Are hollow points really "deadlier" than FMJ?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by grampajack, May 9, 2017.


Is there any appreciable gain in the pressure wave generated by hollow points vs. FMJ?

  1. Yes

    65 vote(s)
  2. No

    24 vote(s)
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  1. grampajack

    grampajack AR Junkie

    Mar 31, 2016
    I've been doing a lot of reading lately on the wounding effects of various ammunition, such as military studies, medical studies, etc. and what I'm finding out seems to contradict a lot of the conventional wisdom we hear from a lot of different sources, such as gun shop salesmen, ammo manufacturers, etc. Namely I'm more and more drawing the conclusion that hollow points aren't as great as we've been led to believe.

    Essentially what I've been told is that hollow points dump more energy into the target, and thus are more devastating. However, that doesn't seem to pan out in the real world, especially when it comes to handgun calibers, which is my primary interest as a CCW holder. Primarily what I'm hearing over and over again in these studies is that hollow points don't really make larger wound cavities in human targets, lacking the velocity necessary to cause hydrolic tearing of actual living flesh. So this idea of an "energy dump" doesn't seem to generate larger permanent wounds. Even in terms of rifle calibers, I think we're all pretty well aware that any properly engineered FMJ will tumble, resulting in hydrolic tearing just as a hollow point would. Even in rifle velocities I've not really seen any evidence that hollow points in and of themselves make a bullet deadlier, as I've seen many mean little FMJs and just as many hollow points that don't seem to do their job very well. It seems both can work equally well, and it's really just a matter of the bullet in question.

    That leaves us with hydrostatic shock as the only benefit of this supposed energy dump, but I'm not sure that really pans out either. The peak hydrostatic effect takes place when the bullet is at its maximum velocity, and this is dying down by the time the bullet is expanding. I can't really find any testing specifically for this hypothesis, but reading between the lines I'm starting to wonder if there's really any difference in the pressure wave generated by hollow points vs. FMJ. To put it another way, I'm beginning to doubt that there is any difference in the magnitude of the pressure waves generated by hollow points and FMJs of the same mass travelling at the same velocity.

    Now I'm not suggesting in any way that we start carrying FMJs, or that they themselves are better or "deadlier" or anything else. I also understand that there are other reasons to carry hollow points, such as limiting penetration, barrier blindness, etc. But there is absolutely a common belief in the shooting community that hollow points are somehow deadlier, and I'm not sure that this isn't largely a misconception based on assumptions that don't really pan out in the real world. People are always saying things like, "oh, if only the military could have hollow points that would fix all the problems with 9mm and 5.56." Well, if what I suspect is true, I think hollow points would largely be detrimental to most military applications as they would be sacrificing penetration for nothing in return.

    Again, I'm not suggesting that we stop using hollow points. I'm only suggesting that the majority of us might be perpetuating a myth in thinking that hollow points are inherently deadlier or produce more devastating wounds in and of themselves. I would also suggest that hollow point bans are not only deeply flawed in their intent, but also that they seek to solve a problem that never existed in the first place.
    Rollis R. Karvellis and azrocks like this.
  2. Hurricane

    Hurricane Member

    Aug 17, 2010
    Shot placement is first and foremost. If a hollow point mushrooms up, it will inevitably leave a bigger hole on the way out than coming in (if it makes it through).

    I personally wouldn't want to get hit with either, but some of those hollow point wound channels are pretty gnarly.
  3. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

    Aug 13, 2008
    If the folks are referring to handgun ammunition, they are whistling Dixie.

