Many of our clients’ camp, fish, hike, hunt or bike in the hills or mountains. We know that we should be armed at all times (where lawful). When enjoying the great outdoors, we advocate carrying a powerful side arm which can stop a large predator. We also realize that not everyone is going to purchase and learn to use such a gun. Most people are likely to carry their self-defense pistol in the woods.
The purpose of this article is to help you in selecting the proper ammunition for your self-defense pistol when carried during outdoor activities. We start by identifying some of the potential threats which might confront you.
Thousands of people each year are victimized by criminals while visiting the outdoors
8,000 bites, 1,200 amputations, 8 deaths each year
Five fatal and many more non-fatal attacks each year
Three to four attacks a year with an occasional fatal attack
Dogs both feral and domestic:
Dogs bit thousands and kill about 30 Americans each year
Some of these attacks occur in the woods
Medium size rabid animals (raccoons, fox, possum, etc.)
In each case we are assuming you will only use your firearm when it is legal and necessary to do so. More on this later. Most people believe that the hollow point ammunition they carry in their self-defense pistols would be a good choice for defense against large boned heavily muscled predators. This is absolutely incorrect.
Ammunition designed for self-defense against a criminal attacker is made to expand and limit penetration. When using a pistol to stop a large predator, maximum penetration is required. Sufficient penetration to punch through the skull or break the shoulder bone of a charging bear may be needed.
The penetration required to reach the vital organs of a bear after passing through the fur, hide, muscle and tissue is measured in feet not inches.
The best bullet design for use in a pistol for predator defense is a hard-cast lead, flat point, heavy-for-caliber projectile loaded to maximum velocity. A full metal jacket, flat point bullet should be selected if no hard-cast lead bullet is available. Such ammunition is available if you know where to look.
Here is a list of several loads that might be selected for carry in your self-defense pistol whenever you are off the concrete. Keep in mind that most of these calibers are relatively low powered compared to typical trail guns in .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. We are not recommending any of these calibers for predator defense. If you have elected to carry a pistol in one of the service calibers into the woods, we hope that you will carry the best ammunition for that environment.
The first load described is the .380 ACP. This is no doubt the least effective of the calibers listed. We again state that we do not suggest that any of the loads listed here are adequate for stopping a large predator. We are suggesting that if you carry a pistol in one of these calibers you should carry ammunition which is likely to be most effective. We only list the .380 because it is the number one most popular concealed carry caliber.
You may notice that we list several different loads in each caliber.
The last load is usually not as powerful as the others listed. It is however locally available, has the excellent quality control of a major ammunition company, has less recoil and is generally less expensive.
Buffalo Bore 100 grain hard cast lead flat point
Advertised velocity 900 FPS in a 2.5-inch barrel and 995 FPS in 3.5-inch barrel
Buffalo Bore 100 grain hard cast lead flat point + P
Advertised velocity 1060 FPS in a 2.5-inch barrel and 1150 FPS in a 3.5-inch barrel
Note: Not all .380 pistols are rated for +P ammunition
Double Tap Ammo 100 grain FMJ flat point
Advertised velocity of 950 FPS in 3.2-inch barrel (Glock 42)
Winchester 95 grain FMJ flat point
Advertised velocity 955 FPS in 4-inch barrel
Chronograph velocity 765 FPS in a 2.5-inch barrel
9 mm (9X19) (9 mm Luger)
Buffalo Bore 147 grain hard cast lead flat point + P
Advertised velocity 1083 FPS in a Glock 19 4-inch barrel
Double Tap Ammunition 147 grain flat point + P bronze jacket
Advertised velocity 1121 FPS in a Glock 19 4-inch barrel
My chronograph indicated approximately 1080 from my Glock 19
CCI 147 grain total metal jacket flat point (Lawman series)
Advertised velocity 985 FPS no barrel length given
This is probably from a four-inch barrel and is likely close to the actual velocity
Double Tap Ammunition 200 grain hard cast lead flat point
Advertised velocity 990 FPS from a 3.4-inch barrel
Advertised velocity 1050 FPS from a 4-inch barrel
Advertised velocity 1100 FPS from a 4.5-inch barrel
My chronograph velocities were close to advertised
Buffalo Bore 200 grain hard cast lead flat point
Advertised velocity 965 FPS from 4-inch barrel Glock 23
CCI 180 grain FMJ flat point total metal jacket (Lawman series)
Advertised velocity 985 FPS (probably a 4-inch barrel)
Buffalo Bore 255 grain Hard Cast Lead Flat Point + P
Advertised velocity 960 FPS barrel length not given
Double Tap Ammunition 255 grain Hard Cast Lead Semi Wad Cutter + P
Advertised velocity 865 FPS in a 5-inch barrel
Double Tap Ammunition 180 grain Hard Cast Lead Flat Point
Advertised velocity 985 FPS in 3.4-inch barrel
Advertised velocity 1050 FPS in a 4-inch barrel
Advertised velocity 1,100 FPS in a 4.5-inch barrel
My chronograph velocities were close to advertised
Buffalo Bore Ammunition 125 grain FMJ flat point
Advertised velocity 1,433 FPS in a 4-inch barrel
CCI 125 grain FMJ total metal jacket (Lawman series)
Advertised velocity 1,350 FPS
My chronograph indicates 1,375 FPS from a 4-inch barrel
Any of these woods loads can be used in self-defense against a human predator. They might not be as effective for that purpose as a hollow point bullet designed for use against criminal attacker. I would rather be forced to use a bear load to stop a criminal than be forced to use a hollow point self-defense load to try to stop a bear attack.
