Ammo experts, teach me on the basics!

A little bit of background first. When I was a young teen, I worked at a candy shop. Came in knowing nothing, by the end I knew pretty much anything one could ask about a particular product. Same thing when I went to a pharmacy. I learned the minutiae in the category, and could both provide detailed help and detailed info to customers. And I loved it.

I’m now a manager at my store, and as such carry security keys to certain areas like our ammo cases. As such, I become the default resource to which customers look when buying ammo. And I am clueless. So I’m gonna set out the basic buying scenario, and hope you guys can fill out the primary gaps. I’ll learn as I go, and kind customers have already filled in some gaps. My goal is to be as literate as I was in OTC.

Scenario; Customer asks for ammo in this fashion: <manufacturer> <sub-label> <gauge> <jacketing> <maybe grains or subtype> <quantity>. I may not have it (doubly so if LR-.22). Asks for suggestions.

'K. <brands>. We usually carry Winchester, Remington, Federal, Perfecta, and TulAmmo. Best to worst? Judging by sales, I’d expect TulAmmo to be the worst, yet Federal (seems generic to me) excited my customer last night into dropping $200 into aluminum-jacketed 9 mm rounds last night.

<sub-label>. Recently got a case of Winchester “Golden Bullets” 22lr in. None of my shooter friends had seen it before. Winchester and Remington both seem to have tiers of sub-brands to differentiate things with customers, and I have no idea.

<gauge> Mostly got it, though I guess there can be some differences based on the length of the load. Doubt I’ll have to do much service there as shooters know what they can use.

<jacketing> Aluminum, brass, FMJ? No clue, though I know aluminum is softer.

<grains> I know more grains = higher propulsion, but whether this is due to a finer grain size or more propellant… This is more sheer curiosity.

Other stuff you wanna explain, cool. Like what’s a sabot? What gauge is best for skeet shooting? What stuff you’d want a naive manager asking about your hobby?

One quick correction - grains is actually the weight of the bullet.

I’m sure you will get some good info here. I wish my son was part of this board - he could answer a few of your questions. I would recommend that you also inquire here:

Thank you for that. Like I said, I’m a neophyte with zero education beyond “three 22lr max” and a little bit of handgun/rifle sales-restriction training. I wanna be as helpful here as I was in other areas. Really alien for me, I was pharmacy-only until a little while ago.

I’m certainly less of an expert than a lot of others on this board, however…

When I first started getting into shooting, the Internet had just become open to the public (rather than just Military, Government, and Universities) and there was a cool site called the GunGlossary. I read through every entry several times – and learned more about things I really didn’t need to know (the exact specs of the WWII Japanese Nagant, for instance) and pretty much forgot 98% of it.

Unfortunately, that site is gone now.

On the other hand, there are some equivalents such as…

Illustrated Firearms Dictionary

Glossary of Firearms Related Terms

And even Wikipedia will have a page of links to help you find more information about firearms.

And the first question newbies seem to ask me is, as Pinmin pointed out, “What exactly is a grain?”

It’s not about a grain of explosive powder but about the weight of the slug (bullet) encased in the casing. More specifically, a “grain” is the weight of an average grain of wheat or barley. Naturally, you can imagine a single grain is pretty amazingly light, but since they’re typically specified in multiples, then you get a better idea of 185gr is about as heavy as 185 grains of wheat.

Is that important? The ammo manufacturers tend to have charts on their websites that list the average specs of their products. Basically, they’re measuring average velocity (as the bullet comes out of the muzzle of the weapon) X weight (of the flying object, not the whole cartridge) and coming up with a weight-of-impact. So, while a .22 bullet goes ‘pop!’ from a pilot’s rifle, it goes “BLAM!!!” from an AR-15 rifle. It may be the same slug, but there’s a hell of a lot more powder shoving that thing forward, and the velocity multiplier makes a huge difference. After studying the charts and testing a lot of guns and calibers, Isettled on the .45 as my optimal weapon. Some people like a .40, some like a 9mm/.38ca, some like a .50; everyone’s mileage varies.

For more, study the glossaries.

So you’ll come to know
When the bullet hits the bone!
…–Barry Hay (Golden Earring)
Twilight Zone

Sorry…links above aren’t linking.


Bullet weight is stated in grains (1 gr ~ 0.065 grams, a 115 gr 9mmP bullet is ~7.65 grams) but propellant load is also measured in grains. This is generally only pertinent to the reloader or muzzleloader and not to the casual shooter why buys factory loaded ammo but you should be aware.

