If you're a recent Second Amendment convert stepping into a gun store or shopping at an online ammo retailer for the first time, you might be asking yourself what are hollow points, and are they right for me? 

To clear some of the confusion, we're going to take a behind the scenes look at hollow points and find out when's the best time to use them. 

What's the Difference Between FMJ and HP?

Full Metal Jacket, left, and Hollow Points, right. (Photo: Jacki Billings/Guns.com)

Before we dive into when to use hollow points, let's talk about its key features and how it differs from another popular bullet style, the full metal jacket. 

The FMJ uses a soft lead bullet encased in a harder metal. This design allows it to maintain its shape as it passes through some barriers and soft tissue. FMJs usually come in a round nose style or a round nose flat point. On the affordable side, most shooters prefer FMJs for range days and target practice. 

On the other hand, HP bullets opt for a hollowed out tip -- basically, a pit in the middle. This construction allows the bullet to mushroom or expand upon impact with its target. Hollow points come in a variety of flavors to include jacketed hollow points (JHP), semi-jacketed soft point hollow points (JSP HP), boat tail hollow point (BTHP), or all-lead hollow points. HPs and its siblings tend to cost more than FMJs, limiting some gun owners' ability to plink or train regularly with this style of round. 

When Should I Use Hollow Points?
 

Hollow points produce a mushroom shape on impact, creating a larger wound channel than FMJs. (Photo: Josh Wayner/Guns.com)

At the onset, it might seem like the FMJ checks off a lot of boxes, and, sure, it's affordable. It certainly seems easier to grab a box of FMJ and use it for both the range and carry, but the drawback is that it has the potential to over-penetrate. That means FMJ rounds often create two holes in the target -- an entrance wound and an exit wound. In the home defense landscape or during a concealed carry showdown, FMJs create the opportunity for the bullet to pass through the target and continue traveling, eventually striking something or someone else. 

The defense arena is where hollow points shine, though. The mushroom effect of the hollow point often prevents this style of bullet from exiting the target. In most cases, the round remains lodged in the target. In a home or apartment with other occupants nearby or concealed carry situations with bystanders, the hollow point effectively addresses the target while limiting the opportunity for others to become casualties. Of course, this all still rests on good marksmanship, so training is essential.

In the same vein, many hunters also prefer HPs to reduce over-penetration of the target and protect hikers and other hunters in the area. It's important to remember that though hollow points are less likely to pass through the target, it doesn't mean they can't. You are responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun, and thus it's imperative to think about your target and what's beyond before pulling the trigger. 

Final Thoughts

It's important to take a box or two of HPs to the range so you can assess how your gun performs. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)

Regardless of which ammo you choose, remember to practice. Even though hollow points might be pricey, you need to know exactly how your gun handles it -- as some firearms prefer certain ammo brands over others. As with anything in the gun world, practice helps you both improve while also providing potentially life-saving information down the road. 

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