Handgun Ammo Types Uncovered: Your Ultimate Guide to Calibers & Uses

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When it comes to packing heat, understanding the ins and outs of ‘handgun ammo types’ is as critical as knowing how to aim. The uninitiated may assume that all ammo is created equal, but those in the know understand the difference lies in the details – the size, use, and caliber.

From the trusty .45 ACP to the nimble 9mm, from the heavy-duty .44 Magnum beast to the easy shooting .22 Long Rifle, the world of handgun ammunition is as diverse as it is intriguing. It’s a realm where science, engineering, and art converge, creating a tantalizing array of choices designed to cater to every shooting style and situation.

Whether you’re a competition marksman, concealed carry enthusiast, home defender, weekend range rat, or a law enforcement officer, this guide will arm you with the essential knowledge needed to make the right call when it comes to your ammo of choice.

Handgun Caliber and Sizes

What is Caliber?

Caliber refers to the inside diameter of a firearm’s barrel. For handguns, this measurement directly correlates with the size of the bullet that can be fired from it. It’s typically expressed in hundredths or thousandths of an inch, or sometimes using metric designations.

For example, a .45 caliber handgun has a barrel diameter of .45 inches. In contrast, a 9mm pistol has a barrel diameter of approximately .354 inches (9mm). You might think that bigger always means better but that isn’t necessarily true.

Caliber Size and Bullet Stopping Power

The power behind each round doesn’t solely depend on its caliber size. While larger calibers generally have more stopping power due to their greater mass and energy transfer potential, other factors also come into play like muzzle velocities.

Muzzle velocity refers to the speed at which the bullet leaves the gun’s barrel. A smaller caliber bullet may have less mass but could achieve higher muzzle velocities than larger ones due to less drag in the rifle’s barrel. This could result in similar levels of impact energy despite having different calibers.

Common Handgun Calibers

Here are some of the most popular handgun calibers and their typical uses:

  • .22LR: Ideal for target shooting and small game hunting.
  • 9mm: Widely used by law enforcement and the military worldwide because it balances power with manageable recoil.
  • .357 Magnum: Known for its stopping power; commonly used in revolvers.
  • .45 ACP: Popular among those who prefer heavy bullets with significant knockdown power.
  • 10mm Auto: Favored by hunters for its high velocity and large game-stopping capability.
  • .38 Special: Renowned for its accuracy and manageable recoil, it’s a preferred choice for personal defense and target shooting.
  • .40 S&W: Appreciated for its balance between recoil and stopping power, it’s a popular choice for both law enforcement and self-defense.

Each caliber has pros and cons based on factors such as recoil, cost per round, availability of ammo, etc., making different calibers suitable for different purposes like self-defense or sport shooting.

Let’s take a look at the average velocity statistics of the most common handgun cartridges…

Handgun CaliberFt/Second Velocity
.22 LR1,280 ft/s
.25 ACP810 ft/s
.32 ACP900 ft/s
.380 ACP1,000 ft/s
.38 Special850 ft/s
.357 Magnum1,440 ft/s
9mm Luger1,200 ft/s
.40 S&W1,200 ft/s
.45 ACP850 ft/s
.44 Magnum1,380 ft/s
.50 AE1,500 ft/s

Exploring Rimfire vs Centerfire Ammo

Key Differences

Rimfire ammo and centerfire cartridges are the two main types of handgun ammo. But what sets them apart? Well, it’s all in the name!

  • Rimfire: In rimfire rounds, the firing pin strikes the rim of the base to ignite the primer. This is a classic design dating back to 1845 and is commonly used in .22 caliber long rifle rounds.
  • Centerfire: With centerfire ammo, it’s a different ball game. The firing pin hits a primed center cap at the core of the cartridge base. It’s a more modern design and is used widely across various calibers.

Pros and Cons

Like everything else in life, both rimfire and centerfire have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Rimfire Pros:

  • Less expensive
  • Ideal for small game hunting or target practice
  • Lower recoil makes it easier for beginners

Rimfire Cons:

  • Not as reliable due to the manufacturing process
  • Limited to smaller calibers
  • Cannot be reloaded after use

Centerfire Pros:

  • More reliable due to robust construction
  • Available in larger calibers
  • Can be reloaded after use

Centerfire Cons:

  • More expensive than rimfires
  • Higher recoil may not suit novices

Choosing Rim or Center?

