The Ammo Equation: How Much Ammo Do You Really Need?

You’ve probably seen the breaking news stories where some guy was arrested and the arresting officers then found what is described as a “stockpile” of guns and ammo in his house.

Bulk Ammo Storage
And cheaper when you buy in bulk. so stock up.

Typically the so-called stockpile includes a hunting rifle, a couple handguns, an AR, and a few hundred rounds of ammunition.

Basically a collection most of us would call a brief trip to the range. Come on, 250 rounds of ammo do not last long.

So, how much ammo should you have on hand?

How about magazines?

We’re going to answer those questions for you and a few related ones, too. Read on.

Table of Contents


There Was a Firefight

Remember that scene in The Boondock Saints – “there was a firefight!” – where the responding officers believe there must have been numerous shooters based on the brass left behind?

Then in comes Willem Dafoe with his infamous line. And it turned out there were just a few shooters with a ton of guns (side note: best movie ever).

there was a firefight
Criminally underrated actor. Fight me if you disagree.

Well, there was some truth to that scene despite its Hollywood-esque epic vibe. You will burn through far more ammunition than you think while defending your life.

The average gunfight may only last a matter of seconds but those seconds tend to end in empty magazines. This is why we carry backup mags: because you cannot predict or control how much ammo it will take to save your life or the lives of your loved ones.

Wouldn’t you rather have it and not need it than not have it…and need it?

Magazine Pockets in Vertx Commuter Bag
Extra mags, never leave home without them!

Here’s the thing. You should never assume the moment you find yourself fighting for your life will be “average.” If there is one thing studying self-defense has taught us it’s that it is wholly unpredictable.

You might be at point-blank range from your attacker; you might be 25 yards from your attacker. It may end in three shots fired or it might take every mag you have on you. Never assume.

The bottom of line of there was a firefight? Be as well prepared as you possibly can be, and that extends to your ammo supply at home, too.

Glock 20 with HP Ammo
Glock 20 taking a nap on a pile of 10mm


The equation for ammo supply often ends up shorting handgun rounds. You’ll see a lot of suggestions out there that you only need maybe 250 rounds of handgun ammo at home, 500 max.

That’s pretty backward considering this is the gun you’re going to carry on the daily, though. It’s the gun you need to train with the most as well.

Up close and personal training with frangable ammo

When you do the math on how much handgun ammo to have in the house do not forget to count training time and ammo shortages at gun stores.

Never just assume you can pick up a couple of boxes of FMJs to hit the range. Be sure you have enough on hand to continue your training and keep your skills sharp – or, better yet, improving – for some time to come.

If you only have one handgun at home this part is simple. If you have multiple handguns you need to ask yourself which gun or guns actually need a ready supply of ammo.

Are they different calibers or the same calibers? If they’re the same it does make things a bit simpler.

Various Polymer 80 Glocks
Various Polymer 80 Glocks

A good rule of thumb is to consider a 500-round stash your starting point for your handgun. That might seem high but it does go fast.

Of those 500 rounds at least 150 should be defensive, not target rounds. If you can afford to stash mostly defensive ammo, do it.

Best 9mm Self-Defense (124 gr)
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remember target rounds are not good for self-defense unless you’re in a serious SHTF scenario with no other choices. It’s also wise to stick to the same types of loads so you can familiarize yourself with point of aim versus point of impact.

If you have half a dozen different loads that behave differently it makes consistent accuracy more difficult to manage.

Ideally? 1,500 rounds per high-use self-defense handgun – one for each capable member of the family – and keep on going.

Ruger Mark IV
.22LR pistols like the Ruger Mark IV are a great way of introducing kids to firearm safety and marksmanship!

500 is a more realistic and less daunting number as a first step, though, so start there.

And once you reach those goals don’t immediately use up the ammo. It isn’t a stash if you’re constantly using it.


This is where the ammo stash soars. Even if you’re using ten-round mags instead of thirty-round mags you go through a ton of ammo with a rifle.

20. RE Factor Tactical Advanced Slickster Desert Shooting AR-15
Pew pew!

Your AR-15 can be a great option for home defense. Gone are the days where shotguns were thought to be the Best Thing Ever for defending your castle. Today it’s all about ARs. 

It’s totally normal for me to run through several hundred rounds with an AR-15 in one afternoon at the range. In fact, it can be even more. Your AR-15 requires training, too, it isn’t just about handguns.

Then again, jeans worked for Keanu...
You don’t get to be John Wick by playing video games!

In order to effectively use your AR-15 for home defense you need to be able to run it smoothly, quickly, and accurately.

You must know where a shot is going to impact the target at 100 yards and at 5 yards (I suggest a carbine for home defense, by the way, because shorter barrels are much easier to maneuver).

Work your way to 2,000 rounds of ammo for your AR-15.

A 50/50 split between target rounds and defensive rounds would be best but if need be go for one-third defensive ammo, two-thirds training rounds.