There is so much to understand about ammunition that it would be impossible to give a comprehensive summary in the length of a post on message board. I don’t know what “three 22lr max” means and you don’t say what kind of store that you work in, but there are at least a dozen common calibers for handguns and more for rifles that will be sold at any gun store or ammo counter; the grade, quality, and application for the ammunition varies widely even among reputable manufacturers.

One point of note; the jacket material (that covers the lead core of a bullet) is a copper alloy. (Technically bullets have been made with both aluminum and steel jackets but these are uncommon and produced in calibers for military applications.) You can find ammunition with cases made of brass, aluminum, or steel, but brass is most common as it is reloadable. (You cannot reload aluminum cases; steel cases are typically used for ammunition intended for high rate automatic fire weapons like a squad automatic machine gun to prevent the case from sticking to the chamber wall during extraction and cannot readily be resized and used in standard hand reloading dies.) If you are selling factory ammunition from reputable manufacturers, the bullet is either copper-jacketed or unjacketed (roundnose) and the case is probably brass unless it is Blazer or another inexpensive brand that uses aluminum cases.

Here is a good basic summary on common rifle and shotgun ammunition, and here is a good summary of every common pistol and revolver round. A word of advice: be careful about just repeating things you’ve heard customers say, or even read in gun magazines or manufacturers’ websites. There is such a mass of information out there on calibers, gun features, supposed problems, et cetera it is nearly impossible to know all of it unless you are a genuine enthusiast. Anyone buying factory loads from a non-speciality store is probably not concerned with obtaining match grade accuracy anyway.


Three 22lr max probably means a 3- box limit per customer.

You don’t need a comprehensive knowledge of cartridges for your job. Your store most likely carries a selection of commonly used cartridges with only a couple variants of each. As long as you know enough to sell them the correct cartridge for their gun, you’ll be okay. If the customer can’t positively tell you what cartridge they need, don’t sell them anything.

Your centerfire ammo will broadly fall into two categories:

  1. Cheaper full metal jacket ammo meant for plinking or target shooting.
  2. Much more expensive hollow point or soft point ammo meant for self-defense or hunting, depending on the cartridge.

Shotgun shells will come with different sizes of shot or a single big slug. Typically, the really cheap loss-leader boxes are loaded with very small bird shot.

.22 lr rounds typically come bulk packed for general purpose plinking ammo. Much more expensive high velocity velocity ammo with better quality projectiles comes in smaller, usually hard plastic, boxes.

I know zip about guns & ammo, but I wonder if the companies you list have any promotional materials that might help? It can’t help to ask.

Best to worst in .22:
[li]Federal[/li][li]Winchester[/li][li]Some rusty shit you picked off the group at the range[/li][li]Remington[/li][/ol]
.22 is so rare now that I’d buy Remington if I see it, but it has frequent duds in my experience.

For centerfire, there is no real best/worst IMHO. Each brand has multiple subtypes which might be better or worse or more suitable for a specific purpose. I like Remington’s centerfire. The sublabels are not easy to explain and depend on how the manufacturer wants to market them.

Brands like Tulammo are sometimes less desirable because they use Berdan primers. Generally this means that the brass is not reusable like Boxer-primed (most US brands, Tula is Russian). I’ve never, ever heard of Perfecta. Another brand you might encounter is Wolf and it’s subbrands. It’s also made by Tula. Some people dislike it but I haven’t had any problems and its cheap (maybe a little dirty).

Shotgun shells normally come in 2 3/4", 3", and 3 1/2" shells. If you can shoot one size, you can shoot anything shorter. The vast majority is 2 3/4". The smaller the gauge, the bigger the round. From biggest to smallest (types commonly found in stores):
[li]12 gauge - most common[/li][li]16 gauge - pretty rare these days[/li][li]20 gauge - second most common[/li][li]28 gauge[/li][li].410 bore - doesn’t use gauge for historical reasons; would be about a 67 gauge[/li][/ol]
A shotgun can only shoot shot in the same gauge/bore. Most skeet is 12 or 20.

If you take one pound of lead, and melt it into X equal sized balls, X = the gauge that the ball diameter is. Each shell has many pieces of shot, and the size is given a separate measure, bigger numbers are smaller, e.g. 8 shot is good for small birds, while duck might use a 4 or something. As you get larger than that, they stop using numbers and instead letters like BB.
A shotgun of a specific gauge can shoot any size shot in the same gauge.

Gauge by the way is only used by shotguns, pistols and rifles use caliber. The important thing is to not be fooled by the names: 7.62x51mm (aka .308, sort of), 7.62x39mm, and 7.62x54mmR are not interchangeable and potentially dangerous if you shoot the wrong one. On the other hand, all .357s can shoot both .357 Magnum and .38 Special, which are the same diameter despite the names.

