Bullets: Sizes, Calibers, and Types [Guide + Videos]

One of the most daunting things when I first started looking for a gun was…what size bullet to get?

Common Bullet Sizes
Common Bullet Sizes

We’ll be covering purely bullet size…and the benefits/weaknesses of each.  Now, there’s A LOT of sizes out there but I want to cover the ones you’re most likely to see and/or use.  These are the ones that you can walk into just about any sporting goods store and buy.

Then we’ll follow up with some bullet terminology and the different types of bullet tips (hollow point, etc), how shotgun shell sizes work, and a breakdown of the components of a round.  By the end, you’ll be a bullet pro!

Table of Contents

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Bullet Size & Caliber

First!

For guns, “caliber” means the diameter of the barrel and thus the diameter of the bullet that is going through it.  Also for terminology sake, “bullet” just means the metal projectile, while the entire thing is called a cartridge.

Parts of a Bullet Cartridge
Parts of a Bullet Cartridge

We’re going to cover a lot in this article, including:

  • Rimfire vs Centerfire
  • Common Calibers
  • Common Bullet Types
  • Components of Cartridges

If you want to jump ahead, check out our suggestion for the Best Place to Buy Ammo Online.

Now what you’ve been waiting for…

Rimfire vs Centerfire

The first differentiator is between rimfire and centerfire cartridges.

The rimfire’s primer is built into the rim while the centerfire cartridge has the primer in the center.  Rimfires are extremely cheap (few cents each) and the .22LR is the most popular rimfire caliber.  For even more differences, see our article on rimfire ammo or familiarize yourself with how guns work.

Centerfire vs Rimfire Primer
Centerfire vs Rimfire Primer
Rimfire vs Centerfire
Rimfire vs Centerfire

Common Bullet Calibers

There’s A LOT of bullet calibers, but you might not run into more than a handful in your lifetime.  We’ll be going over 18 calibers in total I have on hand, but let’s start with the top 11 most common sizes (in my opinion) first.

Common Bullet Sizes
Common Bullet Sizes

Overview of More Common Bullet Calibers

To make things a little more confusing, there’s a mixture of measurements in inches and millimeters.  There’s also a unit of weight called a “grain” which is used to denote the weight of bullets.  A “grain” is really small since 7000 grains make up one pound.

When you talk about bullets at this high of a level, the most high-level trait is “Stopping Power”.

This is a relatively vague trait and somewhat controversial.  What it boils down to is how many bullets does it take to drop a person.  Granted, if you hit someone in the right spot it only ever takes one but in most situations, you’re aiming for center mass (a.k.a. the chest, a.k.a. the largest target available).

Some bullets have enough power or other traits that will cause damage to organs even if you don’t hit them directly. You might also hear about a term called “Hydrostatic Shock” but that’s an entire article unto itself.

Now let’s go through some!

More Common Bullet Calibers
More Common Bullet Calibers

.22LR

The “twenty-two” long-rifle is the most common caliber in terms of units sold.

It has a bullet weight of around 30-40 grains and is extremely mild shooting in both pistols and rifles.  The recoil is almost non-existent which makes it a great starter round for someone who has never shot a gun or is uncomfortable with the noise.

The low price of the bullets is also great for learning sight pictures.  It is traditionally the starting caliber for shooters.  These things are only a few steps up from a pellet gun round.

They can kill, don’t get me wrong, but they’re mostly for killing rats, snakes, and birds. They’ll kill an attacker for sure but it might take a shot or six.

I have extremely fond memories of earning my Rifle Shooting merit badge with a .22LR.  Many popular handguns and rifles have .22 versions or adapters that let you practice on the platform but use the inexpensive .22LR ammo.

Best .22 Long Rifle Ammo!

.25 ACP

Slightly larger than the .22 and slightly more powerful….though not much.

The ACP stands for “Automatic Colt Pistol.”  There are quite a few guns that use this size but the ammo is more expensive and you’re not getting too much-added benefit other than the inherent reliability that comes with centerfire casings.

Slightly more stopping power than the .22 but it’s kind of like the difference between stabbing someone with an ice pick or a knitting needle.

Both do the job, but one will leave an ever so slightly larger hole.  It’s a tiny round and I’ve yet to use a .25 caliber gun that didn’t work like crap.  I’ve used a few flawless .22’s, however.  I don’t know why that is.

.380 ACP

Now we’re getting into the beefy sizes.

Personally, I would never use a gun with anything smaller than a .380 as my primary carry weapon.

Sometimes called a “9mm Short”, it has seen a major boost in popularity recently thanks to the various “pocket pistols” that have come on the market.  This is also a very controversial round.   If you ever want to troll a gun forum, just go there and ask “which is better: a .380 or a 9mm?” or “Does a .380 have enough stopping power to use it as a carry?”  Watch the arguments start.

It’s entertaining.

This bullet has relatively low recoil and, at close range, good penetration.

They’re a great carry weapon size, in my noobish opinion.  Gun author Massad Ayoob once said of the .380 “Some experts will say it’s barely adequate, and others will say it’s barely inadequate”.  This is a low power round.  Because of the nature of the bullet and the guns that shoot it, it’s going to be relatively useless beyond close-ish range.

Best .380 ACP Ammo!

9mm

This pistol round is officially known as the “9x19mm Parabellum” or “9mm Luger” to distinguish it from other 9mm rounds, but you will be fine just saying “nine millimeter” or “nine mil” for those in the know.

My personal favorite and if there was a “Goldilocks” round, this would be it.

The very first gun I bought was a 9mm.  They’re fun at the range. They’re good for defense.

Believe it or not…or actually believe it because it’s true…the 9mm bullet is the same diameter as the bullet used in the .380 and the .38 Special. The difference between the three is the amount of gunpowder behind it and possibly bullet weight.

It is the standard round for NATO countries and the majority of police forces around the world.  It is mild shooting, can vary in weight from 115-147 grains, and has varying stopping power based on the type of bullet (hint, go with hollow points).

