What is ‘ball ammunition’? And how does it compare to all the other types of ammunition out there, including FMJ or JHP ammunition, for instance?
For someone who is new to guns and ammunition in general, all of these terms may be confusing.
Hopefully it will soon become a lot less so.
This article discusses what ball ammunition is and what it isn’t, so by the end, you have a crystal clear idea of ball ammo.
What is the Basic Definition of ‘Ball Ammunition’?
In a nutshell, ‘ball ammunition’ is ammunition that features jacketed bullets. A jacketed bullet is simply a bullet where a metal material, typically covered, completely surrounds the soft lead interior of the bullet. The point of this is to make it easier for the bullet to penetrate a target after being shot out of a gun.
Most jacketed bullets that are made today are FMJ, or full metal jacketed ammunition. Does this mean that all ball ammunition is also FMJ ammo and that the two terms are completely interchangeable?
Not exactly, and we’ll get into why later.
For now, let’s discuss how you can recognize ball ammunition by looking at it. Ball ammunition will not possess a cavity of any kind in the bullet, like you will see with hollow point or jacketed hollow point ammunition.
In the case of pistol ball ammunition, the bullet will usually possess a rounded nose, while in the case of rifle ball ammo, the noise will be pointed (this is called a spitzer bullet).
In other words, ball ammunition is not shaped like a ball. So how did it get the name ‘ball ammo’ in the first place? That’s a good question.
How’d It Get The Name?
The term ‘ball ammunition’ can be traced back to the first half of the 1800s. At this time, most firearms were black powder firearms loaded at the muzzle that fired a lead projectile that was indeed shaped like a ball.
Thanks to the poor aerodynamics of these ball-shaped objects when fired out of the muzzle of a muzzleloading rifle or pistol, they were very inaccurate, at least by today’s standards.
1849 was a year of massive advancement in the firearms industry because that was the year a cylindrical projectile that had a pointed nose was invented. The whole point (pun intended) of this pointed projectile was to help increase in accuracy. The new projectile became known as the Minie Ball, because it was invented by Claude-Etienne Minie, an officer who was serving in the French Army.
Over the years, the Minie Ball was developed on and refined further to help improve its accuracy and reduce the cost of manufacture. By the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, both the Union and Confederate armies were issuing their troops muzzle-loading rifles and refined Minie Balls to load into those rifles.
This is when the term ‘ball ammo’ became codified in the United States army. And around twenty years later, the first full metal jacketed bullet, or FMJ, round was invented. An FMJ round was (and is) simply a Minie ball round only with the lead nose encased in a ‘jacket’ of copper, so no lead is exposed on the outside of the bullet.
FMJ rounds were revolutionary because they ensured that the lead core of the bullet could not deform, which was an issue with the Minie ball rounds where the lead was exposed. It also improved reliability in semi-automatic firearms that came later.
So, does this mean that all ball ammo is also FMJ ammo? This is another good question that we’ll answer next.
Is All Ball Ammo Also FMJ Ammo?
Again, full metal jacket or FMJ ammo is where the lead core of the bullet is wrapped in an outside jacket of another metal material. Usually this jacket is copper.
FMJ bullets were an improvement over lead ammunition because the jacket protected the lead from deforming. Furthermore, it enhanced reliability in most firearms and allowed the bullet to hit and penetrate deeper upon impact on the target.
However, this greatly increased the risk of overpenetration, or where the bullet passes through the target and possibly inflicts collateral damage on the surrounding environment (and in the worst of circumstances, on people within that environment).
Not all ammunition that you see labeled as ‘ball ammo’ or ‘ball ammunition’ on the box is truly using an FMJ projectile.
That’s because ammunition sold as ball ammo on the labeling has more than just the lead core and the outside jacket. Some ball ammunition made today have a ‘steel penetrator tip’ located on the end of the copper jacket, designed to help ensure the bullet can penetrate steel at long distances.
This ammunition falls under the category of ball ammo, but not as FMJ ammo. This is especially true with most modern military service cartridges issued today, including 5.45x45mm NATO.
In other words, all FMJ ammunition can be considered ball ammunition. But not all ball ammunition can be considered FMJ ammunition.
Ball Ammunition vs. Hollow Point Ammunition
Hollow-point, or HP, ammunition is ammunition that has a cavity located on the tip of the bullet. This cavity is designed to expand upon impact with the target.
This serves two purposes: 1. it increases the size of the wound when the bullet increases in diameter upon impact, and 2. It reduces the risk of overpenetration, like which can occur with full metal jacket ammunition.
Hollow point ammunition cannot penetrate through various barriers like most ball ammunition can, but it does greatly reduce the risk of collateral damage and it can increase the odds of rapidly incapacitating a combatant in a combat-zone or self-defense situation. Again, this is because hollow point ammunition creates a larger wound channel upon impact on the target.
What Are The Pros and Cons of Ball Ammunition?
Ball ammunition possesses three major advantages and two major disadvantages. These essentially have already been covered above but we’ll reiterate again here just so everything is clear.
Here are the advantages of ball ammunition:
- Affordability – most ball ammunition is among the most affordable types of ammunition that you can buy on the shelves.. Hollow point ammunition by contrast is usually much more expensive.
- Reliability – Almost all semi-automatic firearms are designed to function reliably with ball ammunition. But not all semi-automatic firearms are designed to function reliably with hollow point ammunition. This is especially true with older semi-automatic firearms.
- Accuracy and Penetration – Ball ammunition is designed to shoot accurately at long distances and, depending on the specific ammo being used, to penetrate through steel or concrete barriers.
And 2 disadvantages of ball ammo:
- Overpenetration – On the other hand, ball ammunition may overpenetrate through a human combatant, resulting in possible collateral damage.
- Less Effective in Self-Defense – Since ball ammunition creates a smaller wound channel than hollow point ammunition, the chances of stopping an aggressor or combatant immediately upon them being shot are lesser than when using self-defense hollow point ammunition (although shot placement is also critical).
Conclusion: What is Ball Ammo?
It’s not accurate to interchange the terms ‘FMJ ammunition’ and ‘ball ammunition’ like some people do. Not all ball ammunition is FMJ ammunition.
Ball ammunition makes for excellent training ammunition, for stockpiling (due to its affordability), and for shooting targets at long distances. But you should think twice about loading it in firearms that are carried for self-defense.