For years, I’ve warned people that there are a couple of serious concerns with using handloaded ammunition for personal or home defense.  The big one is forensic replicability when the shooter is accused, and opposing theories of distance become a factor.

How often does this happen? One time some years ago, that question came up on an internet debate.  I looked through the ten cases I had pending at the time as an expert witness, and gunshot residue (GSR) testing to determine distance from gun muzzle to the person shot was an issue in four of them.  Forty percent is not what I’d call statistically insignificant.

I’ve found this to be perhaps the most visceral and contentious of gun forum debates. When I suggest to someone that the ammo he crafted himself might be a handicap in court, it’s as if they had just prepared a Thanksgiving feast for their family from scratch, and I’d told them “Don’t poison your family with that crap, go out and buy them some KFC.”

They react as if you had told them they had ugly babies.

Here are two very good writeups, at least one by an attorney, explaining how and why handloaded ammunition can muddy the waters if and when you find yourself in court after a self-defense shooting:


Read, and if you have any friends who use handloads for serious social purposes, please share. You might just save them from the sort of nightmare suffered by the defendant in New Jersey v. Daniel Bias, who was bankrupted by legal fees before the first of his three trials was over, and wound up serving hard time.  Both of his attorneys were convinced he was innocent, and told me they believed that if he had simply had factory ammo in his home defense gun, the case would probably never have even gone to trial.

Discussion is invited here, but PLEASE, read and absorb the two links before posting.


  1. I have a friend who summed it up this way
    “You can’t go wrong with carrying the issue firearm of the local PD, with the issue ammo from a legal point of view” (Well, in NJ, it might not be legal)

    If they carry a firearm that is DAO with a NY trigger, carry a firearm that is DAO with a NY trigger

  2. Ok, from reading the first article, I would conclude that it’s not about whether you used your hand loads in a defensive shooting at all. It’s about whether you hand load at all, or have access to hand loading, or know someone who knows someone who knows someone who might have access to hand loading. In other words there’s no way out.

    Sure, you may have purchased your carry ammo from WellKnownAmmo, inc.

    OK, now prove that the very round which killed the attacker came from that factory.

    Ah hah! Now the factory data, and expert factory witnesses, are no longer valid or credible, because there’s no way to prove that you did NOT use the same case and components and load that ammo yourself.

    You don’t hand load? Ah hah, but you know or have access to someone who does hand load! Therefore there’s no way to prove that the one or two rounds fired were actual factory new ammo, even if the remaining rounds in the magazine in the pistol you used appear to be factory new, the fired cases have the same headstamp, and the recovered bullets are consistent with the factory ammo. The one or two rounds fired could still very plausibly, be handloads, while all the others were factory new.

    Without pulling the remaining rounds apart and analyzing the contents, the factory has nothing to say. Without being able to pull the fired rounds (because they’re already fired), there’s no proof that the rounds fire were factory, and so the factory has nothing to say.

    It is not whether you hand load then, or what ammo you carry, but the fact that hand loading exists at all.

  3. Sigh… any time you bring up a gun-related topic, the chest-puffers just love to stand up and bloviate. We’re not talking about whether handloads are better than factory ammo, etc. All that’s being said here is that regardless of how strongly a self defense shooting is justified, if you use handloads, a skilled prosecutor might be able to use that against you in court, with absolutely disastrous consequences. Your decision.

  4. Lyle, I’ve seen opposing counsel come up with some pretty bizarre hypotheses, and I can’t say one might not come up with a fantasy like the one you describe. However, I’d be very much surprised if a judge allowed that argument. For about as long as we’ve had forensic ballistics as an established science, the common practice of the courts has been to presume that if the bullet recovered by the body was consistent with a 127 grain Winchester Ranger 9mm, and the casing was marked Winchester +P+, and there were 127 grain Winchester Ranger 9mm +P+ rounds remaining in the evidence weapon, the court would accept that this was the load in question and testing would be done accordingly.

