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Ammunition Conservation

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"Remember: short, controlled bursts."
Corporal Hicks, Aliens

Often, when engaging in a firefight, characters fire as many bullets at each other as possible.

Then you have characters who will do the exact opposite, and use as little ammunition as possible to dispatch their enemies.

The reasons for conserving ammunition may vary, from limited supplies (as opposed to Bottomless Magazines), to Improbable Aiming Skills, to mere combat pragmatism (especially since it often takes more than one shot to kill a human being, despite claims to the contrary).

Essentially, the character uses as little ammunition as possible to dispatch enemies, barring Double Tapping (shooting to make sure the enemy is really dead). Occasionally, they will try to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Certain characters will simultaneously keep track of how much ammunition their enemies use in addition to their own supply, and will trick their enemies into wasting ammunition.

Contrast More Dakka (using as much ammunition as possible against enemies), compare Improbable Aiming Skills (firing well placed shots, possibly to spare ammunition).

Despite the name, Five Rounds Rapid has nothing to do with this (it's to do with only using rifles in combat), although using heavy weapons in their designated role certainly would save ammo.

This is a potential Death Trope. All spoilers will be unmarked. You Have Been Warned!

Take these examples down, but don't waste your ammo:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Heat Guy J, Daisuke's department regularly only supplies him with 4 bullets per mission, forcing him to be fastidious with ammunition. Luckily, Daisuke is an excellent shot.
  • Outlaw Star: Caster shells are insanely rare because they're almost a Lost Technology — only three people in the galaxy still know how to make them. This means that while Gene's Caster Gun is a massive trump-card that can beat almost anything else, he has to be really choosy about whether or not to use it. Unfortunately, much to his and Jim's chagrin he often finds himself facing opponents that are immune to anything less powerful. Caster shells are so rare and valuable, in fact, that there's an entire episode devoted to Gene getting just four of them.
  • Rebuild World: Common for the Recruited from the Gutter protagonist Akira, whose ammo as a hunter is expensive, and he usually compensates for inferior equipment with more powerful ammo types. This leads to his Virtual Sidekick Alpha teasing him when he asks if they’ll be in the black after the current mission with "maybe". It's repeatedly noted that telling Akira his ammo will be paid for by his employer, significantly increases his combat effectiveness. Another reason Akira conserves ammo, is because hand to hand combat typically breaks his bones due to his Powered Armor having it's safeties off. Akira eventually ends up buying an Awesome Personnel Carrier to carry spare ammo (and still running low due to being under gunned).

