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Hollowpoint or Ball?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by CAS700850, May 11, 2011.

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  1. CAS700850

    CAS700850 Member

    Jul 20, 2004
    Central Ohio
    I recently read a debate on another gun board in which two individuals were vigorously debating the proper ammunition for a defensive handgun. One argued that hollowpoints were the best choice, as they gave the best transfer of energy into the target. The second argued that ball was the best choice as it allowed for maximum reliability in the handgun, while also giving maximum penetration in the target. The usual arguments came up along the way...that modern autos are as reliable with hollowpoints as they are with ball, that hollowpoints often fail to perform because the cavity gets plugged with matter, preventing expansion, etc.

    My question: assuming functional reliability is not an issue (that you test your handgun with sufficient hollowpoint ammunition to ensure there are no function issues), and assuming there is no legal prohibition against hollowpoint ammunition, what reasons are there for carrying ball ammunition for defensive purposes? My logic has always been that if a hollowpoint expands, great. If it fails to expand, it's now functioning as a ball round. Why not at least give myself the opportunity to have a round expand in the target?

    Am I missing something, or is there a flaw in my logic?
  2. M-Cameron

    M-Cameron member

    Oct 6, 2009
    do you honestly think your attacker is going to care what type of ammo you use to shoot him with?.....
  3. shootingthebreeze

    shootingthebreeze Member

    May 30, 2010
    East Lansing MI
    I have priced personal defense ammo, and I have come to the conclusion that what I fire at the range, ball (FMJ) is also good enough for personal defense.
    Saves a lot of money too.
    This conclusion was re-enforced by recycling some personal defense ammo, hollow point expensive ammo at the range-two rounds were sub loads, did not cycle my semi auto-and my firearm was lubed and fuctioning perfectly. Ran some ball ammo after, target, not one was defective. So why spend the high price for "personal defense" ammo?
    We used ball ammo for our .45 in the US Army. Good enough for me.
  4. mljdeckard

    mljdeckard Member

    Jun 5, 2006
    In a part of Utah that resembles Tattooine.
    I agree with your logic. A hollow point may or may not expand. (They will the vast majority of the time.) A fmj bullet may, under rare circumstances, mushroom and expand too. But not very often. And yes, an attackers point of view might vary greatly if one kind of bullet requires more hits to stop him than another kind.

    Having said that, I think the real-world difference may be limited. I think that the wounds created by either kind of bullet are very nasty. But realize that the reason we devote so many resources into designing better pistol bullets is that they all suck. You are trying to milk all possible performance out of a round that is insufficient to stop an attacker. This is why we put so much emphasis on shooting as well as you can and getting as many hits as you can. Your odds of stopping a bad guy go up a LOT with each repeated hit.

    I am not concerned with energy transfer. I am concerned with cavity trauma. I want the bullet that will make the biggest hole, thereby increasing the odds that it will hit something critical in the bad guy's body and make him stop what he is doing. Energy transfer has little benefit if any. Any premium defensive hollow-point has enough energy to traverse a human target and expand reliably under most circumstances. I think that the issue of hollow-points failing to expand because they got plugged was mostly invented by Hornady to try to sell their new kind of ammo.

    The idea that hollow-points don't work well in autos largely comes from the culture of surplus military guns. When people started shooting competition with the G.I 1911s that came onto the market, they would only feed ball ammo reliably. To make sure that they would feed hollow-points, they needed to be throated. Look at it from the point of view of manufacturers today. How many times do you think they want customers to call them and complain because their 'legacy' model of 1911 won't feed defensive ammo? They will work to make sure that all modern guns feed all types of ammo to avoid CS and PR issues.
  5. TexasRifleman

    TexasRifleman Moderator Emeritus

    Feb 16, 2003
    Ft. Worth
    The argument made by many is that they want to carry the same ammunition they practice with and for many folks it's simply too expensive to practice with high end dedicated defensive ammo. It's a valid argument it seems. I don't necessarily do that myself but I can absolutely see why someone would make that decision.
  6. youngda9

    youngda9 member

    Aug 21, 2008
    The most effective is HP, Clearly. Find one that is reliable in your firearm if you want the most effective form of SD.

  7. RaceM

    RaceM Member

    Apr 12, 2011
    As has been stated ball is the preferred choice in unmodified military weapons. Its use is required under the Geneva Conventions which ban expanding bullets, so the guns were designed around ball ammo.

