In parts 1 and 2, we’ve discussed why ammunition is the core of a firearm system and the importance of proper ammo storage methods. An equally important part of ammunition management is determining how many rounds you should carry. As with most firearm-related questions, the answer depends on your needs and intended purposes.
Specific categories of legally-armed citizens, such as concealed carriers, cannot practically carry as much extra ammunition as a hunter or a law enforcement officer could, and that’s before considering whether they need to.
Determining your needs can help you establish how much ammunition you should carry.
For non-law enforcement citizens who regularly conceal carry, the essential factors to consider are your magazines’ capacity, size and weight, and whether you prefer more concealment, more capacity, or a balance of the two.
To achieve deep concealment, a concealed carrying citizen may prefer a compact single-stack pistol that can disappear when tucked in an IWB holster and hidden under a shirt. While this setup allows you to be armed with a wider variety of clothes, the low capacity of these firearms may be insufficient in some situations.
In contrast, achieving the highest capacity possible may tempt you to carry a less compact handgun with a higher-capacity magazine and at least one, usually multiple spare magazines.
Carrying 50 rounds or more is undoubtedly better than having less. However, it presents you with the challenge of concealing a relatively large handgun and multiple magazines, which can severely limit your clothing options.
Many firearms manufacturers have attempted to bring the best of both together by offering easily concealed handguns with a decent magazine capacity. Carefully choosing your concealed carrying firearm may help you decide how many spare magazines you should have on your person while carrying your gun.
The exact amount of extra magazines you should carry mostly depends on your preferences, so long as you can conceal the weapon and magazines or speed loaders effectively. Usually, most shooters prefer having at least one extra magazine is highly recommended, if for no other reason than dealing with a potential magazine failure.
Magazines are the weakest part of an autoloading firearm and the source of most malfunctions. Having a spare magazine, you can rely on may well be a literal life-saver.
If you intend to shoot deer or similar medium game, you likely won’t need more than a 20-round box of suitable ammunition, and you probably won’t fire all of it in one day.
If you hunt birds, such as doves, ducks, turkeys, or geese, you may have to bring several boxes of birdshot shells. It takes several shots (5 to 8) per dove taken down on a typical dove hunt.
If you hunt varmints or small game with a .22 LR firearm, it’s easy to carry several hundred rounds, as .22 LR ammunition is very small and very light. A single box of ammo usually contains 50 to 100 rounds and can easily fit in a pocket.
Depending on your local laws, you may not have a choice. In certain jurisdictions, there may be a limit to how much ammunition you’re allowed to carry. For example, it is illegal to bring more than 15 shells to a waterfowl hunt in Bayou Meto, Arkansas.
The key in home defense is speed, which leaves no time to dress and grab extra ammunition. In situations like these, the question becomes how much ammunition can your firearm carry?
If you use a handgun, it isn’t unreasonable to use the highest-capacity magazine that will reliably function in your model. For example, a Glock 17 with a 33-round magazine loaded with high-quality hollow-points is plenty to repel one or more potential home invaders.
If you use a rifle, such as an AR-15 or an AK, your standard-capacity 30-round magazine is plenty to repel several potential attackers, although reliable higher-capacity magazines are also available.
If you use a typical tube-fed shotgun, your firearm’s total capacity may be limited. An average home defense shotgun holds between 5 and 9 rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber.
The comparatively low capacity of a standard shotgun is somewhat mitigated, however, by the terror a shotgun blast can inspire in close quarters, in addition to the stopping power a shotgun round has compared to a standard handgun or rifle round.
However, there are several accessories you can take advantage of to carry more rounds, such as a shell holder mounted on the receiver, a shell-holding sling, or specially-designed shoulder stocks with slots for extra shells.
Combining these solutions allows you to carry far more rounds than those loaded in the firearm, but it comes with the caveat of reloading and keeping your magazine topped off. However, if you’re willing to put in the practice, you’ll find that the shotgun may be the most effective home defense solution.
Although the specific law enforcement agency may have rules and regulations on the matter, law enforcement officers on patrol usually carry a sidearm and three extra magazines at all times, not counting the additional weapons inside the cruiser (usually a shotgun or a select-fire rifle).
If the sidearm isn’t enough, LEOs usually follow the standard procedure of retreating to the patrol car and using one of these long guns. However, they can sometimes find themselves in situations where it’s not possible.
Special units like SWAT teams have different rules and generally carry a lot more per officer due to the situations they encounter that typically require more firepower to suppress.
After an extended gunfight with an armed and dangerous suspect, during which he could not reach either of the long guns in his patrol car, the officer’s weapon was left with four rounds remaining when he finally neutralized the suspect.
This situation led Gramins to reconsider his duty loadout; he has since switched to a 9mm Glock loaded with 17+1 rounds, alongside five spare magazines: three extra 17-round mags plus two extended 33-round mags, for a total of 135 rounds of 9mm.
Most police officers today in the United States err on the side of more is better!
Assess your needs, make an estimation of how much ammunition you’ll need to meet your needs, and then carry more than this amount, sometimes multiple times that amount.
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