  5. Mas, would you care to comment on the Strickland case in Portland?

    Mindful of the fact that I put in 25 years behind an Enforcement Deputy’s badge in that County, and have been apprised of ALL cases where SD motivation was an issue, the Strickland case just threw precedent right out the courtroom window. Precedent said that if the state of mind (state of fear-awareness) was reasonable, no one could be convicted of Menacing for pulling a gun to demonstrate intent to defend, and up until Strickland, no prosecutor would even charge the crime.

    Strickland was a political PITA to liberals around here. Using his camera and the Internet to deliver truth which invariably contravened the liberal local politics, he had been savagely beaten down by a local liberal goon squad. When 5 members of that same squad came after him and his Truth Camera again, he drew his weapon. He was convicted on ten counts, and faced 50 years imprisonment. Surprisingly, the judge of that Star Chamber gave him only 40 days, but ended his 1A & 2A rights.

    I conclude that Legal Precedent means nothing, especially if you rub the authoritarians the wrong way. Counting on GSR evidence to get you off is a construct of a Nation Of Laws, and this God-forsaken Republic is not run that way any longer.

    I say, train hard, be always in control, and load the best ammo you can find. If you find it at your bench, machts nichts.

  6. @ Lyle,

    Some of the premium factory bullets are not sold as separate components. For example, hornady does not seem to sell the FTX bullet, used in their Critical Defense ammo, as a separate reloading component.

    In order to make your proposed case with a FTX bullet, the opposing counsel would have to assume that you:

    1) Took loaded factory hornady critical defense ammo.
    2) Pulled the bullet and dumped the powder charge.
    3) and then reloaded the round using a different powder charge but re-using the FTX bullet that you pulled earlier.

    That would be really “stretching the blanket” in my book! 🙂

    Even if someone made such a charge, chemical analysis of the powder residue should reveal whether it was the original type powder or a substitute.

    So, I am very comfortable carrying the Hornady Critical Defense ammo. I don’t believe anyone could (creditably) push the theory that I handloaded it.

  7. Interesting article, only read the first one I’m afraid, but it makes the point that – as have several others here – if you ever have to justify a descion taken in seconds in one of the most stress filled enviroments imaginable, in the leisurely, cool atmosphere of a courtroom, you want as many factors in your favour as possible.

  8. Mas: Your knowledge has benefited my my wife and I personally, saving us a ton of heartache and no-telling how much money. I hope you keep writing and teaching for many years. I handload, and I realize that my quality control cannot come close to modern industry. I don’t want a high primer, a creeping bullet, or other malfunction to shut me down when there is danger. Our defense guns carry only factory ammo.

  9. Just a Thought on “Factory Ammo”.

    There is a Local Ammo Loading/Reloading Operation a Couple of Miles From Where I Live, and Friend Of Mine Worked There a Few years Ago, For a While.

    Now Bill, an Ex-Marine, who Flew as a Copter Door Gunner in Viet Nam, in another Lifetime, Did Not Have a Whole Lot of Good things to say about their Operation, Nor The Old Equipment they used to load it on.

    Now, the Point of this is That they Had a Contract with Winchester to Load Ammo For Them, so the question is: How many similar Small Ammo Loading operations Are There around the Country that are “Under Contract” to The “Brand Name Ammo Companies” That we, and the Court System’s “Don’t Know About”, cause Back When I was “Hand Loading Ammo”, I Don’t Think that These types of Operation’s Could even Come Close to the Quality of My Hand Loads!

    Even worse, if this Kind of Ammo was ever Tested for Court Purposes, How would the Results, even Differ from “Hand Loads”, in the first place?


  10. Would Like To Do So Mas, But Bill Has Sold His House, and Moved On To Somewhere in Nevada, I Think?

    Actually, I had Heard That Before Too, But Can’t Recall the Source at The Moment?


  11. I couldn’t get into the High Road, once upon a time I was a member, but gave up. That said:

    Super Duper Miracle ammo almost never lives up to it’s hype. Stick to conventional products by the major manufacturers and you won’t go wrong. This includes Glaser Safety Slugs-by my statistically significant experience on critters-has issues.

    Before retirement, my employer bought-and used- factory new ammo by major manufacturers* by the tractor trailer load. We saw bullets seated backwards, primers seated backwards and sideways and other issues. [The loading machines don’t care.] However, considering the volume produced and received, not particularly surprising nor statistically significant. It does mean you MUST carefully inspect each and every round prior to loading it in a magazine. This is simply prudent if your life depends upon it.

