Ammo comes in many types, weights and qualities. Sometimes when I am searching online or standing in the ammo aisle at Cabela’s, I will stand in utter confusion as to which ammo is best for which purpose. It’s astounding how the tiniest change in design can impact terminal ballistics. In my previous article, we covered “How Much” ammo is necessary, but I hope I can break this down into a few categories to help identify what ammo you need to buy so that you can buy the right quantities. Additionally I’ll cover how to acquire it and when it makes sense to make it yourself.
Target and Training Ammo
Target ammo, at its core, is any ammo you are willing to send down range in large quantity. For most of us this is going to be the generic and cheap ball-type (full metal jacket) you can find almost anywhere. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and depending on your needs it may not even have to be super accurate. If you are shooting a rifle at 100 yards, just about any ammo will hit a 10″ pie plate.
This is the ammo I train with when I’m practicing fast acquisition, movement drills, and room clearing. At most of those ranges I don’t need to worry about being precise; I’m more worried about being able to put rounds on target in a fast and controlled manner. 1-2 MOA difference will not be a game changer inside 100 yards and it may not even be a game changer at 200 yards. At hose ranges you should be able to put the dot or crosshairs on the chest and connect at 3,000 fps.
Target ammo also has a subset – Precision or Match Grade target ammo. This is higher-end ammo meant for putting rounds through one ragged hole at longer ranges. Consistency is everything in this ammo. When I take my SPR/DMR AR to the range I will shoot 68-75gr BTHPs, usually Hornady Superformance Match. Mind you, I’m not mag dumping when shooting match grade. With this rifle, I may only shoot a box or two all day. I take my time with this rifle because my focus is putting rounds in a small area at 300 yards.
Personal Defense Ammo
Personal Defense Ammo is important to have on hand. You really want to have the right tool for the right job and when your life is on the line it really matters. Most self-defense ammo is going to be a hollow point of some kind (OTM is an option in rifle calibers), usually a heavier grain, and generally going to be of match quality. Don’t get me wrong, you can shoot anything you want for self-defense, but using the right kind of ammo will help put someone down faster and prevent over-penetration. The key here is to have reliable ammo that has the power to quickly and effectively take someone down.
I didn’t really cover how much of this to have on hand because the amount you store is going to depend greatly on your own self-defense mindset. My personal stores are at minimum twice as much as a combat load. For an AR15, I keep 10 magazines loaded and ready to go with self-defense ammo, so I keep somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 rounds on hand for this. For pistol I carry three 17 round mags; that’s around 100 rounds. I am in the military, though, so my thoughts on a combat load are going to be drastically different than that of a typical civilian concerned with home defense. Three magazines for each self-defense weapon you own is probably going to be adequate. You aren’t going to fight an army; you are defending your home from an intruder.
Hunting ammunition is not the same as personal defense ammunition. Personal defense ammo is meant to engage human targets. Animals, specifically larger animals like deer and elk or even bear, will require more penetrating power to reach vital organs and get through a thicker skin. Regardless of what you are hunting, this ammo needs to be powerful enough to take the animal down humanely, and quickly.
How to Acquire all that Ammo
Many of you will furrow your brow at buying 2-3k rounds in bulk with the idea of simply increasing your personal stores. That’s expensive, and the more calibers and guns you stock, the worse that proposition is. For that reason, I’d typically recommend most shooters develop their own system for building up stock.
One method if you aren’t prepared to buy in bulk is to purchase an extra box of ammo each time you visit your favorite gun store and put that one away in stock. Spending an extra $20 once or twice a month is usually palatable by most people. I spend more than that a month in coffee, so it’s difficult to complain about funds when all it takes is a little redirection of resources. Another method is simply to carve out a box from each shooting trip you take. If you normally hit the range with 100-150 rounds, take a box of that out for storing away. Your stores will grow quicker than you’d think. I did this for years and had a good stock of ammo after about 2 years.
Buying in bulk is hands down going to be the cheapest way to purchase ammo. After you have a stock of ammo you can then selectively buy it when prices fit your needs; not when it fits the manufacturers profit margin. This gives the added benefit of buying ammo that is typically in the same lot, giving you more consistent results. Buying this way can be costly upfront, but it’s not a cost that is regularly made.
You can also do a combination of the two. Purchase a bulk quantity to build up your stock, then purchase ammo as needed to keep your stock full at all times. There is a Cabela’s on the way to my National Guard Armory, so I stop by there almost every month. Cabela’s almost always has my training ammo on hand and in pretty good quantities. Picking up 2-5 boxes is easy and not terribly expensive.
I have found it easier though to just budget for my ammo. I typically put anywhere from $50-100 away each month. Once I get to around $250 I will look at what ammo I need. If I find that I haven’t expended a lot of ammo I will just sit on it and keep adding money until I start to run low on any particular caliber. This lets me jump on good buys as they come along.
This doesn’t mean I won’t spend outside of my budget. A few months ago I was able to buy my preferred target ammo in 308 for $13 a box (65 cents a round). Typically my preferred target ammo runs $16-18 a box (80-90 cents a round). I immediately bought 1000 rounds. My saved budget covered most of it, but I had to dig into personal savings to cover the rest. That just means my normal monthly ammo budget goes into personal savings until I recoup that cost. For perspective, though, that potential $250 savings could easily buy 1000 rounds of 9mm and can almost cover the cost of 1000 rounds of 223/5.56.
There are those who would say that if you want to really save money on ammo you need to start reloading. This is absolutely true, but with some caveats. Reloading itself is another hobby, and like all hobbies you need equipment to do it. Getting into reloading, at the minimum, is going to run you between $200 and $300. It is possible to get into it for less, but below $200 reloading is a more manual process and you really need to consider if it’s worth putting that much time into it.
One of the most expensive parts that make up a round is the brass casing. The price of a brass case will vary widely depending on the quality and caliber, but for range ammo this is going to be around 30-50% of the cost of a round. The brass is also completely reusable. In fact, it’s the only reusable piece. If you decide to reload you can look at the brass as essentially free; especially if people at the range are willing to give you their brass, which if they don’t reload are probably more than willing to do.
As a rough estimate we probably have between 2,000 and 3,000 pieces of loose 5.56 brass. Most of which was not fired by us. People leave brass at the range all the time; by the bucket loads. I am not below collecting up free brass. I can effectively reduce the cost of ammo by 30-50%. That’s some serious savings.
The other benefit of reloading is quality control. You have almost complete control over how precise you want that ammo to be. It is feasible to take the worst brass and turn it into match quality. It will add time to the process, but if you precision shoot it is well worth it. When reloading you know exactly how long that round will be; you can control exactly how much powder goes into the case; you can even measure the weight of the bullet to make sure it really is the grain that the box says. Accuracy is a function of consistency.
The most important thing for the avid shooter is to have a plan to acquire and replenish your ammo. For me this also means I do my best to save money without sacrificing the quality of the ammo I shoot. Ammo prices and availability rise and fall and I would rather not be impacted by temporary inflation or panic.