We bring you a new contributing writer to Guns Save Life, Ryan French.  He’s a firearms instructor and firearms enthusiast with a quick wit and a keen sense of humor.  His inaugural submission is a well-done piece on selecting personal defense ammunition to suit your self-defense needs.  Ryan’s also got himself YouTube channel as well – Full Bore Mind Forge.

When I first clicked on his premiere video, I found a well-done production.  He drew me in with his charismatic presentation and even though I have precious little free time, it was 24 minutes well-spent.  It wasn’t another dime-a-dozen YouTube commentator who thinks because they read an issue of Guns and Ammo in eighth grade, own a half-dozen guns, and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night that they are Massad Ayoob.

His written submission to GSL is timely as well, with all of the new owners of shootin’ irons in Illinois and beyond.  Did you know, for example, the number of firearm owner ID cards in Illinois has grown from 1,260,000 in 2008 to 1,682,000 in 2013?

Back to ammo, I was reminded a couple of weeks ago, at one of our Illinois CCW classes, just how anemic a full-metal jacket (FMJ) round is at transferring energy.  Our students watched as an instructor shot a .45 Auto FMJ round at a water-filled jug.  It was as uninspiring as watching Barack Obama pitch a fast ball or ride a girls bicycle with a helmet on.

It could have been worse.  It could have been like watching Barack Obama pitching a fastball while riding a girls’ bike and wearing a helmet too.

Mr. French has got some good information out there for newbies to gun ownership on considerations for selecting a self-defense round that will provide the best combination of all that’s needed to allow the good guy to emerge on top in a deadly force encounter.


By Ryan French

We’ve all been there before, looking at boxes of self-defense ammo – the myriad of numbers and brands.  You might even be wondering if you’ll ever have to face the consequences of this decision.  Pulling one of the metallic sculptures out of its nestled enclosure, you can feel its weight in your hand.  Strange, so much density for such a small object.

You examine its contours and its polished surfaces. You compare its vain, glorious name to the others. Reading through the mire of boldly printed graphics and claims, from one arching data curve to another, you look closely for clues that might reveal a trustworthy candidate.  You ask a friend who’s a cop.  You ask your other friend who’s a veteran and you also ask Google.

In the end you delay.

You’re still hoping for that final shred of input, maybe even from your subconscious that will somehow illuminate the answer to that fateful question: What defensive ammo should I use?

Allow me to offer a truly final answer to that ominous question:  Just use magic bullets…

What?  Magic bullets?

You’re probably thinking that magic bullets don’t exist, aren’t you?

I actually know quite a few people who have them and carry them.

First though, maybe I should formalize our definition of “magic bullets” before we go any further.  To be clear, I don’t mean projectiles made of purified silver, or those filled with holy water, or even some ballistic golem that DARPA packed with extra-lethal nanotechnology (which I actually don’t think exists yet, but I bet somewhere in Arlington, Virginia, they have plans sitting in a bin marked “Awaiting Final Review”). Regardless, what I’m talking about is that singular moment in your conscious mind, where time stops, and the Earth no longer turns.  Here you realize that your firearm and the ammunition you chose for it is the best combination for your needs.

Teetering on the threshold of a potentially life-changing lethal confrontation is not usually when people start re-thinking their ammunition selection – and if you are re-thinking your ammo selection during that critical encounter, that’s probably a very bad sign.  

Considering that this subject is no joke, why would I even suggest magic bullets?

Let me answer that with a question:  What exactly makes the mythical magic bullet so magical?

Well, it definitely doesn’t come from a Ninth Level “Threat Slayer +5” Enchantment. We all know that magic bullets seem magical, because of what they can do:  stop a lethal threat upon innocent life.

For those of you with ballistic experience, right now you may be chanting the worthy mantra of “shot placement.”

Actually, that’s the first principle that needs to be understood, if you wish to carry magic bullets the way that some do. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of shot placement can sometimes be swayed by the difference of mere millimeters.  Bad guys have the exact same physiological self-preservation systems as the good guys.

To keep the advantage on the good guy side, let’s continuing exploring together how we can find our magic bullets.

There are only two ways to quickly stop a human threat: the first method is based on psychology, and the second is based on your performance with a firearm.

There are a select group of assailants who, if confronted directly with a lethal response, crumble psychologically, regardless if they have been shot or not.  Those threats will always lose their will to fight instantly – in most cases simply because they’ve never had it explained to them that way (at the muzzle of a good guy’s Gat).  But please, don’t ever expect the weak-minded to be your aggressor. That would be very poor planning.

The second method, and certainly the best way to stop a threat, is to eliminate any actionable Central Nervous System (CNS) communication by severing the brain stem or spinal cord.

Sounds simple enough right? But that’s about the same as trying to shoot at a golf ball perched on top of a thin wooden dowel, sometimes dancing around erratically –  while it’s shooting back at you.

Of course, that’s not an impossible shot, but what about the other variables: movement, adrenaline, bystanders, and fear? Being in that situation automatically qualifies it as a “worst case scenario”. Regardless of what ammunition is in your firearm, any major impact on the brain stem or spinal cord will give nearly instant magic bullet results.  So is the first tenant of magic bullets beginning to coalesce for you?