Grains measure both the weight of the bullet and the weight of the powder. When selling packaged (not reloaded) rounds, this refers to the bullet weight 99.9% of the time. 1 grain = 1/7000 of a pound. So a finer powder would have more particles than a coarser ammo that weighs the same.

Jacketing - I think you might be confusing the composition of the brass vs. the bullet. “Brass” can be made from brass (the best kind), steel, nickel, etc. (although many times it’s just a thing coating on a different metal). Bullet types are too numerous to cover but yeah, self-defense or hunting vs. cheaper FMJ or WC is a good dichotomy.

Lots to talk about here.

Brands: When it comes to brands it is best to go with the more well-known brands, such as Winchester, Remington, Federal, and the like. Cheaper brands aren’t necessarily worse, but guns tend to be finicky and typically do better with the better stuff. As an example, I have never had a jam with Winchester White Box or Remington UMC, but I have had problems with Wolf and Blazer ammunition, Wolf in particular. For target shooting it’s not that big a deal, but it does make you question the reliability of your firearm, and that isn’t a good place to be if you carry one. I ran another box of WWB through my gun to confirm it was the ammunition, and that ain’t cheap.

Gauge: That’s a shotgun term. For everything else it’s referred to as caliber. The primary thing with this is to make sure that you are buying the proper caliber for your firearm. True story: I brought 8 handguns to the range for a group shoot, all different calibers. I separated them on the stand, giving them all a bit of distance from each other. Clearly not enough. My friend loaded a 357SIG round into a .45 ACP magazine. It sounded weird and didn’t eject. When I took it apart I found out why: the case had ballooned and cracked longitudinally, sticking in the chamber. How he could have made that kind of mistake is beyond me, but he did. I still have the case. I got lucky. Worst-case scenario is the gun blowing up in your hand and injuring you, with all sorts of other nastiness right around the corner. Bottom line: make sure you’re using the proper ammunition for your gun.

Jacketing: Jacketing is typically copper if there is any at all. I’ve never seen aluminum-jacketed bullets. There are typically three types: full metal jacketed, semi-jacketed, or unjacketed. There are also several different types of bullets, hollowpoints, roundnose, wadcutters, semi-wadcutters, spitzer, boattail… if that interests you you have a ton of reading to do.

Grains: Grains are an archaic way of measuring both bullet weight AND the powder in the cartridge. What you see on the box is the bullet weight. Some people swear that heavier and slower is the way to go, some people go for velocity and lighter mass. It’s all trial and error, there is no one-size-fits-all. I go for slower and heavier, but if you asked me why I couldn’t tell you other than feel.

A sabot is a projectile that sheds its casing. Think of it as a dart that is fired through a gun barrel, but doesn’t fit the barrel. The casing allows it to be fired, but the casing sheds in flight, thus allowing the dart to have the maximum amount of energy possible on impact rather than wasting it on the unnecessary casing.

For skeet shooting, you want a good spread, not too wide, not too tight. #4-#8 birdshot is the way to go there.

As for questions, I enjoy answering them. I’m even OK being corrected, because that means I’m learning something. The only thing I draw the line at is “What do you need that for?” I hear that and I’m done.

Thanks everyone, getting a better and more thorough lesson here in one thread tan I’ve received in a year+ dealing in ammo. Learning a lot, and I hope I’ll be better informed for my customers in the future.

As to the “three boxes max,” that’s an in-store policy on .22 lr ammo, due to the (imo, artificial and user-caused) shortage. Hopefully over soon, but given the timing, I imagine I’ll still get daily spiels from customers about how our president was responsible.

Brands: we don’t carry Wolf, etc., just the ones listed before. (Plus some oddball crap, like some unremembered Turkish brand packed in metal cases that no one buys.). Still nice to learn about, so as to be less uninformed to customers.

Finally, kinda surprised Perfecta is unknown. Price- and popularity-wise, here it seems about on par with Federal, above Tulammo, below big brands. Middle of the road, disregarding sub-brands. I’m at a big-box general superstore, if it matters, not a specialty store, and our stock is traited for “metro, urban” customers.

This info is years old & before I got out of it… but wasn’t one of the things you had to check when buying a box that you were actually getting 50 shells?
For a while, you’d see boxes that looked similar but it wasn’t until it was out & on the counter that you saw that it wasn’t just a less expensive brand.

They were selling you half as many (25) shells.

Like I said, this was happening years ago & I doubt its like that anymore.

