Carry of additional ammunition with a daily carry handgun is a common practice, so common it seems to border on doctrine. Additional ammo is never a bad thing, but I fear that some folks may not be giving this subject the thought it deserves.
The question is often framed “how much extra ammo should one carry?” A better question is “how much ammo is enough?” It is a question for the ages and the answer is always “one more shot.” The real answer is boring, and depends on all kinds of variables that you may not even be able to collate ahead of time.
Considering that well-rounded carry of lifesaving tools includes far more equipment than just a gun and ammo, and that space on and about our person is always highly limited if we are to fit in to our environments unobtrusively, the decision to forgo a reload in preference of other items is a valid one.
In this article I will lay out some concerns that should be addressed before you decide to take along extra ammunition or not.
Ammo: No Such Thing as Too Much
I’ll speak as plainly as possible right up front: you will never get any grief from me for choosing to carry additional ammunition. End of sermon.
Ammunition is one potentially life-saving resource you can never have too much of in a fight. The other is time, but you’ll have as much time as you have, no more and no less.
But I would have you think carefully about what threats you are preparing to face on your daily travels, what you choose to carry and what that equipment can do for you. There is more to preparedness than toting a gun and tons of ammo.
I’ll expand on all of this in detail, but for now consider if you would really rather have that extra magazine instead of a tourniquet or flashlight if you were going to choose one or the other.
Hey, if you can carry all of them effectively and tolerably, do it, but sometimes we are not afforded the luxury of bringing everything we want, even need. Life gets in the way.
A gun cannot solve all problems. You may need to interdict a threat with less than lethal force. You cannot treat an injury with bullets. Darkness is best confronted with something aside from a flashing muzzle. You cannot know ahead of time what solution your problem will require. You can only understand the odds and pick as best you can.
Understanding the Typical Attack
A civilian faces completely different threats than an infantryman or even a police officer. You will, in all but certainty, not be caught up in a rolling gun battle or need to face down a team of hardened bank robbers.
Chances are you will be repelling a home invader, a mugger or potentially a mass shooter, be they a terrorist or domestic lunatic (frankly there will not be too much difference between the two).
Why does this matter? For one, the type of encounter informs us how long the attack is likely to be, and to an extent what the statistical response of the attacker will be when confronted with counterforce.
Here come those pesky statistics again and like I say every time, if you are going to trust the statistics completely you do not need a gun at all, statistically speaking.
Even so, we use what data we can glean from years and years of recording and analyzing these encounters to inform our decisions. This is the same data set that sees most of us trot around with a mere handgun instead of long gun in public, or a 25mm autocannon perched on a motorized pintle atop our vehicle.
Well, some of you commuters in larger cities could probably do with the latter, but I digress. Simply, we know that we do not expect trouble, most of us, in any environment stateside and what trouble we do encounter can be resolved with a handgun.
Thus the handgun is the EDC firearm of choice for civilians. So before you play the pedant on my premise, hear me out. I told you that little tale to tell you that statistical analysis of all the hundreds and thousands of defensive gun use by civilians has shown us a couple of things: first, the overwhelming majority of defensive shootings will be concluded with a handful of rounds fired.
Second, a large majority of attackers will halt their attack and flee when the intended victim fires their first shot, hit or miss. Third, and this is important, bad guys are far more likely to abandon the fight and flee when involved in a fight with a resisting civilian than they are a member of law enforcement.
Why is that last part so important, and why the difference in mindset? In short, bad guys know that, however badly their fight with a civilian is going, a civilian is very unlikely to pursue and attempt to arrest them, or detain them until such time as the police arrive to arrest them. Essentially, the penalty for abandoning the fight for easier prey and greener pastures is very low.
Not so if that same scumbag is engaged with a police officer or sheriff’s deputy. A cop of any stripe will pursue if they are able, even if they manage to quit the fight, until they are caught and arrested or manage a temporary escape.
Even if unable to pursue, cops carry the dreaded radio that can summon swarms of fellow cops, fleets of cruisers, dogs and helicopters. Assuming they get away our scumbag will be hunted to a greater or lesser degree.
This knowledge motivates plenty of criminals to fight like hell in an attempt to incapacitate or kill cops where they would be content with escaping potential injury or death at a civilian’s hands.
So bringing that back to our initial premise, statistically a gun holding 6 or 7 rounds is probably plenty to successfully negotiate any encounter you are likely to have. A modern double stack semi-auto carrying 17, 18 or more rounds has more than enough ammo to carry you through.
Why carry additional ammo at all for a 5-shot snubbie that you will likely have no need to reload, and even if you did, would be very slow to reload assuming you had an opportunity, which you won’t if the bad guy gets a vote?
