Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Different Types of Bullets & Their Uses

By Sanjay Soni

What is the best type of bullet to buy?

Understandably, it gets confusing, especially if you are new to guns and shooting. There are so many different types of bullets available, and since some are not always legal to own, it is important to understand the different types of bullets available. 

Below is a partial list of popular bullet choices and a little bit about what the bullet does, uses, and guns it matches. 

If you are considering different types of bullets for your guns, shooting, or competing, consider the ultimate goals you have for needing a gun. Those goals will help point you in the right direction for choosing the best bullet for your situation. 

17 Different Types of Bullets and Their Uses
  1. Plated Bullets
    For use in indoor ranges

Plated bullets are a nice middle ground between lead and jacketed bullets.

While they can’t reach the same high velocities of a jacketed bullet, plated bullets are cheaper than FMJs and cleaner than lead bullets.

Plated bullets are ideal for shooting at indoor ranges.

2. Full Metal Jacket Bullets

For use in handguns and rifles

Full Metal Jacket bullets consist of a hard outer shell and a soft metal inner. These are bullets that are ideal when you need to create the most damage possible and when you need increased accuracy. 

Initially, Full Metal Jacket bullets were created as military slugs. That makes sense because you’d want a bullet that caused the most damage. You see these a lot at ranges because they are cost-efficient for training and practicing. 

The hard outer metal cover protects the soft inner lead from melting too quickly. That little fact is part of what improves the bullet’s trajectory. 

Full Metal Jacket bullets are ideal for handguns and rifles. If you plan on training more, FMJ is generally less expensive than hollow point bullets. 

  1. Lead Bullets

For inexpensive  target shooting or practicing

Lead bullets are available for most shooting applications. There are some bans depending on the country on the use of lead bullets for hunting due to the toxic nature of lead. 

Lead bullets are common at gun ranges, for target shooting or practicing. Lead bullets are often cheaper, giving you more cartridges for your buck. 

  1. Round Nose Bullets

For target practice, pest control, and self-defense

A round nose bullet has a tip that is 1/2 the diameter of the bullet. The tip is rounded, not hollow, and differs from those bullets with pointed tips, such as some options for rifle shells. 

Round nose bullets inflict more damage and deeper penetration than other types of bullets, such as flat-nose bullets. Round-nosed bullets are good for target practice, pest control, and self-defense. They are a good middle-of-the-road round, but you can do better in certain situations. 

  1. Hollow-Point Bullets

For tactical situations and target practice

Hollow-point bullets are useful when control of damage and penetration of the bullet is important. They are used in tactical situations where the bullet’s trajectory cannot leave the target – hostage situations, in-home defense, self-defense, etc. Hollow points are a handgun slug primarily because rifles fire at a higher velocity, so a hollow point would be overkill.

Outside tactical situations, hollow-point bullets are welcomed as ammo for target practice as they have tremendous accuracy. 

  1.  Soft Point Bullets

For hunting

The soft point bullets are replacement bullets for hunting in situations where you need an expanding bullet – when hunting bear, deer, elk, moose, and other big game targets. Many hunters use soft point bullets in situations where a hollow point bullet is not permitted. 

Soft point bullets are also common in metal-plate target shooting since there is less ricochet. They are available in metal jacket variations too – JSP or Jacket Soft Point. 

As a self-defense bullet, soft points are acceptable though many people prefer hollow points. They’re available for both handguns and rifles. 

soft point bullets
  1.  Boat Tail Bullets

For sniping rifles, long distance shooting, and target practice

FMJ Boat Tail bullets are useful anytime precision is a must. The tapered tip adds stability to the trajectory once the bullet leaves the barrel. With an increase in its coefficient, the tip of the bullet stays elevated longer making it ideal for target practice, sniping, and long-distance shooting. 

Boat tail bullets are ideal for rifles and in situations where long-range shots are common. Use them in your sniping rifles, for competitions, and when you cannot get close to the game. 

  1. . Rifle Bullets

For military use, hunting and sniping to distance, target practice, and competition

Rifle bullets are longer than those for handguns. They have more powder, and their larger diameter means they fly at a greater velocity. Rifle bullets come in an array of formats including:

  • Semi-Jacketed
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Jacketed Hollow Points
  • Lead or Lead Round Nose
  • Special – Bullets designed for limited application or guns. 

