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What two questions should you ask of your self defense ammunition maker?

What two questions should you ask of your self defense ammunition maker?


At SHOT Show 2015 I had a great conversation with a highly placed person at a well known ammunition company. What we talked about has implications for you and where you buy your defensive ammunition.

When I go looking for defensive ammunition for my handguns I have a few criteria: it has to function in my guns every time (0% failures to feed or fire) and it has to pass FBI Protocol testing (which isn’t a definitive test for effectiveness, but is likely a definitive test for ineffectiveness!) Beyond that, I generally look for a load that’s in the middle to slightly heavy end of the weight range for the caliber; that it have a hollowpoint of modern design (which usually means a bonded hollowpoint, but not always); and that it has some track record of success in actual shootings (which usually means it’s been adopted and used by a few police departments, which is where we get the majority of such information.)

There are a few companies who take existing bullet designs and package those into custom-made ammunition. The Speer Gold Dot bullet, for instance, is loaded into  superb ammunition by Speer, but it’s also available as a component and loaded by many other smaller companies in their own ammunition. This at least gives a base of reference; some of the boutique ammunition  companies make their own bullets, which means that evaluating their worth as a defensive tool is harder to do. In fact, unless the bullet is known to me I’ll usually steer clear of all boutique ammunition.

What if you run into one of these small ammunition companies who uses a known bullet in their own “pet” loads? What questions can you ask to determine if they’re a legitimate and trustworthy guardian of your life and liberty?

The first question I ask is “are you a member of SAAMI?” SAAMI stands for the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, and they’re the people who determine the specifications and standards for all ammunition. They serve as the standards institute for things like length, diameter, thickness, primer type, and — most importantly to us — pressure ranges for all rounds. Ever heard the term “+P”, which denotes ammunition loaded to greater-than-normal pressure? That’s a SAAMI specification, as is the normal pressures which serve as the reference for the +P specification. SAAMI specs are what keep our ammunition safe to use without involving government regulators.

An ammunition manufacturer who is a member of SAAMI agrees to hold their products to SAAMI dimensions and standards. If an ammunition company is a member of SAAMI, you know that what they produce is going to be within the specifications which your gun’s makers used when they designed your pistol or revolver. If a company isn’t a member of SAAMI, it should immediately raise red flags; in fact, I simply won’t use ammo made by companies that aren’t SAAMI members, and I advise my students and readers to adopt the same approach when doing their own ammunition shopping.

The second question is a little harder for some of the less trustworthy companies to answer: “do you keep a backstock of every lot of ammunition you make, can you supply exemplars from those lots to law enforcement or credentialed investigators, and are you set up to maintain a proper chain of evidence when doing so?” Believe it or not, many times this question nets a “deer in the headlights” look from the company’s representatives!

Why is this important? In many shooting cases there is a question of where someone was in relation to the person they shot. Gunshot residue changes with the ammunition used, and sometimes the ejection pattern does as well. Investigators trying to determine the facts of a shooting often need to fire live ammunition through an evidence gun to provide a baseline for determining those things; they can’t use any remaining ammunition in the gun, because that’s evidence, so they rely on the ammunition company to supply the exactly same ammo — down to the lot number — to be used in the tests.

If the ammunition company you’ve chosen can’t supply the request, vital evidence that might exonerate you simply won’t be available. Might it be the deciding factor in your court case? That’s hard to say, but should things ever get to that point I want the most evidence in my favor possible! Having a manufacturer who can deliver the requested ammunition, in a way that maintains the chain of evidence and therefore admissibility in court, is one strong factor in getting to the facts in a defensive shooting.

Any company that has supplied duty ammunition to a police agency will have those procedures in place, as they are usually a contractual requirement (yet another reason to pick a manufacturer with police contracts!) If the police think this is an important thing for an ammunition company to do, maybe it’s a good idea for you to have that advantage too!

I’ve asked this question of quite a few ammunition companies, and the answers have not always been positive. Some had no idea what I was talking about, and naturally I immediately crossed them off my list.

Defensive ammunition is a serious business, and that requires serious answers before you load any ammo into your defensive firearm. If the company you’re considering isn’t one of the major makers (like Winchester, Remington, or Federal) or one of the well-known but smaller makers (like Speer, Hornady or Nosler), you need to ask these questions and get good answers. Regardless of the claims made, if a company can’t supply ammo that’s safe for your gun and aren’t willing to stand behind you in court, perhaps they aren’t the best choice for your self-defense needs!

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On January 29, 2015

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