Use of Expanding Bullets in Small Defensive Cartridges
by Tim Sundles, President Buffalo Bore Ammo
A lot of folks carry personal protection handguns. This is a good thing, but there are some misconceptions among gun carriers that can get them or their loved ones killed. This article is an attempt to address one of those issues.
Ammunition featuring expanding (hollow nosed and other designs) bullets can add an extra degree of lethality to typical personal protection pistols, BUT ONLY IN SOME CASES. When dealing with "small" and under-powered pistol cartridges such as 32 ACP, 380 ACP or 9X18 Makarov, it is a possibly fatal mistake (to the user) to use expanding bullets for self defense.
Expanding a projectile that is too light weight and moving too slow, can drastically reduce needed penetration. If every defensive shooting situation could be guaranteed to be against an attacker that wore nothing heavier than a tee shirt, or that didn't weigh over 150 lbs, perhaps expanding bullets would work well every time, but consider the following scenario: The weather is cold and you are attacked by a knife wielding man wearing a heavy coat and under clothing. As he lunges forward with outstretched arms and knife in hand, you fire to save your life. If this man kills you, the consequences for your wife, who is present, are unthinkable. Because the attackers arms are outstretched, your little 380 auto 90gr. JHP bullet hits his heavy coat sleeve and then tears into his large forearm where it expands and lodges and his knife finds its way deep into your chest ------ or, your little 380 auto is loaded with non-expanding flat nosed solid 100gr. bullets (see our items # 27A or 27B) and as you fire, the bullet rips through his coat sleeve and his arm, shattering his forearm and then pierces his sternum, clips his heart and takes out his spine. His arm folds, his legs buckle and he hits the ground for good, while you and your loved ones remain unharmed.
I am a big believer in expanding bullets for self defense provided you are using a cartridge that shoots a bullet that is heavy enough and fast enough to expand and then continue to penetrate 12 to 14 inches in living tissue. 32 ACP, 380 ACP and 9x18 Mak ammunition lack the bullet weight and velocity to push the large frontal area of an expanded bullet very deep into heavy clothing and living mammal tissue. Because many of these 380 ACP pistols are small, I carry them in pants and coat pockets often. I think they are very useful if loaded properly. I have two Kel Tec P3AT's and three Kahr P380's that I carry often. They are all loaded with our items # 27A or 27B. I NEVER use expanding ammo in them, never.
When I carry expanding bulleted loads for self defense against humans, the lightest bullet I'll use is a 124gr. /125gr. 9mm (.355 inch) or .357 and I require a velocity of at least 1,100 fps. This is a very general rule of thumb as bullet construction and the size of the mushroom are factors too and I will not address them here. So, a 9mm 124gr. +P+ or +P will generate (see our items 24B, 24C, and 24E) enough speed and has enough bullet mass, that I would consider carrying it in a personal defense situation, but I'd feel better with a 357 mag. load of a 158gr. bullet at 1,100 fps or a 40 S&W with a 180gr. bullet at 1,000 fps.
I often carry a 2 inch J frame 38 SPL loaded with a 158gr.+P (FBI load - see our item 20A) at 1,000 fps and I am quite confident that even though it is moving slowly, it has enough mass to push that large mushroom very deeply into living tissue. I'm also confident using our "Standard Pressure" 38 SPL that utilizes the very same 158gr. bullet at only 850 fps out of a 2 inch revolver, (item 20C) but it still has enough mass to penetrate deeply enough to get the job done -- I am also very fond of our item 20D, which is a 150gr. full wad cutter HARD CAST bullet, that will not mushroom and cuts a huge hole in living tissueit penetrates very deeply and does tremendous damage.
Lightweight mushrooming 32 ACP or 380 ACP bullets, may in fact kill or stop violent attackers, but under worse case scenarios as outlined above, they can be very ineffective. If I am trying to stop a 300+lb drugged up, violent attacker with a 380 ACP, I want a bullet that can get deep and do a lot of damage at the same time. Flat nosed solid bullets do that. Typical old style round nosed FMJ bullets tend to slip and slide through living tissue and as they do this, they can get sideways and loose penetration - never mind they don't do a lot of damage as they slip and slide. Flat nosed solid bullets tend to cut/smash through material doing a lot of damage and that cutting/smashing action keeps the bullet nose forward, creating the potential for much deeper penetration than a round nose bullet. For more information on this, read our "technical Info" on the 380 ACP or 32 ACP shopping carts.
I am a real fan of using a 45 ACP pistol, loaded with our 45 ACP +P ammo for self defense. I also like to carry a Browning Hi Power 9MM loaded with our 9MM +P+ ammo however, when hot weather arrives and I can't conceal a big pistol as easily, (it can still be done, just not as easily) I will always have a little 380 ACP in my jeans pocket. It will be loaded with non-expanding flat nosed bullets, powered by a 380 ACP +P charge.