The Complete Guide to Hollow Point Bullets

Hollow point bullets have a reputation for being some of the most effective and devastating rounds for self-defense. They have a distinctive appearance, with a concave cavity at the tip of the bullet, designed to expand upon impact and transfer more kinetic energy to the target. They’re more likely to stop an attacker quickly than any other bullet.

Hollow points present several benefits for hunters, law enforcement, and legally-armed citizens. As a gun owner, it’s important for you to understand the ins and outs of hollow points — how they work, their strengths and limitations, and how to choose the best round for your goals.

Let’s take a closer look at these unique bullets and what you need to know before you buy.

History of Hollow Points

As firearm design advanced to enable the feeding of self contained cartridges from internal magazines, cast lead bullets (such as the Minié ball) began to present two problems:

  1. They often deformed when feeding cartridges into a rifle’s chamber
  2. They had limited muzzle velocity

In 1882, Swiss Colonel Eduard Rubin developed the lead-core full metal jacket bullet (a.k.a. the FMJ) to alleviate both problems. But while FMJ bullets enabled reliable feeding and significantly higher muzzle velocities, they also presented problems of their own. FMJ bullets created relatively small holes in soft tissue and tended to pass completely through both human and animal bodies. This means they transferred relatively little of their kinetic energy to the target.

In an effort to improve the lethality of lead-core jacketed bullets, both soft point and hollow point bullets were developed at the British arsenal in Dum Dum, India around 1890. Since then, however, the use of soft point and hollow point bullets in warfare has been outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899.

Instead, these ammo types became very popular among hunters, law enforcement officers, and citizens preparing for self-defense scenarios for one main reason: hollow point bullets rapidly expand on impact. This expansion creates a significantly larger permanent crush cavity and transfers more kinetic energy to the target (thus making them much more lethal than FMJ bullets).

What Are Hollow Point Bullets?

As the name implies, a hollow point bullet is a lead core, copper jacketed bullet that has a hollow cavity in its nose which exposes the soft lead core and thus causes the bullet to rapidly expand on contact with soft tissue due to internal pressure. Compared to an FMJ round, this design creates a significantly larger permanent crush cavity (a.k.a. wound channel) while also transferring significantly more kinetic energy to the target. The resulting degree of hydrostatic shock makes this bullet much more lethal.

In addition, the rate at which a hollow point bullet expands can be controlled by the manufacturer. They adjust this by making the hollow cavity of the bullet either smaller or larger, tapering the thickness of the copper jacket, or scoring/skiving the jacket.

What Is a Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP)?

All hollow point bullets, regardless of whether they are designed for rifles or handguns, are either copper-jacketed, lead-core bullets or solid copper bullets. A jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullet is a type of hollow point bullet that has a soft lead core with a harder metal jacket surrounding it. The jacket helps the bullet maintain its shape and penetrate deeper upon impact. The tip of the bullet also has a cavity, or hollow point, that is designed to expand upon impact. However, even these bullets are often referred to as just “hollow points.”

Technically speaking, a plain hollow point (HP) bullet is made entirely of a soft material such as copper. It does not have a jacket surrounding the core.

These two terms may even be used interchangeably by some shooters. However, the specific JHP bullet design is often considered more effective for self-defense and hunting due to its deeper penetration and ability to maintain its shape.

What Other Kinds of Hollow Points Are Available?

While the lead-core, copper jacketed, hollow point bullet is the original design and remains the most popular design today, there are two other designs on the market now that are slowly gaining popularity. Both are made from solid copper:

Why Do People Use Hollow Point Bullets?

Hunters and people arming for self-defense often choose hollow point bullets over full metal jacket bullets for two main reasons:

1. Stopping Power/Lethality

The hollow point’s ability to expand upon impact often results in more stopping power, making the bullet more likely to incapacitate an animal or assailant. In addition, the expansion of the bullet can create a larger wound channel, potentially leading to faster bleeding (and a quicker, arguably more humane death).

For these reasons, hollow points are often favored by hunters for taking down large game because they are more likely to shoot and kill the animal on the first try (and you don’t have to spend the day following a blood trail all over the woods). People preparing for self-defense use them because they are more likely to stop an assailant quickly than other FMJ bullets.

2. Less Penetration

Since FMJ bullets don’t expand, they often pass right through their targets (especially when those targets are made of meat). This means it might also fly right through the other side and enter something else (i.e. another person).

On the other hand, hollow points don’t penetrate nearly as much, meaning you’re less likely to hit something on the other side of the target (that you didn’t intend to shoot). For almost all states (Alaska being a major exception) you are required to use hollow points when hunting. This prevents you from shooting through a deer or other animal into a camouflaged hunter on the other side.

While you can legally use FMJ rounds for self-defense, a hollow point bullet is less likely to pass through drywall (or an assailant’s body) into a loved one on the other side.

How Do Hollow Point Bullets Work?

Hollow point bullets allow soft tissue to enter the hollow cavity in the nose of the bullet. This creates internal pressure on the interior wall’s core, exposed by the hollow cavity as the bullet passes through. In turn, this causes the copper jacket to tear and the bullet to expand its diameter to as much as double its original size.

