The Dirty Little Secret Ammo Makers Don’t Want You To Find Out
By Andrew Betts
Every year we see several new “advances” in ammunition. These new products are invariably hailed by their makers as revolutionary. Sometimes the whole company is new. They promise something with ammunition that has never been done but they rarely deliver. You see, ammunition is a mature field. There are occasionally incremental advances in metallurgy or propellants, like the use of bonded bullets and low flash powders that began more than a quarter century ago, but more often, these “advances” provide no actual performance advantage.
Often, the claimed advance amounts to absolute snake oil such as the ARX Inceptor. The bullet is powdered copper in a polymer matrix. It supposedly takes advantage of some hydraulic alchemy to create wounds similar to those created by a rifle. That is not hyperbole, the manufacturer actually claims that pistol ammunition is capable of producing rifle-like wounds. In reality, it functions like a FMJ, at least when it doesn’t fragment.
The velocities certainly were impressive and the penetration was ideal, but the result in both cases was unimpressive. The manufacturer advises that the ammunition is not intended to fragment in soft targets and, as with most other pistol rounds that fragment, the pieces stayed within an inch or so of the main track, contributing little to wounding. In both the .45 and 9mm tests, the disturbance in the gelatin looks fairly impressive, but only if you do not know how to interpret gel test results. The appearance of the gelatin does not simulate a wound. Gelatin produces penetration and expansion and/or fragmentation results that correlate strongly with human soft tissue. It is far less elastic than real tissue, though. When bullets strike a semifluid object like tissue or gelatin, the bullet pushes material aside as it passes through. That material moves for a short distance in a direction perpendicular to the axis of the bullet’s movement creating and empty space called the temporary cavity or temporary stretch cavity. As the name implies, this cavity exists for only a moment before the tissue snaps back into place. If the velocity at impact is over 2,000 fps, the tissue is given enough lateral speed that it can exceed the elastic limits of the tissue, causing the tissue to tear. If the bullet also fragments, the fragments can substantially increase the tearing, which is one of the reasons that cartridges like 5.56mm can be so effective. These impacts were nowhere near that 2,000 fps threshold, and that means that the apparent damage in the gel is simply a result of the gel tearing more than tissue would. The resultant wounds would look little different than FMJ.
In other cases, the bullet does exactly as the manufacturer claims, but that performance is worthless for defense. By way of example, this DRT load fragments “explosively” exactly as the manufacturer claims, but it penetrates far too shallowly to be considered for defensive use.
To be sure, it looks very impressive. Any time this sort of thing is discussed, the slow guy in the room usually says something to the effect of “Well, if you think it’s so terrible, then why don’t you go stand over there while I shoot you with it and you tell me when to stop.” This is terrible reasoning, of course. I don’t want you to shoot BBs at me or fling poo, but that doesn’t mean those are viable home defense solutions, either. There are an awful lot of ammunition products that either expand far too much or fragment and fail to penetrate adequately. Ideally, ammunition should expand just enough that it is still able to consistently meet the FBI minimum recommended penetration depth of 12”. This isn’t because some portly fellows are more than 12” thick, although that is certainly true. It is because bullets fired in a gunfight often strike the target’s limbs or other objects first and often strike the target at an oblique angle. After examining literally thousands of gunshot survivors and cadavers, the FBI determined that 12” was the minimum penetration depth required to reliably reach vital organs in these circumstances.
In the two cases above, the ammunition was made by small companies who have built their business on the sale of gimmick ammo. Even the large companies can sell worthless ammo, though. Remington makes quality defense ammo. Their Golden Saber line is dependable and produces excellent performance. So why then, would they sell something like this?
It seems to be little more than a Golden Saber with a steel band around the midsection. This cannot possibly be a less expensive way to manufacture bullets. It is apparently intended to prevent jacket separation, but they must have changed the lead alloy too, because the bullet completely failed the four layers of denim standard test. This is a test that Golden Saber normally passes easily. That means Remington produced a product that is markedly worse than the Golden Saber. Remington is too large a company with too many talented people working for them to be given much benefit of the doubt. And this brings us to that dirty little secret mentioned in the title.
The dirty little secret is that ammunition manufacturers know that they are producing ammunition that is substandard. It would be forgivable if they simply were unaware that their product does not meet established standards, but they know what the standards are and they have tested their ammunition and they know that it does not meet the standards. Ammo makers know that many customers do not know what the standards are and they know that most customers will believe that the product performs as claimed. DRT does not make fragmenting, inadequately penetrating ammunition because they think that is a good idea. They do it because they think you don’t know any better.
If the product were kitchen appliances or any other product that is unlikely to have life and death consequences, the Ron Popeil approach would not matter, but people may unwittingly depend on this gimmick ammunition to save their life and it could easily fail them when they need it most. Consider that there are already loads available that perform extremely well, such as the Gold Dot and HST. For any new design to be seriously considered, it does not have to just perform adequately, it must perform substantially better than these choices. It is extremely unethical to sell inferior products knowing that doing so could result in actual harm, yet the ammunition market is choked with examples of bad defense ammo marketed as the next quantum leap in technology. It is your responsibility to discern the difference.