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke: In "The Bounty Hunter", the titular character forms a posse to capture an Indian accused of stealing a rich man's horse. When they get into a firefight with the Indians, he has to yell at them to shoot faster because they're keeping track of how many they shoot (they're compensated for the bullets). Then he makes the mistake of saying how much the Indian is worth, and the half-dozen men realize they're only getting a thousand dollars each from a bounty of one hundred thousand.
  • In Snikt!, the only thing that can harm the Mandate is Adamantium, which is incredibly scarce. By the time Wolverine is brought into the future to fight the Mandate, the local resistance is down to just 17 Adamantium bullets, after which point they would be helpless against the Mandate hordes. These bullets are used very sparingly.
  • In Sin City, during a car chase/shoot-out, Hartigan narrates about how Junior is throwing away bullets, not taking the time to aim. He then proves his point by taking careful aim, and hitting Junior.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami:
    • The trope is implied when Ami gets a wand that has three shots, and is told that it's for use against Dark Angels, which number a lot more than three. She also can't get spares, and the inability to recharge it is confirmed later.
    • Inverted when Zarekos decides to use all of his earthquake spells, which are Cast from Money, against Ami, because he wants to ensure victory more than he's willing to risk defeat but have money left.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Aliens, the Colonial Marines have several scenes dedicated to showing how it averted bottomless magazines. There's a scene in the Special Edition where the Sentry Guns burn through their 150-round ammo boxes in 5 minutes, and due to their dropship crashing and taking out their supplies, the Marines themselves end up with around a half-mag each by the time they try radioing the Sulaco. Come the climax, Hicks manages to scrape together ONE full mag plus change for Ripley to storm the alien hive with. Heck, it provides us with the page quote encouraging the use of restrained firepower to conserve bullets.
  • In Deadpool (2016), Deadpool yells out that there are more mooks than bullets, so they're going to have to share.
  • NYPD Det. John McClane, the protagonist of Die Hard, uses the MP5 SMG, which he stole off of a hostage taker, sparingly, preferring to use the more ammunition efficient Beretta 92. John only shoots as many bullets as is necessary to kill the hostage takers.
  • Dredd. Once he realizes they're trapped, Dredd tells Anderson to conserve ammunition, and as the movie goes on, a major source of drama is his dwindling ammunition. Luckily, after dispatching four corrupt Judges sent by Ma-Ma, Dredd takes their ammo and is armed to the teeth for the final conflict.
  • The titular assassin in the John Wick series regularly restricts himself regarding how much ammunition he uses to take down his opponents. In the Red Circle Club firefight from the first film, John takes down Viggo Tarasov's men with an average of 2-3 bullets per combatant. This is actually a case of entertainment being realistic. Wick is all about utilizing actual gunfighting techniques, and this is to put 2 shots to center mass (and possibly a follow-up to the head in case of body armor). To the audience exposed to "spray and pray", this may seem exceedingly conservative, but it's actually "average".
  • In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior ammunition is scarce and Max spends a lot of time pointing an empty shotgun at his enemies as a bluff. In the final fight, he is given a few shells and uses them sparingly. The Big Bad is shown to have only five rounds for his pistol and he makes a big deal out of each time he fires one.
  • Invoked by Goodnight in The Magnificent Seven (2016) when Faraday is suspicious of the former's shooting ability and challenges him to shoot a target. Goodnight demurs, saying that he wants to conserve the lead.
  • The Mechanic (2011). Professional Killers Bishop and McKenna fire only the rounds they need. Played straight when they kill the Big Bad however, as both men empty their magazines into him.
  • In Under Siege, when Playmate Jordan Tate makes it clear she's staying with One-Man Army Casey Ryback rather than hiding out and hoping she's not found by the terrorists, Ryback arms her with an MP5. As she's a civilian and a novice, Ryback informs her that he's going to put it into semi-auto select-fire, wanting her to focus on one shot at a time and making them count rather than possible blind, panic fire.

  • Played with in Princesses of the Pizza Parlor. In the second episode, Bianca starts with only five bombs until the next town, which is an unknown distance away, so this trope is at least implied:
    Since you ladies are in the middle of nowhere, I have some limitations to set.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is something that Malloy tries to teach Reed on Adam-12, saying that in certain situations officers should conserve their ammo and only shoot when they're told to or have a clear shot at the bad guys. This is because, as one situation shows where Malloy has One Bullet Left after forcing three burglars to surrender, taking time to reload would allow the crooks to get the drop on them and kill them.
  • In the Doctor Who serial Genesis of the Daleks, General Ravon says the Doctor and Harry will be executed by hanging, rather than shot, to conserve ammo. This is one of the many signs the war between the Kaleds and the Thals is running both their resources dry, along with the Schizo Tech from losing the ability to reliably produce and power their advanced technology and the rather young Ravon being a general.
  • In The Expanse, The Roci is explicitly supposed to hold ten thousand PDC rounds in her magazines and she can burn through those very quickly. Rearming is an issue, because few are willing to supply a salvaged Martian warship. At one point, the crew have to resort to salvaging ammo from a wrecked Martian flotilla. The Roci also carries a limited, but unknown, number of torpedoes that can run out in a single engagement.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Myriad Song most guns run out of ammo after one or two attack actions (the assumption is rapid-fire), but the character gift of Bullet Conservation allows one to indefinitely prolong the magazine at the cost of reduced damage.
  • Urban Jungle measures ammunition with a "Ammo dice" that is reduced in size (i.e. d6 to d4, d4 to none) every time it rolls a 1, a character with Bullet Conservation increases the dice size by one step on all guns they're using.

