Last Updated Oct 16, 2017
Here’s my take on it and personal reasoning behind selecting a 9mm bullets:
When I used to work at a gun store I was frequently asked what caliber was best for any given situation. It would have been nice if there had been some sort of magic death ray that I could have suggested, but there isn’t, and most people have a pretty flawed understanding of what actually happens when a bullet interacts with a human target.
For starters let’s examine a couple of concepts that don’t actually exist in the scientific world but everyone talks about anyway. I’m going to regurgitate the work from those better than myself, and the information is worth paying attention to.
This doesn’t actually exist. If a bullet had enough force to knock down an individual, it would also knock down the individual firing the gun. People do not go flying through the air when hit by a bullet, contrary to what the movies and television would have us believe. Newton’s Third Law and all.
On the back of a box of ammo, manufacturers list the foot-pounds of energy (ft-lbf, or foot-pounds of force/energy) that their rounds have. Well, that doesn’t actually matter. The terminal performance of a projectile is determined solely by how much tissue it cuts, crushes or tears. While it has been advocated by many-a-misinformed-gun-counter commando that some sort of energy transfer occurs between a projectile and its target, this has been rejected by everyone I respect who studies terminal ballistics for a living.
9MM IS FOR GIRLS AND SISSIES
How often have you heard, “If you’re not carrying a caliber that begins with the number four and ends with the number five, you’re doing it wrong”? This almost makes sense if we were limited to nonexpanding ammunition, but most of us aren’t. When we compare modern hollow-point rounds in popular service calibers, there is, on average, one-tenth of an inch of difference in expanded diameter between a 9mm and a .45ACP. Grab a ruler and look at a tenth of an inch. It doesn’t seem like much, does it? That’s because it’s not.
In autopsies of gunshot-wound victims, the wound track created by a 9mm is indistinguishable from that created by a .45ACP.
The only advantage that a larger caliber is going to offer you, in my mind, is slightly better performance through intermediate barriers. Probably one of the more commonly encountered intermediate barriers is the front or rear windshield of a car. That’s not to say that the smaller caliber doesn’t perform well through those same barriers; it’s just that the larger ones perform only slightly better. Tempered auto glass has a nasty tendency to deflect bullets from their original course, as well as separate metal jackets from their lead-core bullets. It’s for this reason that .40S&W gained so much popularity in law-enforcement circles during the early 1990s.
The nice thing is, with modern designs, most service ammunition is going to perform pretty well through barriers, and it is for this reason that a lot of larger law enforcement departments are switching back to or have been using 9mm all along. Some notable examples are the NYPD and my very own Cincinnati Police Department, which is using the 9mm 147-grain Ranger T series fired from their Smith and Wesson M&P9s. The PDX1 Bonded ammo line is the civilian version of this round with the only difference being price.
So, since I’m happy with the 9mm’s performance through barriers, and all handgun calibers suck anyway (editor’s disclaimer: the views of the author are not necessarily the views of the world at large but his determination, confidence and delivery is inspiring), here is why I like 9mm:
“Damn, I wish I hadn’t had so much ammo” is not something I’ve ever known anyone in a gunfight to say after the fact. The phrase “If you can’t get it done in six, then it ain’t gettin’ done” is asinine, and something that I hear so often it makes me want to rip out what remaining hair I have. None of us are mind readers, and if we could predict beforehand how many rounds we would need to stop a threat, then why the hell wouldn’t we just avoid the threat entirely in the first place? More rounds are a good thing; if you think differently, I’m going to have to politely disagree with you, and think nasty thoughts quietly to myself.
Can I shoot a .40 or .45 as quickly as I can a 9mm? Sure I can. Can I shoot a .40 or .45 as quickly and accurately as I can a 9mm? I wish I could. There are some people who can, but I’m not one of them. Whether I’m shooting strong or weak hand, my accuracy only gets worse. In every force-on-force exercise that I have ever participated in, someone always seems to get shot in the hand. So with that in mind, being able to put rounds on a target quickly with one hand seems important to me.
IT’S CHEAP! (Relatively)
Nine millimeter ammunition is cheaper than any of the other service calibers. Cheaper equals more ammo. More ammo equals more practice, and obviously more practice equals awesome. Since I’m a fan of awesome, it all works out pretty well for me.
