Next-Gen Defensive
Handgun Ammo


While debates continue to rage about what constitutes the best caliber for personal defense in a handgun, the better question might revolve around bullet and load selection. Fortunately, there’s more than a handful of factory loads that will get the job done and are backed not only by groundbreaking new technology but a long track record of reliable use. Handgun loads today have never been more tested, while space-age materials continue to find their way into the design and manufacturing process. As a result, defense ammunition today is lighter than ever, faster than ever, and more efficient than ever at delivering a truckload of energy on target.

So, whether you’re looking for a load to match your pocket rocket .380 and need a bullet that will perform at lower velocities, or you’re on the search for a heavy-hitting round that will pass every FBI barrier test with flying colors, there’s a perfect load out there waiting to be discovered. Here’s a look at some of the best next-gen handgun loads for personal defense on the market today.

federal premium ammo

Federal Premium HST Micro .38 Special

While the semi-autos get a lot of love among defensive shooters today, there’s still an exceptionally strong market — and argument to be made — for carry revolvers. One of the most popular revolver chamberings during the last century has been the .38 Special, which was originally introduced in 1898 and loaded with black powder. Very shortly after introduction, the .38 was loaded with smokeless powder, and the cartridge saw widespread use among soldiers in World War I and among police officers from around 1920 to the early 90’s. One of the issues with the cartridge, historically, is that it has more case volume than necessary for modern powders, and burn rates vary in short-barreled revolvers. All that space creates consistency issues, something Federal noticed with extensive load testing. The solution was Federal Premium’s new HST Micro design, in which a wider-mouthed, 130-grain hollow-point bullet is seated inside the case against the powder charge. The cartridge is easily noticeable because the top of the bullet is almost flush with the case. Like the other calibers in Federal’s HST line, the .38 Special variant performed well in gelatin and clothing tests. Unlike other larger calibers, however, it was not tested against FBI protocols, so if you plan on penetrating beefier obstacles like glass and car doors, Federal recommends .40, .45 or 9mm. If you’re looking for an optimal load for your short-barreled revolver, the HST Micro in .38 Special is among the best on the market.

Luger Ammo

Inceptor ARX Preferred Defense

Inceptor Ammunition’s ARX Preferred Defense loads take a unique approach to ammunition design. Featuring a 100-percent frangible bullet, the ammo has a ball-type/round-nose shape with spiral-style flutes. The result is a round that feeds easily in practically all modern handguns and also is designed to deliver on-target performance that meets or exceeds the results seen with hollowpoint ammunition. Additionally, the Inceptor ammo is extremely lightweight — in some cases nearly half the weight of a comparable traditional self-defense round. This provides ultra-high velocity as well as reduced recoil. The result is a round that will penetrate most intermediate barriers without deformation, yet its light weight and high speed ensure it will not penetrate through walls like a heavier traditional round would. The grooves in the nose of the projectile are designed to harness what is known as the “Venturi Effect,” in which the bullet tumbles in a controlled and predictable fashion to ensure maximum effect on soft tissue.

SIG Ammo

SIG Elite Performance V-Crown

What’s revolutionary about Sig Sauer’s entrance into the ammo market, a leap that occurred in 2014, is that the same company which brought us world-class firearms is now delivering world-class ammunition to feed them with, all at budget-friendly price points. Skeptical at first, I’ve tested dozens of handguns with Sig’s Elite Performance V-Crown loads over the last few years, and it’s always been a top performer in accuracy, velocity and feeding. The V-Crown bullet features a jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) design, as well as an additional hollow-point cavity, toothed cannelure halfway up the shank to provide deep penetration and expansion, and V-shaped jacket skives and scores for controlled, consistent expansion. Each of the bullets, with the exception of the .380, feature a mechanically paired core and jacket. Testing has shown that V-Crown bullets meet the needs of many law enforcement agencies and are both effective and consistent in almost all defensive barrier tests. The other advantage to Sig’s Elite Performance line is that caliber selection is constantly expanding, and now includes all the old standbys — 9mm, .45, .40 — as well as many off-the-beaten-path cartridges, like .44 Special, .45 Colt, and .38 Super.

Remington Ammo

Remington Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun

With so many compact pocket pistols on the market today, many of which are chambered in short-barreled handguns, several manufacturers have noticed the need for ammunition that is designed specifically for these pocket rockets. This is due in large part to the obvious fact that full-size handgun loads don’t perform the same when fired from compact carry guns, and differing velocities mean bullets will expand at different rates. Remington has been producing its ever-popular Golden Saber bullet in Ultimate Defense loads for years, but the company now offers the brass jacketed hollowpoint (BJHP) in a Compact Handgun version that’s tuned for short barrels. The full-size loads are intended for use with barrels between 4″ to 5″, while the Compact Handgun loads are ideal for use with handgun barrels less than 3″ in length. According to Remington, the company designed the bullets in Compact Handgun to expand at lower velocities, something that’s essential when your carry gun features a shorter barrel or smaller caliber, like .380. This bullet design allows for excellent energy transfer on target, reliable expansion and consistent penetration through clothing and gelatin.

Blackhills ammo

Black Hills HoneyBadger

In a world in which expansion is often thought to be king, Black Hills ammunition is proving that a bullet doesn’t have to expand to create massive damage on target. The company’s newest line of handgun ammunition is named after one of Africa’s fiercest creatures, the honey badger. The new HoneyBadger ammunition features a solid copper bullet designed by Lehigh Defense. The bullet features machined flutes and strikes the perfect balance between penetration and creating a massive wound channel. When the bullet impacts material made of a large percentage of water, like human flesh, the flutes rotate to force tissue outward at a rapid rate while still penetrating. In case you’re wondering, this bullet’s secret power is dynamic fluid dislocation, just like the ARX design. Since the bullet does not rely on expansion to wreak havoc on target, it’s less prone to under-penetrate because a barrier clogs up the hollow-point cavity. I extensively test fired the .380 Auto loads, which feature a 60-grain projectile, with Ruger’s LCP, and found the load to be extremely accurate and reliably functioning in a pint-sized semi-auto.


Hornady Critical Defense

Improving upon the tested-and-true hollowpoint design, Hornady built a personal defense bullet with its patented Flex Tip, a technology that it features in its premier Critical Defense ammunition. The Flex Tip works to eliminate any material that might clog the hollow-point, thus preventing the expansion necessary to create a catastrophic wound channel. Interestingly enough, Hornady employed the same material from its LEVERevolution tipped ammunition in the Critical Defense loads. The company uses nickel-plated cases, which are easier to see in low light conditions, while low-flash producing propellants aid in target acquisition in low-light situations. The other beauty of the Critical Defense load is that it’ll function well in shorter-barreled handguns, and is thus ideally suited for concealed carry and personal defense applications. Chambered in everything from .380 Auto to .45 ACP, Hornady’s Critical Defense loads are a proven contender in the defense world.