Author Topic: What Types of Ammunition Are Safe in My CZ?  (Read 64501 times)

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Offline Radom

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What Types of Ammunition Are Safe in My CZ?
« on: March 06, 2003, 02:05:37 AM »

As stated in the manual included with your CZ pistol, you should only use ammunition complying with the CIP and/or SAAMI standards (i.e. page 19 of the current CZ 75 series manual).

This ultimately raises more questions than it answers. For example, what are the CIP and SAAMI standards? What types of ammunition dont comply? This article will attempt to answer these sorts of questions.


Pressure is the most important concern when dealing with small arms ammunition, whether for handguns, rifles, or other types. In of itself, ammunition that is excessively high in velocity is not dangerous to anyone or anything except the target. Ammunition that is excessively high in pressure can be a danger to the firearm, the shooter, and bystanders who are (supposedly) safely uprange.

When people speak of the pressure of a particular load, they may be contemplating several different things. The two most common usages of the term pressure are: 1) the peak pressure of a cartridge/gun combination and 2) the various pressure ratings of cartridges (i.e. SAAMI, CIP, NATO, etc.).


Usually, people are referring to the maximum or peak pressure of the handgun cartridge when fired in a specific pistol. This peak pressure is generally reached just before or just after the bullet leaves the case mouth and begins to travel down the barrel. Once the gunpowder is ignited, the expanding gasses quickly raise the pressure inside the cartridge case until this forces the bullet to take the path of least resistance: the barrel. As the bullet travels down the barrel, pressure quickly drops, since the expanding gasses have an outlet. Higher peak pressures generally translate into higher velocities.

However, it is important that this pressure is kept within certain ranges. If it is too low, a semi-auto pistol will not function. Also a squib, or light load, can be exceptionally dangerous, since a bullet may lodge in the barrel, which means that the next fired cartridge does not have an outlet for its pressure wave. If excessively high, pressure can damage the pistol, the shooter, or bystanders, as one or more parts of the pistol fail.

Pressure is not absolute. That is, a specific load may yield slightly different peak pressures in different pistols, or even different individual specimens of the same model. Obviously, these deviations are relatively minor, but they become more important when shooting ammunition that is high in pressure. For example, the 9mm 115gr Winchester USA load is relatively low in pressure. It may reach a different peak in a CZ 75B than a Beretta 92FS, but this is not important, assuming both pistols are in good condition. On the other hand, it is important to realize that the 9mm +P+ ammunition that was safe in your CZ 75B may not be safe in my CZ 75B. Also, some pistol designs can handle high pressures better than others. A vintage P-08 Luger cannot tolerate as high of pressure ammunition as modern pistols like the CZ 75/85 series.


Although chronographs are available to shooters to measure bullet velocities, lay people have no means available to them to accurately measure pressure. Ammunition and arms manufacturers have found it desirable to establish standards for peak pressures in the various cartridges and the testing procedures used to determine them. Therefore, the consumer can be sure that he or she is buying safe ammunition. Manufacturers of commercial ammunition typically adhere to the standards and testing procedures of one or more independent non-governmental organizations. There are two of these voluntary associations of manufacturers. They are SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) and CIP (Commission Internationale Permanente).

SAAMI: The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute was founded in 1926 by the major US manufacturers of arms and ammunition to safeguard consumers and establish universal standards of markings. Prior to this agreement, there were no accepted standards for pressure, cartridge dimensions, etc. (Previously, the lack of accepted standards meant that you might have to buy Winchester ammunition for some Winchester rifles, etc.).

SAAMI Standard: For the vast majority of calibers, SAAMI has one standard. Typically, pressure is never really an issue for the consumer, because only one ammunition type is available. For example, everyone knows that .357 Magnum is high in pressure, and there is no cause for concern, since there is no .357 Magnum +P.

The SAAMI standard is a maximum. Most factory ammunition falls well short of the maximum. For example, 9mm Luger (aka 9x19, 9mm Parabellum) has a maximum of 35,000 psi. Ammunition marked 9mm Luger (and bearing the SAAMI markings on the packaging) will never  exceed 35,000 psi when tested under the designated SAAMI laboratory protocols. Typically, the peak pressures of these standard 9mm cartridges will actually fall in the 28,000 - 33,000 psi range.

In some calibers, there are two standards. The higher standard has been designated +P and the lower is typically referred to as a standard pressure cartridge. For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to these as SAAMI +P and SAAMI standard (instead of the ambiguous standard pressure).