Recently, even the FBI have made the decision to go to the 9mm rounds for all of its agents. Reasonings are similar to what this article have mentioned. (accuracy, penetration, etc..)
So there you go, the logic behind why I’ve chosen 9mm as my preferred handgun caliber. Obviously the choices you make are going to be determined by your circumstances and personal preferences, but hey, at least you know why 9mm gives me the warm and fuzzies that is does. For a more detailed and intelligent take on this subject, check out Service Caliber Handgun Duty and Self-Defense Ammo by Dr. Gary Roberts. ASJ
To know more about John Johnston go to WHAT IS BALLISTIC RADIO?
Editor’s note: John Johnston is the owner and host of Ballistic Radio, a weekly show and podcast dedicated to topics about self-defense, firearms and training with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure. See the cover story of American Shooting Journal’s June 2015 issue. John Johnston is on the cover.
We live in an age where all types of novel ammo and reloading components are coming to the market. That is good news for shooters, as many of these products are legitimate improvements over previous offerings. One company, Shell Shock Technologies, has recently released 9mm cases using manufacturing methods not previously used, at least to my knowledge.
What sets Shell Shock apart is that the company produces a two-piece case made from nickel steel. The exact process is proprietary, therefore the methods used are not revealed. However, I recently received some cases for evaluation, along with a sizing and decapping die and a belling die so I could load and shoot them. The bullet seating is done with a normal die, which isn’t included. The sizing and belling dies can also be used for standard brass cases, which is a plus because these new cases are superior to brass but will never replace them.
According to company literature, the cases are 50 percent lighter and two times stronger than brass, with a uniform wall thickness and proprietary assembly technique that leads to reliable and consistent velocity. The bottom of the case is an aluminum alloy, while a steel part is the top, which makes the case magnetic and makes it easier to pick up at a range. I placed a number of them on the scale one at a time, and they all weighed 35 grains, with no variation. Some brass cases I weighed came in at 63 to 64 grains, so the advantage of lightweight cases would be evident if you had to carry a large amount of ammo. I also measured several of the Shell Shock cases for length and they all came in at .7505 inch with no variation. Obviously, no variation in weight and length among these cases would contribute to accuracy and consistency.
I also received 200 rounds of 9mm loads with copper 124-grain HP bullets. These are produced by L-Tech Enterprises using the Shell Shock cases, and they sent some info showing penetration and weight retention results. They are consistent in size and weight as well, so if you are not a reloader, this ammo might be for you.
FOR THE FIRST LOAD, I used ﬁve grains of Winchester 231 and a 115-grain FMJ bullet. This load is very mild and the cases were covered with soot, which is normal with light loads. Low-pressure loads don’t completely seal the chamber, which allows some powder to come back into the action. While messy, it is seldom an issue in regards to performance. The soot cleans off easily for those who like good-looking cases. Most nickel cases have that advantage, though brass needs extra cleaning if that is important to you.
So why would you purchase these cases as opposed to more conventional pieces, when most 9mm cases last several ﬁrings and are easy to obtain? Performance-wise, there isn’t any big difference. But if you wanted to carry a large amount of ammo, the lightweight case really adds value, and if you combine this case with a lightweight bullet, then it would be a really desirable product. Liberty Ammunition makes a 50-grain nonlead HP bullet, and that paired up with the Shell Shock case should make some top-rate ammo. Carrying a small amount of this ammo wouldn’t make a difference, but carrying or transporting a large amount would show a sizable advantage. I have a 60-grain bullet to work with, and at high velocity it should make a nice self-defense load.
I sized some ﬁred cases with normal dies and don’t see any problems, and the effort is the same as with the special dies; belling is normal and priming feels a little odd. I tried some once-ﬁred cases using both sets of dies and the effort appears identical, though lubing makes them easier to size. I noticed that a couple had increased the size of the groove, but I’m not sure if that is a function of the dies or a case. If you closely look at the groove, it shows that the case is a two-piece case. The inside is slightly shallower than a conventional case, but not by much (an average of .05 inch). A look at the inside of the custom die shows that it appears to be the same as a conventional one with a tungsten core.
