We have another guest post from Mr. Trey Moore of Mooremilitaria. Moore’s has a huge selection of very exact reproduction Vietnam war clothing and rare camo along with original field gear and other items. He has about anything you would want if you like Vietnam war items, including PAVN and VC forces gear. Mooremilitaria is a friend of looseorunds.com and has shared his excellent article on the XM16 and M16 history. You can visit his great website and find some of the very best Vietnam gear around. SO good most of the Vietnam war gear you see in movies and TV is from Him.
In 1958, the United States military evaluated two prototypes being considered as a new standard issue infantry rifle. One of the requirements identified as centrally important for the new rifle was reduced weight. A lightweight rifle would allow soldiers to carry more equipment, supplies, and ammunition. Just as the new designs were being evaluated, the U.S. Army’s Continental Army Command compiled and eventually published two combat studies from both world wars to help shape the requirements for the new rifle. One of the more compelling statistics from this study revealed that 2/3 of soldiers in combat never fired their weapons and that the vast majority of firefights occurred at close range and commenced as “surprise” encounters, especially in a tropical environments. Assuming that the low-intensity conflict South East Asia would continue to escalate, the Continental Army Command recognized that a lightweight rifle firing a small caliber, high velocity cartridge would be the ideal weapon for the coming jungle war. Of the two prototypes submitted to the U.S. Army’s Infantry Board for evaluation, the ArmaLite AR15, which was based on an earlier design by Eugene M. Stoner stood out early on as the better gun.
Weapons Testing and Reception
In 1961, General Curtis Emerson LeMay is made the fifth Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force and, shortly thereafter, he placed an order for 80,000 AR15′s for U.S. Air Force security forces. However, the President John F. Kennedy’s administration refused the order on the grounds that it the logistical challenges associated with having two different rifle calibers – 7.62x51mm and 5.56x45mm – in use by the U.S. military at the same time would be too great. As the conflict in South East Asia continued to grow, the U.S. sent 10 AR15s to Vietnam for testing and evaluation in early 1962. Soldiers using the AR15 quickly praised the rifle’s effectiveness in combat. In response, the US sent more rifles for South Vietnamese Special Forces unites. Soldiers using the weapon, again, offered unreserved praise for the stopping power of the rifle’s 5.56x45mm cartridge.
Although the AR15 received great accolade for its performance in battle, what no one knew outside of the men using it was that the wounds the rifle produced were ghastly – so much so that the photographs showing these wounds remained classified until 1980. The source of the rifle’s destructive power was not so much the 55g 5.56mm bullet it fired, but the pitch of the rifle’s barrel’s rifling. The 1 in 14 twist rate of the rifling produced sufficient ballistic stability to get the bullet to a target, but on impact with that target, the bullet tended to tumble end over end. Although the 1 in 14 twist rifling produced devastating lethality, it did not produce satisfactory accuracy in cold temperatures. In July of 1963, Secretary McNamara approved the Air Force’s request to change the rifling twist to 1 in 12. The main theory being that the increased probability of a hit outweighed the higher chance of a kill resulting from that hit
Final Stages of Development: M16 vs XM16E1
As the shortcomings of the M14 rifle’s design became more thoroughly understood, more attention was shifted to the new AR15 rifle. The Kennedy Administration and other officials began to push for a “modern” rifle and the AR15 provided the clear answer. With the change to the 1 in 12 twist rate having been already made, the U.S. Air Force’s plans to adopt the AR15 began to move forward swiftly. The Army however, was still dragging its feet and looking for ways to challenge the adoption of the new rifle. The Army insisted on the installation of a bolt closure device so that the troops would have the ability to manually close the bolt on a rifle in the event of a malfunction. Manual bolt closure had been a part of the design of every U.S. service rifle since the M1903 Springfield, and the Army was not about to give up on it now. Both the Air Force and Eugene Stoner insisted that the rifle did not require a bolt closure device and pointed out that there had been no failures in testing that would have been remedied by the addition of the device. The Air Force stood fast on the fact that the bolt closure device was unneeded while the Marine Corps and Navy sided with the Army in recognition of the device being potentially useful.
