Why Hollow Points Are the Best Choice for Self-Defense

Why Hollow Points Are the Best Choice for Self-Defense
By Jay Chambers
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Why Hollow Points Are the Best Choice for Self-Defense

Using hollow point rounds in your home defense or concealed carry gun is a wise choice, both tactically and legally. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of Hollow points and discuss some of the alternatives you could consider.

Why Should You Use Hollow Points for Self-Defense?

If you’re using your gun for self-defense, you’re attempting to achieve what’s known as a “physiological stop.” In the simplest terms, this means incapacitating the attacker to the point that they no longer present a lethal threat. Hollow points have a better wounding capacity, making them far more effective at achieving a physiological stop.

Wounding Capacity

two pistols surrounded by hollow point ammo

Hollow points are likely to cause more damage to flesh than full metal jacket rounds.

Full metal jacket rounds cause almost no permanent wound cavity and leave a hole that’s nearly exactly the size of the bullet caliber.

Hollow point rounds create a permanent wound cavity. As they expand, they create a much larger wound which causes more bleeding than full metal jacket rounds.

More bleeding means you can achieve the desired drop in blood pressure with fewer shots, which will stop the threat more efficiently. With these advantages, you might consider a gun that shoots a smaller bullet and holds more rounds in the magazine. 

Less Over-Penetration

One issue with full metal jacket rounds is that they tend to pass through targets pretty easily, continuing on with significant velocity. It’s enough to wound someone beyond your target.

If you’ve taken a concealed carry class, you may be familiar with the term “transferred intent. This means that you may be treated as if you intended to shoot anything your bullets hit. Transferred intent implies that if your bullets go through the threat and kill an innocent bystander, you will be tried in court as if you meant to shoot both people.

Of course, the judge and the district attorney may not toss you in the clink without first asking questions based on transferred intent. But, do you really want to risk putting yourself or others at risk, especially considering that a simple change in equipment could prevent it?

So, it should be clear why using bullets with a high probability of going through your target and into an unintended target is bad news. Enter hollow point rounds. Since hollow points expand, they expend most—if not all—of their energy into the first soft tissue they hit. Many hollow points don’t exit the first soft target at all which decreases the risk of hitting unintended targets.

That makes hollow points a safer choice for you and bystanders.

Alternative to Hollow Points

full metal jacket ammo

The main alternative to hollow point rounds are full metal jacket bullets. While there are other bullet designs available, many are new and untested in actual tactical engagements. The only area of self-defense where full metal jacket rounds outperform hollow point rounds is in barrier penetration.

Barrier Penetration

Full metal jacket rounds have a construction that makes them good at going through stuff. However, quality hollow point rounds should also perform well after penetrating common barriers. That’s why most law enforcement and military groups have found hollow points to be uncontested in close quarter combat (CQB) and other tactical contexts.

Most hollow point rounds perform just fine after penetrating glass. It’s also likely your follow-up shots won’t be going through glass since it will be shattered when the first round penetrates.

What about other barriers? If you can’t see through it, you shouldn’t shoot through it. In the civilian sector, there’s a huge legal issue with shooting anything you can’t see.

As civilians, legal considerations are important. Anybody who says, “they’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six” has probably never been in prison. Smart people prefer not to be judged or carried.

We must choose equipment and tactics that make our claim to self-defense as clear as possible. Full metal jacket rounds do not meet these criteria because their abilities do not lend themselves to good civilian defensive tactics, and FMJ cartridges are not intended to be used as defensive ammunition.


There was a time when hollow point rounds presented a reliability concern for many handguns. This issue has been largely resolved.

Most modern handguns function just as well with hollow points as they do with full metal jacket rounds. Some manufacturers have even built 1911s that run hollow points perfectly; a firearm that has historically been one of the most hollow point allergic guns around.

And the Winner is...

All things considered, there’s really no contest between hollow point rounds and anything else for self-defense. The downsides of using full metal jacket rounds are just too numerous with few upsides.

Ultimately, it’s your gun; feed it what you want. But it’s clear that while full metal jacket rounds are ideal for training and plinking, it may be wise to have hollow points in your gun when it comes time to defend yourself or others.

