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How Much Ammo Do You Need

Have an ample reserve of ammo and magazines for the guns you use the most. This is the way.

Through hell and high water, you’ve scored yourself a defensive firearm. Maybe it was an H&K VP9 9mm pistol, maybe it was an AR-15 rifle. Or maybe a classic shotgun. Or maybe two or more of the above. You’re training, and you scored some ammo, even in this sideways stories from the wayside world.

But, how much ammo do you really need?

“Need” is a prickly word amongst us gun owners. The unschooled, and those opposed to the private ownership of firearms love to toss around the term, i.e. “Do you really need a gun?” or “Why do you need all that ammo, are you planning something?”

Well yeah, I’m planning something. I’m planning for the effective defense of myself, my family, and property. And for that, one definitely needs a certain amount of ammunition and magazines on hand. And yes, that’s probably still not enough. Ammo does get consumed after all.

Ammo Goes Fast, Especially When You Need It

As we’ve touched on in the past, a few rounds on tap is rarely enough. Stress factors, training, and environmental conditions contribute to one’s hit/miss ratio. Restricted magazine capacity can kill you, after all. Ten rounds turns to zero real fast. When the action starts, you’ll burn through more ammo than you think. While having 100 rounds of 9mm ammo on hand might get you through one or two encounters, those two encounters can easily knock your “stash” down to near zero, and woefully unprepared for a third encounter.

The bad guys aren’t going to wait for your Lucky Gunner order to arrive, that’s for sure.

Of course, the easiest answer to the question “How much ammo do you need?” is - “a lot, and more than that!” - but we all have finite finances and credit limits. Realistically, it should be “How much ammo is the bare minimum?”

Well, it depends. The mainstream media loves to call something like 1000 rounds and 2 guns an “arsenal” - that’s pretty low, let’s put it that way.


How Much Ammo You Need Depends On Your Guns.

Your ammo stash depends on what guns you have, and your planned uses for them. Firearms used for defensive purposes tend to consume more ammo, due to training sessions and also the nature of a defensive encouter, again where ammo goes fast.


Your handgun/pistol is, objectively, the most difficult gun to attain and maintain competency with. The relative compact size of a handgun requires skill and practice to manipulate and fire effectively. Ironically it’s the weapon a lot of people neglect to train with heavily, simply because of the relative difficulty. I can sit a newbie behind an AR-15 on a bench and have him or her hitting “vital” parts of a target inside of an hour. A pistol? They’ll hit the paper, but getting those effective shots in takes a lot more training. The small frame of a pistol doesn’t absorb recoil as well, and you’re worrying about grip and sight picture more. Difficulty tends to discourage use, so in general people suck with handguns. Even professional users, like a lot of police officers, tend to have dismal hit rates, especially under duress. The pistol is neglected, sadly, even in the military where pistols are regarded as the “secondary” weapon.

As citizens though, we aren’t (usually) openly toting our rifles around on a daily basis - so our primary firearm is most likely a pistol. So, we should train with it as much as we can. In a given training session, regardless of whether it’s at a standard range, or in a dynamic classroom situation, one should be putting at least 150-200 rounds down the pipe in a given session. Maybe more. With that in mind, for a starting point, you should have at least 500 rounds in your chosen caliber on hand and ready to go at any given time. At least half should be a defensive hollow-point load, and the rest should be full-metal jacket target rounds. For example, if your primary sidearm is a 9mm GLOCK 19, you would have 250 rounds of Speer Gold Dot 124gr +P ammo on hand at all times, and the rest would be a companion load such as Speer’s Lawman 9mm.

This goes for any pistol you plan on using or carrying on a regular basis, by the way. So, if you have say a GLOCK 21 in .45 ACP or an FN FNX-45, you should probably have at least that stashed away in .45 ACP as well.

What I tend to do is buy at the range when possible (it works out price-wise usually) when I train, and I treat my stash as the reserve. If I dip into the reserve, I replenish. I also occasionally run a box of defensive ammo at the range and replace with new.

Again, when possible - replacing ammo taken from your reserve is a tricky business in today’s mad rush. That’s where dry fire practice comes in handy, by the way. While dry fire is no replacement for live fire practice, you can conserve a little at the range and round things out with some dry fire fun at home.

Remember - my figure of 500 is the minimum. Have more when possible, strive for the thousands. Even a box of 50 every paycheck will add up over time.


A modern defensive rifle like an AR-15 or an AK-pattern weapon is easier to attain competency in. Rifle tactics tend to emphasize smooth and economic motions, in addition to rapid fire. And yes, the inherent satisfaction in attaining competency fast tends to encourage more shooting. In not so many words - rifles eat ammo like crazy - even in semi-auto. If you’re running full-auto, lucky you, and you’re probably not dreadfully concerned about your stockpile.

Anyway - while basic competency with a modern rifle is easier to attain than with a handgun, you’re still going to burn lots of ammo getting to the point of flexibility across different ranges. Your average handgun encounter maxes out at 7 yards, whereas rifle work tends to go out further. You’ll need to be able to “work” at 100 yards as effectively as you do at 10 yards. It’s stupid easy to burn 200-300 rounds in one session putting in the work with your AR or AK.

