Bullet grain is a unit of measurement representing weight and one of the most important considerations when selecting ammo. Different projectile weights are suited to different calibers and applications, so selecting the correct bullet grain for a firearm is critical when buying ammunition.
Below is a chart for various calibers and applications, along with their respective recommended bullet grains and firearms. Keep in mind, this isn’t a hard-and-fast set of rules but rather a guideline to help you select the best bullet grain for your firearm.
Bullet Grain Chart:
|Caliber||Target Shooting||Hunting||Self-Defense||Common Firearms|
|.22 LR||40gr||32gr-45gr||37gr||Ruger 10/22, Marlin 39A|
|.223||55gr||55gr-64gr||55gr||Ruger American Ranch, Remington 700|
|.300||150gr||120gr-205gr||180gr||Winchester Model 70|
|.30-06||180gr||150gr-180gr||165gr||Remington 783, Winchester Model 70|
|.38||130gr||150-180gr||130gr||S&W686, Ruger GP100|
When it comes to target shooting and self-defense, these recommendations are based on accuracy, recoil, and twist rate of typical firearms chambered for these calibers. The hunting recommendations are given as a range of effective bullet grains for various types of game, weather conditions, and ranges.
If you’re curious about recommended bullet grains for your particular firearm, it’s best to refer to the manufacturer or ask somebody at your local gun shop to point you in the right direction. They’ll usually be more than happy to help you select the best ammo for your situation and firearm.
In this article, I’ll explain the many aspects of ammunition that set one kind apart from another. Keep reading to see a breakdown of different bullet grains and a comprehensive chart showing the best grain for each caliber.
What Is Bullet Grain?
Bullet grain is the weight of the projectile, measured in grains. A grain is equal to 1/7000th of a pound (or 0.06 grams). Heavier bullet grains are resistant to wind and pack more of a punch, while lighter grain bullets are more accurate at long ranges.
When purchasing ammunition for your firearm, the grain classification is labeled on the box. Smaller calibers have lighter projectiles, and each caliber will have a range of bullet grains available. There are a lot of factors that affect the accuracy and effectiveness of your ammunition, so taking careful consideration to select the right bullet grain is key.
That being said, there are common bullet grain ranges for every caliber that are generally effective for both plinking and self-defense. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to educate yourself on how bullet grain affects your shooting so that you can apply that knowledge when necessary.
Why Is Bullet Grain Important?
While bullet grain isn’t the sole deciding factor of what makes a certain bullet practical for your firearm, it’s an important consideration if you want to get the most accuracy and firepower out of it.
Bullet grain is important because the weight of a projectile has a large effect on accuracy and power. Different rifle twists are effective at stabilizing particular bullet weights, and a bullet that is too light or too heavy for your twist rate may not fly as straight.
A bullet that is too light may also not effectively damage your target in the case of hunting or self-defense. It all depends on the twist rate, caliber, and application of your firearm. Target shooting indoors is better suited to lighter bullet grains due to lack of wind. Heavier bullet grains are more suited to hunting larger game at relatively shorter distances due to increased drop-off and penetration.
Some manufacturers make extremely heavy bullets for come calibers. These are sometimes intended for very specific applications, such as causing extra damage to a target by intentionally causing a bullet to tumble in flight. Some of these ammo types are too large for a typical magazine of their caliber, and a normal firearm must be modified in order to accommodate the larger ammunition.
Is Higher Grain Better?
Higher grain is not always better. Higher bullet grain means a heavier bullet. Heavier bullets fly slower, have more drop off at long ranges, and pack more punch. Lower bullet grain means a lighter bullet that flies faster with less drop-off. Lighter bullets are also susceptible to wind.
Higher grain bullets are good for hunting large game or shooting at targets that require greater penetration. For self-defense and general plinking, a good balance between accuracy and power is most often recommended. Indoor target shooting and small game hunting are more suited to lighter bullet grain.
It’s also worth mentioning that higher bullet grains generally have more recoil. This is important to keep in mind as you consider the effects that different projectile weights will have on the accuracy of your weapon. Heavier weapons usually handle recoil better than lighter ones, making them less susceptible to increased recoil from heavier bullets.
Selecting the Proper Bullet Grain
Selecting the proper bullet grain for your firearm is all about considering different aspects of your weapon and what you’re using it for.
The main factors determining the best grain are:
- The twist rate of your rifling
- The caliber of the ammunition
- The actual application of the ammo
Other considerations include:
- Type of projectile (wadcutter, FMJ, etc.)
Lighter bullets are more suitable for plinking, indoor target shooting, and small game hunting at longer ranges. Conversely, heavy bullets are more suited to self-defense, big game hunting, and anything that requires more stopping power.
The twist rate of a firearm is the amount that the rifling in the barrel twists around the inside. Twist rate is typically measured in a ratio of rotation to barrel length. For example, a 1:7 twist rate equates to one full rotation every seven inches. Longer twist rates spin bullets more slowly, while tighter twist rates spin them faster.
The spin on a bullet has a significant effect on the accuracy of your firearm. Heavier bullets need a faster spin in order to be effectively stabilized. In contrast, lighter bullets can actually be over-stabilized by tighter twist rates, causing the bullet to point upwards slightly during flight, negatively affecting accuracy.
