When I was a beginner, I remember asking some of my friends for ammo recommendations. I heard the term “grain” a lot, not sure what it meant.
There have been a few times when I pick up a box of ammo and just look at the caliber of the bullets and call it a day.
And that’s actually fine.
But learning about the bullet grains or the different bullet weights will give you an ADVANTAGE when it comes to shooting.
So, what does grain mean in ammo?
- What Is Bullet Weight/Bullet Grain?
- How Does the Weight of the Bullet Affect Shooting?
- When to Choose a Heavier Bullet or a Lighter Bullet
- What to Look for When Buying Ammo
- Parts of a Bullet
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
What Is Bullet Weight/Bullet Grain?
In simple terms, the bullet grain is a unit for WEIGHT measurement.
To put things in perspective, I compiled a list of items and their weight in grains (gr).
- A paper clip = 15.43 gr
- A nickel = 77.16 gr
- an iPhone X = 2,685 gr
Don’t worry; I mistakenly thought grain had something to do with gunpowder or something, but it has nothing to do with that.
How Does the Weight of the Bullet Affect Shooting?
So now that you know that is basically a unit of measurement for mass, how does it affect shooting?
The bullet weight will affect a lot of factors when you shoot such as:
- Felt recoil from your firearm
- Overall speed and trajectory of your bullet
- Velocity of your bullet as it leaves the gun.
In short, bullet weight MATTERS.
Let’s take a look at a few factors that the bullet weight affects.
When you begin working with guns, you’ll most likely remember a lesson from your science class.
“To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
When you shoot a round with your gun, you’ll most likely feel the recoil from your shoulder.
Bullet weight comes to play an important role here.
If you use LIGHTER bullets, I would describe the lighter recoil as having a “snappy” feeling.
On the other hand, I would say that HEAVIER bullets have a “pushy” feeling.
However, there’s no way to determine how the recoil will feel just from the bullet grain.
If your ammunition uses slow-burning powder, you probably won’t feel the recoil all at once.
But if you use a fast-burning powder, you’ll most likely be able to feel the recoil hit you ALL at once, making it more noticeable!
Use different weight grains to find out which grain you like the best.
To put it in simple terms, muzzle velocity is the speed at which your bullet leaves the barrel measured by feet per second (FPS).
You might think a bullet with heavier grain size is better than a lighter grain bullet—that assumption is wrong.
Lighter bullets are found to leave the barrel of a gun with HIGHER FPS rates than higher grain ammo.
The higher your muzzle velocity, the more it stays in TRAJECTORY and can hit your target with more ENERGY.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Something lighter picks up more speed, and therefore, more energy that something heavier and slower.
In my comparison article about the .38 Super and .38 Special, the .38 Super is a great example of a bullet with high muzzle velocity.
Speed & Trajectory
Since I like to get a lot of range covered when I’m out shooting, having the right bullet weight definitely matters.
Because the weight of a heavier cartridge tends to attract more gravity, the range it travels might be lacking.
Meanwhile, I’ve had success with lighter bullets as they travel FARTHER, making them more suitable for longer ranges.
A lighter projectile will have a flatter and straighter trajectory than a projectile with more mass.
I used to hate the sound of guns (of course, less noise is better), until I discovered subsonic ammunition.
They’re made to travel at speeds slower than the speed of sound and if they’re paired with a good sound suppressor, they’ll make MINIMAL NOISE.
A caliber like a 45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) will use higher grain ammo which makes them subsonic.
Ammo can only be subsonic if they’re HEAVIER than what the caliber calls for.
I’ve used subsonic with a quality suppressor, which lessens noise and recoil!
I’d definitely recommend this setup if you are a beginner who is still getting used to noise and recoil.
When to Choose a Heavier Bullet or a Lighter Bullet
Your needs will change depending on the purpose of your shooting. Regardless of your type of shooting, the ammo you choose to use will also change.
Heavy bullets are preferred when hunting. A heavier bullet has better expansion and penetration when hitting a live target.
That way, it kills the target faster in a humane way.
Of course, the right bullet weight isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing your bullets for your next hunt.
For example, you might want to take a light hollow point bullet (HP bullet) over a heavy full metal jacket bullet (FMJ bullet).
This is because a hollow point bullet expands upon impact, staying inside your target.
You might also want to invest in some SPECIALTY ROUNDS when hunting specific animals.
In terms of self-defense, you might want to settle for heavier grain weight bullets.
More weight means it improves “terminal ballistics” or the way the bullet transfers energy into the target.
Basically, a heavier bullet could be better for self-defense since it has a greater chance of stopping your threat.
However, you should also take note of other factors like the gun itself and the caliber and NOT JUST the bullet weight.
When it comes to distance shooting or long-range rifle shooting, you’ll find that a LIGHTER bullet suits you well.
A light bullet can carry over long distances and is generally faster than a heavy bullet.
Some people say that lighter bullet grains are far more accurate than heavier bullet grains, but that really depends on the wind.
If you’re shooting a round at a range on a windy day, a light bullet can easily travel on a different course because of the wind.
Still, lighter bullets are favored by distance shooters.
Of course, this varies from person to person, from rifle to rifle so be sure to test the ammunition you pick up.
If you’re doing precision shooting for target shooting sports like bullseye shooting, bullet weight isn’t the only thing you should be looking at.