By October of 1963, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara had no choice but to recognize that the service branches would not all agree on the change and that there would not be a single model of the rifle. Soon thereafter, Contract 508, which was valued at $13.5 million, was issued to Colt on November 4, 1963. The contract was for 104,000 rifles. 85,000 rifles with the bolt closure device (forward assist) would be for delivery to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. These were designated XM16E1 rifle (Experimental M16, change one – the addition of the forward assist). The remaining 19,000 rifles would be delivered to the Air Force and did not have the bolt closure device. They were designated as the M16. The only difference between the two models was the the bolt closure device, and the roll marked name designation on the receiver. Delivery of these rifles began in March of 1964.
The Army’s rifles were delivered to elite units including Special Forces, the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and the newly formed 1st Cavalry Division. Early use in Vietnam and the 82nd Airborne Division’s use of the weapon in the Dominican Republic indicated that the design was a great success. In July 1965, General Westmoreland asked that a logistical study be conducted to evaluate the possibility of expanding the adoption of the new rifle to such an extent that it would be issued to every U.S. serviceman in Vietnam. In the Fall he advocated ordering 100,000 new rifles. The low recoil, light weight, and impressive rate of fire of the 5.56mm XM16E1 was perfect for the jungles of Vietnam. However, the quick success and immediate need for more rifles would soon lead to problems.
Mistakes and Casualties
With an increase in demand for rifles came an increase in demand for ammunition, which would ultimately cause a series of notorious failures that would plague the M16′s reputation for decades to come. Ammunition manufacturers were struggling with the requirements specified by the technical data package for the M193 cartridge (the official designation for the M16′s 5.56mm ammunition). High gas port pressures, chamber pressures, and cyclic rates of fire, along with arguments over the bullet’s shape initially led all approved ammunition manufacturers to decline bidding on the contract. However, an agreement was eventually reached and DuPont produced CR8136 powder (commonly referred to as stick or tube) and Olin Mathieson produced WC846 powder (commonly referred to as ball powder). This initially satisfied the Army by keeping with the concept of having two approved yet different powders to compensate for shortages, manufacturing problems, etc. However, in reality, DuPont could not meet consistent pressure measurements for the ammunition which resulted in the first 18 months of ammunition production using the WC846 powder almost exclusively.
By September of 1965 evidence and testing clearly indicated that the WC846 powder caused a higher cyclic rate and was more prone to fouling. In fact, the 15th Memo Report on the XM16E1 system stated “the control propellant, WC846 though otherwise satisfactory, does produce quantities of fouling…sufficient to affect weapon function if the weapon is not cleaned after firing a maximum or 1,000 cartridges… that [Olin] be encouraged to modify their propellant.” However, the rifle continued to fair well in Vietnam, primarily as a result of the training that soldiers in elite units had received.
In the summer of 1966, the new rifle began replacing the M14 in all U.S. Army combat arms units – soon, “everyone” would have the XM16E1 rifle. Many units received them in-country with very little attention paid to training the soldier on the care and maintenance of the new rifle. A shortage of cleaning kits, a total lack of a chamber brush, shortcomings in training, and ammunition that created fouling problems soon led to failures in combat that ultimately resulted in a Congressional Investigation, the Ichord Committee, in 1967.
By late 1966/early 1967, chamber brushes, bore brushes, and a swab holder for the new 4 piece cleaning rod were on order. Maintenance cards were printed and circulated to help instruct soldiers on the care of their new rifle. While necessary, it would still take months to get these items into the field. In the late 60′s, the Army turned to artist Will Eisner of Mad Magazine to help illustrate maintenance comics. Anything that could be done to help a soldier care for his rifle would be done.
Revisions and a New Generation
The XM16E1 rifle had many small changes during its development, but there were 10 primary engineering changes that took place before the reclassification of the rifle as “Standard A” and its eventual designation as the M16A1 in February of 1967. The gas tube, buffer, bolt hardness, bolt carrier key finish, firing pin retainer, bolt catch, disconnector, and flashider were all modified, and a raised fence area was added around the magazine release to help prevent hitting the release unintentionally. A chrome plated chamber would eventually be added to the revision list in May of 1967.
