Best 9mm Ammo of 2024: Self-Defense, Plinking, Competition, and More
The humble 9x19mm (also called 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9mm NATO) is one of the most popular cartridges around, so there are a staggering number of different options out there for you to choose from.
This is great because it makes it a very versatile cartridge that can handle a number of roles, but it also introduces a problem. Namely: how on Earth do you choose between all the hundreds of options out there?
To help with this, we got the guns out and tested as many of the top choices as possible to find the best 9mm ammo for just about every purpose.
Our top pick overall is Fiocchi Range Dynamics because it works well for training, plinking, and competition, but of course, there are better options out there depending on what exactly you want to do.
Here are our favorite three 9mm ammo choices-
- Fiocchi Range Dynamics - Best 9mm Ammo Overall
- Hornady Critical Duty - Best 9mm Self-Defense Ammo
- Federal American Eagle 147 gr - Best 9mm Training Ammo
Let’s take a deep dive into each of these, starting with our top pick, and then we’ll cover some helpful info that should make it easier to choose the right 9mm ammo for your specific needs and the type of shooting you’re doing.
Fiocchi Range Dynamics - Best Overall
- Bullet Type: Full-Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 115gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1200fps
- Muzzle Energy: 368ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Brass
- Great velocity
- Feeds, cycles, and ejects reliably
- Easy to find in stock in large quantities
- Not suitable for self-defense
Fiocchi Range Dynamics is full disclosure; my personal favorite 9mm ammo, so I may be a little biased here. Still, for the types of shooting I do most, it has proven itself to be the best option around.
For a no-frills range ammo choice, it’s hard to beat. It cycles well, and I’ve fed my Glock 19, CZ Shadow 2 (best gun on the planet), and SIG Sauer P320 thousands of rounds of this stuff without any issues, even in my perpetually-dirty Shadow 2.
It has very solid velocity, even compared to other 115gr 9mm options out there, and it comes in at a very attractive price point, which is great for those of us who shoot a lot. High-volume shooters will also love the fact that you can get this in everything from a 50-round box to a 1000-round case fairly regularly.
Fiocchi does a great job with these middle-of-the-road, budget-friendly offerings, and I was pleased to find that an ammo that I’ve trusted for years scored so highly in our reviews.
Honorable Mention: Remington Range 9mm Ammo is another great option that can do it all at a reasonable price. And you can usually get these in 500-round packs pretty reliably, making it great to stock up on if you’re trying to fill an ammo can.
Hornady Critical Duty - Best 9mm Self-Defense Ammunition
- Bullet Type: Flex-Tip Jacketed Hollow Point
- Bullet Weight: 135gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1010 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 306ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Nickel-Plated Brass
- Ideal penetration in FBI ballistic gelatin testing
- Proven Flex-tip
- Used by multiple state law enforcement agencies, as well as federal agencies abroad
- High-lubricity nickel-plated brass cases
- FlexLock hollow points struggle with some feed ramps on some pre-1970s 9mm pistols. If your gun is from The Vietnam War or prior, make sure you test these first.
Hornady’s Critical Duty line is one of the most successful and prolific self-defense ammo lines on the planet and with good reason. Many different state and federal law enforcement agencies have turned to Critical Duty and Critical Defense for their carry gun ammo.
In FBI ballistic gel tests, the Critical Duty line has shown an ideal penetration depth to allow it to stop a threat in a defense situation, but without excessive overpenetration. The FlexLock tip is designed to avoid clogging up with heavy clothing, making it an ideal defense load.
This improved terminal performance of the 135-grain bullet is excellent. When passing through tissue, the 9mm projectile expands to over 16mm in diameter before coming to a stop and does so incredibly reliably.
Recoil is a bit sharp out of a sub-compact, but that comes with the territory. The 135-grain JHP needs the extra velocity to have sufficient kinetic energy for deep penetration.
Overall, this is a round that has proven itself over and over again in law enforcement situations, and it has performed well in every test we (or the FBI and ATF) can think to throw at it. Personally, that’s good enough for me.