You might be thinking of self-defense ammunition. I favor Hydra-Shoks (again, not for any particular reason other than I just do), and they come 20 in a box and are expensive. If you’re not paying attention they are easy to grab thinking you’re getting a box of 50.

I looked it up; looks like it’s rebranded Fiocchi? It’ll be Pretty decent then.

Typically ammo comes in quantities of:
20 rifle rounds
25 shotgun shells
50 pistol rounds

There are some exceptions, like SD pistol is 20, and .30 Carbine is 50.

Let me hang on a limb here and tell you the dope will utterly fail you if your aim is to master the lore of firearms ammunition in just one thread. What we can do is answer specific questions, or at least one specific topic. The best thing you can do is to read up on shooting. I’m pretty sure there are gun magazines there. Real all of them. Take up shooting as a hobby. Try out different arms with different calibers and ammo types on the range. with regard to your questions:

  1. Scenario; Customer asks for ammo in this fashion: <manufacturer> <sub-label> <gauge> <jacketing> <maybe grains or subtype> <quantity>. I may not have it (doubly so if LR-.22). Asks for suggestions. --An expert will ask the type of weapon and the kind of shooting he intends. It’s a somewhat nosey thing to do but h’s asking for advice in the absence of what he’s looking for. From there, you can suggest or refer.

  2. 'K. <brands>. We usually carry Winchester, Remington, Federal, Perfecta, and TulAmmo. Best to worst? Judging by sales, I’d expect TulAmmo to be the worst, yet Federal (seems generic to me) excited my customer last night into dropping $200 into aluminum-jacketed 9 mm rounds last night. – It’s easy to look up each maker’s full product offering. That’s a start. You’ll also have customers who keep dropping by, asking when this hot new product will finally hit the shelves. Be a step ahead of them.

  3. <sub-label>. Recently got a case of Winchester “Golden Bullets” 22lr in. None of my shooter friends had seen it before. Winchester and Remington both seem to have tiers of sub-brands to differentiate things with customers, and I have no idea. —Again, research on each manufacturer.

  4. <gauge> Mostly got it, though I guess there can be some differences based on the length of the load. Doubt I’ll have to do much service there as shooters know what they can use. — -

  5. <jacketing> Aluminum, brass, FMJ? No clue, though I know aluminum is softer. --The traditional was pinkish cupronickel. But pure copper, brass and aluminum hace be used. The old segmentation for jacketed bullets were: 1) solid point, meaning the whole slug is jacketed, 2) soft point, meaning a piece of lead is peeking out at the tip, meant to expand upon entry, and 3) hollow point, which is self-explanatory.

fmj - full metal jacket
jsp - jacketed soft point
jhp - jacketed hollow point
mnay more that keep coming out, whether they include a steel cone, kevlar, , etc.

  1. <grains> I know more grains = higher propulsion, but whether this is due to a finer grain size or more propellant… This is more sheer curiosity. --Applies to both bullet weight (slug only) and propellant charge. For bullets, there are 437.5 grains to an ounce. For propellant powder, you have weight in grains and also actual number of grains of powder, which vary.

If I may come in on the Tulammo. This ammo uses berdan primers and steel, not brass cases. I have shot a few thousand rounds of this ammo in 9mm and. 40 caliber without a single jam or fail to fire. If your customers are looking for inexpensive ammo to plink with I have found this is a great choice as it is priced way below the standard brass cased ammo.

There are a few downsides, the cases are steel so they can not be reloaded. Some say the steel cases are harder and produce more wear on extractors. But my thought is over the thousands of rounds I’ll fire if I have to eventually replace a extractor so be it. I’ll save a ton more on the ammo than I will on the cost of a replacement extractor. It does seem to be dirtier than brass ammo, but I clean my guns after shooting so no big deal.

The good: the ammo is much less expensive which is great if you’re just punching holes through paper targets or cans. A great benefit to me is that I can use a magnet to pick up the casings off the ground. Makes clean up easy. The primer and powder are non-corrosive.

Tulammo is great for plinking, but I wouldn’t and don’t use it for concealed carry. Mainly because I have only found it in ball, full metal jacket and I only carry hollow point. There are a lot of ammo snobs or there that will discount Tulammo, but I highly recommend it for taking care of those pesky Taliban soda cans at my local range.

Oh, I’ve also shot Perfecta and have had zero problems either.

Didn’t have time to read the whole thing, but I second that Remington .22lr is junk. I’m getting about 10 percent duds. Unacceptable.

I always used Federal with good results, but have been forced to Remington due to the “shortages”.