Add Some P For Extra Zip!

Old long barrel revolver

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.

person’s hands who is suffering from arthritis
If ammo is loaded hot then 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.

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.

I went to the Remington website to look up some ballistic information. All of the information listed below is for ammunition loaded with a High Terminal Performance bullet weighing 110 grains.

CaliberMuzzle VelocityMuzzle Energy FT/LBS.
.38 Special920 fps207
.38 Special +P995 fps242
.357 Magnum1295 fps410

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.

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Comments (13)

  1. @ Attorney James R Rummel.

    In the Latest Issue of MedGadget, dated October 15, 2015. There’s an Article about Defensive Palm Pistols chambered in either .38Spc. or 9×19/Parabellum. For people suffering Osteo and Rheumatoid Arthritis, Manufactured by Constitution Arms of Maplewood, NJ. (www. constitutionarms. com) or (www. palmpistol. com). At present time, though ONLY Single Shot. But Barrel Extensions are available, a BIT PRICEY at ~$1,350.00 USD…

  2. Where does the author teach these self-defense courses? I would fit the criteria of his students and would be interested in attending his class. I was attacked by a metally ill individual that I did not know and was beaten with a carpenter’s framing hammer. I suffered two fractured knees. lost twelve natural teeth, have some minor hearing loss on one side, and spinal injuries to my neck and upper back. I was fortunate to have trained as a fighter in my younger years, and managed to disarm him after numerous blows. That training saved my life. This happened the spring of 2013 and I am still in physical therapy, but doing well considering the injuries.

    1. James, I am a former Buckeye born not far away in Zanesville. I lived there till I was a teen, and then moved with the family to West Palm Beach, Florida. Too bad you are not closer. Hopefully, someone in Palm Beach County will see my post and offer some help. I have a handgun and ammo, and have made it to the range a couple times, but don’t have much experience with handguns, or proper defensive technics.

  3. Looks to be about Stage Four Gout (Rheumatoid Arthritis) to me. My best wishes go out to the person with those Hands, I hope your Physical Pain isn’t that Bad. God, I with my Feet Looked That Good…

    1. She was in pretty constant pain, Secundius. As you can imagine, she had a lot of problems when it came to manipulating small objects, such as ammunition. For her home defense needs, she finally settled on a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 carbine chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, along with ten extra magazines. Low recoil, and she could both grasp the magazines and manipulate the bolt without too much trouble.

      I rigged up a sort of saddle holster, and attached it to her wheelchair with Velcro straps so she could remove it easily when she had to leave her home to visit the doctor.

    2. @ James R. Rummel.

      I have Stage Six Gout in Both Feet with Ulcer’s and Lesion’s, and am in Constant Pain. I also have Stage Three Gout in Both Hands and Elbows, Luckily No Pain Yet. But it’s only a matter of time before that changes.

      I use a “Shingles” Medication Pain Blocker (Gabapentin/Neurontin, (2) 300mg Capsules) for my Feet, but only at Bedtime. I can pretty much Live with the Pain, during Daylight Hours. But a Night, it’s a Different Story.

      From the look of the Picture, I couldn’t tell Male/Female. When it’s that Bad Recognition is Nearly Impossible…

    3. @ James R. Rummel.

      Tell her to consider a “Glass Break Trigger” of about 2-pounds or less. And there’s a Company that Specializes in Wheelchair Rigs in Wilderville, Oregon. Called Scot Works, LLC, being a fellow Wheelchair Driver every Convenience Help’s.

      Scot Works, LLC.
      500 Old Onion Mountain Road
      Wilderville, OR. 97543
      www. scot@scotworksllc. com
      Scot Shearer, Owner & CEO

    4. @ James R. Rummel.

      I know I’m probably coming to sound like a Pain In the Ass. But Shooting Companies, Like “Brownells” offers Recoil Reducers for the Handicapped. Worth considering, there seem to be Several Companies that Specialize in Equipment for the Handicapped Shooter. And their several Website that even talk about the problem and even offer solutions…

  4. I failed to detect the focus of this article as it meandered from one subject to the next. i wasted my time reading something best reserved for a amateur forum not these pages.

  5. Fundamentally I agree. No handgun is death Ray that will stop a determined attacker with one shot (unless it enters the brain case or hit the left aorta).

    But anyone who has been in real gunfight knows under the adrenal pump you won’t even know how many shots you fired, the trigger weight or if it was +P or not.

    Many times the sound of the shots seem like’ little pops’ even though you may sustain hearing damage from the overpressure of the blast of your weapon.

    By the way, as good general rule you can’t use the sights of the pistol either and you do not really need to either if you train properly under staess.

  6. It’s NOT a “Proof Load”, which is usually 125% to 130% of Standard Propellant Loads. But a “Compression Load” of about 110% of Standard Propellant Loads. A .50-caliber (12.7×99 BMG) Proof Load, is about 117% of Standard Propellant Loads…

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