Honorable Mention: Speer Gold Dot hollow points are also a great option with a proven track record. Ballistic gel performance is similar, as is law enforcement use. They’re also considerably cheaper. Federal’s HST line is up there as well, but we gave it to the Gold Dots here to have something more affordable out there.
Federal Premium American Eagle 147 gr - Best 9mm Training Ammo
- Bullet Type: Full Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 147gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1000 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 326ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Brass
- Similar recoil impulse to +P ammo
- Cheap enough to buy in bulk
- Can also be used for general target shooting or competition
- Lower velocity than some more expensive options
Federal American Eagle is an always dependable option. Still, we’ve specifically selected this heaver bullet-weight version because it has a fairly high recoil, making it a good stand-in for your more expensive self-defense ammo.
It’s cheap enough that you can run it as your standard target ammo, though you might want some of the cheaper 115gr options below for that. This one was picked specifically because it has a recoil that comes close to matching some of the higher-velocity defensive options out there.
When you’re in a life-or-death situation, and adrenaline has your hands shaking, your recoil control is going to be the worst it's ever been. That’s why we always recommend training for carry and defense with ammo that at least comes close to the recoil impulse of your carry ammo.
Honorable Mention: Magtech 124gr is another affordable training option with a fairly sharp recoil impulse that I’ve used in training, particularly in a couple of concealed carry classes. Side by side with defensive ammo, the recoil feels very comparable.
Winchester Target & Practice - Best Target/Competition 9mm Ammo
- Bullet Type: Full Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 115gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1190 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 362ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Brass
- Affordable enough to buy in large quantities
- Consistent velocity
- Reliably knocks over steel targets
- Higher recoil than some other competition rounds
Winchester Target & Practice excels at exactly what it says on the box. If you’re looking for something to take to the range for some training, or you’re looking for a nice factory option to run in IDPA or USPSA, then this is a great choice.
The 115gr projectile is pretty standard for most pistol and PCC competitions and is a great choice for anyone who needs a reliable performer in large quantities. Winchester has been making ammo for over a hundred years now, and their iconic white boxes are a familiar sight to anyone who spends a lot of time at the range.
I especially like the Target & Practice line for its price-to-performance ratio and clean burning powders that won’t foul your gun too terribly, even during day-long range sessions that see hundreds of rounds leave the barrel.
All in all, this is a fan favorite for a reason and one we can attest to the quality of. For general target shooting, it's hard to find a better off-the-shelf value for the money.
Honorable Mention: CCI Blazer 115gr is another great option that won’t break the bank but still has very consistent and reliable performance.
Sellier & Bellot Subsonic - Best Subsonic 9mm Ammo
- Bullet Type: Full Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 150gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1001 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 333ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Brass
- Cycles reliable in most semi-autos with a can
- Heavy 150gr projectile
- Not suitable for home defense
- Can be hard to find in stock
Sellier & Bellot subsonic 9mm is a great option for anyone running a suppressor on a carbine or handgun. It cycles well in most platforms I’ve personally tried it in, and the wider suppressor community can’t get enough of it. I’ve had two representatives from two separate suppressor manufacturers specifically recommend it to me.
In testing, it has consistently cycled where other, lighter subsonics would not, and the ammo feeds reliably. Primers are also reliable, and velocity is consistent, so you won’t have to worry about your point of aim changing too terribly much.
Finally, it’s cheap and available in bulk, which is great for us suppressor lovers because most of us like to shoot just for the fun of it, which means we go through ammo quickly whenever we’re at the range.
Honorable Mention: Stealth 165gr Subsonic is another great option that is very quiet when run through a suppressor. At just 800fps, it’s a big, slow bullet, but it cycles very reliably in everything I’ve tested it in, including a notoriously cantankerous MP5 clone.
