Ammo Types 101

By on January 2, 2013

Ammo Types

Ammunition is getting so good these days that it’s hard to tell what’s out there.  The easiest (and the way you should always do it) is read the box the ammo came in.  It will tell you what the manufacturer designed the ammo for.  Even the police mess this up, like the case in 1999 when four undercover New York Police officers opened fire on a man in the Bronx firing 41 times and hitting him 19.  The ammo they were using was for range practice and wasn’t designed to stop people.  It took all 19 until the man fell down.

When I heard about that case I was outraged, they should have known better.  But it was later determined that they where using the ammo the department had given them.  If they can mess up with such grave consequences, how are we supposed to pick the right ammo?  Read the Box!

Ammo Type, Ammo Use

Read the Box!

You can see that the left side of the box says what it is used for.  Don’t believe anyone else, read the box.  You can also check out the manufacturer’s web site and it will tell you what the ammo is suppose to be used for.

Just for some of the beginners and to refresh our memories, here are some of the common bullet types and what they are used for.

FMJ – Full Metal Jacket is generally used for practice or just shooting.

JHP – Jacketed Hollow Points are generally used for self defense and are designed to expand when they hit something so the bullet doesn’t pass through its target.

Frangible ammo is designed to break up when it hits a target and is normally made of compressed metal particles that are glued together.  It’s normally used to stop ricochets but can also be designed for self defense.

Semi Jacketed means that the entire lead core of the bullet isn’t covered in a metal material.   The uncovered part can be the tip or back of the bullet.

Hard Cast bullets are lead bullets made with a thick or stronger lead and are designed for hunting bigger animals where extra penetration is needed.  The bullet is designed to keep its shape and stay together as it passes into and/or through something.

Tracers are bullets that have a bright burning chemical in the back end of the bullet that is ignited when the bullet is fired.  As the bullet travels to the target, it appears to streak across the sky, but what you actually see is the burning chemical.  Generally, the US Military use a red burning color and can be identified by a red painted tip on the bullet.

AP – Armor Piercing/Penetrating are designed to go through hard barriers.  A true armor piercing round has a hardened piece of steel as its core instead of the traditional lead.  Armor Penetrating bullets have a small piece of hardened steel in the tip of the bullet with the rest of the core being traditional lead.  These are sometimes called green tips because the US Military paints the tip of the bullet green to identify them.

AP Incendiary – These are armor piercing rounds designed to start a fire as it passes through the target.  These are normally only used in bigger calibers like .50 BMG because you need something that big to carry the hardened tip and enough chemical to start a fire.  They were used in the Gulf War very effectively to start light armored vehicles on fire by shooting them through the armor and into the gas tanks of the vehicles.

Power Ball or Ballistic tips are new on the market and have plastic tips to cover the hollow points in the bullets.  Power Ball are handgun ammunition made by CorBon to get rid of the traditional looking hollow point and overcome some of the feeding problems that can come with a hollow point.  Essentially, it’s a hollow point bullet with a plastic ball shoved into the hollow point to make it look more like a FMJ.  Ballistic tips work the same way, but for rifle rounds and for a little different purpose.  A rifle round needs the extra aerodynamics because it’s long, lightweight, and skinny.  If you add a hollow point it messes with the flight of the bullet.  So the manufacturers have done the same thing as CorBon and put a plastic or rubber tip in the end of the bullet to keep the bullet going down to a point for flight.  Once the bullet hits the target, the tip breaks away or squishes into the bullet and the bullet acts like a hollow point.

Guard Dog/EFMJ – Expanding FMJ is now called Guard Dog from Federal Ammunition and is something I carry and am really interested in.  It is an FMJ that is built kind of like an AP bullet, but, instead of a hard steel tip, Federal puts a soft plastic there.  They then pre-cut the metal jacket so when the bullet hits something, the plastic inside collapses and the jacket flowers out to create the expansion that a hollow point gets.  I’ll do another article about the comparison later.

The bottom line on choosing ammo is that everyone has their pet loads.  They are nothing more than that.  The ammo created today is so good that you are splitting hairs on anything you pick.  But here is what I generally use and like to use:


  • Practice whatever I can get the cheapest, lately it’s been Tulammo 115gr
  • Favorite Practice and competition round is Winchester White Box
  • Defensive Load Federal Guard Dog

.45 ACP

  • Practice Blazer 230 gr. FMJ aluminum case
  • Competition I like Winchester White Box when I can get it
  • Defensive Load used to be Triton HiVels, but those are no longer made now I carry Federal Hydra Shock 230 gr.  I just haven’t tested the Guard Dog in my gun and may or may not go to it.  I really like the 230 gr bullets.

7.62×39 (AK Ammo)

  • Practice whatever I can get for cheap
  • Defensive Load Tulammo 123 gr HP or Wolf 154 gr. Soft Points.


  • Practice whatever I can get for cheap in 55 gr.
  • Defensive Load, Federal 55 gr FMJ

Stay Safe,


Upcoming Courses!

Aug 8-9, 2015 Beyond Concealed Carry Enhanced in Seattle, WA

Sep 19-20, 2015 Beyond Concealed Carry Enhanced in Northern Ohio

Oct 10, 2015 Beyond Concealed Carry in San Antonio TX

Oct 11, 2015 Intro to Pistol Defense in San Antonio TX

Courses are taught by Ben Branam and Bob Mayne.

Shooter’s Culb Memberships

Click Here to Subscribe!

Posted in: Firearms


  1. Beau
    January 5, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    Just a thought on the department issuing ammo. I’m sure that’s the case in NY but I know my local police force the officers must buy there own weapons and ammunition, both to practice and carry on duty.

    Great article though. There’s not as much good handy info like this out there for newbies just now getting into the gun fun. Articles like this were all the info is on one page are priceless.

Leave a Reply


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>