Why Range Ammo Is A Terrible Choice For Self-Defense

fmj range ammunition ammo

Dan Z for TTAG

Don’t use range ammo as self-defense ammo. There are a number of good reasons why it’s a bad idea.

Range ammunition – meaning full metal jacket or fragmenting ammunition in center fire rifles and pistol, target or bird shot in shotguns – make generally poor self-defense ammunition choices. Not that there aren’t good uses for them (ie the range, the dove field), but ammunition is a tool and you should use the right tool for the job.

9mm range ammunition ammo fmj

9mm range ammunition (Dan Z for TTAG)

The typical civilian has a handgun for concealed carry and/or home defense. Perhaps that’s buttressed by a long gun for home defense gun and/or a trunk gun, typically a shotgun or AR-platform (or maybe AK-platform) semi-auto rifle. It has been recommended forever not to use range ammo for a practical gun and for a number of reasons.

Center fire rqnge ammunition (pistols, rifles) will dramatically over-penetrate (go through) the target, which is problematic in an urban or suburban environment. Target load shot shells may do little depending on the circumstances. In short, the target ammo will either hit the bad guy and proceed to hit something (or someone) else, or won’t do enough to the bad guy to stop the threat.

Self-defense ammunition either fragments inside a fleshy target or expands, dumping its energy into an attacker and coming to a stop. That way, it doesn’t go through the bad guy and then through a wall into someone else, maybe a family member.

Expanded hollow point. (Rickochet at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This is why it’s recommended that you load any self-defense firearm, such as a concealed carry gun or home defense handgun or rifle, with expanding ammunition and a shotgun with either buckshot or slugs.

Police figured this out more than 70 years ago when they switched to semi-wadcutter hollow points in their .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers and jacketed hollow points in semi-automatic duty pistols. They’ve been using buckshot since pretty much the end of the 19th century in shotguns, for the same reason.

A .357 Magnum semi-jacketed flat top, old-school self-defense (and hunting) ammo. (Malis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Okay, so why would anyone think using range ammo is a good idea?

Some might observe that the military uses FMJ rounds. For a start, much of that dates back to the Hague Convention on the use of expanding ammunition in warfare that took place in the 19th century.

Also, militaries deal in lead in volume. Hundreds of thousands of rounds are expended per enemy killed. Our armed forces also happen to be switching to Speer Gold Dot G2 hollow point 9mm ammunition (which the FBI uses) for pistols as lack of stopping power was a common complaint among personnel who had to use their M9 loaded with 124-gr +P FMJ NATO ammunition, even with the extra zing.

Civilian-involved shootings are over in seconds, with only a few shots fired in almost all instances. Thus, militaries using hardball is almost immaterial if someone wanted to bring it up.

There’s also the idea that “something is better than nothing.” While that’s prima facie true, in the real world you don’t need to shoot more than a few rounds of your self-defense ammunition here and there to check function, zero and point of impact in your carry gun.

Winchester white box hollow points and Remington UMC hollow points are pretty cheap, and will work.

My preferred carry load – Winchester PDX-1 9mm 147-gr. JHP – is $22 for a box of 20. I buy a box or two per year, and generally have a few rounds left over from the previous box at all times. Should I cycle it out more often? Probably, but the point is you don’t need to shoot carry ammunition that much.

One box of JHP or two per year is not that expensive. (Iceman7840 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Other brands, such as Hornady Critical Defense, Speer Gold Dot, Federal’s Hydra Shok, Hydra Shok Deep and HST brands, Remington Golden Saber and SIG SAUER’s V-Crown are all excellent, widely available and aren’t THAT expensive. You really can just buy a box a year and be fine.

Another scenario is people who carry a small-caliber pistol, such as .25 ACP, .32 ACP or .380. The idea goes something like this: the smaller bullet isn’t as powerful as a larger round, won’t over-penetrate as dramatically and hollow point ammunition doesn’t perform as well as, say, 9mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum or .40 S&W hollow points.

First, .25 ACP, .32 ACP and .380 will still go through flesh like crap through a goose. Secondly, the market has an absolute GLUT of compact 9mm pistols if size is the issue, plenty of them are downright pleasant to shoot and you can always get reduced-recoil loads. Lastly, why would you carry a gun in a caliber known for being less effective when you can get something else?

Look, guns and bullets are tools, and you should buy tools that are known to work. I don’t think that NASCAR teams get their tools at Harbor Freight. Granted, Harbor Freight has some decent stuff and good prices, but that’s beside the point.

Two world wars…that we’re tired of hearing about. (Jan Hrdonka en:User:Hrd10 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Then we come to the topic of .45 ACP. You don’t hear this one too much anymore as the myths about .45 ACP (and .45 Colt) are falling away in the fullness of time, but occasionally someone likes to bring up either the world wars or the Moro tribesmen.

The .45 Colt and .45 ACP rounds use a projectile that’s almost half an inch wide. (0.452 inches.) That’s a big hole. If all you can do is punch a hole in something (which is what range ammo does) then a bigger hole is better than a small one. Additionally, over penetration is the last thing a person cares about on the battlefield.

Not that over-penetration doesn’t occur with hollow point ammunition; the FBI’s Handgun Wounding And Effectiveness Report (PDF) reports about 30 percent of hollow points fail to expand in the target. However, over penetration in the home or on the street with one or two rounds is better than with every round fire.

As to shotguns, here we have the opposite problem regarding range ammo. Range ammo actually UNDER performs in a self-defense scenario.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Part of the ability of a projectile to penetrate a fleshy target and do fatal damage is down to the mass of the projectile (velocity and ballistic coefficient too) and the shot in target loads is very light. While it is propelled out of the barrel at high speed, velocity (and therefore momentum and energy) is lost rapidly as each individual pellet is too small to retain sufficient momentum on its own.

#8 bird shot on the right, 00 buck on the left. Credit: gunassociation.org

Human flesh doesn’t tear nearly as easily as brittle clay targets or thin bird flesh. A bunch of tiny pellets may arrive with hostile intentions but without the oomph to do anything about it.