Magtech 115gr FMJ - Best Bulk 9mm Ammo
- Bullet Type: Full Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 115gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1135 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 329ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Brass
- Similar performance to Personal Defense line above
- Much more affordable than other premium hollow points
- Available in bulk
- Hard to find the nickel-plated variety
- Typically only available in 50rd+ boxes
If you need affordable, good-quality ammo in large quantities, Magtech has usually got you covered. Their 9mm range ammo offering is a solid performer that you can get by the 1000-round case regularly.
They offer brass-cased ammo at steel-cased prices, with primers that actually go off when your firing pin hits them, which can be a tough ask from some ammo at this price. Magtech also uses a powder that burns well and isn’t absolutely filthy, so you won’t have a super dirty gun at the end of your range session.
If you’re looking for a cheap, readily-available 9mm option to stock up on, then Magtech 115gr 9mm is a perfect choice.
Honorable Mention: PMC 115gr is also cheap, reliable, and readily available. Honestly, it was a coin flip here, and either will likely do just as well as the other.
Full-metal jacket ammunition is the most common type around and features a hardened exterior coating (called a jacket) wrapped around the outside of a core made of a softer, denser interior metal (almost always lead). These rounds typically have a round or flat nose.
What this gives you is a round that is resistant to deformation when passing through a solid surface thanks to the harder exterior jacket but still very dense thanks to the heavier lead core. These types of rounds are great for target shooting and competition, especially outdoors.
With an FMJ, you do have some exposed lead at the rear of the projectile, seated inside the casing. This can introduce more lead into the environment, and in addition to not being great for you or for, well, the environment, it also means they’re banned by certain indoor ranges.
Total-metal jacket ammo sounds very similar, and it is, but with one key difference: the entirety of the lead core is wrapped in the copper jacket. This provides total coverage (hence the name) of the lead interior, which makes them less of a health hazard and more welcome at indoor ranges.
Jacketed hollow points also feature a lead core wrapped in a copper jacket, but with the key difference of a scooped-out nose or point, hence “hollow point”.
This hollow nose, plus some carefully-designed scoring in the copper jacket, causes the round to mushroom open when striking a soft surface, thereby increasing the surface area of the bullet and thus increasing its lethality.
These rounds are, obviously, primarily designed for self-defense. Sometimes, the point of the bullet is filled with a soft polymer insert designed to keep the projectile from becoming clogged with clothing or other material and to aid in expansion. These rounds may also be called “ballistic tips” by some manufacturers, but the effect is essentially the same.
Frangible rounds are produced by a powder metallurgy process whereby metal powders are compressed and heated to form a solid bullet. These bullets are made of powdered tin, copper, and other soft metals so that when the bullet strikes a solid object harder than it, it shatters into semi-harmless dust.
This is great for those who shoot steel targets as it allows them to get very close to the target without worrying about a dangerous ricochet. I have actually fired these rounds point-blank into AR500 steel targets without any issues, though I definitely don’t recommend repeating that experiment.
These rounds can also be used for self-defense, particularly in close-living situations where you might have a neighbor or other innocent bystander only separated from you by thin drywall and framing boards.
There are purpose-built frangible self-defense rounds out there, and I recommend them if this is a worry you have.
Lastly, we have lead round-nose projectiles, which are exactly what they sound like. For a variety of reasons, these rounds have mostly been phased out, but they’re still popular with some revolver shooters.
There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right 9mm ammo, and a lot of it will come down to what type of shooting you’re doing. We’re going to take a look at the most common types of shooting you’re likely to do with a 9mm and discuss how to choose the right ammo for your purposes.
When choosing self-defense ammo, whether for carry or protecting the hearth and home, it helps to have a good understanding of what makes a bullet effective at stopping an attacker. If you’re just looking for a quick answer: 147gr +P 9mm expanding hollow points in nickel-plated cases from a trusted manufacturer is the way to go.
Outdated discussion of stopping power and overblown statements about the efficacy of this caliber over that one have seeded a lot of misinformation out there, so it's worth taking the time here to clear the air, so to speak.
