May 10, 2003, 06:38 PM
Although I've been shooting for well over a year now, I am still very new to gun terms. What I want to know is about ammunition (handgun ammo in particular) and what the grains mean (130 gr., 150 gr., etc.) and how to choose handgun cartriges for normal shooting/self defense. For target shooting, we just usually get .38 special 130 grain FMJ, as it is the recommendation of the gun salesperson. Could someone help me out? (BTW I do know what FMJ, HP, JHP, etc. mean so you don't have to tell me what they mean)

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May 10, 2003, 06:57 PM
Grains are merely how the weight of a bullet is described. There are 440 grains in 1 ounce (480 in a troy ounce).

The idea for a defensive bullet is one that will cause damage and transfer all of it's energy into the target. For this, the hollowpoint is the most common. It expands when it hits tissue, causing a larger wound channel than it's original diameter. It tends to stay in the body, which means it tranfers it's energy into the body causing the most amount of damage possible.

May 10, 2003, 07:13 PM
I know grains are the weight, but how do I choose what weight is right for me?

May 10, 2003, 07:27 PM
That is a lot more complex. It depends on many things such as caliber, barrel length (muzzle velocity), type/model of gun, geographic location, characteristics of each manufacturer's ammunition, etc.

For example, living in the north when everyone is wearing thick coats and clothing to stay warm would require a different bullet than living in Florida where everyone is wearing Tshirts. In one case, the bullet may have to pass through several inches of clothing before hitting the BG whereas that same bullet may go all the way through someone dressed only in a Tshirt. On the otherhand, the bullet such as a hollowpoint may not expand when it passes through a thick coat because the point is filled with fabric. You can then have overpenetration where you wouldn't expect to see it.

Most everyone has their own opinion of the best cartridge for them.

To start with, find a bullet that will function reliably in your handgun and is accurate. Do some research on how well the bullet expands and how far it penetrates when hitting tissue. Read magazines/books/online articles to see what others are saying about the cartridge.

In general, heavier is better. But that can be a tradeoff in velocity. A heavy bullet from a short barrel may not achieve full expansion, so a lighter, faster bullet would be a better choice.

May 10, 2003, 07:29 PM
S&W M19 2 or 2.5 inch barrel, Central coast of PRK.

May 10, 2003, 08:13 PM
I know grains are the weight, but how do I choose what weight is right for me?

That is a matter of buying different brands and bullet weights of ammunition for your gun and testing for reliability and accuracy (in that order) and choosing that which suits you the best. It's all just personal choice.

Don Gwinn
May 10, 2003, 09:09 PM
Generally speaking, larger weights will provide lower velocities and often more recoil. Lighter weights will be faster, but sometimes with sharper recoil if not greater.

When I said "generally," I meant REALLY generally. The above is a gross oversimplification and any moment now people will be pointing out all the times it doesn't apply.

A lot of people use the bullet weights as shorthand to refer to different lengths and shapes of bullets, too, which often has an effect on accuracy.

I would advise you to pick the most popular bullet weights in THR discussions for your caliber and weapon, then try each one yourself.

May 10, 2003, 09:55 PM
shoot some stuff see what you like and like justin says, what your gun likes.

If you are hunting, alot of hot air is wasted on nuances - remember ammo companies want to sell...(pregnant pause) ...ammo. I think hunters were just as successful before we had magic bullets, ultra fast bullets and the stuff salesmen say you just gotta have.

Game don't read gun magazines. Animals don't know they are supposed to fall over dead. Use reliable proven hunting rounds in standard weights
(no very sexy, huh).

My wife shot a bull bison with about a 600gn bullet FOUR TIMES. Then he fell down.

There are some considerations if you are long range shooting (300+ yds) but that's for another post.

If you are looking for handgun rounds for CCW applications use what's been proven effective in actual shootings (Mas Ayoob has the best data).

Now if you want to SOUND sexy. Read the annual ammo catalog and reiterate what it says :neener:

Clearly some rounds have better designs than others, but what shoots accurately = well in your gun is more important.

As far weights etc. Heavier bullets fall faster and shoot "less flat". Hotter loads go faster and shoot "more flat". BUT as for loads in the same caliber they ought to be pretty close.