While these changes enhanced the rifle’s performance and reliability in the field, they did not address the heart of the issue. The “failure to eject” stoppages were primarily being caused by the change in powder type from a stick propellant, to ball propellant. This switch achieved the desired muzzle velocity of 3,300fps, but it increased the cyclic rate of fire from 850 rounds per minute to 1,000 rounds. This caused poor case extraction as a result of prematurely opening the bolt, and it increased fouling in the rifle in both the gas system and chamber. The main culprit, the ball propellant, would not have its formula adjusted and re-designated as WC844 until January of 1970.
With design improvements, a chrome chamber, reformulated powder, and proper training for soldiers in the field on the use and maintenance of the rifle, reliability improved quickly – as did morale. A testament to the legacy of the M16 series if the M16A4 currently in use the U.S. Marine Corps and the M4 Carbine in use by the US Army. 50 years after is adoption by the U.S. Military, the M16 family is still soldiering on as the longest serving US rifle.
A few weeks ago I got my hands on one of the .45 ACPThompson Semi Auto carbines. The gun is obviously a semi auto copy of the iconic WW2 Submachine gun that every one has seen knows it on sight if not by name. I have been curious about these for years ,I have fired Class III full auto originals before and it is very fun SMG and very, very easy to use and control. So when offered a chance with one I was more than happy to get some time with it. My fun ended very fast once I started to work with it.
The gun is a heavy brute like the original and the 16 inch barrel does not do it any favors. That is to be expected though since it is what it is. One thing I noticed right off the bat was the butt stock was not made correctly. The angle of the butt plate was at such a degree the gun stock would slide off the shoulder. It was very hard to keep it on the shoulder during firing. It required a very awkward effort to keep it up while fighting the weight. The next problem was the tolerances of the gun around the magazine well and breech. When firing the gun, your off hand would get burn up with burning and un burnt powder and anything else it felt like spitting out of the gap. Very hard to concentrate while shooting and not pleasant at all. At times, even with gloves and long sleeves I was had some real painful small burns.
As far as the sights go, the rear aperture was not even close to zero. The POI was often a 10 to 12 inches low from 25 to 50 yards. Once I used the open notch at the top of the rear sight intended for very close range, I was able to shoot close to point of aim.
The shots at the bottom were aimed at the highest dot. I tried several distance and got no better until moving to the open notch.
This group is fired form 25 yards off a bench with an old bunch of Winchester silver tip .45 ACP. I was shocked to say the least. The gun is certainly capable of very decent accuracy. The group below was fired at 25 yards under the same conditions but using Federal Hydra Shock.
Both groups are 5 round strings. Of course I had to use the rear sights open close range notch on the top of the sight. Otherwise there was not way to get close to POI or even shoot a group of any quality.
The group above is from 100 yards using Winchester Ranger T 230 grain hollow points. Again I had to use the close quarters notch. Not too bad considering what we are using. Since it was starting to get dar I was not able to move the bench and fired prone using only the old elbows in the dirt method. It is not to bad regardless,and some conclusions can be drawn from this target and the 25 yard groups. I would expect the gun to be fairly accurate.
Lastly I fired a little over 10 rounds at the head of the Q target from 50 yards off hand, This was very hard to pull off thanks to the improperly made stock and its freakish angle that made holding it on the shoulder for a cheek weld an olympic level event.
Now, the biggest problem in addition to these other complaints is… The gun just will not work. I was able to sometimes get as many as 10 consecutive rounds to feed before I was clearing malfunctions. Often it was failure to feed, bolt not going fully into battery. Double feeds, failures to eject or any number of strange things. While helping me test the gun I and my friend found that sometimes we could use our thumb to close the bolt when the gun would not fire and often we would have to pull the trigger four times before the FCG would work. The bolt is small and smooth and hard to get a hold on. Both of us had our thumbs and hands mangled trying to clear it and keep it working. After about 500 rounds and a bucket of oil to try to keep it working we gave up.
Do not buy this “gun” it is pure garbage. This is tyical of my experiences with Auto Ordnance products personally from this POS to the companies “1911” clones. I have never seen anything good from them. It really is a shame for a once great name.
