Ball Ammo

I thought I’d drop this topic for people to roll around.

Of course various expanding ammo is the best bet for most practical firearms applications. Be they hollow point ammo, or soft point, or some of the more novel ammo loadings.

But what about Ball Ammo? Yeah those solid lead and copper, or just lead ammo you use for target practice.

Of course it was .45 ACP Ball vs. 9mm Luger ball in the European Theater of World War II that spawned the internet-famous “Caliber War”, where one person talks about the amazing capacity of their 9×19 caliber handgun, and another person pats their .45 and talks some noise about “Stopping Power” or some such.

And noise it is if you’re both packing a quality JHP load (preferably factory loaded, not for legal reasons, but because Speer, Federal, Remington, Horniday, Cor-bon, or whoever has tested that bullet and powder combination on many medium to make sure the round generates perfect performance. The same bullet a little faster, or a little slower might not work quite as well!) 9×19 and .45 ACP are about the same…and the 9×19 recoils less, and holds more. Do the math.

But what about ball ammo? I think there’s more than enough data that shows that 9×19 isn’t great when it doesn’t expand…but a .45 will still make a big hole.

I’ll also point out that it was the 158 grain jacketed flat-point load that earned the .357 Magnum its lofty reputation as a defeater of barriers and the killer of men. I might even go so far as to point out that the 200 grain Semi-Wadcutter load for .45 ACP might even out-perform the venerable 230 Grain round-nose load that was issued with the military 1911s because of that flat point and sharp edges to interact with tissue.

What about rifles? I bought a crate of surplus 7.62x51mm NATO ball ammo to feed my FAL. It was relatively inexpensive for practice and training, but it is also the ammo issued to the military for war, and the loading is similar to the ammo issued across the globe until recent times. Further 7.62×51 NATO is very similar to the rounds loaded into the clips of GIs carrying Garands in various wars. There is talk about the lack of power of certain military-issue loadings of 5.56×45, but you don’t hear such chatter with other loads, as well as the larger 7.62 rounds.

Sure my FAL feeding soft-points would likely be better in every way, I don’t feel terribly under-gunned with Ball in the mag.

What do you all think?

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23 Responses to Ball Ammo

  1. McThag says:

    It’s complicated.

    Basically a rifle bullet is no longer even remotely stable in tissue and it has enough energy to be upset and tumble. Not to mention that the higher your velocity, the less elastic tissue is because it has less time to respond.

    Gross^100 oversimplification.

    5.56 ball’s wound mechanism is in the round fragmenting. That only happens above a certain velocity threshold, 2,700 fps. Below that it’s really just making a 0.224″ hole. Above that threshold it’s actually doing more to a human than 7.62x51mm. With ball ammo. The big, huge, problem with 5.56 ball ammo is the new M855 and 1:7 twists. The old M16A2 held that velocity out to 140-150m, the M4 only holds it to 45-50m!

    It’s not that a 5.56 can’t hurt, it’s that it’s not near so good at any distance.

    Of course, I have no Hague convention limiting my bullet selection, so I will be using rounds that are not frag-dependent for damage. Oh and 6.8.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Ballistics are ALWAYS complicated, and there is NEVER one right answer. Hence why I thought this would be a great discussion topic, and I’m not at all regretting it.

  2. Mark says:

    I shoot ball ammo all the time like you said for practice. When I carry my 1911A1 though the main ammo is golden sabers, however I do carry 2 mags of ball. My reasoning is based on a Law Enforcement shooting back in the early 90′s late 80′s where an officer was involved in an off duty shooting against a perp in a pickup truck. It was his ball ammo which punched a few holes in the truck and stayed together enough they could be identified as coming from his weapon, which convicted the perp. JHP ammo probably would have been too fragmented to identify as coming from the officers weapon, nor would it have penetrated the tailgate and front of the bed to embed in the back of the cab where the ball rounds were recovered.

    I wouldn’t feel under gunned if carrying ball rounds, I’d just worry a little bit more about over penetration.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Interesting on the ball ammo and barrier penetration. I prefer bonded ammo for the exact idea that I want my rounds to hold together and maintain mass. I carry HST just because I like their load data, and loved their price when they used to be sold in regular gunshops (now Federal only ships the HST rounds to Police Departments, and I get my stock from overrun surplus)

      I know Speer designed their Gold Dots specifically for penetration of auto windshields, as well as standard JHP performance.

      But certainly expansion creates what is effectively a drag chute on a race car, while Ball will better maintain its velocity while penetrating. That’s sometimes a bad thing, but not always.