Rifle bullets also have an array of applications from hunting and sniping to distance target practice and competition. Specialized rifle bullets could be armor piercing (AP), Tracer, armor piercing incendiary (API), armor piercing incendiary tracer (API-T), reduced range bullets etc.

9. Armor Piercing Bullets

 Mostly military use

As the name implies, an armor-piercing bullet is used against targets wearing ballistic armor. They are also useful against ballistic shields which would cause an average bullet to deflect or stop before hitting the target. 

Armor-piercing bullets are available for handguns and rifles, although they are not legal for civilian usage. 

10. Tracer Bullets 

Mostly military use

Tracer bullets are intended for loading cartridges used to defeat unprotected or lightly protected targets with the additional possibility of visual observation of the trajectory of the bullet. The most widely used tracer bullets represent full metal jacket bullets with a lead core containing a pyrotechnic element (tracer) in the rear portion of the bullet.

The possibility of visual observation of the trajectory of the tracer bullet is provided by a bright flame formed during the combustion of pyrotechnic composition, which ignites at the shot under the effect of powder gases through the hole in the base of the bullet. Observation of the trajectory of the bullet allows correcting the direction of firing and significantly improving the efficiency of firing at long range, especially when firing at moving targets.

11. Armor Piercing Incendiary Bullets

Use against unarmored or lightly armored enemy targets

Armor piercing incendiary bullets (API) are intended for loading cartridges used to defeat unarmored or lightly armored enemy targets with an additional incendiary effect. The most widely used API bullets represent full metal jacket bullets with a high hardness core, containing an incendiary composition in the forward portion of the bullet.

API bullets are characterized by reduced internal volume for the placement of the incendiary composition, reduced length and weight of the core, and reduced armor-piercing and incendiary effect. In this connection, the use of API bullets for loading of cartridges of small caliber should be considered inexpedient.

Swedish 8mm Bofors API bullet - General Ammunition Discussion -  International Ammunition Association Web Forum

12. Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer Bullets (API-T)

Use against unarmored or lightly armored enemy targets

Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer Bullets (API-T) are intended for loading cartridges used to defeat unarmored or lightly armored enemy targets with the additional possibility of visual observation of the trajectory of the bullet. The most widely used API-T bullets represent full metal jacketed bullets with a high hardness core, containing a pyrotechnic element (tracer) in the rear portion of the bullet.

A bullet with blueprints

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13. Frangible Bullets

Training shooting, firing in populated areas

“Frangible bullets” are intended for loading cartridges used for training shooting, as well as firing in populated areas and other kinds of firing, at which the ricochet of bullets is not allowed.

The most widely used frangible bullets represent semi-jacketed bullets with a frangible core partially protruding from the jacket through the hole in the jacket from the side of the forward portion of the bullet. 

Frangible and jacketed frangible bullets possess the ability to penetrate inside upon impact with a soft target and crumble into powder upon impact with a hard target. In addition, frangible bullets leave a mark on hard surfaces, which allows determining the point of impact.

Everything You Need to Know About Frangible Ammo

14. Reduced Range Bullets (RR)

Practice shooting and training

Reduced range or practice bullets are intended for loading cartridges used for practice training shooting. The most widely used RR bullets represent jacketed bullets with a lead core, containing a compacted inert substance in the forward portion of the bullet.

The impact of the practice bullet with a hard surface is accompanied by the emission of an inert substance and the formation of a powder cloudlet. In addition, the inert substance leaves a mark on the hard surfaces, which allows determining the point of impact. As an inert substance, sodium carbonate (soda) is usually used.

The RR bullets provide the same ballistic characteristics of full range bullets. Therefore, they are used extensively for training purposes especially for ammunition such as .50 BMG which has an extremely long effective range.


I trust this article has provided you with a better understanding of the wide range of bullets which are available for small caliber ammunition. Whether you use guns in your professional capacity or in a personal capacity, knowing the types of bullets available and their functionality is very important for choosing the right kind of ammunition for your usage.

In my next article we will delve deeper into the world of special purpose cartridges.

Sanjay Soni is the Managing Director of Hughes Precision Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., India’s first small-caliber manufacturer in the private sector. An MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, he has been involved with the ammunition industry in India and abroad for the last 8 years.

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