JHP Or FMJ: What For Self Defense?

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 1 month ago

This is an interesting commentary on whether to use JHP or FMJ for personal defense.  It’s situation-dependent, but this memorable quote sticks out.

With these factors in mind, hollow points, with their limited capacity for penetration and greater chance of performing in a way that will stop the attacker with fewer shots, start to sound attractive. When one remembers “there’s a lawyer attached to every round you fire,” and the greater possibility of FMJ rounds traveling through the target and beyond, HP sounds like the more responsible choice.

He also mentions the Lucky Gunner gel testing, which I think is still the go-to spot for data.  Then there is this article from Shooting Illustrated.

I call those who live in this world “Jell-O junkies.” They’re folks who believe that ordnance gelatin holds all the answers. Hell, the FBI has all but said so. At one time I was a card-carrying member of this fraternity, and I, like many who still are, was of the opinion that reliable predictions about incapacitation could be made by looking through those urine-colored blocks of squishiness.

[ … ]

Gelatin testing and the results from it are only tools to be used. If you consider either anything more than an indication of terminal performance or lethality potential, you might be a Jell-O junkie—Don’t be a Jell-O junkie.

Whatever.  Thanks for an uninteresting waste of my time.  I learned nothing from your article except that you want to be smarter than everyone else.  The most informative data comes from one of the comments.

Cartridge; Percentage of stops; Ratio of stops
.32 ACP—65%—–11 out of 17
.380 ACP—–70%—–83 out of 119
9mm—–83%—–224 out of 271
9mm +P—–88%—–170 out of 193
.357 SIG —–94%—–45 out of 48
.40 S&W—–94%—–292 out of 311
.45 ACP—–96%—–142 out of 148
10mm—–too new to include but said to approach 100%

By Evan Marshall

I haven’t read it and cannot vouch for the information.  I do know this.  I carried FMJ when I was in bear country, and I usually carry JHP when I’m around the threats of the two-legged kind.  If I don’t happen to have .45 JHP in my guns at the time and have FMJ (let’s say I’ve been to the range recently), I don’t sweat it.

John Basilone said it was okay.  I trust him more than I do Shooting Illustrated.


  1. On April 11, 2019 at 1:04 am, BRVTVS said:

    Another good resource: https://www.chuckhawks.com/handgun_power_chart.htm

  2. On April 11, 2019 at 3:45 am, Nosmo said:

    At its most basic a firearm is just a mechanical system for transferring energy: The chemical energy of the gunpowder is transformed into the kinetic energy of a moving projectile. What is done with that kinetic energy is under the direction and control of the system operator. How that energy is transferred is a result of how the individual system components perform within the parameters of the operating environment.

    The variations in that operating environment are not infinite, but of sufficient quantity and range as to largely exceed the capacity of standard measurement systems to accurately predict with high sigma-level consistency.

    That performance data is erratically and inconsistently collected, often incorrectly measured, and severely affected by such a wide variation in operating conditions will, it seems, perpetually offer substantial opportunity for informed, and incompletely informed, supposition. We call these “caliber wars” which has now been extended not just to ammunition, but also firearm action types, sighting systems and even training. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s generic admonition to “be firstest with the mostest” has been metastisized into advocation of such various combinations of mass, vector and metallurgy as to often be unintelligible.

    Welcome to planet Earth.

  3. On April 11, 2019 at 5:37 am, MN Steel said:

    Shoot what you’re most comfortable, most reliable, and most accurate with.

    In my case, full-size 1911, HP in the tube and ball in the stack. For others, it may be .380 or smaller.

    Hits count, misses don’t, and not having anything on you is dead wrong…

  4. On April 11, 2019 at 7:55 am, Fred said:

    MN Steel is correct. The best weapon is the one that YOU can hit with, the one that YOU like enough to love to practice with, the one that fits YOU, the one that is comfortable for YOU to carry. Again, well above 99% of citizen on citizen gunfights end with the first shot landed, regardless or where the shot lands or caliber. Stopping power is an interesting science or maybe a boring caliber war, you pick, but time to muzzle on target and subsequently landing the first shot is the MOST important thing. This doesn’t necessarily apply when confronted with trained, motivated, and organized attacker(s) which are very rare, Red Flag laws not withstanding. And this does NOT apply at all with large predatory animals.