So what speciific questions do you have?

May 10, 2003, 10:20 PM
I admit that I am EXTREMELY new to real weapons choices. I used to just shoot what was handed to me.

Now that I am done admitting my ignorance, I have to ask Doc if he is sure "Heavier bullets fall faster and shoot "less flat". " I am certain that heavier bullets fall at 9.8m/s/s.

I think (am not sure) that maybe because the heavier bullet has more mass it will be accellerated less by the same charge in relation to a lighter bullet. I spent some time thinking about it because I genuinely want to know the truth.

I don't mean to nitpick, but I want to know

Respectfully submitted,

PS I do not want to offend Doc, who is just trying to educate me

May 11, 2003, 09:16 AM

You've got it. Given the same powder charge, a heavier bullet will generally leave the barrel at a lower muzzle velocity than a lighter one. While correct that both bullets fall at 9.8m/s/s once free of the barrel, since it takes longer for the slower bullet to reach a given range it will have fallen further by the time it gets there. A faster bullet will have a "flatter" trajectory because it travels further before falling a given distance.

Now that having been said, bullet drop isn't really that much of a factor at "typical" handgun combat ranges - neither bullet will drop much in the 5-50 foot ranges of common self defense scenarios.

Bullet drop, however, is a big factor in long range riflery, and a lot of effort goes into estimating range and adjusting the point of aim to compensate for it.

Art Eatman
May 11, 2003, 09:54 AM
C-W: For a Model 19 snubbie in .357, it would not be unreasonable to use the 125-grain .357 as your defense load. It's sort of a compromise, giving better velocity from that short barrel than you would get from a heavier bullet. A bit less recoil, as well.

For practice at eye-trigger coordination, whatever cheapest .38 Special load you can find. Remember that since the case is shorter, you must clean the fouling that can build up at the front of the chambers of the cylinder.

At the end of a plinking/practice session, run a cylinder of .357 stuff through, just to recall the feel and to be able to control the recoil.

Years ago, playing with a Ruger Blackhawk, I'd load five .38 Specials and then one .357. I'd spin the cylinder so I didn't know where the Big Hoss was. I'd then go to shooting. The difference in recoil can be startling! :) But, you soon get used to it.


May 11, 2003, 01:14 PM

very eloquently put and precisely what I meant. I apologize for the 'shoots flat jargon' but on the up side it was a learning experience.

there was recently an excellent thread on this very where was that...

in ref to ammo - i am a little guy and don't like shooting my center fire revolvers too much recoil.

It's funny that I don't really notice it with rifles, tho. So my choice would always be a semiauto. That said we open the 9mm vs 45 debate...

i shoot a 45. Why? 'Because they won't let me pull artillary behind my truck' :neener:

May 11, 2003, 01:32 PM
I'm with you, Doc.

And having no intention of opening "the debate"...

I shoot both 9 & .45 - but like the saying goes, a 9mm may expand upon impacting the target, but a .45 will never shrink :D

Lately I've been favoring Federal's Expanding Full Metal Jacket (EFMJ) round in both calibers as my self-defense load. Though there's not much "street data" on this relatively new bullet, from what I've seen and read it looks like it expands reliably when fired through most any material (wood, glass, heavy clothing, etc.) and it's been 100% reliable for me in every gun I've stuffed it through. Darned accurate to boot.

May 14, 2003, 03:10 PM

I got your back

I am also intriged by those new plastic nosed maybe they'll expand bullets,
and like you said in .45, they wont shrink:p

Jim March
May 14, 2003, 06:31 PM
Let's take the specific case of 38+P out of a 2" to 2.5" barrel, as that's one I've specifically studied as I shoot it a lot and it's my primary defensive caliber.

Don't get hung up on the weight. You have to ask, what *specific* load is worth a dang? For that, you need to do a lot of study.

Weight correllates to speed - usually :). Speed causes a hollowpoint to open. But different hollowpoints are "tuned" to open at different speeds.

