How much spare ammunition is “enough”?

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If you carry a gun for personal protection, you should always carry spare ammunition — but how many rounds should you carry?

Contrary to what Hollywood might lead us to believe, our guns do not carry an unlimited supply of ammunition. If you’re forced to use your gun against an attack it’s plausible (though in private sector self defense not likely) that you might run out of ammunition before that attack has finished, and need to get more into your gun.

It’s also plausible (and of somewhat higher probability) that your magazine might malfunction, forcing you to replace it with one which is working. (Revolver users, of course, don’t have to worry about this but they do have to think about defective ammunition, which brings us to the same point!)

In both of those cases, you’ll need to reload — and to do that, you need spare ammunition. How much spare ammunition can be a contentious debate, with some believing that you need to carry multiple spare magazines and others believing with equal fervor that you don’t need any.

As usual, the rational course is somewhere in the middle.

First, if you carry an autoloader you need one spare magazine should the one in the gun fail. Magazines wear and can be damaged, either of which can affect their feeding reliability. Should the magazine in the gun have issues, having another that can be rapidly replaced makes good sense. Even if you never need the extra ammunition, having what amounts to commonly needed spare parts for your gun is a prudent course of action.

In terms of the ammunition itself, how many spare rounds do you really need? The reality is that finding cases where a private citizen needed to reload in the midst of an attack is tough to do; in the vast, overwhelming number of incidents people have solved their problems with the ammunition that was in their gun to start. Still, it’s within the realm of plausibility that you could need that ammunition and there’s little reason not to have it on your person.

I look at the question of “how much is enough” a little differently than most: I start with the gun itself. In general, I recommend that you carry a handgun with sufficient capacity to handle those incidents which you can reasonably expect to encounter. (While there are always outliers in any data set, it’s not possible to prepare for everything that MIGHT happen; we have to pick the subset which makes sense to us.) In some cases, that’s going to mean a 5-shot revolver; in others, a 12-shot autoloader is the correct choice.

Whatever that choice is, a complete spare reload for that gun is a very good insurance policy. If the gun itself is capable of dealing with the situation, having double that capacity allows you to compensate for any magazine or ammunition-related failures, as well as giving you the ability to handle those situations that may fall outside the expected.

What you shouldn’t be doing is trying to make up for a poor gun choice by carrying more spare ammo. Again, in private sector self defense the opportunity to reload is rare, and the time to do so is rare as well. If multiple threat attacks are common in your environment (and they’re becoming so all around the country), then expecting to handle them with a 5-shot revolver probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Trying to work around its limitations by carrying lots of extra ammunition and reloading during the attack makes even less sense.

Make sure that your chosen handgun has enough capacity to deal with the threats you might reasonably face, then carry a complete reload for it “just in case.” That should put you in a very comfortable position and enable you to respond to any plausible situation.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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