First of all, let me warn you: this is a hole.
A deep, deep hole that once you enter, you will be stuck in there and probably won’t want to come out again. This is one of the most interesting topics, that once you figure it out, you’ll be the nerd fussing over your ammunition forever—unabashed. Now, I am no expert—I cannot rattle on for hours about ballistics. But, I am a dedicated beginner and I want others to join me on this nerd-train.
Ballistics was and is one of those things that we all hear about. We have that friend who makes their own reloads and endlessly talks about the difference between Winchester W-231, and Alliant Blue Dot (powders). But how in the world do you get there? Here are a few tools to get you started:
1. You can’t know it all
At least not yet. Understand that you’re not going to be able to figure it out all at once, so pick one thing about ballistics you want to start with, i.e. basic physics of projectiles, or how all of it actually works.
As I said before, this is one of those deep, fantastic, rabbit holes that even I haven’t fully explored and probably won’t for a while. I started with how everything works, and then started focusing on different calibers.
2. Once you’ve chosen your focus of study, get on the internet.
There are literally thousands of reliable resources of information, for example—Hornady has a subheading on their website especially dedicated to ballistic resources. As a beginner, stick with ammunition companies, since it’s their business to know this stuff.
3. Ask that friend to gently guide you.
If they’re as nerdy about ballistics as I can be about books and video games, then you should remind them to not overwhelm you. My friend just threw me into the thick of it, and if I wanted to keep up, I had to deal. I do not recommend this, as I was frustrated for 75% of our conversations until I started studying.
After you’ve studied for a while—perhaps you’ve gotten curious about different manufacturing companies—buy some different ammunition for your most familiar firearm. Test them against one another and see what you figure out. Some ammo might burn hotter, so your projectile might get deeper penetration through your target (tested on stacks of books). If you can’t figure any differences, hop back online to read reviews. If you decide to experiment, don’t ruin the fun by looking at the reviews first! Maybe you’ll discover something the reviews don’t cover. Or not.
5. Look at History
Warning: this is one of the nerdier parts of ballistics. However, studying the evolution of ballistics can help you understand modern choices and results. Over the last two centuries, ballistics has changed drastically and seeing the difference between then and now sheds a bit of light onto the why questions.
Now, why is any of this important? Obviously, if you’ve read this far, you have an interest in ballistics in some way. But I want to briefly cover why ballistics is important.
I recently wrote an article discussing Home Defense. In that article, I covered a basic point which validated selecting a shotgun for home defense—because shooting double-ought buckshot is the same as shooting a 9mm nine times all at once at the target. Now, which is better? Nine times all at once or one bullet shot one after another?
Knowing basic ballistics helps you make better decisions about which firearm to use when and what ammunition to put in it.
What defense ammo do you use in your concealed carry pistol and why?