As a core part of my self-directed training, I spend a decent amount of time in the range (carefully) slinging bullets downrange; as a result, I work through a lot of ammo, especially 9mm. This comes from a few factors:
1) I strongly believe in the need for regular training (both supervised and not) for anyone who carries,
2) I am always working on improving my skills and am often training for the next competition (a fairly newer passion), and
3) I just really enjoy collecting and shooting new guns.
These factors have resulted in a fairly continuous process of monitoring the online ammo sites for the current ‘best deal’ in bulk 9mm. I used to buy whatever brand was currently available at the lowest price, but as prices have been stabilizing in the low (and sometimes below) .20c/round range, I realized I was often choosing between multiple brands all available for about the same price. Which leads me to the point of this post: if discounted box ammo averages the same price, which is the best 9mm 115gr FMJ for everyday range use?
Do note that this is NOT an evaluation of defensive rounds. The first part of that is defining ‘best.’ True reliability -does it fire properly or not? - is basically a black and white issue, and I can report that none of the brands I reviewed demonstrated any issues in this area (all rounds fired and there are no brands on this list that I have shot less than 1000 rounds from). The most common metric to describe a round’s attributes is Velocity/Energy, which makes sense in a defensive setting (or if you are wanting to match your FMJ to your defensive rounds) and is presented for your information (as fired from a G17), but again for just bulk practice shooting, not that high on my priority list. So, what did I settle on for to define ‘Best?’ Velocity reliability, as determined by the range between lowest to highest Feet per Second (FPS) and the Standard Deviation (SD) of those FPS readings (statistical term representing an amount that can be added and subtracted from a Mean (mathematical average) to determine where most individual scores (single rounds) would likely be found in terms of FPS). So, for example, LAX has a Mean FPS of 1129 and a Standard Deviation of 14, so across multiple rounds most of those rounds are going to fall between 1114 and 1143 (The Mean + or – the SD).
Materials and process:
For each brand, I randomly selected 51 rounds (3 17-round mags) from 20 50-count boxes bought in a bulk 1000 rounds order. All rounds were shot from a stock G17 Gen 4 and Feet per Second (FPS), FPS Statistics, and Foot/Pound Energy (ft/lb) were all measured with a LabRadar ballistic Doppler
The data is presented from ‘best’ (least amount of variance in FPS and ft/lb per round) to ‘worst’ and ending with a comparison of the differences between one company’s (Freedom Munitions) 115gr, 124gr, 147gr, and 147gr ProMatch ammo. Cost per bullet where possible was derived from published prices for a 50 round box from a ‘big-box’ retailer (many of these rounds can be found for cheaper online). Advertised FPS was obtained from the manufacturer's websites wherever possible.
So, which brand was the most consistent (the least variance in FPS from shot to shot)? That was Blazer Brass only varying 30 FPS from the very slowest to very fastest round fired (SD = 8). LAX also gets an honorable mention, coming in at number 5 (varying 49 FPS from slowest to fastest) and the only brand in the top five coming in under $0.20 a round (though Blazer Brass can often be found for similar prices). What was the worst? Remington UMC (varying 95 FPS from slowest to fastest) and Speer Lawman (varying 104 from slowest to fastest) was at the bottom of the list. It should be noted that the difference between the FPS from Freedom Munitions 115gr (1074) and 124gr (1041) is a difference of only 33 FPS and many shooters prefer 124gr as they perceive a reduction in felt recoil. If a difference of 33 FPS can be felt, it is a strong argument for wanting your rounds to vary less from shot to shot.
What about other metrics? Speer Lawman did flip from ‘worst’ to ‘best’ if the question is average highest FPS (1200) and therefore also hardest hitting (ft/lb: 367). Speer Lawman also was the only round to come in exactly at advertised FPS (1200 to 1200). All but 4 brands advertised FPS was higher than what was measured, with the worst ‘offenders’ being IMI (150 less than advertised), Fiocchi (117 less) and Aguila (113). As stated, Speer Lawman FPS was exactly as advertised and the following brands actually shot faster than advertised: Sig Sauer (4 FPS faster), LAX (41 FPS faster), and MagTech (50 FPS Faster).
The comparison of Freedom Munitions’ 115, 124, 147, and 147gr ProMatch showed fairly consistent variance in FPS and demonstrated the stepwise reduction in FPS and ft/lb with each increase in gr weight. The data from the test did not strongly support the use of match grade ammo (but note accuracy was not measured).
Packaging notes: Sig Sauer gets my nod for best packaging and Sellier & Bellot as worst (the cardboard box was coming apart in my range bag even before I opened it for the first time and the plastic insert was cracked with normal handling).
I am also using this data to match my FMJ practice rounds I use in my carry to the FPS of my defensive rounds (in this case, Sig Sauer wins).