Why so much emphasis on carrying additional ammunition among teachers and experts in the gun sphere if it is so unlikely to be needed at all? Hang on to that question for just a moment.
More than Guns and Bullets
Remember that a threat to your life may not involve an attack on you at all. There are plenty of ways to get maimed out in the world, everything from car crashes to dog bites and other “tamer” accidents that can see you leaking blood all over the place.
Having the skills, and the tools to treat common injuries likely to cause death is an important facet of preparedness, though both are commonly undervalued and neglected among self-sufficiency advocates because they are not cool and sexy like guns and knives are.
Here’s another sobering reminder for you: the only person your gun may put a hole in is you. A self-inflicted gunshot is no less severe than one delivered via a scumbags stolen gun. Accidents happen in practice and training, and during everyday administrative handling of the gun.
Every single time you move your handgun from its holster to your nightstand to the safe and pack to the nightstand and back to the holster is an opportunity for a negligent discharge to occur.
Every time you disassemble it for cleaning, and every time you reassemble it and reload it is an opportunity. The point is that no human being is perfect, and even with you mind 100% devoted to the task at hand accidents do occur and shit still happens. If shit happens with a loaded gun it means bullets are flying. The End.
So now your unintended discharge has resulted in a smoking hole in the monitor if you are lucky or a spurting crater in your leg if you are not. Can you deal with it right damn now? You had better be able to; extremity hemorrhage is the number one preventable cause of death from a gunshot, and a likely killer in all kinds of other accidents that crush, cut and mangle.
You are your own first responder: would you rather have spare ammo that you are unlikely to need, or a few crucial medical components to stop the bleeding from a treatable wound or injury? A tourniquet and pack of hemostatic gauze takes up little more room on a belt or in a pocket than a spare magazine or couple of speedloaders.
Not all problems can be solved by a gun. Not every threat that warrants a response warrants a lethal one. Do you have any other options besides fists and a firearm? If not, you should consider rectifying that.
I have preached here and elsewhere about the benefits of pepper spray for civilian self-defense, and though it may chafe the egos of hardcore three-percenter outlaw pipe-hitting sheepdogs, it is far more likely to be used than your pistol, and is a better solution than drawing a gun in the majority of confrontations.
Consider this: most conflicts will begin and escalate to a hands-on fight with no justification to use lethal force. Sure, you can pithily say you were in fear for your life, specifically that you feared the miscreant would accost you and discover and then take your firearm, but good luck using that as a defense if the attacker had no reasonable way to know you indeed had the firearm.
Another way: your attacker, unarmed, gets froggy, starts to bristle and showing pre-attack indicators. You draw your gun. What now? What if he does not run away or settle down? What if in a rage he charges and you do, now, have a reasonable fear he may take your gun.
You shoot an unarmed man who you drew on first when he was presenting no justification for lethal force. Lots of luck to you in court…
The point of all this is that pepper spray gives you a ranged and highly effective self-defense option that is far, far more forgiving to use than any firearm.
Discounting rare serious injuries from allergies or slips, trips and falls, pepper spray causes tons of pain but no real harm, and is effective at knocking the starch out of someone ready to fight in about 90% of instances. No, it is not foolproof, and no, it is not perfect, but it covers a wide array of circumstances handily in a way that no other defensive weapon can.
What about a flashlight? A flashlight is mandatory carry for me, and I recommend it to all my students as part of their fulltime EDC. A flashlight has a hundred mundane uses and is also very useful for spotlighting a suspicious person to both allow us to gather information about them and help impair their vision, giving us an advantage. To my knowledge, nowhere has there been an instance of shining a flashlight in someone’s face construed as use of force.
Do you carry a flashlight? Do you carry a small can of pepper spray? If you do not for lack of room and you do carry spare ammunition, you should consider dropping the spare ammo to make for a better-rounded toolset.
Charles’ EDC and Additional Thoughts
I have been laying down a lot of preaching in this article, but in practice I do not practice my preaching because I carry a fullsize pistol, an extended spare magazine, handheld flashlight, pepper spray, and a tourniquet (at least).
My job, lifestyle and typical apparel afford me plenty of room and concealability to make all of this happen with no one the wiser. This is not the case for everyone, and in a perfect world everyone could.
For most of us, if we were honest we could carry an extra item or two if we were willing to tune up our mode of carry, alter our clothing choices, or lose a few pounds. Most of us are just plain lazy or biased toward the Holy Icon-meets-Lucky Charm of the Gun.