Ballistics Gel Testing
Ballistics Gel Testing

The rounds are inexpensive and they have very low recoil.  Many, many guns use this size as well.  A compact 9mm gun can be used for concealed carry.  Most of the guns that use this size can hold on average 15-17 rounds in the magazine.

And now…there’s been a huge rise in popularity of Pistol Caliber Carbines (or PCC).  Get the nice ergonomics of a rifle but with the price and hollowpoints of the 9mm.

Check out our Favorite PCCs and of course…find out where to get the Best 9mm Ammo!

.40 S&W

Remember how I said the 9mm was the “Goldilocks Round”?  If that’s the case then the .40 is her big, angry, whiskey drinking sister.

Originally designed for the FBI as a reduced 10mm cartridge and popular with other law enforcement agencies ever since.  More kick when compared to the other popular handgun cartridge, the 9mm.  Weights of the bullet can vary from 155 to 165 and 180 gr.

Note that the FBI recently decided to move back to the 9mm since agents are able to shoot more quickly and more accurately with 9mm compared to the .40 S&W.

Best .40 S&W Ammo!

.45 ACP

Designed in 1904 by Mr. John Browning himself for the famous 1911 pistol, this round has one heck of a history.

This thing is a big bullet with stopping power to spare.

The choice of many police officers and military personnel for years, the .45 caliber round has proven itself time and time again. I could probably do an entire article on just this bullet.

It has a large bullet of around 230 grains and has moderate recoil.  I can tell you from personal experience that this is not a round to hand to someone who’s never fired a gun before.  Its stopping power is renowned and has a nostalgic following.

Best .45 ACP Ammo!

.38 Special

The “thirty-eight special” is most commonly found in revolvers.

It has manageable recoil but is still quite a handful when in a very light/small revolver.  It has a longer cartridge and more powder in said cartridge but it is a slower, heavier bullet than the 9mm.  The FBI used this cartridge as its standard issue for a very long time.

The .357 Magnum is identical to the round except for being slightly longer.  You can safely fire a .38 Special in a .357 Magnum gun, but don’t try the other way around due to size and pressure constraints.  Bullet weights vary from 110 to 132 to 158 gr.

Best .38 Special Ammo!

7.62x39mm

The Soviet round used in the AK-47 line of rifles.  It has moderate recoil, great knockdown power, and a bullet weight of usually 123 grains.

There is a high availability of military surplus ammo which makes the round very affordable.

Best 7.62×39 Ammo!

.223 / 5.56x45mm

The “two-two-three” (inch) Remington has almost the exact dimensions as the “five-five-six” (mm) NATO cartridge.

The 5.56 has higher pressures than the .223, so .223 rounds can be fired in a 5.56 rifle, while 5.56 rounds should not be fired in a .223 rifle.  Bullets are around 55 grains and the cartridge has light recoil.

It is the ammunition used in the M16/M4/AR-15 line of rifles and there’s still endless debate on its effectiveness in combat.

However for civilian shooters who get the benefit of hollow point ammunition…it is strongly recommended for home defense.

Best .223/5.56 Ammo!

.308 / 7.62x51mm

The “three-oh-eight” (inch) Winchester is almost the same dimensions as the “seven-six-two” (mm) NATO round.

There are special considerations when mixing the rounds but unless you know what you are doing, stick with the round intended for your rifle.

It is a popular hunting round with moderate recoil, high stopping power, and a wide range of bullets available from 150 to 208 grains.

Best .308/7.62×51 Ammo!

12 gauge

The most popular shotgun round.

20 gauge is a smaller round while 10 gauge is a much larger round.

Recoil can vary from moderate to high based on round.

Shotgun ammunition is the most versatile with birdshot (lots of smaller metal balls), buckshot (fewer much larger metal balls), and slugs (1 oz piece of solid metal).

Here is a pump-action shotgun with birdshot…

And now with buckshot…

Stopping power is renowned with buckshot and slugs (even more recoil) but there’s a price to be paid!

Best Shotgun Ammo!

.50 BMG

Not really common for civilians, but I just had to have it in here.  It’s huge and has huge recoil with awesome range (confirmed kills at 2000m+), and you definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of the bullet.  660 grains of pure stopping power.

Common Bullet Types & Terminology

Still with me?

I’ll go over rarer types of calibers at the end of the article since I really want you to learn about the common bullet types first.

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)

This is the most common type of bullet and consists of a soft metal core, such as lead fully encapsulated by a harder metal, such as copper.  They are usually pointy, round, or even flat.  Wound channels are typically small and go through a target.

Great for the range but not preferred for defensive rounds.

Hollow Point (HP)

Hollow points are made to expand once they hit something.  They are the go-to round for police officers, concealed weapon carriers, and home defense guns because of their stopping power.

Below you can see the difference between a round nose 9mm FMJ and a hollowpoint:

9mm 115 gr Federal FMJ vs 124 gr Federal Hydrashok, Top
9mm 115 gr Federal FMJ vs 124 gr Federal Hydrashok, Top

Open Tip (OTM)

Open-tip bullets look like hollow points since they have an opening at the top, but this is more because of their manufacturing process.  The openings are too small to expand effectively.

Regular FMJ’s are created from small copper cups where the bottom of the cup becomes the tip of the bullet.  Open-tip bullets are the opposite, with the bottom of the cup becoming the bottom of the bullet.

7.62x39 FMJ vs Open Tip, Top
7.62×39 FMJ vs Open Tip, Top

Open-tip bullets are sometimes also known as Open Tip Match (OTM) since they are preferred by long-distance shooters.  The manufacturing process for open tip bullets creates a more consistent round than FMJ.  Important when you’re shooting hundreds of yards!

To make things more confusing, several manufacturers such as Sierra still call their open tip rounds “hollow point.”  If it is important to you, it is best to check online or call.

Ballistic Tip

This is what you get when you combine the aerodynamics of an FMJ with the stopping power of a hollow point.  This is a hollow point covered with plastic to mimic the profile of an FMJ.  They are usually used in hunting.

