When I first got my concealed carry permit years ago, I ran right out and bought a Kel Tec P3AT and a box of Winchester Supreme jacketed hollowpoints. Why hollowpoints? Well, because they’re the ultimate in self-defense ammunition, right? It said so right there on the box! It took me a few months before realizing that I had made a simple mistake that could have proven disastrous if I’d had to use my weapon.

Failure to feed

Now this isn’t true of many new weapons on the market, and isn’t meant to lambast hollowpoint ammunition, but in some cases (and in the case of that Kel Tec), those hollowpoint rounds just don’t get along well with the semi-automatic platform. Much of this can be attributed to the design of the hollow-point bullet and the way it feeds; it can hang up on the feed ramp or tumble as it’s pushed toward the chamber, leading to dramatic failure to feed issues—one of the worst things a concealed carry holder can encounter.

Concealed Carry Ammo: Carry What You Shoot
Photos courtesy of Hornady.com.

Not the advantage I was looking for…

Up in the north country where I live, most people wear heavy coats 75 percent of the year. In the case of firing on a heavily-clothed attacker, the advantage of hollowpoints is lost as the round fills with fabric, preventing proper expansion and causing the bullet to behave like a conventional round—defeating the point. The addition of ballistic tips like those found on Hornady’s Critical Defense (left, bottom) are meant to overcome this, but those proprietary rounds come with a steep price tag (often as much or more than a dollar per round). “But isn’t your life worth a few extra dollars in ammo?” you may ask. Yes. But read on.

Carry what you shoot

Here is the crux of my argument and the reason my buying a specially designated box of hollowpoints for my carry gun was a mistake: If you make a habit of practicing with standard ammunition as I do, and then swap out for a magazine filled with hollowpoints or expensive proprietary self-defense rounds (even ones that really do work as advertised), you’re offsetting the effectiveness of that practice by introducing a series of new variables. Many self-defense rounds are loaded hotter and may have a heavier or lighter bullet than your practice ammo. This can alter your weapon’s function, recoil, and accuracy. If you insist on carrying your weapon loaded with this kind of ammunition, do yourself an enormous favor and spend the money on two boxes of the stuff. Burn the first box up at the range using your carry gun. This will, at the very least, let you know if the gun will feed and fire them without issue.

For years, experts have attempted to identify the “ultimate self-defense caliber”. Their findings are always inconclusive beyond the following: Shot placement with any caliber is key. With that in mind, are you sure you want to trade out ammunition you’re confident you can shoot accurately and consistently just because another promises superior defense characteristics?