So You’re a New Gun Owner? Ammunition Identification

So far we’ve talked about the firearm safety rules and clearing your firearm. Next we’ll talk about choosing ammunition, then we’ll talk about loading your firearm. I know some of this might seem really simple, but that’s the idea. I’m trying to cover the most basic information, in short sections, so that you can work through it at your own pace.

What caliber do I need?

The easiest place to find the answer to this question is either in the manual for your firearm, or on the barrel or side of your firearm. Firearms are typically marked with the caliber for safety, because putting the wrong ammunition in your gun can end badly.

The caliber marking on my Glock 19 Gen 5. The 9×19 is also referred to as 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9mm NATO

How do I know what I’m buying?

Now that you know what you’re asking for, you need to know where to look on the box to confirm that you bought the right stuff. Ammunition boxes are usually marked on the end with the caliber, weight, and type of bullet.

Example markings on three different brands of ammunition

If, for whatever reason, your ammunition didn’t come in a box, you can look at what is called the headstamp. The headstamp is just an imprint on the bottom of the cartridge that says who made it and what the caliber is. For our purposes, you’ll be less concerned with the manufacturer and most interested in the caliber.

Headstamp on one of my defensive cartridges. Note that it doesn’t state the weight or type, but we’re mostly concerned with caliber here anyway.

Headstamps vary widely in the manufacturer markings, but the caliber is the key.

Full Metal Jacket versus Hollow Point Ammunition

Without getting crazy deep into the weeds on types of ammunition, in general, full metal jacket is for practice and hollow point is for defensive purposes.

There is a great website out there called Lucky Gunner. They sell ammunition (affiliate link), but they also test ammunition (Lucky Gunner Labs) and post some fantastic results. I couldn’t possibly hope to do their work justice, so I strongly suggest you head over there and read their articles or watch their videos, especially this one on ballistic testing.

Also, depending on where you live, there are some seriously strict rules on what type of ammunition you can carry (I’m looking at you, New Jersey). Please ensure that whatever you buy is legal in your location.

What is the best ammunition?

This question is probably one of the fastest ways to start a fight in a gun store or online, so I’m not even going to try to answer that question. My personal recommendation is 9mm or larger, and choose from the list of ammunition that has a demonstrated strong performance on the FBI ballistic gel tests (like you can find at the Lucky Gunner Lab link).


Realizing that this was a very quick overview, I hope this has been useful for you. If you enjoyed, give us a follow and a share. Social media really limits our ability to advertise, and organic shares always have the biggest impact. If you think I missed something or have a question, drop a comment below. Alternatively, you can contact me via my Facebook page, Google Hangout, or email at guntoter.official (at)

Thanks for reading!

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