Below you’ll see that the bottoms of the bullets are more streamlined.  This design is called “boat tail” and produces less drag as the bullet flies through the air.  HPBT is short for “hollow point boat tail.”

7.62 208 gr Ballistic Tip vs 175 HPBT
7.62 208 gr Ballistic Tip vs 175 HPBT
5.56 FMJ vs Open Tip vs Ballistic Tip, Side
5.56 FMJ vs Open Tip vs Ballistic Tip, Side

Soft Point

This is an earlier attempt to get the ballistic advantages of an FMJ with better expansion.

In soft point bullets, part of the lead is exposed at the tip.  The softer lead is designed to flatten better when the bullet hits a target.  But for the most part, ballistic tips have surpassed the performance of soft points.

Note that the left and right bullets are boat tail while the middle one is not.

Soft Point Bullets
Soft Point Bullets

Bird Shot

We’re back to shotgun rounds.

Shot Size Chart, Shotgunworld
Shot Size Chart, Shotgunworld

Birdshot consists of the top row and is pretty small pellets numbering in the dozens in each shell.  Here’s a 7.5 shot shell with a clear hull.

12 ga Birdshot
12 ga Birdshot

Great for hunting birds and blasting clay pigeons, but not the best for home defense.

Buck Shot

The overall best home defense round is buckshot.  00 (“double-aught”) is the go-to load.

00 Buckshot, Paracles Tech
00 Buckshot, Paracles Tech

Slugs

Slugs are single projectiles that are around 1 oz of solid metal that really bring the hurt.  However, they don’t have the spread of birdshot or buckshot.  But, in the hands of a solid shooter, they can be accurate up to 100 yards.

12ga Slug
12ga Slug

Components of Common Cartridges

What makes up a cartridge?

If you get into shooting, you’ll see the costs can really add up.  That is when you get into reloading your own ammo.  Here are just a couple breakdowns of the calibers I currently reload.  You can see the difference in powders & bullets for each type.

Components of 124 9mm FMJ
Components of 124 9mm FMJ
Components of 55 gr 5.56 FMJ
Components of 55 gr 5.56 FMJ
Components of 175 gr 308 HPBT
Components of 175 gr 308 HPBT

Less Common Bullet Calibers

Let’s quickly go over the remaining 8 calibers I have on hand:

Common Bullet Sizes
Common Bullet Sizes

10mm

If you remember, the .40 S&W is just a cut down version of the 10mm which is pretty tough to handle and not something I want to be shooting all day at the range.

Which is just the reason the FBI downgraded from the 10mm to the .40 S&W (and now to the 9mm).  Great stopping power and harsh recoil.

Best 10mm Handguns!

.40 S&W vs 10mm
.40 S&W vs 10mm

5.7x28mm

Made by FN for their P90 personal defense weapon (PDW) and Five-Seven (get it?) pistol.  The small bullet (23-31 gr) travels very fast and allows for increased penetration with low recoil and high magazine capacity.

The history of this little guy is interesting if you’re into that kind of thing.  This is a round born of the Cold War when Western European nations were worried about the Soviets invading, specifically worried about paratroopers wearing body armor.

The design of the P90 and the 5.7 go hand-in-hand, the goal of each being to equip rear echelon troops with a weapon that was easy to handle, easy to transport, and still effective Vs. regular troops wearing body armor.

Although the Soviets never invaded, the P90 and the 5.7 have proven themselves to be very effective in that role. However, if you’re not facing attackers wearing body armor – there are better options.

Hands-on review of the FN Five-seveN!

.357 Magnum

A beefed up .38 Special almost exclusively for revolvers.  Great reputation for stopping power but at the cost of some decent recoil.  Bullets vary from 125 to 158 to 180 gr.

More oomph than the .38 but still manageable with a 4″ barrel and good grip.

More about the .357 Magnum and revolvers that shoot it.

Need ammo? Best .357 Magnum Ammo!

.38 Special vs .357 Magnum
.38 Special vs .357 Magnum

.30 Carbine

Light rifle round designed for the M1 Carbine that was introduced in the 1940s.  Used in service even up to the Korean war, the round and rifle still have a popular following in the civilian world.  The standard bullet is 110 gr.

.300 Blackout

Designed to give the ballistic performance of the larger .30 caliber AK 7.62x39mm round but designed for the AR-15 and using standard magazines at normal capacity.  Thus, the case is a shortened 5.56 case to fit reliably.  Getting more popular as it is a great round for suppressed shooting out of short barrels.  Bullet weight ranges from 110-220 grain.

Best .300 Blackout Ammo!

.300 Blackout vs 5.56
.300 Blackout vs 5.56

7.62x54mmR

Designed by the Russians for their Mosin-Nagant, and then used in more than a dozen guns ranging from rifles to LMGs, and still in use today in the Dragunov and other sniper rifles, which makes it the oldest cartridge still in combat use.  Slightly more recoil than a .308 Winchester.  Bullet weight is around 140-200 gr.

.30-06 Springfield

The “thirty-aught-six” is one of the US’s oldest cartridges, introduced in 1906 and the primary military ammo for almost 50 years.  Strong recoil, and with it range, but tolerable by most shooters which makes it still beloved by many shooters around the world.  Bullet weight is around 150-180 gr.

Best .30-06 Ammo!

Conclusion

There you have it…now you’re a bullet pro!  Continue on with our Beginner’s Guide to Guns or head on over to see where to buy some ammo online.

Or…if an expertly created beginner handgun course is what you’re looking for…check out Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.

Happy shooting!

159 Leave a Reply

  • Stevepski

    Very clear and informative. Question: 44 caliber? No mention of this particular round. How does it compare to a 45 caliber?