Different types of ammunition will come with recommendations for twist rate. The recommended twist rate can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website. There’s also this handy twist rate calculator from Berger that you can use to find recommended twist rates for various calibers.
Different calibers of ammunition have different ranges of available bullet grains. 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, for example, are widely available between 35 and 80 grains. Other projectile weights are available for this caliber, but this is the most common range. The most popular and effective bullet grain for a given caliber is generally based on the twist rate of common firearms that use that caliber.
For example, popular AR-15 models often have a twist rate between 1:7 and 1:9. These twist rates are suitable for stabilizing bullets between 40 grains at the lower end of 1:7 all the way up to 75-80 grain at the upper end of 1:9. This gives you a large range of potential bullet grains, so selecting the right one is an important consideration.
In general, the caliber of ammunition determines the available bullet grains but won’t help much with grain selection in and of itself. One exception to this is if you intend to use an extremely heavy bullet grain that requires modifying your firearm. For example, the heaviest available bullet for 5.56x45mm is 112 grains, which can’t be properly fed through a typical AR-15.
One of the most important things you should consider when selecting bullet grain is how you’re actually using your firearm. Ultimately, different applications will benefit from different bullet weights. Higher grain ammo provides more stopping power and/or increased penetration over lighter bullets. This makes heavier bullet grains suitable for things like big game hunting or home defense.
By contrast, lighter bullets offer better accuracy at long distances. Since they’re lighter, they’re typically ejected from the muzzle at higher velocities compared to heavier bullets. Muzzle velocity can vary widely based on bullet grain.
For instance, the 112-grain bullets mentioned earlier have a muzzle velocity of only 1,050 feet per second (320.04 meters per second). This is extremely slow compared to 3,260 feet per second (993.64 meters per second) for 55-grain bullets in the same caliber (5.56x45mm).
Although lighter bullets travel faster and, by extension, farther, they’re more susceptible to being driven off course by heavy winds. This can be exacerbated by long distances when hunting game in the wild, so finding a balance between accuracy, recoil, and muzzle velocity is an essential factor in choosing your bullet grain.
Other factors that may affect your choice of bullet grain are availability, price, regulations, and type of projectile. Availability and price go hand-in-hand, and commonly available bullet grains are cheaper and easier to find compared to bullets that are used less often.
For example, 5.56x44mm rounds are commonly available in 55 grain and 62-grain varieties. These bullet weights are a good middle ground between stopping power and accuracy (the 62-grain bullets are actually used by the US military in their standard-issue rifles).
Prices are generally reflective of supply-and-demand, so you can expect to pay more for bullets in uncommon weights, such as the 112-grain bullets mentioned earlier.
Regulations usually aren’t an issue for bullet grain classifications inside the US. However, some states have regulations about the potential muzzle energy of legal firearms.
The bullet grain plays a large role in the muzzle energy of a given firearm, so this might be an essential consideration if you live in an area with strict firearm regulations. This kind of information should be printed on ammo boxes for various ammunition.
Lastly, different projectile types are available and effective with different grains. Wadcutter ammo, for example, is typically lighter than FMJ. This is more a question of availability than effectiveness, but it can still be a good thing to keep in mind when selecting ammo.
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General Recommendations for Bullet Grains
Although grain recommendations can be drastically different based on a number of factors, there are some general rules of thumb you can go by when selecting different bullet grains.
- For plinking: Bullet weight doesn’t tend to be a big issue. In fact, it’s recommended that you play around with different bullet grains when plinking away at the range in order to give yourself an idea of how different bullet weights affect things like accuracy and recoil.
- For competition shooting: Bullet weight plays a vital role in how accurate your shots will be. Different guns will fire different bullet grains more or less effectively than others. In this case, your chosen bullet grain should be based on twist rate, effective range, and factors like wind, if applicable. For example, the recommended bullet grain for a typical AR-15 is between 45-55 grains when selecting for accuracy.
- For self-defense: Stopping power is very important. However, it’s also essential to have a balance between accuracy, recoil, and power. Shooting effectively in a self-defense scenario can potentially be a matter of life and death. Most self-defense ammunition is slightly higher than the recommended grain for target shooting, giving you a good balance between power and accuracy.
When selecting ammunition for your firearm, it’s most important to consider the specific aspects of your weapon as well as what you’re using it for. For instance, using a light bullet grain for hunting big game on a windy day isn’t a good idea since the lighter bullets will do less damage, and your shots will be less accurate.
Likewise, using a heavy bullet for hunting small game can be a bit overkill, not to mention, it’ll cause inaccurate shooting at long ranges.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to fire away in the comments section.
For more, check out Ammo Weight Chart | How Much 100 Rounds Weigh by Type.
More articles on this topic:
- The Best Grain for .223 (Based on Your Needs)
- The Best Grain for .30–06
- The Best Grain for 300 Ammo
- The Best Grain for Deer Hunting
- The Best Grain for 5.56
- The Best Grain for .38 Special
- The Best Grain for AR-15
- The Best Bolt Grain for Crossbows
Hey, I’m Jim, and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!