It appears that the construction of the case is very different than a conventional piece of brass, and it will be interesting to see how they go through a Dillon or other progressive press. I am going to load cases with the same load but using both sets of dies. I have some 60-grain HP and had to size the new cases to make them ﬁt tight enough. The 115-grain cast did not need to have the new cases sized.
For testing, I used a Beretta with a 5-inch barrel, a SIG with a 4-inch barrel and a Norinco, giving us different guns to provide more info on what to expect with the cases and loads. Some of the cases have now been ﬁred seven times; there is no indication of any problems, and I am using RCBS dies only, as I don’t see a need for the special ones. That would make these cases even more desirable if it isn’t necessary to use special dies. Obviously, you should test their dies to see which method works best for you.
I RECENTLY RECEIVED SOME new powders from Chris Hodgdon that resemble some older powders such as Red Dot. Since I received the powders from Hodgdon while trying out the new cases, I decided to try a couple loads with the Shell Shock cases, starting with the Red. In these tests, the cases held up after ﬁve or six ﬁrings using standard RCBS dies. I tried many loads using the three handguns I mentioned to get a good overview of the case, along with the new powder and a variety of bullets. I made some of the lighter bullets myself (such as the 60-grainer), as they are not generally available. The Acme bullet is a cast item with a red coating that tends to make them slick and aids in feeding.
These numbers were rounded off, and you can see that if you needed to carry a large quantity of ammo, the Shell Shock cases would cut down on the weight enough to make a difference. The 60-grain CMA fared best, but still jammed on occasion in the Norinco. Of course, that would render it unsuitable for defense work, but I will try and work with the ogive, though due to the short length that may be difficult.
The 147-grain Berry did well with the heavier load of Hodgdon’s HS-6 with no stovepipes. Like any situation and gun, it is recommended that you thoroughly check out the ammo that is intended to be carried. I took the 135-grain CMA and changed the ogive to a more rounded shape to ensure that it will feed in everything. In addition, they were .354 in diameter and the reshaping increased it to .358. Since there is a possibility that they may cause some problems, I reduced it to .356. Some .357-diameter bullets (a FMJ and a cast coated, both roundnose) were swaged down to .356. The purpose is for subsonic loads. A company called Liberty Ammunition makes some high-performance ammo using lighter than standard bullets. The 9mm bullet weighs 50 grains, so I measured a loaded round. The Shell Shock case weighs 35 grains, so a loaded round with a Liberty bullet would weigh 85 grains. Several companies are currently using Shell Shock cases, and I would like to see Liberty pick them up with their 50-grain bullets.
I was also curious as to the case capacity of Shell Shock casings compared to other commercial cases. I used Winchester 572 ﬁlled to the top on each case and the results surprised me. I thought that the Shell Shock case would have more capacity based on their weight. My “nonscientiﬁc” results showed Shell Shock and PMC held 13.1 grains, Federal and Winchester 13.2 grains and GFI 13.3 grains. As you can see, they are very similar. The next step is to use the same load in both types of cases.
ONE THING I HAVEN’T NOTICED is any mention of the cases being reloaded on a progressive machine. That would be a plus, if that is the case. Therefore, I had a friend run some through his Dillion 550. Other than the requirement that they be lubed, the process went off without a hitch. With a normal bullet everything went ﬁne. We ﬁred some of the rounds made on the Dillon and they fed ﬂawlessly, so there should be no issues but they have to be lubed regardless of which dies or machine is used to load them. That would be the only downside. That new powder W-572 seems to work well in the 9mm rounds; you just need to adjust the loads.