    14 hours ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      .44 Cal comes in two main flavors, .44 Magnum and .44 Special. The .44 Spl is basically just the .44 Mag but downsized a bit. .44 Mag is a good deal more powerful than .45 ACP, but it has a rimmed cartridge so it is almost only used in lever-action rifles and revolvers. The .44 Spl is almost the same power as .45 ACP, but again has the rimmed cartridge. .44 Magnum is a great choice for a lever-action rifle or for a bear-defense revolver! But as a CCW, plinker, or HD gun it is a bit on the heavy and overkill side of things.

      1 second ago
  • BRENDA KENNEY

    WHERE DOES A .32 CALIBER PISTOL RATE WITH THE OTHER AMMO YOU WENT OVER?

    5 days ago
    • BRENDA K.

      WHAT ABOUT A 30/30?

      5 days ago
  • Eddie Taylor

    Great article. Great job! One of the better descriptions I have seen on this subject.

    1 week ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks, Eddie!!

      1 week ago
  • RON DRAKE SR

    WHAT HAPPEN TO THE 45/70 AND THE 30/30

    3 weeks ago
  • Imhotep Shom'er

    I'm a firearms instructor, and have been for a number of disciplines, agencies, and years. Your article on bullet sizes, calibers and types has been the very best I've ever seen. It was very comprehensive and "gun noobish" and I am looking forward to reading your other works, great job!

    1 month ago
  • Kyle deveau

    Hi, I’m actually doing a research paper that includes minie balls: a new and revolutionary invention that was used during the civil war. Any connection I can use to support that through we evolve in our machinery?

    2 months ago
    • Kyle deveau

      “Through *war* we evolve in our machinery?”

      2 months ago
      • David, PPT Editor

        I don't know of any connection Minie balls had with other machinery or technology, but war and researching for weapons have resulted in loads of other unrelated advancements. Minor things like duct tape all the way to world-changing technology like Penicillin and canned food.

        2 months ago
  • WTKJD

    The first graphic is better captioned as “Common Cartridge Sizes.” A bullet is a component. There is virtually no difference in size between 9mm Parabellum, .38 Special and .357 Magnum bullets, but a big difference in cartridge size between them. While the media conflates “cartridges” with “ bullets,” gun experts don’t.

    3 months ago
  • Gale

    Is 30 carbine same as 30/30 round?

    3 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      No, .30-30 Winchester was developed in 1895 and is most commonly seen in lever-action rifles. .30 Carbine was developed in the 1940s and is most commonly seen in the M1 Carbine

      3 months ago
  • Daha

    Thanks a bunch ,now I understand better these terminologies

    4 months ago
  • Richard Venneman

    Why no mention of the 357sig?

    4 months ago
    • Mark

      Yeah, I was wondering that too... or did it join the 10mm category of obscure calibers.

      2 months ago
  • Matt

    Loved the article as a noobie to the sport always looking for new informative articles to read. This was a good one. Thanks Matt

    6 months ago
  • Jay

    First things first,purpose of round.25 acp was designed for the baby browning,which I can palm completely in my boney hands and when you walked past a nazi officer you could feign a heil Hitler and pop a round into his forehead from mere inches away and keep walking. QUITE FATAL and preferred tool of French underground resistance for sneaky assassinations not combat. Yes a bazooka has more stopping power than a Daisy Red Rider.

    8 months ago
    • crackerboy

      Re: .25 ACP v. .22 LR The article gives the impression that the two calibers are more or less comparable for self-defense. Not accurate. The "stopping power" (annoyance potential?) is comparable only in 2 - 3" barrels, and even then not in all loadings. For example, the .25 ACP out of a 3" barrel generates only about 100 lb/ft maximum energy. The .22 LR, depending on the load, will produce to up to 120 lb/ft. Furthermore, it's available in lead hollow point which MIGHT expand some at handgun velocities, whereas the .25 is fully-jacketed. Someone once made a hollow point .25, but they wouldn't expand in wet phone books out of my Baby Browning clone. Add in the greater tendency of .25 pistols to malfunction due to a variety of causes, such as improper grip, dirt and garbage, failure to feed, etc. and the choice is pretty clear. Some .22 pistols are less than reliable, but the caliber is available in revolvers. Malfunctions are generally due to ammo quality in .22's, and with a wheel gun you just pull the trigger again. Above 3" of barrel, the comparison becomes absurd.

      4 months ago
  • Rollo N Rendleman

    I have purchased my first gun, Sig Sauer P250 40 S&W . What is the best and cheapest round for the range? Also, I know for home defense is a hollow point, but does the grain weight matter at extreme close range?

    8 months ago
  • Chase P

    This is a great article. Like always very detailed and accurate. Thank you for the information!

    9 months ago
    • John

      You bet! Thanks for reading, Chase!

      9 months ago
  • crypto7

    If I could attach the PDF I have of the 2015 FOIA request for the FBI's 9mm justification I would, but they make a very strong case that "stopping power is a myth" and when you're talking about neutralizing an attacker you're talking about 1) shot placement, and 2) the projectile. Actually, it's here: http://looserounds.com/2015/11/09/fbi-9mm-justification-foia/ but you have to zoom the JPEGs to read them....

    11 months ago
  • drojo

    Should be capitalized as: Five-seveN (get it?)

    1 year ago
  • John Magee

    Eric, wonderful site but it’s not a bullet cartridge it’s just a cartridge.

    1 year ago
    • DrFunkenstein

      The cartridge holds a bullet so I don't think Eric's wrong calling it a bullet cartridge, nor do I think you're wrong simply calling it a cartridge. Tomato/tomahto....

      11 months ago
      • crypto7

        You misspelled tomahto. ;-)

        11 months ago
        • Jay

          Toematta

          8 months ago
  • Rebel

    Good article,but you overlooked 3 rounds that are very common.The 22 magnum ,44 spcl,and 44 magnum.

    1 year ago
  • Farhan

    All i can say is "AMAZING" Thank U...

    1 year ago
  • mike

    E=M*V squared. Nice to see bullet descriptions nd masses. I would like a similar article about velocities (and energy) of the various rounds.

