How Much Ammo Is Enough?

FBI statistics suggest that the average gunfight takes place at approximately three yards, expends three bullets, and takes about three seconds. Well, those are some nice, tidy figures, aren’t they?

Does that mean all of us who are carrying spare magazines are wasting our time and effort?

Perhaps not. Today we’ll examine some factors that are at play during real gunfights, and consider how they apply to the real world and how they affect us.

How much ammunition should you carry? Glock 19x with two magazines, Glock 43X with two magazines, and Smith & Wesson 642-2 snub nosed .38 Special revolver with four speed-loaders.
Options abound! It’s up to you to decide what might work best for you. Different people have different needs.

Handguns suck at stopping people.

Sorry if that offends you, but it is the honest truth. People are sometimes capable of absorbing a ridiculous amount of pistol bullets and still continuing to function. A search online will reveal many videos of people being shot repeatedly and acting as though nothing has happened to them. During my time working in the prison system, I spoke to scores of inmates who had been shot (there’s nowhere else on earth to find a more concentrated source of people who have been wounded, aside from hospitals, than the prison system). I interviewed men who were shot with every caliber imaginable, from .22 Long Rifle all the way up to 12 gauge. Some had been shot once, others over a dozen times. This experience has given me good insight into how humans react when they are shot.

Inmates at Department of Corrections

Criminals are a great source of information for research on violence and wounds. The author learned from them firsthand.

What is it that makes people able to withstand gunshot wounds?

One major factor is adrenaline and the other chemicals that our bodies release during critical incidents. It dulls pain, gives us tunnel vision, shuts our hearing down, helps stop bleeding in extremities, alters our perception of time, and reduces our ability to think and use fine motor skills. A large percentage of shooting survivors report that they did not realize they’d been shot until after the incident was over, claiming that they never felt pain until well after being shot.

There is only way to instantly stop an attacker 100% of the time: a central nervous system hit to the spinal column or the brain. Even blowing out the heart might not stop a bad guy instantly, as there is enough oxygen in the brain to continue functioning for about ten seconds (a lot can happen in ten seconds).

How much ammo does it take to stop a bad guy?

Given all of this, it might take ten or more pistol rounds to stop a bad guy, depending on some of these factors. One bad guy. But do bad guys always operate alone? Not necessarily. In fact, they often operate in teams, which means we may be facing two or even three bad guys.

Let’s say we’re facing two bad guys who confront us with deadly force and we need to respond in kind to save our life. We land several rounds on each of them, and they are hopefully stopped from killing us.

Will one magazine of ammo be enough?

How many rounds does your handgun hold?

revolver speed loader, Glock 19X magazine, Glock 43X magazine, and PMAG
The entire spectrum of capacity: from left to right, 5-shot .38 speed loader (5 rounds), Glock 19X (19 rounds), Glock 43X (10 rounds), and AR-15 Pmag (20 rounds).

Let’s go a step further. During real deadly encounters, people tend to move around because they don’t want to be shot or stabbed, or otherwise harmed. So it’s not unusual to see participants of altercations moving about rapidly and erratically.

Have you ever tried shooting someone who is darting about?

If not, I suggest participating in some “Force-On-Force” training, which consists of using projectiles such as Simunition (plastic bullets filled with dye) or Airsoft guns, which shoot plastic BBs. While these aren’t “the real thing,” they do give some approximation of what gunfights are like, in that you’re firing projectiles that cause some pain and give incentive not to get hit. During scenarios, participants routinely experience the adrenalinedujp and some mild effects of what a real gunfight is like. It’s not total reality, but it will give people a taste of what happens. More importantly, it will illustrate how people move under stress, and how easy it is to miss assailants.

self defense - how much ammo should you carry?
Immediate, deadly threats can throw our system into overload instantly. How will you react?

Even at very close range, it’s not hard to miss a person during an adrenaline dump. Don’t believe me? Do a video search. People only a few feet away are sometimes missed. I can hear scads of gun range commandoes out there right now, claiming, “No way, I’d never miss, I can hit targets at 50 yards away!” Well, maybe you can. But those targets aren’t trying to kill you, which makes things totally different.

We know that bad guys often move during gunfights. So do good guys. As such, both parties are likely to be moving. Which means you are moving and your target is also moving.

How good of a shot did you say you are?

Consider that even the police, who train regularly in range qualifications, have a miss rate during real shootings that exceeds 70%. Remember that adrenaline dump that I was telling you about that occurs during deadly force situations? If you’ve never experienced it, the first time is a gargantuan jolt to your system. Simply put, it is devastating and can throw you off of your game in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. Your shooting skills go to hell, along
with your dexterity.

Taking these factors into account, how many rounds do you believe you might have expended by now in the gunfight? Hell, I’ve lost count myself.

Personally, I like my Glock 43X the most out of all my handguns. It holds ten rounds plus one and the grip fits my hand perfectly, and it’s thin, so it conceals wonderfully. Normally, I carry two spare magazines, which give me 31 rounds total. Do I believe I’ll need that many rounds of ammo? Probably not, but I’ve never heard anyone who’s ever been in a shootout remark that they wished that they’d brought less ammo.

