Understanding Handgun Ammunition

If you’re like me, then you constantly want to expand your knowledge of firearms. Collecting them is what you like to do, but knowing about them gives you an edge over your competition. And nothing is better than having bragging rights among your fellow marksmen. Knowledge and understanding of your firearms is not limited to just the weapon itself: it extends to everything your weapon needs to function successfully. A major part of that is its ammunition. With a well-rounded understanding, you can be confident when you buy ammo, reload supplies, or reload bullets.

Because ammunition plays such an outsized factor in accurate firings, let’s take a look at some of the handgun ammunition. Most handgun ammo can be broken down into four major components: case, bullet, powder charge, and primer. The case holds the bullet in front of the powder charge so that once the primer ignites the powder it will be positioned to exit the barrel of the weapon in a straight and accurate path. A common word associated with ammunition is “caliber.” The caliber of ammo correlates directly to the firearm it will be shot from. The internal diameter of a weapon’s barrel is referred to as the caliber, just as the external diameter of a bullet is.

If you’ve been around several types of firearms, you’ve probably noticed that each uses a slightly different variation of bullet. Shotguns use shells or slugs, rifle bullets tend to be long and thin, and handgun rounds tend to be shorter and wider than rifle ammunition. Though rifle ammunition can often be found in the same caliber, adjustments are made in large part due to barrel length and the amount of pressure each uses to operate. The barrel and gas pressure from combustion are critical to the firing process. The pressure from ignition of the gun powder creates the force propelling the bullet. Two key velocities are also taken into consideration: muzzle velocity and bullet velocity. The rate at which ammunition leaves the muzzle is muzzle velocity. Bullet velocity is the mass of the bullet, its drop in elevation, and velocity when leaving the firearm calculated together. Variables such as these impact what type of ammo can (and should) be used for each weapon.

In general, muzzle velocity for a handgun is less feet per second (FPS) than for a rifle. Due to this issue, bullets often have to make up their effectiveness another way. There are several ways to go about attempting this:

  • Increase the weight of the bullet. This is often done by elongating the bullet. The issue with this is muzzle velocity will often drop. Though longer, heavier bullets sound effective, they have the potential to come out too slow.
  • Increase the length of the barrel. When this happens, the convenience of an easy-to-carry side arm diminishes. Keeping its size to something with a barrel eight inches or smaller tends to be most efficient.
  • Increase the bullet caliber. This makes the pressure generated from firing exert more pounds per square inch on the bullet. Remember that the caliber must be able to fit within the barrel of your weapon. This method will create larger holes in your targets and might not be a viable option if you are hunting small game, since you may completely destroy it.
  • Use alternative bullet designs. Manufacturers offer a variety of case and shell designs that alter how ammunition reacts on impact.
  • Increase the operating pressure of the cartridge. There are plenty of variables that go into this; be sure to check with your state’s regulations on what is acceptable.
  • Improve the gunpowder used with your bullet. Technology is constantly advancing, and our firearms and ammunition are no exception. Perhaps with further advances, we might start to see a shift from the traditional short and fat style of handgun ammunition.

Handgun ammunition will continue to change as new developments are made. As of now, handgun rounds tend to be smaller and wider than rifle rounds. Remember to always consider the type of shooting you most often do, then try some rounds out at the range to see how you like firing them. Be safe and enjoy discovering your own personal preferences for handgun ammunition.

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