Guns & Patriots

Handguns and Hollow Points

Blame Hollywood.  Blame the evening news.  Blame your Uncle Jim.  There is a lot of incorrect information out there on firearms and ammunition. 

For whatever reason, bullet design and performance seems to have the largest amount of myths and half-truths circling around it.  Some of these false beliefs have led to bad movie scenes and even worse, bad laws.

When a handgun is loaded for self defense, most instructors advise to use quality hollow point ammunition.  But why?

The Hollow Point Bullet

A hollow point bullet is a bullet that has some type of cavity scooped out of the center.  Most hollow points do not have any actual “point” at all.  A few like the CORBON Pow’RBall and the Hornady Critical Defense, use a polymer ball or filling in the cavity.

The idea of a hollow point it to cause the bullet to expand when striking the target.

A hollow point is not a “Dum-Dum” bullet.  The Dum-Dum bullet was developed in the Dum-Dum arsenal in India in 1897.  It was a rifle bullet with an exposed lead tip.  The bullets were never fully developed and discontinued in 1899.  Yet, to hear the media tell it, Dum-Dum bullets are the preferred ammo choice by gang bangers everywhere.

Why a Hollow Point

In the self defense context, an expanding bullet is good for a variety of reasons.

Generally speaking, to stop a violent attacker with a handgun, the bullets need to either disable the central nervous system (brain, spine) or cause massive blood loss which fuels the brain and muscles.  So called “head shots” are difficult targets, so most instructors train students to aim at the “center of mass”: the upper torso region housing the heart and lungs.

Without trying to sound crude, the bigger the holes you make in an attacker, the quicker he will bleed out and no longer threaten you or your loved ones.  This is why many people prefer a .45 ACP to a 9mm.  But, hollow points can make smaller cartridges more effective.

When a hollow point strikes flesh, it is designed to expand, opening up like a mushroom.  As the bullet expands, it can cause more tissue damage, which in turn more quickly renders the attacker unable to assault you.

While precise measurements vary, under ideal conditions, a 9mm bullet can expand to nearly double its size (from .355” to nearly .7” in diameter.)  Likewise, a .45 ACP bullet can expand to almost an inch in diameter.

Speed Kills

Just because a bullet is a hollow point is no guarantee that it will expand.  In fact, a great many hollow points fail to expand when used in self defense shootings.  Why is this?

There are several factors that affect hollow point expansion, but I’ve found the two most critical are the bullet design and bullet speed.

Bullet designs have come a long way during the past 30 years.  Premium hollow points were revolutionized in the 1980’s by the Hydra-Shok bullet developed by Tom Burczynski and Federal Cartridge.  Since then we have seen a great deal of advancement by Burczynski and his contemporaries, bringing to the market some very good designs like the Speer Gold Dot, Winchester T-Series, Federal HST, Remington Golden Sabre and others.

Current premium bullet designs take into account the latest information from the labs and the streets to ensure the bullets expand under a wide range of conditions.

No matter how good bullet designs are, though, all of them need a minimum amount of velocity to ensure proper expansion.  This is especially important when a hollow point is plugged by the clothing worn by an attacker.

Generally, I have found that the narrower the bullet face, the more velocity needed to cause reliable expansion.  In other words, a wide mouth .45 bullet is more likely to expand at lower velocities than a narrow 9mm.  Narrow, low-velocity cartridges, like the .25 ACP and .32 ACP, rarely expand.

Some bullet designs are specifically designed for lower velocities experienced in short barrel firearms.  For example, the Speer Gold Dot 135 gr load designed specifically for snub nosed revolvers.

Designs like the Critical Defense ammo help prevent the hollow point cavity from plugging by having a flexible polymer in the cavity.  When the polymer is compressed, the force pushes against the interior walls of the cavity, enhancing expansion.

Penetration is Good, Over-Penetration is Bad

Non-expanding bullets tend to go right through the body, exiting the bad guy and continuing in flight.  Expanding bullets tend to stay in the body of the attacker.

Notice I say “tend to.”  There are no absolutes, and I can show you cases where hollow points expanded, yet still exited the torso, and cases where a non-expanding bullet stayed in the attacker.

Bullets that over-penetrate, exiting the attacker, present several problems:

- they fail to achieve maximum energy and momentum transfer, and

- they present a danger to others in the area who may be struck by the still flying bullets.

No matter what theory of stopping power you subscribe to, bullets that stay in the body tend to create larger temporary and permanent crush cavities because the bullets transfer more/all energy and momentum.  The more “work” the bullet does on the attacker’s body, the quicker the attacker will cease his violent assault.

The number of bystanders struck by over-penetrating bullets may be small.  But, if your bullet kills a bystander, are you prepared to deal with the psychological, moral and legal consequences of that?

Hollow Points – Don’t Believe the Hype

Hollow point bullets are an integral piece of safety equipment when we talk about stopping a violent attacker.  They are likely to stop a violent attack quicker than non-expanding bullets.
For some reason, a lot of myths surround hollow point bullets.  Don’t buy into myths and wild guesses. 

