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Why we carry hollow points for defensive shooting

A hollow point cartridge, and a fired hollow point bullet after expansion

A few days ago, a customer at the range who was very new to shooting asked why hollow point ammo is so much more expensive than full metal jacket (FMJ, or ball) target ammo, and why can't we all just save a little money and carry target ammo if it works just as well as hollow point? I get this question frequently enough that it probably deserves its own post.

Hollow point cartridges are used defensively because they expand and open inside a person's body, which creates more trauma and tissue damage to quickly stop the threat. That same expansion also helps prevent the bullet from over-penetrating (going through) the threat and into someone or something else that wasn't a threat at all. The bullet expands inside the wound almost instantly, and then slows down and stops, hopefully without exiting the body. Hollow points are typically made with much better quality control, more expensive manufacturing techniques, and better raw materials. They are designed with saving lives in mind and priced accordingly. While they aren't cheap, they are far less likely than ball ammo to get you killed or arrested (for over-penetrating and hitting an innocent bystander).

Ooooohhhhh, so pretty!

Ball ammunition is usually relatively inexpensive and designed for target practice. It's not uncommon for several rounds in a case of 1000 to be defective and not fire at all (misfire). Last December, I experienced my first ever squib when the case and the bullet completely separated inside the chamber of my 9mm pistol. A squib load is an underpowered cartridge that doesn't propel the projectile nearly as fast as it should. In this case, the bullet was stuck in the barrel while the case stovepiped in the ejection port. I knew immediately what happened because I could see the coppery gleam of the bullet lodged just inside the barrel. Squib loads are potentially very dangerous, as firing another round with an obstruction in the barrel will almost certainly result in catastrophic failure (i.e. a blown-up gun and injured hands). The good news is they're rare with factory loads, and almost unheard of with defensive ammunition thanks to rigorous quality control. But my squib confirmed for me that ball ammo, especially the cheap stuff, is typically less reliable than defensive hollow point ammo.

FMJ is stronger and faster than hollow point, feeds easier, and shoots cleaner, which is why it's perfect for target shooting at the range. Hollow point causes much more damage to tissue and is far less likely to over-penetrate and hit an unintended target, making it ideal for defensive carry and hunting. Hollow point, like all ammunition, is still prone to an increased likelihood of failure with rough handling or improper storage, so be sure to shoot all of the defensive ammo in your carry gun regularly and replace it with new ammo, especially if you've cycled the rounds more than once or twice through a magazine or chamber. Ammo that goes CLICK instead of BANG could cost you your life, so keep it fresh at all times.

Stock up on the good stuff and stay safe out there!