How Much Ammo Is Enough?

The title of this essay is a question I get all the time!  That is why I regularly post my thoughts on the subject.  It is my hope that my regular readers will excuse this exercise in boring their socks off.

So what is the answer at the most basic?  It is pretty much the same answer for most questions concerning defensive gun use, that being “Whatever makes you feel comfortable.”

There are, however, some nuances to explore.

Most of my students like to brag about how much ammo they carry with them.  “I have thirty-two rounds with me at all times!”  Is there some magic number we should strive for?

taurus millenium pro

Not as such, since some guns hold more ready rounds than others.

snub nosed 38 with six rounds

Nor do we have to pile it on, cramming spare magazines and speedloaders in every pocket and belt pouch.

pile of 9mm parabellum cartridges

The one thing to keep in mind is that we are carrying a handgun for emergency self defense, and not looking to take on Satan’s hordes as they vomit forth from the open portal of Hades.  After all, if you knew trouble was coming then you should leave the area at speed while calling the police, and not stand around to see if you can take down the bad guys all by yourself with the little handgun you have tucked away under your clothes.

Extra ammo is heavy!  Strapping all that weight to yourself is uncomfortable, as well as requiring some reinforcement for your clothing so your pants down drop down to your ankles while you are in the store to buy milk for the baby.


What I recommend to my students is at least one full reload for your defensive handgun.

snubbie with speedloader and spent brass

taurus pt111 with magazine

If that is not enough, then by all means you should carry two!

S&W Model 625 with two speedloaders

(Picture source.)

But, after that, it gets to a point of diminishing returns.  Too much weight, too much gear to keep track of, just too much.

multiple speedloaders

Does this mean there is some sort of rule you have to follow?  Not to my knowledge.  If you don’t want to bring along any extra ammo except what the gun carries, then more power to you.  If you want to hang more than two reloads from your clothes, then that is just fine with me!

All I’m doing here is passing along what seems to work for most people.  It just might work for you, too.


18 thoughts on “How Much Ammo Is Enough?

  1. The ‘reasonable man’ standard applies.
    If you need to shoot somebody, and the police take everything as evidence, what will the jury think?

    You want at least one person on the jury who carries more ammo than you.

    If you have to shoot somebody while carrying 3 guns, 8 magazines with Horandy Ultra Deadly Hollow PointDouble Tap Zombie Blaster(r) P++ bullets, 2 pocket knives, loose razor blades, matching katanas, racist t-shirt, and gang tattoos, you might get life in prison. All that is perfectly legal. Your lawyer would probably prefer that your gun, bullet, and holster choices have boring sensible names, and be very popular with boring sensible people.

    • Quite. All of my handgun choices are “defensible” in court.

      It’s hard to paint a Beretta 92FS as a demon weapon, since it’s been the sidearm of U.S. military for decades, even though it carries 16 rounds fully loaded.

      Ditto the 10-rd Glock 27 (+1 base pad). It is, er, minimalist.

  2. “The one thing to keep in mind is that we are carrying a handgun for emergency self defense, and not looking to take on Satan’s hordes as they vomit forth from the open portal of Hades.”

    Because flash mobs at a Memphis Kroger parking lots do not take place. Nor do violent protests in Ferguson which property is destroyed and lives are taken happen.

    In one breath you say carry whatever makes you comfortable while in the other you obliquely poke fun at the possiblity that more than your view of ’emergency self defense’ might actually be necissary. It’s obvious you had an unspoken ideal in mind when writing this piece regardless of how you frame the user’s comfort level. Consider for a moment that whatever that ideal is, it may very well be out of date considering the climate of the day where a person may face multiple attackers en masse as noted above… Or satan’s hordes, as you put it.

    • I don’t think you’ll need to drop the ENTIRE horde. Two or three maybe, and the rest of the group scatters. I am a firm believer in at LEAST one reload, but I think I’d personally draw the line somewhere south of 50 extra rounds

      • As a – these days – completely armchair gunslinger, it’s worth noting that the only reason anyone reading this blog would use deadly force against another human being is because it’s the only available option. (Or at least I hope so)

        It’s the only way to save your self or another innocent and all other options have been exhausted, it’s past the point of lower levels of force and flight or surrender are not options.

        However the bad guy always has the option of stopping the attack and running away or surrendering.

        (Of course this assumes that we’re talking about civil situations, if you’re Police or Military, you could well be compelled to pursue the bad guy rather than just let him run.)

