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When choosing a load for self defense, there are several things that are more important than the actual load in the gun that should be addressed. Reliability is the most important factor in deciding on what load to put in your gun. A gun that will not reliably feed your chosen defensive round is useless as a defensive tool. Choose a round that feeds reliably in your gun and test it out extensively. Shot placement is still far more important than the load you choose. A hit in the vitals will do far more damage than a miss with the latest and greatest bullet design. The third tier of choosing what to put in your gun is actually wading through the choices out there to find an acceptable defensive load for your specific application. An acceptable defensive load is one where the bullet penetrates far enough to do damage when it comes in contact with tissue, but not so far as to over-penetrate without transferring its energy to the tissue. An acceptable defensive load will also ideally feature the greatest achievable spreading out (mushrooming) of the bullet for that specific caliber. For the sake of this article, we will be using the FBI standards of 12 inches of penetration of ballistic gelatin and expansion to the largest diameter possible in order to cause the largest possible wound channel. A standard which most experts support wholeheartedly.

The .22 Long Rifle is one of the most popular cartridge in the world and one of the most popular chamberings for a pocket pistol or revolver. The most important consideration in picking which .22LR load is the reliability of this notoriously finicky round in your gun. Some semi-automatic handguns do not work well with standard velocity ammo and some do not like the high-velocity loads. Luckily, the low cost of this round will allow you to practice enough to ensure you have chosen a compatible load, and perhaps as important, allow you (the shooter) to hone your skills with your handgun, ensuring adequate shot placement when the need arises. Barrel length also may play a role in ammunition selection. The popular CCI Stinger high-velocity 32-grain copper-plated hollow point round (64515) is a good choice in short (2 inches) barreled guns, but may expand and fail to penetrate when fired from a longer barrel. Conversely, the Remington Viper (41059) with its non-expanding 36-grain truncated cone bullet is probably a good choice for those with longer barrels as it creates a larger diameter permanent cavity than a lead round nose bullet design. So the picking of a defensive .22LR round is fairly simple: 1. Find a load that you and your gun like. 2. Practice, practice, practice, practice!

The popular .380ACP round brings a bit more firepower to the table, but the drawbacks to most defensive bullet designs in this chambering are the lack of expansion with penetration. Most experts will advise sticking with a quality FMJ loading such as Remington's Express 95-grain (66254) or Federal's American Eagle 95-grain (65979). However, some will recommend Hornady's 90-grain XTP bullet loading (87503) as a quality, expanding defensive round.

The .38 Special has an interesting problem of being offered in revolvers of many different barrel lengths, making the choice of loadings more difficult. A solid, acceptable choice that meets our standards for any revolver from snub-nosed to target length, is Speer's 135-grain+P Gold Dot load (13649). This load is specifically designed with snub-nosed revolvers in mind, so be careful to ensure that your gun is rated for the higher pressure +P cartridge. Cor-Bon's DPX 110-grain standard pressure offering with a solid copper, lead-free bullet is another good performer out of snub-nosed .38 specials. In revolvers with barrels over four inches, Remington's Classic Express (66333) +P with 158-grain lead hollow point bullet, this "FBI load" is a tried and true choice.

Stepping up to the 9mm brings true defensive firepower into the picture, with many acceptable defensive designs and loadings. Once again, we can turn to Speer for their Gold Dot loading, this time in a +P 124-grain weight (15827), an excellent load with a proven record, as is the heavier 147-grain Gold Dot (63228) in a standard-pressure offering. If you have a short-barrel, consider the 124-grain Speer Gold Dot (15826) for your compact 9mm.

The .40S&W is currently the most popular police duty round, which means plenty of excellent defensive loads to pick from that meet the standards of a good defensive load. Cor-Bon's 140-grain (15504) utilizes the Barnes all-copper DPX bullet, and the 155-grain (63232) is another design from Speer's Gold Dot line. If you have a compact pistol with a shorter barrel, you might pick Speer's 180-grain (15829), as it was designed with shorter barrels in mind.

As for .45ACP, good defensive loads that meet the previously mentioned FBI standard are, once again, Cor-Bon's 185-grain DPX (15506) and Speer's 230-grain Gold Dot (63236), for your 5-inch or longer .45ACP. For your four-inch or shorter barrel, utilize the 230-grain Gold Dot (15833).

Whichever round you choose, remember to test it out in your gun to ensure reliability and maintain your proficiency level to ensure proper shot placement, should the need arise.