For novice shooters and new weapon owners, range shooting is key to developing skill and familiarity with your firearm. Spending time at a firing range can give you the confidence to use your gun in hunting or self-defense scenarios. Unfortunately, extra time at the range means you’ll need a lot of ammunition, which can be expensive and complicated. Selecting the right ammunition for the job can be intimidating because of the variety of different loads, varying in projectile type and weight, velocity, and other factors. But don’t be discouraged. Once you learn about the different types of ammo and their performance, you’ll have the skills to select the cartridges you need.
What is Target Ammo
Whether you’re a serious shooter or shoot only a few times each year, you’ll want to stock up on ammo before heading to the range. Because you’ll need a substantial amount of ammunition, it’s important to find something widely available and inexpensive, often referred to as Target Ammo. Target ammo is manufactured differently from defense ammo in that it is primarily full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets. Constructing the bullets in this way means they are likely to penetrate further into the target, and most ranges are designed for this. On the other hand, defense ammo is primarily jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullets equipped to expand once they reach the target, slowing the bullet and causing more internal damage. These bullets can be significantly more expensive and are not popular choices for target shooting. However, because defense and target ammunition behave differently when fired, it’s a good idea to practice occasionally with defense ammo, so you become familiar with the different feel and results.
For rifles and handguns, these FMJ projectiles will be the least expensive choice. They incorporate a soft, usually lead, core encased in harder metal which requires less manufacturing. For shotguns, you’ll want to look for a No. 7 ½ shot or smaller. We’ll explore more specifics for these and other firearms shortly.
Another main consideration should be recoil. If you plan to spend any significant amount of time at the range, a heavy recoiling load will cause hand and shoulder pain, meaning your body may quit before you want to leave the range. Avoid magnum loads if at all possible. Instead, opt for small-bore rimfire cartridges. These are a perfect light recoiling load whether you’re a new shooter unfamiliar with recoil or an old pro.
What is Defense Ammo
Defense ammunition is needed on a much rarer occasion than target ammo. Because of this, it won’t break the bank if you spend a little more on these bullets. Most defense ammo is jacketed hollow point (JHP) which is designed to expand and do more damage inside the target instead of going straight through it. This ammo is meant to stop the target, eliminating risk to anyone or anything behind them. Novice shooters may be tempted to use FMJ ammunition on all occasions because of the lower price tag, but it’s important to use the right ammo for the right occasion. Target ammo carries with it the risk of going straight through and harming others; some states even prohibit it for defensive purposes.
Each firearm has particular cartridges it can handle and will vary in which target ammunition is best. For a handgun, we recommend the 115-grain American Eagle 9mm Luger. You’ll have no trouble finding this 9mm cartridge as it is arguably one of the most popular options out there. It’s almost a guarantee that if a store sells ammunition, you’ll find 9mm shells there. Additionally, this is a relatively inexpensive choice for long sessions at the shooting range. These bullets also frequently use cleaner-burning powders to keep your handgun from building up excessive residue.
If rifle shooting is more your speed, we love 22 Long Rifle (LR) cartridges. This is usually a low-cost option and perfect for beginners. The recoil is also one of the lowest you’ll find, meaning you can keep shooting until the sun sets without feeling that familiar pain in your shoulder. For a specific brand, check out CCI’s 22 LR Standard. This standard velocity ammunition is known for its accuracy, reliability, and low price. It also uses clean-burning propellants to help cut down or minimize time-consuming gun maintenance.
For an AR-15 rifle, you’ll want something a little different. The Fusion MSR from Federal Premium is a great cartridge for this because they are specifically designed for AR barrel lengths. You can expect excellent accuracy due to the molecularly-fused jacket around a pressure-formed core. While this is one of the more expensive choices on our list, it’s a must-have for specialized sporting rifles.
Our last, but certainly not least, recommendation is for shotgun lovers. If you’re competing in 3-gun competitions or just shooting clay birds for fun, the Top Gun Target Load in No. 7 ½ or 8 are great, affordable choices. The light target load and minimum recoil make them perfect options for long days practicing at the range. We’ve experienced reliability and consistency with Top Gun Target for trap, skeet, and clay shooting. These cartridges also have the added benefit of being reloadable.
With a competitive ammunition market, it can be tough to find the best cartridges, but we hope this guide will give you a great start. You’ll find many options depending on your firearm, so be sure to test out which brand and bullet works best for you. We recommend purchasing several lower-quantity boxes to test before making any large investments in one brand. If you find something that fits your shooting style perfectly, feel free to buy several boxes and stock up, but if nothing quite works you won’t be stuck with hundreds of dollars worth of ammunition you’ll never use. Also, remember to be flexible in case a particular cartridge is out of stock. Ammo selection is a tricky topic, but once you learn how to make the best choice for you, you’ll never be at a loss for great target ammunition.