    An expanded HP with adequate penetration is likely to be more effective than FMJ ammo, but that has to do with tissue destruction due to the wound channel, and not to "energy dump" or the pressure wave.
    GRIZ22, RPZ, fastbolt and 8 others like this.
  4. Haxby

    Haxby Member

    Jan 15, 2011
    Over the last 50 years, there have been a lot of well-funded studies of handgun ammunition, by law enforcement agencies and military organizations all over the world.
    Unless prohibited, they all carry hollowpoints.
  5. dogtown tom

    dogtown tom Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    Plano, Texas
    "Energy dump"?:rofl:
    Biker, v35 and mljdeckard like this.
  6. Demi-human
    • Contributing Member

    Demi-human maybe likes firearms a little bit…

    Dec 8, 2016
    The Haymarsh, MI (Aka, Paradise.)
    I always thought it was the sharp and larger meplat cutting and tumbling through. Though that won't matter if its through the heart. I shoot big slow bullets anyway so no steam vaporization for me.
    mjsdwash likes this.
  7. TomJ
    • Contributing Member

    TomJ Contributing Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    Illinois/SE Wisconsin
    Round nose bullets tend to slide through the body where hollow points do more damage. I'm not sure any hand gun ammunition reaches velocities where hydrostatic shock is the main benefit.
  8. JeffG

    JeffG Member

    Jan 6, 2017
    NE Wisconsin
    In my experience, (for handgun velocities) hollow points*may* tend to create a larger temporary wound channel. In the same respect that same effect limits penetration and tends to divert the bullet off course, via now larger surface area spinning and gripping tissue.It seems in order to attempt to get a hollow point to expand, the bullets are lighter in weight, limiting penetration and line of sight travel in the body.
    In my experience a heavier bullet with a meplat of some sort, and a cutting shoulder if you have one, (Keith design) are far more deadly. The line of sight penetration is better also.
    Demi-human and PBR Streetgang like this.
  9. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2006
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    Either the people telling you this don't know what they're talking about or you haven't heard them correctly.
    And at handgun velocities energy transfer is meaningless.

    There is data, and there are studies, and we have a good deal of knowledge about wound physiology. What all that shows with regard to self defense could be summarized as follows:

    1. Pretty much every cartridge ever made has at times succeeded at quickly stopping an assailant.

    2. Pretty much every cartridge ever made has at times failed at quickly stopping an assailant.

    3. Considering ballistic gelatin performance, data available on real world incidents, an understanding of wound physiology and psychology, certain cartridges with certain bullets are more likely to be more effective more of the time.

    4. For defensive use in a handgun the 9mm Luger, .38 Special +P, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, and other, similar cartridges when of high quality manufacture, and loaded with expanding bullets appropriately designed for their respective velocities to both expand and penetrate adequately, are reasonably good choices.

    5. And that's probably as good as we can do.

    Let's consider how shooting someone will actually cause him to stop what he's doing.

    • The goal is to stop the assailant.

    • There are four ways in which shooting someone stops him:

      • psychological -- "I'm shot, it hurts, I don't want to get shot any more."

      • massive blood loss depriving the muscles and brain of oxygen and thus significantly impairing their ability to function

      • breaking major skeletal support structures

      • damaging the central nervous system.

      Depending on someone just giving up because he's been shot is iffy. Probably most fights are stopped that way, but some aren't; and there are no guarantees.

      Breaking major skeletal structures can quickly impair mobility. But if the assailant has a gun, he can still shoot. And it will take a reasonably powerful round to reliably penetrate and break a large bone, like the pelvis.

      Hits to the central nervous system are sure and quick, but the CNS presents a small and uncertain target. And sometimes significant penetration will be needed to reach it.

      The most common and sure physiological way in which shooting someone stops him is blood loss -- depriving the brain and muscles of oxygen and nutrients, thus impairing the ability of the brain and muscles to function. Blood loss is facilitated by (1) large holes causing tissue damage; (2) getting the holes in the right places to damage major blood vessels or blood bearing organs; and (3) adequate penetration to get those holes into the blood vessels and organs which are fairly deep in the body. The problem is that blood loss takes time. People have continued to fight effectively when gravely, even mortally, wounded. So things that can speed up blood loss, more holes, bigger holes, better placed holes, etc., help.

      So as a rule of thumb --

      • More holes are better than fewer holes.

      • Larger holes are better than smaller holes.

      • Holes in the right places are better than holes in the wrong places.

