“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
– Col. Jeff Cooper
In the context of close protection work, the use of firearms is often an all or nothing proposition. In most cases, you are either armed, or you’re not! There is a whole host of things that play into that, be it where you are, your level of certification, or the demands the client puts on you. All of that aside, I wanted to take some time and dig into the finer things, often overlooked when we talk about “strapping up.” Ammunition!
This is a subject that could easily be stretched out and I could talk about the external ballistics of a given projectile, or I could dig into the ageless debate of 45 Auto vs. 9mm Luger. That is not the basis for this article.
I want to start at the beginning and dive into the major differences in ammo out there today and how they have evolved. I am going to focus on the projectile and basic terminal ballistics to start. The choice of caliber and the velocity at which the projectile travels through the air. Other external ballistics play a part, but those are subjects for future articles.
Let me start by unpacking the types of projectiles I want to talk about. There are two major types of rounds we run into when we talk handguns. Those projectiles are Full Metal Jackets/Total Metal Jackets (FMJ/TMJ) and Jacked Hollow Points (JHP). Now, before we get our panties in a bunch, I know there are soft points, hard cast, frangible, and lead round nose, to name a few more. And they all have their specific application, but I want to focus on the two that are most common in what we do. Remember, we have a specific application to think about, ammunition, and how it applies in the executive protection environment!
Right out of the chute, I want to talk about FMJ/TMJ and how they fit into the discussion. An FMJ is typically a lead core bullet with a full copper jacket having an exposed base, where a TMJ is a fully encapsulated lead core. There are some health benefits to having a fully coated lead core, but at the end of the day, those projectiles are often used interchangeably. These types of projectiles are used for training; I can’t stress that enough, TRAINING! This is the stuff you take to the range and practice with. These projectiles are not designed to expand or deform on impact. They are made as economically as possible to allow us to go to the range and spend our time improving our skills (and let’s be honest, that is where we should be spending more of our off time if we carry a gun). When we talk terminal ballistics, with an FMJ, there is little terminal effect. As stated earlier, the bullets don’t expand or deform and will penetrate DEEP.
The lack of expansion will punch nice neat holes in things but won’t cause much secondary damage (which is what we need to stop the threat). Not to mention the over-penetration concern. You are responsible for every round you send downrange, period! If a round over penetrates and hits something on the other side, that’s on you! I’m not naïve; I understand that sometimes FMJ is all we have, or we aren’t allowed to carry hollow points. There are other options, such as Expanding FMJs or even frangible projectiles, that will meet those needs. Research your choices and understand the environment you’re working in!
As you can tell, I cannot stress training enough! But when the rubber meets the road, you’re going to need something that is going to step up to the plate when you need it the most. If it sounds like I am overemphasizing this, am I really? If you find yourself in a life or death situation, where you need to draw your gun and use it, you’re going to want something dependable, accurate, and TERMINAL! That is where the Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) comes in. The design of this projectile has a job to do to impact its intended target, expand, and dump as much energy as possible, causing some sort of catastrophic failure of the central nervous system. The JHP comes in a few flavors, and some work better than others, but they are designed to do just what I described.
How this is accomplished is through the almost instant expansion of the projectile when it impacts some sort of resistance, typically the hydraulic pressure of hitting muscle. That projectile expands in the best-case scenario to 1.5 times (or larger) its original size, causing cavitation inside the tissue, which is referred to as a secondary wound. This is where the damage is done! This is the ripping and tearing inside the wound tract. During this process, the projectile is dumping vast amounts of energy, which is having a heavy effect on the target and also preventing over-penetration.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when talking JHPs. Like in life, not all things are created equal! A good place to start is looking at what law enforcement uses in their duty firearms. You can dig into the merits of bonded projectiles (lead and copper are fused together) vs. non-bonded. Bonded projectiles will hold together better, so you get less jacket/core separation (more energy retention and slightly more penetration to get to deeper vital areas). Some JHPs also have drawbacks, as the open face of the bullet can become plugged with heavy clothing or other material, which will prevent expansion. There are some bullets out there that have a polymer in that cavity to help prevent clogging. Do your research on what is out there. I don’t want to turn this article into an advertisement! But make sure the gun you choose to carry will shoot the ammo you choose (reliability is vital in a life and death situation). It tends to be more expensive for the defense type JHPs, but running a magazine or two through your gun before you put it on your hip is a must!
This all comes together as a system. The use of FMJs and JHPs should be seen as a complementary set of tools that work harmoniously with one another. I could throw out the cliché of “train as you fight” or “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat,” but we all know that to hone our craft, you have to practice! I would suggest getting your FMJ to match your JHP ammo as closely as possible, on the external ballistics side of the equation. If you carry 147-grain JHP ammo, try to get yourself 147-grain FMJ training ammo. If you can get ammo that matches velocity, then you are winning! There are a few manufactures out there that ballistically match their training and duty/defense ammo. This will help you as the shooter, train to deal with recoil impulse, or get you as close to your actual defense ammo as possible (without shooting piles of JHP, with can get super expensive). Get out there and get your repetition’s in; that’s the key!
In future articles, I will dig into the deep dark world of it all. I will delve into the Jacketed Hollow Point, and we will go down the rabbit hole of terminal ballistics… Buckle ups folks, this ship’s about to take off!
Ammunition – Does it Matter?
By: Justin L. Johnson
Justin started his journey in the military and has grown his passion for firearms and training ever since. He has a resume that covers just about every segment of the security industry from armed and unarmed static security, investigations, close protection, high-risk protection, sports and entertainment venue security management, risk assessment, and consulting. He has spent the last 5 years managing ammunition product portfolios for major ammunition and firearms manufactures in the industry. He is also an avid competitive shooting, crossing multiple disciplines.