However, this design also presents certain problems. For instance, hollow point bullets must be designed to operate over a wide range of muzzle velocities. This is achieved by varying the size and shape of the hollow cavity, as well as the thickness of the copper jacket and the amount of taper. Because of this, hollow point bullets fired from handguns don’t always expand reliably (and sometimes don’t expand at all).

In some cases, the hollow cavity can become clogged with fabric or other substances prior to or upon impact with the target. When hollow point bullets fail to expand, they act like FMJ bullets and transfer less kinetic energy to the target (often exiting through the other side).

How to Choose Hollow Point Ammunition

Because ammunition has become so expensive, price is the first consideration for most shooters when shopping for hollow point ammo. You can choose something like Winchester Silvertip (relatively inexpensive) or pick up something fancy like Speer Gold Dot.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. High performance hollow point ammunition tends to be more expensive than the standard performance rounds on the market. But nine times out of ten, you’re getting a more reliable shot.

What round you should choose also depends on your shooting goals. Things like muzzle velocity, bullet weight, and bullet design are very good indicators about how each round is meant to perform in certain scenarios.

Muzzle Velocity

Muzzle velocity is an important bullet metric. The faster a bullet exits the muzzle, the more kinetic energy it will have, making it more potentially lethal. Unless you are extremely shy of both recoil and muzzle blast, you probably don’t want to choose subsonic hollow point ammunition — it isn’t nearly as lethal as the higher velocity stuff.

Hollow point ammunition is generally divided into three categories according to muzzle velocity:

While hyper velocity ammunition is by far the most lethal, it also produces a lot more recoil and a significantly louder muzzle blast than standard velocity ammo. In addition, it’s far more likely to damage your handgun’s slide because it has higher chamber pressures than standard velocity ammo. Because of this, shooting hyper velocity ammunition requires shooters to install a heavier recoil spring in their handgun to counteract the excessive recoil.

Most shooters opt for standard velocity hollow point ammunition for self defense. It generally provides enough kinetic energy to be lethal with enough muzzle velocity to cause the bullet to expand reliably.

Bullet Weight

The lighter the bullet, the faster it can be pushed. The heavier the bullet, the more deeply it will penetrate. For the most part, lighter, faster bullets tend to be more lethal because they produce a larger temporary wound cavity in soft tissue. This is due to their significantly higher degree of hydrostatic shock. However, this is only true if the bullet penetrates deep enough to reach an assailant’s vital organs.

Even though heavier bullets don’t produce as much hydrostatic shock as lighter bullets, some shooters prefer them because they penetrate more deeply due to their greater inertia.

Bullet Design

Most hollow point bullet designs feature a standard round cavity. As a general rule, the larger the cavity, the more reliably the bullet will expand. On the other hand, some proprietary hollow point bullet designs feature flutes, wedges, or even posts inside of the hollow cavity which cause the bullet to expand more reliably on impact with soft tissue.

Some hollow point bullets combine the hollow cavity with scores or cuts in the tip of the copper jacket, which weaken the jacket at that point and thus make it easier for the internal pressure created inside the cavity to expand.

“Old School” Hollow Point Ammunition Brands

Certain high performance brands have become popular among self defense shooters. These consist of both standard velocity, proprietary lead-core and hyper velocity hollow point ammunition. As a note, these also tend to be somewhat more expensive than the standard performance brands.

Winchester Black Talon (Out of Production)

One of the most famous (and most infamous) proprietary hollow point bullet designs ever marketed is the Winchester Black Talon. These hollow point bullets feature a large hollow cavity into which the tip of the copper jacket is folded so that it extends down into the cavity (along with six cuts in the tip of the jacket). This causes the bullet to expand rapidly into a six- sided star shape upon contact with soft tissue, while the part of the jacket folded into the cavity creates six sharp “talons” that curve back toward the front of the bullet.

Because this hollow point bullet design was so controversial, Winchester has ceased production of it. Thus, Black Talon ammunition is no longer readily available. While you can still occasionally find old stock for sale, it tends to be very expensive because it’s considered a collector’s item among many shooters.

Remington Golden Saber

Another popular proprietary hollow point bullet design that is still in production is the Remington Golden Saber. Like the Black Talon, the Golden Saber features a large hollow cavity with six cuts in the tip of the jacket. However, in the case of the Golden Saber, the cuts are positioned at a slight angle to make the bullet spin as it passes through soft tissue.

PMC Starfire

Like the Golden Saber, the PMC Starfire also features six cuts in the tip of the copper jacket. However, it has a significantly smaller cavity than the Black Talon or the Golden Saber since the exposed lead inside of the cavity features six wedge-shaped protrusions. These direct the internal pressure into the gaps between the wedges. This causes the copper jacket to tear and expand upon impact with soft tissue, so the bullet expands more reliably.

Federal Hydra-Shok

The Federal Hydra-Shok hollow point bullet is a proprietary design featuring six deeply fluted cuts in the tip of the copper jacket, combined with a large hollow cavity with a conical lead post in the center. Like the wedges inside the cavity of the Starfire bullet, the post inside of the cavity of the Hydra-Shok bullet is designed to increase the pressure on the walls of the cavity. This causes the copper jacket to tear and expand as it passes through soft tissue.