    1 year ago
  • Russell

    I have no experience with guns and very much appreciate the excellent information you've given on your site. I would never have understood any of this, though I have heard many of the terms used. Question: I have a friend who re-loads bullets in his home in his spare time. Is this a safe thing to do with toddlers in the house?

    1 year ago
    • Rob W

      Absolutely safe, At least, as safe as anything else. You have far more dangerous stuff under the kitchen sink. As long as you think safe and practice safety it is more safe than bleach or laundry packets.

      1 year ago
  • Matthew Collins

    Hey Russell, as long as the materials are stored safely and your friend knows what he's doing, it's no more dangerous than anything else.

    1 year ago
    • Russell

      Thanks - I do think he is well informed. Was just worried. Appreciate the info.

      1 year ago
  • jason

    Not one mention of .32 acp? I know its a controversial defense round and there aren't many gun options on the market but it's more manageable for smaller or weaker shooters than 380 in a pocket gun and that's very important to consider.

    1 year ago
    • Matthew Collins

      Hey Jason, unfortunately if we included every caliber, this list would be too long. .32 acp is a good round, but it's just not common enough, either on store shelves, or as a chambering for new guns. We do have a couple articles on guns for shooters with less hand strength, and disabled shooters and .32 acp and .25 acp both make the list there, for the reasons you've mentioned. Thanks for bringing this up and reminding folks of some of the other options that are out there!

      1 year ago
  • 22 Cal. Ammo Info – Hunt Sodak

    […] Basic Bullet Guide: Sizes, Calibers, and Types – Pew Pew Tactical – Jan 31, 2016. The rimfire's primer is built into the rim while the centerfire cartridge has the primer in the center. Rimfires are extremely cheap (few cents each) and the. 22LR is the most popular rimfire caliber. For even more differences, see our article on rimfire ammo or familiarize yourself with how guns work. Centerfire. […]

    1 year ago
  • Caitlin

    Can you help clarify the difference between the .50AE and S&W 500 magnum bullet?

    1 year ago
    • Rob W.

      The .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) and the Smith and Wesson pistol 500 should say it. The .50 BMG was used in WWII up to today and is impossible to hide in your hand. It is capable of taking down military aircraft, piercing the armor of some personnel carriers, and was used commonly in the wing guns of aircraft for air to air combat. The .500 Smith and Wesson handgun round is relatively new, can be hidden in a mans hand, and is for pistols.

      1 year ago
  • kark

    500sw is bigger. search the dimensions up

    1 year ago
  • Denz

    Simply to my understanding, Each caliber size depends mainly on its diameter . try not to get confused on the 2 system .of measurement ,. once you figure it out you would no longer be confused on how they arrived in sizing...the bullet.. Sometimes there are bullet sized which is almost of the same diameter.like 9mm caliber bullet and the , .357 bullet..In here id like to know what differs them in terms of power?Was it the amount of powder grain or does it have something to do with the whole ammo total length.

    1 year ago
    • Rob W.

      Allow me to say this. There is no rhyme nor reason related to a standardization of bullet or gun identities. Due to SAMMI standards and military there are some standardization, certainly. But there is NO common denominator to be found as far as names. go. For example, I have a .380 Bersa Thunder and a .38 Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece, and a .38/.357 S&W double action and a .38/357 Uberti Single action. The .380 and the 9mm are the same diameter but not the same as the .38. No, the .38 and the .357 Magnum are the same size, except the case is longer in the .357 Magnum. Now, there is a difference between the 9mm Parabellum and the 9mm Makarov in that one is 9mmx19mm and the other is 9mmx18mm and they will not shoot in the same guns. If you want that you need a .38/357 but don't try to shoot a .357 magnum in the .38 Smith and Wesson because you can't. It won't fit. But the .38 will fit and shoot in the .357 Magunm, both in the Double action and the Single action. Make sense?

      1 year ago
  • Eric Hung

    The powder will vary a lot based on type of powder, the total cartridge length (how deep set the bullet is), and other factors.

    1 year ago
  • JDK

    I would not go so far as to suggest all 9mm projectiles are interchangeable between .380, and 9x18, .38SPL, and 9x19 cartridges..

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      True!

      1 year ago
  • Roger L

    CAN I TAKE A 9MM HANDGUN INTO CANADA WITHOUT ANY PROBLEMS GETTING ACROSS THE BORDER? PLANNING AN ALASKA TRIP AND WANT SOMETHING FOR PROTECTION.

    1 year ago
    • .50 BMG GUY

      If you're going to Alaska Rodger then you will definitely need more stopping power than a 9mm ! If you are planning to use a handgun ad your only weapon I would suggest th S&W 500 or a Dessert Eagle 50 cal. For an semi automatic . If you are going to use a rifle you would do well to have a 300-338 win mag or 7mm Remington Magnum . These three calibers will handle anything in North America . Good luck on your trip and with getting any of these through the border without problems . You would probably be better off just shippng your weapon of choice to the address in Alaska that you are going to before you leave . That way it will be there when you arrive or shortly after you do . Or you may even considered getting what you want once in Alaska . That will definitely be the safest way of getting what you need without problems . I hope my advice helps .

      1 year ago
  • Eric Hung

    YOU'LL HAVE TO CHECK WITH THE PROPER AUTHORITIES.

    1 year ago
  • Erik

    Thanks! Clear, simple and concise. ( Humorous too)! Perfect

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Erik!!

      1 year ago
  • Rodney

    bravo, finally a quick reference guide to go in my saved file. Thank you so much.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Rodney!

      1 year ago
  • Jack

    Thank you Eric for the helpful information. I got started is shooting at 70 years young.,5 years ago, i enjoy indoor target shooting and have taken many lessions. So much to learn but very enjoyable sport. You cleared up a lot of questions i had , thank you for the professional information. jack

    1 year ago
  • Curious

    Hello, what does an (F) stand for on a .22

    1 year ago
    • harvey

      .22 rimfire

      1 year ago
  • Byron

    I am going to buy a gun and appreciate this info. Thanks.