    That said, regardless of bullet choice shot placement is everything.
  8. mrbro

    mrbro Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    Energy transfer is a myth. Penetration and permanent tissue damage are what matters. Expansion helps a small pistol bullet look like a big one. There are 3 things can both sides agree on, bullet placement, bullet placement, and bullet placement.

    In order to be effective a bullet has to do as damage as possible to the engine room, control tower, communications channel or support structure. (heart, brain, central nervous system or spinal column).
  9. jon86

    jon86 Member

    Feb 14, 2010

    And yes.

    Energy transfer should not even be talked about when speaking of handgun rounds. In a handgun round you want reliability, adequate penetration, and the biggest hole possible.

    You want adequate penetration to reach vitals, but it makes sense to use a hollow point so that you keep the risk of overpenetration to a minimum. You want the biggest hole possible in order to create the largest wound. What would create more tissue damage and potentially stop an attacker quicker? A 1.5 foot sewing needle or a 1.5 foot ice pick? This is another reason why using hollow points makes sense, in order to create the biggest hole through the target. Some may argue that if using a 45 caliber you don't NEED hollow points as the 45 is pretty big enough. That may be true, but if JHP feed through your gun, might as well use'em for the reasons already listed.
  10. Smokey in PHX

    Smokey in PHX Member

    May 10, 2011
    All of the above are valid statements. I practice with ball and carry HP that I have verified reliabile functioning many times.

    We read about people in public places pulling out a gun and shooting at will. If someone in the group has a concealed gun a lot of lives may be saved. I use HP for its effectiveness and the hope to prevent pass throughs as much as possible.
  11. jon_in_wv

    jon_in_wv Member

    Jul 8, 2006
    Ball for practice, and HPs for defense. I've read every argument there is and I haven't seen one argument I think is valid for using ball over HPs for defense. Most advocates for ball will sight the FBI report as their reasoning yet the FBI report advocates HPs and that is what the FBI carries. Go figure.

    EDIT: The exception being small calibers that just don't have the speed and weight to expand and penetrate. There is debate over where that line it drawn but for me anything smaller than a .380 will be ball, a lot will say ball is appropriate for the 380 too. Above 380, use HPs.
    Last edited: May 11, 2011
  12. InkEd

    InkEd Member

    Oct 16, 2009
    Parts Unknown
    Find a good HP and carry it. Buy cheap ball and shoot it for practice. It may only be a very slight edge BUT in a life/death scenario I want every edge possible.
  13. geekWithA.45

    geekWithA.45 Moderator Emeritus

    Jan 1, 2003
    SouthEast PA
    Presuming sufficient test for reliability, is there a *good* argument for ball in preference to expanders?


    I refuse to quibble over $10 difference in the cost of a few mags worth of ammo.
  14. littlerichard

    littlerichard Member

    Mar 15, 2009
    The most effective ones are those that actually hit the target.
  15. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator

    Apr 29, 2006
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    For self defense, I'm going to load my gun with quality, JHP ammunition.

    [1] For Practice.

    I don't see cost as an issue. I don't think it's necessary to practice with exactly the same ammunition one loads in the gun for self defense. It's sufficient to practice with ammunition that ballistically similar to one's defensive ammunition. (But it is necessary to test the gun with one's self defense ammunition.)

    [2] Shot Placement

    Yes, shot placement is "king", but here's no reason that one's shot placement should be any different for JHP ammunition compared with ball.

    [3] Terminal Ballistics (1)

    There were four ways in which shooting an assailant stops the fight:

    • 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.

    Of those, damage to the central nervous system is the quickest, surest and most likely to be fatal. And many times the BG will stop because it hurts, is the least sure and most likely to be hazardous to your own health. But do you really want to count on it? People, both good and bad, have also fought long and hard with serious, and often ultimately fatal wounds. And someone who has massive amounts of adrenalin in his system, like a bad guy under the stress of committing a violent crime might, may not feel much pain from even a serious wound. 