    Now, did we get the extremely occasional round with no powder? Yes. On the other hand, I expect all of us who reload have the occasional bad round that doesn’t function as intended. Not to be morbid, but should a reload cost us our lives, who’s the estate going to sue?

    Finally, on record keeping. I think I do a reasonable job, labeling each batch with the relevant information. However, in addition to being a neutral third party, the ammo factories record which machine loaded each lot, the make, weight, type and lot number of the powder, the same information on the bullet, primer and cartridge case. Some change lot numbers when the machine operator changes. All, change lot numbers when any changes happen with components. They also keep exemplars of each lot and do QC testing during production. There’s simply no way home records are going to compete.

    * Did we have manufacturers we excluded from further bids? Yes, but I don’t know the current list of those. I do have bitter memories of Winchester, but that happened decades ago.

  12. Mas, Paul Edwards,

    Don’t know how this may enter into the conversation, but as late as last year, when I would check for certain defensive loads from MidwayUSA, on several occasions there were disclaimers stating that “brass head stamp may not match manufacturer due to industry wide shortages of components”. As I recall this disclaimer was on Speer and Hornady ammunition. I don’t remember the manufacturer, but it was a major ammunition provider, that I bought during this period, that had used Starline brass. If it hadn’t been for the box they came in and the proprietary premium bullet, it could have easily been mistaken for reloads.

    Not my intent to muddy the water, but truthful occurrence.

  13. You’re right. Lo these many years every argument I have seen on the other side was an ad hominum attack.

    That said I’d like to see an update or a simple repetition of your long ago article in Handloader to the effect that folks who are going to do carry handloads anyway against your advice should do it this way.

    My normal carry guns in conventional police calibers I typically do carry police market factory ammunition. That said, although I did long ago and far away carry a Model 58, I’m likely to have S&W N frame in the woods or maybe a .32 trap and kit gun, and I’m not going to buy or carry say factory 170 grain loads in the woods. What should I do in handloading just in case?

  14. Mas,
    Thank you for linking my article. I spent a lot of time working on it, and it’s nice to see it get some good press. With that said, I’d like to respond to some of the comments.

    First, I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of Kleanbore’s posts over the years. He is not an attorney, but he is an exceptionally capable student of the laws surrounding guns and civilian uses of force. If I were defending an SD shooting, I’d hire him for my team every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

    Second, for those of you who argue the old adage “a good shoot is a good shoot,” without regard to whether you carry factory rounds or handloads, you’ve overlooked one very important point. That point is that your use of handloads may complicate the determination of whether it was ever “a good shoot” to begin with. We’d all like to think that we’d never be in a questionable shooting, but defensive shooters don’t get to pick the time, place or circumstances. If you picked when and where you’d be in a gunfight, you’re an assailant, not a defender.

    Third, for those of you that argue that “handloads aren’t illegal,” . . . . Nope, they’re not. Not in any US jurisdiction of which I am aware. That doesn’t magically transform the decision to use them for SD or HD into a consequence-free choice. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it smart. It’s not illegal for me to climb a ladder in a thunderstorm, either . . . .

    Finally, some miscellaneous comments: You’ll note that I don’t claim that you should not reload at all. I think reloading is a great, economical way to practice. I’ve been saving brass for years waiting to get into reloading and when I do, and I’m going to crank out reloads by the hundreds for practice. I intend to work up loads that mimic my carry loads and shoot the living bejeebers out of ‘em. I have no intention of using them for defensive purposes.

    Someone mentioned exemplar. The article originally discussed exemplar evidence, but I wound up editing that out. When I discussed the possibility of an article with the GT people, I asked how long they needed an article to be, and I was told “at least 500 words.” I couldn’t have scratched the surface in 500 words, but it eventually got so long that I had to trim it back. So exemplar evidence had to go, but it is another valid consideration. The defense may be able to test exemplars and introduce those test results in a trial, but if the “exemplars” are handloads created by the defendant/SD shooter, the odds of getting that evidence in at trial drop dramatically, in my honest opinion.

