So, you’re a beginner shooter that shops for 9mm ammo for the first time.
You come to a gun store and see all these numbers and acronyms. What’s FMJ? What does 147gr mean? Does this matter so much? Well, you must know all this stuff if you want to be a responsible gun owner. That’s just how it works.
Since the 9mm (a.k.a. 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, 9x19mm) is a go-to caliber for many handgun and carbine owners, we’ve decided to prepare a guide to different 9mm ammo types. But some general information applies to other calibers. Enjoy reading!
The 9mm in Brief
The round was developed by an Austrian arms and cartridge designer Georg Luger at the dawn of the 20th century.
It was a fine cartridge, but a sharp surge in popularity that coincided with the booming popularity of semi-auto pistols in the 80s prompted design improvements to achieve optimized performance.
During the 80-90ss, the discussions on 9mm vs. .45 ACP were hot.
Though many acknowledged the apparent benefits of the cartridge, such as high capacity and mild recoil (even the term “wonder nines” referring to pistols appeared), compared to the .45 ACP and the .40 S&W (developed specifically for law enforcement), 9mm offered the least power.
Over time, the 9mm ballistics was considerably improved, and the cartridge turned into a well-balanced design offering enough expansion and penetration, high capacity, and mild recoil.
Therefore the 9mm has become a go-to self-defense cartridge and first-choice range training centerfire round. Moreover, the military and law enforcement departments switched to 9mm pistols.
9mm Caliber – 9mm Luger vs. 9mm
Though 9mm usually refers to the 9mm Luger, it may also denote a group of cartridges having (nearly) the same bullet diameter of .35 inches, which equals 9 millimeters.
This group includes such centerfire cartridges as .380 ACP having a bullet diameter of .355 and 9×18mm Makarov (.364) and the rimfire .357 Magnum (.357). Still, when you see a box of ammo labeled as “9mm”, it’s usually the 9mm Luger.
Bullet Weight – 9mm Grains
Just like the 9mm caliber includes a variety of cartridge designs, the 9mm Luger has several variations (called loads) differentiated by the weight of the projectile (the bullet).
The bullets sitting in handgun and rifle cartridges are so lightweight that measuring them in ounces would be very inconvenient. That’s why clever people introduced grains (gr), with 1 ounce equivalent to 437.5 grains.
When the 9mm Luger ammo box says 115gr, it means the rounds in this box have bullets weighing 115 grains (0.26 ounces).
So, the 9mm Luger cartridge has several loads, the most popular being 115, 124, and 147 grains. Note that the bullet diameter doesn’t change with the weight because, obviously, it must fit the bore diameter (caliber) of the gun it’s chambered by.
What does change slightly is the bullet’s length. The difference is much more vivid in rifle rounds.
Basically, heavier 9mm bullets hit harder but generate more recoil. The topic of recoil is tricky, though. Not only does the way people perceive recoil differs, but the gun’s mass also determines how much of it you’ll get.
A sub-compact pistol will kick harder than a full-size one. The mildest recoil will be in a long-barrel pistol caliber carbine. Lighter bullets transfer less energy to the target, but they fly faster and farther and have a flatter trajectory.
- 9mm 115gr is the cheapest ammo; great for plinking, target practice, and long-range home defense.
- 9mm 124gr is the sweet spot;
- 9mm 147gr rounds are ideal for self-defense. They have more material to deform, which means a larger wound channel in the attacker’s body. Their average velocity is below 1,100 fps, meaning they are subsonic and are easy to suppress with a silencer. Because 147gr bullets fly slower, you won’t worry about over-penetration, which must be avoided in populated areas.
9mm +P. 9mm NATO vs. 9mm Luger
Sometimes, you see +P and +P+ designations on ammo boxes. P stands for pressure and means that the ammo is loaded with more powder than standard. With this, overpressured 9mm rounds generate more velocity and have more energy.
124 and 147 gr 9mm +P loads can be good for self-defense, but not all guns are designed to tolerate them, so you should consult the gun’s manual. The round’s extra velocity can compensate for the gun’s short barrel if you have a small pistol.
However, note that such a combo will give you a pretty stout recoil. Generally, modern standard 9mm ammo boasts excellent ballistics, while +P loads usually get a marginal terminal performance gain, if any at all.
You may also encounter 9mm NATO rounds. These are usually 124gr and loaded hotter than standard, so they perform similarly to the 9mm Luger 124gr +P.
Bullet Type – 9mm FMJ vs. 9mm JHP
The type of bullet is usually abbreviated. Most often, you’ll come across FMJs and JHPs. So what are these and the other types?
- FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) bullets have a lead core encapsulated by a copper or brass shell. 9mm FMJ ammo is also called ball ammo, and it’s not designed to expand on impact. Therefore there’s a high chance the bullet will zip right through the attacker and hit an innocent bystander. So FMJs are suited only for shooting non-living targets. Besides, they are the cheapest, allowing you to keep your training low-cost.
- JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point), or simply hollow-points (HP), feature a hollow cavity on the tip, which causes the bullet to expand when hitting soft tissue. 9mm hollow points are PERFECT for self-defense.
- Fluted bullets (or flutes) have a bladed tip and don’t expand, but those denominated as defensive ammo are excellent for self-defense. A good example is Norma NXD 9mm 65gr, having penetration optimized to eliminate over-penetration concerns.
- Ballistic Tip bullets (Hornady) feature a polymer insert in the cavity that causes consistent expansion and eliminates feeding issues inherent to standard HPs.
- Frangible bullets are made of pressed powdered metal, so when they meet a steel target, they dust and don’t ricochet. Use these only for shooting steel targets at close range.
These are the common bullet types for the 9mm. If you see ammo with bullets of some other design, read the intended application on the box to pick the right ammo for your task.