    1 year ago
  • Gah8\'s

    I am glad that someone took the time & talent to get this caliber cataloging done. I consider myself versed in firearms and ammo of the common variety, and Mil-Spec too. But, yes the big 'but' of this issue as it applies to me and my knowledge of ammo. Talking ammo is my weakest test in good gun talk with fellow like minded individuals and such. This information is thankfully taking some of us a tad higher in the 'Gun IQ' part of our thoughts and conversations. I thank the author and I am glad I read it.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Glad we could help you out!

      1 year ago
  • Thomas F. F. Joyce

    Great data thanks

    1 year ago
  • Thomas F. F. Joyce

    Great data, I try to remember this stuff but I need reminders like this

    1 year ago
  • frank

    Well done. Great analysis and easy to read. Thanks

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Frank!

      1 year ago
  • Frank

    no 7mm rem mag

    1 year ago
  • Tobin Thomas

    Hi, Eric Hung thanks for the information. Great article easy to read.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome, Tobin!

      1 year ago
  • Robert Woznicki

    How did Harry Potter get of the hill? By flying. (J.K. Rolling)

    1 year ago
  • Robert Woznicki

    J.K.

    1 year ago
  • Robert Woznicki

    I'm gonna be a Jean-ass.

    1 year ago
  • RBQ

    I am a bit confused about the actual dimensions of the .380 & the 9mm "short" cartridges. Are they the exact same size? If so, why do manufacturers continue to use both designations? That being said, can the .380 & the 9mm "short" be fired in a standard 9mm? I have a FEG RK 59 9mm. It was sold to me as a .380, but, on inspection, I saw the 9mm stamping on the slide. I think the previous owner had been using .380 ammo in this pistol. Could this have caused some kind of damage? Great article.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey RBQ, acccording to Wikipedia, "9mm short" is the same as .380. But I would double-check your gun with someone more knowledgeable because you don't want to shoot the wrong round and also to look at possible damage.

      1 year ago
  • Minguad

    This is great! I'm a writer and I hadn't been able to find anything online with easy to understand information until I found this. Thank you so much!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome!

      1 year ago
      • Simon

        Eric why would ya need a 50 bmg, when like, something like a 45 would kill just as well?

        1 year ago
        • Andrew Whitehill

          Because, why wouldn't you want overwhelming devastation and the ability to hit whatever your target when it is behind a tree and a car, wearing a bullet proof vest. It's kinda like having a mile of targeting time. That's a long way to run and get tired before it kills you.

          1 year ago
  • DesiBanda

    Great Site! very Clean and interesting. Keep up the good work.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much!

      1 year ago
  • Scotty

    Nicely done boss, it's a rarity to find an article with little bias while maintaining the informative concept. Appreciate the few things I learned, thank you... Keep up the good work!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Scotty!

      1 year ago
  • Andrew Smart

    Well hell, I'll just go ahead and echo what a lot of others are saying: thanks dude; extremely accessible and precisely the information I was desirous of. Go you!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Andrew!

      2 years ago
  • Curt

    Okay, I'll be first to admit that .45 ACP or 9mm Parabellum is better than a .22 Magnum or .22 LR. Often I carry a .22. Why? First, I try to stay away from anywhere there might be a problem. That means I avoid certain neighborhoods and avoid places at certain hours. Life is much easier if I'm not in a situation where I need a gun. Second, if I don't have a good shot at a bad guy, I'm not going to shoot. With a .22 I'm pretty much limited to close range head and throat and liver shots if I expect anything more than an angry response that will hurt me. Personally, I hope I never have to shoot anyone. Thirdly, and the main reason for such a small caliber, is that it fits comfortably under anything and while it is very limited, it can stop a bad guy. In winter, I usually carry .45 or 9mm.

    2 years ago
    • Curt

      You should probably carry the gun that delivers the most momentum to your target considering the clothing you're wearing and laws of your region. I've been shooting guns for over 45 years, so I'm not too concerned that even while dodging and moving that I won't hit my target, so I'm not overly concerned with a too small caliber. Your best defense is to avoid [laces that might be trouble and if trouble still finds you, talk your way out of whatever it is.

      2 years ago
  • Vimbai

    Great article Eric. Well prepared.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Vimbai!

      2 years ago
  • David

    Great info!

    2 years ago
  • Jerry Henderson

    I don't know what the "caliper method" is, but you've addressed my concerns. Thank you!

    2 years ago
  • Jerry

    Great article, but I've got a question: I purchased a 9MM bore sighter to "zero-in" my .380 ACP ($7.50 for the 9MM vs. $25-$30 for a .380). The laser will fit into the barrel, but not far, so the slide will only close about halfway. Is that still far enough to accurately adjust the sights?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Jerry, I believe the 9mm is slightly less diameter than the .380 so there will be some play there. As far as how deep it goes in...more is probably better but it should be enough. I've always gone with the caliper way of making sure the sights are aligned.

      2 years ago
  • Dep

    Great article. Couple of corrections? the 9mm is not the same size bullet as the .380 or the .38 special. It's actually about .36 caliber. Slightly smaller and the .30 Caliber carbine was used way past Korea, up to the late mid-60's in the Vietnam war.

    2 years ago
  • Dick Baker

    Great Article! Question: Why does Winchester name its .22LR ammo: M-22? What is the definition of "M"? Thanks,

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      My guess is it's just a naming convention. They are marketing the M-22 ammo more towards rimfire AR rifles so they might have added the M for some M4/M16 association. Just guessing.

      2 years ago
  • Sam Armstrong

    What do you think of the 17cal.?

    2 years ago
  • Arrie

    Hi Eric, This might be a bit specific, but do you know if the cartridge case wall thickness may vary for the same calibre? I've read that cartridge casings occasionally are made out of different materials, wouldn't that require different dimensions?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      It does based on manufacturer. Sometimes reloaders will segment their brass based on manufacturer since it makes enough of a difference. You'll see brass, nickel plated brass, steel, etc. Not sure if those would require different dimensions.