In fact, TTAG wrote about shotgun penetration back in 2010. Ballistic gel tests done by ShotgunWorld found that #8 birdshot barely penetrated five inches of ballistic gelatin overall, and only created a stretch cavity (meaning tissue crushed by the impact) in the first three inches.

Switching to a heavy #2 express load doubled the effects (length of stretch cavity and overall penetration), but sizing up to Remington Express 00 buckshot lengthened the stretch cavity to a full 14 inches and overall penetration to 21 inches.

The aforementioned FBI standard for ammunition performance is 12 to 18 inches of penetration in ballistic gel. In other words, the criteria set by experts in what ammunition needs to do in order to reliably stop a bad guy basically mandate that buckshot (#4 or larger) or a slug be used in a self-defense shotgun. If you aim correctly, spread is not really an issue; again, most self-defense shootings occur at close range and buckshot will only spread an inch or two if that.

So, to sum up…handgun or rifle range ammo will tend to go through an attacker, which is dangerous. There also aren’t really any excuses for using it for self-defense purposes. Anything short of self-defense ammunition in a shotgun risks failure to stop the threat, which is a problem if you only have three rounds.

Anything you’d like to add? Got to the end of the article and realized you just lost the game? Sound off in the comments!


  1. avatar No one of consequence says:

    And .45 ACP with good self defense ammo will make an even bigger hole.


    1. avatar Jr says:

      I’m not even a .45ACP fan but it always boggles my mind how that is ignored.

      1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

        I’m not a huge fan of .45 ACP either but it’s certainly not a terrible round. You’re well armed if you carry one.

        But, it doesn’t enjoy many of the improvements in modern bullet design because it’s so dang slow.

        1. avatar LazrBeam says:

          My old Auto Ordnance .45 ACP 1911 doesn’t really care for HP. The ogive hung up on the top of the chamber while the round was on the feed ramp….. can you say jam? To be candid, this was 25 years ago with Federal HydraShok ammo. Maybe the edge of the ogive is smaller and doesn’t have such a pronounced edge now. On the other hand it fires ball flawlessly. I think it’s the way a 1911 was designed. It’s still a hoot to shoot with ball. While still favoring .45 ACP HP for home defense the Shield fills the bill nicely.

        2. avatar ozzallos says:

          OTOH, my Rem R1 Threaded 1911 eats everything. Ball, HP, even semi-wad cutters. I have confidence in the fact that every hit is driving a bowling ball through the target 🙂

      2. avatar BusyBeef says:

        because the wounds are nearly indistinguishable due to the lack of velocity – the temporary wound cavity you see in gel is just that – temporary.

        Which is why everyone has switched to 9mm.

        Plus – cost, capacity, recoil, wear and tear, etc . . . .

        Don’t get me wrong, my HD gun is still in .45 ACP.

    2. avatar jakee308 says:

      And yet we never hear about situations where the assailant went on to kill or injure the defender using such ammo. That may be an oversight or lack of data but still I challenge anyone who makes these claims to let me shoot them with some range ammunition and tell me how ineffective it is.
      This is all just blather by so called experts looking for something to yak about. Besides I think that mostly applies to the smaller calibers as noted.

      1. avatar Charles says:

        It depends on how close or far your scenario plays out. Fmj, bad idea. Frangible fmj is a possibility, but that solely depends on your opinion and comfort zone as well as caliber size. 9mm fragibile, won’t pass through. 5.56 frangible? More likely to pass through.
        Birdshot from about 15- 25 feet away, good home defense distances, won’t pass through, but the knockdown force will be very noticeable. Not to mention the fibs factor, “oh crap I’ve been shot.” Bad guys are looking for victims, not a fight, in around 90 percent of situations. Especially robbers. Looking for victims, not a fight. First person to shoot on target almost always wins.

    3. avatar Hank says:

      .45 ACP is a fantastic round. It only gets bashed by n00bs who know only so much that isn’t true. It’s also a good choice for people in New Jersey where hollow points are outlawed. Yes, modern 9mm has come a long, long way, but 9mm fmj is absolute trash.

  2. avatar cgray says:

    What an idiot. Hollow points get stuck in thick clothing, bones, fat, etc. There’s no such thing as “range” ammo. There’s just ammo. Shot placement and penetration are by far the most important factors. IF a hollow point even expands AND penetrates deeply enough, it’s typically only the size of a dime. Ridiculously overrated.

    1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

      Agree, but give Mr. Hoober a break.
      He’s coming along. Note the headline. Instead of a blanket statement like: “Don’t use range ammo as self-defense ammo”, the wording instead is; it’s a bad idea. Well, there are better choices, so that’s a true statement. Unfortunately, he goes back to “don’t… ___”, but “do… ___”in the body itself, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. He’s learning, and what more can one ask for?
      What if I only have a Hi-Point, and I can’t afford a hundred rounds of premium ammo to see to it that it functions in my gun? Well, then I’ll shoot range ammo in it instead. Better a less effective projectile that functions, than the best that doesn’t. Like I’d rather have a Toyota that runs and drives, than a Mercedes that doesn’t.
      I would do exactly what he says don’t do, and be in the right. Because the situation calls for that.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        In my younger days money was always an issue. I’ve used guns and ammo that all the ‘experts’ said were wrong.

        Premium stuff has its place. But not at the cost of groceries for the kids.

        1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

          can o’ worms if you intend to defend your kids, but yeah, back then i was happy to have the correct caliber.

        2. avatar Skippy says:

          Premium or bargain, like a fire extinguisher, it’s not needed till it’s needed. But if a fire extinguisher IS needed, I want it to work.

        3. avatar GluteusMaximus says:

          Especially if you are in the habit of stocking large quantities

        4. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

          And that’s the truth, life being about calculated risks, probabilities and priorities. Got to eat falls significantly higher then must have the best ammo

        5. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

          And that’s the truth, life being about calculated risks, probabilities and priorities. Got to eat falls significantly higher then must have the best ammo.

    2. avatar KenaSaw says:

      When I took my defensive shooting class, the trainer, of whom was a former police/FBI/military talked
      about how penitration was important… He never once mentioned anything about expansion of defensive
      rounds. Seems like the penitration and placement is more important since expansion is inconsistent.
      Maybe someone else could write more on this topic who would know more about it.