Today we have another guest post from Andrew Betts about using ball ammo inside your home.
This article is the opinion of Andrew but not necessarily the opinion or philosophy of the owners of looseorunds.com.
Everybody knows that ball ammo penetrates too deeply to be considered for defense, right? Full metal jacket doesn’t expand or fragment so it transfers little energy to the target and just zips on through, leaving wounds that may take some time to incapacitate and representing a not insignificant danger to people down range. This problem only gets worse in a rifle. At least that’s what any self-anointed gun counter “expert” will tell you.
Except that this concept is demonstrably false. To be fair, it is true that FMJ is a poor choice in handgun calibers for exactly the reasons outlined above. It is also true for many rifle loads. There are certain .223/5.56mm FMJ loads than can fragment and some do so very reliably. Copper jacketed 55 gr bullets with an open base and a cannelure (the notched portion around the circumference of the bullet at the point it meets the case mouth) are particularly good at fragmenting. They fragment so reliably that there is no reason not to consider them as a viable defense option.
When a .223/5.56mm bullet fragments, it transfers a LOT of energy into the target very quickly. This energy results in the formation of a very large temporary stretch cavity. At handgun velocities, this stretch cavity is small enough that it does not exceed the elastic limits of human tissue. Think of it like a rubber band. No damage is done to the rubber band, even if you stretch it far past its original length. At a certain point, though, the rubber band can stretch no further and will snap. Just before this happens, the rubber band is also much more vulnerable to tiny cuts than it would be when relaxed. A similar effect is seen when the fragments of a high velocity bullet pass through human tissue. The tissues stretch far enough to begin tearing and the multitude of fragments cause even more dramatic tearing, leaving a surprisingly large and devastating wound. At the same time, these fragments are each slowed individually by the tissues and the entire mass of the bullet is stopped much more quickly than it would have if it stayed together.
Take a look at this video and reconsider whether FMJ penetrates too deeply. Also, a pressurized can full of fruit can eject the contents forcibly enough to act like a rocket, but that’s another story.
While ball ammo can fragment it is highly dependent on velocity and construction of the bullet and jackets and other factors. Some will work wonderfully, while others fail to frag in any way. Ball ammo does have many uses but looserounds highly advises you to use proper expanding bullets for self defense unless you absolutely have no other choice or need something with serious penetration capabilities. In addition to its other short comings, if accuracy is essential for your use, ball ammo is not going to deliver. Editor
I bought a Colt 6945. Why? Because I wanted one. Good enough reason for me.
I ordered the rifle Feburary from Gun Gallery. In September the tax stamp finally came back from the ATF and I picked it up. The staff at Gun Gallery were friendly and helpful, so I would purchase from them again.
The Colt 6945 is a short barreled rifle (SBR) version of the Colt 6940. This rifles 10.3 inch barrel is the main difference from the standard 6940, and is why it is a title II firearm which required me to pay a $200 dollar tax stamp to get it.
The 6940 series of rifles have a monolithic upper with a removable bottom rail. The barrel uses a proprietary barrel extension and gas tube. Shawn and others have reported that their 6940s have superb accuracy due to these changes. Personally I don’t plan to try and use this as a precision rifle, so its no difference to me.
The best thing about a short barreled AR15 is the pure modularity of it. I can easily swap upper for various barrel lengths and calibers.
So I really like my 6945.
Since getting it I have run six different uppers on it. That is one of the great things about a SBR AR15 is the ability to easily change the uppers for difference barrel lengths and calibers. I also swapped out the stock trigger for a Geissele Super 3 Gun trigger.
I have several Geissele SSA triggers and I highly recommend them. I wanted to try the Super 3 Gun (S3G) trigger, so I picked one up a while back. First it was installed in a LMT lower, where it would often double & rarely fail to reset after a shot was fired. So it was quickly removed from that lower(I have had other issues with that lower before). When the got the Colt, I went and tried the S3G trigger in it. Now in the Colt, the S3G trigger worked fine when shooting offhand or from the bench. However due to the very short reset, when I was firing from a bipod I experienced unintentional doubles. This trigger might be great for someone who wants to bump fire, but the reset is a little too short for me. I wouldn’t recommend the S3G for any serious fighting rifles, but I do recommend the Geissele SSA and the Colt 6945 as they are awesome.