Based on my observations and tests, these cases are here to stay. They are durable and can compete with conventional brass cases in regards to price and reloading life. I can see other companies coming out with versions of them, and hopefully other calibers will be offered. In a few years they will have a good share of the market, though they won’t entirely replace the brass cases for several reasons. They have a few upsides such as durability and price, and since they are partly steel a magnet will pick them up. I have ﬁred hundreds of rounds and had one case that split. I can live with that. The only downside is the requirement that they have to be lubed. A quick spray-on may speed up the process with a progressive machine. I would recommend that you give this product a try, and if you do, I think you will become a customer. ASJ
Federal Premium Ammunition is proud to introduce a lineup of new high-performance products the 2017 NRA Meetings and Exhibits Show in Atlanta, Georgia, April 27-30. The introductions include Federal Premium Gold Medal Berger, Federal Premium Edge TLR, Federal Non-Typical and Federal Train + Protect. Attendees are encouraged to visit the Vista Outdoor booth no. 2542 during the show to see the entire new product lineup.
Unlike other so-called long-range projectiles that can fail to perform at lower velocities, the Federal Premium Edge TLR uses an exclusive Slipstream polymer tip to trigger expansion at extreme distances. On closer targets, the copper shank and bonded lead core retain weight for consistent, lethal penetration. Ballistics are likewise flawless. Credit the Edge TLR bullet’s sleek boat-tail design, secant ogive and unique AccuChannel grooving, which trim drag to an absolute minimum. Available in 308 Win., 30-06 Spring., 300 Win. Magnum and 300 Win. Short Magnum.
Elite long-range shooters will appreciate Federal Premium’s new Gold Medal Berger loads. The rounds feature a Berger bullet with high ballistic coefficient for flat trajectories, less wind drift and surgical long-range accuracy. Available in 223 Rem., 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Win.
Federal Non-Typical centerfire rifle ammunition is designed specifically for diehard whitetail hunters. An optimized, soft-point bullet with concentric jacket provides tag-punching accuracy and lethal wound channels on any buck, anywhere, anytime.
Federal Train + Protect honors the American birthright to bear arms with a versatile hollow-point (VHP) design that delivers precise, practical performance at the range while ensuring instant, reliable expansion on impact. The result is the ideal combination for training as well as the freedom to defend yourself and your loved ones.
These products and many more can be viewed at the Vista Outdoor booth no. 2542 during the NRA Show.
Federal Premium is a brand of Vista Outdoor Inc., an outdoor sports and recreation company. For more information on Federal Premium, go to www.federalpremium.com.
About Vista Outdoor Inc.
Vista Outdoor is a leading global designer, manufacturer and marketer of consumer products in the growing outdoor sports and recreation markets. The company operates in two segments, Shooting Sports and Outdoor Products, and has a portfolio of well-recognized brands that provides consumers with a wide range of performance-driven, high-quality and innovative products for individual outdoor recreational pursuits. Vista Outdoor products are sold at leading retailers and distributors across North America and worldwide. Vista Outdoor is headquartered in Utah and has manufacturing operations and facilities in 13 U.S. States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico along with international customer service, sales and sourcing operations in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and New Zealand. For news and information visit www.vistaoutdoor.com or follow us on Twitter @VistaOutdoorInc and Facebook at www.facebook.com/vistaoutdoor.
I ﬁrmly believed the ﬁrst three-shot group was a ﬂuke – my wiggles must’ve accounted for my waggles – as it printed just under a half inch, but when the second and third did the same thing, I was a convert. They gave good velocities out of my 24-inch barrel – 2,965 feet per second, to be precise – but would they perform as advertised in the ﬁeld?
You see, the Scirocco is a bonded-core boat-tail bullet, with a very thick jacket and a black polymer tip. It is designed to not only ﬂy accurately – which it proved to be true – but to give the consummate blend of expansion and penetration. Many cup-and-core boat tails have a tendency to have the copper jacket separate from the lead core upon impact at higher velocities, and that didn’t make me happy. The Scirocco’s thick jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core to hold things together should you strike bone, yet the jacket tapers down toward the nose, allowing for good expansion. That expansion creates a larger wound channel, which destroys more vital tissue and causes death sooner.
MY FIRST FIELD TEST was in Wyoming, where I would be hunting pronghorn antelope. Anyone who has hunted the Great Plains of the American West knows that the wind is always blowing, and sometimes it blows good and hard. I found the antelope I wanted after a couple of hours glassing the prairie, and it required a stalk of just over a mile. I lay prone over a small mound, with cactus everywhere it shouldn’t have been, and settled the crosshairs of my Winchester 70 on the buck’s shoulder 215 yards away. Even through the recoil, I could see that the antelope’s feet drew up to his body as he fell earthward, stone dead, and in that moment, this bullet captured my undivided attention.
