Water jugs penetration

Are You Carrying The Right Self-Defense Ammo?


When a bullet strikes a living thing, it creates a pathway for blood and bodily fluid to flow out.  That’s what inevitably causes death – outside of direct hits to the brain, heart, or other vital organs.  When blood pressure drops below a certain point, the victim loses consciousness.  If blood continues to exit, after a certain point the vital organs fail to function properly and the body perishes.

That wound channel – caused by one or multiple rounds – determines the rate of flow of fluid.  That’s why you’ll see a surveillance video of someone being shot and continuing to fight or flee.  The instantaneous response of the body to trauma is to pump adrenaline into the system.  This promotes rapid “fight or flight” response.

This adrenaline jump lasts for an indeterminate amount of time depending on the trajectory of the bullet.  As surprising as it may sound – it’s possible to shoot a bullet through another human being without striking any major arteries or organs.  It’s also possible to have a bullet pass cleanly through without causing immediate, life-threatening injury.

Why Full Metal Jacket Is Bad For Self-Defense

For self-defense purposes, a full metal jacket has the most likelihood of clean penetration.  Taking a direct round to the heart, lungs, brain, or spinal cord are all immediate life-threatening injuries.  But hitting the spleen or intestines – a common thing in center mass shots – does not necessarily mean the target will be down and incapacitated.  An active target is a dangerous target.

Enter the hollow point.

Hollow points are defined as bullets with a front-side cavity which promotes expansion upon impact.  The level of that expansion depends upon what it interacts with.  If the bullet strikes nothing but soft tissue, the bullet may expand little.  If it runs into resistance – such as muscle tissue, organs, or bone – the bullet tends to “mushroom” out, creating an even more tenacious and deadly wound channel that needs to be treated immediately.

Alternatives To Hollow Point


Two alternatives to traditional hollow point (HP) rounds include the Flex Tip (Hornady) and Hydroshok (Federal Premium).  The Flex Tip includes a soft plastic material inside the cavity of the hollow point.  When that flex tip hits resistance, it pushes against the inside of the hollow point and promotes expansion of the round as it travels through soft tissue.


The Hydroshok has a center post which forces the hollow of the bullet to expand.  This creates a devastating wound channel that promotes blood loss.

There are a lot more alternatives to the standard FMJ.  We go into way more depth about different varieties of ammunition in this article.

So, are you best served by loading full metal jacket rounds into your self-defense everyday carry concealed firearm?  That’s ultimately your call.

Displacement is also a factor.  For larger rounds like the .40 S&W or .357 Magnum (or .45 ACP), the size of the round is extremely devastating.  It’s like making a clean thumb print-sized hole through the entirety of a body.  This virtually guarantees at least a chain of arteries are knicked.  Once an artery is opened, it’s short time before the attacker is incapacitated and immobile.

Does This Mean 9mm FMJ Is Useless?

With 9mm, the game changes slightly.  Is a standard 9mm FMJ any less deadly?  No.  There’s no such thing as stopping power.  If you are landing shots center mass, you are virtually guaranteed to hit essential nerves, organs, arteries, and tissues which the attacker absolutely needs to persist his assault.

Heck, it’s possible to hit the femoral artery in the inside of the thigh and have the attacker bleed out in a matter of seconds.

Hitting thick muscle tissue and fat – such as is found in the quads or buttocks area of a person – gives the least likelihood for immediate damage.  Muscle tissue is loaded with capillaries and smaller arteries which will promote blood loss but not always at a rate necessary to stop an attacker outright.  This is why defensive shooters are encouraged to put more than one round into an attacker – it creates multiple opportunities for wound channels.

Think about a bucket of water.  If you shoot one hole in that bucket, water comes out.  If you shoot multiple holes in the bucket, that rate of flow increases exponentially.  The human body holds, on average, 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood (for a person of around 180 lbs).  It’s estimated that losing a third (1/3) of one’s total volume of blood is likely fatal.  That is roughly 6.4 cups of blood.  The frequency and size of those perforations will determine the efficacy of those bullets.