By C. J. Chivers
A book review by Loose Rounds Guest Writer Andrew Betts
That the Kalashnikov series of rifles and light machineguns has had a profound impact on geopolitics is indisputable. It has been manufactured and distributed in such large numbers that in many places in the world the word “Kalashnikov” (or local slang for the AK) is literally synonymous with “gun.” While the influence of the gun is well known, there is much about the origin of Kalashnikov’s rifle that is misunderstood. The Gun tells us the story of how the Kalashnikov family of weapons came into existence and it gives us fascinating insight into the ways in which it continues to shape the world in which we live.
Chivers begins with a detailed history of the development of automatic arms and their influence on the battlefield. He tells us about some of the attempts at automatic and repeating arms before the advent of the Gatling gun and then he examines in great detail the life of Richard J. Gatling as well as the development of the weapon itself. We get to see fascinating detail about how the arms business of the 19th century worked and we move on to accounts of the use of Gatling’s gun on the battlefield. We are treated to similar detail about the Maxim machine gun and its own creator as well as its influence on the battlefield. The author then takes us on to an account of Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov’s life and the development of his namesake and its influence.
The story of how the Kalashnikov rifle came into being is not as simple as it first appears. The rifle was a symbol of socialist power and ability. It was inevitable that its origins would be obscured by propaganda. The Soviet Union embellished bits here and there and created total fabrications in other places. The author sifts through the propaganda, public record, and personal accounts to get to the core of what really happened. He takes great pains to unravel the truth by weighing accounts from multiple sources and he painstakingly cites every bit of information. This book is not simply a collection of the author’s opinions, it is a professionally researched factual account.
Chivers provides incredible detail into the lives of Gatling, Maxim, and Kalashnikov and he is just as meticulous in his account of the development and influence of each of those weapons. There are some glaring holes, though. While it would not be practical for the author to cover every automatic weapon between World War I and the end of World War II, it seems reasonable that he spend a little more time on one of the most influential weapons of the time: the US Rifle M1. The Garand is barely even mentioned, nor is the Johnson. The Simonov carbine and the SVT are also only mentioned in passing. The Thompson and other sub machine guns are mentioned but little detail is given. With so much attention given to the Gatling and Maxim, it seems odd to give such short shrift to some of the other notable self loading designs contemporaneous to Kalashnikov’s work.
Later, the author details the absolutely horrid tale of the adoption and fielding of the M16. He pulls no punches. The decisions made at the time were criminally negligent and we see an account of this process at a level of detail seldom seen. The M16 was a failure because of terrible bureaucratic decisions, though, not because of any inherent design flaw. The issues that caused the early failures were eventually corrected and the rifle developed into a durable and dependable combat rifle. In real field environments, Eugene Stoner’s rifle is every bit as reliable as Kalashnikov’s. The author gives us an accurate account of the reasons for the M16’s early troubles but he leaves us at the end of the M16’s birth pains. If the reader had no context, he might believe that the M16 continued to be a terrible rifle.
This book is about the Kalashnikov rifle, though. We can forgive the author for not spending much time on other weapon systems. It is disappointing, then, that the technical discussion of the Kalashnikov ends with the AKM. The author could have given us far more detail about the technical specifications of the various types of ammunition fired in Kalashnikov pattern rifles and machineguns and he definitely could have provided more detail about models such as the AK-74 and RPK. The AK-74 especially deserves substantial attention because it is still the primary issued rifle for several nations. It is barely mentioned and we are not treated to any details of the decision process or the reasons for the development of the 5.45x39mm or the changes that went into the AK-74 rifle.
It is easy to be critical, though. It is far more difficult to do the intensive research and talented writing that goes into a book of this scope. It is a detailed and far reaching story of automatic arms in general and the Kalashnikov rifle in particular. It is entertaining and engaging. The author’s style is such that he is able to communicate a great deal of information without ever losing the reader’s interest. Most of all, though, it is extremely enlightening. It is very unlikely that anyone can read this book and not learn something. For anyone remotely interested in firearms, this is definitely worth your time.
