A guest post written by James R. Rummel.
There are only two criteria for a law-abiding person to qualify for my charity self-defense course. The first is that they have to be of limited financial means; the second is that they have had to survive a violent crime.
Having suffered at the hands of sociopaths, it is understandable that my students ask questions concerning methods to get the most out of the tools they rely on for their defense. By what method could their handguns provide a little extra stopping power per shot? It is at this point I explain the use of ammunition designed specifically for defense, as well as the use of +P rounds.
(Yeah, plus-P ammo was what I was referring to in the title. What in the world did you think I meant? Get your mind out of the gutter!)
For those who are just starting out in the shooting sports, +P ammunition refers to cartridges that are loaded with a little extra propellant. This extra oomph produces greater pressures inside the chamber of the gun when the operator lights one off, which means the bullet is pushed out of the gun at a higher speed. Extra speed means extra muzzle energy, which means each shot does a little extra damage. The technical term for these cartridges with some extra bang! is “overpressure ammunition,” but most people just say that the ammo is hot, as in “I picked up a box of hot hollow points over the weekend.”
So +P cartridges increase the effectiveness of a handgun without a lot of work. Win-win situation! But are there any downsides?
Remember above where I mentioned that my students were all struggling in the financial department? In the majority of cases, buying a new firearm was simply not in the cards. They put the word out to their extended family, and someone would usually unearth an old gun that had been tucked away in an attic or barn for the past few decades.
After a thorough cleaning and oiling, I have the gun tested by a competent gunsmith to make sure that it is safe to fire. It is only then that I give my approval for the gun to be used for defensive purposes.
Safe to fire or not, I would still strongly discourage the use of +P ammunition in older guns. Is it possible for someone to chamber and fire hot ammo through an old gun anyway? Probably, but best to not risk it unless absolutely necessary. Besides, the extra pressures put upon the gun by using +P ammo will cause the gun to wear out faster. If this is the only gun someone can afford for a while, better try to get the most use out of it.
Firearm manufacturers know what their customers want, and so the vast majority of modern handguns are designed to handle +P ammunition without any problem. There are a few notable exceptions, however.
Kel-Tec‘s handguns are designed to be the very best at being concealed. This means they are built small and light, with thin barrels and itsy bitsy parts. (Trust me; “itsy bitsy” is a technical term. It is an indication that I am a professional!) They function superbly at this task, being small and unobtrusive handguns that are also chambered for respectable calibers perfectly suitable for emergency self-defense. Still, good as they are at what they do, Kel-Tec does not recommend +P ammunition be used in their guns. It would just be more suitable for something built a bit beefier.
Another potential hiccup is encountered if someone has reduced physical ability with their hands due to injury, birth defect, or a degenerative disease. A prime example is a person who is suffering from arthritis.
If ammo is loaded hot there is going to be a bit more noise, a larger muzzle flash, and a slightly more energetic muzzle flip. None of these effects are as disturbing to someone with chronic pain in their hands, however, as the vibration that travel through the gun at the moment of firing. Installing rubber grips and other methods to damp out the shake goes a long way to making it easier for my students, but there is a limit to what someone is willing to withstand. A fair number of my elderly students opted for standard pressure loads, and decided to forgo the +P.
So we have determined that overpressure rounds are more effective than standard loads, if only because they cause the bullets to strike with more force. Does this mean that Grandpa’s old .38 revolver can be as awesome as a .357? Load up some hot ammo, and are you suddenly are shooting some magnum force at the range?
Ah, no. Not really. In fact, not even close.
|Caliber||Muzzle Velocity||Muzzle Energy FT/LBS.|
|.38 Special||920 fps||207|
|.38 Special +P||995 fps||242|
|.357 Magnum||1295 fps||410|
As you can see, the +P ammunition provides a noticeable boost in muzzle velocity and muzzle energy, but it is just a bit of a boost. You aren’t going to get awesome incredible ohmahgawd kind of performance out of your plain old vanilla gun. For that, an upgrade in caliber would be needed.
So why even bother? Hot ammo is more expensive than the standard pressure stuff, and it results in more wear-and-tear on your firearm. I’ve been concentrating on using the .38 Special cartridge as an example above, and it has been used as a perfectly adequate self-defense caliber for more than a century. Why change anything if we already know it works?
Well, why shouldn’t we change things if it might help a little bit, if our guns and our hands can stand the strain? We don’t have to put too much effort into it, just buy a few boxes of the hot stuff and shoot a few rounds at the range every so often after we practice with standard pressure ammo. After all if we don’t, it is like handing the violent criminals a handicap.
Forgive me for this admission, but I am afraid I’m just not enough of a good sport to do that.
Do you use +P loads? Do you find they have any advantages or disadvantages? Share your opinions in the comment section.
James R. Rummel has worked at a myriad number of jobs in his life, lacking only a stint as a bartender or taxi driver to gain the necessary experience to become the Great American Novelist. It was while employed as a fingerprint technician for his local police department that he decided to start his own private charity, a self defense/home security course for the poor unfortunates who had been helpless in the face of naked aggression. Replacing locks and doors, installing security lights, and attaching bars over windows slows down the felons from entering, while instructions in hand-to-hand techniques as well as the safe and effective use of firearms meant that the bad guys would get a warm welcome the next time they came on by. After a few years of one-on-one instruction, James was shocked to realize that he was specializing in teaching the disabled and elderly. That was 25 years ago, and he still has a soft spot for a sob story.