Picking Practice Ammo by R. Ann Parris
Why do we need practice ammo? Because we need to develop and maintain muscle memory, train, and check our zero’s, but purpose-driven ammo tends to be more expensive than bog-standard FMJ, pistol or rifle. Even pellets run into the same. To save money (which lets us practice more often), we typically go for the less expensive option.
That being the case, practice ammo seems pretty easy: Go with whatever’s cheap and plentiful.
Thing is, bullet shape and weight and the powder load behind change where our shot lands.
Hunting, self-defense, FMJ, and all other ammunition has variations, between general types, between manufacturers, and even between specific purpose-driven loads.
In some cases, that’s not a problem.
Breaking in a pellet rifle is about the gun itself, not us or the ammo. Refining our fundamentals just requires a consistent load — we’re looking for human-error trends and tightening groups.
Working on a skill/habit where we’re training muscle memory with drills is the same. While we’d like to combine both accuracy and our physical-action responses in seeking cover and assessing at all times, working first-shot and last-shot drills, immediate and remedial action, transitions to backup and primary platforms, defining targets of priority, bounding or gaining and maintaining distance from attackers, etc., we can marry them as we refine, so if our ammo is a little off during initial or periodic live-fire training, it’s not a big deal.
Need for consistent placement varies even when we do want some accuracy.
A difference of 2-3” in drop due to distance or variation isn’t a big deal in most speed shooting situations — action sports, self-defense.
Some home- and property-defense shooting can claim the same, as can most “center mass” combat and CQB training. Some of those can expand even further to an ammo or difference in ammunition point of impact that hits even 6-8” isn’t necessarily prohibitive.
Even for times we’re taking an extra beat or a breath to place a fairly well-aimed shot on human-sized targets, it mostly only requires that we nail a 4-6” circle.
(Hold a dessert or bread plate in front of your neck and hip, and over beside your shoulder and ear/jaw. If you’re hitting that plate in practice…)
However, if we’re in a one-shot situation, we need to know exactly where that projectile is going to land.
Especially if we’re also already accounting for elevation, angles, drop over distance, and windage, consistency in ammo is vital.
Ammunition differences that create variance of 4-8” at 50-100 yards and 200-300 yards isn’t going to work for a lot of hunting purposes and overwatch. Even 2-3” isn’t going to work for some situations.
When we’re training ourselves for shot placement, our practice ammo becomes as vital as our habits and platform.
We’re practicing more than we’re doing in many, many, many cases. That practice includes our sports, regularly. If we’ve picked an ammo for that practice that shoots differently from our special-purpose ammo, we’re training ourselves to its point of impact.
That’s setting ourselves up for failure when our shots count.
That doesn’t mean we have to be burning more expensive purpose-driven ammo for practice!
It means we experiment.
Some distances, platforms, and barrel twist rates and chamberings are more immune to variations, but we still want to test it. Instead of buying (or loading) in bulk initially, we start with smaller lots of less-expensive practice ammo.
We’re not after the practice ammo that delivers the tightest group at the most ranges. We’re after the one that shoots the most like our practical-use ammo.
It’s a little more front-end work and cost, but in the end, consistency between practice and functional rounds means we don’t waste the chance for meat on the table or blow through our ammo without a solid hit and wind up with a very expensive rock to throw or club to swing.
Seems worth a simple fix to me.