Hollow Point vs FMJ Ammo - Learn their Differences and Best Uses

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) and Hollow Point (HP) are the designations for the two most common types of ammunition fired from metallic cartridge firearms. Full metal jacket ammo is typically used for target shooting and plinking while hollow point ammo is considered the gold standard for self-defense.

There's no reason why you can't use FMJ rounds for self-defense or home defense, but there are many compelling reasons why hollow point ammo should always be loaded into your everyday carry handgun.

Let's load our magazines and take a shot at understanding why!

What Is Hollow Point

Hollow Point (HP) or Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is an expanding bullet that is designed for self-defense and to stop overpenetration. For the purpose of this article, we will use the terms interchangeably.

Hollow point rounds have a soft lead core and are surrounded by a metallic jacket (typically copper). There is a divot or "hollow" at the tip of the bullet that will expand when it encounters soft tissue.

The expansion of the hollow point allows more kinetic energy to be transferred to the target and slows the bullet down tremendously. These rounds are touted as self-defense rounds because they are designed to (ideally) not leave the bad guy.

As the bullet expands, it creates a larger wound channel that increases the odds of the bullet contacting vital organs. This is the main reason that hollow point ammo is considered the best choice for defense ammo, as it will stop a threat with fewer rounds and lowers the potential for overpenetration.

What is Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) bullet is exactly like it sounds. It is a bullet that has a lead core that is encapsulated by a metallic outer coating or jacket, typically made from copper.

This round has several benefits over shooting bare lead bullets through your firearms. First off, they are cleaner to shoot and more consistent in terms of accuracy than bare lead bullets. The full metal jacket protects your barrel from lead deposits (referred to as 'leading') forming in the grooves of your rifling.

This is because there is no bare lead contacting your barrel. This also makes cleaning your barrel after shooting much simpler as removing leading can be a royal pain in the buttstock.

Therefore, shooting FMJ through your firearms will increase your barrel life as there will be less wear and tear on the rifling.

Accuracy down range is also better for FMJ rounds since they are more uniform and consistent in their production.

FMJ rounds are normally used for target practice and plinking because they are cheaper than JHP. Furthermore, they are more streamlined and designed to continue through their target with minimal deflection or deformation of the bullet.

This makes FMJ bullets more ideal for barrier penetration than HP bullets.

A Disclaimer About Self-Defense

The major difference between FMJ and JHP is their downrange ballistic performance in a self-defense situation.

Understand that there is no such thing as a "magic bullet" like you see in the movies or on TV that drops an assailant with a single shot, catapulting them across the room like a ragdoll.

Shot placement is the key to surviving any hostile encounter. A JHP bullet to the hand is considerably less lethal than an FMJ bullet striking center of mass. Although there is anecdotal evidence of bad guys walking away from FMJ bullet wounds, those examples are exceptions to the rule. All bullets can be lethal with the proper shot placement. That being said, jacketed hollow point is the ideal choice for self-defense.

Let's take a look at why.

FMJ vs Hollow Point – A Case of Self-Defense

On April 11, 1986, the FBI was involved in a shootout with two serial bank robbers and murderers in Dade County, Florida. Although the FBI agents outnumbered the criminals 8 to 2, the FBI Special Agents were severely outgunned, and 2 agents lost their life after an extended firefight. This incident was named the 1986 Miami Shootout and it was determined that the FBI's sidearms were ineffective at stopping the criminals as they endured multiple hits and kept fighting. The 1986 Miami Shootout is perhaps the most thoroughly analyzed law enforcement shooting in US history and as a result, the FBI Ammunition Protocol was adopted by the FBI and multiple police forces across the United States.

So, what is the FBI Ammunition Protocol exactly?

In short, it's a really complicated scoring system to evaluate handgun ammunition and its terminal performance passing through multiple barriers. The scoring system is rather complex, so let me simplify it for you: A bullet that penetrates no less than 12 inches and no more than 16 inches into bare ballistic gelatin (a synthetic substitute for soft tissues) is good for self-defense. This is where hollow point takes the edge over full metal jacket.

As we discussed earlier, the FMJ round is designed to not significantly change its shape or trajectory when it encounters an obstacle… like a bad guy. Therefore, it will easily pass through a target and might hit something important behind it, like an innocent bystander. As such, FMJ is not recommended for self-defense except in extremely anemic rounds where a hollow point would be ineffective, such as a 380 ACP.

If you should ever find yourself in a self-defense or home defense situation, the last thing you want is for the bullets you fire to travel beyond their intended target and hit someone/something you didn't intend to shoot. Homes nowadays are made from cheap material, and sheetrock/drywall is not an effective barrier against centerfire ammunition. As such, we want all our bullets to come to rest in their intended target: the bad guy.

My first official firearms instructor told me something I'll never forget, "Assume every bullet you fire in a self-defense situation has a lawyer attached to it!"

With this being the case, the last thing we ever want is for a bullet that we fire to hit someone or something we didn't intend to because we will be liable for the damage we cause. As JHP is designed to expand and transfer its energy into the target, this makes it the ideal ammo of choice for any self-defense situation because it creates a larger wound channel and does not experience overpenetration.

Continue reading about the differences between hollow point vs FMJ ammo here.