FMJ, HP, TMJ, SP, OTM, FTX – What does it all mean?

In today’s market, there is a plethora of available cartridges in different configurations. A person
could for example, own something like a 9mm handgun and see four or five different types of 9mm
bullets available to buy. Similarly, someone who owns a rifle may notice there are equally just many
different types of ammunition variants and bullet designs. Each one having a specific intended purpose
or suggested use.

Ammo manufacturers will put labels on their product to help describe the specific bullet design,
such as FMJ, TMJ, JHP, OTM, FTX or SP. This is supposed to identify what the customer is purchasing. But
what if you are new to firearms or perhaps don’t have a lot of experience? What do all of these
acronyms mean? And does it really matter?

The most common ammo type: FMJ or “Ball”:

FMJ translates directly to Full Metal Jacket. This ammunition type is sometimes called ‘Ball’
ammunition. This means that a lead bullet is encased by a copper jacket, or some other type of metal,
and has a somewhat round ‘ball-like’ appearance in handgun cartridges. For rifle bullets, the same
concept applies except for the shape which will have a more notable ‘pointy’ appearance.
FMJ is the most common type of ammunition available, due to being ubiquitous and affordable.
This is what most of us see in sporting goods stores or gun stores. It is sometimes marketed as “Range
Ammo” or “Training Ammo”, and is ideally suited for that role. It is also preferred over Solid Lead or Cast
Lead bullets (which feature no jacket) due to the significant reduction of lead exposure which could pose
a potential health hazard to the shooter in some cases.
There are other names that sometimes appear for the same type of ammo described above. Just
know that they are essentially the same:

∙TMJ = Total Metal Jacket
∙TMC = Total Metal Case

Hollow Point Bullets, or HP:

This bullet design is one of the most talked about, and sought after next to FMJ. If we were to do
a Google Search on Hollow Point Bullets, there would be an enormous amount of information about
them that immediately appears. Some of it legitimate, some not so much. The bottom line is that HP
designates a bullet as Hollow Point, which is a projectile design that is intended to expand upon impact
and penetration of a target. The bullet shape will often appear with a flat tip, concave opening and
scoring around the edges. Or otherwise appearing “hollow” in the center.
This is generally the accepted type of ammunition for self-defense and law enforcement use. Its
controlled expansion design enables the round to increase its overall diameter, thus increasing its
wounding capability and potential to stop a threat. They will often appear mushroom or flower shaped
after they expand. Without going too deep into the subject, this is the predominant reason HP are
recommended for self-defense as FMJ type bullets will not expand and can pass through a threat. I
would caution that not all HP rounds perform the same. Choose your self-defense ammunition carefully.
Just because a bullet is labeled HP, doesn’t mean it will work like one should. Some manufacturers spend
a great deal of resources into research and development of their design in order to ensure its
performance and quality. Others don’t – you get what you pay for.
The same general concept also applies for rifle cartridges. Ballistic and terminal performance will
be covered in a later article for those of you who are more interested.

Other bullet designs: XTP, OTP, SP and FTX:

FTX & XTP Bullets (Flex Tip): Specifically designed for Hunting and Self Defense Applications in
mind. Sometimes misnamed as “ballistic-tips”. They are defined by a colored polymer tip (Red,
Blue, Orange) and feature most of the same characteristics of HP bullet designs. The exception
to these rounds is that they are engineered for a greater degree of controlled expansion and
penetration. Most are oriented for hunting and may be advertised as so on the outside of the
box. Be sure to research their intended use for either Self Defense or Hunting as they aren’t
always interchangeable. Some rounds by nature are made to penetrate deeply and then expand.
Hunting cartridges are not always interchangeable for self-defense loads, likewise self-defense
loads don’t make for good hunting purposes. Both rifle and pistol cartridges may be produced in
this configuration. Their price point will often reflect the research and quality control placed into
their performance as they are made to work in critical situations where one shot may be all that

Open Tip Match (OTM): Designed for optimal or increased accuracy at range in mind. They
appear with a very small opening in the tip of the bullet. Rifle cartridges with this feature may be
used for competition, training at longer ranges (think past 300 meters) and have been used by
the US military overseas for long range engagements. OTM rounds aren’t specifically to expand
on impact or penetrate deeply. They are simply made to hit targets with greater consistency and
accuracy at longer ranges.

Soft Points (SP): As the name implies, this bullet features a conical, exposed tip of lead that is
designed to penetrate and deform. Most of their use is intended for hunting small to medium
sized game. They sometimes lack the accuracy of OTM and performance of FTX and XTP bullets,
and aren’t really recommended for self-defense. These rounds are of an older design and may be
preferred for hunting in areas where hollow point ammunition is prohibited. They likewise may
be used for training or plinking in conjunction with steel targets since there is a reduced
likelihood of producing spalling/shrapnel upon impact.

What we learned so far:

Every bullet design has an intended purpose or role. It’s important to research and understand
what we are purchasing and why. Part of our goal here is provide the average person with a very basic of
knowledge so that we can further build upon these concepts in later discussion. We want to empower
and through learning and discussion in these posts and I hope that this will help you make a better-
informed purchase going forward.

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