Caliber Closeup: A Look at 9mm Bullet Grain Weights

The 9x19mm cartridge has been in development since 1901. In that time, it has only gained popularity, with shooters around the world using it for a variety of tasks. This versatility has given life to many different 9mm rounds with uniquely performing projectiles. One thing you may not have noticed, is all the different bullet grains. 

But what is bullet grain weight, and why does it matter? Bullet grain weight refers to the overall projectile weight in a cartridge. The specific weight plays a role in recoil, accuracy, and sometimes reliability in your particular firearm. Some guns will shoot one load better than another, and different loads may hit at different points of aim. This is due to the barrel length and twist rate, as well as the general parts fitment of your firearm. The best way to test this is to shoot your gun with a range of ammunition to see the real-world performance with your actual firearm. 

Why are there so many different bullet weights and loads? For different applications, of course. Differing bullet weights and projectile designs allow you to create more specialized rounds geared toward specific tasks, such as suppressor use, self-defense, steel-target shooting, and more. 

Lighter vs. Heavier Bullets

Higher velocity rounds tend to penetrate further and travel with a flatter trajectory (aiding in accuracy). Velocity is increased two ways, either with a greater powder charge or a lighter weight bullet. Lighter weight projectiles also tend to produce less felt recoil than heavier bullets. They will also lose their energy faster, due to the laws of momentum and the air friction. 

Heavier bullets tend to dump more of their energy into the target and will travel in a more predictable path, with less bouncing off bone. They also retain more of their energy for a longer duration. 

50-, 65-, 70-grain

The lightest weight bullet I could find in production for the 9mm is a 50-grain projectile from Liberty Ammunition. These Ultra-Light rounds are loaded with a +P charge and hollow point projectiles for self-defense. This high-velocity loading clocks 2,040 fps at the muzzle, producing 462 ft/lbs of energy. There is also a Civil Defense version with a fragmenting, copper hollow point designed to maximize tissue damage and wound channel. Both are great specialty loadings for self-defense. 

Liberty Ammunition 50-grain Ultra-Light 9mm
Liberty Ammunition 50-grain Ultra-Light 9mm

Similarly, there are 65- and 70-grain rounds designed for high velocity and penetration with minimal felt recoil. Underwood offers a 65-grain solid copper round in the Xtreme Defender line. The flutes on the projectile are radially cut to force hydraulic energy inward to build pressure. This results in a permanent wound cavity, about twice the size of expanding projectiles that is not hindered by solid barriers. For those looking for a more traditional hollow point, Underwood also offers a 70-grain HERO round designed for maximum expansion. 

Additionally, there are lightweight training rounds, such as NovX Cross Trainer and Federal AE, with specialized lead-free projectiles designed to break apart and reduce lead exposure. They are intended to provide excellent accuracy with a flat trajectory and reduced recoil. 

80-, 90-, 100-grain

Moving out of ultra-light territory into the lightweight realm, these high-velocity loads tend to be geared toward personal protection. Fort Scott Munitions offers two high-quality 80-grain loadings, one with a nickel plated casing and one that has been TPD coated. Both utilized a TUI projectile designed to “Tumble Upon Impact.” This reduces the risk of overpenetration and subsequent collateral harm. The TPD (Terminal Performance Defense) coating offers enhanced feeding and higher reliability in semi-automatic actions. 

Fort Scott Munitions 80-grain TUI 9mm
Fort Scott Munitions 80-grain TUI 9mm

Cor-Bon and Underwood offer +P and +P+ loadings with a 90-grain projectile. Both geared toward self-defense, the Cor-Bon features a JHP bullet that hits 1,500 fps and 450 ft/lbs. The Underwood utilizes the Xtreme Defender solid-copper penetrating head. 

Similarly, there’s a 100-grain copper round from SinterFire that’s non-frangible and designed to be an economical choice for lead-free training. Frangible ammo from Speer engineered to powderize on impact, reducing danger to shooters practicing on steel targets at closer ranges. Sellier & Bellot offers the XRG Defense round with a 100-grain copper hollow point with near 100% weight retention after expansion, regardless of the barriers encountered. 

These lighter weight loadings aren’t too far off from a standard 115-grain, but they allow you to squeeze out a bit more velocity without sacrificing too much bullet weight. 


The 115-grain is one of the most common bullet weights for the 9mm cartridge. It can be found anywhere from cheap range ammo to specialty defense rounds. It tends to provide decent accuracy across the board. Among my favorite 115-grain loads is Federal Train + Protect. This JHP round combines the practical accuracy and performance of range ammo with the instant expansion of superior quality self-defense ammunition. The Versatile Hollow Point design, or VHP, is based on the proven performance of Federal’s hollow point technology at an affordable, range-friendly price. 

Federal Train and Protect 115-grain 9mm
Federal Train + Protect 115-grain 9mm

115-grain Blazer Brass is another popular choice for the range. It tends to come in about a buck or two cheaper than comparable target ammo and provides similar performance. 

For high-quality defensive loads, you can’t go wrong with Hornady American Gunner. The American Gunner is a versatile, tried and true load that is great for hunting, target, law enforcement, or personal defense. The legendary XTP (eXtreme Terminal Performance) bullet has excellent terminal performance and exceptional accuracy, making it a top choice for some of the top competitive shooters around the world. 

SIG Sauer Rose was designed with female shooters in mind. These reduced-power loads have a slightly lower than average velocity, and the reduced power translates to less felt recoil for the shooter. Additionally, Rose ammunition is made with compact short barreled pistols in mind and the performance has been optimized for micro compact handguns. 


