Ammo 101…Self Defense vs. Practice

“What is practice ammo?” “What is self defense ammo?” “What’s the difference between a Full metal Jacket and a Total metal jacket?” “What exactly is the safest and cheapest to use at a gun range?” “Why do some manufacturers make weaker than normal ammo?”

Practice ammunition is self-explanatory.  It is basically a COST effective ammunition that a gun owner can take to the gun range to hone his/her skills. Contrary to popular belief, BULLETS ARE NOT MADE ENTIRELY OF LEAD. They usually consist of a lead core and a metal coat called a “jacket”. Self defense ammunition is a more specialized type of ammunition design specifically for antipersonnel use. There are countless types of self defense ammunition types-from Federal Guard Dog Ammo, to Hornady Critical Defense, to Federal HydraShok, to Hollow Points. We will give a thorough explanation of a few different types of Practice ammunition types and Self defense ammo types.

“FULL” Metal Jacket vs. “TOTAL” Metal Jacket

They may sound like the same thing. But they are actually different. Both CAN be used as practice ammo AND self defense ammo. Full Metal Jacket (FMJ’s) bullets consist of a lead core that is “jacketed” with another metal. This metal is usually copper. FMJ’s have an expose section of lead to the rear of the projectile with it touches the gunpowder. It is NOT completed encased in the metal jacket. Since the public has become aware of the health consequences of lead, ammunition manufacturers have pushed the idea of “Total” Metal Jacket bullets. These bullets consist of a lead core that is COMPLETELY jacketed in copper. They are also called TCJ’s (Total Copper Jacket). Please see figure below.

Figure A1

Full Metal Jackets on LEFT. Total Metal Jackets on RIGHT. Notice how the lead core is exposed on the FMJ’s? Do you see how TMJ’s significantly decrease the shooter’s contact with lead?

If you want to avoid putting a hole in your wallet AND avoid LEAD exposure, TMJ’s are the way to go. Do your own research and find out which bullets are TMJ’s. I am in Atlanta Metro. Atlanta Arms sells re-manufactured ammo. Their labeling says “TCJ” on it. That’s all I use at the range.

Steel Case vs. Brass Case

We all know what color brass is…right? If not, take a look at Figure A1 above, Brass is the same color as those slugs in that picture. Whether you are a beginner shooter, or advanced shooter, you need to know the difference between Brass casings and Steel casings. Brass casings are very convenient if you plan on reloading (re-manufacturing) ammunition. Most American manufacturers produce brass cased ammo. You will hear experts recommend Brass instead of steel. See figure below.

Figure A2

The gray colored cartridge is a Steel Cased round. The golden colored cartridge is Brass. (Can you guess the calibers?)

If you see steel cased ammo on the shelves here in America, it will LIKELY be from a foreign manufacturer. Monarch, and Wolf are some decent examples of steel cased ammo. So, which one is “better”? Which one is Safer? Watch the video below.


Video A1

Hopefully the video answered your question(s). The reputation for steel cased ammo is dirty burning, and more likely to jam in American guns. I wouldn’t dare shoot Steel Cased Ammo out of my AR. The AR has too many moving parts and is heavily reliant on gas in order to cycle out empty casings and operate smoothly. I will be more apt to use steel cased ammo in foreign guns that are built for it, Like AK and SK variants.

Self Defense Ammo Weight vs Practice Ammo Weight

If you have ever been on the market for bullet you will notice that they come in different weights. For example, the .40 S&W is MOST commonly available in 165 gr, 180 gr and 200 gr. (Source If you get regular practice ammunition from Walmart, or Academy, you will likely be getting the 180 gr. HOWEVER, if you decide to get Federal Guard Dog ammunition for Self Defense, you will be getting 135 gr. One key thing to note with self defense ammo is that they are somewhat exotic. Technological advances in metallurgy and gunpowder has made the self defense ammo market extremely competitive. If you observe all the different ammo types on, you will see that there are quite a few different types of exotic self defense ammo. SO, whats the price difference? In comparison, self defense ammo is considerably MORE expensive than practice ammo. For example, if you were to get a box of 50 rounds of 180 gr FMJ .40 S&w, you may pay around $17.99. If you were to get a box of 25 of Winchester PDX Defender Hollow point Self Defense ammo, you will pay around $26.50. Generally speaking, you will pay nearly $1 a round for decent self defense ammo. Take a look at the next few videos in regards practice ammo vs self defense ammo.


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