So You’re a New Gun Owner? Ammunition Components

In previous articles, we’ve discussed firearms safety, clearing and loading your handgun, and ammunition identification. Today we’ll step into some baseline knowledge on how ammunition works. Now, skipping this section won’t necessarily be a big deal, but having the knowledge will help you with understanding terminology and possible malfunctions.

The information I’ll be presenting will be coming from the National Rifle Association’s course on pistol fundamentals. No matter what you may think of them politically, they do put out some decent training materials, and I’ll use them frequently from this point on.

Right up front, here is a diagram of a cartridge:

If you’ve ever hear someone talk about rimfire ammunition versus centerfire ammunition, below is the difference. Keep in mind that most defensive handguns take centerfire ammunition.

Next up, the firing sequence for a cartridge:

I’m not crazy about the wording they use on that slide, but if you’ll remember the video I posted about loading a handgun, when I put the slide forward, that was the cartridge being loaded into the chamber and the breech closing. If you want to check this out on your own (UNLOADED) gun, as you move the slide back and forth, you’ll see the barrel move back ever so slightly, then drop down as the slide moves back. When the slide comes forward, you’ll see the barrel rise up to meet the slide, then move forward. That is the breech unlocking (slide to the rear) and locking (slide forward).


Key Points:

  1. Round goes into chamber
  2. Trigger is pulled
  3. Firing pin strikes primer
  4. Primer ignites powder
  5. Gas from burning powder pushes the bullet out of the barrel


That’s really all there is to a cartridge. As I said before, you could probably get away without knowing this as a beginner. However, when we start talking about malfunctions in your handgun, having this knowledge means that conversation will make a whole lot more sense.

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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