I used it the next spring on a black bear hunt in Quebec. While I knew the shots were going to be inside of 75 yards, as it was a baited hunt, I wanted to see how the bullet would handle the tough shoulder bones of a bear. Canada’s ever-changing weather kept the action slow for the ﬁrst few days, but a warm-up later in the week drew the bears out like moths to a ﬂame. A 200-plus-pound boar decided to pay a visit to my bait, and I decided to ruin his day. I had loaded the 180-grain Scirocco in my .308 Winchester, to a muzzle velocity of 2,450 fps, and the bullet took him without issue, despite punching through both shoulders. I couldn’t recover either bullet, which was no problem with me, but I was highly impressed with the performance.
Since then, I’ve loaded this bullet in many different cartridges, from the 6.5×55 Swede and 6.5-284 Norma, to the 7mm Remington Ultra Magnum, to many of the .30s including the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springﬁeld, the .300 Holland and Holland Magnum, and the huge cases like the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum and .30-378 Weatherby Magnum. I’ve even loaded the 210-grain Scirocco in the .338 Winchester Magnum with great results.
THE OUTCOME IS USUALLY THE SAME: almost all of the riﬂes (with the exception of one particularly evil .264 Winchester Magnum) gave subMOA accuracy and excellent ﬁeld performance. The few bullets we’ve been able to recover from game animals have retained between 80 and 95 percent of their weight, with expansion running right around 2 times to 2.5 times caliber dimension. My wife loves the 150-grain Scirocco II in her .308 Winchester, as it offers less recoil yet great terminal ballistics; her Savage Lady Hunter prints ½-inch groups with this load.
The Scirocco is available in calibers from .224 up to and including .338, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go hunting with this bullet in any situation shy of the truly large and dangerous game that requires a larger bore and heavier bullet. With the Scirocco, between my own hunts and those of friends and colleagues, we have taken animals ranging in size from deer and antelope to caribou to African plains game to elk and moose. Swift only makes two softpoints – the Scirocco and the A-Frame – and that’s one of the best combinations on the market. ASJ
If you were to bet that “research” forms the core of projectile manufacturer G2 Research’s company beliefs, you would be correct. And along with research comes development, as in new products. We sat down with G2 Research to learn more about the company’s origins and what new rounds we might soon see.
G2 Research We thought we were starting small, but our internet presence went viral within a month of release. The servers handling our website crashed four times in a three-day period. At that point, we went in with everything we had.
ASJ The projectile in your cartridges looks devastating the way it opens up like a proud ﬂower.
G2R The round you are referring to is the G2 Research Civic Duty. Our original round, the R.I.P., is designed to fragment, thus increasing stopping power and tissue damage. We found over the course of a year that it was too innovative for some people who were “set in their ways” when it comes to old-school tried and true. We set out to create the most expansion possible out of a solid copper projectile to ﬁll that need.
ASJ What calibers did you launch with, and what have proven to be the most popular?
G2R We started with the 9mm R.I.P. Demand for that round was so high for a ﬂedgling company it took a while to get our next round, the .380 R.I.P., out. In the time since, we have covered all the semiauto pistols, as well as introduced a riﬂe line for hunting, and a cold tracer for training and plinking. Now we are working to get the G2 Research Civic Duty out in more calibers and research and developing revolver calibers. Nine millimeter is by far the current favorite for shooters, though trends do change.
ASJ Do you have any plans to offer your projectiles for the reloading market?
G2R We load our rounds to such a ﬁne spec for performance that we feel a lot of homeloaders would overload or underload, thus decreasing the effectiveness of the round.
ASJ Is your ammo primarily for hunters, or for home protection?
G2R We provide mostly to the self-defense market. Interest has been building for our riﬂe rounds as more people test and evaluate them. We also received the California DNR lead-free certiﬁcation.
For more information, visit g2rammo.com. ASJ
Let’s be honest. The .44 Magnum is a fraud, being a .429 in true caliber, while the .41 Magnum is the real McCoy. With comparable loads, the .41 Magnum can do anything the .44 Magnum can do, and it is a real survivor.