    Since adrenalin or drugs can blunt the effects of pain, and people have continued to fight when severely wounded, effectively stopping the fight reasonably quickly will call for causing sufficient damage to render the attacker physiologically incapable of continuing the fight, such as from massive blood loss depriving the muscles and brain of oxygen, major damage to important skeletal support structures or damage to the central nervous system. But the central nervous system is a small target, and important skeletal support structures are also small targets and causing significant enough damage to one can be a somewhat iffy proposition with most handgun rounds.

    Thus rely on blood loss depriving the attacker’s brain and muscles of oxygen to stop the fight. The rub is that the effects of blood loss and oxygen deprivation can take some time – during which our attacker will most likely continue to try to hurt us.

    The more damage that is caused, the quicker the blood supply to the muscles and brain will be impaired and the more quickly the attacker will lose the physiological ability to press the fight. So we can try to increase the amount and rate of blood loss by (1) making more holes and (2) making bigger holes.

    And of course an expanded JHP makes a bigger hole.

    [4] Terminal Ballistics (2)

    The Marshall and Sanow "stopping power" data is controversial. But looking at the data for .45 ACP, for example, shows some major themes.

    • All JHPs performed in the 80%+ "one shpt stop" range. No FMJ did better than 62%.
    • All JHPs when fired from a gun with a 5 inch barrel showed adequate (at least 12 inches) average penetration (except for three -- and those still showed average penetration of more than 11 inches).
    • All 230 grain JHPs showed adequate average penetration even when fired with a gun having a 4 inch barrel.

    [5] JHP Ammunition is the Overwhelming Choice of Law Enforcement Agencies

    If you can't get good hits on target with JHPs, you probably can't do any better with ball. There's no reason you'll be more likely to get better hits with ball than with JHPs.
  16. Loosedhorse

    Loosedhorse member

    Aug 4, 2008
    eastern Massachusetts
    Thorough post, fiddletown--thanks.

    Penetration in smaller calibers. +1 jon in wv.

    Penetration is often stressed (with good reason) for SD ammo. Most folks would tell you it's no problem getting adequate penetration with HPs .38 Special, 9mm and higher calibers. But somewhere (.380, .32, or .22) they will tell you you're better off with FMJ, if you're going to carry that caliber at all.

    FMJs in the "higher" calibers--maybe especially 9mm--are apt to overpenetrate your target. Some say the danger from such overpenetration to innocents is another "myth," but others take it seriously.
  17. pockets

    pockets Member

    Apr 27, 2010
    in my own little world
    Not to quibble....but....
    "The Hague Convention of 1899, Declaration III, prohibits the use in warfare of bullets that easily expand or flatten in the body.
    This is often incorrectly believed to be prohibited in the Geneva Conventions, but it significantly predates those conventions, and is in fact a continuance of the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868, which banned exploding projectiles of less than 400 grams, as well as weapons designed to aggravate injured soldiers or make their death inevitable.
    NATO members do not use small arms ammunition that is prohibited by the Hague Convention."
  18. cleardiddion

    cleardiddion Member

    Dec 4, 2007
    I carry an FEG PA63 as my ccw and have loaded it up with ball ammunition instead of hollowpoints, even if they're available.

    It's dead set reliable, it's what I practice with, it hits to the point of aim (some brands of HP did not and my pistol has fixed sights), and as others have mentioned penetration. 9x18 is no powerhouse by any means but it surely gets the job done.

    The one thing that really changed my decision was my ND from a years back. Basically, shot my bed which had a sleeping bag on top (cheap ikea mattress so it needs it). The load was a 95gr hollowpoint. Now, when I shot, I was all in a panic and was looking for fragments/holes in walls/etc but couldn't seem to find anything so I started looking more closely the point of impact. Followed the line which the bullet was supposed to follow and found it unexpanded and whole enough to possibly reload only about 3in deep in the bag. It's not like I was that far from the bed, I was right next to it at my desk actually. Sure changed my mind about a lot of things that day.
  19. ColtPythonElite

    ColtPythonElite Member

    Jan 8, 2011
    I worry more about where I hit 'em than what I hit 'em with. My formal training always includes Failure Drill shooting.
  20. geekWithA.45

    geekWithA.45 Moderator Emeritus

    Jan 1, 2003
    SouthEast PA
    If you're carrying for defensive purposes a round for which penetration is even a question, or for which the difference between HP and ball might conceivably make a critical difference...


    Just because "all handgun rounds are inadequate" (Clint Smith's quote, I think?) doesn't mean carrying an inadequate handgun round is a good idea.

