Best Low Recoil 9mm Ammo [2023]

The 9mm is a very popular caliber among pistol carriers, ranging from preppers to law enforcement and private concealed carriers. Its availability and versatility make it a benchmark caliber for self-defense, competitive matches, and target practice. One of the key factors that has earned the 9mm a reputation as a self-defense round is its performance in ballistic gel tests, which measure penetration depth and expansion. These tests, conducted by organizations such as the FBI and private sources, have demonstrated the effectiveness of the 9mm as a self-defense slug.

Many inexpensive handguns come in 9mm, which is a prevalent caliber. However, it’s vital to choose ammunition that offers both good expansion and penetration. The 9mm cartridge requires expansion for effective results, and all calibers should deliver sufficient penetration. Non-expanding FMJ loads have been shown to be ineffective.

Barrel length can impact the velocity of a handgun; typically, shorter barrels result in lower velocity while longer barrels provide greater velocity. However, with advancements in modern ammunition, the difference in expansion and penetration between various barrel lengths is often negligible. These loads have proven to be 100 percent reliable, and they offer consistent accuracy at a distance of 15 yards. Which brings us back to the low recoil, its basic physics less grain will reduce the felt recoil. However, not too light that it becomes ineffective when you need to poke some holes into a bad guy.

Low Recoil – 9mm loads may not seem significant at first, but they can make a big difference in self-defense situations. Being able to accurately fire multiple rounds in 1-2 seconds is crucial in defending against a potential attacker. While it’s not always about having the best gear, having a low recoil 9mm load can help ensure that you can fire accurately while under stress. While individual skill levels may vary, these loads typically achieve a 6-inch group, which is adequate for self-defense purposes.

The following 9mm loads are on the borderline of 115-124 grain (with a few +P loads) and have been tested against ballistic gel to measure penetration and expansion.

  • Hornady 100-Grain Critical Defense Lite – Box of 250 $250
    This ammunition is an excellent choice for those who prefer low-recoil options, especially in compact handguns. Shooters of small stature or advanced age may also benefit from the reduced recoil. Despite a lower bullet weight, the Hornady load performs reliably, with an average velocity of 1,140 fps, penetration of 12 inches in water, and an average expansion of 0.59 inches. It is a credible option that will serve well for those who are recoil-sensitive or use the smallest 9mm handguns.

  • Hornady 115-Grain Critical Defense – Box of 250 $255
    The Hornady Critical Defense ammunition utilizes a polymer plug to initiate expansion, making it effective against various materials. This particular load has a velocity of 1,151 fps, delivering an ideal penetration depth of 16 inches and excellent expansion of 0.58 inches. With its reliable performance and versatile capabilities, this is an excellent choice for a general-purpose defense load.

  • Underwood +P 115 grain – Box of 50 $19
    As part of the testing process, I wanted to include at least one +P or maximum-effort loading, and the Underwood load fit the bill. It has an impressive average velocity of 1,302 fps, but it also generates significant recoil, which could be problematic for sub-compact pistols. The load proved reliable in the Glock 19 and exhibited good accuracy. It also demonstrated excellent performance, with 18 inches of penetration and the highest expansion among all loads tested, at 0.82 inches, indicating a high level of wound potential.

  • Atlanta Arms 9mm 100-grain Steel Challenge – Box of 50 $33
    These Steel Challenge 9s were made for the competitive shooters but can be used for self-defense as well. Running it from any 4 to 5 inch barrel pistol can produce 1170 fps velocity, nothing to sneeze at.

  • Fiocchi 115-Grain Extrema – Box of 50 $22
    This 9mm jacketed hollow point ammunition delivers high-performance for the most reliable and efficient self-defense purposes. The XTP bullet was designed for exceptional controlled expansion and downrange performance with a muzzle velocity of 1,150 fps. This type of projectile combined with the nickel-plated cases enable smooth feeding and firing in semi-automatic handguns.

  • Buffalo Bore (+P+) 124 gr. Jacketed Hollow Point – Box 20 $36.42
    FMJ-FN bullet designs are great for woods carry where a person may need to shoot a four legged predator or other wildlife that requires deep penetration. Yeh, yeh I know this is a 9mm, you may need it to penetrate a perp wearing a heavy coat.

  • 115 Grain JHP – Speer Gold Dot – 50 Rounds $40
    It’s proven terminal ballistics and devastating knock down power make it an excellent choice for premium defense ammunition. Though, manufactured for law enforcement occasionally made available to the general public through police trade-ins.

  • Liberty Ammunition Ultra-Lights 9mm +P 50 grain HP – Box of 50 $38.88
    Light case and very light yet large hollow projectile. More speed +p But less projectile weight less recoil in barrel rise compared to other +p. This lightweight with +p goes at 2040FPS, supposedly this round can go through 3A body armor,(not sure if this is true) Terminal Effect: 3 ½ “W x 12” D. The cases are a two-piece nickel alloy shell, that is twice as strong as brass, and only half the weight.


    The NovX ammo is a great choice for personal defense, offering a clean burn and minimal recoil. It provides excellent accuracy for any self-defense scenario, and the low recoil makes it easy to control. Overall, the NovX is a reliable and effective choice for anyone looking for a high-quality, low-recoil ammo for personal defense.

Final Shot – We’ve only scratched the surface with these 9mm loads from some of the better-known ammo manufacturers. There are many more options available both in brick-and-mortar gun stores and online. Additionally, if you have a friend or family member who reloads their own ammo, they might have a great low recoil 9mm load to recommend. If you know of any other brands that we haven’t mentioned, please let us know in the comments. Sharing information can help us all make more informed decisions when it comes to selecting the best ammo for self-defense.