Written by: Jay Chambers
1 year ago
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Pa John
1 year ago at 8:24 PM
Speer Gold Dot 9mm hollow points are probably the oldest most well known and most used by more police departments of all the 9mm hollow point designs. They have probably been used in more full sized duty police handguns than any other, or at least they used to be not so very long ago. HOWEVER, while the Speer Gold Dots are a very well proven reliable design, their standard pressure loads are designed for full sized duty handguns with barrels of at least 4 to 5 inches. They were NOT designed for today's mini / micro 9's with dinky 3 inch barrels. The following ballistic gel test video done by a very well known YouTuber, clearly documents and makes understanding this issue very easy: Ammo Quest 9mm: Speer Gold Dot 124 grain tested in ballistic gelatin test review https://youtu.be/V9UxDu4smlI The above were standard pressure rounds, not "+P". In short, at the lower velocities that you get from shorter barrels, even the famous and well proven Gold Dot design can start giving inconsistent results, especially much below around 1050 fps (feet per second) or so, as well illustrated in the above video. Rocky Mountain Reloading makes some excellent Multi Purpose Round (MPR) Hollow points at very good prices for those who load their own ammo, and they are refreshingly honest right there on their ordering webpage about needing to keep those velocities at or safely above 1100 fps minimum out of the muzzle, in order to ensure reliable / consistent expansion with their very competitively priced and outstanding HP design as well. You can see their webpage here: https://www.rmrbullets.com/shop/bullets/pistol/9mm-355/9mm-124-gr-rmr-jacketed-hollow-point-multi-purpose-round-bullets-new/ At those prices they make good practice / plinking rounds as well. My point to newer shooters would simply be to make sure that whatever self defense hollow point ammo you choose, make certain it is designed to work well from your ultra subcompact little "micro" 9's with those little 3 inch barrels (assuming that is what you carry). Federal HST's do very well at lower velocities (as you can see in ShootingTheBull410's other "Ammo Quest" videos) and the Hornady products specifically designed for subcompact guns are pretty good choices just to name a few. Here is another video by the same guy illustrating some far better results from a 3 inch barrel "micro 9" with hotter loaded Speer Gold Dot "Short Barrel" and +P's: Ammo Quest 9mm: Gold Dot 124-grain +P, regular vs. short barrel in ballistic gel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjRcV0eTohs&t=11s While his "Ammo Quest" series is getting a little dated now, it is still very much worth the time it takes to watch them all, especially since almost everyone can afford free. :-)
1 year ago at 12:36 PM
I found that the article “Why hollow points are the best decision for self-defense”, was an outstanding source of information, differentiating the tactical and legal pro’s & con’s between Full Medal Jacket (FMJ) and Hollow-point (HP) ammunition. As I am a first time civilian gun owner, I was fully unaware that one could face serious, unforeseen legal consequences stemming from a close-quarter self-defense incident where a round passed thru it’s intended target and proceeded to strike an innocent by-stander due to the nomenclature of the bullet one chose to utilize. Having been a career Military Policeman, both the qualification and duty bullets I issued were standard ball round ammunition. Do to the fact that my weapon and bullets were provided by the government, I never had to consider what the dynamics were between HP and FMJ ammo. Now, having read your article, I am well informed of the possible legal ramifications and safety considerations that follows ones choice in nomenclature of the rounds one purchases. Thank you for providing such an invaluable piece of gun-owner information. It steered me from making an ill-informed decision on which ammo I chose for the protection of my family. Well done, guys!
1 year ago at 7:29 AM
As always there are exceptions to the rule. In .32 acp, my research shows it is better to use fmj or a new derivative rather than hp, due to the slow fps from the cartridge where Penetration is a concern and hp don’t open up.One of the main advantages of .32acp is it’s low recoil. I bought a Beretta 81BB for my wife for that reason. She doesn’t like her subcompact 9mm because it is so snappy. She can’t use anything larger in her situation. Thanks.
1 year ago at 7:31 AM
It Should read adequate Penetration.
David Jones
1 year ago at 9:43 AM
Great info. Opened my eyes.
1 year ago at 6:19 PM
Check your state laws re hollow ppint ammo!
Matthew Meadows
1 year ago at 7:02 PM
Good article. One more point to stress (you did reference it) is that, in some states, it is ILLEGAL for a civilian to carry a firearm with full metal jacketed bullets.
1 year ago at 9:17 PM
This is a good article and well thought out. I started to say why do we still need to discus this, but then realized how many new, first time gun buyers there are these days. Please good people, arm yourself, but be sure to buy quality equipment and train.
bob simmons jr
1 year ago at 9:46 PM
very good article, makes sense to use hollow points, goes in one size and comes out much larger hole, or does more damage inside.
David A Swingle
1 year ago at 2:22 AM
...Then there are Glaser safety slugs. Filled with tiny BBs (6 or 12 shot), they are designed to penetrate and spread inside the body, surrendering all their energy immediately after entry. The copper casing ensures the round is not a shotgun, but keeps everything together until it hits something. The shot takes many different paths of destruction -- to flesh, to veins and arteries, and to organs. I believe I read a study comparing FMJ to Hollow Point to Glaser rounds on full-sized goats. After a shot to the lung/torso, a timer was started to see when the goat was incapacitated. The FMJ took so many seconds, the Hollow Point took fewer, and the Glaser took the fewest seconds to accomplish incapacitation. Perhaps you would like to compare that round next time. The Glaser was designed for Airplane Sky Marshalls, from what I understand, so when they shot at the bad guy, the bullet would not go down the length of the aircraft and injure everyone along the way. Instead, the round gives up all its energy in the perp or in the cabin seat. In the home, this means the bullet would not penetrate the house or condo walls to visit your neighbor. On the down side, I read that a very thick leather jacket might absorb sufficient energy that the Glaser might not perform as designed. I alternate FMJ and Glaser rounds for my home defense, as ultimately I want to penetrate the bad guy and get him thinking, and then hopefully let the Glaser do its job. Here is more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaser_Safety_Slug I hope this is helpful and interesting.
1 year ago at 7:15 PM
Are hollow points illegal in any states? Or illegal in any situations?
1 year ago at 6:49 PM
Yes, hollow points are a better choice when the goal is to stop a threat as quickly as possible. Caveat: people (like my arthritic mother-in-law) using *small* caliber handgun, such as a .32 ACP, might consider using FMJ to get adequate penetration.
1 year ago at 6:50 PM
1 year ago at 10:48 PM
Just the thought of the bullet going through and hitting someone else is enough to convince me not to use FMJ for my carry ammo.
Nick Hrynishak
9 months ago at 12:09 PM
Learned a lot the difference between Hollow points and full metal glade I read this article
Larry Crisco
7 months ago at 10:42 AM
Very good advice and useful knowledge gained by reading this post. I had not considered this aspect before.Thanks for the info.
Chuck Huddleston
3 months ago at 4:40 PM
I have my defensive handguns loaded with Hornady defense rounds. From .380 to .45 autos, they enter and expend better than any other bullet I have found. PS: the above article is great!!!