Ammo: How Much Is Enough When Carrying for Self Defense?

By Dan Griffin

Handgun Ammo
Ammo: How Much Is Enough When Carrying for Self Defense?
Michigan Open Carry
Michigan Open Carry

Michigan –-(  When I get down to 1,000 rounds of any caliber, I consider myself out of ammo for that caliber.

However, that’s not what I’m talking about here. When carrying a gun for self-defense, how much ammo should you carry on you? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Let’s start with the easy question first. If you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation, you’ll quickly realize that you can never have too much spare ammunition.

No survivor of a gunfight has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t carried those extra magazines.”

Should one really bother carrying spare ammunition? The simple – and only – answer is emphatically “Yes!” I have heard and read more people than I care to remember state that they only carry a small compact semi-auto or revolver, no spare ammunition, and laughingly say “if I can’t get it done in six rounds, something’s wrong” or “I deserve what I get” or something equally absurd.

So how much ammo do you need? The fact of the matter is, you will never know how many rounds you need until you need them. You might read someplace that “statistically” the average self-defense encounter involves only two or three rounds fired. The problem is that “statistically” the standard deviation is so large that the average is a pretty meaningless number. It sure would suck to fire your six rounds only to find out you needed a few more.

“If you knew you were going to be in a gunfight, what would you carry?”

“If I knew I was going to be in a gunfight, I wouldn’t go!”

One year ago this month, a man named Paul Slater broke into a Georgia woman’s house while her husband was at work and chased her and her two children into a crawl space leading to their attic. When he opened the access door and attempted to enter the attic after them, she emptied her .38 revolver in his direction, hitting her attacker five times in the face and torso. That’s pretty good shooting by anyone’s standards, much less for a frightened woman crouching in a confined space trying to protect her two young boys. That didn’t kill him. She told him to stop or she would shoot him again, knowing that it was an idle threat as her gun was now empty. But fortunately for the family he did stop his attack that day, and after the mother and her sons ran past him to get away he was able to leave the house and drive away. He lived to stand trial.

But what if she had not been as accurate? What if he hadn’t stopped his attack? What if he hadn’t been alone? The woman’s revolver was empty, having hit Slater five times out of the six she fired. She no longer had a weapon sufficient to defend herself with from her attacker who was armed with a crowbar, and had Slater had an accomplice that day, the newspaper story of the attack likely would have read entirely differently.

In a firearms online forum I read a story of a man who had his own self-defense encounter while out one evening. Fortunately for him it turned out okay, but that night caused him to rethink his “six shots is enough” strategy and he traded in his carry revolver for a high-capacity semiautomatic and two spare magazines. He was so shaken up about the “what-if” possibilities that he determined to never be in that same position again.

If you are carrying a semi-auto, there are additional reasons for carrying spare magazines besides the extra ammunition capacity. If you are unfortunate enough to begin experiencing failures, you can drop your gun’s magazine and insert a new one.

If you become engaged in a protracted fight, but experience a lull in the action, or even if you are just pausing and covering while your lone attacker is down, you can quickly perform an administrative reload by dropping your partially-loaded magazine and inserting a fresh one, and you are once again working with a fully loaded gun with one already in the chamber and no need to rack the slide. And if your pistol doesn’t have a magazine disconnector, you can still cover the threat with an operable weapon while you reload.

In any event, if you are carrying a single stack pistol that only holds six, seven, or eight rounds, you can see how advantageous it would be to trade a magazine with maybe only a round or two left in it for a fresh one rather than wait until the threat resumes, and then trying to reload an empty gun while avoiding becoming a bullet sponge.

Revolver Speed Loader
Revolver Speed Loader

One suburban cop by the name of Tim Gramins now carries 145 rounds of 9mm ammunition on his person on the job, as he says, “every day, without fail.” That is because he survived an encounter with an attacker that would not go down, even though he was shot 14 times with .45 ACP — six of those hits in supposedly fatal locations. Gramins had to fire 33 times to get those 14 hits. And even then his attacker survived the ambulance ride.

So, how much spare ammunition should one carry?
Maybe 145 rounds sounds excessive, but Gramins says it’s not paranoia, but rather preparation. We would do well to pay attention to these stories and the hundreds more just like them. Gun magazines and police departments are full of tales where the bad guy was shot multiple times and was still able to seriously injure or kill the good guy. Don’t depend on one or two shots being enough to stop a threat. Don’t assume a lone attacker. If you are not carrying spare magazines, you should consider carrying at least one, and probably two if you’re carrying a single-stack. In my opinion, if you are openly carrying your pistol, there’s really no need to conceal your spare magazines, and it’s just as easy to carry two spares as it is one. If you carry a revolver, carry a couple of full speed loaders. It’s better to be prepared than, well, not prepared.

Remember, no survivor of a gunfight has ever wished he had gone into the fight with less ammunition.

About the author: Dan Griffin is the editor of the Michigan Open Carry Newsletter, an Electrical Engineer, and Project Manager. He may be contacted at

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