As mentioned earlier, just a few millimeters can be the difference between stopping a threat and having to continue to fight. Just to be clear, medical statistics indicate that being shot in most major organs usually tends to be fatal if left untreated, but succumbing to those wounds can take time.

Time is the one commodity you don’t have in a crisis.

Even destroying the heart does not result in instantaneous collapse. Most healthy humans have 8-15 seconds of “normal” conscious action available to them, especially when their blood has been saturated with adrenaline. Remember the unstoppable PCP crazies just a few decades ago?  Just like the zombies from the Dawn of the Dead, they stopped only when their brain stem or spinal cord was destroyed or severed.

Now hopefully you share an understanding of how “one-shot-stops” actually achieve their nearly-instantaneous effects.

So does it even matter what we carry for personal protection then?

Of course it does!

Don’t forget that those few millimeters can make the difference.  Those millimeters are gained in the type of ammunition and firearm you choose to employ.  I’ve been a firearm instructor for years, and I’ve only recommended firearms to my clients based on how well the end user can make them run.  Glock, Colt, FNH, Springfield Armory… The brand of your weapon itself has little to do with how well you will perform in a gunfight.  If you want to cut through a bad guy’s central nervous system or make him bleed out into night-night land, then you need accurate shot placement assurance, before you can factor in any fancy calibers, bullet designs, or gadgetry.

Will it even matter if you’re shooting a CNC-machined, four-bladed, copper-clad .50 GI round that’s nearly as big as a CH53-E Super Stallion rotor if you can’t even control it?

You need to find a well-fitted, comfortable firearm that allows you to naturally acquire the sights. Once you find it, look at your caliber options and choose biggest one that you can shoot accurately, swiftly and without flinching.

Once you’ve made a caliber selection, then choose a hollow-point cartridge for self-defense.

Question, which factor is more important in your ammunition choice: lethality or reliable feeding? Full metal jacket ammo not-withstanding, I’ve seen many ingenious bullet designs that end up being utterly useless. This is due to the incompatibility of the host weapon’s feed ramp design to the bullet’s face.  That doesn’t mean you should toss the pistol.  Try polishing the ramp and if that doesn’t help, move on to another defensive cartridge.

Keep repeating this process until you have a defensive round that feeds perfectly at the range.  But in addition to a reliably-feeding round, find the fastest, heaviest, bullet with a controlled deformation that also retains most of its weight after impact.  The better defensive rounds will retain at least 90% of their weight after impact. Penetration depths should fall between 12 and 15 inches in ballistic gelatin. Keep in mind your Magic Bullet may have to pass through two layers of leather jacket and a plump, muscular forearm before it even gets to turn organs into goo inside your bad guy’s chest wall.

Also, while test firing your defensive ammo (you did buy an extra couple of boxes to test fire your tentative defensive ammo selection, right?), get acclimated to it.  Don’t become a victim to a false sense of confidence with mild FMJ range ammo. Expose yourself to what you’ll be fighting with to save your life, and earn your confidence the right way.

The final element needed to ensure that you’re carrying Magic Bullets is training. Training cannot be overstated: train, train, and train some more!  The only way that your defensive tools can have any effectiveness in the real world, is through your commitment to practicing drills, showing up for range time and seeking quality instruction.  You can’t buy life-saving gun-handling skills in an aisle at your favorite big box gun store.

Ironically, I’ve watched many clients buy the absolute best firearms and equipment, just to take a single training class, and then hang it all up indefinitely. When I asked if they’d be back for more training, the answer was almost always the same, “Maybe I’ll take another class, but I’m not worried right now. I just bought a (insert brand or caliber), it’s a custom gun and cost $(insert four digit number), so I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to mess with me.” 

It has always boggled my mind how some people presume that the quality and/or price of their defensive tool is somehow a substitute for practice and training. The presence of the tools themselves is what creates the need to train in the first place! Whiskey tango foxtrot, right?

In summary, magic bullets are yours to possess on the condition that you adhere to their not-so-mystical guidelines: Use a firearm that fits your unique ergonomics, carried in quality gear that won’t fail you in your day-to-day routine.  Choose a caliber that allows you to be swift and accurate with your shot placement.  Select a defensive round that feeds perfectly in your weapon and has good weight retention and penetration, and most importantly, make a commitment to training.  Don’t let your ego get in the way of the guidance you may need to become a worthy defender.

I encourage you to question everything I’ve written here. Do your own due diligence and arrive at your own conclusions, based on your own experimentation. The FBI, DHS, CIA, and local law enforcement all have data and statistics on what works best for their departments.  But you’re not a statistic.  Your are a father, mother, son or daughter.  You have loved ones to protect and people counting on you.  What’s best for a government agency is not always going to be the best for you.

In the spirit of doing what’s right by your family, friends and fellow Americans, in all sincerity, I do believe that the most Magical Bullet is the one you never had to use in the first place…

Always available for questions, comments and corrections.  Info@TheSmartTarget.com

7 thoughts on “FRENCH: The Real Magic behind Magic Bullets – Picking the right self-defense round”
    1. Thank you, John Boch is an excellent editor and advocate. I hope to do to do the GSL proud…

  1. The article was too lengthy and full of hyperbole for me.

    Just the facts is all I’m after.

    After weeding through PresO riding a girls bike and stuff, good info.

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