For some reason, some guns prefer different bullet weights over other bullet weights, which will affect your accuracy for better or for worse.
There isn’t a better bullet weight for maximum accuracy.
In my case, I had to resort to TRIAL AND ERROR to find which one suits me best. It also didn’t hurt to ask other shooters their opinions, too!
However, aside from bullet weight, your maximum accuracy will also depend on barrel length, muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, and twist rate, among others.
If you’re only out to a range to do some plinking, bullet weight doesn’t really matter.
Plinking isn’t something you do seriously so you don’t need to look at the accuracy or speed of your cartridges.
What to Look for When Buying Ammo
As I said, bullet weight doesn’t hold up much if you disregard other factors when choosing your bullets.
I’ll go through what else you need to look out for when picking up a box of ammo.
Your gun will usually dictate your bullet weights. For example, an AR-15 has an average bullet weight of 55 gr.
However, you can still find ammunition with bullet weights that range from 40 gr to around 70 gr to go rifle shooting.
Likewise, a 45 mm gun has an average bullet weight of 230 gr but you can easily find ammo for it with grains of 155 grains to 200 grains.
Bullet Size & Caliber
This might seem like a no-brainer but you need to pick ammunition that has the same bullet size as your gun’s caliber.
If you’re unsure what the caliber of your gun is, you can check the barrel of your firearm where it will be indicated.
Cartridges for 9mm guns won’t fit in a 45mm gun so be careful when you buy your bullets.
Ammo comes in different kinds and I already mentioned two types in this article: the Full Metal Jacket bullet and the Hollow Point bullet.
I’ll go through each kind of ammunition as simply as I can.
Full Metal Jacket Bullet (FMJ)
Like the name suggests, it’s completely wrapped in a metallic encasing. They can be pointy, round, or flat.
This kind of ammunition is favored when shooting in a range.
That’s because if used for self-defense, the bullet can create an exit wound and cause collateral damage.
Hollow Point Bullet (HP)
A hollow-point bullet isn’t completely wrapped like an FMJ bullet.
Because they expand, it doesn’t go through the target which makes it popular for hunting and self-defense.
Open Tip Bullet (OTM)
Open Tip Bullets are often used in shooting matches where accuracy is highly needed.
They’re designed to be perfectly BALANCED which is why distance and target shooters like them so much.
That’s why this type of ammo is also referred to as Open Tip Match bullets (which is why it’s abbreviated as OTM).
Ballistic Tip Bullet
These bullets work similar to a hollow point bullet but they offer MORE DISTANCE and ACCURACY than an HP bullet.
I mention this in my 6.5 Creedmoor vs 7mm-08 Comparison Guide if you’re interested to learn more.
Soft Point bullets are similar to Ballistic Tip bullets except for the fact that the tips are hollow, allowing for even better expansion.
However, ballistic ammo outperforms soft tip bullets most of the time.
This might be the most important thing on the list because ultimately, the person shooting is YOU.
With all things you’ve learned from this article, you’ll have to apply it to your needs and wants.
You might find that working with a lighter bullet suits you best even if other shooters say otherwise.
You’ll have to test out different kinds of cartridges and find out which one you feel like you perform the best with.
Parts of a Bullet
Now that I’ve gone through all of that, let’s return to the basics. Here are the parts of your ammunition.
This is the bottom part of your cartridge. It’s struck by the firing pin to cause an explosion by the powder.
This is the power behind the bullet.
When the powder is ignited by the primer’s power, it creates the gas that propels the bullet out from the cartridge.
This is the projectile that leaves the cartridge.
It’s probably the most well-known component of a cartridge since that’s usually what you see pass through your intended target.
This is the metal casing that holds everything together in a cartridge. These can also be called shells or brass.
When talking about bullets, some people will call cartridges the bullet, when it’s really the entire component of your ammunition.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Higher Grain Ammo Mean?
You might see that some people talk about higher grain ammo. Don’t worry, there’s nothing else you need to know about bullet weight.
Higher grain means using heavier grain bullets. On that note, lower grain means that it’s lighter grain bullets.
What’s the Difference Between 115 Grain and 124 Grain 9mm Ammo?
The difference between the bullet weights might seem minimal—after all, it’s a 9-grain size difference.
That’s about less than a fraction of a pound.
However, there is a difference, especially when you’re actually shooting with your firearm.
If you fire a round or two with a 115-grain bullet, you might notice that the recoil doesn’t feel as harsh compared to the recoil with a 124-grain bullet.
It’s also due to the size that you feel the difference.
It also performs differently when it enters the target. The more mass there is packed in the bullet, the more energy it has to transfer.
In the end, it also boils down to which kind of ammo you prefer.
Where Can I Find the Bullet Grain Number?
You can easily find the bullet weight of your ammunition on the side of the ammo box it comes in.
It will be written like 115 grains but if you can’t find it on the side of the box, you can search the kind of ammo you bought online and it should come up.
Bullet weight isn’t the end game of all things you need to know about guns and shooting but it certainly helps to know about it.
It’s an aspect of your cartridge that can help you when you’re out there shooting in a competition, in a hunt, or when you’re in need of self-defense.
Now, when someone at your local range asks “What does bullet grain mean?” you got them covered!