How Much Is Enough?


How Much Is Enough?

When you carry a handgun, whether for competition, hunting, or self-defense, the question arises how much extra ammunition is enough? In movies or on television it’s easy — you just keep shooting until the gun clicks empty, look at it in astonishment, then throw it at the adversary. In over 60 years of westerns and action movies I’ve seen hundreds of guns thrown and not once has it done any good.

Not being a movie star, I had to buy my own guns. After throwing away a gun or two you soon learn it’s financially irresponsible. You’re much better off reloading, which means you can keep using the same gun for years, a lifetime even. Obvious, you say? Apparently not to screenwriters.


How much spare ammunition should you carry? It depends on the gun’s purpose. For practical pistol competition it’s fairly simple. The stage design indicates the minimum number of rounds required to complete the stage. Figure out where you will reload and carry enough magazines to complete the stage plus at least one additional magazine.

In the early days of practical shooting competition, circa 1980, most shooters used 1911 style .45 ACP pistols and seven-round magazines. Most of the stages we shot back then had low round counts, often six to 12 rounds total. Starting a stage with eight rounds in the gun and two spare magazines would generally see you through.

Through the ’80s and ’90s field courses with high round counts became more popular — elaborate courses with lots of movement, lots of targets and 30- to 40-round stages. Those of us who clung bitterly to our .45s were starting stages with seven or eight spare magazines. Skinny guys practically ran out of waist. For once I had a competitive advantage. Currently there are divisions for various handgun styles, so it’s hard to generalize, but “enough plus one or two extras” seems to still work.

Dave used this S&W .460 revolver on a pronghorn antelope hunt. He carried
10 cartridges in all, five in the gun and five spares in loops on a belt slide.


When hunting big game with either rifle or handgun, a total of 10 rounds in the gun and in belt loops or a butt cuff seems adequate. I recall reading one of Jim Corbett’s stories of hunting a man-eating tiger. He carried just three cartridges, two in his double rifle and a single spare. Cutting it awfully fine I thought, and in fact he did run out of ammo and had to borrow a rickety old shotgun to finish the job. On long hikes in Africa, far from any resupply, I carried three in the rifle, seven in a web belt carrier and 10 more in a folding leather cartridge case for a total of 20 rounds. Probably overdoing it …

Springfield Armory XD .45 ACP with 13-round double-stack magazines.
That’s 40 rounds of .45 ACP — what’s not to like?

Defensive Use

My views have changed on how much spare ammo to carry along with a personal defense handgun. For decades my practice and advice was to carry one spare reload. From intensive reading (and limited personal experience), in the majority of defensive scenarios simply producing the firearm was sufficient to make the threat either surrender or leave. In the few situations in which it was necessary to fire, one to three rounds generally settled matters.

My concern was not so much running out of ammo but for clearing a possible malfunction. With a tested and maintained handgun and quality ammunition, malfunctions are rare. Should one occur I think a “broad spectrum” solution is best. Under attack and under fire is not the time to be analyzing the problem and selecting the appropriate measure. We need a solution to positively get the gun up and running regardless of whether the issue is a dud round, failure to feed, stovepipe or whatever. Dump the mag, rack the slide rapidly three times to clear any obstructions, load a fresh mag and rack the slide to chamber a cartridge.

Maybe I’ve just been watching too much news, but over the last year or so I get the distinct impression much of the nation and of the world has gone completely crazy. Shortages of about everything, inflation, selective law enforcement, mob violence, home invasions, race hatred, skyrocketing violent crime rates, and this is by no means all.

There seems to be a real possibility of one day facing mob violence, no matter how much you try to avoid it. More rounds on tap are looking less like paranoia and more like common sense. High cap 9mm pistols are popular these days with good reason. I can carry a GLOCK 19 with 16 rounds in the gun and two 17-round spare magazines for a total of 50 rounds.

No, I’m not thinking in terms of pitched gun battles and fighting off a mob. I’m thinking of enough ammo to keep the mob at bay while I escape, or at least get to my rifle.

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