    Video Games 
  • Call of Duty: Mobile: In "One Shot, One Kill" mode, the player only has limited ammunition, and must therefore try to limit their shots to when they are able to score a direct hit. Successful kills are rewarded by having the spent cartridges replenished.
  • Resident Evil tends to go for this in the REmakes. In the first and second entries, ammunition isn't as plentiful as it was in the originals and the enemies are a lot tougher, the player has to assess carefully where and when they'll spend their bullets. Sometimes it's not a bad idea to just run past certain enemies.
  • In Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (1997), the player must find bullets for an NPC who wants to fight in colonial America's war for independence. Since the lead that bullets are made from was scarce in that era (it had to be imported and was heavily taxed), doing so is not as easy a task as it sounds.
    Polly: In one New Hampshire battle, the minutemen only had about fifteen lead musket balls each. They had to make every shot count!
  • In Rimworld, the Careful Shooter trait causes a character to act like this, carefully conserving their ammo and lining up shots before firing. They suffer a penalty to firing rate but have a significant boost to accuracy as a result.
  • Silent Scope makes you conserve ammunition to get high scores. Your Kill Streak ends when you miss a shot. This game also gives bonuses for performing a double shot and scoring an accuracy of 100% or more (which is possible because accuracy is calculated as bullets fired divided by the number of targets hit, so a double shot allows this ratio to go over 100%) to get a perfect bonus.
  • In Thing-Thing Arena 3, the first two rewards for One Hit Polykills are called "Ammo Efficiency" and "Ammo Conservationist", since killing multiple enemies with one shot means you use less ammo.
  • In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, one of the Space Marines was noted to be especially stingy with his ammo, and he took great pride in never running out. He's quite upset that Dark Splinters required More Dakka to take down.
  • This is a hallmark of the Metro 2033 trilogy. In the post-apocalyptic Moscow Metro, ammo is at such a premium that military grade 5.45x39mm rounds are used as currencynote . Ammo in general is a fairly rare find in the tunnels and surface; the only way to reliably stock up is to buy it in shops. This goes double for Ranger mode, where you may get as little as one single round per pickup; fortunately, in Ranger mode both you and your enemies are extremely weak to gunfire, so it's not as painful as it seems on paper.
  • In Ring of Red, special ammo always has a quantity of >5, and cannot be replenished in the field. Since they're Always Accurate Attacks, they're great for sniping enemies when your targeting computer is at low accuracy and there's 5 seconds left on the timer, but if you waste it, you won't have it for when you really need it.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown: The MEC Troopers introduced in the Enemy Within Expansion Pack are the soldier class with the least magazine capacity, with only two ammo units as base, and their basic Squaddie ability, Collateral Damage, uses two ammo units, forcing the commander to pick their actions carefully to prevent them from spending a bad turn dead in the waterwhy? . The base game's Heavies suffer from a similar issue, as their LMGs only hold three ammo units and Suppression consumes two. The Ammo Conservation project alleviates this somewhat, doubling the magazine capacity of all weaponsnote , allowing for more wiggle room.
  • Each weapon in The Persistence only comes with enough ammunition for a handful of uses and since enemies don't drop ammo, you got to try your best to save your ammo for when it will be most useful.
  • Ashes 2063: Survival difficulty cuts all ammo pickups (even shop purchases) by half, but at the same time, all attacks hit harder. Which bullets to use and when becomes integral to the gameplay.

  • Jailbreak: One prisoner finds an unused handgun in a cell containing two other dead inmates. When deciding on whether or not to give another living prisoner a Mercy Kill with it, he decides to hold off in the case that he needs the ammo to shoot himself later, and instead uses a harpoon he had on hand on the other man. He does end up turning the gun on himself, but only after the two became Fire-Forged Friends and escaped prison together; once the other man bled out, he felt there was nothing left to do but die.

    Web Original 
  • The protagonist of Stranded in Fantasy laments how he should have brought more ammo for his SIG, noting he only has six mags of eight, and keeps careful track of how many bullets he fires. He gets a magic bag that can duplicate any nonmagical, nonmonetary item placed inside of it once-per-day, alleviating this somewhat (he never specifies wether it copys a full mag at once, or one bullet at a time).

    Western Animation 
  • Skull Island (2023): Sam stops his henchmen from firing at the Kraken's tentacle in "Terms of Endearment", because leaving aside that they can't do any significant harm to the monster, the cast's bullet supply is almost completely expired and they're still trapped on Skull Island.

    Real Life 
  • A famous quote from The American Revolution concerns Colonel Prescott ordering his men not to fire at the oncoming British Army until they saw "the whites of their eyes"; this was standard procedure in the age of line infantry and smoothbore muskets. A large part of drill focused on staying calm in the face of enemy fire and only fire a controlled volley at extremely short range. This would allow maximum impact, whereas firing at longer range would reduce effectiveness. Additionally, it was easier to follow up with an immediate bayonet charge while the enemy was still recovering.