In conclusion, you can use ANY bullet you see fit – but the bigger the wound channel, the faster and more effective the results. Remember, your ultimate goal is to stop the threat once all non-lethal avenues have been taken into account.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General
About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • Kc135

    Great article, one more thing to consider is that hollow points sometimes have a tendency to jam because of their flat edges. They will sometimes catch feeding from the clip. It is important to put some rounds through your weapon at the range just to make sure you feel confident shooting HP.

    • James England

      True story – but one I haven’t run into, yet. The JHP+P (Fiocchi) I use are a tiny bit shorter than the standard 9x19mm FMJs but I have yet to run into a failure to feed (which may happen eventually).

  • Jay Saxton

    Worth taking a look at Lehigh Defense, Maximum Expansion. Most impressive performance I have seen in 35 years of monitoring such things. Check YouTube for ballistic demonstrations.
    Not affiliated, usual disclaimers, etc., etc.

  • OneOfTheGoodGuys

    I’ve been taught to use the heaviest grain projectile (in hollow point of course) available. Instead of a 115 Gr 9mm round, use 147 Gr or 158 Gr. Heavier projectile means more energy which means more destruction. As Kc135 notes, make sure your chosen ammo will run in your EDC weapon by shooting a couple hundred rounds. Expensive … but worth it.

  • Paul Sobotka

    I use the Hydroshock rounds in both .45 ACP in a Ruger P90 and .380 in a Walther PPK.S depending on what I’m carrying. Due to what I’m wearing. I’ve had them at the range and had Zero feed problems with them. Great article though. I most certainly will consider buying them when I see them.

  • clay

    so many mistakes in this article…

  • Sufferfortribe

    Does it really matter what type of ammo I use in my .357 Magnum?

    • Heretic2011

      If you live in a populated area it might. .357 FMJ can go through the thug, across the street, through the wall and into grandma. Even if it was self defense, I’d still feel bad about grandma.

      • Sufferfortribe

        Any suggestions? I live in a small apartment, so safety is of the utmost concern.

        • RedMeatState

          HP or frangible ammo.

        • Josh Howard

          try federal guard dog. made for home defense. its designed not to go through multiple layers of drywall

          • Sufferfortribe

            That looks like something I’ll try. I usually shoot Federal American Eagle at the range, so I know it will be quality if it’s Federal.
            Thank you for the tip.

        • Рон Джамин

          cant go wrong with hydroshocks. good penetration, devastating damage.

        • clay

          switch to .38special Federal HST. If you watch ballistic test video’s all FMJ will go clear through a body and a wall and then some. Currently there NO reliable safe bullets. Stick with known quality hollow points, and practice as much as possible.

    • Jim Screws

      I use 125 gr JHP in my 357 mag handguns. However, 158 gr lead SWC will work just as well. 14.9 gr of 2400 behind a 158 gr SWC will stop anything two legged. This was Elmer’s favorite load and it still works.

    • Bucksergeant

      Try Remington Golden Sabres. Triple the whomp of a .38 special and opens up like a windmill upon hitting the target. Won’t pass thru multiple targets. (people.)

      • Sufferfortribe

        I’ll look into those, too. Thanks, Buck.

        • Bucksergeant

          The best out here. If you miss with the bullet you burn them severely with the flash. It’s all I carry for defense.

          • Sufferfortribe

            As small as my apartment is, I won’t miss. But I worry about a through-shot paying a visit to my neighbors.
            I like most of them.

  • PaC SGM (R)

    Should have used two separate blocks one for each round.

  • Ray Jones

    when i carry i use .22 lr and acurrate shot placement to get the job done….hint i can empty a 10 round clip in under 2 seconds with all rounds at center mass and with a good qaulity hollow point their is no over penitration so granny and the kids are safe

    • Arthur Russell

      Statistics claim more people are killed every year with .22 caliber bullets than all other rounds combined.

      • Ray Jones

        you are correct sir…but rest ashured my only victoms have been game animals ranging from chipmunks all the way up to white tail deer in my 49 years of practice

    • bbgunplinkplink

      Sirhan Sirhan used an 8 shot .22 revolver to kill Bobby Kennedy. Of course, that was at very close range in a crowded, confined space.