  3. avatar Napresto says:

    “Center fire ammunition (pistols, rifles) will dramatically over-penetrate”

    It isn’t the primer mechanism (the means of igniting the power) that causes over-penetration, it’s the combination of powder and projectile. Rim fire ammunition has the reputation of not over-penetrating because of the era and kinds of (black powder) guns where it got its start, plus rim fire ammunition is most commonly seen these days in diminutive cartridges like .22LR. But I’m quite sure you can load plenty of rim fire cartridges to over-penetrate if you want to… and you can load center fire cartridges in mild loads that don’t over-penetrate as well.

    (This is setting aside that “over-penetration” is entirely based on circumstance, i.e. what you don’t want the bullet to pass all the way through.)

    1. avatar HuntingtonGuy says:

      How can you know what you want the round to penetrate until that moment presents itself??
      I break in to your house wearing a t-shirt today, tomorrow I might be wearing a hoodie with Carhartts over it.

      So many factors can influence what your potential target might be, I’ll alway prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

      1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

        With modern ammo, your still going to die.

  4. avatar Cucamonga Jeff says:

    Besides you need to save the FMJ loads to properly penetrate asany zombie skills as possible.

    1. avatar MrBob says:

      Asany zombie skills? I want to see these yoga practicing zombies.
      Gotta love autocorrect. 🤣

    2. avatar Cucamonga Jeff says:

      I miss edit… As many zombie skulls***

  5. avatar J says:

    Seems like it is a silly idea to use expensive ammo for everything, such as your pistol and carbine/rifle. You can not stockpile expensive pistol ammo at $25 or $30 a box or even rifle ammo at near $1.00 a round. A 55 gr XM193 5.56×45 will do the job just fine and can be gotten for less than $300 dollars for 1000 rounds these days.

    1. avatar GunnyGene says:

      A person can stockpile whatever they want. $2/rnd for .41mag jhp to feed your Desert Eagle? Sure, why not. All it takes is money.

      But more to the point, the ammo you choose for SD might depend on how much meat you want to keep for supper. 😉 A nice 250gr lead slug with a big meplat is preferred.

    2. avatar Hank says:

      XM193 is a fantastic round as well. Especially out of a full 20inch barrel.

  6. avatar Matthew the Oilman says:

    I would love for you to debate Tom Gresham about the bird shot.

    1. avatar Johnny Go Lightly says:

      Yup, author dissed birdshot for “poor” penetration, but praised SD ammo for “dumping” all its energy in the target. Seems to be a disconnect there…

      1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

        And the disconnect is usually the same one. That nobody will pay them to push birdshot, but premium ammo makers can afford to buy a writer’s ‘opinions’. Which makes them, not writers, but just used car salesmen. And their ‘opinions’ are not their own, but those of whomever is paying them.

        1. avatar Punxsy says:


    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Matthew, Johnny, and Knute,

      At extremely close range where all of the shot is basically one mass, perhaps 8 feet or less, birdshot is quite devastating to an attacker. At whatever distance that bird shot is no longer one mass, it ceases to be a devastating fight stopper unless you manage to put your attacker’s eyes in the middle of the shot pattern.

      By all means, if birdshot is all that you have and you cannot possibly acquire buckshot or slugs, use your birdshot to maximum effect. Given that 12 gauge and 20 gauge buckshot and slugs are available everywhere and sell for less than $5 for a box of 5 shells, I have a REALLY hard time believing that anyone could not possibly acquire buckshot or slugs.

      1. avatar skoon says:

        if all you have is bird shot i would suggest wax slugs or cut shells

        1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          The problem with cut shells is they tie up the gun until you can dig the left over brass base out of the chamber.
          Wax slugs work, at least at short range, as a makeshift slug. The problem with them is: the wax holds the shot together fine, but the load of pellets is not homogeneous in the wad. One side or the other will contain more shot, and this makes them tumble in the air worse than a real slug does. Still, I’ve tested such rounds out to 25 yards and found them to be fine. They tumble by then, but they still hit the vitals, and that’s probably enough range for what most would want out of a shotgun.
          They also dump all their energy into a target very quickly. The birdshot doesn’t even seem to know that the wax is around it when it hits a target. They are spectacular into water jugs. Homemade frangible slugs. They explode a gallon milk jug, and leave another behind it unscathed. All my tests were with lead 7 1/2 shot.
          Yet I still use slugs anyway. They are more accurate, I don’t have to make them, and I live where over-penetration isn’t an issue, so that isn’t an advantage in my situation. But I try everything. Exploring is in my nature.
          “I tried everything… in my life
          The things I like, I try ’em twice” – Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines

    3. avatar GS650G says:

      An attacker shot at 10 feet with number 8 is not going to be laughing. Upper body area will shred the face, blind the attacker and that’s just one shot. Launch 2 more and he’s gonna be your beatch. Not to mention the shock and noise of the blast point blank.

      1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

        Yes. Out to about 20 feet the shot hits as one solid mass anyway, because the wad hasn’t released the shot column yet. Once the wad separates, though, birdshot goes downhill rapidly. But pouring melted wax over the shot to hold it together creates a makeshift frangible, that turns back into tiny pellets as soon as it hits something.
        I think it was Hatcher that tested this long ago, describing a <20 foot birdshot hit as a "bloody rat hole" with no exit wound.

  7. avatar Tom T says:

    I am an indecisive person who rarely indulges in extremes, so I often take the middle road. In this case, soft points (spire points) are my defensive rifle ammo. I stock both #1 and #3 buck for my shotgun, and budget JHP for my pistols.

    However, I do have a couple boxes of V-max 223 I look forward to trying out.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Tom T,

      Softpoint rifle ammunition will expand and limit bullet penetration versus full metal jacket rounds. Having said that, softpoint rifle ammunition will almost certainly over-penetrate all but the most robust humans and still be dangerous to anyone downstream.

  8. avatar ROBERT Powell says:

    i have been the recipient of the 22hp, they are not what you would call hard hitting nor deep penetrating . the 9mm is a joke with fmj, but deadly with hot-loaded hp. my favorite is 45 hi-vel-hp.works every time even with a vest.

