Unlike people, not all ammunition is created equal. Neither is it done willy-nilly; people don’t just throw ammunition designs at a wall to see what sticks.
Ammunition and firearm manufacturers spend countless hours, not to mention dollars, on research and development of all types of ammunition.
That being said, even though all rounds aren't created equal, they all still shoot bullets.
No one who’s ever been shot cared what kind of bullet they were shot with; they cared that they’d been shot.
If you’re ever forced to defend yourself and all you have is target ammunition, you can do what you need to do.
It’s not like the bullets aren’t going to work just because they don’t say defense on the box.
So, what distinguishes target ammunition from defensive rounds and why should you buy one over the other?
Because despite the fact that all bullets are capable of doing damage, some rounds are better designed for that purpose than others.
What Is Target Ammunition?
Target ammo is any ammunition specifically designed to be used on a range.
The manufacturers created it with the express purpose of accurately hitting various targets in a practice setting.
Typically, target ammunition consists of a lead core encased in a full metal jacket (FMJ) without a hollow point. It’s a solid round for shooting at bullseyes or pinging steel — not for stopping bad guys.
Now would be a good time to point out that when people use the terms target or defensive ammo, they’re mostly referring to handgun ammunition.
It’s not that there’s no such thing for shotguns or rifles. There are defensive rounds for shotguns and even some types of shotshells designed for target use, but shotgun shells are just a whole different animal.
Similarly, hollow point rifle rounds do exist, but rifle rounds are usually bought in the FMJ variety.
Why Buy Target Ammo?
Because of its construction as a FMJ round, it’s much cheaper to produce than defensive ammunition.
Since it’s cheaper, you can shoot a lot more of it without breaking the bank. You’re not paying for a bunch of R&D or experimentation to arrive at an optimal design like you would be for a defensive round.
It’s quite the opposite, actually. You’re getting the simplest, most stripped-down version of a round that’s perfect to burn through on a day at the range.
What Is Defensive Ammo?
Defensive ammunition, on the other hand, is specifically designed to optimize performance to help you better defend yourself.
The most common defensive ammunition is the jacketed hollow point (JHP). It has the same jacketed bullet design as the FMJ but with a noticeable difference in that the tip is open and hollow.
Designing the rounds in this manner provides some advantages over the FMJ for defensive uses.
The hollow tip allows the round to peel back and expand as it hits the target, causing it to resemble a mushroom.
While the blooming effect occurs, the bullet will slow and lose energy.
Some would say this is done to create more damage, and while it might cause more damage, the real reason is to reduce the likelihood of the round going completely through the target.
If a round punches through a target, the energy isn’t as focused into the target.
In a serious life-threatening situation, the ideal defensive cartridge can put 100% of its energy into an attacker.
If a defensive round punches through the target, then that is wasted energy and a less-than-ideal defensive round.
Also, then there is the added concern of collateral damage if your defensive ammo is pushing through multiple barriers.
The JHP round isn’t the only defensive round available, though, just the most common.
So common you can even find hollow-point slugs for shotguns.
Why Buy Defensive Ammo?
The simple answer is to defend yourself. There was a lot of thought that went into producing these rounds and making them as effective as possible for defense.
People often discuss which caliber is best for this purpose, but any modern caliber with a defensive round provides plenty of chances for survival.
That’s the thing about defensive ammunition: It’s for a worst-case scenario.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself, your family or your home with a firearm, you want every possible advantage you can have.
Defensive ammo aims to add an advantage.
As you’ve no doubt observed while browsing the website, there are all kinds of rounds available.
One option might be used with equal confidence for both target shooting and self-defense. That ammunition is called frangible ammunition.
Frangible ammunition was designed to break apart on impact to a target.
When striking a hard surface like a steel target, it effectively disintegrates, shattering into pieces.
It was designed so that it could be used for things like close quarters training to eliminate the risk of ricochets.
Typically made from compressed copper with a binding agent applied, this ammo has risen in popularity because of its versatility.
Being able to shoot targets while maneuvering and getting close has its advantages, so it’s great for the range in that regard. Plus, if used on paper targets, it won’t hurt your backstop.
What’s interesting is that because of its fracturing capability, it’s also proven to have some potential in the defense category as well.
At first glance, the idea of rounds that disintegrate on impact doesn’t sound like a great idea for defensive use.
You don’t want the round to break apart; you need it to put down your assailant. But if you take the time to dig deeper, you’ll see there are some points in its favor.
First, the disintegration only happens on hard surfaces.
Not to get too graphic here, but these are surfaces much harder than an assailant’s skin.
These are still bullets, after all, and they travel at a high speed. It might be fragile, but a frangible can still penetrate a bad guy.
Plus, if it does hit something hard, like a bone, it’ll fragment inside the attacker.
Next, if you need to defend yourself against a home invasion and you live in an apartment or townhouse, a frangible makes sense.
It’s highly unlikely it’ll penetrate through the walls to hit your neighbors.
This is the reason these rounds have become a favorite for security personnel working around oil or hazardous materials facilities where a stray round could be a catastrophe.
Is a frangible the best of both worlds? No, not exactly. It has drawbacks for both defensive and target use.
But it also has some advantages for both. As a result, it should at least be a consideration for anyone looking for either target or defensive rounds.
Ultimately, a bullet is still a bullet, and what you buy comes down to several personal considerations.
That includes financial and budget concerns as well as shooting preferences. Shooting defense ammo during target practice can run up the cost quickly, so you may not want to do that.
And if you want the best chance at stopping a potential assailant, you may want to keep some defense ammo available.
Other than that, how you shoot — and what type of ammo you shoot — is up to you.