SAAMI +P: SAAMI has established the +P designation for certain popular cartridges. This is because many modern firearms in these calibers can withstand higher pressures than earlier versions. SAAMI +P ammunition is dimensionally identical to its SAAMI standard counterpart, but the +P designates that it is higher in pressure. In handgun cartridges, the only calibers with +P versions are 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .45 ACP, and .38 Super Auto. For example, there is ammunition marked, both on the box and headstamp .38 Special and .38 Special +P. .38 Super Auto is a bit of an exception. The relevant markings are .38 ACP and .38 Super Auto or .38 Super Auto +P. (The higher pressure version was originally called .38 Super Auto, and the +P was added when SAAMI adopted this marking system in 1974.)

9mm Luger (SAAMI standard = 35,000 psi. SAAMI +P = 38,500 psi).
.38 Special (SAAMI standard = 17,000 psi. SAAMI +P = 20,000 psi).
.45 ACP (SAAMI standard = 21,000 psi. SAAMI +P = 23,000 psi).
.38 Super Auto (.38 ACP = 26,500 psi .38 Super Auto +P = 36,500 psi).

Cartridges bearing the +P headstamp exceed normal SAAMI standards, but they do not exceed the +P standard. For example, 9mm Luger +P rated cartridges fall in the 35,001 - 38,500 psi range. Most are actually around the 36,000 psi mark.

Note: There is no such thing as .40 S&W +P, 10mm +P, etc. These are not actual SAAMI designations. This means that the relevant ammunition exceeds the industrys agreed safety standards. DO NOT  shoot handgun ammunition marked +P that is not one of the calibers discussed above.

+P+ : +P+ is  NOT a SAAMI designation at all. In fact, it is probably best described as a marketing gimmick. Ammunition marked +P+ exceeds all accepted SAAMI standards. This is problematic, because the consumer has no idea how high the pressures generated by this ammunition will actually peak. This marking is most often seen on 9mm Luger ammunition. Theoretically, this means that ammunition marked 9mm Luger +P+ peaks at 38,501 psi or higher, but nothing precludes the manufacturer from defrauding the consumer. That is, the +P+ may not actually be that high in pressure. (Remember, compliance with SAAMI is voluntary, and there is no express guarantee made about ammo marked +P+, only ammo marked with official SAAMI designations.) Shooting so-called +P+ ammunition in any real quantity will still shorten the service life of pistols that are not immediately damaged. +P+ ammunition will quickly ruin some of the older 9mm pistols.

CIP: The European equivalent of SAAMI is CIP, the Commission Internationale Permanente. It is extremely difficult to directly compare CIP standards to SAAMI standards for a number of reasons. 1) CIP uses metric measurements, SAAMI uses the English system. 2) The CIP and SAAMI testing protocols are completely different. 3) Some cartridges have never been tested by both systems. For example, I presume that there is no CIP pressure standard for the American 6mm Lee Navy and no SAAMI standard for the British .242 Rimless Nitro-Express, etc. I would like to stress once more that there is no established method to translate the CIP standards, which are expressed in MPa, to the SAAMI standards, expressed in psi; anyone assuming a constant ratio or mathematical relationship is headed for disaster.

In the CIP system, there are no +P designations or anything similar. Each cartridge has one CIP peak pressure standard, period. Commercial ammunition made in Europe or elsewhere that conforms to the CIP standards will be conspicuously marked CIP.

Fortunately, the CIP standards are normally virtually identical to the SAAMI standards. That is, it is normally perfectly safe to shoot European ammo in an American pistol and vice versa, so long as you are using a modern firearm. There is one notable exception. The CIP standard for 9mm Luger (9x19, 9mm Parabellum) is higher than the SAAMI standard pressure loads. CIP maximum pressure for 9mm Luger is similar to SAAMI +P. However, most commercial ammunition made in Europe seems well within normal SAAMI standards. For example, the CIP maximum for 9mm is 260 MPa, while the hottest Sellier & Bellot loads in this caliber are @ 230 MPa, a substantial difference in this system.

The VihtaVouri Powders Reloading Manual (2nd ed.) sheds some interesting light on the subject. VihtaVouri actually retested the SAAMI and CIP standards in their laboratory. Apparently, they retested a cartridge that peaked at 38,500 psi (max. SAAMI +P) according to SAAMI testing protocols, but they used CIP protocols with English measurements instead. This yielded 37,400 psi, which reveals that the testing procedures really are quite different. The same regimen revealed that the CIP maximum load is 37,700 psi. It is safe to say that the CIP and SAAMI +P maximums are roughly identical.

NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization members have established their own peak pressure standards and testing protocols for ammunition. It is unclear to me whether there are absolute general standards for the NATO calibers, or whether each member nation has drawn up standards compatible with those of the other member nations. Unfortunately, comparing these standards to those of either CIP or SAAMI poses some difficulty. Most data on ammunition bearing the NATO headstamp was devised using the metric MPa measurements, and SAAMI claims that the various military testing protocols differ significantly from both CIP and SAAMI. Military ammunition is traditionally higher in pressure than its sporting equivalents, and NATO standards follow this general rule.

There are a few facts that should be kept in mind. First, there are relatively few NATO calibers; basically, 5.56x45, 7.62x51, and 9x19 are the only ones encountered by most civilians. Second, the NATO specifications seem to be more concerned with achieving a minimum velocity rather than optimal pressure. Third, there are several ammunition types within each caliber. For example, 7.62x51 can be ball, tracer, or AP, etc. and it can be intended for a machine gun, assault rifle, etc.

Since this article is concerned with CZ pistols, the following is confined to 9mm. There seem to be two major types of 9mm NATO: pistol and submachine gun ammunition. There may not actually be a separate pressure standards for the SMG ammunition, but it is generally agreed that two types of ammunition are issued. A cross within a circle found on the external packaging designates that the ammo is safe for use in either handguns or SMGs. Ammunition intended only for SMG use bears a solid circle on the external packaging, and it may or may not include the typical cross and circle symbol. Do not confuse this with the NATO headstamp on the cartridge case, which will be a cross within a circle on both types. The ammunition designated for SMG use is much higher in peak pressure, hence the different markings on the packaging.

I have had difficulty finding 9mm NATO maximum pressure data rendered in the English system of measurement. I did find some figures for individual loads manufactured for the US Army. For example, the earliest version of M882 (9mm NATO, Ball) was intended for the Beretta M9; it is nominally a 124gr load with a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps. The actual specs give the velocity as 1,263 at 15 feet and a maximum peak pressure of 36,250 psi. A comparable cartridge for the M3 SMG gives a maximum peak pressure of 43,000 psi. By 1994, the US Army had changed M882 specs to a 124gr FMJ load with a nominal muzzle velocity of 1,250 fps. This load has replaced all earlier versions of 9mm NATO ball ammunition, and it is intended for both the M9 and M3.

I have read reports that some of the European 9mm NATO is much higher in pressure than it US counterparts; this is definitely true of some of the Hirtenberger SMG ammunition. Remember, the key NATO specification is velocity, and the manufacturers appear to have a fairly wide range of acceptable maximum pressures, so long as the ammo is fast enough. As such, I would assume that most of the 9mm NATO handgun ammunition exceeds SAAMI and CIP standards, but probably not all. All 9mm NATO expressly intended for SMGs is extremely high in pressure, and it is not safe in any service pistol.


When you consider the available facts, I think it is a wise policy to follow the manual that came with your CZ pistol! Ammunition that complies with CIP and/or SAAMI standards, which includes SAAMI +P, should be safe in your CZ, whether 9mm or .45 ACP. This is also true of the CZs in .32, .380, 9x18, .40 S&W, etc., but remember that there is no recognized +P standard in these calibers.

Ammunition marked +P+ is a really bad idea, and I would not recommend it in any pistol. Remember that +P+ is not an accepted standard. The consumer has no idea how high in pressure the ammunition will actually peak. It could be dangerously high, or it could even be a rip-off. If you insist on shooting 9mm +P+, please confine yourself to reputable manufacturers.

It is often claimed that CIP 9mm is comparable to 9mm NATO and/or so-called +P+ 9mm. This is at best misleading, and almost always patently false. The vast majority of CIP 9mm is no higher in pressure than American standard commercial 9mm Luger. At its very hottest, CIP 9mm is only slightly higher in pressure than 9mm+P.

According to the SAAMI website ( 9mm NATO ammunition should not be fired in handguns marked for 9mm Luger (9x19, 9mm Parabellum). It is often said that 9mm NATO is equivalent to +P+. That is not necessarily true, but it is a safe assumption. You may be able to get away with it in reasonable quantities with the lower pressure handgun ammunition, but the markings discussed above are your only indication. The cartridge headstamps themselves will not give a definite indication.

For the record, I have never shot 9mm NATO in my CZ 9mms. IMHO, it isnt worth the safety risk, wear and tear on the gun, and extra ammunition cost to squeeze an extra 50-100 fps out of a 9mm load. I have shot some limited amounts of Winchester +P+ in a P-01, but I wouldn't do it with any of my pre-Bs.  Please shoot safely.

I would like to thank the members who helped me to refine this FAQ.

« Last Edit: June 19, 2008, 07:51:59 AM by FEG »
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