The first thing to really come to grips with is that we're choosing an ammo based on its ability to cause a devastating injury to a human being in order to save our own life or the lives of those we hold most dear.
All of which is to say: don't skimp here.
Yes, a cheap and cheerful FMJ round can stop an attacker, but it shouldn't be relied on. Instead, turn your attention to a purpose-built, carefully-designed self-defense round. Something that is made specifically for stopping a human-sized attacker.
These 9mm hollow points are very carefully designed to expend all of their energy in the width of about 18-24", meaning maximum damage done to an attacker and minimum damage to those beyond them or on the other side of a wall.
These rounds will also mushroom open and expand upon impact, causing a 9mm bullet to leave a 15mm+ wound channel, which is vital when dealing with low-velocity handgun rounds that don't induce cavitating injuries as high-velocity rifle rounds do.
As many hunters probably know, when a 180gr bullet moving at 2,500 fps strikes a target made of flesh and blood, the tissue and organ damage extends far beyond simply where the bullet penetrates. This extra injury area is called a temporary wound cavity, and it greatly ups the lethality of rifle rounds.
With a 9mm handgun, this effect is minimal to non-existent, so we have to rely on rounds that rapidly expand, like an opening flower petal. These hollow points are more expensive, yes, but the controlled expansion effects and higher velocities make them immensely more effective at dealing with a threat.
Lastly, I highly recommend choosing ammo that has a nickel-plated casing as these cases, while more expensive, are much more resistant to corrosion and much slicker to aid in extraction and ejection.
Low-friction, high-lubricity rounds are more reliable, and that should always be your chief concern when it comes to choosing self-defense ammo.
I've chosen to separate training from the competition and target shooting section below for a very specific reason: self-defense training.
For general target shooting and practice, you can ignore this. Still, if you're choosing to train specifically for dealing with a life-threatening scenario, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind.
Namely, the weight and velocity of your bullet of choice. This isn't really an issue with training for competition or general target shooting because you're probably using a lightweight, lightly-recoiling bullet. This is absolutely the right choice for shaving down your split times when you're ringing steel or punching holes in paper.
However, when it comes to training for self-defense, I think it's absolutely vital to practice and train with something that matches your carry ammo in terms of recoil.
In a high-stress situation, with adrenaline and other hormones degrading fine muscle control and tripling heart rate, you (and I, Delta Force, and everybody else) will default to the lowest level of training. That means your worst day at the range is probably the best you can expect when it comes to wielding a handgun to defend yourself.
We see this all the time in the horrible hit-rate statistics in officer-involved shootings, and that's with folks who get their ammo for free, are paid to train, and are knowingly headed into harm's way on a daily basis.
For the rest of us, practice is vital, and that means shooting something similar to what we'll be carrying. "Train how you plan to fight." Is a common piece of advice, but no less true for being often repeated.
Of course, you can just train with the same ammo you're using for self-defense, but at $1.80+/rounds, that gets expensive quickly. I get some of my ammo for free, and I still can’t afford to do that, at least not comfortably.
You should still run through a mag or so of the exact ammo, but in general, I recommend sticking to a full-metal jacket of the same bullet weight (usually 147gr) and similar velocity to what you'll be carrying.
For competition and general target shooting/having fun at the range, we can be a little less stringent in our choices. Typically, a 115-grain 9mm FMJ will be all you need, and you can get something on the slower side if you’re just plinking or go with a higher-velocity round if you need to be able to knock over steel plates or something reliably.
For this, I also like cheap ammo. Nobody likes paying an arm and a leg just to be able to shoot a little bit, but I especially like to prioritize cost when it comes to choosing 9mm ammo for the range.
I shoot a lot, and I bet you do, too (or at least you want to), so don’t be afraid to go with something on the cheaper side here. That said, it’s probably going to be tempting to go with the most affordable steel-cased stuff out there.