    1. avatar cgray says:

      The 2011 Gabrielle Giffords shooting was carried out with 9mm FMJ out of a four inch Glock 19 barrel. 19 people shot, with 6 fatalities and 13 instantly incapacitated. 100% success rate had it been a legitimate self defense shooting.

      And you call it a “joke”.

    2. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      I sure wouldn’t want to be hit anywhere on my body with a 9mm JHP. It’s no joke to me, which is why I train with ball target ammo for reflex (muscle training) exercises, and keep JHP in my SD gun next to me at night.

      This is all a really absurd argument, and the article is clearly meant to simply stir up the pot to fill up this comments section. The best recommended SD ammo is JHP, but good shot placement with *any* round (caliber, type, whatever) will do, and is better than nothing. Ask any burglar if he has a preference as to how he’d prefer to be shot, and I’m guessing his answer will be “with nothing at all, please”.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        I Haz a Question,

        Even full metal jacket bullets will tend to be effective if you can hit your attacker’s head or spinal cord. And they are fine for psychologically stopping a two-bit thug. Beyond that, full metal jacket bullets are extremely poor at physically stopping an attacker, especially a determined attacker.

        At any rate the main argument against using full metal jacket ammunition is over-penetration rather than ineffective stopping power.

        Thus, with two strikes against full metal jacket ammunition for self-defense, why would anyone use it rather than softpoint or hollowpoint ammunition?

        1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Too poor to buy enough better ammo?

        2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

          Knute (Ken),

          The least expensive softpoint and hollowpoint ammunition costs only marginally more than full metal jacket ammunition. We are talking a price difference of something like $2 to $8 per box. I would sincerely hope that everyone can find an extra $2 to $8 for optimum self-defense ammunition.

        3. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          What about those who can only afford a Hi-Point? To somebody with a $100 pistol, $20 a box probably looks like a lot more than $10. But I was thinking more like premium ammo in a 20 round box for more than 50 FMJs, That probably looks like a LOT more.
          Plus I’m guessing that someone with nothing but one Hi-point 9mm, probably hasn’t the slightest idea what a FMJ or a HP even are. To such a one ammo is probably just ammo.

  9. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Not being a true “gun guy”, I am always stuck at “Huh?” with articles like this.

    Without experience in ballistics beyond mostly what I read, the whole “over penetration” thing seems to be in the realm of “If you aren’t proficient in Navy Seal combat skills, you are going to die.”

    Ballistic gel tests show that non expanding bullets do over penetrate gel blocks. But is over penetration a real world problem? Would think that given the general lack of pistol shooting skills of the average gun owner (gun kept in nightstand for decades) involved in a self-defense shooting, missed shots would be more of a problem. So, questions:
    – do we have any data on the number of bullets that over penetrated a perp in a self-defense scenario?
    – do we have any data on the number of bullets that over penetrated, and wounded non-targeted persons?
    – do we have any data on the number of bullets that over penetrated, and caused property damage?
    – do we have any data on the number of bullets that completely missed the attacker, and wounded non-targeted persons?
    – do we have any data on the number of bullets that completely missed the attacker and caused property damage?

    If we have data as requested above, where is it? If we do not have the data, how can we conclude with any significance that over penetration is really a thing?

    1. avatar Tom T says:

      Well said. I honestly do not recall ever hearing of an incident where a projectile passed through a perp and killed an innocent. Not saying it has never happened, but it obviously is not a common occurrence.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      I dunno about civilian self defense data, but it was discovered in Korea that when the Chinese sent a “human wave” of people at you in ranks the M1 Garand would kill and wound multiple ranks deep with each shot.

      So it certainly works with rifles. Pistols I’ve never seen any data or good anecdotes for but, why take the chance? We know exit wounds are a thing, and wasteful in terms of a pistol bullet, so even if they are not harmful to people in the background, why waste energy from the bullet?

      1. avatar GunnyGene says:

        Two holes bleed more than one hole. In fact the entry hole from a FMJ may not bleed externally at all. Skin is flexible and a round nose bullet does not cut a hole in it, so it’s fairly common that the entry hole will close up immediately and stop any external bleeding. Nor is there any guarantee that a FMJ will be a pass thru.

        A standard JHP stands a better chance of cutting a small plug out of the skin and fat layer, leading to external bleeding, and may or may not expand as it penetrates the body. Depending on what’s in the way it may exit out the other side regardless of expansion or lack thereof.

        Either bullet type may, or may not, change direction not just once but several times as it travels thru the body. The point is that once that bullet contacts all bets are off as to what it will – or won’t – do. FBI Gel is not a living human being full of various densities of materials which can, and usually do, effect the bullet in unpredictable ways.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Bullet performance in gel is only a way to see the potential usefulness of different objects introduced to the same medium. If one is crappy, and another better, knowing such does further the research. However…

          The matter at hand is the inflexible admonition to never use range ammo for self-defense. Since dozens of people over history have been effectively stopped with a variety of power/bullet combinations prior to effective expanding ammo, it seems unhelpful to try to tell people that range ammunition is virtually useless, and because of possible over penetration, an even worse ides.

      2. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “…so even if they are not harmful to people in the background, why waste energy from the bullet?”

        I don’t think it is a matter of wasting energy. The discussion was about over penetration being a considerable negative in SD situations. The question was/is whether over penetration is really a thing that should be taken into account, especially as regards collateral damage. If the data doesn’t support the idea that over penetration endangers other people/property, such consideration should be removed from consideration as being a big negative. (two holes make for more blood loss; one in, and one out)

        1. avatar GunnyGene says:

          Earlier, you asked a series of questions regarding terminal ballistics. You may find some answers here, and at the references contained therein.


        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Great link. A keeper. Thank you.

    3. avatar Arizona Free says:

      A guy by the name of Paul Harrell has a lot of videos on YouTube and he has an interesting meat target he uses to test ammo and firearms. He also has the experience to back it up. This is a good place to start when looking for results of claims made about penetration and expansion. He also speaks at a level that everyone can understand. He also wears a really cool jacket. He also works on donations and without sponsors. I don’t know why his name is not mentioned on this site. Is he banished or an outcast or something???

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        Thanks for the reference. ‘Preciate it.