There is one other woods load that we should mention. There are several scenarios in which killing a rattlesnake would be appropriate. We do not advocate the indiscriminate killing of rattlesnakes which is illegal in many states. Should you find it necessary to kill a rattlesnake we suggest that one of the safest and easiest ways to do so is with a handgun shot shell. Several companies have produced and sold shot shells for handguns in the past including Remington and Alcan. Currently we are only aware of those hand gun shot shells made by CCI (excluding .410 cartridges made for several specialty revolvers).
CCI currently sells handgun shot shells in the following CF handgun calibers:
.38 Special/.357 Magnum
.44 Special/.44 Magnum
.45 Colt/.454 Casull/.460 S&W
9 mm Luger (9X19)
Handgun shot shells are loaded with a small amount of birdshot. They are very low powered with very limited penetration. They will kill snakes, rats, mice and other small rodents effectively at 6 feet or closer. Beyond 6 feet, the pattern opens up to the point where hitting the head of a snake becomes unreliable. These cartridges should not be used for any other purpose except perhaps taking a very small animal at close range in a survival situation or signaling for help or rescue.
The proper way to carry and deploy handgun shot shells in the field is a subject in itself. If you carry a handgun in the field, you might consider attending our Predator Defense Course. When you attended our Defensive Pistol Course you probably found that much of what you previously believed about fighting with a pistol was incorrect. Those who have attended the Predator Defense Course reported having a similar epiphany. We should have called the course, “The Proper use of a handgun in an outdoor short-term emergency or survival situation”. We decided that title was too long. Predator Defense is one of our most popular classes. A description of the course is posted on our web site. We will be posting other related articles soon.
Larry and Stacey Mudgett/ Marksmanship Matters
Penetration Testing Conducted During Predator Defense Class
“These comparisons are not meant to be scientific but merely some informal comparisons with too many variables to pass for serious testing. Your results are likely to differ.”
9 MM Winchester 147 grain SXT shot from a Glock 17 with 4.5-inch barrel
Penetrated 20 inches of water and 9 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 14 inches of gel
9 mm 147 grain Buffalo Bore Hard Cast Lead Flat Point
Penetrated 80 inches of water and 40 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 56 inches of gel
Second shot same load:
Penetrated 42 inches of water and 32 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to inches of gel 29.4 inches of gel
This bullet obviously tumbled early greatly reducing penetration
9 mm Double Tap 147 grain FMJ Flat Point
Penetrated 76 inches of water and 38 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 53.2 inches of gel
Second shot same load:
Penetrated 60 inches of water and 30 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 42 inches of gel
This bullet obviously tumbled early reducing penetration
Note: Flat point pistol bullets do no usually tumble in water while round nose bullets always do. I suspect that flat nose bullets are less likely to tumble in gel or tissue than they are in water.
In these tests the meplat on the Double Tap bullets was in my opinion too small and could have been the reason for the early tumbling of one of the bullets. The Buffalo Bore bullet had a better shaped and larger meplat, despite which it tumbled sooner than any other bullet tested.
Expanded Hollow point pistol bullets tend not to tumble until that are coming to rest. This causes me to wonder if a shorter (read lighter) flat point bullet would be more stable than a longer bullet. I would like to test bullets of the same caliber and design but in different weights to see if we could come to a conclusion about this. If true, a 124 grain 9 mm + P bullet might tumble less than a 147 and thus penetrate more.
On the other hand, the 360 grain .454 penetrated far more than any of the other .45 loads tested. Notice that the slower .45 SMC penetrated farther than other faster .45 bullets of the same weight. This suggests that it did not tumble and perhaps others did. I have read of something called shoulder stabilization. The .45 SMC uses a Keith type Semi Wad-cutter with a full caliber cutting shoulder. Perhaps the Keith type bullet should be tested in other calibers.
These test were conducted at the Predator Defense Class in 2015.
.454 Casull 300 grain JHP Federal (5.5-inch barrel)
34.5 inches of water
Using a factor of .7 this equates to 24.15 inches of gel
.454 Casull 360 grain Lead Flat Point Buffalo Bore (5.5-inch barrel)
77 inches of water Using a factor of .7 this equates to 53.9 inches of gel
.460 Roland 255 grain lead flat point (5.5-inch barrel)
51 inches of water
Using a factor of .7 equates to 35.7 inches of gel
10 mm 230 grain Lead Flat Point Double Tap Ammunition (4.6-inch barrel)
55 inches of water
This equates to 38.5 inches of gel
.450 SMC 255 grain SWC (4.6-inch barrel)
69 inches of water
This equates to 48.3 inches of gel
Notice that certain 9 mm loads penetrated as much as the most powerful calibers tested here. As far as penetration, is concerned it appears the bullet being used is more important than the caliber.