Handgun bullets designed for hunting must offer rapid expansion at relatively low velocities. To this end, they feature large hollowpoints, serrated jackets and pure lead cores.
Handgun bullets designed for hunting must offer rapid expansion at relatively low velocities. To this end, they feature large hollowpoints, serrated jackets and pure lead cores.


Handgun bullets for target use are often swaged from lead alloy and deliver good accuracy when properly lubricated. Their design ranges from a cylinder, called a “wadcutter,” because it punches clean holes in paper targets, to round nose and truncated cone styles. Use in indoor ranges of such ammunition has raised fears of lead poisoning, since a certain amount of lead is vaporized from the bullet’s surface upon firing.

To counter this hazard, the “total metal jacket” or TMJ bullet was developed. The full metal jacket leaves an exposed lead base, while the TMJ covers the entire surface of the bullet. This jacket is applied by electroplating the bullet core with copper. After the plating process is completed, the bullets are “bumped” up to bring them into proper size and roundness. They don’t expand as well as soft-lead alloy bullets and are thus a poor choice for hunting, but do keep lead levels down in indoor ranges.

For indoor use we are seeing more “green” bullets made of compressed copper and other non-lead metals which are designed to disintegrate on impact with a steel backstop. This virtually eliminates ricochets and (except for lead primer residue) eliminates lead contamination in indoor ranges.

Such bullets are available as reloading components. These must be handled with more care than a lead or jacketed bullet as they are prone to break apart in the loading process if they are seated roughly or there is inadequate “belling” of the case mouth.

Hunting bullets for handguns are modifications of rifle designs, with some major engineering differences. Early attempts to improve handgun-bullet lethality led to soft-point and hollow- point designs based on rifle bullets. Results were unsatisfactory when it was discovered that these generally failed to expand and behaved no differently than FMJ types. In the last few years new designs have emerged that will expand reliably at handgun velocities — 900-1600 fps.

The secret to bringing this about was to design bullets with nearly pure lead cores, large hollow points and thin, relatively soft jackets of pure copper, copper alloys or aluminum. Skives or cuts through the jacket and into the core improve expansion, increasing the lethality of these relatively low-velocity bullets. Since most handgun hunting is done at ranges of under 100 yards, this expansion is still reliable on most game animals of deer size or smaller, assuming that the handgun is a powerful one in the 357 Magnum to 50 Magnum class.

Handguns of less than this performance level simply cannot be loaded heavily enough to do any serious hunting and to try to “load them up” for this purpose is a foolish risk to both the gun and its shooter.  Shooting any jacketed handgun bullet at low velocities is not recommended, particularly in revolvers. The greater resistance of the jacketed bullet to swaging in the barrel requires higher pressures than with lead bullets. Underpowered loads, particularly in revolvers with a generous gap between the cylinder and barrel, may result in a stuck bullet waiting to be slammed by the next one fired.

This article is an excerpt from the ABCs of Reloading, 8th Edition. Click here to visit gundigeststore.com

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