    "Use enough gun" is a better quote to guide yourself by.
  21. CraigC
    • Contributing Member

    CraigC Member

    Jan 27, 2006
    West Tennessee
    Hardball, even .45ACP, is dismal against flesh. All it does is poke a narrow hole with little tissue disruption. Those who think hardball is a good stopper have obviously never shot a critter with the stuff. It's 2011, use a good bullet.
  22. Manco

    Manco Member

    Dec 28, 2009
    The key is to get adequate penetration (whatever that might be) first, and then to use the rest of the bullet's energy for expansion. With some calibers and barrel lengths, penetration may be insufficient with the hollow-points currently available on the market, so ball may be a better overall choice in such cases.

    Assuming that you'd get adequate penetration in all cases, that's a valid argument.

    If he gets scared at the sight of a gun and runs away, then I guess that the type of ammo doesn't matter; in fact, no ammo at all is needed in such cases. If he runs away just because you're shooting at him, then only blanks would be needed (or a cap gun). On the other hand, if he continues to assault you or engages in a gunfight with you, then you'll want to use the most effective type of ammo on him, regardless of what he may think of it (his body may "think" otherwise).

    If you're arguing that there is no difference in performance between bullets that behave rather differently in a physical sense, then state your case. Not that I'm saying that the difference is necessarily large, but sometimes even a small difference--an "edge"--can be the deciding factor between life and death in individual cases.

    It is a valid argument, although another valid argument is that it makes no difference as long as your practice ammo feels just like your defensive ammo and has practically the same point of impact for the same point of aim. That's one nice thing about .40 S&W, by the way--relatively inexpensive practice ammo that pretty much shoots just like defensive ammo, at least in my experience (.45 ACP is the same way, although practice ammo costs more). With some calibers, there is a noticeable difference between practice and defensive ammo, so some compromises must be made.

    But shot placement is nothing without penetration, and greater penetration (up to a full pass-through) offers greater opportunities for shot placement, while expansion sort of does the same by relaxing the precision required (and potentially increasing the rate of blood loss). To say that shot placement is "everything" without extremely important qualifiers is just plain inaccurate.

    The FBI issues a specific hollow-point load that gets 19-22 inches of penetration (when shot through clothing), which is just over the 18 inches that they recommend. I suppose that those who favor 18 inches like the FBI does could use their report to support their argument in a wider range of cases than the ones you mentioned later (i.e. smaller, weaker calibers that may underpenetrate with hollow-points).
  23. Heretic

    Heretic Member

    May 3, 2011
    I shot milkjugs full of water with Hornady critical defense .45. The bullet ripped the jugs completly open and kept right on going. Huge splash! I don't believe penetration is an issue with this round. If the bad guy can stand up to these, he deserves my wallet.
    P.S. The ban on expanding bullets by the Hague only applies to the military. I believe there have been a lot of complaints about the lack of stopping power of the 9's issued to our forces lately.
    Last edited: May 11, 2011


    Aug 28, 2009
    I don't feel unarmed with ball but I would prefer HP for self defense.
  25. Cop Bob

    Cop Bob Member

    Feb 15, 2011
    Deep in the Republic of TEXAS
    Geeze, get the Popcorn ready... again....

    HP for social work and hunting...

    Ball for practice...

    Speed is nice, accuracy is certain...

    Time and Time again, it has been proven and shown that proper practice and proper technique will be repeated under stress.. if you are a good INSTINCTIVE shot with a 22 you will hit what you are shooting at with any pistol as long as it, your service gun, has the same pointing characteristics and balance or feel as what you are used to shooting.

    I have seen high masters in PPC get into real shootouts and miss at 7 yards.. I have seen officers that could only shoot qualification scores in the mid 80's, but were good practiced instinctive shooters, make quick clean hits in real street shootings..

    Proper Practice make Perfect.. and it does not really matter what gun caliber or bullet that you shoot... As far as handling recoil of one type of round over another, when the adreniline starts pumping, you go into "Slow Time".. your instincts and training take over.. you will repeat what you practice.. and bad habits WILL be there...

    It does not REALLY matter what you practice with, the important thing is that you practice.. and practice THE RIGHT TECHNIQUES and DO NOT repeat bad habits...
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