Hyper Velocity Lead Core Hollow Point Brands

In addition to the four popular standard velocity hollow point bullet designs mentioned above, there are also three popular hyper velocity brands worth noting. Although these brands feature standard design hollow point bullets, they have significantly higher muzzle velocities. This makes them more potentially lethal, while also providing more reliable expansion due to higher speeds.

“New School” Hollow Point Ammunition Brands

While the hollow point ammunition brands mentioned have a long standing reputation for high performance, they are considered “old school” by many modern shooters.

Today, there are several new brands on the market quickly gaining popularity over the old brands. Here are some good examples of products you might consider:

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Luger 115 Grain FTX

Hornady Critical Defense Ammunition was purposefully built for concealed carry guns. It’s designed to deliver reliable and controlled expansion every time, regardless of the target. Critical Defense Ammunition is loaded with Hornady’s bullet, which features a soft polymer insert that delivers superior controlled expansion and large, deep wound cavities over a wide range of velocities.

Each round is loaded with premium low flash propellants that deliver proven performance that will not disrupt your vision, even in very short-barreled handguns. This ammunition is sold in new production, non-corrosive, boxer primed, reloadable brass cases.

Hornady Critical Duty 9mm Luger +P 135 Grain FlexLock

Hornady Critical Duty Ammunition offers law enforcement, tactical professionals, and those looking for a viable personal protection ammunition choice that won’t let them down. This ammunition incorporates two revolutionary features:

The core on this revolutionary bullet is made of high-antimony lead alloy, making it tough while delivering controlled expansion. This bullet has proven terminal performance through all test barriers, every single time. Plus, it’s loaded in nickel plated brass cases to prevent corrosion.

Browning X-Point Defense 9mm Luger 147 Grain Hollow Point

Browning’s X-Point Defense hollow point ammunition is unique in that it features lead cross bars positioned inside of the mouth of the hollow cavity. These guard the hollow point and prevent it from clogging. This creates consistent expansion and penetration, with a rapid transfer of energy to a target. Plus, the shape of the ogive (the curved portion of the bullet) was specifically engineered to allow the rounds to feed with ease and precision every time. This round is boxer primed, with nickel plated brass cases to prevent corrosion.

Federal Premium Personal Defense Punch 40 S&W 165 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point

Federal Premium Personal Defense Punch Ammunition draws on decades of experience designing the world’s finest defensive handgun loads. The bullet’s skived jacket and soft lead core produce the best expansion and penetration for the price, while its nickel-plated brass and sealed primer deliver reliable feeding and ignition you need to protect yourself. This ammunition is new production, non-corrosive, in boxer primed, reloadable nickel plated brass cases.

Federal Personal Defense Hydra-Shok Deep 40 S&W 165 Grain

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok has proven itself for self defense since 1989. Hydra-Shok Deep builds off the time-tested platform, with design improvements to better meet modern performance measurements. The bullet features a more robust center post and a core design that penetrates to optimal depths through the barriers most commonly encountered in self-defense situations. Plus, it’s boxer primed and features nickel plated brass cases to prevent corrosion.

Hornady Critical Defense 40 S&W 165 Grain Flex Tip Expanding

Since their creation, conventional hollow point bullets have performed well but have never delivered 100% reliability (especially in self-defense situations). The Flex Tip technology used in Critical Defense ammunition eliminates the clogging and inconsistency that often plagues hollow point bullets. Hornady achieved this by using the same tip material as their LEVERevolution ammunition.

This Hornady Critical Defense 40 S&W Ammo is loaded with a 165 grain FTX (Flex Tip eXpanding) bullet, which has a soft polymer insert that delivers optimum controlled expansion and large, deep wound cavities over a wide range of velocities. This ammunition was designed by Hornady to expand every single time, delivering reliable and controlled expansion regardless of target. Hornady Critical Defense Ammo is non-corrosive, new production ammunition in boxer primed, reloadable brass cases.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right hollow point ammunition for self defense is a fine art of choosing the right bullet design, the right bullet weight, and the right muzzle velocity for your gun and your shooting goals.

Regardless of whether you choose old school or new school hollow point ammunition, these are the main factors to remember:

At the same time, it’s important to remember that lighter bullets have less inertia than heavier bullets do. They penetrate less deeply, which means that if a bullet fails to reach an assailant’s vital organs, it will be less than lethal regardless of how much hydrostatic shock it produces.

On the other hand, heavier bullets are slower due to a lower muzzle velocity and generate less hydrostatic shock. However, heavier bullets will penetrate barriers more easily than lighter bullets while penetrating soft tissue more deeply.

If you’re in need of some hollow point ammo, be sure to check out our selection at Pro Armory. As a veteran-owned and operated company, we pride ourselves on offering good quality ammo products at the best prices with the lowest shipping costs possible. Our online transactions are 100% secure, so you can always shop for ammo with confidence.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact our team of veteran ammo enthusiasts — we’re here to help you choose the best products for your weapon of choice.

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