        When it comes to ammo testing, am thinking nothing less than a .500 caliber is sufficient handgun. At that point, gel testing (or any other tests) is superfluous. Wanted a S&W Bone Crusher, but there would never be budget for ammunition.

  10. avatar MB says:

    LOL Depends who you are shooting at and where they are. Full Metal Jacket is an offensive and defensive round, same as Jacketed Hollow Point or Soft Point, The Military used FMJ for 99.9% of their operations. It is just as lethal as JHP in used correctly, and has the benefit of punching thru barriers that would stop JHP of SP rounds. Is it ideal for self defense at home in an apartment in the NYC? Of course not, but on a farm in Oklahoma where the nearest neighbor is 4 miles away, you bet it is. Same goes in a parking lot at night and a gang-banger is hiding behind his car door, a .45JHP is going to bounce right off that door frame, but a 9mm FMJ is more likely going to punch thru and take him out. Carry reloads of FMJ and JHP and pray you never need either. Who writes this drivel anyway?

    1. avatar Mad says:

      A 45acp blow’s away any 9mm a bigger hole more trauma been that way for a hundred years

      1. avatar MB says:

        @Mad, yea, but it has to make it to it’s intended target first. 45ACP is not a barrier penetration round. Also the new 9mm JHP’s expand almost as much as the JHP 45’s, but it’ all moot without shot placement. I didn’t want the conversation to devolve to 45 vs 9…

  11. avatar strych9 says:

    Like everything else with tools this has tradeoffs.

    With most rifle ammo I don’t really think it matters. Those rounds, against anything other than plate armor, will dick people up pretty good.

    The shotgun is really a question of range IMHO. A dove load at 3 yards will ruin your day.

    Handgun ammo is a different beast. Personally I don’t think we’re looking for lethal effect, we just want to end the confrontation. If the other person happens to die, well, that’s the breaks of the game but it’s not the overarching goal. I mean if I was really “going to a gunfight” with the intention to inflict lethal damage I’d pick a rifle and wear a PC and a helmet. If I just wanted to kill someone, again, I’d pick a rifle for the options it gives me. With the proper zero a 5.56 rifle will put rounds into people from 0-300 yards with minimal thinking on your part, which gives you options in terms of closing or making distance as necessary.

    So, with handguns not being the preferred “stopper”, and functioning differently than rifle ammo I think you look for the best ammo in terms of delivering kinetic energy to the target. That means a (hopefully) reliably larger hole and deeper penetration. The tradeoff being that overpenitration is a problem for bystanders (and therefore potentially also you when the lawyers get involved) and if the bullet passes through you’re wasting energy you could have put into the target. So I kinda view JHP like a turbo on an import tuner. You’re not running 6+ cylinders, you’ve got 4 so a turbo, done right, maximizes what you can get from that smaller engine without destroying the car or causing big losses elsewhere. It’s not the best thing ever but it’s better than the base engine by itself.

  12. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    perhaps not terrible, since undoubtedly effective. less than ideal i suppose.

  13. avatar sound awake says:

    theres only so many subjects they can write about
    because of that this particular subject every so often has to be picked up off the shelf dusted off and trotted out for people to argue about so they can get mouse clicks
    it matters not if the projectile mushrooms when it goes through the spine or the heart or the aorta or the vena cava or the trachia
    dead is dead
    simple as that

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “it matters not if the projectile mushrooms when it goes through the spine or the heart or the aorta or the vena cava or the trachia”

      Collateral damage from your bullet carries a heavy liability that should not be casually dismissed.

      Question is: how many SD episodes resulted in collateral damage?

      1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

        Most of that “collateral damage” is from gangbangers and LEOs just spraying a whole neighborhood. No projectile choice is going to change that.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Most of that “collateral damage” is from gangbangers and LEOs just spraying a whole neighborhood. ”

          In stories about SD events, would we not have heard about collateral damage? Especially bullet wounds or death in bystanders? Might not be reading the right news feeds.

      2. avatar Mad says:

        Collateral damage tell that to the idiots who protect and serve and spray and pray

  14. avatar Derringer Dave says:

    Unfortunately, here in the People’s Republic of New Jersey, all transport and use of hollow-point ammo is banned — except on the gun range!
    Yes, here in the PRNJ, you can only use hollow-point ammo to punch holes in paper targets at the range (which is a terribly expensive waste of HP ammo), but for defensive purposes you must use FMJ, which is completely bass-ackwards.

    For home defense, in the PRNJ, you’re restricted to using FMJ ammo — yep, the kind that overpenetrates, goes through your house’s walls, into the neighbor’s house, and kills an innocent person.
    Because for some daffy reason, the PRNJ thinks hollowpoints are for range use, and FMJ is for home defense use.

    That’s why so many people in the PRNJ have given up on 9mm (because you’re only allowed 10 rounds, and it must be non-expanding FMJ) and have switched to .45 ACP (because although a 9mm FMJ won’t expand, a .45 ACP won’t shrink!)

    What about CCW? Not allowed in NJ. In the PRNJ, there is no legal right to self-defense outside the home, so civilians are not allowed to get CCW permits in the state, but if you’re one of the 5 people in NJ who somehow have enough political connections to get a CCW permit, you’re only allowed to carry FMJ ammunition. Unless you’re a cop, of course, then you can use “high-capacity” magazines and hollowpoint ammo, so if NJ legislators say it’s so dangerous for civilians (“exploding bullets” and all that B.S.), why is it allowed for cops? Because NJ is a police state, where only police have rights, the rest of us are subjects of His Majesty, Phil Murphy!

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Wow, and I thought we had it tough here in CA. JHP isn’t even on the Leftards’ radar here…yet.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Are you allowed to use a lead semi wadcutter type bullet? If so, these have performed extremely well on game animals for a long time.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Mr. Taylor,

        In terms of self-defense against humans, a full wadcutter is even better than a semi-wadcutter and is supposed to be quite devastating against human attackers (at least as far as handguns go).

