The best ammunition for your firearm depends on what you need it to do. If you only want a handgun or rifle for target shooting, then non-deforming or frangible target ammunition is best. If you need handgun ammunition for home defense or concealed carry, bullets that expand are the most appropriate. Regardless of the reasons, understanding the core components of firearms ammunition can help you make an informed decision.
What is a Cartridge?
A cartridge, also known as a round, is a single unit of ammunition comprising four components:
- Bullet or projectile: The metal part that leaves the barrel and, hopefully, hits your target is the bullet. Bullets are composed of several metal alloys, but the most common is lead-alloy core surrounded by a copper, copper-zinc (brass), cupro-nickel, or mild-steel jacket. The jacket protects the soft lead core against the bore’s friction and the burning propellant’s heat.
- Powder propellant: This is the low-explosive charge that propels the bullet down the barrel when ignited by the primer.
- Primer: In modern ammo, the primer is a metal cup containing an impact-sensitive primary explosive. When crushed by the firing pin or hammer, the priming material detonates, igniting the powder.
- Case: This is the part that holds everything together, expands on firing to seal the breach, and protects the powder from moisture.
Types of Ammunition
The purpose of target loads is simply to punch holes in paper targets and, sometimes, to deliver sufficient kinetic energy to a steel plate to knock it over. Sometimes this calls for specialty rounds, such as frangible bullets composed of compressed metal powder designed to disintegrate on impact or wadcutters that cut perfectly round holes in paper targets. Other times, the target load consists of simple full metal jacket ammunition.
Defense ammunition, however, needs to maximize tissue disruption — i.e., wound trauma — while controlling penetration.
The type of ammunition suitable for hunting depends on the game you intend to shoot and over what distance you intend to fire. For example, many hunters prefer to balance penetration and expansion for hunting deer, but it’s advised the bullet maintains structural integrity.
Remember that using hand loaded or remanufactured ammunition may void the manufacturer’s warranty for your firearm. Aside from these considerations, the best ammunition must also fulfill these criteria:
- Reliability: Certain ammunition may be more reliable to use depending on the weapon. Reliability means feeding and firing every time — especially regarding defense ammo.
- Accuracy: Multiple factors determine inherent or mechanical accuracy, and the consistency of the ammunition is one of them. In defensive handguns, the standard for precision is more flexible than for benchrest or hunting rifles.
Types of Bullets
When buying ammunition for your firearm, the type of bullet makes a significant difference. Three of the most common types of bullets for handguns and rifles are
- Full Metal Jacket/FMJ: Shooters use FMJ bullets primarily for target practice in handguns. While you can use FMJ for self-defense, this is generally frowned upon because the bullet is less likely to deform or expand; therefore, it’s more penetrative than necessary and may cause harm to bystanders.
- Jacketed Hollow Point/JHP: Jacketed hollow-point bullets are designed to expand in soft tissue, increasing the effective diameter to crush larger wound cavities. Law enforcement and private citizens for self-defense primarily use JHP bullets.
- Jacketed Soft Point/JSP: JSP bullets are designed to balance expansion and penetration, deforming more than full metal jackets but penetrating more deeply than JHP.
Shotguns are widely used for defense and sporting applications, but the ammunition types ideal for one are not necessarily suitable for the other.
A shotgun shell consists mainly of the same components that comprise a handgun or rifle cartridge. However, modern shells are mostly made from plastic with a brass case head for head spacing and to carry the primer. One additional component relative to handgun and rifle ammunition is the wadding, which separates the powder charge from the shot.
Shotguns fire several types of ammunition, but the three most common are:
- Birdshot: Spherical metal projectiles ranging in caliber from .070” to .230”, birdshot is designed for hunting small game, especially birds and other fast-moving animals. For home defense and hunting deer-sized game, birdshot is considered minimally effective because of its reduced penetration and range.
- Buckshot: For hunting medium-sized game, self-defense, or law enforcement, buckshot is the standard, consisting of multiple metal balls in .24- to .36-caliber (i.e., #4 to #000).
- Slug: A single solid projectile, the slug delivers significant stopping power and is an excellent choice for hunting medium- and large-sized game at relatively close range. It’s also commonly used as defense ammo against bears. Typically used in smoothbore barrels, rifled shotgun slugs have spiral grooves to improve stability in flight.
Caliber or Gauge
Handgun and rifle ammunition are typically measured in terms of caliber, which refers to the bullet diameter in hundredths or thousandths of an inch (e.g., .45 ACP, .308 Winchester) or millimeters (e.g., 9×19mm Luger, 7.62×39mm).
However, you measure shotgun shells in terms of gauge, which refers to the number of lead balls of a specific size required to make a pound. The most common sizes are 12 gauge and 20 gauge, but 10, 16, and 28 are also available. Although not a gauge, .410 shotshells are highly popular among those sensitive to recoil.
The best ammunition for your firearm is whatever enables you to perform a particular action most effectively. When buying ammo, always purchase quality ammunition from a reputable dealer. At IFA Tactical, we’re committed to ensuring that every gun owner understands the importance of choosing the best ammunition for the job, whether you want the ammunition for home defense, hunting, or target shooting.
Call us at (586) 275-2176 to discuss the types of ammo we stock for your firearms.