      • Holes that are deep enough are better than holes that aren't.

      • There are no magic bullets.

      • There are no guarantees.

    • With regard to the issue of psychological stops see

      • this study, entitled "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power" (yes, the very study referenced by boltomatic) by Greg Ellifritz. And take special notice of his data on failure to incapacitate rates:


        As Ellifritz notes in his discussion of his "failure to incapacitate" data (emphasis added):

        • There are two sets of data in the Ellifritz study: incapacitation and failure to incapacitate. They present some contradictions.

          • Considering the physiology of wounding, the data showing high incapacitation rates for light cartridges seems anomalous.

          • Furthermore, those same light cartridges which show high rates of incapacitation also show high rates of failures to incapacitate. In addition, heavier cartridges which show incapacitation rates comparable to the lighter cartridges nonetheless show lower failure to incapacitate rates.

          • And note that the failure to incapacitate rates of the 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .44 Magnum were comparable to each other.

          • If the point of the exercise is to help choose cartridges best suited to self defense application, it would be helpful to resolve those contradictions.

          • A way to try to resolve those contradictions is to better understand the mechanism(s) by which someone who has been shot is caused to stop what he is doing.

        • The two data sets and the apparent contradiction between them (and as Ellifritz wrote) thus strongly suggest that there are two mechanisms by which someone who has been shot will be caused to stop what he is doing.

          • One mechanism is psychological. This was alluded to by both Ellifritz and FBI agent and firearms instructor Urey Patrick. Sometimes the mere fact of being shot will cause someone to stop. When this is the stopping mechanism, the cartridge used really doesn't matter. One stops because his mind tells him to because he's been shot, not because of the amount of damage the wound has done to his body.

          • The other mechanism is physiological. If the body suffers sufficient damage, the person will be forced to stop what he is doing because he will be physiologically incapable of continuing. Heavier cartridges with large bullets making bigger holes are more likely to cause more damage to the body than lighter cartridges. Therefore, if the stopping mechanism is physiological, lighter cartridges are more likely to fail to incapacitate.

        • And in looking at any population of persons who were shot and therefore stopped what they were doing, we could expect that some stopped for psychological reasons. We could also expect others would not be stopped psychologically and would not stop until they were forced to because their bodies became physiologically incapable of continuing.

        • From that perspective, the failure to incapacitate data is probably more important. That essentially tells us that when Plan A (a psychological stop) fails, we must rely on Plan B (a physiological stop) to save our bacon; and a heavier cartridge would have a lower [Plan B] failure rate.

    • Also see the FBI paper entitled "Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness", by Urey W. Patrick. Agent Patrick, for example, notes on page 8:
    • And for some more insight into wound physiology and "stopping power":

      • Dr. V. J. M. DiMaio (DiMaio, V. J. M., M. D., Gunshot Wounds, Elsevier Science Publishing Company, 1987, pg. 42, as quoted in In Defense of Self and Others..., Patrick, Urey W. and Hall, John C., Carolina Academic Press, 2010, pg. 83):

      • And further in In Defense of Self and Others... (pp. 83-84, emphasis in original):

      • And further in In Defense of Self and Others... (pp. 95-96, emphasis in original):

    • And sometimes a .357 Magnum doesn't work all that well. LAPD Officer Stacy Lim who was shot in the chest with a .357 Magnum and still ran down her attacker, returned fire, killed him, survived, and ultimately was able to return to duty. She was off duty and heading home after a softball game and a brief stop at the station to check her work assignment. According to the article I linked to:

    I'm not aware of that, although I have heard reports of 5.56 NATO FMJ bullets tumbling. So how about providing some good evidence that as a general rule FMJ bullets will tumble?
  10. 460Shooter

    460Shooter Member

    Feb 12, 2011
    Great summary Frank.
  11. Deaf Smith

    Deaf Smith Member

    Feb 7, 2004
    Dunno about 'deadlier' unless you are talking about hunting, but ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL they are more likely to stop an attacker IF they are constructed well and expand as intended.


