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Understanding Ammo Choices: Full Metal Jacket vs Hollow Point

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Welcome back for part 2 of our blog exploring the different types of ammo. Together with last week’s entry on Practice vs Defense ammunition, we hope we’ve helped you understand the choices you have when it comes to purchasing ammo.

So, let’s dive into the details of Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) and Hollow Point (HP) bullets!

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) Bullets

a handful of 9mm bullets on a white background
These 9mm full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets are typical of what you might use for practice ammo.

Design: 

  • FMJ bullets have a soft core (usually lead) encased in a harder metal shell or “jacket” (typically copper or a copper alloy). This jacket covers the entire bullet, with the exception of the base.
  • The jacket’s primary purpose is to prevent the bullet from deforming upon firing and to reduce lead fouling in the barrel. 

Ballistics and Performance: 

  • FMJ bullets maintain their shape and do not expand upon impact. Indeed, this characteristic allows for deeper penetration and a straighter trajectory.
  • Generally, FMJ bullets are more reliable in terms of feeding into the chamber from a magazine, making them a preferred choice for many semi-automatic firearms. 

Science of Impact: 

  • When striking a target, FMJ bullets tend to pass through without significant deformation. Thus, over-penetration, where the bullet exits the target and potentially poses a risk to objects or individuals beyond the target, is a concern.
  • The lack of expansion means that FMJ bullets transfer less energy to the target compared to HP bullets. The bullet does not slow down as much when it meets the target, and can sometimes pass through the target.

Hollow Point (HP) Bullets: 

Hollow point copper jacketed bullets stacked in a pyramid between two magazines
Hollow point bullets are designed to expand upon impact

Design: 

  • HP bullets are designed with a hollowed-out shape at the tip, creating an area of controlled expansion.
  • When these bullets strike a target, the hollow point allows the bullet to expand, increasing its diameter. 

Ballistics and Performance: 

  • HP bullets expand upon impact and create a larger wound channel, transferring more energy to the target and increasing stopping power.
  • Specifically, it’s the expansion of the bullet that also reduces the likelihood of over-penetration: the bullet loses kinetic energy once it strikes the target.

Science of Impact:

Nine millimeter hollow point bullet that has expanded on a white background
Example of how a hollow point bullet expands.
  • Upon impact, the hollow point of the bullet peels back, causing the bullet to mushroom and expand. This expansion increases the surface area of the bullet, and as a result, causes more damage to the target while slowing the bullet down.
  • The design maximizes damage within the target and minimizes the risk of harm to objects or persons beyond the target. 

Comparative Analysis: 

  • Penetration: FMJ bullets are more likely to over-penetrate, while HP bullets are designed to stay within the target.
  • Energy Transfer: HP bullets transfer more energy to the target, potentially leading to more effective stopping power.
  • Application: FMJs are preferred for practice and situations where deep penetration and reliability are crucial, whereas HPs are favored for self-defense, where stopping a threat quickly and minimizing risk to bystanders are priorities. 

In summary, the choice between FMJ and HP bullets depends largely on the intended use. FMJs are ideal for training and general shooting, while HPs are tailored for self-defense scenarios where maximizing impact and minimizing collateral damage are vital.

Now, let’s talk about some of the other differences between these two types of ammunition, starting with cost.

Pricing of Full Metal Jacket vs Hollow Point Ammunition

The price difference between Hollow Point (HP) and Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition is influenced by several factors related to their design, manufacturing process, and intended use. In detail, these factors include:

Complexity of Design: 

  • Hollow Point (HP): HP bullets are more complex to design and manufacture. The hollow point and the engineering required to get the bullet to expand on impact require more intricate manufacturing processes. This includes not just the initial shaping of the bullet, but also ensuring that the expansion will occur reliably under a variety of conditions.
  • Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): FMJ bullets have a more simple design. The process of encasing the lead core in a metal jacket is straightforward and has been optimized over decades. Therefore, simplicity in design and manufacture makes FMJ ammo less expensive. 

Manufacturing Costs: 

Sopot Bulgaria - May 17 2016: Worker is checking explosive element of anti tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs bazooka) near an assembly line in a munition factory. Working in dangerous conditions.
Worker in a munitions factory in Bulgaria.
  • HP Bullets: Manufacturing HP bullets involves additional steps and quality control measures. For instance, each bullet must consistently expand upon impact. This requires precision engineering and testing, which adds to the cost.
  • FMJ Bullets: They can be produced more rapidly and in larger quantities withless specialized equipment. Due to the widespread use of FMJ in training and target shooting, economies of scale help keep the costs down.

Material Usage: 

  • HP Bullets: May use more expensive materials or require additional components to achieve the desired expansion and performance characteristics.
  • FMJ Bullets: Typically use less expensive materials with a straightforward copper jacket over a lead core. 

Market Demand and Usage: 

  • HP Bullets: Primarily used for self-defense and law enforcement, the market for HP ammunition is smaller compared to FMJ. This type of ammunition provides enhanced performance for self-defense. The specialized market segment that typically buys HP bullets will pay up for premium stopping power. An excellent example is Liberty Ammunition’s 45 ACP Hollow Point.
  • FMJ Bullets: Widely used for training, target shooting, and military exercises, FMJs are in high demand. The larger market for FMJ ammunition allows for lower per-unit costs. The price range within FMJ bullets is vast, from inexpensively made target practice ammo, to 9mm used by police officers or private security. Our Sovereign Ammo 9mm is an example of a hand-crafted, small batch manufactured full metal jacket round towards the higher end of the 9mm price spectrum.

Regulatory and Liability Considerations: 

  • HP Bullets: In some regions, there are legal restrictions on the sale and use of hollow point ammunition, which can impact the cost. Additionally, the intended use in self-defense may lead to higher liability and insurance costs for manufacturers, indirectly affecting the price. 

In summary, the higher cost of HP ammunition compared to FMJ is largely a result of its more complex design and manufacturing process, higher quality materials, and the specific market it serves. FMJ ammunition, being simpler to produce and intended for more general use, benefits from economies of scale, making it more affordable. 

PS. Don’t forget to clean your firearm regularly.

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Sovereign Ammo gets commissions for purchases made through links in this blog post.

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