Headstamp-to-Headstamp: Hollow Point vs FMJ

Michael R Crites


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This article is part of our ongoing series on Gun Basics & Headstamp-to-Headstamp our ammo guide

Full metal jacket (FMJ) and hollow point are two popular types of ammunition; with one better used for defensive situations and the other more of a practice round. Though seasoned shooters likely understand the difference between these types of bullets, it can be difficult to define the differences and best applications of both without experience.

You should own and use both hollow point and FMJ ammo, but you shouldn’t use them in the same situations. Hollow points are best suited for home and personal defense guns. In contrast, FMJ is great target ammo. Read on to get into the nitty-gritty of these two popular rounds.

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Full Metal Jacket Ammunition

Hollow point personal defense round (center) compared to a full metal jacket. Training rounds will generally be FMJ because they're cheaper and will run consistently in most pistols.
Hollow point personal defense round (center) compared to a full metal jacket. Training rounds will generally be FMJ because they're cheaper and will run consistently in most pistols.

FMJ ammunition is a small-arms bullet, ideal target practice and plinking. The name “full metal jacket” comes from its design: it has a soft lead core that is covered in a harder shell metal. 

The exterior metal shell envelopes the entire core, and is typically made from gliding metal, which replaced its precursor cupronickel, a copper alloy which contains nickel and strengthening elements but contributed to fouling much more than gilding metal.

Pros and Cons

Because of the FMJ casing does not contain a hollow, like hollow points do, FMJ ammo moves at a very high velocity and penetrates hard materials without depositing metal in the bore, making it cleaner-shooting than hollow point rounds. They’re also economical because they’re cheap to produce relative to hollow point rounds. 

The all-metal jacket allows for FMJ ammunition to penetrate targets effectively, but since the bullet does not expand when it hits the target. This makes full metal jacket ammunition great for target practice, where you’re shooting at solid targets or steel. They’re also fantastic ballistically due to their optimal shape, so longer-range shooters will always use FMJ rounds. 

The main potential downside of full metal jacket ammunition is over-penetration. It can go straight through a soft target, creating a situation where you could hit an unintended target. For this reason, self-defense rounds are almost always hollow-point.

Recommended Bullets

Quality FMJ rounds like the PMC Ammunition Bronze 660 GR Full Metal Jacket Boat Tail offer impeccable accuracy and ballistic performance. They’re not cheap but are a great choice bullet if budget isn’t a factor and you intend to use them for long-range target shooting and/or hunting they’re hard to beat.

The American Eagle 357 SIG 125GR FMJ Ammunition is specifically designed for target shooting, they deliver a punch and have quality reloadable brass cases, for those interested in reloading. Plus, they’re affordable, making great for the shooter on a budget.

Hollow Point Ammunition

9mm hollow point self defense ammo pre and post fire
9mm hollow point self defense ammo pre and post fire

Hollow point ammunition has a pit or “hollow” in the tip, which causes the bullet to expand upon impact. This expansion makes it a great option for hunters or self defense, as the expanded bullet both creates a larger wound channel and limits the penetration, keeping the bullet within the target. 

This also means you’re likely to take the target down with fewer shots, helping you end an engagement sooner, conserve ammunition, and increase the likelihood of filling your hunting tag.

Interestingly, hollow point bullets are not allowed in military engagements. That’s because America signed the Hague Declaration, a multilateral treaty preventing the use of expanding bullets in battle. Though the treaty has aged, people still debate the ethicality of this approach.

Pros and Cons

The fact that the hollow point ammunition expands has both pros and cons. This expansion makes it more lethal (great for self defense and hunting), but also more expensive and a dirtier-shooting round.

Recommended Bullets

Winchester Ammunition Match 250 is a great hollow point rifle bullet. It uses boat tail technology to maximize precision, but you’ll pay for this level of performance. For those interested in performance without the premium, Ammo Inc Streak 90 GR JHP increases accuracy by providing the shooter with a non-incendiary visual path, preventing fire hazards and getting you on target at an affordable price.

Difference Between the Two

Both bullet types are incredibly useful and have their own benefits and drawbacks.

FMJ bullets have a soft core covered by a hard exterior shell. This allows them to hit a practice target cleaner and more accurately. On the other hand, hollow point bullets have a pit or hollow in the center. This makes the bullet expand in the wound cavity when it hits the target, creating larger wound channels  in any soft targets.

When to Use Full Metal vs Hollow Point Ammo

No matter how much deep you dive into these two bullet types, the knowledge is useless if you don’t know when to select the right bullet.

Full Metal

Use full metal jacket FMJ ammunition for target practice or learning how to use your gun. FMJ ammunition is better for these purposes because it is cheap and clear to shoot. Take full metal to the shooting range and your wallet will thank you.

That said, you should not use FMJ ammunition for self defense, home, or personal carry guns. It’s simply not designed for self-protection — both in terms of insufficient wounding and over-penetration. 

Hollow Point

In contrast, hollow points are ideal home defense or hunting rounds. Because of the expanding design, these bullets are more likely to bring your target down quickly, helping to protect yourself or bag your hunting target humanely. Even though they are more expensive, you won’t use them as often, and it may save your life or hunting trip, making the price more than worth it.

You should avoid using hollow points for practice or target shooting. They’re pricey and impractical for practice and plinking. Stick to using hollow points as defense ammo in your concealed carry.

Additional Resources

  1. International Committee of the Red Cross, The 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets 
  2. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Justifiability of Hollow-Point Bullets 
  3. ScienceDirect, Cupronickel – an overview
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