L3 – 12.6 Ammunition Selection, Care, and Storage

1.1                Ammunition Selection, Care, and Storage

Ammunition is what is used to load firearms. People often make the mistake of referring to ammunition as bullets, but bullets are just one part of the ammunition. Ammunition for handguns is referred to as cartridges, though you will often also hear them called rounds or loads. Shotgun ammunition is similar in that is referred to as shotshells, but you will often hear them called round or just shell.

I                              Ammunition Nomenclature

Figure 12.28 shows handgun and shotgun ammunition components.

Figure 12.28: Components of handgun and shotgun ammunition

II                         Ammunition Selection

The choices you make in selecting the proper ammunition for the mission could be critical to your safety and the public that you are sworn to protect. Ballistic performance is one of the most important factors to consider in ammunition selection. Ballistics is the study of dynamics of projectiles. Ballistics is generally broken into three types: interior ballistics, exterior ballistics, and terminal ballistics.

a.             Interior Ballistics

Interior ballistics is the study of what happens when the ammunition is fired in the gun, ending when the projectile or projectiles exit the barrel. This information is important to the manufacturers of the ammunition and weapon. The ammunition manufacturer must design ammunition that works properly in the weapon. The gun manufacturer must design the gun with enough strength to handle the pressure and function reliably with any type of ammunition that meets Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) industry standards. Knowledge of internal ballistics is not of much practical use to the firearms instructor. Either a gun functions properly or it doesn’t.

b.            Exterior Ballistics

Exterior ballistics is the study of what happens between the time that the projectile leaves the barrel and time it impacts the target. Velocity, trajectory, and accuracy are the most important parts of exterior ballistics. These things are highly important to a precision marksman for his/her long range rifle. Accuracy is less important to the pistol shooter because of the shorter distances at which these weapons are used.

c.             Terminal Ballistics

Terminal ballistics is the study of what happens after the bullet hits the target and is extremely important to consider when selecting duty ammunition. The FBI has developed special barrier test procedures using 10% ballistic gelatin, light cloth, heavy cloth, wallboard, plywood, light steel, and automobile glass to test the terminal performance of ammunition. International Wound Ballistics Association (IWBA) protocol includes a four-layer denim ballistic gelatin test. For each medium, the bullet is examined to determine: How deep does it penetrate? How much does it expand? How much weight does it retain?

d.            Other Considerations

There is a mounting concern in the law enforcement and security market for reduced hazard products, which eliminate heavy metals at the firing point. Some also have additional features, such as no lead in the projectile and frangibility to allow for safe close range practice against steel targets or in shoot houses. As you add attributes in the “reduced hazard” category, the price also goes up. Decide what attributes are important for your department and situation and then buy a product that has those attributes.

e.             Bullet Design

Although hundreds of bullet designs have been utilized over the years, most fall into one of the following broad categories: lead round or flat nose, full metal jacket, wadcutter/semi-wadcutter, jacketed soft point, or jacketed hollow point. Specialty ammunitions such as armor piercing, frangible, or pre-fragmented bullets are generally not used for security officer duty ammunition.

f.              Ammunition Compatibility

Firing ammunition in a weapon that is not specifically designed to shoot that ammunition can be dangerous and can result in serious injury or death, as well as damage to the weapon. This unsafe condition is caused by an excessive build-up and/or release of high-pressure gas in a firearm’s chamber, barrel, and/or any action beyond which the weapon is designed to withstand. Only ammunition of the caliber or gauge designated by the weapon manufacturer for use in that weapon should be fired. Manufacturer markings indicating the correct caliber or gauge of ammunition to be used in a weapon are usually found on the barrel, frame, or receiver.

Check the head stamp on the ammunition to confirm that it matches the caliber or gauge markings placed on the weapon by its manufacturer. Some ammunition does not have markings on the head stamp of the cartridge. In that case, check the original ammunition packaging to determine its caliber.

Note: Just because a round of ammunition can fit into a firearm’s chamber, barrel, or action does not mean it is safe to use that ammunition in the firearm.

Table 12.29 represents common security officer handgun chamberings with compatible and incompatible ammunition. Never use ammunition that is incompatible with the firearm chambering.

Firearm ChamberingCompatible AmmunitionIncompatible Ammunition
.380 ACP.380 Auto
.9mm Kurz
.9mm Luger
.9mm Parabellum
.9mm Parabellum.9mm Luger
.9x19mm (NATO)
.380 ACP
.9mm Kurz
.9×18 Makarov
.9x21mm
.38 Special.38 Automatic
.38 Long Colt
.38 Short Colt
.38 Super Auto
.9×18 Makarov
.357 Magnum
.357 Magnum.38 Special.357 Sig
.357 Sig.380 ACP
.9mm Kurz
.9×18 Makarov
.40 Smith & Wesson9mm Parabellum
.357 Sig
.10mm.40 Smith & Wesson
.45 ACP.45 Auto
.45 Government
.45 Colt
.45 Winchester Magnum

Ammunition designated as “+P” is loaded to a higher pressure, as indicated by the +P marking on the cartridge case headstamp. This ammunition is for use only in firearms specially designed for it and so recommended by the manufacturer of the firearm.

Shotshell Length

Shotshells come in a variety of lengths. This is important to keep in mind because firing a shell longer than a shotgun’s chamber can be dangerous, even if it’s the correct gauge.

Modern 12-gauge shotshells come in 2 ½-, 2 ¾-, 3-, and 3 ½-inch lengths, all holding different amounts of powder. Shotguns are marked on the barrel, for example: 12-gauge 2 ¾ inch. This shotgun’s maximum shell length is 2 ¾ inches.

It’s also important to point out that you should never fire a gauge different than that of your shotgun. This can destroy a gun and lead to serious injury to both the shooter and any innocent bystanders.

If your shotgun is marked “12-gauge 2¾-inch” you may safely fire 2½- and 2¾-inch 12-gauge shotshells, but not the 3- or 3½-inch. If, on the other hand, your shotgun is marked for 3½-inch shells, you can safely fire any of the 12-gauge shells.

III     Ammunition Care and Storage

Whenever possible, ammunition should be stored in its original manufacturer’s shipping containers. Storage should occur in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from all sources of heat or flame.

Ammunition should be kept out of reach of children and untrained adults. Weapons and ammunition should be stored separately. Ammunition must not be stored with acids, strong oxidizers, or caustics as they can degrade the ammunition over time.

Ammunition should not be carried for more than 12 months by officers on duty. Temperature and moisture extremes experienced by constant carry and exposure to other environmental conditions for long periods of time can potentially reduce the reliability of ammunition. Duty ammunition should be fired during qualification and training events so that new ammunition is issued ensuring that officers carry fresh, reliable ammunition on the street.