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Are Handloads A Good Idea For Self-Defense?

You might have the idea that you could save money or get a better quality bullet by carrying handloads instead of using factory hollow points. This gets a bit tricky.

On the one hand, it was formerly a somewhat common practice and especially amongst police officers. From a certain perspective, there's nothing necessarily wrong with it.

But, as with anything, rarely is it really that simple.

Why Handloads?


Why bother with handloads? Cost and/or supply issues.

As to cost, you'll spend less on loading your own (for the most part) on a per round basis than you will paying for premium defense ammunition.

I looked at Cabela's website - you can probably beat these prices elsewhere but this is for illustration purposes only, so your pathetic whining in the comments falls on deaf ears, you insignificant worm! - and Starline 9mm brass goes for $18 per 100. 100 Sig Sauer V-Crown 124-grain JHP bullets in 9mm will run you $27, and 100 CCI primers will run you $4.

Not counting the cost of powder or your labor, that's about $50 for 100 rounds of 124-gr 9mm Sig Sauer V-Crown JHP, which would cost you $75 for 100 rounds from the factory.

Then you have supply issues. Some people want specific qualities in a specific load. The more the load you want differs from standard loadings, the fewer manufacturers make it.

For instance, let's say you wanted a .45 ACP 160-grain JHP load that leaves the barrel at about 1,000 fps. (That would produce the same muzzle energy as a 230-gr bullet but reduce recoil force by a good 20 to 25 percent, depending. Pretty smart, huh?) Few companies make such a load (Mostly Corbon and Buffalo Bore, and gooooooood luck finding it in stores) but making your own would let you create your own supply.

In theory, it's great! But in practice?

Handloads Are Only As Good As The Handloader

handloads self-defense

The first issue when it comes to handloads is the potential for failure. A common saying is that handloads are only as good as the person making them.

Let's also point something else out. Chances are if you're reading this, you own a few guns. You're on a holster site, after all, so that's a pretty safe assumption! Chances are, a few of those guns came with an owner's manual. Crack it open.

Inside that owner's manual, you will likely find a clause that says "warranty void if used with handloaded ammunition."

Making bullets isn't necessarily difficult. If you can follow a recipe, you can make bullets if you have the equipment. However, in the course of loading round after round, the chances of making an error somewhere increases. Not fully seating the bullet. Adding a grain or two too much of powder, or forgetting to add it entirely.

Ever forget where you put your car keys? It's that easy. However, unlike just having to turn over your couch cushions, getting ammunition wrong has serious consequences that can range from just poor accuracy and feeding to squib loads and catastrophic failures of your firearm.

Some rounds are inherently high-pressure already, such as 10mm or 357 Sig and so on.

And of course, that will void the manufacturers' warranty on your gun. Point being that handloads are fine unless they're made wrong...and then they can REALLY go wrong.

How much do you REALLY trust yourself? Remember, your life might depend on it. When you made that batch of rounds...how closely were you paying attention?

Are There Any Legal Considerations To Carrying Handloads?


Another potential downside is the legal aspect if you have to use those handloads in self-defense. A lot of experts, including Massad Ayoob recommend that you don't.

It isn't so much about the projectile design. It has more to do with replicability of a bullet with all the same ballistic properties. If you carry factory ammunition, forensic examination will show exactly what that bullet does. A handload...gets more complicated. You have to rely on the forensic investigators to test a round that is loaded EXACTLY the same as your handload...and you can't count on that.

There is at least one case in which it mattered, New Jersey v. Daniel Bias. Bias, who hand loaded his carry ammunition, was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his wife. Mrs. Bias, according to The Morning Call, had a history of mental illness, and in Feb. 1989, grabbed the handgun during a typical domestic argument. She shot at Mr. Bias, and he rushed to grab the gun out of her hand. During the struggle, she was shot in the back of the head.

Daniel Bias told police that he was trying to get the gun out of her hands. As she ostensibly tried twisting away from him, the gun went off. The bullet entered behind her left ear, and she died from the wound.

At issue was the residue and blood spatter pattern on Mrs. Bias. The prosecution argued that the only way the pattern and residue that were present could have been there was if Mr. Bias had shot her from across the room. Mr. Bias, who loaded the pistol with a light handload, maintained throughout the process (four separate trials) that she shot herself as she was twisting away from him.

With factory ammunition, the exact load data can be discovered during the legal process by going to the manufacturer, who can tell a court all the relevant information about the load in question. From that information, forensic investigators can create a blood spatter and gunshot residue model from it. A handloader who doesn't keep meticulous records along with a way to identify exactly which handload recipe a bullet is...could wind up in trouble.

What is said to have happened to Daniel Bias was that the forensics team tested a more powerful handload and not HIS handload, which essentially is what the prosecution in his first trial hinged their entire case on. Bias, according to, again, The Morning Call (the newspaper of record in Phillipsburg, NJ, where Mr. Bias lived at the time) was convicted of reckless manslaughter in 1997, 8 years after the death of Lise Bias, and sentenced to six years in prison.

Don't kid yourself about prosecutors. Their job is to win cases, not pursue "justice." They get fired if they don't. "Justice," to many prosecutors, only happens when they win regardless of what happened in actual fact. They differ from individual to individual, but as a group they can and will resort to anything to get that win no matter how seemingly spurious, circumstantial or arbitrary their case may be. Justice, after all, is just an abstract concept, and let me assure you that Quixotic ideals and ethos are swiftly jettisoned when your career is at stake.

The idea here is that you don't want to give police or prosecuting attorneys anything that might be used against you. While use of handloads as self-defense ammunition doesn't mean instant conviction, it can end up being a wildcard.

About The Author

Writer sam hoober