        Unfortunately, I believe that only revolvers can shoot full wadcutters. In fact I believe that only revolvers can shoot semi-wadcutters as well.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          The only semi-auto pistol I’m aware that shoots full wadcutter ammo is the S&W Model 52 match pistol. It has a five-round magazine, and it will chamber an empty .38 Special cast, as well as a flush-seated 148 grain wadcutter round. The Model 52 shoots 148’s flush-seated with perfect reliability.

          It’s a highly specialized pistol, for non-defense/CCW purposes. But someone could take the lessons of the Model 52 and perhaps apply them to a Model 39 or second/third generation S&W semi-auto pistol.

    3. avatar edward kenway's ghost says:

      As a resident of PRNJ, I approve this message on the bass-ackwardness of bullet logic.

    4. avatar skoon says:

      ruger/polycase arx wont over penetrate and not a hp. My sd9ve loves em very flat and accurate.

      1. avatar Neil says:

        I’m afraid CA will latch onto your logic.

        So I keep two 45 ACP guns.

        But ohhh, I like my 9mm pistols. Time for the supreme Court to weight in.

    5. avatar Mad says:

      Sounds like your leadership need to experience some jhp demostrationsi

  15. avatar burley says:

    Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t take every article you read online seriously:
    #1. Don’t.

    1. avatar Hush says:

      That includes some of the comments on TTAG!

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “That includes some of the comments on TTAG!”

        Hey !

        Your education is incomplete, and your general knowledge lacking if you don’t take everything I write seriously (except the non-serious stuff). You can’t be a true POTG if you dismiss my sermons from the mountain top.

  16. avatar B.D. says:

    What does it matter? Apparently most people don’t carry with a round in the chamber anyways… Who even needs ammo when you’re more than likely to get hit by lightning… Amiright?

    Stupid. Another stupid article to generate ratings.

  17. avatar Teddy says:

    People really exaggerated how bad it is to use range ammo. The most important thing for your ammo to do is penetrate deep enough to hit the vital organs. If a bullet expands, it will make it slightly more likely to hit vitals. “Dumping the energy into the target” is supposed to not matter (at least that’s what the 9mm is just as effective as 357 and 10mm crowd claims- see luckygunner).

    Range ammo will over penetrate, but that’s actually better than not penetrating enough- which is a problem with some SD rounds.

    As for the liability issue, the majority of your rounds are likely to miss anyway, so you shouldn’t be shooting if there’s something behind the target you don’t want to destroy unless you absolutely have to. It doesn’t seem like over penetration is that big of a deal.

    That said, there’s no real downside to quality defensive ammo that meets the FBI requirements except cost. Which, when you’re talking about life and death, one $20 box of ammo shouldn’t matter all that much.

    So while it doesn’t make sense to NOT use defensive ammo, it’s not so crazy to carry range ammo.

  18. avatar Viejo Torro says:

    Must be a slow news day to publish this article. Let’s just hit some of the obvious highlights. The difference between ball .380 and hollow points is not enough to persuade me that premium ammo is a good idea when you factor in the possibility of under penitration. I know the author says the smaller calibers are obsolete however I haven’t seen a single 9mm that would fit into the pocket of a pair of wranglers or slacks and not print. Air-conditioner repairmen,auto mechanics, resteraunts managers and salesmen can’t dress around the gun. Also not everyone has the wherewithal to buy the newest pistol. Retiree’s,young mother’s and others are relying on the guns they own and older pistols like 1911’s, Walthers and Highpower pistols may not feed hollow points. Finally there are times the reduced recoil of target ammo is necessary. As an example after a hand injury the recoil of performance ammo in my airweight Smith was simply to much. Full wadcutters worked.

    1. avatar tmm says:

      Good points. I agree not all calibers should be treated the same in regards to expansion ammo. Weaker calibers, especially slow ones, may not expand correctly or at all (too slow = no expansion).

      And I must point out to readers here…TEST YOUR AMMO…make sure your ammo choice works in YOUR GUN. Unless I’m mistaken, that point wasn’t made by the author. Different models, different ammo choices, even specific examples (like your gun vs your buddy’s gun) may or may not work well. Readers here should make sure, if they choose to carry, or even just utilize for home defense.

      That said, expansion ammo is generally (if not always) the better choice, and Paul Harrell is a good source on YT.

  19. avatar anaxis says:

    Until I had to put up the 12ga in favor of a 20, I kept it loaded with #4, and have always shot better with that anyhow.

    1. avatar Jon in CO says:

      #4 Buck? If the shotgun is your preferred choice of toy, I’m of the mindset that more pellets is better, within reason. Bird is garbage on something that has mass. (Humans being the forefront) 9 pellet 00, is great, but I think #4 buck with 27 22cal is a much better option. If your pattern is tight, great, you’ve got a lot of shot in a small area. However, if you’re pushing out further (for whatever your reason is) 27 22’s moving through the air is a good idea to me.

      I’m not an expert, I’m not a LE or Mil, operator or Navy Seal. I am a practical thinker, and usually, more is better.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Jon in CO,

        Someone considered that very question and concluded that #1 buckshot was the ideal shot size, at least for 12 gauge shotguns. And the reason that they decided #1 buckshot was best? I want to say it was because the typical #1 buckshot load had the most surface area. Sure, #00 buckshot pellets are larger than #1. However, there are quite a bit larger number of #1 pellets than #00 pellets in a shotshell. Thus, even with smaller surface area per pellet, #1 buckshot shells make up for their reduced surface area with a larger number of pellets.

        Having said all that, it depends on your objective. If you prioritize a psychological stop, ANY hit from any buckshot pellet of any size will work exceedingly well, from #4 buckshot all the way up to #000 buckshot. If you prioritize physically incapacitating an attacker, then you want maximum sectional density, mass, and penetration — which requires using #00 or #000 buckshot.

        1. avatar Mad says:

          Is this the reason 00buck is the preferred round for police why

        2. avatar TommyJay says:

          The bigger the shot ball, the more penetration. 00 is one of the biggest of the common variety. If a cop over penetrates into a bystander, the jury will almost always cut him or her slack. You or I will not be so privileged. I’d go with #1 or #2.

  20. avatar Setarip says:

    I’ve worked in a Level 1 Trauma center for the last 6 years. I’ve seen and CT scanned many GSW’s in that time. Other than gsw’s to the head, I’ve seen a very large number of people walk out of the ED after being shot multiple times with expanding ammo.