Best .223 Bang-for-the-Buck
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Gun skills are perishable so you have to be able to keep practicing.

Unforgiven, Shooting Practice
That feel when you haven’t been to the range in a while…

Also consider the fact you might find yourself needing to teach a brand new shooter how to shoot, meaning you need even more training ammo.

It’s important to keep all the possibilities in mind when stocking up on ammo.

Hunting Rifles

This might be a bolt-action or it might be an AR. Whatever you use for hunting you need to consider its ammo separate from the other rifles.

50 Beowulf Coyote Hunt
Running the 50 Beowulf on coyotes is one of my favorite things to do. No kill pics because…well, it does a lot of damage.

It might sound counterintuitive but that goes for cases where your AR doubles as a home defense gun and a hunting rifle. The hunting ammo supply is separate.

Typically you’re only going to need around 500 rounds of hunting ammo stored up.

Remember this isn’t just about a single-shot kill on a deer it’s about zeroing scopes and getting a little practice in.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you can bump that number up to 1,000 that is excellent.

I’m considering those 500-1,000 rounds to be entirely hunting ammo, not target ammo.

Up the number by 250 rounds or more to include target ammo for your hunting rifle.


How many shotshells you want to have stockpiled for your shotgun depends on what you’re doing with it.

Remington 870 (17)
Shotguns come in all flavors

Is it for home defense? Hunting?

If it’s for hunting, is it for birds only or also large game?

Normally you are good with 250 to 500 shotshells on hand. Those will be either defensive loads or hunting loads, depending on use.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If, however, you are using the shotgun to hunt ducks, geese, and dove you’re going to need a lot more ammo in the house.

Anyone who has spent time on waterfowl and zippy little doves knows it requires a large amount of ammunition.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

So for bird hunting up that shotshell stash to 1,000 or more depending on how many seasons you’re trying to get through (and select loads accordingly).

If your shotgun is your primary home defense weapon you’ll need more ammo than you might otherwise have around. That means you need to train with it and be prepared to fight with it.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It also means you’d better be practicing loading multiple shotshells at a time, not feeding them in one by one, but I digress. In that case consider 1,000 rounds or more your shotgun goal.

Boutique Rounds

Have guns chambered in rare, unique, random calibers?

Don’t worry too much about stockpiling for those, not unless it is your only gun.

K31 and Swiss ammo
7.5x55mm Swiss is a very good round, but it isn’t one to stockpile.

Try for around 250 rounds for these guns just so you do have something on hand. After all, without any ammo at all it’s just a paperweight.

As cool as some of those boutique rounds are they do tend to be harder to come by, more expensive, and less realistic. Make a point of owning at least one common-caliber gun (more than one would be way better).

A Word On Magazines

Your gun’s magazine tends to be its first point of failure. When something goes wrong the first thing you check is that mag.

AK Magazines Rundown
Best AK Magazines

For that reason alone you’d better have more than a couple magazines. Then there’s the need for backup mags and the joy of just swapping mags at the range rather than being forced to load mags every single time you burn through one or two of them.

How many mags should you have?

That’s a harder question but I like to have ten at a minimum for every high-use gun. ARs get even more.

FN 15 every magazine
Lots of AR-15 mags, lots!

Speaking of ARs, unless you live in a gun control state, you should have plenty of those thirty-round mags. Don’t limit yourself to five-rounders or ten-rounders.

Should you ever need to use your AR for home defense or to protect yourself from hordes of zombies you will count your blessings you have a thirty-round magazine. They’re also useful for hunting sounders of feral hogs.

Ten seem like a lot? Aim for five per gun for now and then work your way up.

Parting Shots

If you’re new to guns it can be overwhelming to even consider buying thousands of rounds of ammunition. What you’ve seen on TV about stockpiles has probably led you to believe 250 rounds is plenty, but it isn’t.

You gotta pump those numbers up those are rookie numbers
MFW someone tells me about their “500-round stockpile”

Those mainstream media headlines are written by people who are totally unfamiliar with guns. Fun time plinking or training at the range will use up those 250 rounds in one day. 

Ideally you’ll one day work your way up to 5,000 to 10,000 rounds per high-use gun. It takes time and money to make that happen, so be patient. Start small. Buy an extra box or case of ammo when you can.

It adds up, bit by bit, as long as you aren’t breaking into your stash. When you use part of your stash replace it as quickly as possible. Store your ammo in a cool, dry place.

Mini-Ammo Storage Box with Silica Gel Packs
Desiccant packages in the ammo for extra flavor!

Desiccant packets in ammo cans work well, just keep those away from pets and small children.

Dehumidifiers in your safe work, too.

Find what works for you and do it in tiny, workable steps instead of attempting one huge leap. You’ll get there one day.

How much ammo do you keep on hand? Can you survive an ammo shortage? Let us know in the comments! For more tips, information, and education on ammo check out these topics!

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