So when would you pick one over the other? Here’s where you’d typically find each type shine:

  1. Small Game Hunting & Plinking: The low cost and recoil make rimfires perfect for this scenario.
  2. Self-Defense & Big Game Hunting: The reliability, power, and larger calibers of centerfires give them an edge here.
  3. Target Practice & Training: Both can work here but if we’re talking cost-effectiveness, then rimfires win hands down!

Full Metal Jacket vs Jacketed Hollow Points

handgun ammo types fmj vs jhp

The Lowdown on Full Metal Jackets

Full metal jacket bullets, or FMJs, are a type of handgun ammo that’s been around for quite some time. They’re named for their design: a soft lead core surrounded by a harder metal shell. This jacket gives the bullet its strength and shape.

Characteristics of full metal jackets include:

  • High penetration power due to the solid metal casing
  • Less likely to deform upon impact, which means they often pass straight through targets
  • Typically cheaper than other types of handgun ammo

Unpacking Jacketed Hollow Points

Moving onto jacketed hollow points (JHPs). These bad boys differ from FMJs in one major way. Instead of being completely encased in metal, there’s a hollow point at the tip of the bullet. This hollow point causes the bullet to expand upon impact.

Some key features of JHPs are:

  • Expansion on impact leading to larger wound channels
  • Less likely to over-penetrate and hit unintended targets behind the initial target
  • Generally more expensive than FMJs due to their complex design

Comparing Scenarios: FMJ vs JHP

So when would you use full metal jackets versus jacketed hollow points? Well, it depends on your needs.

FMJs are often used for:

  1. Target practice: Due to their lower cost and high availability.
  2. Military applications: Their high penetration is useful in combat situations.

On the other hand, JHPs are typically used for:

  1. Self-defense and law enforcement: The expansion upon impact can stop threats more effectively.
  2. Hunting: The expanding bullets cause more damage, ensuring humane kills.

Bullet Grain Explained

You might be wondering what “bullet grain” is all about? It’s simply a measure of weight with 7,000 grains equaling one pound.

So when you see ammo labeled as “115 grain” or “147 grain”, it’s referring to the weight of the actual bullet or projectile part of the cartridge not including the case, primer or powder.

Bullet grain affects how fast a bullet travels and its trajectory – lighter bullets tend to travel faster but can be affected more by wind whereas heavier bullets may travel slower but maintain better stability in flight conditions like wind or rain.

Whether you’re choosing ammo for target practice or self-defense scenarios, understanding these differences will help you make informed decisions about your handgun ammunition needs.

Uncovering the Mystery of .Magnum Rounds

These bad boys are known for their high velocity and stopping power. They’re like the big brother of handgun ammo types – not something you’d want to mess with!

I mean, there was a reason Dirty Harry carried a .44 Magnum!

dirty harry 44 magnum

Here’s where you’d typically see them in action:

  • Big game hunting
  • Law enforcement
  • Long-range target shooting
  • Dirty Harry movies!

But remember: with great power comes great…well…recoil. That’s right – magnums can give quite a kick! And their larger size means fewer rounds fit in a magazine.

Also, remember – no one type fits all situations perfectly! It all boils down to what works best for your specific needs.

+P Ammo: What Does it Mean?

In the world of handgun ammo types, ‘+P’ stands for ‘Plus Pressure.’ It’s like your regular ammo on steroids. You see, these bullets pack a heavier punch than their standard counterparts.

They carry an extra wallop due to increased gunpowder levels which result in higher internal pressure when fired.

Factors to Consider When Buying +P Ammo

Buying +P ammo isn’t as straightforward as picking up a loaf of bread from the store. Here are some tips:

  • Caliber: Not all calibers come in +P variants. (.45 acp and 38 Special are 2 commonly available +P calibers.
  • Price: Generally, +P ammo costs more than standard ammunition due to the additional gunpowder and manufacturing process.
  • Use Case: Are you using it for self-defense or target practice? Remember, each round has a bigger bang so consider this before making a purchase.
  • Open Tip or Hollow Point: Open tip rounds are designed for accuracy while hollow points expand upon impact causing larger wound channels.