  3. Wolfman says:

    I think that they are lousy for hunting. But it’s certainly hard to argue effectiveness when faced with several wars worth of casualties, isn’t it? I don’t believe you are undergunned with ball ammo in a rifle (maybe in the 9mm) for anything less than big game hunting.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Of course the shooting mechanics for hunting are different than defensive or wartime shooting, as hunters tend to want a single well-placed shot for a quick and humane kill, while attempting to preserve as much meat, and a further goal is preserve features like the head and antlers for a trophy.

      Meanwhile most shooting schools emphisize on hits on target, and if you can place multiple shots on a hostile target, the better for you, and if you happen to spoil the tenderloin with one of your shots, it isn’t a big deal because my Grandfather wasn’t exactly snacking on Japanese Tenderloin back when he served in the Pacific theater.

  4. JRebel says:

    Well Weerd, not sure if you were in GBC that day Farmdad and I were talking about it but I’ll repeat what I said then. As far as JHP ammo goes 9mm is great if it expands, but a .45 isn’t getting any smaller no matter what.

  5. Bob S. says:

    I think there is a role for each type of ammunition.

    If it has gotten to the point of needing more than one magazine, I think quantity has a quality of its own. The more I can throw down range the better.

    Yes, carry Hollow Points of some variety for every day self defense situation but when SHTF have a large quantity of ball ammunition on hand. Look at the L.A. Riots for example; the people shooting then didn’t care about terminal ballistics. They cared about having enough ammunition to protect themselves and their property.

  6. Greg Camp says:

    It took my 1911 a while to accept hollow point rounds. Curiously, it changed its mind right after I showed it my new Springfield XD.

    My rule is that .38 Special and above are hollow points, but .380 and down are ball. The bullet has to get deep enough to do something, but not go too far to do too much on the other side.

    My rifles are loaded with whatever comes cheap, since I have yet to go hunting. I keep hollow point rounds for some of them, though, in case they’re needed for business.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Good point on the small rounds. I think I’d still prefer 9×18, and 9×17 in a hollow point, as while those rounds are fairly light they still have a good bit of penetration, and a small cross-section that can benefit from expansion.

      I will say that .32 .25 and .22 all need to penetrate vastly more than they need to expand, and the potential of a shallow and ineffective wound seems like a major issue.

      When I bought my colt 1908 .25 I racked the slide when he handed it to me and a Glaser Blue-tip .25 popped out. He apologized as he had forgotten to clear it first. I’ve always wondered what that little frangible would do out of a .25. Probably way less than you’d ever need.

      • Greg Camp says:

        Jeff Cooper tells a story about a man who was shot with a .25, presumably a ball round, and didn’t realize it till he got home. The bullet hit him square in the chest, but penetrated only under one layer of skin, and burrowed its way just beneath the surface to his arm.

  7. Wally says:

    Depending on the handgun, ball ammo can be far more reliable. And I’d rather have a round feed and fire always and then take the chances on the terminal balistics…

    For about 5 years, my carry ammo was ball. It was 100% reliable in my firearms. But this was some time ago, before the major industry growth spurt in the early 90s and moreso under the ban… Seems like that paradigm shift really got all of the mfgs to retool, and pay attention to geometry.

    I probably wouldn’t expect to run hydrashocks in a prewar 1911… But a Glock or M&P should run anything you can stuff in the mag.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Good point. Just about any gun worth its spit will feed anything that fits in the chamber these days, and the only new-issue guns I own that aren’t damn near 100% with all appropriate ammo are .22 LR guns.

      That being said, yeah JHP ammo is a relatively new thing and guns as recently as the 70s and 80s may not feed Hollow Point, or flat-point ammo just because it wasn’t even considered in the design process.

  8. Kermit says:

    Quibble @ WEERD:
    “Of course it was .45 ACP Ball vs. 9mm Luger ball in the European Theater of World War II that spawned the internet-famous ‘Caliber War’..”

    It goes back even further than that, to the Philipine islands. The Colt 1873 ended up getting re-issued to many soldiers, as the .38 Colt/S&W rounds weren’t “getting the job done” on the Moro natives. Granted, the .45 Colt wouldn’t have done -much- better, as the Moros, IIRC, were chewing some plant that made them high as kites and unfeeling to pain, but I’d say the “9mm/38 vs .45″ argument started there.

    As for rifle ammo, my “go-to gun” at the moment is an M4gery stoked with Speer Gold Dot .223 softpoint ammo. I’ve no idea what it’d do to a person, but I have shot rabbits with it, and it makes them bunnies blow up nice. I’ve got a couple .308s, just don’t have access to ammo in quite the same supply with them.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yeah the Moros were the driving force for what became the American love-affair with big-bore pistols. Still I see WWII as the big driving force of the modern-day “Caliber War”, mostly likely because there weren’t many Span-Am War Vets writing for gun magazines or hanging out in gun shops in the 80s and 90s when the “Wonder Nine” guns came into popularity that they still have today, or S&W making the .40 S&W round (which of course was birthed from the Miami FBI Shootout…and the negative fallout from the 10mm Auto cartridge that was developed from the direct fallout).