    You’re right Herschel, the data from Mr. Marshall is good, if it’s true.
    The .357 data is interesting and better than I thought it would be at just under 94%
    The .32 data is too few to be of use.
    I don’t like the 83% odds with the 9 mil at all.

  5. On April 11, 2019 at 8:18 am, Ned said:

    Well, I’ve shot lots of mammals with different handgun projectiles. But still, I guess I’m a gel junkie. I carry Winchester 230 Ranger in my 45. Based upon Lucky Gunner gel tests – not from actually shooting something live.

  6. On April 11, 2019 at 10:35 am, red Forman said:

    I remember Marshall and Sanow’s articles in gun mags 40 years ago, give or take. Always thought they were well reasoned and verifiable. I would like to see the whole project laid out so there is a context to the data table presented here. The list of stops vs. caliber are pretty much meaningless without knowing shot placement, number of hits, etc. That is, unless you are a .45 fan – then the data presented becomes Gospel. :)

  7. On April 11, 2019 at 12:33 pm, Mike said:

    I suggest that folks carry both: alternate each cartridge (FMJ/HP/FMJ/HP/etc.) when you load your pistol magazine. There’s no unwritten ‘rule’ that says you have to use one or the other exclusively.

  8. On April 11, 2019 at 2:00 pm, MTHead said:

    Hershcel has it right. you just can’t go wrong with the 45 acp. Stopping something is all about tissue damage. bigger is always better at that. At this point I tailor the bullet I shoot. not the cartridge. Hiking in so. Oregon, 230gr. hard balls for penetration. On the street, 78 gr. civil defense by Liberty. Fast, 1900 fps., and light on the hip for carry. just my .02.

  9. On April 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm, Curtis said:

    There is a statue to John Basilone in Little Italy, in downtown San Diego. It’s been there for many decades. You can find it on the same block from Filippis.

  10. On April 11, 2019 at 3:55 pm, BRVTVS said:


    Cops tend to profile people who mix ammunition as criminals. Source: https://youtu.be/p2IIaauR84A

  11. On April 11, 2019 at 4:35 pm, JoeFour said:

    Here are some thought provoking observations from Tim at Buffalo Bore Ammunition:

    “In most police department shootings, around 80% of shots fired at humans, miss the human target and that means the bullet is going to head in the direction it was fired, until its kinetic energy is expended one-way-or-the-other. In civilian self-defense shootings, a similar percentage of shots fired miss the human target. Considering this, why are we so worried about over-penetration of the 20% of shots fired that actually hit the human target, when the much greater percentage of shots fired miss the human target and continue on? I am NOT saying that bullet over-penetration should be of no concern, but I am suggesting that we have turned that issue into something much bigger than reality says it is. A missed shot that hits an innocent bystander will land us and the poor bystander in as much trouble as a bullet that over-penetrated the human target and hit a bystander, right? In fact, there is the likelihood that the bullet that struck the intended human target and spent most of its energy on that target, would not have nearly the momentum remaining to continue on to do as much harm for as great a distance as the bullet that missed its target altogether and has retained its energy!

    “None of us want to be involved in the shooting of another human, but if the situation we find ourselves in, dictates that we must shoot another human to save innocent lives, we may find ourselves needing a bullet that will penetrate heavy winter clothing, stick frame walls, car doors, windshields or whatever soft cover our threat may have jumped behind for the moment. My carry pistols for public/urban carry, generally have an expanding bullet in the chamber and maybe one more, first up, in the magazine, but all the remaining ammo in the magazine will utilize non-expanding bullets so that I can shoot through some types of soft cover………for decades African hunters have used a “soft” (expanding bullets) for their first shot, but all the remaining ammo in their rifle feature “solids” that will not mushroom and will give extreme penetration under a variety of angles and conditions. Consider that your day is already going so badly you end up in a gun fight…….do you really want ammo that will not penetrate deeply enough to get the job done on any shot other than a “frontal” on an averaged sized or smaller person, that is not wearing winter clothing?

