Ball Ammo: The Best Survival Gun Bullets

Ball Ammo: The Best Survival Gun Bullets
Brass cases are better for operation and long-term storage. Avoid steel case cartridges.

A lot of careful consideration and planning needs to be done in order to make sure you are ready for surviving a long-term calamity.  One area of attention is the type of combat ammunition you will purchase for stockpiling.

Ball ammo is best for survival guns. Choose brass cases.
Brass cases are better for operation and long-term storage. Avoid steel case cartridges.

Recent technological advances in ammunition of all types and calibers have been astounding, particularly in the area of defensive loads for pistols and rifles—most of which have been tested against the FBI’s ballistic gelatin/barrier protocols.

The only problem with premium defensive ammo is a hefty price tag compared to ball or plain lead ammo.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t afford to stockpile copious amounts of premium defensive and tactical ammo. The good news is that I don’t need to. Ball ammo will be fine for what may come. All of the wars in the last century and the present have been fought with ball ammo almost exclusively, and the millions of military and civilian dead on all sides prove its effectiveness.

Ball ammo actually possesses several advantages over the best premium loads in addition to cost savings:

1.  Ball is easy to acquire in bulk. Depending on the special, they are often sold in quality military type ammo cans making it easier to transport, or sealed in the “sardine can” format which makes it easier to store long term.

2.  Ball does have greater penetration than premium defensive and exotic loads.  In for civilian self-defense or LE applications, the use of premium defensive loads is a must under most circumstances.  We want and need penetration to be limited.  In a calamity situation, your ammo may very well need to perforate vehicles or other hard obstacles you encounter while moving to a safer area (a .30-06 ball in a M1 Garand works great for that), or when vehicles have invaded your property and are in formation against you. If there is a mob of people coming to harm my family, I want my shots to count for more than one per customer if you get my drift.

3.  Quality ball ammo is ultimately the most reliably functioning ammo.  It is what every modern semi-automatic weapons system, rifle or handgun designed for defense or combat was designed to run on.  Premium defensive ammo was developed long after the design any of the current weapons or their operating systems.   If you are pondering the purchase of an AR-15, get it with a 1-in-9 inch barrel twist rate.  It handles both 55 and 62-grain ball very well.

Well-placed rounds of ball will work especially well in handguns and rifles when launched in multiples of one. When purchasing ball rifle and handgun ammo, be wary of using steel case ammo in anything but an AK-47.  Don’t use corrosive primer ammo in anything. The 5.56mm steel case ammo mostly functions, but the AR was designed to run on brass, not steel case ammo, and prolonged use can result in unnecessary extractor wear.  Also, some of the Russian steel case 5.56 ammo produces more visible smoke and carbon fouling than higher quality brass case U.S. made ammo. The last thing that an AR needs is an extra charge of carbon blown back into the bolt carrier with each shot.  Of course, steel case ammo also rusts. Hornady and other makers “wash” their cases with zinc to help delay rust, but after boxes are opened, the zinc case develops a nasty white powder coating on it, even in controlled storage.

Some of the Russian brands use polymer or lacquer coatings on their cases to prevent rust and some of those will begin to gunk up a hot action during prolonged rapid firing.  Effects on the looser tolerance AK-47 will be of lesser concern. Your survival guns may need to last a long time without attention from a gunsmith, so be attentive to what type of ammo you feed it.

One last cautionary word.  Stay away from “Zombie Killer” type ammunition for your defensive needs.  If you need to make a defensive use of a firearm under current conditions, and you keep it loaded with ammo labeled as such, you will be made to look like an idiot in front of a court or grand jury, or worse yet, made to look like a deranged psychopath whose ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is in question.  Such ammo is for fun use. If you want to play or compete with it, fine.  Just don’t let it find its way into your defensive armament.


Next Step: Get your FREE Printable Target Pack

Enhance your shooting precision with our 62 MOA Targets, perfect for rifles and handguns. Crafted in collaboration with Storm Tactical for accuracy and versatility.

Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and get your downloadable target pack sent straight to your inbox. Stay updated with the latest firearms info in the industry.