Though it’s nothing special, I’ve always liked this picture. The openness of the terrain, lone figure scanning the horizon against the sea of grass, the hint of a rifle waiting to make the shot…
It makes me think of the old quote about how the US mainland could never be invaded by a conventional army because there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.
A segment of the AR market that has been gaining in popularity lately are retro/historical AR’s. A question I see posted on various retro forums quite a bit is for sources of the older CAR style telestock. Originals can often be found offered up for sale in the various marketplace/used equipment sections of popular gun forums but prices are steadily rising and they sell quickly when offered so you have to be Johnny on the spot to snag one. The other option is to purchase a new production piece from one of a handful of retailers. Going that route leads to the question of whether or not new production CAR stocks stack up to the originals.
Having recently been in the market for several CAR stocks I thought I’d show you what I found.
For comparison I have an original Colt N marked CAR stock I purchased used and a new production CAR stock purchased from M&A Parts. Both are sized for mil-spec diameter tubes.
At first glance they appear very similar. The Colt having a little glossier and smoother finish to the M&A’s more textured matte finish.
(Colt on the left / M&A on the right)
(Colt on top / M&A on bottom)
(Colt on top / M&A on bottom)
Notice in these pics the top sling loop has a slightly different profile.
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
The checkering appears similar though the Colt’s is worn and has definitely seen some use.
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
(M&A on left / Colt on right)
It’s somewhat hard to capture in the pic but the pin appears to be taller or stick up higher in the Colt stock. I did find with the M&A stock it is occasionally possible to depress the pin enough to cause the stock to be able to be slid completely off the buffer tube when adjusting its length.
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
Notice in this pic the “T” shaped piece the adjustment lever rests on appears thicker on the M&A stock.
(Colt on bottom / M&A on top)
(M&A on left / Colt on right)
(M&A on left / Colt on right)
Notice in this pic it appears, when rested on their butt plates, the M&A fractionally taller/longer than the Colt.
(M&A on left / Colt on right)
The butt appears thicker on the M&A stock, however some of this could be due to material having been worn off the Colt stock.
(M&A on left / Colt on right)
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
(Colt on left / M&A on right)
Functionally they are very similar. The Colt seems to have a slightly tighter lock up to the buffer tube but both are pretty solid and variances in buffer tubes will always cause a bit of wiggle. When weighed the Colt stock comes in at 4.39oz., and the M&A stock at 4.57oz. Although when new I would bet the Colt stock was closer in weight, and has lost an oz or so as material was worn away.
For the Colt purists, those looking to make something 100% historically correct, or those wanting to build something really nice I would stick with the Colt N stock. For those that just want a lightweight stock, or are satisfied with a close enough look to their retro guns the M&A stock is a solid choice.
The Snubby’s Dirty Little Secret
By Andrew Betts
Most of us who have been shooting for a while know that jacketed hollow point ammunition is vastly preferred for a defensive handgun. Pistols and revolvers do not produce enough velocity for the stretch cavity to contribute to wounding the way it does in many rifles so the size of the wound is dependent on the size of the projectile. The wider the bullet gets, the larger the hole is. JHP ammunition is designed to begin expanding shortly after impact to create a wider wound channel. With a larger frontal area, the bullet also slows quickly and therefore presents less risk to people that might be beyond your attacker. Many of us also choose a small revolver for concealed carry because, although they are difficult to master, a small revolver is simple and light weight making it very convenient to slip in a pocket. Let’s face it; we aren’t likely to need a gun. If we do need a gun, we probably won’t have to fire it. If we do have to fire it, the bad guy probably won’t be farther away than we can smell him and we probably won’t have to shoot more than once or twice. That makes a short barrel .38 Special a very reasonable choice. It’s also perfectly reasonable to just pick a quality JHP from one of the four or five big names and be done with it. Or is it?
