Ammo Guide and Understanding Ammunition

Here at Powder Valley, we’re excited to see so many new faces in the American firearms community. It’s great to know that millions of citizens are taking an interest in gun ownership.

At the same time, we must stress that owning a firearm is a serious responsibility. It’s incumbent upon all of us to know and practice the fundamentals of gun safety.

That’s why we’ve prepared the following question and answer ammo guide. Its purpose is to familiarize readers with the basics of ammunition design and use, with a special focus on self-defense applications.

Please remember, written material by itself can never substitute for formal training. We urge you to seek out a certified firearms instructor in your area before purchasing or using any type of weapon.

With that in mind, here are answers to some of the most common questions we hear from newcomers.

Common Questions about Ammunition for New Gun Owners

Q: What is a bullet cartridge?

A: “Cartridge” refers to a fully assembled round that’s ready to fire. This includes the primer, the casing, the powder, and the projectile (bullet, slug, or shot).

Q: How does shotgun ammo differ from rifle ammo?

A: Shotguns are designed to fire two types of projectiles. The first type is commonly referred to as “shot.” The term refers to a tightly packed group of metal balls that exit the barrel at roughly the same time.

The other type of shotgun ammo is a “slug,” which is essentially an oversized bullet with limited range but enormous stopping power.

Q: What is “stopping power?”

A: Stopping power is the capacity of a particular type of ammo to immobilize or incapacitate a threat to your life or well-being. Ammunition with significant stopping power may or may not kill your attackers, but it will eliminate their ability to harm you – i.e., “stopping them in their tracks.”

Q: What is the most common ammunition for self-defense?

A: There is no single best type of ammunition for every situation, so we will start with some of the most common. Knowing a little bit about the size, or “caliber,” of a particular kind of ammo can help you to make the right choice for your needs. Here’s a quick reference guide to some of the more popular self-defense rounds:


.38 caliber: This is a larger, more powerful type of ammunition long regarded as the classic choice for self-defense. In recent years it has taken a backseat to 9mm ammo.
9mm: This is currently the standard choice of most police departments and the US military for its sidearms. In general, 9mm ammo generates more pressure coming out of the barrel than does the classic .38 Special round.
45 caliber: This is a heavy-duty type of ammo designed specifically for countering a threat from a human being or large animal. It’s known for having a powerful “kick” when fired.
.357/.44 Magnum: These types of ammunition use highly charged (magnum) gunpowder to generate tremendous muzzle velocities. Magnum ammo requires specially built firearms designed to contain the enormous forces unleashed when a round is fired.
12-gauge shotshells: Fired from a shotgun, a well-chosen 12-gauge shell can generate extreme stopping power. However, carrying a shotgun on one’s person is rarely practical, which is why handguns are generally preferred for self-defense. However, when it comes to at-home self-defense situations, a quality shotgun is at the top of the list.

Q: What’s the most important rule of gun safety?

A: Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded, all the time, every time: No exceptions. Ever.

Again, we must stress that hands-on instruction from a qualified trainer is essential, prior to purchasing or using a firearm. Understanding ammunition beforehand can help you to get the most benefit from your training course and choosing your first firearm.

Once you’ve learned the basics of firearms operation, you may want to consider ammo reloading, which can save you money while introducing you to a fulfilling pastime.

Here at Powder Valley, we carry everything you could need to start reloading your own ammo. Browse our extensive collection of top-quality reloading supplies, available at industry-best prices. We look forward to serving you. Till then, stay safe and take care.

Additional Frequently Asked Questions & Important Information

What is the difference between Ammo and Bullets?

Different Types of Ammo

Different Types of Bullets

How to Store Ammo

What is a Muzzle Loader?