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How To Choose Bullets and Ammo for Your Gun and Application

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Novice shooters and those who want to start using another type of firearm (for example, switch from a rifle to a shotgun) may experience difficulties learning about the world of weapons. The abundance of names and designations doesn’t make this job easier. Choosing ammunition for your firearm can become one of the most challenging issues.

Fortunately, in the era of the Internet, tons of information on this topic is available. And as long as you are here, we are happy to explain things to you and provide you with tips that will help to choose the right ammo for your particular needs.

First of all, let’s clear up a couple of terms for beginners. As long as ammunition is concerned, you need to understand the difference between caliber, gauge, cartridge, shotshell, bullet, and pellet.

Ammo Terms

anatomy of bullets

First of all, ammunition is what your gun fires. “Caliber” refers to the diameter of a bullet or the bore diameter of a gun. It can be expressed in either metric or imperial measurements. For example, 9mm ammo uses a bullet that is 9mm in diameter, and .22 ammo uses a bullet that is .22 inches in diameter.

The term “cartridge” means the unit of ammunition. It is more specific than “caliber” as it gives more information. For example, there are .22 Short Rifle, .22 Long Rifle, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridges. They are all .22 caliber but differ in other dimensions.

The cartridge (or round) is made up of bullet, case, primer, and powder. “Bullet” is a projectile that flies from a gun.

These terms are used when talking about the rifle or handgun ammunition. Shotguns have their own.


The term “gauge” means the caliber of a shotgun and refers to the diameter of a shotgun bore. The digit means how many lead balls that are equal in size to the inner diameter of a bore it takes to make one pound. For example, for a 12 gauge shotgun, it would take 12 balls that weigh 1/12 of a pound and have a diameter of .727 inches. A 20 gauge shotgun takes 20 balls that weigh 1/20 of a pound and have a diameter of .617 inches. As you see, the higher the gauge number, the smaller the bore diameter.

“Shotshell” refers to a shogun cartridge. A shotshell contains projectiles called pellets (or shots).

So now that you’ve gained an understanding of what all these words and numbers mean, let’s get to the main part and talk about how to choose ammunition and what types of gun bullets will meet your needs at best.

Choosing Ammunition

It doesn’t matter what kind of weapon you are using and would like to use, be it a handgun, a rifle, or a shotgun. Ammunition should be chosen for a specific application to be most effective. You don’t want ammunition that underperforms as well as overperforms.

The major applications include training and target shooting, personal and home defense, and hunting.

Training and Target Shooting

The ammunition for target shooting is sometimes called range ammo. If you spend or plan to spend many hours at the range honing your marksmanship or just having fun, be prepared to shoot a lot of ammo in short timeframes. It means you’ll have to fuel your gun more often and buy ammo in large amounts. Such spending can hit you in the pocket, but you have options.

Cartridges that encase full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets are the best ammo for training. An FMJ projectile typically has a soft lead core encased in a copper shell. Compared to the other types of bullets used for personal defense and hunting, these are the easiest to produce which makes them the cheapest.

.22 LR (or .22 Long Rifle) cartridge is the best for target shooting. It’s a low-power, lightweight,  small-sized round that can be chambered in .22 handguns and rifles. Besides its low price, it gives the mildest recoil and muzzle blast which encourages novice shooters to spend more time at the range as their hands and shoulders won’t experience so much fatigue as with other cartridges. To put it shortly, choose cartridges that generate as much recoil as you can take.

For a shotgun, choose the least expensive birdshot shotshells loaded in lightweight pellets, for example, No.7 and higher (the higher the number, the smaller the pellets).

Personal and Home Defense

The main purpose of ammunition for self-defense is to incapacitate. To incapacitate doesn’t mean to kill. Remember it. To effectively stop the threat, you need a powerful cartridge that penetrates deep enough to reach vital organs and inflicts a sufficient amount of damage.

Cartridges featuring hollow-point bullets are considered the best self-defense ammo. A hollow-point bullet has a cavity that fills with tissue when the bullet strikes a soft target making it expand. An expanded projectile leaves a larger wound channel, which results in greater damage.

Bullets Guns

Also, expanded bullets stay in the flesh and don’t over-penetrate. Actually, that’s why they don’t recommend using FMJ ammo for self-defense. It’s not made to expand on impact. Such bullets can go through a human target and hit a bystander.

Shotgun owners should consider buckshot shells for personal defense. The most common buckshot for defense is 00, having a pellet diameter of .33 inches. Birdshot, on the other hand, is too small and lightweight to go deep into the flesh and may not be enough to stop the threat.


In this scenario, you need an effective and powerful cartridge with a bullet that will kill the target fast and humanely. That means you need ammunition with hollow-point bullets that expand, get stuck in flesh, and, thus, deliver all kinetic energy to an animal.

Hunters never use FMJ projectiles as they only penetrate through an animal and fail to instantly kill it. A wounded animal can run away and die a needless death. Ethical killing is a hunter’s primary responsibility.

What about penetration here? Hunting bullets are made to penetrate through thick skin and hard muscles. As long as a bullet retains its weight on impact, it will penetrate to a sufficient depth and reach vital organs.

Shot placement is critical as well.

As a hunter, choose ammo designed specifically for hunting. Especially handgun hunters. A handgun wasn’t a weapon for hunting in the first place, and though today there are powerful pistols and ammo on the market, double-check before going on a hunting trip.

The relation here is as follows: the bigger the game, the more powerful cartridge you must use. What is enough to humanely kill a fox can be insufficient to kill an elk.


For hunting with a shotgun, all shells are appropriate depending on the species you plan to hunt. Birdshot is good for hunting birds and small animals, buckshot will take down animals like foxes, wolves, deer. Slugs are the most powerful ammo for shotguns. It has a single projectile that is large and heavy enough to kill an elk or a moose.

We hope that now that you’ve learned about different bullet sizes, types of rifle and handgun bullets, types of shotgun shells, you’ll feel more confident choosing ammo for a certain application. Be sure to pick ammo manufactured by a trusted company and sold by an authorized dealer.

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