the 9x19mm Parabellum, or Luger, in 1901. These still represent much of the stable of the most common of handgun calibers in the world.

All of these were designed to improve upon the shortcomings of previous calibers, many of which were still based on black powder. While revolvers maintained their status on the hips of patrol officers and troopers for many decades after the turn of the 20th century, armies of the world understood the way forward was with the semi-automatic pistol.

Georg Johann Luger designed the 9x19mm in 1902, adapting it from the 7.65x21mm Parabellum which he also designed slightly earlier. Ironically, he pitched the cartridge and the infamous and iconic Luger pistol to the British, the U.S., and German armed forces prior to World War I commencing. The German Navy ultimately adopted it in 1904 and the German Army followed suit just four years later.

Germany employed the caliber prior to The Great War and still retains it as their standard sidearm caliber to this day, as do most other Western nations militaries. They also adopted it to their submachine guns, most notably the MP 40. Unlike so many obsolete or forgotten calibers, the 9mm exploded in use after WWII. With more than a note of irony, the Israeli-designed Uzi series of submachine guns were chambered in it, as well as the world famous Heckler & Koch MP5. Glock and Beretta created the pistols which were dubbed “Wonder Nines” because of their high capacity and relatively compact sizes, and become overnight Hollywood sensations (even though the Beretta design was far from new), along with Uzis and MP5s.

The Best 9mm Ammo By Category

There are really just two common types of ammunition readily available in the 9mm: full metal jacket ball, and jacketed hollow points. Yes, there are other types but they are not mainstream.

Ball Ammo (FMJ)

115gr. FMJ is the most common ball ammo in production. It is produced in bulk both domestically and imported, much of which is in the form of steel-cased of Russian origin. This is going to be your go-to for plinking and brushing up on skills.

Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP)

This is the most diverse type of projectile used in 9mm platforms, this is the bullet with the widest range of bullet weights. Common weights in this are 115gr., 124gr., and 147gr., all depending on what the shooter feels is the most pressing need.

115gr JHPs are the fastest and flattest shooting, which isn’t all that often an issue in realistic tactical shooting. The 115gr and the 124gr JHPs are best suited for self-defense applications in close quarters when you have to worry about bullet penetration depth. The 147gr JHP is the best option for situations where high-velocity rounds with deep penetration are needed to stop a potential threat.

Best 9mm Plinking Ammo

Magtech 9mm 115 Grain FMC

photo of magtech 9mm 115 fmc ammo
Magtech produces over 1.5 billion rounds of ammo a year for military, law enforcement and civilian markets.

Magtech has done a good job of quietly becoming a very popular, good quality brand. Distributed in the U.S. from Minnesota, Magtech ammunition is manufactured in Brazil, it shares the same parent company as the Czech Republic popular brand Sellier & Bellot.

Their full metal case ammunition posts numbers familiar to 9mm shooters, but does offer a fully encased bullet which will be great interest to those who must shoot indoors. 

Federal American Eagle 9mm 115 Grain FMJ

photo of federal american eagle 9mm ammo
Federal Ammunition has been providing quality products with a technological edge since 1922.

Exiting the muzzle at 1,180ft/s with 356 ft/lbs of energy, this is a good candidate to hone your skills as a marksman. Also, this is a fine candidate to use in a carbine for pest control. Cheaper than .223 ball ammo (and much more quiet) but with much more punch than a .22lr, 9mm carbines are a great bridge carbine for the homestead and this round is about perfect for the role.

Best 9mm Range Training Ammo

Don’t confuse these for plinking cartridges; yes, you could use these for the job but these are higher end cartridges intended for serious range training.

Federal American Eagle Non-Toxic 9mm 124 Grain TMJ

photo of federal american eagle toxic metal free primer 9mm ammo on plywood
This popular reduced-lead bullet by Federal is quickly becoming the choice of range training enthusiasts.

Tailored specifically for the indoor range crowd, American Eagle 124gr total metal jacket is fully encapsulated in copper with a reduced-lead bullet. To further reduce the hazard of lead exposure, the primer is free of toxic metals. The 124gr slug is designed to mimic self-defense loads so your can ensure your range time is practical and useful for real-world environments.

Winchester Super-X WinClean 9mm 115 Grain BEB

photo of winchester winclean beb 9mm ammo on plywood
The Winchester BEB (Brass Enclosed Base) bullet provides excellent accuracy while elminating lead vaporization.

Winchester counters with the Super-X WinClean brass enclosed base (BEB), which they happen to offer in all three popular 9mm weights. Rather than the copper casing of the America Eagle TMJ, Winchester opts for a full brass coating. This produces a muzzle velocity of nearly 1,200ft/s from a four inch barrel, typical of 9mm ball ammo of this size.

Best 9mm Self-Defense & Duty Ammo

Federal LE Tactical HST 9mm +P 124 Grain JHP 

photo of federal HST premium law enforcement 9mm JHP ammunition on plywood
Federal HST ammo is designed to perform and meet the standards required by law enforcement agencies.

For duty and serious self-defense application, plus-pressure, or “+P” cartridges are the norm. As a caution, make sure your firearm is rated for +P before firing them or disastrous results can occur.

The Federal LE HST 9mm is a mean round, pushing along at a powerful 1,200ft/s with nearly 400ft/lbs of energy. There’s a reason law enforcement agencies use Federal HST ammo on the job, it’s reliable, consistent and deadly. 

Hornady Custom 9mm 124 Grain XTP JHP

photo of Hornady Custom 9mm 124 Grain XTP JHP on plywood
The Hornady XTP product line is hand inspected to ensure the highest levels of quality control.

Hornady is the household name in good ammunition and that is so because they deliver. The Custom 124gr XTP is a pit bull; it goes for the throat and never lets go. They are designed to put the target down with as few rounds as possible. You can expect velocity of 1,110ft/s in the standard pressure 124gr XTP, with 339ft/lbs of energy to stop the threat on the spot.

Capacity, Recoil, & Reliability: Is 9mm The Perfect Handgun?

photo of springfield xd 9mm handgun with federal american eagle best 9mm ammo on a log
The benefits of the 9mm cartridge easily make it one of the best choices for consumers.

At the beginning of this post, the question was posed of whether or not you should buy a 9mm and if it is a reliable self-defense sidearm. Yes, it is a true contender. With good ammunition, it has no problem putting down threats quickly and efficiently. Modern 9mm loads are consistently more powerful and accurate than the .38 Special with less felt recoil and about three times the capacity. Also, carbines in this chambering have become very popular due to the low cost of ammunition, and good terminal ballistics for targets under 200 lbs, all in a package with almost no felt recoil and much less noise than a rifle caliber carbine.

If you do not yet own a 9mm, you should change that. It truly is a caliber for nearly everyone.

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