What are Hollow Point Bullets?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hollow point bullets are bullets that have a small pit in their tips. This design allows the bullet to expand upon impact with a target, because pressure is generated inside the pit, essentially pulling the bullet apart. The use of these bullets is controversial in some communities, and there are a variety of arguments for and against the design.

Hollow point bullets have pits at their front end that cause them to tear apart upon impact.
Hollow point bullets have pits at their front end that cause them to tear apart upon impact.

A typical hollow point bullet is at least partially jacketed with a hard metal that will prevent the barrel of the gun from becoming fouled with lead. The jacket also helps maintain accuracy, with the hollow point further improving this by shifting the center of gravity to the rear of the bullet. When it hits a target, the bullet expands and the jacket falls away.

Some hunters use hollow points to avoid the overpenetration and ricochet problem.
Some hunters use hollow points to avoid the overpenetration and ricochet problem.

The primary advantage of these bullets is that they have increased stopping power. When one hits a target and expands, it causes significantly more damage than a conventional bullet, thereby bringing the target to a halt more quickly. In addition, overpenetration, a common problem with some bullets, is avoided, because the bullet slows radically when it hits.

People have been aware of the advantages of the hollow point design for a very long time, and for almost as long, people have debated the ethics of using it. Especially in countries that struggle with gun control laws, hollow points are sometimes a topic of controversy as people attempt to balance the desires of gun rights advocates with a genuine concern for safety.

From the point of view of law enforcement, hollow points are sometimes viewed as safer, because the risk of overpenetration and ricochet is reduced. When police are trying to handle a crowded situation, it can be helpful to know that if a police officer shoots hollow point bullets, bystanders are less likely to be harmed than they would if normal bullets were used. In addition, they neutralize a suspect more quickly, which can be critical in an emergency.

Some hunters also use hollow points to avoid the overpenetration and ricochet problem, and to ensure that they can kill big game animals humanely with one shot. These bullets are also used by some militaries.

Military use of hollow point bullets is actually banned under the Hague Convention of 1899, which prohibits the use of expanding bullets. Some individual communities have also banned the sale and use of hollow points, sometimes known as dum dums, arguing that individual civilians have no use for such bullets, and that the increased stopping power makes them a liability to law enforcement officers.

Conventional bullets can pierce through objects more easily than hallow point bullets can.
Conventional bullets can pierce through objects more easily than hallow point bullets can.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Hollow point bullets are not banned by the Geneva convention. Bullet design to cause "unnecessary suffering" are proscribed by the Hague convention of 1907 and the US was a signatory.

For home defense, premium ammunition of any design is preferable in order for a law abiding citizen to continue living. You will be sued by your attacker's family anyway; it's how they "hit the lottery."


@cougars- I would disagree that a hollow point is safer for home defense and family. Hollow points can potentially open you up to criminal and civil liability because the intent of the round is to kill not disable. They are much more deadly when they do hit someone, and family members are not always behind a wall when a home intruder has broken in.

A much safer home defense method is to buy a shotgun and load your first round with less-lethal rubber rounds. They come in slugs, beanbags, and hornet's nest pellets. In a court of law, the fact that you shot first with a less lethal round means you were strictly trying to defend your family from a potentially deadly threat.

If you do not have a shot, gun, you can purchase rubber bullets in larger caliber pistol rounds (like .45 ACP). For smaller caliber bullets, you can find other less lethal rounds. Just be sure to never pull a gun unless you are in fear for your life and you plan to use it. Do not let rubber bullets make you more likely to draw your weapon.


I keep hollow point ammo for my .45 because it is safer for home defense. I never take the gun out, and I would hate to have to use it, but I do live in a city where armed home invasions are commonplace (Phoenix). Hollow points have less penetrating capability than a ball or full metal jacketed round. It is more likely that a wall will stop a hollow point than a ball or FMJ round. This means that hollow point rounds are safer for neighbors and others inside of your home.

It may not be a very safe round for the intruder, but someone who enters my home with the intent to do harm has already done his or her risk assessment. When it comes to the safety of my family, I prefer the hollow point to minimize wall penetration.


A hollow point bullet that sheds it's jacket is not desirable. A quality HP is designed to keep its jacket and retain as much of it's original weight as possible thus penetrating deep enough to ensuring a humane kill on game.

Post your comments
Forgot password?