Semi-autos and ammo

I’ve been having a very interesting discussion offline with several people about the complex relationship between a semi-auto carry gun and its ammunition.  Right now, we’re shooting the Ruger SR9c for Stock Service Pistol Master Class, and we’re using lots of different ammo.  I know I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere that we were having issues feeding some light loads in the gun, specifically Remington 115 grain UMC 9mm discount ammo.  Because I wanted to be fair to the gun and to the ammo, I did a couple of different things.  I tried different ammo in the Ruger, and the UMC in different guns.  Because I needed more data to make a valid comparison, I waited until I had shot almost the same amount of non-UMC ammo through the SR9c.  As of today, the Ruger SR9c is at 1895 rounds, with 21 malfunctions, which were all ammo related.  Out of those 1895 rounds, 916 were Remington UMC and all 21 malfs came from there.

Now, first off I’m not blasting UMC for this.  This is totally legit plinking ammo, and if it runs your gun then buy it until the cows come home.  However, it didn’t run my gun.  My gun did run just fine on its usual steady diet of 147 grain whatever, be it Federal American Eagle budget ammo, Ranger 147 FMJ, or whatever else I could lay my hands on.  With ammo other than UMC, including other 115 gr FMJ from different companies the gun has had 100% function rate.

Which leads me to the ammo discussion – should your carry gun be 100% reliable with whatever ammo you pick up off the shelf?  I think the answer here is “no”, but with the caveat that it should be 100% reliable with the ammo that you shoot through it.  For example, if I was going to a match where I needed the gun to perform reliably, I would certainly not run the UMC through it.  Not because it’s “bad” ammo, but rather because my particular gun, with its particular mechanics doesn’t like it.  If your gun likes it, shoot it.  It’s worth noting that the Ruger SR9c ran Winchester White Box 115 grain FMJ just fine, and that’s the gold standard of economical blasting ammo.

I tend to personally vacillate on this issue.  One the one hand, I think that a proper gun from a major manufacturer should run ammo from any reputable manufacturer.  On the other hand, if your gun doesn’t run Brand X but it runs Brand Y like a house on fire, then problem solved – shoot Brand Y.  Also, if Brand X chokes other reliable guns (like a Glock 17 for example) then maybe you should avoid Brand X.

It’s also important to shoot lots of ammo through a gun, from different manufacturers.  This is especially true when you’re dealing with economical 9mm ammo.  For the Quest for Master Class, I’ve shot the following brands:

  • Remington UMC
  • Federal American Eagle (and AmEagle Non-Toxic)
  • PMC Bronze
  • Winchester White Box
  • CCI Blazer
  • Winchester Ranger FMJ and JHP

I’ll shoot more brands as the test continues, but it’s important to note that with everything but the UMC the gun has been 100% reliable.

So what does this mean?  Ultimately, not a whole lot.  For me, it means I’ll be avoiding UMC ammo.  For some people, it may mean that they think the SR9c isn’t reliable.  I’d disagree with that statement.  Some people may take it to mean that when fed quality ammo, the SR9c is stone cold reliable.  This is one situation where all I can really do is present the data, which is that out of 916 rounds of UMC, I had 21 failures.  Out of 899 rounds of everything else, I’ve had zero failures.  I’m super impressed with the SR9c, and I plan on continuing to carry it and shoot it in competition.


  1. I have a CZ 75 that’s super reliable with everything except CCI Blazer (the aluminum case stuff). If you’ve still got some UMC laying around, I’ll trade you the Blazer for it!

  2. I have had no problems with my 45acp it seems to eat whatever I feed it.
    My only problem with ammo brands is I refuse to feed any more winchester ammo to any of my firearms until such time the Winchester Co. recognizes the US Constitution once again.

  3. I’d also recomend only buying a few boxes and trying them out before you buy the case! I bought 500 rounds of PMC Bronze in my gun that is known to “shoot anything” Turns out PMC turns my gun into a jam-amatic. It really likes Remington UMC and is crazy relaible with that ammo. The good news is that it did not take me long to get rid of my stock of PMC Bronze.

  4. The one problem with that theory is that 100 rounds isn’t a great sample size. Sure, if the gun malfs a lot with the first 100 then you have a problem, but I like my samples a bit larger.

  5. “I refuse to feed any more winchester ammo to any of my firearms until such time the Winchester Co. recognizes the US Constitution once again.”

    Huh? Did I miss something important? What did Winchester do? Can’t be as bad as the NRA getting in bed with Obama and Poloski to get exempted from the Disclose Act BS Law can it?

    Since you didn’t specify the malfunction I’d guess a short stroke? Probably the return spring is a tad too heavy for the recoil generated by the load?

    I have a SKS that will digest anything. Remember that 7.62×39 plastic core “practice” ammo they imported several years ago? Most folks returned it because it wouldn’t cycle their guns, mine ate it up like candy.
    I have no clue, but getting free ammo to go blasting with is always a plus to me, was given alot of it by friends who’s guns became single shots firing it. 🙂

  6. I might need to change my name, or put an avatar on here..having 2 Nicks is confusing even me. D:

    I have a cold-war-era (1950’s) Romanian Tokarev that has been fed nothing but Romanian 7.62×25 from probably the same era. Probably close to 700 rounds through that thing (about 300-400 in one range session) and haven’t had one malfunction at I love this thing.

