Should You Be Carrying Hollow Points?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

I was recently asked about hollow point bullets, in response to something I had said in a presentation I was doing about pistol ballistics. The statement I had made was about how hollow points were counterproductive in 9mm pistols; that they defeated the purpose behind the design of the 9mm Luger round. Apparently the questioner didn’t like my statement.

Please note that I wasn’t making a general claim against hollow points. I carry hollow points in my Springfield XDS everyday; but it’s a .45 ACP, not a 9mm. The two rounds were developed with something totally different in mind.

Few people really understand the ballistics of different calibers, beyond a “bigger is better” mentality. I have to confess that I used to be in that camp. If you had asked me why I carried a .45, I would have answered that there wasn’t a .46 available on the market.

But that was before I did some rather extensive ballistic testing of pistol rounds, as part of a project I was working on. That was a real eye opener for me, giving me a much better understanding of what the various calibers I worked with were designed for. Each of those calibers was designed with a specific purpose in mind and one has to understand that purpose, in order to understand what works and what doesn’t.

In the case of the 9mm Luger, the most popular pistol round in the world, the purpose was to make a round with excellent penetrating power. The only pistol round which does this better than the 9mm is the FN FiveseveN, which is actually a rifle round in a cut-down cartridge, so that it can be used in pistols. Other than that, the 9mm penetrates through any test material better than any pistol round on the market.

The idea of a hollow point bullet is to create a bullet that expands, “mushrooming,” when it hits a target. This increases the permanent cavity made in the flesh, creating a larger wound. While some look at this as a way of making a smaller round, like the 9mm create a wound like the .45 ACP, I see it as trading the depth of the wound that the 9mm can create for a wider but shallower wound.

A lot depends on the type of damage you need to be able to create. The .45 ACP was developed to create a wide, but shallow wound, rapidly transferring the bullet’s energy into the target. This was done for the US Army, in order to help them defeat Moro tribesmen in the Philippines, who would attack them, hopped up on drugs. The Army needed a round that would put those tribesmen down, as the drugs prevented them from even feeling the hits form the .38 pistol round the Army had been using.

So, if you have a 9mm and expect to be facing off against criminals who are on drugs, it makes sense to use hollow point ammunition. While it won’t have the mass of the .45 ACP slug, so it won’t have as much knockdown power, it will have better energy transfer than jacketed rounds, increasing the chances of knocking down the bad guys.

On the other hand, if you aren’t going to be facing off against criminals on drugs, using those hollow points in a 9mm doesn’t gain you a thing. Rather, you lose the advantage that is designed in to the 9mm round. You’re actually better off using jacketed rounds, as they will create more damage.

This only applies to the 9mm though. For just about any other pistol caliber you can name, hollow points do cause the bullet to mushroom on impact, making a larger diameter wound and increasing the energy transfer. That even goes for larger rounds, like the .45 ACP and the .44 Magnum. The bigger the hole your bullet creates, the more the target will bleed, weakening them faster.

Even so, using a hollow point doesn’t make a smaller caliber round the equivalent of a larger caliber one. There’s more to the physics of bullet wounds than bullet diameter. Bullet velocity and bullet mass must also be taken into consideration. A .38 hollow point round may give you as big a diameter wound as a .45, but it won’t transfer as much energy to the target. So, while it may make a very effective wound, it may not cause them to stumble and fall.

Of course, there is no guarantee that any pistol round is going to knock down the intended target, even if it hits them. That only happens in Hollywood. For something as small as a bullet to cause a grown person to fall, you either have to catch them off balance, break a leg bone with your shot or hit something critical enough in their body, that they are dying fast. So always be ready for your next shot. The battle isn’t over until it’s over, and that means the bad guy has lost the ability to fight back. So, stay ready; keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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