The popularity of the .41-caliber Magnum seems to ebb and ﬂow, but those who have stuck with it make it as versatile a choice as its siblings. I’ve carried the .41 Magnum for personal protection, killed a couple of deer with it, shot long-range targets (it’s a favorite among silhouette shooters) and had it in the backcountry as a utility gun.
I like to think the really smart handgunners prefer this to the everybody’s-got-to-have-one .44 Magnum. And a lot of guys who have been around the block a few times have come to the same conclusion I did more than 30 years ago: It’s a damned ﬁne cartridge.
Last year, I visited my friend Jim Zumbo at his place in Wyoming, and the former hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine had a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum parked near the front door. Veteran gunwriter Dick Metcalf and the late Bob Milek also wrote often about this caliber, and I always ﬁgured that this trio of wordsmiths were on to something.
IT’S A GEM FOR HANDLOADERS too. Thanks to modern powder research, there are more than a few propellants that make this round sizzle. My two favorites are Hodgdon’s H110 and Alliant 2400.
There are several good bullet choices in the 200- to 220-grain ﬁeld, and I’ve had great results with the 210-grain XTP from Hornady, the 210-grain Nosler JHP, and the 200- and 220-grain halfjacketed semi-wadcutter projectiles and a 210-grain Gold Dot JHP from Speer. In addition, Barnes offers a 180-grain solid-copper hollowpoint, and Sierra has two pills, a 170-grainer and 210-grain bullet, both hollowpoints.
Thanks to updated reloading data in the Speer, Nosler and Hodgdon manuals, I’ve been able to tinker with the cartridge over the past couple of years, and especially since last summer when I bought a little-used and nearly new-inbox 1980s vintage Smith & Wesson Model 57 in .41 Magnum.
There are plenty of factory loads available, including Winchester Silvertips, and JHPs from Remington, Federal and other manufacturers. When I acquired that 4-inch S&W last July, it came with four boxes of factory BVAC (Bitterroot Valley Ammunition) loaded with 210-grain semiwads.
I’VE OWNED RUGER BLACKHAWKS and two S&W Model 57s, the ﬁrst of those being a 6-inch version I’ve shot a few times in the annual Elmer Keith long-range handgun shoot just south of Spokane.
Keith is largely recognized as having been primarily responsible for the .41 Magnum, along with a man named Bill Jordan. It was originally intended as a law-enforcement caliber, but it proved to be a bit much for some lawmen, especially those of smaller stature, to handle. If that sounds like a similar story to that of the 10mm Auto, it is. But while the latter round led to the development of the .40 S&W, nobody bothered to create a .41 Short, so the original cartridge has remained the same since birth.
Of the two deer I killed with a 6.5-inch Blackhawk single action, the muley was the more memorable. Two shots downhill dropped the forkhorn. One bullet went clear through and the other was a perfect mushroom recovered just under the hide on the exit side.
While I prefer the longer barrel for precision shooting and hunting, in recent years I’ve opted for shorter-barrel versions. They’re lighter, they can ride on my hip in a truck, and they’re more concealable. A couple of years ago, I swapped out the alloy ejector rod housing on my 45/8-inch Ruger for one made from steel.
One thing I’ve noticed is that my loads lose 50 to 100 feet per second out of the shorter barrels, though that probably won’t make a lot of difference to anything I shoot within, say, 100 to 150 yards.
THE .41 MAGNUM IS CAPABLE of some impressive ballistics. With lighter bullets, it can warp along at more than 1,650 fps, and my favorite handloads zip out in the 1,250 to 1,600 fps range, depending upon the bullet weight, powder charge and barrel length.
When I shoot Alliant 2400, I stick with standard large pistol primers, but with H110, I always use magnum primers. Other powders are also good choices, including Winchester 296, H4227, Blue Dot, Lil’ Gun, Unique and Vihtavouri N110.
The cartridge case should measure 1.290 inches, and the overall length for cartridges should not exceed 1.590 inches. I have two sets of carbide dies, one from Hornady and one from Redding, with the seating die from each set for a different bullet, because they each crimp at a slightly different depth.