  7. My experience has been that semiautos are sensitive to ammo overall length & powder charge, as well as recoil spring and magazine spring behavior. Everything has to happen at just the right time for a semiauto to work properly, and some combinations just don’t work well. If you haven’t been measuring OALs on the various brands of factory ammo you listed, you probably should be. Diagnosed a problem with a student’s gun that way last week. He had commercial reloads that had a longer OAL than any factory ammo I had on hand, and his gun ran fine with everything except the reloads.

  8. I’ve used the UMC 115 grain in my full-size SR9 with no troubles. A common complaint about the SR9c is that the slide is hard to rack. Perhaps the recoil spring is rather stiff, and assuming the UMC stuff is loaded to lower velocities, this accounts for the malfunctions.

    Thanks for the post.

  9. The recoil spring is very strong in the SR9c, which makes it a very soft shooting 9mm; that could be the source of the issue with the UMC. I really do enjoy shooting the compact – with hot 9mm 147 grain JHP defensive ammo the recoil is easily the softest I’ve experienced in a sub compact pistol.

  10. I have a SR9 full sized. I have put at least 2000 rounds through mine of a wide variety of brands and had zero failures. I did have 3 rounds that had case rim blowouts but the rounds did fire and the casings ejected just fine. They were gun show reloads that I had gotten second hand. I tossed the other 7 rounds with the same headstamp out after that.

  11. Caleb: another factor is the ‘obturation’ (I think that’s the correct spelling?) of the cartridge case in a particular chamber. Essentially it’s how a particular piece of brass (or aluminum) ‘grasps’ the chamber wall during firing of the round.

    You’re learning what a bunch of us have learned over the years testing guns. They all have things they ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. And sometimes it’s an individual gun thing, not necessarily a particular brand or model.

    The variations are endless and if you try to find each specific instance you can drive yourself nuts…

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  12. Yeah, the more I shoot the more I learn about this stuff. I always thought that the “finicky” about ammo was a problem unique to rifles, but the more bullets I fire…

  13. Remington UMC
    Federal American Eagle (and AmEagle Non-Toxic)
    PMC Bronze
    Winchester White Box
    CCI Blazer
    My PX4 Storm runs all of these types of ammo with 100% reliability but I only shoot UMC for plinking because it’s the most accurate out the Beretta. My PD ammo is Black Hills 115 grain hp and the stuff is ultra accurate and reliable for me.

  14. I’ve run nothing but gun show reloads out of my P250C and haven’t had one issue. Then again I’ve only put like 500 total..9mm is pricey for me and I try to ration it out, lol.

  15. My Kel-Tec P11 can handle just about anything, but the gun club where I shoot only allows shooters to load a maximum of 5 rounds, so that’s what I load. Last summer I shot at a friend’s backyard range and it failed to eject Federal American Eagle any time I loaded a full 10 rounds. I’m not sure if the gun can’t handle 10 rounds or if there’s an issue with the mag spring, because I never fire it compressed with a full load. I suppose I could go to the club with 5 live rounds on top of 5 snap caps to test it.

    Anybody have experience with the P11?

  16. Maybe since it was broken in with only 5 rounds a mag it’ll have problems with any more than that, who knows.

  17. As a police firearms instructor from a very small department we had to use what we could get for training.

    Our duty ammo was the best and as reliable as you could get.

    However when I identified a large batch of ammo with problems, I hoarded it and issued it on training days along with good ammo.

    Since the S&B would not always eject it caused double feeds and stove piping. My officers complained bitterly because the ammo was cruddy. However, their excuses were not accepted, I honed in on their ability to recover from bad ammo.

    Unreliable ammo should never be knowingly taken to the ball, but it is great in training scenarios when you are trying to inject realism.

  18. My Ruger sr9 bought in February of 2009 has had every failure to eject the spent casing (maybe 10 times in approximately 1000) with the same ammo being discussed. I have tried Blazer brass, blazer aluminum, Winchester white box, Critical Defense and Cor Bon. I have noticed the UMC casings drop at my feet, the Blazer casings at maybe 5′ and the defense ammo casings are out 12 to 15′.
    Why buy it? It is Super cheap at the local sporting goods outlet.

  19. I recently purchased a Gen 4 GLOCK 17 with the expectation it would run like a top with all of the Wal*Mart 9mm I could feed it. ALL of my other GLOCK 9mm’s would.

    It did not. 1000 rounds later of a mix of Winchester 115 white box, Blazer Brass 115s, Federal 115s, Remingtong JHPs in 115 as well as some standard velocity 124 grain stuff from Federal, Winchester, Remington ball and Remington Golden Saber…All of it had at least one failure to extract or a stove pipe in a 100 round average. Some more than others but it all averaged at least 1 in 100.

    The only round it fed flawlessly was the Winchester 127 +P+ and that was limited to a 50 round box total.

    After GLOCK sent the new 9mm 02 recoil spring after the first 500 rounds my expectations were dashed with the next 500. I imagine IF I wanted to use this as a target gun only with a tailored round OR off duty gun with ONLY super high quality and expensive +P+ ammo it would work. Sorry not for me. I believe the rule should be a pistol should work with any off the shelf commercial ammo. I understand how one might want to tailor a gun to a specific round and my old Seecamp .32 was restricted to Winchester Silvertips by factory decree. I bought it with that understanding. I do not believe that GLOCK however should be selling the Gen 4 9mm’s without some sort of similar restriction. The dang thing did not work for me and I hear horror stories about it all over the web. Back to a Gen 3 for me.

  20. Tom, I experienced the same issue with a Gen4 G17 as well using several different types of ammo. The only ammo it would reliably feed were 147 bullets. I switched back to a Gen3 and still experienced issues with the Remington UMC.

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