    I’ve seen wounds from 9mm, .40, and .45acp all fail to penetrate deeply enough to reach vitals and incapacitate the patient. In fact, a lot of them are conscious when I see them. I can see and measure the bullets in the scan. All of the rounds that performed poorly have been expanding ammo.

    One of the deepest penetrating wounds I’ve seen was from a .22 on a 300+lb male. It entered his left flank, penetrated his descending colon, his left kidney, just barely missed his abdominal aorta, penetrated his liver, and was left lodged under his skin on his right flank. He was in the ICU for weeks recovering.

    Does this mean expanding ammo is bad and the .22 is better? No! But, FMJ range ammo wouldn’t do so bad with the extra penetration. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at someone who decides to carry fmj. Do I? No. But as the saying goes “better to be judged by 12, than be carried by 6”.

    1. avatar Hank says:

      That’s true both people and criminals are getting fatter by the day. Thick layers of hide and fat on today’s obese attackers may require rounds with better penetration then what was acceptable 20 years ago.

      1. avatar Neil says:

        You make a good point. The BMI of an attacker could be all over the place. This is why I don’t over optimize my defense ammo. That and I’m a dad with other spending needs.

      2. avatar uncommon_sense says:


        I have actually pondered that notion at length. The main problem, as I see it, is that an attacker could be anywhere from a skinny 120 pound drug addict all the way up to a 350 pound obese scumbag. Any bullet strategy that does not overpenetrate the 120 pound drug addict will probably not penetrate deep enough in the 350 pound obese attacker. Of course any bullet that will penetrate deep enough in the 350 pound obese attacker will probably overpenetrate the skinny 120 pound drug addict.

        In other words there is no caliber/bullet platform that can do it all.

        1. avatar Arizona Free says:

          Michael brown aka gentle giant was hit six, seven times with I think a 40cal and only stopped from a head shot. The head shot was the last round in the mag.

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      One thing to consider is the goals of a shooting. If I’m shooting someone in a defensive situation I want them to drop as quickly as possible. If someone dies a day later from a deeply penetrating .22 it doesn’t help me stop them at that moment. So the people who reach you may not be a great sample since the successful shootings may have gone to a different facility.

      1. avatar Setarip says:

        That’s a possible scenario, but consider that the Police are there and I often ask for the details. ALOT of these guys come to us alive and fully mobile. I can tell you that a large portion of them could continue and fight on scene unless one was to put more rounds in them. Also consider that 99% of the shootings I help treat are gang violence so driveby shootings make up a lot of that.

        The best example I can remember of under-penetration was from a 9mm. Fully expanded. Passed through the patients sternum and stopped just before the patients pericardium. Pathetic performance.

  21. avatar anaxis says:

    Normally I’d agree with range ammo being a bad idea for defensive purposes, the exception being lead semi-wadcutters in short barrel .38s and .32s.

    These are one of the projectiles which isn’t accurately represented by tests in ballistics gel. Having had to put down large animals with them on occasion, I can say they have a definite use in revolvers as a substitute for dedicated self-defense ammo.

  22. avatar RGP says:

    It all works. The difference between most modern people and Wyatt Earp is that when asked “where did you shoot that guy?” the modern person tends to say something like “in my house” and Wyatt Earp would say “between the eyes.”

  23. avatar supergun says:

    Shot a 45 hollow point through a wall. It went through that wall, another wall, thru both shower wall and get going into another wall till it stopped in a couple of 2×4. The moral of this story,,,,,,,,,,,damn hollow points go thru a lot also.

  24. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Unless it’s all you have….. then by all means … use whatever ammo you have.

  25. avatar Chuck says:

    Any ammo is better than no ammo. Whether it be the range, the field, or one’s home. If Hard Ball is all you have, then use it. If you can afford to look at other options than FMJ, then go that route. However, do make sure that whatever the Baskin-Robin’s “Bullet of the Month” club is pushing will feed and eject from your pistol. I’ve watched various folks bring their gun to the range, where it feeds FMJ’s flawlessly, only to watch them seat a magazine of the current FedHornWin GoldenHydroPDXTP and never fire off a few to make sure their gun tolerates or feeds that ammo. When you finally talk them into actually seeing if it feeds, the looks of surprise when it doesn’t are priceless.
    Just about all the comments on here make valid points. No matter what gun you’re using in whichever caliber you choose, shot placement is a huge factor in determining whether someone will drop or not. Ballistic geletin simulates tissue, but it is not an exact duplicate of the body, which has these hard things called bones that may or may not, depending upon velocity and mass (as well as other outside factors), effect the “Bullet of the Day’s” terminal performance. Personally, I like to fire a magazines worth of my preferred gun fodder once a month. Since my CCW is 12+1 with two 12 round spares, I can buy a box of 25 every other month to cycle into and through my carry rig. At $21/box, that amounts to $126/year spent on the gun and ammo I depend upon to keep me or my family alive should the need arise (currently, and for several years now, I carry Hornady Critical Duty 9mm+P 135gr FlexLok). Pretty cheap insurance for peace of mind as that calculates out to a whopping .35 cents a day over a years time, when you look at it over the long run. If you can afford to shoot your carry ammo more often than once a month, then by all means do so.
    Long story short, read these articles, but (and this is just nearly 50 years of shooting talking), take advantage of the articles ability to make you question pre-conceived notions/ideas/opinions one might have to evaluate your choices. Am I carrying the best gun I can afford? Can I hit the target with it? Is the ammo I’m using, reliable and consistant? Does it feed/function and eject reliably? Is there something that might work better? The last question is my chance to shout out for the various forums available, and to use those sites. Whether it be Colt, Sig, Glock or any of the other major manufacturer online forums, they’re a good place to discuss the weapon you might have picked, and what other users have found to be the best/worst ammo for your model, troubleshooting problems that might arise, and any of a number of issues, concerns and accolades concerning the pistol you’ve picked. Most are free and readily accessible.

