How to buy ammunition

For any agency, ammunition selection is a combination of science, the needs of the agency, and trial and error. For any ammunition you’re considering, everything should be tested with the specific make and model of gun that the department commonly issues. Before a department-wide purchase is made, the selection process should be made with a sampling (*or, if possible, all of) the actual duty guns.

The selection must be a deliberate process to find the correct tool for a wide range of scenarios. The agency also must consider overall effectiveness according to their needs, as well as accepted and reasonable standards. If the requirements were simply accuracy or reliability, the selection field would be much more limited.

Below is a list of factors to consider when purchasing ammunition, and while these are all important aspects to think about when you’re choosing ammunition, every firearms policy must be a living document, and no such list can every be totally comprehensive for every department.

1. Accuracy: The handgun/cartridge combination should exhibit combat accuracy, able to consistently group on a target within a department specified standard, somewhere less than 4 inches or so (at 25 yards). This will allow the ability of the carbine to overlap the reasonable range of the handgun. Specify the standard first, and then test the ammo, not the other way around.

2. Reliability: The handgun cartridge should demonstrate reliability under a variety of conditions. These conditions should include deliberately testing in a dirty gun, seasonally high and low temperatures, and exposure to unique local conditions like heavy precipitation and coastal air. Probably the greatest predictor of reliability is manufacturer reputation.

3. Effectiveness: Effectiveness takes all aspects of performance into account. Effectiveness of a handgun bullet is measured scientifically but the pieces of the puzzle must be assembled using judgment. This is because the agency must prioritize the performance, just as bullet manufacturers do. For example, a light fast bullet might exhibit excellent penetration, but have a tendency to deflect wildly when fired through a barrier. Perhaps another bullet penetrates well but does not expand in media satisfactorily.

When testing effectiveness, use the equipment in exactly the same manner in which it will be deployed when testing. If officers use dedicated lights, mount them for the test. Shoot a box or so and check to see how dirty the light bezel or laser lens has become. Handgun bullet testing is done according to accepted protocol using calibrated gelatin blocks in a consistent way. For waterborne OPS, consider how well the primer pocket and crimp area is sealed.

4. Agency Priorities: Different agencies will have different priorities, so make sure to be clear on what yours are. Some agencies will have a policy of using the handgun to dispatch wounded or pest animals, in addition to enforcement duties. Others have patrol areas where the temperature rarely gets above freezing, which makes local fashion a deciding factor in bullet expansion.

5. Performance: There are ways of grading a bullet’s performance beyond basic effectiveness and accuracy. Bullet performance aspects, or some of the factors for interpreting the results, include:

• Penetration — Handgun bullet penetration should be a recognized minimum standard. This testing should take minimum and maximum penetration into account with equal consideration. But remember: an over-performing bullet is a liability, especially for handguns.

• Maximum weight retention and bullet expansion — Every manufacturer has a different formula to control bullet expansion to improve the terminal performance. Some use harder jackets and pre scored cuts to encourage consistency, others taper or strategically reinforce the jacket. Know how the prospective bullet accomplishes expansion control.

• Minimum deflection — Bullets must have sufficient velocity and other physical factors to prevent unreliable deflection when fired into standard barriers.

• Suppressed flash — The officer is statistically most likely to use the handgun at night in less than favorable conditions. Fire the prospective cartridge at night and get a subjective idea of the resultant light output. This will also give the agency an idea why compensated firearms seem like a good idea at the gun counter but not during night training.

• Consistency in manufacture — Look at the cartridges. Put a lot of rounds downrange and inspect every box during the test.

6. Training: Whatever the ammunition choice, the agency must somehow be able to train with a cartridge which mimics the duty ammunition’s performance. If this cannot be done, the agency must use the duty ammunition for practice. When looking at ammunition, look at the three-year purchase projection, taking the strategic training plan into account.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and evaluating AEDs? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

PoliceOne Products columnist Lindsey Bertomen contributed to this report.


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