    “If we knew ahead of time that our upcoming gun fight would be against a man that faces us frontally, stands still, is by himself, in daylight, weighs under 150 lbs., is wearing only a tee shirt and he will not jump behind cover, we could get by with using only expanding ammo that will never over-penetrate a human torso, but the reality is that we need to be prepared for the worst case scenario, which is why we carry firearms in the first place.”

  12. On April 11, 2019 at 4:38 pm, Eve Flanigan said:

    Hi Herschel, thanks for quoting my work in your blog. Imagine how respectable it’d look if you posted a link too.

    Eve the EShooterTutor

  13. On April 11, 2019 at 4:42 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    People tend to profile cops who mix intimidation with ‘protect and serve’ as tyrants.

  14. On April 11, 2019 at 7:12 pm, Gryphon said:

    Recently, through a Friend who is a Contractor, I was able to do some practical Penetration Tests in the Basement of a House He was Demolishing. Nothing Planned or Scientific, just took the .45 and 9, standard Ball and inexpensive HP.

    Everything went through 2 Layers of Drywall, but the HP was in the process of Breaking Up at the Next Wall. Ball Ammo would go through 3 Drywall ‘walls’ and Into the Cinderblock Basement Walls.

    Firing ‘upwards’ between the Floor Joists did Penetrate the Flooring Plywood and Finish Wood, with the Ball Ammo definitely Penetrating the Ceiling of the Room. Shooting Perpendicular to the Joists at a low angle stopped most rounds before they penetrated the Flooring.

    Firing at a Low Angle to the Walls was noticeably Different – Ball Ammo would go through a few 2×4 Studs and still enter the Next Room, where HP was Stopped, often without Damaging to opposite side of the Gypsum Board. I saw this as ‘proving’ my own thought that Hollow-Point Ammo is ‘Safer’ Indoors, in terms of reducing Overshoot.

    The big Take-Away from this Experiment? Firing a Gun in a Small Room, even with Double Ear Protection (Plugs and Muffs) and Safety Glasses AND a Full-Face Shield is BRUTALLY LOUD. If You ever have to Wake Up and Engage a Burglar at 0-dark thirty, You Won’t be able to Hear anything for quite a while.

  15. On April 11, 2019 at 8:25 pm, Ratus said:

    I think we here should remember that “all handgun cartridges suck, just that some suck less than others”.

    That Ballistic Gel is only a repeatable medium for comparison between projectiles/loads, not a simulation of a living target.

    That the advice of people who have documented “shooting incidents” say that more “pew, pew, pew…” is better than less.

    And that anything that will penetrate deeply enough in a bad guy, will easily go through a wall.


    As for my personal recommendations ( which are worth exactly what you are paying for them… )

    Pick a standard pressure 9mm load like 124gr Federal HST or similar.

    Carry it in whatever allows you to follow the first rule of a gunfight (ie. have a gun).

    Carry a spare magazine(s)!

    FMJ is only good for range shooting and/or a riot situation where over-penetration is a benefit.

  16. On April 11, 2019 at 8:35 pm, BRVTVS said:

    Lucky Gunner timed it perfectly with your blog post. This is their latest about gel testing: https://youtu.be/T6kUvi72s0Y

  17. On April 11, 2019 at 9:22 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @Eve Flanigan,

    Please supply URL and I’ll mention it in its own post.


  18. On April 11, 2019 at 9:34 pm, Ned said:

    Eve – the link was posted here. I followed it. It’s actually the first word in Herschel’s post.

  19. On April 11, 2019 at 9:56 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    I guess I was thinking about something like an Amazon link for the book.

  20. On April 12, 2019 at 12:06 am, Eve Flanigan said:

    thank you, Ned. Obviously I missed it. Sorry, Herschel.

  21. On April 12, 2019 at 12:22 pm, TRX said:

    > possibility of FMJ rounds traveling through the target and beyond, HP sounds like the more responsible choice.

    Sure. Then they’ll tell the jury you were using “hollow point murder bullets.”

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You are currently reading "JHP Or FMJ: What For Self Defense?", entry #20957 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Ammunition and was published April 10th, 2019 by Herschel Smith.

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