Heavy or Light Bullet Grains for Self-Protection?

It is very important to determine and use the correct bullet weight or grit for your particular purpose and application. Various factors and the interrelationships between projectile, muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, penetration, expansion, recoil, and terminal ballistics for a given load and pistol affect a shooter’s results and accuracy.

What is Bullet Grain?

One grain (gr) is a basic Troy weight measurement of mass for the sphere. It is not the weight of the entire cartridge, just the projectile or bullet that leaves the barrel. The grain indicated on an ammunition box is often misunderstood as a gunpowder measurement when it actually just represents the weight of the bullet.

One grain weight of a ball is 1 / 7,000th of a pound or 1 / 437.5th of an ounce. So 437.5 grains are equivalent to one ounce. To give a general example, an AA battery weighs about 385 grains. So a ball weighing 124 grains is equal to 0.28 ounces. A typical box of pistol ammunition shows the caliber number followed by the grit and sometimes the muzzle velocity in foot-pound energy.

Some 9mm self defense bullets, muzzle velocities and muzzle energies

The amount of ammunition used has a significant impact on many factors. So choose your bullet and its performance carefully. 9mm Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is a common self-defense round so I’ll be focusing on that. The comparison between two 9mm JHP cartridges from one manufacturer can vary significantly in terms of muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, and even accuracy.

Tip: It is best to try out the different loads and grain weights that you can use for your particular pistol and its functions, as well as your particular shooting skills and personal characteristics.

The following table shows the various typical grain weights of various 9mm JHP cartridges, their expected muzzle velocities and energies compared to a conventional frangible cartridge. Note that the grains in most 9mm ammunition vary between 65, 115, 124, 124 + P, 135 and 147 grains. Also note the comparison between the different types of Sig Sauer JHP 9 mm rounds with grains between 115, 124, 124 + P and 147 grains.

Match shooting goals for different bullet grains

The shooter needs to know his main purpose, use or application in shooting, e.g. B. concealed carry, home defense, distancing, hunting or other personal protection. And whether mostly indoors or outdoors, the use of the gun is mostly involved. The shooter must identify the optimal caliber for the physical characteristics, medical limitations, grip strength, comfort of recoil and other preferences of the individual. Understanding the projectile grains of certain rounds and their muzzle velocities and muzzle energies and adapting them to the characteristics and preferences of each individual shooter leads to optimal results. There are several factors to consider when evaluating bullets and mixing all of the variables in order to get the best hits and overall results.

Factors to consider when evaluating all bullet points for self-defense

Some of the factors to consider for the given use and expectations for bullet weight are:

  1. Accuracy – The level of accuracy desired for the purpose is important. Competition shooting and precise target hits are certainly different from long-range combat fun and quick self-defense hits at close range. Considerations for long-distance game hunting at 100 meters differ from those for personal protection at five meters. For concealed carry and self-defense at the usual distances of three to seven meters, hits on the target are required to stop the threat.
  2. penetration
  3. extension
  4. speed
  5. distance
  6. Energy at the goal
  7. Felt recoil and actual recoil generated
  8. Target hit
  9. Other factors to consider
  10. caliber
  11. Gun frame & material
  12. Barrel length
  13. Gun weight & size
  14. Sight radius
  15. Wind and gusts
  16. Shooter Skills & Variables: strength in the hands, grip used, characteristics

My personal comparisons between light grain and heavy grain balls

Lighter balls hit up close

I have found in most of my 9mm handguns that lighter bullets, e.g. B. 115-grain bullets with normal and high pressure + p loading, moving faster and flatter, and generally hitting the target at close range less than 25 meters. Distance, shortened time in the run, stability, fall point, arc of movement and speed are important influencing factors.

Heavier bullets hit at close range

On the other hand, for myself and my specific 9mm cannons and the specific cartridges used, I’ve found that heavier bullets, e.g. B. 124, 124 + p, and 147 grain bullets, fly a little slower, stay in their flat trajectory for a shorter time, and then start dropping, but generally only hit the target at close range, less than 25 meters, higher. At some point and at a certain distance along the trajectory, the heavy bullets will fall under the lighter ones, mainly due to differences in the trajectory.

