Range Ammo vs. Defensive Ammo

You may have heard the terms “ball ammo“, “FMJ“, “hollow points“, “range ammo” or “defensive ammo“, but what do all these terms actually mean?  There are a lot of different types of ammunition on the market, and I will try to explain the differences in very basic terms, otherwise, this article could turn into hundreds of pages and just confuse the heck out of you.

DISCLAIMER: If you fall into the rabbit hole of YouTube when searching for ammunition and how it’s made, you will come across a lot of videos showing you how to save money by making your own defensive ammunition from inexpensive range ammunition.  DO NOT DO THIS!!  We can’t express this enough.  DO NOT DO THIS!!  Bullet manufacturing is a science and requires lots and lots of research and development (and lots of money to do that).  The range ammunition you just purchased also went through a lot of research and development to get the exact ratio of copper to lead, exact bullet weight and bullet shape.  Changing any of those characteristics can cause serious injury or death.


Sometimes called “ball ammo”, “FMJ” or “range ammo” is what you would use at the range for practice.  It’s relatively inexpensive (about $10-$15 for 50 rounds), as compared to hollow points, and can be found in most gun stores, ranges, or large sporting goods retailers.  Some states do not allow the purchase of ammunition over the internet, so check with your state or local laws to see if you can legally purchase ammunition online.  You will most likely go through a lot of it (sometimes a few hundred rounds) while shooting at your local range, so make sure you stock up on it when you can.

FMJ, or Full Metal Jacket ammunition is typically a lead core covered in a copper “jacket”.  This video (2:38 long) from HowStuffWorks shows you how a company like Sierra Bullets makes their bullets from raw materials.  They start with big chunks of lead, then press it into a wire the same diameter of the bullet they are making.  They form copper tubes the size of the lead core, then press them together with huge amounts of force.  No heat is used in this process, and they don’t dip the lead cores in liquid copper.  Tons of pressure is used in this process.



Sometimes referred to as “hollowpoints”, “jacketed hollowpoints, “JHP” or any number of terms used by the many manufacturers of bullets.  They come in all shapes and sizes and each of them has their own unique ballistics.  The basic concept of defensive ammunition it to cause the most damage to the person that’s trying to attack you so they stop attacking you.  Compared to range ammunition that does cause damage, but most times cuts right through the person and doesn’t do much damage at all.

Some bullet manufacturers will cast the shape of the bullet they want, then wrap it in a copper jacket as with range ammo, and other manufacturers will use a machine to cut each bullet into the shape they want.  The shape and size of the bullet varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer and each was designed after many months or years of painstaking research and development.

Most manufacturers will list their ballistic data on their websites, and many people will debunk their data and tell you that one ammunition is better than the next.  You can spend hours upon hours upon hours researching which bullet type is best for self defense, but you will never come up with the answer you seek.  You could talk to 100 people and they will give you 100 different answers.  The bottom line for new shooters?  Ask your local police department what they carry, or ask your local gun store.  However, some gun stores are looking to sell you the ammunition with the highest markup, and some police agencies use a certain type of ammunition because it was the cheapest.  It’s up to you to decide what is best for you.


Use range ammunition at the range and use defensive ammunition for defensive purposes.  Do not mix the two, and by all means, don’t make your own unless you really, really know what you’re doing.  Choose your ammunition from reputable manufacturers, such as Hornady, Federal, Remington, G2 Research and many others, or ask your local police department or local gun store which ammunition they use.  Don’t skimp on defensive ammunition, either – your life may depend on that “budget” ammo that you just bought at the flea market.