Buying Best 9mm Ammo – 101

Current societal conditions have created an ammo shortage of epic proportions. With ammo so scarce and expensive, it’s important that new shooters learn how to properly “feed” their pistols. Since 9mm is the most popular caliber among new shooters, this post will identify the different 9mm cartridges, and explain how to read the information on a box of ammo. 9mm ammo

Buying the Right Cartridge

9mm ammo
The power of a life in your fingers, Holding a 9mm bullet

During shortages like this, wholesalers buy ammunition wherever they can find it, and much of it comes in from overseas. The cartridges might be named differently depending on where they were manufactured. In addition, That 9mm ammo you find sitting on the shelves might still be there because it’s a different type of 9mm ammo not compatible with most pistols. First, let’s make sure you get the correct cartridge.

Depending on where it was made, the common 9mm cartridge can have three different names. These are:

  • 9mm Luger
  • 9mm x 19
  • 9mm Parabellum

All three of these names refer to the same cartridge: The common 9mm – that was first chambered in the German Luger, that the Germans designed as a military cartridge (Parabellum is Latin, meaning “for war”) , and that features a case that is 19mm long (hence the three names for the same cartridge).

9mm ammo Ammunition StoreFour different 9mm cartridges – Only the one with the arrows is compatible with most 9mm pistols

There are several other less common 9mm cartridges that are NOT compatible with most 9mm pistols:

  • 9 mm Kurz/9mm Cort/9×17 – These are all European names for the cartridge we know in the US as the 380 Auto. It’s shorter than the “normal” 9mm. Kurz and Cort mean “short”.
  • 9mm Makarov (or 9×18) – These fit Eastern Block military surplus pistols based on a design by a Russian fellow named Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov.
  • 9mm Largo/9×23 – This is an old Spanish cartridge. Unless you have a century-old Spanish pistol, you probably don’t need this ammo.
  • 9mm Glisenti – Same as above but Italian
  • 9mm Steyr – Same as above but Austro-Hungarian

Unless you have one of the unusual pistols described above, make sure the ammo you buy is 9mm Luger (most common designation in the US), 9mm x 19, or 9mm Parabellum.

Reading the Ammo Box

Once you have the correct cartridge nailed down, the other info on the box describes the bullet weight and type (shape).

9mm ammo Ammunition StoreIn addition to the cartridge designation, the ammo box will tell you the bullet weight and type (shape)

Here’s a brief explanation:

Bullet weight– This is the weight of the actual projectile – not the complete cartridge. The bullet weight is expressed in a unit of measure called “grains” (abbreviated “gr”). There are 7000 grains per pound, and 437gr per ounce. Common bullet weights for 9mm include 115gr, 124gr, 125gr, and 147gr. Generally speaking, heavier bullets hit harder, have more recoil, and are more expensive. Most people practice with 115gr ammo, and carry heavier stuff for personal defense.

Bullet Type – We’re about to enter acronym Hell. The bullet type is usually a 3-5 letter acronym that describes the shape of the bullet (projectile). Here’s Bullet Type 101:

  • FMJ – Full Metal Jacket. This bullet is usually a round point bullet, better suited for practice rather than personal defense. This is usually the least expensive type of ammo. This bullet has a lead core which is covered by a “jacket” made of copper or brass. Often, the base of this bullet (inside the case where you can’t see it) is plain lead. Not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with shooting this in any pistol.
  • FMJ FP – Full Metal jacket, flat point. Same as FMJ but with a flattened tip.
  • FMJ TC – Full Metal jacket, truncated cone. Same as FMJ but the sides of the bullet are straight rather than curved.
  • TMJ – Total Metal Jacket – Same as FMJ, but the base is covered by jacket material as well. These are required at some indoor ranges.
  • JHP – Jacketed Hollow Point – This is a lead-core jacketed bullet with a hollow point. This bullet will expand on impact, reducing the chances of over-penetration. This is what most people use as defensive carry ammo. You should too.
  • LRN – Lead Round Nose – This is plain lead, non-jacketed ammo. This ammo shouldn’t be used in Glock or H&K pistols, as the type of rifling they use is incompatible with plain lead bullets. They’re suitable for practice ammo when you can’t find anything else, and are dirtier and smokier than jacketed ammo.
  • 9mm HAP and 9mm FTX – These are proprietary terms used by the ammo manufacturer Hornady. HAP stands for Hornady Action Pistol, and the bullets are designed for competition. Hornady FTX ammo is designed for self-defense.
Close-up of box 9mm ammo

The bullet shape is significant because you may find that certain bullet weights/shapes do not feed reliably through your gun. This is not unusual. Once identified, simply avoid that ammo in the future.

If you see the word “Subsonic” on a box of 9mm ammo, it means that the cartridges are loaded so that the bullet velocity does not exceed the speed of sound. These cartridges are intended for use in pistols equipped with a suppressor (a.k.a. a silencer). They’re usually loaded with 147gr bullets, and will function normally in most guns. They also tend to be more expensive than normal ammo.

If you see the word “Frangible” on a box of 9mm ammo, it means that the cartridges are loaded with bullets made of pressed powdered metal (usually copper) rather than lead. They’re intended for use when shooting steel targets at close range. They explode into dust on impact, and won’t cause ricochets. They tend to be very expensive, and should not be carried for personal defense.

If the ammo box is marked with the designation “+P”, this indicates that the rounds are loaded to a higher pressure than standard 9mm ammo, and should only be used in firearms designed for these cartridges. Refer to the gun’s user manual for this information.

I hope this clears up any confusion. If anyone has additional questions, feel free to contact me here, or message me on Facebook (Jim Finnerty).

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