Example 1: One of the loads I'd trust my life to in a 38 snubby is the 158grain lead hollowpoint +P, also known as the LSWC-HP+P, for "Lead Semi-Wadcutter Hollowpoint Extra Pressure". Made of pure soft lead with no jacket to delay expansion, these open up at the modest velocities you can hope for in a snubby (2" barrel) - about 750 - 800fps if the gun is any good (including a tight cylinder/barrel gap). If these were offered in 125grain weight, they'd go "too fast" and come unglued (fragment) in a 4" to 6" barrel, although they might actually do fairly well in a 2". In any case, the 158 pure lead hollowpoint is a primitive type of hollowpoint, one of the first designs, and it continues to work well for low-velocity applications. This round was variously known as the "Metro load", "Chicago load" or "Treasury Police load" for the various agencies that used to carry them, and they've been geekin' bad guys since Eliot Ness walked a beat :cool:.

Example 2: Another good one (and a lot more modern) is the 130grain Winchester Supreme +P. This round was designed for 38Spl use versus 357, and has an *enormous* hollowpoint cavity. Expansion from a 2" barrel tends to be good bordering on impressive. While it's a jacketed hollowpoint (JHP), the round was tuned for the application extremely well.

Too many other 125/130grain range loads are NOT so well-tuned for the low-velocity needs of the 38, and flat-out don't work.


In the 45ACP, as a general rule, the shorter the barrel, the lighter the round you should use. Even the very best 230grain JHPs have been known to fail when shot out of a 3" ultra-compact barrel because they're not getting enough speed to open. On the other hand, the fast 185s will sometimes break up and drop back DOWN to 45cal when shot out of a 5" tube.

If I owned a 3" barrel 45ACP, I'd carry a good 165 or 185 grain load. With a 5", I'd carry a good 230.


There are a couple of very modern "post-hollowpoint" designs that show great promise:

Federal E-FMJ: this looks like FMJ, but instead of lead in the nosecone there's a rubber ball. The jacket over the nose is scored so that it will "squish" and flatten. Peak expansion is lower than the best JHPs, with 9mm producing .55cal worth of expansion, but it gives you that expansion more or less EVERY SINGLE TIME, without ever "clogging up" with clothes and failing to expand as hollowpoints can, and opening without fragmentation over what appears to be an extremely broad velocity range. The same load seems to work from a 2" snubby to a 16" carbine which is really unprecidented.

Downsides: Federal is only selling it in a few calibers, 9mm, 40S&W and 45ACP and aren't planning on more. They're assuming that the "easy feeding" properties will be a major selling point and it is, but revolver people could use the reliable expansion! The 124grain 9mm version could be re-sized in 38+P cases and would be a *superb* load for the snubby!

Cor-Bon Pow'R'Ball: this is a JHP with a rubber ball crammed in the nose. There's no jacket OVER the ball; the ball squishes, which starts the expansion process and then the ball falls away and typical JHP dynamics takes over.

The advantage over the Federal answer is that peak expansion is greater; the Pow'R'Ball expands like the best JHPs. The "clogproof" characteristic is as good as the Federal because it's "pre-clogged". The downside: like any JHP, it can be punched "too fast" and fragment. The 40S&W version seems to work great so far, but they loaded the same projectile in 10mm and 440Cor-Bon and it seems to be going too fast and coming apart, esp. in longer barrels.

Still, once they get this worked out (different rubber composition in the ball, guys?) the Pow'R'Ball has a LOT of promise, and Cor-Bon is promising to phase out the JHP altogether in their product line in the Pow'R'Ball's favor. Pending somebody shooting 'em into denim-wrapped gelatin and publishing the results (see also they'll be worth considering.


Another solution to rounds "breaking up" is the Speer "Gold Dot" projectile. They elecrochemically bond the lead to the jacket, so that even if the jacket comes way apart and looks like an octopus, the lead will be still stuck to it instead of shredding back along the wound channel. The Gold Dot was designed as a "delayed expansion" round for "deep punch" and I don't trust them for 38snubby applications, but if you've got the velocity to make 'em work, they tend to be excellent rounds. In 45ACP they're available in 185, 200 and 230 grain weights and I'd use them in that order in 3", 4" and 5" barrels. A couple of smaller companies buy the Gold Dots as components and load 'em up nice and hot, including Georgia Arms, Proload and Black Hills (not 100% sure on BH).

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