    Finally, any decent defense attorney should be looking for ways to defend his client without the client having to testify in a criminal trial. Once the defendant takes the stand, all A5 protections go out the window. (The civil issue is separate, but the criminal issue will usually be dealt with first.) That’s one of the reasons I would advise against the use of handloads. If I ever have to defend myself against murder charges and GSR evidence becomes a factor, I want to be able to subpoena a whole slew of folks that I never met, and who have no reason to lie on my behalf, to substantiate my story.

    Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else involved in a defensive shooting can know exactly what factual elements he or she will be required to prove in order to defend oneself at trial. That’s the nature of defensive shootings. The assailant picks the circumstances, and the shooter could be required to prove facts such as distance, temperature, number of assailants. Accordingly, I’ll take whatever steps I can, in advance, to remove as many variables from that equation as I can.

  15. Like all things in life, from investing your money to driving your car to what type of carry weapon / ammo to use, it comes down to how much risk one is comfortable taking.

    If we listen to the Left-Wing gun-grabbers, we will have nothing but sheep-like compliance with which to defend ourselves. To argue the other side for a moment, we don’t want fear of what a jury will think to effectively disarm us.

    I found this article, which was linked on the High Road page, very interesting:

    It provides an argument that the “tactical cool” phase that we are experiencing will work against us in court. For example, many experts (including Mas) have argued that an AR style rifle, in 5.56 / 223, makes an ideal home defense gun. But does it to a jury?

    Do you really want to use that AR if you have a chance of being punished for using an “evil assault weapon that is only good for killing people” by a jury?

    The anti-gun propaganda pushed by the Left has so tarnished certain firearms that it may now be dangerous to use them. Perhaps even more risky then using handloaded ammo.

    You may think it cool to keep a “pimped up” AR (loaded with lights, lasers, red dot sights, forward hand-grip, etc.) for your home defense weapon. Those gadgets might even be useful upon occasion but how will that “decked out” weapon appear to a jury composed of non-gun owners who have been bombarded by anti-gun propaganda for years.

    One can very well make the case that one should avoid such weapons in favor of plainer (but still effective) firearms.

    One of my disappointments with the firearms industry is that they push “decked out” firearms (because that is what sells, apparently) while failing to offer plain, lower cost options for home defense. Suppose, for example, that Ruger was to take their plain, wood stocked 10/22, maybe convert it to a delayed blowback design, and offer it in 9mm Luger with a rotary magazine. They could offer something like a 9-round rotary magazine as standard with extended mag’s as an option. Call it the Ruger 9×9!

    Such a gun would be ideal for home defense. It would combine effectiveness, low recoil, low muzzle blast, a 9-round mag to make it legal in those 10-round limit States, light weight, handiness and (in a wood-stock version) an appearance that would not excite the anti-gun knee-jerk response of a jury brainwashed by anti-gun propaganda.

    Instead of sensible weapons being offered (at least as an option) by the firearms industry, what we actually get is more and more “black guns” with each company trying to make their gun look “meaner” then their competitors. The lowest common denominator wins again!

  16. @ TN_MAN :

    I can certainly Whole Heartedly Agree with You About Simple Defense Firearms!

    Many years ago, I had a Ruger Deerslayer .44 Mag. carbine that I used to hunt Javalina at a place we called “Pig Hill”, south of Tucson, AZ., almost to the Mexican Border.

    This carbine was short, fast to get on target, easy to carry up, or down, the rugged hills there, and would knock down one of these “Porker’s” like a bowling pin.

    Their only limitation was a tubular magazine that was slow, and hard, to reload in a hurry. Worse yet, neither Ruger, nor anyone else, figured out how to up-grade/modify them to take a detachable, double stack, ten, or better yet twenty, round magazine, before Ruger ceased production of them.

    At This Point, I don’t know how many of them are left out there, but if some good gunsmith could still find a way to modify them, I would sure buy one.

    Alternatively, I hoped one of the U.S. M-1 Carbine clone makers might come out with something similar in the .44 Mag. cartridge, but I haven’t seen one yet?