The 124-grain 9mm was the original loading and is still the standard for NATO. It provides an excellent balance of grain weight and velocity. It tends to provide me with the best all-around accuracy across a wide range of firearms. It costs a touch more per box for target ammo, but I believe it’s worth it. Winchester’s NATO ammunition is one of my go-to options to stockpile, as it’s readily available and affordable. It’s used by the U.S. military and the white box has been a staple of shooters for decades. 

SIG M17 124-grain 9mm
SIG M17 124-grain 9mm

Further, Speer and SIG offer military and law-enforcement grade 124-grain 9mm ammunition with dependable performance. SIG M17 ammo is designed to match perfectly with the military-issue SIG P320 pistols. This +P loading is clean burning and reliable. Speer’s Lawman line is built to give you similar performance as the Gold Dot line, offering shooters a less expensive round that will perform like the carry ammo. This gives shooters a clearer understanding of the performance of their carry ammo in terms of recoil, point of aim, and functionality in their firearm.

As far as defensive loads, the Hornady Custom XTP is a high performance handgun load for shooters who are looking for supreme accuracy with improved terminal performance and energy transfer to the intended target. With just under 340 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle, this is a good balance of power and control. Buffalo Bore offers a 124-grain +P+ loading that produces 465 ft/lbs for those looking for more power. 

125-, 130-, 135-grain

Although somewhat uncommon, there are a few 9mm grain weights between the 124- and 147-grain options. Cor-Bon offers a high-velocity loading with a 125-grain JHP projectile. Weight wise, this is not much different than a 124-grain, however, the load offers good performance. 

Federal Syntech PCC 130-grain 9mm
Federal Syntech PCC 130-grain 9mm

Federal’s Syntech 130-grain is designed for exceptional performance in 9mm pistol caliber carbines. The Syntech PCC load offers velocity and accuracy optimized for long gun barrel lengths with a projectile profile that provides excellent accuracy and reliable feeding in a variety of PCC platforms. The one of a kind TSJ projectile features a lead core with a polymer jacket that eliminates metal fouling and drastically reduces barrel damage from heat and friction. This is a top load for the range. 

Hornady offers a 135-grain +P Critical Duty for personal protection. The Flex Tip design eliminates clogging and aids bullet expansion. A large mechanical jacket-to-core InterLock band works to keep the bullet and core from separating for maximum weight retention, excellent expansion, consistent penetration, and terminal performance. 


147 grains is the heaviest weight that is common for the 9mm. The heavier weight is popular for suppressor use, as well as subguns and PCCs. The heavier projectile naturally travels at slower speeds, and often speeds that are slower than sound (subsonic), making it a great choice for suppressed shooting. Fiocchi offers its Range Dynamics subsonic ammo with a FMJ projectile for suppressed training at the range. There’s also a Defense Dynamics loading with a JHP projectile for defensive use. 

Fiocchi Defense Dynamic 147-grain 9mm
Fiocchi Defense Dynamic 147-grain 9mm

If you find your gun exhibits better accuracy with 147-grain ammunition, I recommend trying Armsor’s FMJ. It comes in at a great price for training at the range and has been reliable in every firearm I have used it in. Additionally, Winchester produces a WinClean 9mm as an economical alternative to standard range ammo that eliminates airborne lead exposure at the firing point, which originates from both the primer and the bullet. 

150-, 158-, 165-grain

As mentioned previously with 147-grain ammunition, one of the main benefits of a heavier projectile is the subsonic velocities for suppressor use. Fiocchi’s 158-grain subsonic ammo is a good staple to have on hand, if you do a lot of suppressed shooting. The increased bullet weight makes for an incredibly quiet round, and it’s not much more expensive than standard 147-grain. Ammo Inc. produces its “stelTH” 165-grain cartridge with a fusion of proprietary hyperclean technology, precision standards, and leading suppressor manufacturer collaboration. The stelTH line was designed from the ground up with both decibel drop and cleanliness in mind. 

Ammo Inc. stelTH 165-grain 9mm
Ammo Inc. stelTH 165-grain 9mm

Federal offers a Syntech Action Pistol cartridge with a 150-grain TSJ projectile. Syntech Action Pistol is designed for action shooting sports and loaded to power factor requirements with heavy projectiles. This allows for more reliable knockdown on steel targets in competition. Like other Syntech loads, you have the exclusive TSJ, or Total Synthetic Jacket. 

The DoubleTap Equalizer 165-grain is some of the most technologically-advanced, civilian handgun ammunition on the market. The duplex-type ammo design puts two hits on target with every shot. The Equalizer +P load delivers two projectiles, a 115-grain JHP bullet that is made to expand at lower velocity and a 50-grain flat hardcast disk for a projectile with deep penetration. Now with reliable accuracy, the first stage hollow point hits point of aim and the two projectiles group tightly out to 25 yards. 

DoubleTap Equalizer 165-grain 9mm
DoubleTap Equalizer 165-grain 9mm


The heaviest 9mm bullet grain I found available is 185 grains from Seismic Ammunition. Incredible, that’s well into .45 ACP territory. This round follows the philosophy, “Heavier Hits Harder.” The Quakemaker +M projectile is designed with 160% of the grain weight of a standard 9mm. ShellShock casing, designed to be half the weight and twice the strength as traditional brass, and is less abrasive on internal components. Traveling at subsonic velocities, it is great for suppressor use as well. 

Final Thoughts

When deciding on which bullet grain weight to use in your 9mm, it is important to first determine your intended use. Do you need a high-velocity round for increased penetration? Do you need something subsonic for suppressor use? Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options in bullet weights and designs for the 9mm, but be sure to go with a quality manufacturer and test your ammo in your firearm. 

What is your preferred 9mm bullet grain weight? Why? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

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