      2 years ago
  • Debbie Brown

    This is the most informative article I have read about ammunition. Complete, concise and easy to follow! I teach firearms training to civilians, law enforcement and security officers, and covering ammunition has always been a task because of all the variations of ammo. Thanks for making it easier to explain.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome Debbie!

      2 years ago
  • Matthew Collins

    Awesome, thanks so much for the kind words, and glad we could help!

    2 years ago
  • Robert Hall

    Hi Eric, a little background I am retired cop and started out with a 38 revolver went 2 in 9 and then to a 40 Auto. Now there is talk that the department is going back to a 9 as a result of studies stating there is less recoil on the nine as well as lighter in weight smaller in size and less expensive to shoot. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance for your response I respect your opinion.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Robert, I love my 9's for those reasons you mentioned. Also the new tech in 9 hollow points make them pretty effective.

      2 years ago
      • Darr247

        According to the state trooper that taught part of a required carry class I attended, the main reason they switched to 9mm was they want to have as many shots as possible available without changing magazines, and the same size 9mm magazine holds more rounds than .40S&W and LOTS more rounds than a .45ACP.

        1 year ago
  • Giovanni Socci

    Great article,I wished you had included the .338 Lapua and the .338 Winchester, but perhaps that s beyond your readers curiousity,still a great article.thumbs up.

    2 years ago
  • Charles

    I am just really surprised to not see the .270 win on the list. It is a great all around round that is more common then some listed. With thay said I did like the article and did get some info out of it.

    2 years ago
  • Carl Pernel

    Hi. Great article. But I still have a question you may be able to answer for me. Some years ago my late dad owned a Smith and Wesson that had been made in Spain in the 1930's. It was a five shot revolver, break open, and we thought it was a .38. We took it to the police in the days when they still used .38's and the cop took a cartridge from his speed loader. It slid into one cylinder in the gun, but the length of the cartridge made it impossible to close the gun. So what calibre could this Spanish made S & W revolver be? The cylinder takes the width of a .38 cartridge but not the length. Any ideas on what caliber of bullet this antique Smith and Wesson made in Spain in the 1930's might actually use?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Carl, I'm not sure...not the best authority on foreign revolvers. You might try your local gun shop or post up some pics on forums.

      2 years ago
  • Donna

    Very helpful article. My husband has many guns and has used guns for about 45 yrs. Now I finally feel I understand some of what he talks about. I am just beginning to shoot. I pulled up multiple articles to try to educate myself a little more and this was the only one I could read start to finish because it made sense. Thank you.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Donna!

      2 years ago
  • Scott Schoenfelder

    What do you think of the new 22 TCM? I have both a 1911 pistol and rifle chambered for this rd.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      That's new to me! How does it shoot for you?

      2 years ago
      • Scott Schoenfelder

        It shoots great out of my RIA 1911 with 5in barrel, sometimes you get a fireball. The velocity is about 2100 -2400 FPS but hardly any recoil. Out of the rifle the FPS goes up to 2700 FPS, you can tell it has some power but still not much recoil when you pull the trigger. You need to check it out on the RIA website. They even make a conversion kit for a Glock 9mm to convert it to the new cartridge.

        2 years ago
        • Eric Hung

          Awesome, thanks for that Scott.

          2 years ago
  • Jay

    Great article. Easy to read for a novice and easy to understand, I really appreciate it.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Jay!

      2 years ago
  • carl

    Eric what is the difference between 223 and the 5.56x39 and if I can witch one for the other I have two old arisaka and I need to know what caliber they are can you help me

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Carl, the .223 is close to the 5.56x45. I'm not familiar with a 5.56x39...do you mean 5.45x39 which is the standard round for the AK-74. I'm also not familiar with arisaka's so you might have better luck in a forum or bringing it to a smith. You don't want to put the wrong caliber in a gun.

      2 years ago
  • Sid

    Just starting out learning about guns. all the ammo stuff was slightly confusing, but your articles totally cleared it up. Thank you very much.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Sid!

      2 years ago
  • Max Hamilton

    Hi Eric, It is great info, very useful article, many thanks.

    2 years ago
  • krshh

    It's a very useful article and I request u to tell some something about different guns and their powers

    2 years ago
  • john

    Total newbie. Great article... In terms of defense, what round type or classification would be best for close quarters (townhouse) with less wall penetration? Frangible?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey John, yup! I have caliber specific ammo recommendations on the site so check them out. Use the contact us page if you're having trouble finding it.

      2 years ago
  • Alex

    Well written article, enjoyed reading it. I also found this ammo guild on 45 ACP informative.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Alex!

      2 years ago
  • Richey Stewart

    Are you taking pictures with a cellphone? Whatever you are doing the pictures of your bullets are distorted. They do not give accurate depiction of their actual size of calibers listed. They are elongated and thinly proportioned. i know the difference in most shells but there are alot of people that will be greatly surprised at the true size of lets say .357 or 45 long colt as opposed to .45 acp. Your picture of a .50 caliber bullet makes it look no bigger than a 30-06. there is a huge difference you can not see in your so called photos.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Richey, thanks for your comment. I do admit I'm not the best photographer but I tried to not use a potato camera. Hopefully the quarter in the pictures gives some sense of scale.

      2 years ago
  • Christina Schmitz

    I have a Thompson Center Encore .243. The .243 is not covered in your bullet size calibers guide. Can you tell me your take on this caliber? Thank you.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Christina, I'd love to but I don't have any current experience on it yet!

      2 years ago
  • Darren Justice

    $1 for slugs a piece? More like up to $5 a piece

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Those are some fancy slugs then!

      2 years ago
  • John

    Great information, enjoyed article very much. What are your thoughts on the 7mm Mag vs 308 cal ?

