The selection of ammunition is one of the key choices affecting reliability. If there is one thing we cannot compromise on, it’s reliability.

It’s a fairly safe bet that if you were to peruse enough articles online you would find something negative about every available bullet out there. With our modern means of communication comes great responsibility, versus nonsensical yammering because you may have gotten a bad bullet.

I hear from people on a regular basis about how “Brand X” ammo is no good, and the person devolves into a rant about whatever it is that upset them. Often times, I can think to myself, “well, we used 250,000 rounds of that, and yes, we had a couple of interesting things, but that’s how bullets are”.

This is not meant to be a chest thumping tirade, but the average consumer does not typically go through rounds by the quarter million. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to state that we do, often.

This does not make me special, but it sure as hell gives me a LOT of opportunity to observe various bullets, and things that might be less than stellar in the performance department. We currently have 1 vendor for ammunition types. Does this mean that it’s the absolute best? No, it does not. It means that a pretty large organization has decided that this brand is what they will purchase, en masse.

Let’s talk about practice ammunition in the “FMJ”, or “ball” family. I’m going to take a stab at explaining how urban legends may possibly occur.Understand that ammunition is manufactured in “lots”, and the number of a lot is fairly elusive, but it revolves around parameters, projectiles, primers, casings, etc. So let’s say that50 million rounds of a bullet are made, and each state gets 1 million rounds for retail sales. This is simply a story if you will- if someone with the exact sequence of events has the answer, please provide it.

From the 1 million rounds per state, say that I purchase 250,000 rounds of this ammunition, and all of the other gun stores, and big box stores in the state buy the rest. Let’s say that after I’ve went through my quarter million rounds, there was indeed an issue with some primers. I’ve captured this via photos, and have notified the vendor. I have the lot number for the vendor to track, and sure enough, they find the issue. Chances are, there will be a recall, and often times, a trade in- bad rounds for good. Maybe some of you have experienced this.

That, dear friends, is a logical sequence of events. I did not start proclaiming hither and yon that the sky is falling, and damage anyone’s reputation. It seems that this sort of nonsensical behavior is precisely what some people delight in. If there is a legitimate issue with primers, as in our scenario here, other people who bought 50, or 100 rounds will also find this. However, it seems that when someone finds an issue, they go straight to social media, versus the vendor, to point out the failures. Perhaps this is with best of intention, but even if only a fraction of the people do this, and each of them convince ten other people that there is a problem, you can see how something fairly small can balloon rapidly.

I can tell you that we have tried ammunition from a lot of vendors, and in the last 10 years, there are 4 major vendors that come to mind easily. I can report that in each case, you would recognize each vendor. I can also report that in every case, there were some wonky things that came from each vendor. Some of these include inverted primers, inverted bullets, high primers, and a few thousand of 1 caliber in boxes marked for a different caliber.

I will not damn any of these vendors because they are not sporting horns and a forked tail. When you deal in huge numbers of rounds, there will be issues. In these examples, rounds for pistols and carbines both had anomalies.In every case, the vendor appreciated that we’d pointed out what was wrong, and they made things right. Urban legends start with the fact that humans cannot resist a good story, and if a little “spice” is missing from the first telling, there will be “details” added to liven things up.

If you buy a thousand rounds of plinking ammo, it costs quite a bit, but if you get spun up over a handful of bad rounds, you need to calm down. You might also consider  that the firearm may have an impending issue. Here’s another item to point out, with our fictional thousand rounds here; let’s say you’re with your friends, and several of you have problems. Can ANY of you unequivocally prove that every firearm in play is in optimal condition? If not, do you have a truly valid complaint? Please understand that just because a firearm or component has a nifty logo on it, that does not mean that it is fail proof. Even items with nifty logos wear out before that logo will.

From the aspect of the normal person at home, we have all sorts of advertising to point out just which bullet we simply cannot live without, this month. To keep things simple, test whichever round it is that has caught your eye. If you cannot put a bullet through the paces of FBI testing criteria, research the round and see if this protocol has been performed, and make a decision. Shooting watermelons, or watching other silly folks do this on You Tube means absolutely nothing, unless there is a watermelon invasion on the horizon.

The bullet in question might do very well in one barrel length, and not so well in another. This can be even more pronounced if the round is for carbine length barrels, and you choose to use it in an AR pistol platform. Please do research to ascertain that your selected ammunition will work as designed. In the same fashion as testing AR platform magazines, perhaps you have friends willing to go into an ammunition purchasing pool to find reliable rounds.

One of the neatest things some ammunition makers have done of late is to put icons on the boxes of their wares. There is an icon for plinking ammo, and a separate icon for defense ammo. Brilliant. This helps those with less understanding make smart decisions. The burden for reliability check is on the customer to ascertain that the round will function in whatever pistol it is that they carry. Fire a few rounds for cycle- don’t just shove them into your magazines and face the mean old world.

Although not as heavily touted as in years gone by, +P, and +P+ ammo is still very much alive. As an engaged shooter, please check out the rounds that your friends carry, especially if they are of lesser experience than you. The plus sign is letting the user know that these rounds are hotter than your normal defense rounds, and there is more pressure. Most modern firearms can handle this, but, there are a lot of people out there using some sketchy firearms. Cheap and good are often incompatible terms, so if you’ve got a friend carrying around something that they picked up for a very small amount of money, help them to not hurt themselves.

This next part is going to upset the armchair experts for sure. An easy way to save some money is to buy steel case ammo for practice. According to the “experts”, this is guaranteed to destroy your firearms. The extractors/ejectors will go, and there’s that whole corrosive powder issue to contend with, and the dreaded furniture lacquer that melts down into the gun and cements all of your parts together. Okay, now is the time for logic.

Perhaps this happened many years ago…somewhere. I’ll bet the farm that if it did, the person it happened to was an utter imbecile in all things firearms. I’ll contend that they didn’t ever maintain that firearm, and that they had likely purchased it used/filthy/ and beaten up. No one can seem to ever pin down exactly how any of this happened. Here are some facts.

Every extractor/ejector, and major component of any firearm has a life span, and every time the trigger is pressed, the life span decreases a little bit. Can you use parts beyond expected life span ? Absolutely. People do this every single day, whether aware of it, or not. The bottom line is because they are cheap. The people who make firearms and components are aware of this, and do their best to make things last (by and large). By the way, the life span decreases whether you use American, or foreign ammunition; the machine is inert, and cannot “know” brand difference.

In my youth, prior to being an armorer for several different firearms platforms, I deliberately attempted to verify these urban legends, and would not ever say I was alone in this attempt.To keep it short, all of the above mentioned items did not occur. If you maintain the firearm promptly, it will work.If steel cased ammo is so bad, why is at least 1 very reputable vendor making it then?

Can you have more problems with imported foreign ammo ? Yep. Believe it or not, quality control standards may vary. Can this ammo be of lesser accuracy sometimes? Yep. Since we use it for familiarization/practice, we should not be upset when stuff is not optimal. The bad rounds keep us up to par on Immediate Action Drills, don’t they?

There will be more information coming on this topic soon, and there will be things to look for as the person using the ammunition. You are the final point to inspect for failure, and if you choose to approach things in a half assed manner, do not be surprised when your half ass gets bit. You cannot be a Student of life if you’re blind to truth.

Stay Safe, Train Often

Photo courtesy of SIG SAUER