  26. avatar Mad says:

    People seem to forget shock value people have died getting hit with a 22long rifle a 45acp has alot of shock value

  27. avatar EddyG says:

    Actually, the military has very good reason for using FMJ ammo. First, remember that they are using rifles which actually do have stopping power. The theory in battle is that it’s much better to shoot through and through wounding several enemy soldiers and just killing one. Wounded combatants are a logistical night mare for any army. It generally takes four to six people to care for one injured soldier. The dead can wait. In the hypothetical Zombie comic book wars with masses of creatures attacking, FMJ’s are perfect. For civilian self defense in and among civilized society hollow point and soft flat nose bullets prevail. They are like shooting an arrow on a string. with careful ammo selection you can predict the eventual damage your projectiles will do.

  28. avatar Alan says:

    Anyone considered the following aspect of this argument, which is that a lot depends on how straight one can shoot.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “…a lot depends on how straight one can shoot.”

      A twenty round, double-stack magazine in a .50 caliber Desert Eagle will fix that for ya’.

  29. avatar GS650G says:

    People in NJ can just expect to go to jail for a few years if they save a life with hollow points.

  30. avatar enuf says:

    Something like 25 years ago I got a deal on a quantity of Speer Lawman 9mm 115gr JHP. I use cheap FMJ stuff for practice, just a magazine at most every now and then of the Speer Lawman JHP.

  31. avatar Buck Melanoma says:

    If you doubt the author’s conclusions about fmj for self defense, look up Massad Ayoob’s opinions on the matter. He hates fmj for defense, and I think he’s earned the title of “expert”.
    If you want to see the most realistic testing of various ammo types in a variety of scenarios, check out Paul Harrell on YouTube.

  32. avatar Draven says:

    *writes an article called “Why Range Ammo Is Better Than No Ammo For Self Defense”

  33. avatar Mikial says:

    Right off the bat I will say that my wife and I do load HP in our 9mm and .45 ACP EDC guns. But . . . plenty of people have been killed with FMJ ammo. Further, the author’s inclusion of .45 Long Colt ammo in his article just plain doesn’t make sense. People hunt Kodiak Browns with .45 Long Colt, but I seriously doubt anyone hunts them with 9mm.

  34. avatar Holdfast says:

    It is a vast over simplification to cast scorn on FMJ, Ball Ammunition.

    The US Army and Marine Corps must have completely suffered from cranial-rectal impactions for more than a 125 years because they didn’t have hollow-points. In fact, they only had FMJ to win the Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, various adventures in the Central America, WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, thru Desert Storm and Iraq & Afghanistan.

    I’m having a hard time thinking of an Army small arm weapon which isn’t FMJ….I guess if you count shotguns.

    The Thompson, the M-3, M-240, M-249, M-60, and M-2 don’t shoot hollow points- and they seem to have stacked up lots of enemy casualties.

    Bottomline- You hit someone with 45 FMJ, and they are seldom likely to get up and bother you again.

    1. avatar DJ says:

      I have never been convinced hollow points were the way to go.

      FMJ has a long military record of effectiveness.

      45 ACP FMJ for me, for many reasons.

  35. avatar Mad says:

    Holdfast well said

  36. avatar Mad says:

    My carry is a Glock 21 if I have to shoot it the pervert is not going to be able to be a problem

  37. avatar Bigus Dickus says:

    Such emotion here.

    1) Use hollow point for self defense, it prevents over penetration and expands to cause damage.
    2) Carry for self defense the caliber of firearm which you’re comfortable carrying. 45 ACP is not the bees knees, 9mm, 10mm, S&W40, 380 ACP…fill in the blank are all valid if it’s in your comfort zone.
    3) Any caliber of any ammo style is better than nothing at all when you need to defend yourself.

    Move on.

  38. avatar DJ says:

    I still use Military Service Grade 45 ACP FMJ.

    I don’t trust hollow points to expand and they are fragile bullets.

    I’m not as worried about over penetration as I am of not getting enough penetration.

    Ultimately it’s marksmanship.

  39. avatar ozzallos says:

    For a bit I was carrying mags that staggered both HP and FMJ. Something in there was going to penetrate one way or the other.

  40. avatar J says:

    9mm fmj will not over penetrate i dispatch hogs ive caught with them at point blank range and never once have i had a 9mm fmj(range round) pass through even the piglets. If your shooting at an agressive piece of paper, wood or sheetmetal then i guess you can say that. Personally i prefer a round that can make it through a hard barrier if a bad guy is shooting at me from cover i want that round to go through cover and into them.

  41. avatar Colesdad says:

    I got three letters for you guys and I cant believe it has not been mentioned…TSS. Im an avid turkey hunter. I have always used hevi shot #5 in my turkey guns. This year I spent the money and bought the TSS. 55 bucks for 5 3.5″ magnum #9 shot. Think about that now. I dove hunt with #6 or #7.5. We are killing birds at 80 plus yards with this stuff. I’d rather you spray 00buck at me all day than have 1 of those shells. They are unbelievable! At 30 yards you basically take his head off. I killed a 4 year old this year hunted him for two weeks finally got him to 65 yards a shot I would have never taken. My partner hunts with a crossbow so he shoots first always. Chris drills a two year old I put the bead at the top of his head pulled the trigger and he melted. Went out there and there was a jake 15 yards behind him dead as a hammer. I never saw him.

    Thats my new go to SD shotgun ammo. They make it in #7 and #4 I thing killing yotes at a hundred yards!

  42. avatar Colesdad says:

    It really is a game changer for shotguns. Killing gobblers at 40 yards with a 410! If you guys dont know a turkey is a tough damn bird.

  43. avatar Colesdad says:

    I really cant say enough about that stuff. I dont want to spend that money for varmints but if itll kill a dog at 100 yards itll kill a man. Think about how many more pellets your putting down range and a #9 TSS is as heavy as a #5 lead. The density of the patterns is scary.I patterned it once after I bought it at 50 yards and the amount of pellets in the 10″ kill zone blew me away. It also is so dense and carries so much energy it went right through my 1/4 inch plywood backstop. I will tell you patterning it is not pleasant. Just about makes my mossberg 835 ulti-mag jump out of your hands. Never feel it on a bird or someone threatening your family. I do hope the price goes down! Still worth it I got my limit and still have 1 left.

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