Safety Considerations with +P Ammo

Safety should always be your top priority when handling any form of ammunition. Here’s what you need to know about +P ammo:

  1. Gun Compatibility: Ensure your firearm can handle the extra pressure from firing +P rounds. Check the manufacturer’s guide or consult with an expert if unsure.
  2. Recoil Management: The increased power results in greater recoil which may affect accuracy and control during rapid-fire situations.
  3. Wear and Tear: Constant use of +P ammo could lead to faster wear and tear on your firearm due to the higher poundage pressure exerted on moving parts.

So there you have it folks! Next time you’re shopping for handgun ammo types, remember these handy tips about buying and using +P ammunition safely and effectively.

Note: The information provided here is based on general knowledge and does not replace professional advice or personal experience with firearms and ammunition use. Always follow safety guidelines when handling firearms and ammunition.

Remember folks, shooting ain’t just about pulling triggers – it’s also about understanding what goes into that barrel!

Guidance For First-Time Gun Buyers

Essential Factors to Consider

Hey there, future gun owners! Let’s talk about what you need to keep in mind before bringing home your first firearm.

  1. Purpose: Are you looking for a gun for self-defense, hunting, or sport shooting? The answer will help guide your choice.
  2. Comfort & Fit: Like a pair of shoes, guns need to fit right. You should be able to easily reach the trigger and firmly grip the handle.
  3. Price & Quality: Don’t skimp on quality for price. A reliable gun might cost more upfront but will serve you better in the long run.

Choosing the Right Handgun Ammo Types

Now that we’ve covered some basics, let’s dive into handgun ammo types – it’s not as simple as just picking up any box of bullets!

  • For self-defense purposes, hollow-point rounds are a must and are universally used by law enforcement agencies and police officers due to their stopping power.
  • If plinking or target shooting is your game, full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds are recommended, primarily due to cost.
  • Notably, .22LR ammo is an excellent option for beginners due to its low recoil and inexpensive price.

Remember: The best type of ammo depends on your specific needs and intended use.

Safe Handling & Storage Tips

Alrighty then! You’re almost ready to join the ranks of responsible gun owners worldwide. But first… safety rules!

  • Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.
  • Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

When storing firearms:

  1. Unload them first – no exceptions!
  2. Store guns and ammunition separately.
  3. Invest in a good quality lockbox or safe.

There ya go – everything a first-time gun owner needs!

Remember this info isn’t just about knowing which end of the barrel goes boom; it’s about understanding how different ammo and their characteristics affect your experience with firearms overall.

Final Thoughts: Choosing The Right Ammo

You’ve taken a deep dive into the world of handgun ammo types. You’ve decoded the mystifying lingo of calibers and sizes, explored the pros and cons of rimfire vs centerfire ammo, and weighed the differences between full metal jacket rounds and jacketed hollow points.

You’ve also ventured into the specialized territory of Magnum and +P ammo, and received guidance as a first-time gun buyer. Now you’re armed with knowledge – pun intended – to make informed decisions about your ammunition needs.

It’s time to pull the trigger on your ammo of choice. Whether you’re looking for self-defense rounds or target practice fodder, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Your choice should depend on your specific firearm, shooting goals, and personal comfort level.

As always, safety first! Make sure to handle all firearms responsibly. And remember: knowledge is power — keep learning!


What’s the difference between rimfire vs centerfire ammo?

Rimfire ammunition ignites when the firing pin strikes the rim of the cartridge base. Centerfire ammunition ignites when struck in the center by a firing pin.

Is Full Metal Jacket better than Jacketed Hollow Points?

It depends on your needs. Full Metal Jacket is great for target practice while Jacketed Hollow Points are often used for self-defense due to their expansion upon impact.

What is .Special & .Magnum Ammo?

.Special & .Magnum are two different types of handgun ammunition known for their power and performance. They’re often used in revolvers.

What does “+P” mean in ammo?

“+P” stands for “Plus Pressure”. It indicates that the cartridge has been loaded with higher pressure than standard rounds of its caliber.

Any tips for first-time gun buyers?

First-time buyers should consider their needs (self-defense or sport), budget, comfort level with recoil, hand size (for grip), and local laws before purchasing.

Photo of author


Don is a seasoned gun and shooting enthusiast with years of experience in the gun accessories industry, and when not behind his keyboard, you'll likely find him refining his shooting skills at the pistol range or sporting clay fields. Having founded and sold a successful online gun accessories business, he now devotes the majority of his time to sharing his passion and expertise with fellow gun enthusiasts through his informative and engaging articles and product reviews.

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