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  12. Officers'Wife

    Officers'Wife Member

    Aug 23, 2007
    A long way from heaven and too close to Chicago
    I vaguely remember an article from an ancient medical journal (1950's IIRC) describing the effects of a .22 rimfire hollow point striking a child in chest. The projectile "broke" into three pieces with one bouncing off bones and causing numerous perforations in the small intestine. The surgeon concluded that had it been a "solid" projectile the damage would have been far less extensive.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to be hit with either type.
    Hokie_PhD likes this.
  13. grampajack

    grampajack AR Junkie

    Mar 31, 2016
    That's exactly what I'm getting at. I've not seen any evidence that hollow points create significantly larger wound channels than FMJ in living tissue. They look nice in ballistics gel, but going on the reports I've seen that doesn't seem to actually happen in a real target. I've read numerous ER surgeons and medical examiners who say it's not possible to tell what bullet was fired just by looking at the wound channel, that all the common handgun calibers (i.e. 9mm to .45) pretty much look the same, regardless of whether it was a hollow point or not, and that they can't even begin to determine caliber or bullet type until actually recovering the bullet itself.

    Like I said, there are other benefits. Namely that a 9mm hollow point won't go through three people, yet will still penetrate barriers better than weaker cartridges. This limited penetration is obviously an asset to law enforcement as it is to civilians with carry permits. Not so much for the military who rarely have to be concerned with overpenetration.

    The wound profiles from military testing of various FMJ rounds show pretty consistent tumbling and fragmenting. I know at least one was drawn up from actual examination of real wounds in the Vietnam war. I'm not saying it's 100% reliable, but then again neither is hollow point expansion.
  14. azrocks

    azrocks Member

    Jun 28, 2016
    I recently posted my opinion on the subject in another thread, so I'll quote myself here (And yes, I feel silly doing so). But yes, Grandpa, I couldn't agree more :)

  15. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2006
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    Show us. Provide documentation. Cite sources. Your unsupported statements aren't good evidence.
    Merle1 likes this.
  16. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

    May 26, 2007
    From MOST handguns HP bullets end the confrontation sooner, with less shots required and with less chance of over penetration. Forget ballistic gack, there have been way too many statistics kept on actual real world shootings that show this to be the case. When I say most, I'm referring to the common calibers. That isn't to say FMJ doesn't work, it just takes longer for a person hit with FMJ to cease being aggressive. HP bullets limit penetration, but most common rounds still get plenty so it isn't an issue with them. But some of the smaller less commonly carried rounds like 22 or 25 calibers might benefit from FMJ in order to get enough penetration. I've seen conflicting data on the smaller rounds. But not the more common rounds.

    On the other end of the spectrum some people rely on a handgun for large predator defense. On larger animals you might not get enough penetration with HP bullets. A hard cast semi-wadcutter is most often recommended in that case.
    Merle1 likes this.
  17. Good Ol' Boy

    Good Ol' Boy Member

    Apr 26, 2016
    Mechanicsville, VA
    I use HP's with the sole intention of them not completely passing through the target with enough velocity to injure someone else. I don't really think they are "that" much more damaging than FMJ's.

    I used to carry FMJ's for a very short while when I first started carrying, until I read an article by Mas where he talks about this very subject and mentions "deliberate indifference". As he mentions in the article, if you don't know what that means I'd suggest you educate yourself.

    And yes, as has already been stated, we're all aware that HP's don't always do what they're supposed to but I'd personally at least like to try to limit through and through shots.
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
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  18. FL-NC

    FL-NC Member

    Feb 10, 2016
    Fl panhandle
    HPs are absolutely more effective than FMJ (when speaking of handguns).
  19. bullseye308

    bullseye308 Member

    Nov 24, 2007
    Smyrna Tennessee
    I didn't read all the above yet, but my way of thinking is that a hollow point is better in that if it does expand great, if not, then you have a FMJ. A FMJ will always be a FMJ.
    Inazone, Demi-human and Hypnogator like this.
  20. GRIZ22