Glock 19X and Glock 43X
The Glock 43X is a joy to carry due to it’s thinness. The Glock 19X is King of capacity carrying 19+1 rounds.

Scenario: facing two bad guys, the gun battle erupts.

You fire at the first guy, missing twice and landing three solid hits as he goes down. You engage the second bad guy (while he’s firing at you), and miss three times, landing four hits. Oops. You’ve expended 12 rounds of ammo. Does your handgun even carry that many? If not, you ran dry somewhere in the midst of this deadly encounter.

Spare Mags

Another thing to consider is that a lot of pistol malfunctions can be traced to the magazine. So having spare mags is a Good Thing. Aside from that, if you recall that I mentioned that adrenaline makes your fine motor skills degrade, it’s very easy to fumble a magazine change. So while someone is trying to kill you, it wouldn’t be completely off the wall that you fumble the mag change, sending your magazine skittering across the pavement. My, my, wouldn’t that make for a wretched day!

Gosh, gunfights can be complicated, can’t they? Yeah, the real world sucks. And TV shows don’t always portray reality. More suck.

Ammo storage
It’s always nice to have more than enough ammo. How much is practical to carry?

How about revolvers?

We’d have to be insane to carry one, right? I mean, with their limited ammo capacity, it would be suicide to even consider the prospect, wouldn’t it?

Despite the insanity of it, I do carry a revolver in specific circumstances, and I’ll tell you why. When I’m engaging in strenuous physical activity, the snubnose revolver that I carry is compact enough that it doesn’t dig totally into my stomach when I’m bending over and lifting heavy objects. I carry AIWB (Appendix, Inside the Waistband). I won’t say it’s so comfortable that I don’t know it’s there, but I can make it work. Carrying an auto under those circumstances is simply painful. The S&W 642-2 simply works for me because it has a smaller footprint and is very light. And because it’s a revolver, it’s pretty damn reliable. Wheel guns are not ammo sensitive; they will fire pretty much whatever you can stuff into them because they obviously have no gas or recoil system.

Smith & Wesson 642-2 snub nose revolver
Small and light, revolvers can be very easy and convenient to carry.

It only holds five rounds of ammo though, so it is a compromise, make no mistake about it. However, it beats the alternative, which is to only carry a knife. Loaded with Speer Gold Dot 135 grain hollowpoints, I believe the revolver can allow me to handle quite a few scenarios. Sure, it has drawbacks, but then we’re back to the “life sucks” thing. Having the revolver on my person beats having my auto outside in my car.

S&W 642-2 revolver with cylinder open, loaded with five rounds of  Speer Gold Dot 135 grain hollowpoint ammunition
Small and lightweight, the S&W has obviously low capacity.

Back when the earth was cooling and the last of the dinosaurs had just died off, yours truly was issued a revolver by my agency as a rookie. Over the years, I put tens of thousands of rounds through revolvers, and my confidence in being able to run a wheel gun went skyward.

Another thing I considered when choosing the small revolver was the mission for which I intend to use it, which is deep concealment. When I carried the little S&W on my last job, none of my coworkers nor customers had any idea that I was armed, and they never would have unless things went exceedingly badly. Are there tiny autos that would fill that bill? Definitely. In fact, I did have one that, size-wise, was perfect. However, it was less than perfectly reliable, and so it had to go. To be blunt, the S&W revolver just works for what I need. As an added bonus, it’s extremely light. I round out the package with two spare speed strips, so I have 15 rounds of ammo total.

I carry the snubby with one thing in mind: to protect myself and break contact with hostiles, getting myself to safety. Does that mission differ when I’m out and about with my family? Yes.

When I’m out with my family, my mission is to protect them. However, when confronted by dangers such as an active shooter(s), it is a far more involved task to get my family to safety than if I were alone. Herding my family to safety may involve me making the decision to confront the shooter(s) if he is between us and an exit. As such, I may need to take the battle to the enemy, which an autoloading pistol is likely more suited. That’s why I normally carry an auto when I’m not engaging in strenuous physical activity.

I like having the ability to choose the hardware for the mission.

That said, I only own a couple of handguns, so it’s not like it takes me fifteen minutes to peruse a vast collection for just the right tool for the job when I’m getting dressed in the morning.

At times, life is about compromises. Sometimes we’d enjoy having something belt-fed, but we might have to use a handgun with lesser ammo capacity. Training and practice can help increase our chances of survival and success.

Am I trying to sway the reader one way or the other as far as what weapons to carry? That’s not really the scope of this article. Rather, I wanted to raise your awareness concerning some of the many factors that occur in real world conflict so that you might be better educated in selecting the weapons system you feel comfortable with. If I managed to get you thinking about how crazy armed conflict is, then this article did its job.

I know folks who carry a mini revolver in .22 Long Rifle that holds four rounds. For them, they feel that it is enough ammo for their needs. If it works for their needs, who am I to tell them they are wrong?

What’s the best handgun to carry?

The one that you have with you when you need it. Something is better than nothing.

Glock 19x, Glock 43X, and S&W 642-2 snub-nosed .38 special revolver
It’s up to you to decide what will work best for your needs.

My hope is that this limited amount of information in the article spurs the reader to engage in some of his own research as to how humans react in conflict and to injuries, as well as how real-life battles play out. Good luck!

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