That being said, some of us wind up having to pick and choose what we can get away with, either due to environment or some other restrictive factor. If that describes you, and you choose to carry additional ammo instead of the aforementioned tools, be honest with yourself why that is.
I’m not insinuating that you have no cause to carry it, only questioning why you care to go forth with no options in the other categories when you are far, far more likely to need them instead of more bang power.
Extra ammo does give you more “at-bats” than less, and there surely have been instances where civilians have had to sling a lot of lead to solve their problem due to multiple attackers, misses or failures to stop.
It might very well be warranted, and a spare ammunition source can let you resolve malfunctions stemming from a bad magazine in a semi or a high primer tie-up with a revolver.
Context is Everything
As always, none of this happens in a vacuum. While I don’t condone the practice of a carry gun rotation for the sake of having a new gun based on whim, or mood, or some other stupid bullshit like that, I do myself make use of a few different handguns to cover all of my carry bases. The “where and why” of carrying does affect my decision to take along extra ammo or not.
My “daily-driver” is a fullsize DA/SA pistol that carries 19 rounds with a flush-fit magazine and one in the chamber. As a rule, if I am working, travelling or out and about to large, crowded public venues (ones that are popular targets…) I have that extra magazine along.
Sometimes I need to make a quick milk run or return some videotapes to the movie place and will be dressed down, i.e. slouchy, without my usual blazer or suit. In this case, I will usually omit the additional magazine; I am going to a known location, headed home immediately and am beyond confident in my abilities with 19 rounds on tap.
Some may take issue with me omitting what I have just said is a valuable resource for remedying magazine and ammo related malfunctions. Yep, I am and I will continue to do so.
My magazines in my carry rotation are lightly used, read tested, magazines, not the usual crop of scarred and dented suspects I use for teaching, practice and competition. These are near-mint feeding devices for a reason; the chances of them failing compared to any other mag I have is very, very low. So ergo I do not feel the least bit worried about that one particular magazine failing me in the moment of truth.
So same circumstances but a different gun, in this case my little Ruger LCR in .357 Magnum. I carry the little pocket rocket when I need a very low profile gun, or one that is very, very light so I can tote it inside the waistband of my gym shorts or even in a pocket by itself. This little monster shoots like a loud dream, and the only thing I don’t like about it is its five round capacity.
So when I am dressed up per my norm, I will carry both a speedloader and speed strips for loading. This ammunition load with two strips plus a speedloader equals only 20 rounds with the ammo in the chambers.
Literally one magazine’s worth. That changes things, but not as much as you are thinking. The problems I will have to sole are most likely solved, win or lose, within the five rounds already in the gun.
If not, I have reserve ammo, but this is in all probability reserve ammo should I be caught out in a very bad situation from which I may need to fight my way clear of or fight through, not emergency ammo that will find its way into the gun to save my ass when the first five screaming .357’s did not give Grog enough incentive to cease and desist. That Very Bad Day™ is highly, highly unlikely to occur.
If I am carrying the snubbie on my aforementioned milk run, I will often omit the extra ammo entirely, save perhaps a speed strip in a pocket for sheer convenience.
Again, I have no sincere thought that I will get that ammo into my gun in an emergency to save my bacon (especially off a strip!). It is there as a contingency plan only.
Gasp! Charles carrying five shots and no more, not even a prayer, and in a snubbie to boot?! What fresh blasphemy is this?! I hear you, reader. But I have weighed the risks and am willing to take my chances.
In my late night movie or milk run, should I change into jeans or pants and jock up with my full complement that I reserve for true EDC use? Should I? Yes, I should, but I don’t sometimes.
Beware the “false paradise” fallacy whereby anything less than perfect solution or preventative measure means you should not bother with a solution at all. That’s ridiculous. I will be much better served by my big semi than a little snubbie in any kind of fight.
True. I’m guilty. But I am still preposterously lethal and capable with that little snubbie. It is easy to think this type of equipage may be death by degrees when in fact, as civilians, nearly any gun at all will do to save our lives.
I am all for stacking the odds as heavily as possible in my favor, and do so with my equipment choices, But I am also going to live my life according to my assessment of local threat level and my desired level of comfort when it suits me.
Like I said in the beginning, I will never castigate you for choosing to carry extra ammo, but I do want to see you assess your priorities and adjust accordingly, if necessary.
Carrying additional ammo for your EDC handgun is always prudent, unless it comes at the expense of other potentially life-saving tools that are more likely to be used.
As civilians, whatever ammo is carried within our handguns is statistically more than enough to see us through a fight unless we are carrying a derringer. Make sure you are rounding out your EDC options with utility, less-lethal and medical tools as well as a firearm.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.