    GRIZ22 Member

    Nov 4, 2006
    Roundnose bullets MIGHT tumble. Most of the mass of a bullet is in the base. If the bullet hits something that offers significant resistance (heavy muscle, bone, or just because it's lost enough velocity) it may tumble. The heavy base has more inertia than the lighter nose. That doesn't mean it's going to keep tumbling. It may go all the way to base first and continue to penetrate. It might tumble to an angle and penetrate a little more. I watched a video on 22 lr penetration recently and the roundnose bullet did a 180 in the ballistic gel. It continued to penetrate a few more inches and stopped. You cannot count on a bullet to tumble.

    200 great 38 special bullets tumble more often.

    Bullets, like other things, will follow the path of least resistance. I've seen ricochets that hit something base first.

    Bullets will.tumble but I wouldn't count on it for "increased stopping power".
  21. RecoilRob

    RecoilRob Member

    Sep 30, 2003
    Agree that if what you're shooting has a surplus of momentum that will still provide adequate penetration if it is allowed to does no harm letting it mushroom as it might nick an artery that would have been missed by an FMJ. Also consider that the vast majority of 'stops' tend to be psychological in that the perp realizes that they've been shot and don't want any a bullet that hits with a 'SMACK' will get their attention much better than an FMJ that might penetrate them without their realizing it's happened. Many people find holes after a firefight that didn't incapacitate them and went unnoticed in all the activity where the HP might have not gone unnoticed.

    Also agree that it seems that lots of people put a bit more stock in the bullet they're using than they are NOT equipped with a 'Death Ray' if you load HP's and also are not unarmed with FMJ's. Placement always ranks #1 in order of importance...and then the bullet construction is somewhere down the list.
  22. PBR Streetgang

    PBR Streetgang Member

    Aug 15, 2011
    In personal experience, HPs don't always open but when they hit something hard they expand their energy. Being in a shootout in a tenement building hallway with concrete walls and steel doors a 9mm FMJ fired in this situation, when it starts bouncing around the walls ,everyone gets religion!
  23. huntsman

    huntsman Member

    Apr 11, 2003
    ohio's northcoast
    If the buck a bullet HP gives you confidence go for it, if all you can afford is cheap fmj go for it. I'M more selective of hunting ammo because I can do real life evaluation on a yearly basis.
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  24. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

    Dec 29, 2006
    I think Frank Ettin's summary is just outstanding. But something that is lacking from the discussion is just how little momentum is imparted to a pistol bullet, and how little is transferred to the target. The direction I want to go with this is that while handguns work, but they are more of a last chance weapon than a first choice weapon.

    Having read enough historical accounts, I am going to state that the bladed weapons, halberds, maces, clubs, spears and swords, were much more positive and lethal than hand guns. The disadvantage was of course, you had to get within arms reach to hit your opponent. A war hammer will crush the skull, so will a club. I have read of number of accounts where heads were cut from top through the jawbone by swords, I have read of swordsman cutting opponents in two. I cannot image the damage a halberd would cause. These things are around six feet long with a spike or hammer on one side and a cutting blade on the other. Get a good windup with one of those, whomever was hit solidly surely did not stand again. Accounts of WW1 soldiers with sharpened shovels indicate their entrenching tools positively put men down. I recall reading of a British Officer who picked up a pick and impaled his German Officer opponent; the German's pistol malfunctioned but the pick worked to perfection.

    Handguns are around not because they are the most lethal or fearsome, but because they kept the guy with spear, sword, bayonet at a distance, but there are still a number of accounts with early revolvers where opponents armed with spear, sword, or bayonet, took a pistol bullet, and killed the pistol shooter. All they had to do was get close and hit hard.
    Merle1 likes this.
  25. mjsdwash

    mjsdwash Member

    Jan 14, 2011
    yup, the straight face keeps in on a straight path. Ogived bullets always take the path of least resistance. The reason why Semi wadcutters are better than roundnose.
    Demi-human likes this.
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