Without ammunition, guns are worth little more than either paperweights or poor man’s clubs. In the category of the 9mm Parabellum (AKA 9x19mm AKA 9mm Luger) cartridge, here are some of 19FortyFive’s top picks.
Federal 9BP 115-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint (JHP)
The lightweight 115-grain loads have fallen out of vogue relative to the heavier 124-, 135-grain, and 147-grain loads in the past couple of decades, but that doesn’t make the 115-grainers a poor choice.
The 9BP in particular has long carried an excellent reputation for terminal effectiveness and intrinsic accuracy.
Regarding the effectiveness factor, for many years its score was either at or near the top performance level of Evan Marshall’s controversial one-shot stop statistical studies (not counting the higher-pressure +P loads that accelerate wear and tear on guns in addition to heavier recoil and muzzle blast).
Meanwhile, Massad F. Ayoob, in his excellent 1987 book “The Semiautomatic Pistol in Police Service and Self-Defense,” notes that the chief medical examiner of a large California county told world pistol champ Ray Chapman that this bullet caused more destruction in human flesh than any other handgun round he’d seen, including .357 Magnum, and he had seen a lot of it since the 9BP was issued for a major department in his county that was involved in numerous shootings.
As far as accuracy goes, in their highly informative 1986 “Gun Digest Book of 9mm Handguns,” Wiley Clapp and Dean Grennell found the 9BP to consistently be the most accurate 9mm cartridge in dang near every one of the 50 handguns (autopistols and revolvers alike) test-fired.
Remington 115-Grain JHP
This is your go-to load if you have an older 9mm autopistol such as, say, a pre-1990s Browning Hi-Power, a Smith & Wesson First Generation Model 39 or Model 59, a WWII-era Walther P38 or Radom VIS P.35, or even (gasp!) a WWI-era P08 Parabellum Luger. These guns were designed solely to feed military-spec full metal jacket (FMJ) “hardball.” You can certainly hire the services of a fine gunsmith like Wayne Novak or Bill Laughridge to do a throat and ramp job to accommodate modern JHPs, but that means extra time where the gun is away from your holster, handbag, or nightstand, and therefore not in a position to defend you and/or your loved ones; likewise, that also means extra money that instead could be spent on ammo and range practice time building your proficiency.
The fine folks at Remington took this to heart when they conjured up the 115-grain JHP. They designed the ogive of the bullet to match the feed profile of hardball ammo so it’ll feed and cycle reliably in any one of those military surplus guns. The downside/compromise is that it has less dynamic expansion and more of a tendency to overpenetration in bad guys’ bodies. However, to quote “Mas” Ayoob again, “Still, the Remington hollowpoint is far less offensive in these respects than any conventional 9mm hardball load, [and] has much more stopping power.”
CCI Speer Gold Dot +P 124-Grain JHP
This was the load I was issued for the Glock 26 that served as the backup piece to the SIG Sauer P229 DAK .40 S&W which was my primary sidearm as an ICE Special Agent. The Gold Dot has been top-notch in terms of accuracy, function, and field performance alike.
What’s more, the already-excellent load recently got even better, as Brad Fitzpatrick elaborates in a November 2021 article for Guns & Ammo Handguns Magazine titled (appropriately enough) “7 Great 9mm Pistol Defensive Loads”: “Gold Dot G2 was an immediate success, but Speer wanted to improve the performance of the Gold Dot G2 from short-barreled concealed-carry pistols. This led to the recent release of Speer Gold Dot G2 Carry Gun, a load that offers all the benefits of standard G2 bullets but has been optimized to perform at lower velocities from shorter barrels.”
Remington Golden Saber 124- or 147-Grain JHP
Another Remington offering. However, unlike the aforementioned 115-grain JHP, this one is specifically meant to work with more modern guns, and accordingly offers terminal performance roughly on a par with Gold Dot, and it’s indeed my go-to for my personal 9mms when I’m unable to get ahold of the Speer load. To quote Mr. Fitzpatrick again:
“Remington’s Golden Saber bullet has been popular with law enforcement and other handgunners as a self-defense bullet for years, and that’s due in large part to this bullet’s consistent performance and reliable expansion through a variety of barriers. The Golden Saber bullet is a jacketed hollowpoint with a lead core and skiving that initiates expansion. Unlike other defense bullets, though, Golden Saber features a brass jacket rather than copper, and this allows for a very consistent penetration—because brass is stiffer than copper—while still maintaining reliable expansion.”
Corbon DPX +P 115-Grain DPX
Corbon ammo, in general, has always carried a reputation for making excellent defensive ammo, and the DPX (“Deep Penetrating X bullet”) line, in particular, has really made quite a name for itself, earning the endorsement of Gabe Suarez of Suarez International (Gabe is not the sort of guy who doles out praise lightly). As the LearnAboutGuns.com website explains: “What sets the Corbon DPX apart from most other self defense rounds is that it contains no lead. Instead, Corbon DPX makes use of Barnes homogeneous coppers hollow point bullets.”
According to the manufacturer, DPX ammo “outstandingly performs after penetrating a heavy barrier like auto glass or steel. DPX is the only ammunition that maintains 100% of its weight after going through such barriers.”
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.