Thus your “need” for rifle ammo will be a little more significant. When your burn rate is at 200-300 rounds a session, you’ll want to have at least 2000 rounds of your favored rifle caliber on hand at all times. The “split” is a little different - where 66 percent of your reserve should be training rounds such as the venerable M855 5.56mm “green tip” round, and the rest should be fleshed out by some quality defensive loads, like the 77gr 5.56mm loads from the ballistic magicians at Black Hills Ammunition.

Yes, easier said than done in today’s crazed ammo market, but it can be done. A little here, and a little there, and it adds up.

Like pistols, this figure of 2000 is per rifle and not total. If you have rifles you work with on a regular basis, they should have this much in reserve, for each. 2 rifles = 4000 rounds.

These figures are for defensive use. If you have a rifle dedicated to hunting, your ammo use is going to be a bit lower. Hunting is truly a process of concentration and precision. Accuracy by volume is generally not acceptable, as it ruins the game. A hunter will strive for that gold standard of “one shot, one kill”. Generally a hunting weapon will be in a larger caliber such as .308 Winchester, and the load will be optimized for the taking of game. The very nature leads to a lower rate of ammo consumption. For hunting, you’ll usually suffice with around 500 rounds of your chosen hunting cartridge stashed away. Since you’re zeroing in with the same round you hunt with, you’ll have a burn rate, but it’ll be slower.


The most popular reason to purchase a weapon nowadays is self-defense, and the most popular weapons for that purpose are pistols and rifles. The venerable old scattergun, though useful for self-defense, is nowadays more of a hunting weapon. How much you have stowed away depends on your use case. If you’re going after ground-based game (you can so tell I’m not an experienced hunter, ha ha) your ammo stash requirements will be low - maybe 500 rounds of your chosen gauge and load. Conveniently, a load designed for large game will be devastating to an attacker - so this benchmark works for defensive use as well.
If your game happens to take flight (sidebar: I can’t help you if your attackers happen to take flight…), your ammo consumption will go up accordingly - I’d recommend 1000 rounds of your favorite birdshot load.

Fortunately, shotgun shells are still easy to find and cheap, so if you’re stashing away for your shotgun, 2020 is your year to shine.

Your Crazy Impulse-Buy Bespoke Gun In An Odd Caliber

At some point in your gun-acquisition quest, you’ll invariably purchase a firearm in some rare caliber, just because. Whether it’s a 300BLK rifle, a 5.7x28mm spacegun, or a .357 SIG pistol - you’ll invariably end up having some gun that spends more time being looked at and talked about than actually being used. Nonetheless, you should have at least some ammo on hand for it. Otherwise that weird impulse buy that you constantly have to justify to your significant other is just a rather poor impact weapon at best. For example, if you have a 300BLK AR, try to keep 3 or 400 rounds on hand to feed it.


You can have all the ammo stashed away that you want, but if you don’t have magazines for it, utilizing your firearm becomes quite the chore. Firearm magazines are cranked out by the millions, and while most of them are reliable due to their simplicity, the magazine is the first point of failure on most firearms. For that reason alone, you’ll want plenty of magazines for your chosen “ready” guns, and you’ll want most of them loaded up. You’ll hear the term “combat load” kicked around, and that term differs for each platform - but in general for your high-use at-the-ready guns:

  • AR-15 type rifle in 5.56mm: 210 rounds across 7 30-round magazines such as Magpul PMAGs, MFT Extreme Duty, etc.

  • AK-47 type rifle in 7.62x39mm: 120 rounds across 4 30-round magazines such as Magpul’s AK PMAGs, US Palm, name-your-Combloc-surplus mag, and 200 rounds stashed in a backpack, etc.

  • Pistol in whatever caliber you carry: 4 magazines of at least 15 rounds.

Now, those amounts are “combat loads”, which is basically a military term for what you take with you on a mission or task. It doesn’t mean that’s all you should have, period. As far as what you should have on hand - the bare minimum is to have at least 10 magazines of any firearm you plan on using on a regular basis. For ARs and AKs, I’d recommend more since magazines for both are cheap and plentiful.

Worth having on hand of course would be a few non-standard capacity magazines such as the Schmeisser S60 60-round magazine, and of course there’s nothing wrong with a quality drum or two.

Yes, there’s belt-fed options, but if you’ve got the cash for that, I doubt you’re reading an article about minimums for ammo. Also, good for you for having a belt-fed weapon for defensive purposes - really.

Now if you’re in a gun-control state, it’s a little more difficult magazine-wise. I’d suggest as many as you can possibly acquire.

Cheap 9mm Ammo at Lucky Gunner

Ammo Stockpiling Is A Challenge, But Worth It

As we’ve seen, ammo can rapidly go from plentiful to scares over the course of a few months or less. These days, it’s a famine. However, one shouldn’t be deterred from building up “the stash”. 500 rounds today could be your saving grace tomorrow, and is also a great start. I’m an optimistic sort, and I feel that the ammunition shortage situation will get better soon, and you’ll be that much more ahead of the game if you’ve already got your stash going - before you know it, your stash will have grown into a true stockpile.

Oh, and don’t forget to store it all properly!

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