  17. TN_MAN,

    Marlin produced the Camp Carbine in 9mm until 1999 when they stopped production. They were exactly the type weapon your describing, using a single stack stick magazine. As I recall, they were well liked by those that owned them. They even produced some in .45 acp. I’m guessing that production stopped because the market demanded black plastic military look-a-likes, not benign looking camp/utility guns.

    By the way, I agree with your assertion.

  18. @ Dennis,

    Yes, the Marlin Camp Carbine was exactly the right idea but it was marketed the wrong way. It was marketed as a Camp / Utility rifle. Instead, it should have been marketed as a combined fun plinker / home defense gun. After all, 9mm can be purchased (in bulk) at prices low enough to allow plinking with it.

    Note that used Marlin Camp Carbines are selling on Gun Broker for asking prices in the $600 to $800 range and one, listed as NIB, is going for $950. Clearly, there is still a market for this kind of gun.

    Past efforts have been poorly marketed, as noted above, but (worst of all), they have been priced too high.

    I just checked the prices on Bud’s. Just-Right-Carbines are going for about $600 to $650. The Beretta Storm, in 9mm, is about $700. The Colt AR, in 9mm, is almost $1000. The only 9mm carbine that is well-priced is the Highpoint at just under $300. All these 9mm carbines strive (incorrectly) for the “mean” black-rifle look. Even the Highpoint was re-designed (a few years ago) to make it look “meaner” and more “tactical”.

    Meanwhile, also on buds, you can buy Bushmaster AR’s in the $500 to $550 range and Century AK’s for just over $650. Why would anyone buy a “wannabe” black rifle in 9mm when he can get the genuine article for the same (or even lower) cost in 5.56 NATO or 7.62X39?

    Note that wood-stocked Ruger 10/22’s can be had, also on Bud’s, for prices in the $200 to $250 range.

    If Marlin could bring back a wood-stocked version of its old camp carbine or Ruger could bring back a wood-stocked version of its 10/22 platform in 9mm for a street price in the $300 to $400 dollar range and marketed, as I suggest, as a combined fun plinker / home defense gun, I bet they would sell them by the truck load.

    However, the industry is too busy in the mean-looking “black gun” race to even consider producing this kind of firearm. It is a shame!

  19. Funny someone should mention the Marlin Camp Carbine. One of the major reasons they quit making them was that the .45 version broke stocks with great gusto. My younger son bought one used, it’s currently broken-both stock and trigger group (also not uncommon).

    Great idea, poorly executed.

  20. @ Dennis,

    Yes, although I have never owned one, my understanding is that the Marlin Camp Carbines (like the Hi-point carbines) are pure, blow-back actions. This has some drawbacks like making the Camp Carbine a bit heavier than one would expect. The extra weight, in the bolt, is needed to support a blow-back action using moderately powerful cartridges like the 9mm and 45 acp. The system also has to be designed so that “slam-fires” don’t happen if the gun is dropped or, otherwise, mishandled.

    While a full gas or piston-operated locked system is not needed for these pistol-caliber carbines, I think something more than pure blow-back would be best.

    That is why I mentioned that an “ideal” carbine (in my post above) should use a delayed blow-back action. I feel that the delayed blow-back action (being half-way between the totally unlocked “blow-back” action but not as tight or complicated as a fully “locked” gas operated system) would be the “Goldilocks” solution for a pistol caliber carbine.

  21. @tc way above mentions that even using gear that LE uses could be an issue. And for that reason, I would not carry “Critical Duty” though it has superior barrier penetration, in favor of “Critical Defense” that is not targeted FOR LE.

    In the worst case, and ANY trial is just that, we want to ELIMINATE as many factors as possible to simplify our defense.

    After decades of reading Ayoob, who in their right mind could argue with ANY of his recommendations? Who here has the experience that he has accumulated?

    Regarding the home defense, a simple Glock in a Suarez forearm brace ( or or the Micro-RONI STAB ( are great home defense considerations. They provide am absolutely reliable foundations (Glock) and some handling improvements that improve target acquisition and accuracy in a small form factor. A 9mm AR makes no sense to me, nor do so many other 9mm carbine attempts.

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