  9. Bubblehead Les says:

    Well, let’s look at the history for a second. Somebody in the late 19th Century realized that with the higher velocities that “Smokeless Powder” was generating, something need to be done to the Ammunition to keep Lead Fouling to a Minimum. No use having a bunch of Mausers shooting at each other that you couldn’t use after 10 shots, eh?

    Remember, reliable Hollow Points only arrived when Lee Juras created “Super Vel” for the Police back in the ’60s. And it only really took off when Big Army shifted to the 9mm Beretta in the ’80s. Prior to that, we were all using Ball or Hard Cast Lead. But there was a “perceived need” by the LEOS who were afraid that their new fancy 9mms were over penetrating when they were shooting the Bad Guys, and a few Law Suits came about because of that issue. And of course, if one is a Big Ammo Company, one doesn’t make a lot of Money just making up special runs for the Cops, so the Sales and Marketing Gang started pushing it.

    Then the Anti-Freedom Gang had a Hissy because of the “Cop Killer” Hollow Points, and a few of our Brothers and Sisters are shackled still by that nonsense. Just ask Cemetery down in the Jersey VolksRepublik.

    But having said all that, I like Ball for one reason only in my Pistols. Reliability. I’ve never had a Pistol that didn’t want to shoot Ball in any caliber. And for the Long Guns, well, if they ever shut down the 7.62 x 54R Russian Ammo Supply, all those Cheap Moisens better have come with a Bayonet. Ever price some of the Commercial Ammo for calibers like 6.5 Swede, 8mm Mauser, .30 Carbine, etc? Heck, it’s the Drying up of 30-06 Ball that is forcing the CMP to make 7.62 Nato Garands!

    Buy what you want, but if you’re on the Poor Side of the “Fundamental Transformation of America (Right, “Julia?”), one can get a lot more Ammo for the same amount of Dollars by purchasing Ball. That means more Practice, and that means a better chance of making those Zombie Head Shots, just in case.

    YMMV, of course.

  10. Pyrotek85 says:

    I agree with most everyone here. I’ve always figured hollow points for pistols, since they need the edge, but rifles are in different class altogether and are quite damaging even as ball ammo. Like others have said, it’s what they used in wars.

  11. Daniel in Brookline says:

    I have nothing but respect for Col. Cooper… but some of his comments in re small calibers get on my nerves. Yes, certainly, I’d much rather defend myself with a .45 or a 9mm than with anything smaller. But when the chips are down, I’ll use what’s at hand, and if that happens to be my girl’s Sig Mosquito, I’ll do my damnedest to make it count.

    And let’s not forget that President Reagan’s would-be assassin used a .22 handgun — and was very nearly successful.

    It’s not the tool, it’s the person using it that matters most.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yeah I wonder how much of that was boorish bravado, and how much was a hyperbolic wake-up call about people feeling confident in the abilities of a handgun.

      Plus again, much of Cooper’s legacy was prior to JHP ammo, which is also might explain his preference for calibers starting in “.4″. In the end he was a guy who would reach for a rifle (from what I gather, most often a bolt-action) when shit got ugly.

      But yeah, I have carried my little Beretta 21A as a backup gun. No 8 shots of .22 is not a great prognosis, but its a LOT better than hopes and dreams, and there are lots of people who were killed, or stopped by a .22…sometimes just the sight of it, given that nobody wants extra holes…

  12. Living in Jersey, I have to deal with insane restrictions on hollowpoints (The Garden State: where tribal signalling is more important than safety!). They aren’t banned, but it’s complicated–enough so that I prefer not to deal with the issue at all, and go with ball ammo.

    This turns out to be an excellent excuse to use a 1911 as my house pistol.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Jersey’s restriction on Hollow Points is straight-up bullshit. Yeah those bullets that are finest kind in 49 other states, and in all the mags of all the Peace Officers serving in the Garden state….but they’re too damn dangerous in the hands of the plebeians. Yeah ALL THE OTHER STATES have it wrong, and it must be a conspiracy keeping the news of the carnage EVERYWHERE ELSE a secret!

  13. I think it’s an old law from back when modern hollowpoints were a relatively new phenomenon. And good luck getting gun laws repealed in NJ.

    It comes from the same attitude that thinks you should “shoot to wound,” and asks “why couldn’t they just shoot him in the leg?” after a fatal police shooting. I recall reading up on the law of an eastern European country where it was possible to get a carry permit, but illegal to carry a gun loaded with “hollow point ammunition, or any other ammunition designed to increase wounding potential.” They’re bullets. They aren’t designed to apply a soothing balm to the target.

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