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With so many kinds of firearms and types of ammunition, it’s not always easy to match the proper ammunition to your firearm correctly—but getting it right is critical. If you match the wrong ammunition to your gun, you can cause an explosion, injuring or possibly killing yourself and any bystanders.

To match the proper ammunition to your rifle, shotgun, or handgun correctly:

Data stamps on gun barrels showing gauge and caliber designations
  • Read the specific caliber or gauge designations typically found on the side of the barrel. Match that designation exactly. For example, if it says ".270 Winchester," you cannot use ".270 Weatherby." Shotgun barrels are typically stamped with the maximum length shell the chamber is designed to fire (for example, "12 gauge for 2¾-inch shells" or "20 gauge magnum for 3-inch shells"). Shells of the same gauge, but shorter than the maximum length stamped on the barrel, can be used in that shotgun (for example, "12 gauge for 3½" shells can also fire 2¾ or 3-inch shells).
  • Carefully read the information on the lid of the ammunition box. With shotgun ammunition, always check both the gauge and the shell length, and whether it’s a magnum load, to ensure it matches the data on the barrel.
  • Finally, match the information on the barrel to the information on the box before you shoot. If in doubt, ask a more experienced shooter or a qualified gunsmith. Some store clerks, although they sell ammunition, may not know about the differences in sizes or the type of firearm you shoot.