Trajectory and drop-over distances

The trajectory of a bullet as it leaves the barrel of a pistol forms a parabola that intersects points along the line of sight twice. Once when the ball rises and again when it sinks. For self-defense at a distance of seven to ten meters, the heavier bullet still rises above the point of view before the ignition and hits higher than a lighter and faster bullet that later left the barrel in the arc of the muzzle and will maintain stability for the distance . At a greater distance, say 50 meters or more, the heavier ball will have passed the center of its arc and will then fall faster than the lighter ball in response to gravity and then hit a lower target.

Force and felt recoil

For me and my special 9mm handguns, my physical limitations and for most of the firearm maker rounds I used, I found less power at the target and more “felt recoil” from the lighter bullets. However, this is very different. Lighter cartridges have less penetrating energy, and energy affects the pistol’s actual recoil, which is different from an individual’s recoil. Again, there are many variables that affect this. You should therefore try different bullet weights in your particular weapons with your particular shooting skills, characteristics, medical restrictions and uses at different distances. For self-defense, shoot your special 9mm 115-grain, 147-grain pistol at a distance of 25 meters and less to see if, like me, you notice that the heavier 147-grain bullet hits the target higher almost every time .

Conclusions on heavy and light grain bullets

Undoubtedly, the particular type of pistol, the weight and caliber of the pellet used, the distance from the target, the particular purpose and the skill of the shooter are important factors in the selection of rounds for self-defense. Consider the main advantages and disadvantages of the grain weight of the bullet for yourself and your self-defense. Before attempting arbitrary use of your weapon for personal protection, try out the different weights of bullets and types of ammunition in your specific self-defense weapons and make your own conclusions about the loads to use.

Tip: Probably the most important reason for choosing a heavier and larger bullet for self-defense and stopping the threat is to increase the energy and power at the target, which will improve the terminal’s ballistics, including accuracy, penetration and range. But get the right bullet weight for your needs and your particular weapon.

Bullets and types used by the author for self-defense

Among other things, I use these rounds and weights, speeds and energies (not particularly preferred) below for my 9mm self-defense weapons. Due to the inconsistencies in muzzle velocities and energies for the different projectile grains, it is important to fine-tune these and practice with your specific self-defense pistol.

  1. Sig Elite 124 grain V-Crown JHP; MV = 1165 fps; ME = 374 ft-lb
  2. Spear Gold Dot 135 grain GDHP; MV = 1120 fps; ME = 397 ft-lb
  3. Federal Premium HST 124 grit JHP; MV = 1150 fps; ME = 364 ft-lb
  4. Spear Gold Dot 124 grain GDHP; MV = 1150 fps; ME = 364 ft-lb
  5. Sig Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP; MV = 1185 fps; ME = 359 ft-lb
  6. Federal Premium Hydra Shok 135 grain JHP; MV = 1060 fps; ME = 337 ft-lb
  7. Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115 grain JHP; MV = 1140 fps; ME = 333 ft-lb.


Successful own conclusions and decisions about the bullet weight for your specific purposes, handguns and characteristics. While the following may not be the best for you, here are my conclusions for me based on my limited experience and personal traits in self-defense with my specific handguns.

  1. Lighter grain projectiles offer the advantages of speed and straight trajectories with short range, less stability over longer distances, less general expansion and penetration, and less time on the move due to increased speeds.
  2. Lighter grain projectiles have less penetrating energy and power when hitting the target, are affected by gusts of wind, generally have less actual recoil from the weapon than heavier loads, hit the target at close range in the parabola lower, and generally have one faster “felt” recoil.

(Note: a large frame pistol can help absorb some of the recoil, reducing the felt recoil for some. The rate of combustion of the propellant can also affect recoil.)

  1. Heavier grain bullets have the benefits of increased strength and penetration energy, greater flight stability over greater distances from weight, and better expansion and penetration (e.g., better to stop the threat and more humane kills for the hunter from a long distance).
  2. Heavier grain bullets are less resistant to wind gusts, are slightly more accurate, and generally penetrate more at shorter distances, are slower, and have more actual recoil of the weapon depending on the heavier load of the manufacturer.

Photo by the author.

* This personal opinion article is for general information and educational purposes only. The author strongly recommends that you seek advice from an attorney and seek advice from your personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance on shooting and using YOUR firearms, as well as self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be considered applicable to all shooters. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of the information by third parties and is not liable for the improper or incorrect use of the information or for any damage or injury that may arise.

© 2021 Col Benjamin Findley. All rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning or otherwise without prior written consent. For information on copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]

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