We live in a golden age when it comes to defensive ammunition design. There are quite a few very well designed, high performance bullet designs out there. Gone are the days when there was great merit to the respective sides in the ancient 9mm vs. .45 ACP debate. Loaded with modern JHP ammunition, both 9mm and .45 perform very well, as does .40 S&W and .357 Sig. HST, Gold Dot, SXT, Ranger, PDX1, XTP, and Golden Saber all deliver very good accuracy and terminal performance and the difference between the top and bottom performers among that crowd is negligible. So why not just choose any one of them and hit the road? Everybody knows Speer Gold Dot is a top performer so if you’re carrying a 2” .38 spl grab a box of the 135 gr +P short barrel load and put it out of your mind, right? Not quite. As it turns out, .38 spl is right on the edge of the performance envelope. Some of those loads will work okay, but not through denim, or they’ll expand just fine when fired through denim in warm weather but cold weather lowers the velocity just enough to prevent expansion. The ammunition makers aren’t exactly lying to us; it’s just that the test protocol can’t always be robust enough to cover every situation. Take that highly regarded 135 gr Gold Dot load, for example. ATK (the parent company for Speer and Federal) gives test results for all their defensive ammunition on their website: http://le.atk.com/wound_ballistics/ The results listed for that 135 gr load indicate that it fails to meet the 12” minimum when fired into bare gel or through the FBI heavy clothing standard and it barely begins to expand when fired through the IWBA heavy clothing standard. In my own informal testing of the load, I accidentally discovered that cold weather can prevent it from gaining enough velocity to expand. I later confirmed that in a separate test.
Keep in mind that the testing done by the manufacturer was likely done in a laboratory environment where the test gun and ammunition were at room temperature. Also bear in mind that a gun carried on the person would be warm, as would the ammunition inside. This ammunition would function just fine at the 95° or so that it’s likely to be at if carried close to the body. If it’s carried in a purse or jacket pocket or left in a glove box though, the ammunition might not perform the way it’s supposed to. Several YouTube posters (tnoutdoors9, ScubaOz, PocketGunsandGear, 4theloveofsnub) have tested Winchester PDX1 and they have produced very mixed results. My own testing indicated that PDX1 will not expand when fired from a 2” revolver through four layers of denim.
Is .38 spl PDX1 garbage? I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. I also don’t believe that anyone’s test is necessarily flawed. I think that this load is only just barely able to expand when fired from short revolvers through heavy clothing. Sometimes. Very small variations in the test environment might be enough to make the difference between the bullet expanding and not. Of course, if it’s that unpredictable in a controlled environment with a homogenous media like gel, the real world performance is doubtful, at least through heavy clothing. PDX1 seems to do just fine through light clothing or in bare gel, though. Maybe it’s a good summertime load but I certainly wouldn’t rely on it in cold weather.
It’s not all bad news, though. To begin with, it’s not like everyone walks around looking like Jay Leno. It is getting colder out there and people do wear more clothes in the fall and winter but even if the bad guy’s heavy clothing does prevent expansion, it’s not as though your bullet magically turns into a Nerf dart. It will still poke a hole in that bad guy and still put a real damper on his disposition. There is also some ammunition out there that works well, even in cold weather, and even through heavy clothing. It’s not some high tech wizardry involving “trocars” or geometric battlespace displacement paradigm. It’s just a good old fashioned lead hollow point. The load that I’ve tested that does work well is the Buffalo Bore 158 gr LSWCHP +P. Otherwise known as the “FBI load”. I sealed the ammunition and revolver in a bag and left it submerged in ice water before shooting through four layers of denim into calibrated 10% gelatin and it did a spectacular job.
Of course, there are certainly other loads out there that can work in adverse conditions, but my advice is to do your best to verify before relying on ammunition to save the life of a loved one. If you don’t have the time or inclination to prepare your own gelatin for testing, you can always tape an old pair of jeans to the front of a row of milk jugs full of water. This method isn’t perfect but it might be illuminating. You can also research the various YouTube, blog, and gun rag tests that are available online. One thing to keep in mind with these tests is that the only way to know that the test media is valid is for it to be calibrated with a .177 BB immediately prior to each test. Look for the BB in the block and expect to see the numbers from the calibration shot. If those are missing, take the test results with a grain of salt. It’s also worth noting that gun rags exist to sell advertising and sometimes a little bias shines through. As with most things in life, a little common sense and effort goes a long way.