To stop an attacker with a handgun, you need to get multiple shots on target quickly.  Quality hollow points will simply make those shots more effective, and that is a good thing.

Editor’s Note:
Thanks to Richard Johnson for this article. I encourage you to visit his website and explore all the guns, ammo and gear. ~Mike P.

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  • ShootExpert

    Yeah 9mm kick SOOO hard don’t they…that’s dumb. 9mm +P+ doesn’t kick at all, yet a 10mm kicks like a mule. .45′s kick harder than 9′s also. Your argument makes NO sense at all in practical application.

  • ShootExpert

    so does that mean we don’t worry about it at all? what if the person is a decent shot (like myself) and hits their target with amazing accuracy (like me). I do worry that it could hit say…a family member, or perhaps YOUR family member. So, YES, worrying about over penetration is a Very VALID concern. So, when High Quality safety rounds came out, they have proven to be fantastic manstoppers with almost no chance of over penetration.

  • ShootExpert

    The whole “big slow bullet” crap is just that…crap. .45 aren’t worth a darn unless you lower the weight of the bullet and pump up the pressure. .45 was “field proven” by shooting a bunch of 120lbs malnourished asians for the most part. It’s easy to be a “man-stopper” when the only “man” you have to stop is the size of a child.
    9mm kill people dead, they are cheap, they have a HUGE variety of rounds including very high power rounds and any number of bullet designs, it is available in ANY country and not just the U.S. Overall, covering every aspect the 9mm is a SUPERIOR round for those reasons, cheap, effective, ease of acquisition, worldwide recognition and availability.



  • ShootExpert

    It does NOT expand (for the most part)…in other words, VERY LITTLE expansion. BUT, if you go with a Corbon 165 or 185 grain hollow point bullet in the +P variety, it will exit the gun at around 1200fps and smack like a train and expand VERY nicely. I have a .45 and utilize the 165grain bullet. The 165 tends to immediately turn into shrapnel upon impact though. If you want the bullet to hold together in one bullet you need to go heavier the 185 grain holds together ok and still expands well if you go with the Corbon +P variety.

  • Popper101

    I am proud for you that you are an excellent shot with amazing accuracy shooting targets supposedly or whatever, but how good would you be if you were crippled up in the fight, knocked down or maybe have your coat sleeve caught in a car door etc. etc. Whatever can go wrong changes everything. I am not being complacent about hitting innocent bystanders by any means. All I’m saying it is a documented fact there will most likely be misses even from an expert such as yourself as you profess.

  • rmkey

    I hear you and it makes sense to me. One reason I am asking is that my son is a cop and the dept furnishes 230 Hydrashok. I dont see the sense in standardizing on the 230 Hydrashok if it wont expand one may as well use a flat point fmj. I am considering a 1911 myself but to me the .357 sig makes sense as well. What is your pref?

  • ShootExpert

    But it does not translate that way in street data. Bullet design GREATLY influences stopping power. 9mm is equal to .45 or better in some cases if the correct round is used. I would MUCH rather have a 9mm hollow point standard vs. the standard 240 grain fmj in a .45.

  • ShootExpert

    1) Hollow points always work unless they become clogged with clothing
    2) Over penetration IS a major concern and that is the second reason on the Fed.’s list for going with the 40 instead of the 10mm after two incidents where the bullet overly penetrated in one case and went through not one but two more people.
    3) a flat bullet is impractical and causes more feed jams and less reliability
    4) why keep the velocity down if it yields more hydrostatic shock? to avoid overpenetration??? I thought you just said that was overstated??? I don’t understand the basis for your statements, one, don’t worry about over penetration but two keep the velocity low because it might over penetrate…or you say for control. 9mm has MUCH more control than .45 yet it’s about 300-400fps faster round. Heavy bullet? why? again over penetration? again, you just argued that people shouldn’t worry about that. a light bullet that shreds into shrapnel such as the 165grain corbon +P .45 is an incredibly devastating round. yet it defies your standards by going faster and weight lighter and due to the fact it’s a hollow point and the laws of physics don’t change (not sure What you mean when you said hollow points don’t work in certain guns, the laws of physics don’t change for an unfamiliar barrel). …

  • Kbuzz

    For the soldier, 7.62/.223/5.56 are made for popping holes in targets way out there. That’s just fine for wounding but it does not take the fight out of the combatant.
    Side arms are for close in combat…right before you get into hand-to-hand. At that point, the concern is not in wounding – it is to seriously stop the opponent before he kills you, which is why the JHP.

  • Robert Willis

    Don’t speak at me like that. I will make sure that the administrators remove you if I have anything to say about. QUIT attacking people.