  1. As I have a good mix of 12 gauge 22Lr rifles, Ak and AR in common caliber I am thinking a longer range selection is needed. I am intrigued by the 6.5 Grendel which I can assemble or would a 308 based unit be better done?

  2. I think a muzzle loader is a better piece for long term TEOTWAWKI. Black powder is simple enough to make, lead can be cast along with anything else that will fit the bore and, with the exception of the barrel, the parts are easily repaired or replaced.

  3. You have some good points Quiet Forest. Remember that I am writing about survival firearms, and just finished doing so for my new book, The Gun Digest Guide to Survival Firearms, because the information is missing from too many sources out there. For example, you will not find anything from FEMA concerning preparation that would ever, God forbid, suggest that an ordinary citizen needs a firearm to protect themselves in a collapses situation.
    I like your idea about a longbow, (how about a crossbow) for taking small game silently. However, the condition of my shoulders wont allow for using a long or compound bow like I could many years ago-so I am opting for a .22. I am jealous of folks who can still use a bow. I can’t.

    Wyatt Earp said fast is fine, accuracy if final, and conserving ammo and wear and tear on ALL your gear is important. I do suggest the lever gun for use when a semi-auto is not feasible, testing the Marlin 1894C in .357/.38 Special for the book. It is a sweet carbine, with almost no recoil even with full power magnum ammo.While it fires quickly, smoothly and reliably, it is slow to reload.

    One last thing about the semi-autos, lets just say the AR and the AK. Each, like any gun, has strong or week points. They are however, frontline weapons for today’s military forces. Going up against a skilled shooter or force with a technologically inferior weapon with a technologically inferior weapon, a couple of generations behind it is probably not in your best interest. Sort of like a Sherman tank trying to take on an M1 Abrams-just as a way of comparison.

    I want to thank you for your reasoned thoughts. You couldn’t be more right about avoiding hostile contact, it will be of primary importance, with ammo depletion, as you indicate, as part of the equation. It will be too easy to get hurt, without easy access to the level of medical attention we have become accustomed to over the last 100 years.

  4. I would add that, concerning this issue, there is too much emphasis on firearms. If we have a TEOTWAWKI event, unless you can cart a machine shop around with you, modern firearms will be among the equipment you will want to preserve and reserve for special uses.I would suggest buying a simple longbow in the 50 pound range (better yet, learn to make one) and practice. This will allow you to put meat on the menu, without announcing your presence to every living thing that has ears within a fifteen or twenty mile radius.

    Stay in place or bug out, the idea is to avoid hostile contact. If you find yourself in a pitched battle, something just went horribly wrong. With that in mind, it is worth noting that you can only carry so much ammo, so being accurate is more important than firepower. A test conducted at Gunsite Ranch using and AK-47 and a ’94 Winchester yielded surprising results. In equally practiced hands, the Winchester was a little slower in aimed fire (not simply spraying, but using the sights) under 25 yards, equal to the AK at fifty, and actually faster beyond one hundred.

    The point? Obsolescence does not equal ineffectiveness. Manual repeaters are much less finicky about ammo than autos, even now after a century of improvements. A lever or bolt gun will even digest black powder loads without problems. Try that with a new AR-15. Low tech usually means lower maintenance. Also, expanding bullets were originally designed to overcome the shortcomings of smaller calibers. If you must use ball or lead, the bigger the bullet, the better.

    • I was never much with a bow, as hard as I tried to be a reincarnated Fred Bear in my earlier days. I was never able to set aside enough time for practice in order to keep my skill at a consistent and capable level. Firearms, on the other hand, have always come easier to me and I’m blessed that I don’t need to practice nearly as much as I did with the bow. For a long term survival hunting arm, I think the mundane .22LR rifle is a better choice for many archery-challenged folks like myself. I have absolutely no difficulty placing all my shots in the bottom of a pop can mounted end-on at 50 yards. Accuracy such as that will cleanly harvest any cervid in North America with head shots. Add a sound suppressor to the rifle, as I plan to do on at least one of mine, and the noise level is essentially nonexistent beyond a few feet. Even good ammo is cheap, light, compact and available everywhere. These advantages lead to ease of stockpiling large quantities and regular practice with the .22. Oh how I wish the same could be said for all the arrows I bent so long ago….


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.