        And it’s worth noting that Bernard Goetz defended himself against three attackers with just a five shot revolver.

  3. In 1969, the Firearms and Tactics Section of the New York City Police
    Department instituted a procedure for the in-depth documentation and study of police combat situations. It was designated Department Order SOP 9 (s. 69). Data gathering began in January 1970, and over 6000 cases were studied during the 1970s. The study results and findings were released in 1981 and can be found here:

    The average number of shots fired by individual officers in an armed
    confrontation was between two and three rounds. The two to three rounds per incident remained constant over the years covered by the report. It also
    substantiates an earlier study by the L.A.P.D. (1967) which found that 2.6
    rounds per encounter were discharged. The necessity for rapid reloading to prevent death or serious injury was not a factor in any of the cases examined. In close range encounters, under 15 feet, it was never reported as necessary to continue the action.

    In 6% of the total cases the officer reported reloading. These involved
    cases of pursuit, barricaded persons, and other incidents where the action
    was prolonged and the distance exceeded the 25 foot death zone. Of course, this study evaluated experience in a day when both lawmen and criminals typically carried revolvers.

    While both lawmen and criminals today are more likely to carry automatic pistols, greater rates of fire typically produce “more misses per minute.”
    The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for EVERY round you shoot. Every missed round you cannot account for is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  4. Since I use semi-autos, I carry a spare magazine, not so much for the extra 12 or 15 rounds, but if the magazine in the gun fails. However, if I am at home, I have two more loaded for the 15 rounder, and would load all magazines for both 9’s in a crisis (Hurricane) situation.

  5. The real answer to “how much ammo?” is enough. Unfortunately this is the trivial answer. As an instructor, I also urge my students to carry at least one full reload.

    A better answers hinges on your activity and purpose. If you were a LEO patrolling lonely stretches of roads through the Florida everglades with a response time of 30 minutes, 15 round in your Glock and three full reloads and another box in your go-bag seems reasonable. It might not be unreasonable for the armed civilian driving through that area too!

    Driving to the range or heading to Mega-Mart might mean I only need a loaded gun and a complete reload. A cross country trip of 6 days and nights might mean an extra gun and a box of shells in my bag.

    All three examples depend on a reasonable risk assessment of my activities. Flash mob in the parking lot? Civil unrest? If my goal is to escape and avoid I need different tools then if I’m protecting my house or business from that mob.

    My personal belief doesn’t involve ISIS marching down my street, but it does involve a disaster, either man-made or an act of God that draws safety and protective resources from my area to a distant area and the two legged rats and cockroaches crawl out of the woodwork. Now I might need a couple 28 round AR magazine or three reloads for my Glock.

    Oh, while I have my soapbox… The type of gun you use in self-defense will be a factor in court. Remember we have two systems, criminal and civil. You may have been justified in shooting a person in self-defense, but using a 600 nitro elephant gun will be seem as excessive if you don’t have a excellent reason for it’s use. Putting a skull on the gun or using a sawed off double barrel shotgun tells a different story as compared to using your rabbit gun or your Glock.

    Here’s some shameless self promotion;

    Everyday carry:

  6. I have a .45 at 12+1 plus 1-2 14s to follow. 41 rounds of .45. Satan’s horde may burst forth, but that should at least let me fight to an escape. If they come to me and I have to fight them, that’s where the AR and HK91 come in. Then they’ll know the wrath of God.

  7. I usually carry a G19 (15 rnds+1). With it I carry a double-magazine pouch, mostly with a Multi-Tool in one of the pockets and a spare G17 (17 rnds) mag in the other. Sometimes, depending on circumstance (as Frank mentions), I may carry two reloads, or may even keep a couple G18 mags (33 rnds) handy, as when traveling. Ammo is heavy and bulky, and here in Texas it gets sweat on a lot, so I carry what is convenient; 15+1, + 17, is a fair but easily carried load for a guy making a milk-and-bread run.
    When I carried a 1911, two reloads gave me a total of 22 rnds.
    I have two hopes: 1) I pray I’ll never need it, but if I ever do, 2) I want there to still be a well-loaded magazine in my gun when the police take it from me.

    • Berhard Goeta, vilified as the NY subway vigilante discharge his weapon in self-defense.

      As a learning activity, people asked what should Geoetz done after firing his weapon. Various answers were suggested, but I always thought the correct one was, “He should have reloaded.”

      stay safe………..

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