Carry Gun Reliability: Is it Really a Big Deal If a Gun is Particular About Ammunition?

by Tommy Grant

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One of the criteria that some in the gun media as well as buyers use to judge a pistol is whether it digests a diverse array of ammunition. Brass case, steel case, multiple brands of FMJ, JHP maybe even flat-tops, JSP, hard cast and so on.

That’s a decent predictor of reliability, as a gun that reliably cycles lots of different kinds of ammunition will work well if you’re in a pinch and have to use a different brand or type than your usual stuff. That means you can expect the gun to run well to a greater degree than a gun that’s more finicky about what it’s fed.

Or is it? Is it really that realistic an indicator of reliability? Is that actually something that most people look for or should even worry about? There are a lot of first-time gun owners out there who wonder about that. Any sort of qualitative measurement of anything is going to have inherent flaws somewhere. The “multiple ammunition” criteria has some, too.

Remember that guns are machines. Simple machines, but machines all the same and like other machines, they function best within certain parameters. Car guys have their preferred brand of oil whether it’s Castrol GTX, Valvoline, Quaker State or whatever.

While lots of people think a gun should run whatever it’s fed, it’s advisable to take the time to find the brands and types of ammunition your gun likes best and shoots most accurately and stick with those.

For instance, my 1911 loves Remington UMC and Herter’s brass more than other brands of FMJ ammo, and Speer Gold Dot over other brands of JHP. Ergo, I buy UMC or Herter’s for practice and Gold Dot for everyday carry…and I leave it at that. If it ain’t broke, there’s no reason in the world to think about “fixing” it.

The gun industry doesn’t have (or seem to have) the sort of publicly available consumer survey information that so many other verticals do. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine for sure what brands of ammunition the gun-owning public uses most. However, what seems to be the case is that most people tend to find a brand or two that works well in their gun and they tend to stick to those.

Most gun owners will do almost all of the shooting they do in their lifetime on a gun range, and what people use most there is full metal jacket (FMJ) target ammunition. Most often, they’ll choose one of the cheaper versions available like Winchester white box, American Eagle, Herter’s, Blazer and so on.

Also keep in mind that when a semi-automatic gun has feeding problems, the magazine is most often the problem…not the ammunition.

Most gun stores carry a range of ammo to choose from. Very few only carry obscure surplus ammo that nobody’s sure about. In my experience — and your mileage will vary — shooting cheap(er) aluminum and steel cased stuff only saves about a dollar (maybe two) over Winchester White Box, Remington, or American Eagle. 

In short, while it’s nice to have a gun that will shoot virtually anything, it isn’t critical. It’s more important to find the gun that’s right for you and will shoot at least some range and personal defense ammo really well. 

Spend the money up front to buy a variety of different ammunition. Invest the time to try them out at the range, testing both function and accuracy. Even if you have a gun that will reliably cycle and shoot everything under sun, there will definitely be some brands and types that it shoots better than others. It’s well worth your time and money to find those. 

In the end, if your gun fits you and you shoot it well — and you identify the types and brands that work best in it — what else really matters?


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