While that’s fine, I would actually recommend sticking to brass-cased ammo here for a couple of reasons. One, it's reloadable. While you may not reload now if you ever start, you’ll be incredibly grateful to have a few thousand high-quality 9mm brass ammo cases lying around. Trust me.
On the other hand, if you don’t ever get into reloading, I bet you can find someone that does, and you can either sell them on and recoup a little of your costs or make their day by gifting them a gallon ziplock full of casings when you see them at the range.
Also, brass-cased ammo extracts a lot easier, which will make your life easier when you’re shooting all day and end with a dirty gun, especially if you’re shooting suppressed.
For suppressed shooting, choose subsonic 9mm rounds. That’s it; that’s all there is to it.
Well, mostly, anyway.
Really, it's a careful balance of choosing subsonic ammo that still has enough energy to do what you need it to do. If you’re just having fun at the range, then whatever, it doesn’t really matter. But if you’ve got a can on your home-defense carbine, then there’s a bit more thought required.
Generally, I tend to just reach for a heavy, slow-moving bullet, but you can absolutely use supersonic 9mm ammo with a suppressor; you just won’t be as whisper quiet as you will with subsonic. You can do your own math and decide if the extra damage to your ears is worth it if you have to, heaven forbid, fire that home-defense gun inside.
Heavy subsonics are still effective at stopping a human attacker (or an animal like a coyote or what have you), so I wouldn’t discount them completely, especially when you think about the rapid-fire, low-recoil capability of a carbine.
And I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy my hearing, I’m not putting ear-pro on when I hear someone kick in my door at 3 am. So for me, subsonics are the move, but that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.
If you’re like me and love a good 9mm carbine, then it's important to know that you can get a lot more out of it, whether you’re using it for target shooting, competition, or defense, by choosing the right ammo.
The main advantage of a carbine is you have a much more ergonomic platform to shoot from, so recoil isn’t really a concern.
In self-defense terms, this means you can go with the hottest-loaded +P+ stuff on the market from a manufacturer like Underwood or Buffalo Bore, and you’ll barely notice the recoil when you have your long-gun shouldered.
For competitors, it means you can go with some harder-hitting, higher-velocity ammo in the 124gr+ range to make absolutely sure that those steel dinner plates fall over and that #%$@ing Texas Star is empty quickly (my 3-Gun people know what I’m talking about).
This also helps carbine competitors that have to reach out to longer distances. If your match director is a bit of a sadist like my local ones are, and you have to hit an apple-sized target at 100 yards+, you’ll be happy for the increased velocity and subsequently decreased bullet drop.
This is a bit of a subjective subject, but we’ve found Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty to be the best ammo options in 9mm for self-defense. It penetrates and expands well, is readily available, and has a proven track record in deadly situations. Federal HST, Remington Golden Saber, Lehigh Defense, and SIG V-Crown are also reliable choices.
Federal Premium, Remington, Winchester, Fiocchi, CCI/Blazer, Hornady, PMC, Magtech, Underwood, Wolf, and Tula are some of the most popular 9mm ammo brands.
Most (if not all) major police departments use controlled-expansion hollow points like Hornady XTP, Federal HST, and Speer Gold Dots as their duty ammo.
9mm ammo is a deep world that we’ve only scratched the surface of, but now you should be armed (pun very much intended) with all the info you need to choose the best 9mm ammo for any type of shooting under the sun.
Our top overall pick is still, but obviously, it's not going to be the best option for everything. Still, if you’re looking for a quick pick to take to the range, it's a great option. I’ve used it for everything from teaching new shooters to securing podium finishes in some local and regional competitions, so I can absolutely vouch for it.
9mm can truly do it all, and that’s why it’s so beloved. It can even do things we didn’t include on our list, like take care of your pest control problems. Hopefully, now you have a deeper understanding of (and respect for) this awesome cartridge.
And if you’re looking for more 9mm ammo information, you can check out some of our caliber comparisons like 9mm vs 40 and 9mm vs 45ACP, or a deep dive into all the different names for 9mm ammo if that catches your fancy.
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