If You Have to Shoot, Make Your Shots Count

By: David B. Freeman

Stopping Power

The common mantra regarding defensive shooting is "aim for center mass." However, experts who have spent years studying actual shootings would disagree.

"The secret to handgun stopping power remains where you shoot your opponent and how many times you shoot them."  Dr. Vincent DiMaio, one of the nation's foremost experts on wound ballistics.

"Placement of the shot is more important than any other factor in stopping the threat posed by the homicidal human."  Massaad Ayoob

Where to Shoot

Those most familiar with the results of actual shootings offer the following advice:

  1. Shoot for the heart - There is no guarantee, but this is probably your best chance for success. The heart is fist-sized organ in the center of the upper chest, just behind the breast bone. Aim between the nipples. If you are shooting upward or he is leaning backward, aim lower. If he's bent forward in an aggressive "I'm coming to get you" posture, shoot higher.
  2. Pelvic Girdle - the ring of bone that encompasses the hips. The body can no longer stay upright.
  3. Deep Brain Shot - this is not a "head shot." Much of the head is extremely resilient to gunshot wounds. The critical area is behind the nose. Not easy to hit and the angle of the head will make a big difference in whether or not you're successful.

Reference: Tactical Anatomy Instructor Manual by James S. Williams, M.D.

The reason we teach shooting center of mass in most basic self-defense courses is that given the emotional stress involved when you may be called upon to defend yourself, center mass may be the best we can hope for. My hope is you'll practice, practice, practice so that won't apply to you.


To be effective, personal defense ammunition must achieve the following when entering flesh:

  1. Penetrate at least 9 - 10 inches
  2. Expand to at least 1.5 times its original size

Hornady Critical Defense (FTX) Ammunition

Hornady Critical Defense (FTX) ammo is the first handgun ammunition line designed and engineered at all levels specifically for the needs and situation of the modern armed citizen. Even the best of today's hollow point designs are subject to cavity plugging from fabrics under certain conditions and to nose collapse from oblique impact with bone and other barrier material.

Hornady makes the following claims, which have been backed up numerous times by independent testing:

  • Unaffected by thick and heavy clothing, including denim and leather.
  • Patented FTX bullet delivers superior controlled expansion and large, deep wound cavities over a wide range of velocities.
  • Clean burning and stable propellants reduce recoil in lightweight handguns, and perform consistently in all temperatures.
  • Minimal muzzle flash protects night vision.
  • Feeds reliably in all pistols.
  • Shiny silver nickel plating prevents corrosion, and is easily visible in low light situations.
  • Bullets are cannelured and crimped to avoid bullet setback.
  • Bullets are custom designed for individual loads.
  • The most effective, consistent, and reliable self-defense ammunition available today!

Hornady Critical Defense ammunition is now available in .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .380, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP and .45 Long Colt. Based on Hornady's claims and the independent research that backs up those claims, plus the completely reliable performance in all my handguns, this is the ammunition I have chosen to carry in my personal defense handguns.

Ammunition That Has Proven Effective in Police Work

The Hornady Ammunition is fairly new and is designed for personal defense. Law Enforcement has a few requirements we don't have, such as the ability to shoot through doors, car windows. etc. Here are some types of ammunition that have proven very effective in law enforcement shootings over the past 20 years or so:

38 Special

  • 158 Grain Speer Gold Dot HP + P
  • 158 Grain all lead hollow point


  • Winchester Supreme Elite 124 Grain +P Bonded PDX1 Jacketed Hollow Point Ammunition
  • Speer Gold Dot Ammunition 9mm Luger +P 124 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point
  • Federal 124 Grain HST HP

40 S&W

  • Winchester Ranger Jacketed Hollow Point 155 Grain
  • Federal Premium Hydra Shok Jacketed Hollow Point 165 Grain

357 Sig

  • Speer Gold Dot 125 Grain HP

45 ACP

  • Winchester Silvertip 185 Grain Hollow Point
  • Remington 230 Grain Golden Saber JHP
  • Golden SabreSpeer Gold Dot 230 Grain Hollow Point


  • Metcalf, Dick (December 2010). "Personal Defense Breakthrough". Shooting Times, p. 52.
  • Mann, Richard (December 2009). "When Your Life is on the lIne". Shooting Illustrated, p 48.
  • Spaulding, Dave (April/May 2011). "Stopping Power:  Why There are no Easy Answers". Guns & Ammo - Handguns, p. 54.
  • Ayoob, Massad (2011). "Points of Aim". The Complete Book of Handguns, 2011, p. 76.

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