This question comes up a lot in classes, especially with new shooters. Range, or practice, ammo is often a rounded bullet in a Full Metal Jacket (FMJ). It is available in all the standard calibers and the grains (the weight of the bullet) may vary. It is also less expensive than carry ammo. However, it can, and will, penetrate farther than what we think of as carry ammo, which is why, it isn’t recommended for personal defense.
Carry ammo is generally a Hollow Point (or HP). Again, available in all the standard calibers, various grains, etc. The HP bullet (which is the projectile pressed into the end of the cartridge) has an open tip, and generally has some scoring on the sides to help it mushroom, or open, when it hits something. Some HPs have small rubber-like balls imbedded in the tip to aid in the mushroom effect. HPs are also more expensive. However, they are much less likely to over-penetrate, go through your target and into someone or something behind them. Not to say that can’t happen, but it is less likely. Understand, the average HP can penetrate up to six layers of dry wall, so if you are using it for home defense, be very aware of what, and whom, is beyond your target.
Some pistols are fussy, and often you can find guidance in your owner’s manual, if a particular ammunition is preferred. If not, you have to try it. Buy one box of your chosen carry ammo and shoot it at the range. Did it perform fine or did you have malfunction issues? If it was fine, you can probably buy a larger quantity and be good to go. If not, try a different brand or talk to someone who shoots the same type of gun and ask what he or she uses.
Once you find your preferred brand, remember to keep it as pristine as possible. Remember, your carry ammo is there to defend your life. Every six to 12 months, shoot it off and replace it with fresh. How long you can go may depend on how you practice. Do you go to the range, unload, remove the round from the chamber, put it back in the magazine, shoot your practice ammo and then reload? You are handling the ammo, getting oils on the round from your hand, exposing them to debris…Also, if you keep the same round on the top of the magazine, replacing it repeatedly, you risk damaging it. Inspect it before you reload it to ensure that you don’t have corrosion, or crimping. You don’t want to risk a hard malfunction at a critical moment.
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