  • Tim

    I agree with the authors last paragraph , multiple shots. In the end you want only one story……YOURS

  • mel

    Proper mindset, round placement, and top quality equipment are the variables that determine if you are the one to walk away from the encounter or carried away. I am not a cop, or a Navy Seal , just someone who practices all I can. Caliber and weapon is a personal choice, and hopefully one well thought out by the individual.I carry an Officers ACP daily, I shoot it often, and It is tricked out to provide me with the greatest possible chance of coming home to my family. I was jumped and shot by two fine citizens thirty years who figured to car jack my ride and make me look like swiss cheese 9mm style. I am still alive n kicking and my decision has been made to carry a .45 because the 9mm just passed through me. Prior to my being shot I had a mindset it could never happen to me. Young, ignorant and foolish I was. Well informed and experienced now.
    I do not prescribe to all the +P crap, and all the “magic” kill em dead rounds. Way too much recoil for my taste , I throw up a big chunk o lead and place it where it needs to be. As far as the .45 being “tested” on skinny 120lb Japs, shoot expert needs to read some history. German soldiers coveted the .45 ACP sidearm and made no bones about it that they considered it superior to the sidearms issued to them. They snagged them off our deceased GIs when they could.Their experiences in the trenches of the first world war and the hedgerows of the second made them all the wiser. John Browning’s contraption designed 100 years or so ago and still used and coveted today says it all. Personal preference and experience is what it is all about.

  • Popper101

    Mel, Good thoughts. I myself was shot and robbed in Houston, Tx by two of Houstons’ finest Afro Americans in 1980 so I know where your at with this. I’ve said this yesterday and I’ll say it again carry what you are comfortable and efficient with and practice often with your carry gun and carry it all the time because the one time you don’t is when the unthinkable will happen. I know. I was asked once if I was a little paranoid. No just prepared. Me I carry a pr of S&W 686 & 66 357 wheel guns ALWAYS. They just happen to be what I use and am happy with. I also commit the Ayoob unthinkable and load and carry my own rnds. I have more faith in my loads simply because I know what I have there. Not saying anyone else should but I’ve lived to be 72 so far and I ain’t through yet. I also make a point of shooting these puppies at least twice a month if not more. Don’t want to have to think about what I’m doing if and when the time comes again. One final comment if I may. If I ever have to defend myself or family again I practice shoot to kill not incapacitate. I don’t see the logic in the premise you shoot em, stop them, but don’t try to kill them crap. If the situation is so bad it requires a weapon you best make it final if possible or it will haunt you in court later. As for the cherished hollow points I know of a guy here in Tn that took 5 rnds of 125gr 357 hollow points in a winter coat and still managed to whip the guys butt who shot him before he died in the hospital in Nashville two days later. That being said all things being equal nothing ever is.

  • mel

    Lol, not meaning to laugh but may have been the very same nice guys who robbed me Popper101 on Telephone road in Houston. Same time frame as well. Taught me not to take shortcuts when leaving Schlumberger after an afternoon shift!

  • Popper101

    Happened to me on Post Oak Rd on SW corner of 610 loop about 5AM in the morning. What are the odds of this. Small world huh?

  • mel

    Sounds like you had some high class robbers hit you. probably went to the galleria for some expensive tennis shoes. You carry some fine hardware Popper. That stainless 686 is my choice of wheel gun , and hopefully someday will own one!

  • Prince Of F@#$%^ng Darkness

    actually, the Geneva convention only dictates treatment of POW’s. What you are thinking of is the Hague Accords, which the US did not sign

  • Popper101

    Mel, Hope you get a 686 sometime. Don’t think you can beat ‘em. 4″ barrel works for CCW. A little heavy but you’ll get used to it. If you have some miles on you like me give the cross draw holster some thought. Works well for me anyway for what that’s worth. Popper

  • spotter308

    Actually, the tip of the .223/.556mm (same round) is off center. Thereby causeing it to “keyhole” or tumble upon impact or after a certain distance.
    And yes, it is better to wound a combatant than kill them,because it DOES take up logistics. I.E. fellow soldiers to care for said combatant, his gear,etc. Our current battlefield proves that they don’t care for one-another untill after the fight. Note the U.S.Army’s current policy of having “combat lifesavers” wait untill the threat is mitigated before going back to help downed soldiers.Otherwise,if a medic gets there first,they can deal with it.

  • Guest

    Yeah…I highly doubt ShootExpert has any leo experience, let alone 30 years of it…Judging from his comment, I highly doubt he is even 30 years of age.

  • Bandhunter

    ummm no the reason they don’t use hollow points is because there use has been banned by the Geneva Convention…..that’s why we don’t use flame throwers anymore……the reason the military switched to a 9mm from a .45acp is because it wounds instead of kills……same reason they switched to the 5.56 from the .308 right before Vietnam…….there were other reasons as well…..I’m not stated it was the ONLY reason for a switch…….i will never claim to be a firearm expert but i use a .45……i own a colt 1911 and the only other gun i own is keltec p32 .32 auto as my summertime carry gun…….i feel as though there are a lot of 9mm fans out there that spew a lot of facts to try and make it appear as though the 9mm is somehow better than the .45……people have different preferences…….but i do know that i live in an area with a large population of grizzlies and black bear……the reason i chose the .45 is because if a bear charges me and i am going to get 1-3 rounds off at him inside of 10 yards i want it to be a .45…… i just do not believe a 9mm will take him down consistently…… to me that makes the .45 the better round to have……just my opinion and preference……