    2 years ago
    • Joe

      The 7mm Rem Mag is a much faster, flatter shooting round. It is a .284 bullet diameter that is usually 150-175 gr. The 308 Win is a .300 bullet in a non-magnum case. It shoots slower and has a more parabolic trajectory. Typically the bullets are also around 150-175 gr.. I shoot long range (500-750yds) and elk with my 7mm, I shoot shorter ranges (100-500yds) and deer with my 308. Which is better? They are different and both very good at what they do. They are kind of an apples/oranges comparison. I would suggest of the two, the 308 is a better all around caliber; especially for a beginner. The 7mm has far more recoil, and is better compared to a 300 Win Mag.

      2 years ago
  • rick

    I was in the navy.Our guns shot 5in 54 rds.What is the decimal for a 5in 54compared to a 38rd.

    2 years ago
    • George

      A 5 inch (127 mm) would be 5.00 caliber. The 54 refers to the barrel length (54 calibers long or about 270 inches). A .38 barrel is 0.38 inches in diameter

      2 years ago
  • ehung

    Hi Rick, I'm sorry but I don't have any knowledge on Navy large caliber guns!

    2 years ago
  • Joe

    Explain different kinds of hollow points like holloe point vd jhp? And xtp?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Joe, good question…HP stands for hollow point while JHP stands for jacketed hollow point. Almost all good self-defense ammo is JHP while there’s some unjacketed lead hollow points in revolver calibers (such as .38 Special). XTP I think is just a brand from Hornady that stand for "Extreme Terminal Performance".

      2 years ago
  • Steve

    Thanks for the very good rundown on bullet types. As a total newcomer to guns, I found this page incredibly helpful. The only part I take issue with is regarding the .45 round, you say: "I can tell you from personal experience that this is not a round to hand to someone who’s never fired a gun before." I recently shot for the first time, and it was with a Colt 1911 .45 and it was frickin' awesome! I can't imagine shooting any other kind of handgun. I even hit the target (most of the time - my one-handed shooting needs work). It inspired me to set up a range on my property and I'm shooting every weekend now. Yeah, the 45 packs a wallop, but if you have a gun with enough heft, and you hold it firm, the punch is more like a push. For a first timer it might be big, but with the right instruction, it's a great experience shooting a piece of history. Thanks again for the very helpful information.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks Steve...glad you got a good grip on the .45!

      2 years ago
  • Gray

    Thank you Eric for this great info. I'm planning to add range shooting to my hobby in the future, and thankfully I saw your article and learned a lot. My one question is, is there going to be a mixed up when buying bullets for a handgun, say I bought a certain type of bullet then later found out that it won't fit? What question should I ask the gun store when buying bullets for a particular gun if I ran out of ammo? Also, I haven't fired any gun before, so based on your article, .22 is the best for a total newbie. But I plan to get just one handgun for sport and self-defense, so I'm hoping to have 9mm instead since I don't want to own more than 1 gun. Is this okay, cost-wise (bullets)? Thanks

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Gray, you should always match the ammo to your gun. If in doubt, ask the gun store, or if you are sure of what caliber you need, check out my recs for ammo: http://www.pewpewtactical.com/best-places-to-buy-ammo-online/

      2 years ago
  • Leslie

    OMG! Finally someone who makes sense to me. Trying to learn stuff on your own or at gun shows and gun shops is wearing me down. I have been shooting all my life (north of 60 years), but being female, I get talked down to a lot and so just grab the ammo that is familiar to me and go. I have checked web sites on bullet strengths and sizes before and never got anywhere. Now I feel I have a grasp of at least the calibers you went over. I have book marked this page as I am sure I will re-read it many more times until it all stays in my memory banks. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please do more.

    2 years ago
    • Megan

      I am also a femal shooter (only a year now) and I had the same problem. I got talked down to at a gun range. I asked questions and they would address my husband with the answers!! My husband finally had enough and we left. Thankfully I was able to find another one that has been amazing! The articles here just top off everything I've been learning and more!

      2 years ago
      • ehung

        Thanks again Megan!

        2 years ago
  • ehung

    Hi Leslie, thanks so much for your kind words. Just glad I could help someone out!

    2 years ago
  • Dave Mohler

    I recently inherited a pump action Remington 760 in 300 savage caliber without any magazines. As you can imagine not alot of places carry those magazines in that specific caliber. I was wondering if you can tell me what caliber is the closest to the 300 savage so I might be able to find a magazine the will be functional if not perfect. Thanks in advance, Dave

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Dave, hopefully this helps (http://www.gunpartscorp.com/ad/929980.htm#929990A). Looks like at least according to this the magazine is the same for .243/.308/.300 Sav

      2 years ago
  • nate

    The is a lot of history here and thank you for the time you you you you site... I do have a question though. In your breakdown of terminology (IE: five-five-six) I don't see what that means... what is 5.56 x 39?? Or 30-06??

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Nate, if you see something like 5.56x45mm, that's the dimensions of the cartridge. The 5.56 deals with the diameter of bullet while the 45 is the height of the shell. The 30-06 is a little different in that the .30 is the caliber of the bullet (size) and 06 is the year the cartridge was adopted (1906).

      3 years ago
  • JR

    I am learning about guns but having to depend on clerks in order to buy correct ammo for our guns. I have two size handguns and a variety of boxes of rounds right now. I was clueless on the differences. We also gave a shot gun. Your article was an easy read with excellent illustrations. I will check out your YouTube channel in the future...will recommend.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi JR, thanks so much and glad I could help you out!

      3 years ago
  • John T.

    Great article. It answered my question as to why the FBI went from 10mm to the .40 S&W, and now to the 9mm rounds.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Glad I could help!

      3 years ago
  • John

    This was amazingly written and extremely descriptive. Thank you so much!! I loved the pictures and side by sides a lining with prices. Just and all around precise and very well. Written article on caliber sizes. Thanks alot!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks so much for the kind words, John!

      3 years ago
  • Edward J.

    Great article. Great info . Thanks

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      You're welcome!

      3 years ago
      • Kristina

        That's is an awesome article. Thank you so much. Just learning about guns and bullets. There was so much great infomation.

        2 years ago
        • ehung

          Thanks Kristina, appreciate the kind words!

          2 years ago
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