One of the most common comments I’ve seen on my ballistic test videos relate to “stacking” magazines with alternating rounds. I also see this being discussed and even recommended on many of the more popular discussion boards. The theory is that if you put a ball round in in your magazine, then a hollow point, then another ball round, you’re bettering your odds of having the perfect bullet at the right moment to stop the bad guy regardless of what the circumstances might be. I’ve seen some folks go so far as to alternate three different types of ammo including frangible ammo like Glaser Safety Slugs or Magsafe ammo in with the ball and hollow points.
Since I’ve been asked to comment many times on this issue I figured I would go ahead and break my silence and offer my $.02 on the subject. If you stack your mags, please sit down before reading the next sentence.
Alternating rounds in your magazine is a bad idea with little to no benefit but with a considerable downside.
With modern hollow point bullets it’s possible to get very good performance even when shooting through light barriers and clothing. It’s the desire to punch through barriers that prompts people to put ball rounds in their magazines as they feel hollow points can’t penetrate enough unless they hit bare flesh. Nothing could be further from the truth as we have seen in a recent MAC video where I tested the Hornady Critical Duty and Gold Dot 147gr 9mm loads against light barriers and in gel. A good, modern hollow point is going to punch right through sheet metal, drywall, wood, clothing, etc. and still dig in at least 12″ giving it ample penetration to get the job done.
Now let’s talk about the potential “gotchas” in stacking your mags.
Most gunfights will happen very quickly and at fairly close range. There will be those engagements that will take place at closer ranges, some at further distances and those that will last longer than the averages. However, generally speaking if you find yourself in a self-defense gunfight it will last only a few seconds with only a handful of rounds being fired (3-5), and usually far less than one full magazine on a 15+ round pistol even in extreme circumstances. Most people will find themselves shooting at 7 yards or less in a self defense shooting, so the ranges tend to be pretty close.
Police will land about 30% of their shots on target while the other 70% miss the target completely. While police aren’t typically the best trained or most competent people with firearms, I still believe on average they’re better trained then the majority of gun owners who rarely practice with their primary carry weapon and have never had a single training course. I wish I had a dollar for every first time gun buyer I’ve seen pick up their new handgun, buy a holster, put the gun on and walk out of the store having never confirmed the function of the handgun much less learned how to use their new defensive tool. Many people that carry defensive handguns rarely practice with them in any meaningful way which means a 30% hit average is probably about right across the board, perhaps a little worse for the average gun owner.
If the average shooter will fire 3 rounds in self defense there’s a good statistical probability only one round out of the 3 fired will hit its mark. That one round that finds its target had better be the best round for the job. The best bullet for the job is the one that hits where you aim, digs in deep enough to hit a vital organ or the central nervous system and expands about 1.5x its original diameter.
Then there’s the issue with different rounds will have different points of impact. A super fast lightweight 9mm frangible bullet can have a point of impact several inches off from a 147gr JHP round that is moving much more slowly. I’m a firm believer in practicing with what you carry, so you had better learn exactly where your defensive round hits in relation to the point of aim with your carry gun so you can make precise shots if necessary. Carrying several different types of ammo can make precise shots more difficult depending on what round is in up next to be fired. Plus, I can assure you that in a gun fight you won’t have the presence of mind to count rounds and know which round is up next before you fire it.
Taking all of the above into consideration, I recommend you avoid stacking your magazines with alternating rounds. Find a good defensive load like the 147gr Gold Dot (there are plenty of others to choose from) and load your magazine from top to bottom with them. A modern hollow point will give you ample barrier penetration, great expansion through clothing and in muscle tissue and minimize over penetration. I would avoid frangible ammunition entirely as the performance of these rounds is typically abysmal at best.
While I have your attention, I will close with this. I highly recommend you invest in at least one hundred practice rounds of the ammo you decide to carry so you can both confirm function in your firearm and make sure you can put the rounds precisely where you aim. You don’t have to do this all at once, I realize that’s expensive. Every pay check pick up a box or two of your carry ammo and run some through your gun. I cycle my carry ammo out of my gun every 3-4 months and replace it with fresh ammo. I fire the old ammo in practice which allows me to make sure the ammo I’m using does in fact work.