      • Ray Jones

        the average distance for gun fight is just 7 feet so i think the .22 will do just fine….and avoiding a fight is the first thing on my mind ….but as i have a bad leg running wouldnt do me any good other than maybe my assailent might be incapacitated by laughter,but i wont count on that happening….

    • Рон Джамин

      .22 is an underrated self-defense round. I love my .22 beretta, and it loves me too. In terms of home defense, a shotgun with a Streamlight C4 led. Blind the assailant before you pepper him.

  • Ray Jones

    oh i forgot the .22lr is so controlable that i dont have to empty the mag and if i ever do have to shoot in self defence i will shoot higher than a center mass shot…..

  • Andrew Owens

    I have CZ75compact one of the most dependable and accurate guns money can buy. Love mine !!!

  • Sean McCloy

    I do my best not to get in a gun fight. Don’t wear gold, if I am at a gas pump and I see somebody walking toward the pump I put up the gas nozzle and get in my car and leave. I don’t stick around for him/her to say they need money and that is their way to find out where your cash is. I pay with CC so they don’t see me with cash in hand. Don’t drive a flashy car. I am the grey man I don’t even say if I have a weapon or not. Maybe I do maybe I don’t but ultimately my best weapon is between my ears I use my head to stay out of situations where blood can exit my body. I usually get fuel at half tank when full I have 540 miles range I think I can make it to the next state if I have to.

    • papasan173

      Smart man. The best way to win in a gunfight is to not get into one in the first place!

      • Sean McCloy

        Even if you win the gunfight you still have to deal with the mans family there are people that if you kill their brother that was stabbing you with a knife and going for a gun they would hold it against you. Say you kill the guy the cops show up they take your gun then an investigation you could spend your entire worth to fend off the lawyers. Over 2 years will be used up and it will take up every minute of your life because you never know how the court will sway it is not about right or wrong anymore it is about emotion and how they feel at the time.

        • OneOfTheGoodGuys

          Sounds like you have a pretty good understanding of the way it works.

  • papasan173

    Check out the Polycase ARX. This is a new bullet in the way it creates a HUGE wound channel.

  • Lee

    I am considering a trip into possible bear and mountain lion country I am taking two weapons a Glock 30 SF.45 cal 11 shot, and a Beretta Px4 9mm 18 shot. What Type of round would someone suggest that I load either or both of my Pistols with ???? In order to put down either of the predators in case of an attack ????

  • Mark W. Mullins

    I was told, and I do believe, the bigger the better when it comes to defense. Shot placement is as important tho, as size of the bullet. I do prefer the hardest hitting, fastest expanding bullet you can find for self defense. A good shot to the body, with ammo that will do the most damage is the best you can do. There’s two great rounds that I like, both are hollow points, and I have seen what they can do up close on the test jellys. They carry a whallup behind them. They would definitely put down anyone you really want to hit. Lets do a good job, if indeed we need to be protected. Not gonna name names of the ammo, but they are super good at what they are supposed to do.

  • Рон Джамин

    hydroshocks, a mans best friend

  • Steve Huntsman

    My bed side choice is a 3 inch Judge with home defense 410 shell, 000 buck shot……..

  • Haywood Jablowme

    I am a liberal and an Obama supporter I don’t own a gun they scare me.I like bruce Jenners new clothing.I think Bernie Sanders would be a good president or Hillary Clinton.and I would never shoot someone who breaks into my home to rape me because black lives matter and as a typical anti-gun commie liberal I also like black dick and gay marriage.

  • Ken Andrews

    My opinion is that for the smaller calibers, stick with FMJ. My very concealable .32 just doesn’t have the penetrating power of a larger caliber. For those who would mock a small caliber handgun…it is a lot more concealable than my Glock 23. I would say a .380 is getting into a gray area with the FMJ vs hollow point.

    At 9mm, I would go to a HP round. It is better to have a round that penetrates into organs than one that mushrooms too fast.