I’ve built gunbelts with ample cartridge loops for the .41 Magnum. One needs to use a slightly tighter loop for the .41 than the .44 (.429), and they need to be well-oiled. Mine are all individually hand-stitched rather than looped in and out of the belt.
AS A FIGHT-STOPPER, the .41 Magnum is no slouch. A cartridge that will knock down a black bear, big buck, caribou or bull elk is also fully capable against predators of the two-legged variety. This is a defensive round that should be approached with a little caution, of course, due to the potential for overpenetration.
When it was ﬁrst introduced, proponents suggested it would be a good load for law enforcement officers to shoot through the windshields of ﬂeeing getaway cars or to foul up an engine block on similar vehicles.
When I carried my 6-inch Model 57 in an old Safariland shoulder holster, I always had a couple of HKS speed loaders stoked with factory Remington ammo because the bullet shape contributed to quicker reloading than a wadcutter. Under a winter parka, that big gun disappeared, and nobody was any the wiser.
So why doesn’t the .41 Magnum get more respect? The reason is probably as simple as Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan ﬁring a .44 Magnum on ﬁlm. But even if it won’t ﬁre out of the “most powerful handgun in the world,” it has become something of a cult favorite with people who like to shoot metal chickens and rams, as well as discerning handgunners who don’t choose to follow the herd. ASJ
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY OLEG VOLKShotguns are a perennial home defense favorite. They are generally inexpensive, very common and perceived as being simple to operate. Nearly every gun-owning household has at least one smoothbore. But, since research and anecdotal evidence point towards the relative ineffectiveness of birdshot against large intruders, buckshot is typically used to deliver multiple simultaneous impacts while adding some margin for aiming error.
Buckshot, from .35 caliber 000 to .24 caliber No. 4, works fairly well on opponents up close and in the open, but doesn’t penetrate cover well. For people who want the ability to get through furniture, walls or auto glass, slugs provide another option. The same applies to rural residents who worry less about overpenetration but may have to ﬁre in self-defense at longer ranges where buckshot spreads too much, and individual pellets lack adequate penetration.
Large-bore smoothbores and riﬂes have long been the ﬁrst choice of dangerous game hunters. A typical musket was around .70 caliber, and black powder riﬂes varied from .70 to .45, with long conical bullets providing necessary penetration on ornery creatures like Cape buffalo or grizzly. Jacketed bullets developed by the 1890s and monolithic solids introduced in the second half of the 20th century continued this trend.
While traditional big game hunting riﬂes and ammunition have always been extremely expensive, North Americans and Russians, two populations with relatively widespread shotgun ownership in areas with dangerous ursine neighbors, developed a number of shotgun slug loads also optimized for penetration and massive stopping power. Century-old Brenneke hardcast lead slugs and the more recent Latvian steel Monolith load both offer accuracy and straight-line punch to put down a wild boar or a bear. For the same reason – great penetration – slugs aren’t favored for home defense use. Nobody wants to overpenetrate while hitting an intruder and endanger family members or neighbors behind the actual foe.
SLUGS COME IN SEVERAL GENERAL TYPES: penetrative, expanding, fragmenting and frangible. Penetrative designs are generally excessively energetic for human foes: they are likely to make a .70-caliber hole and keep on whistling past, with all that power wasted on perforating the landscape or, worse, some innocent positioned behind the attacker.
Frangibles are designed to break up against solid backstops during training. D Dupleks Caviar 26L frangible, a plastic slug with embedded steel BBs, breaks up on ﬂesh with about 8 inches of penetration and nearly 5-inch spread. That’s considered a bit shallow for reliable stopping, but not shabby. By contrast, the Remington Disintegrator round acts as a nonexpanding penetrator on ﬂesh and only breaks up against hard surfaces, like steel range backstops.
Expanding slugs are large-bore variations on hollow point pistol bullets. With much more energy and mass, and fewer constraints on the initial shape, they can be quite effective. For example, the new Team Never Quit 375-grain copper slug sits in front of a 90-grain plastic base. The slug is slightly subcaliber, so it can be ﬁred through any choke. The plastic base acts as a gas check, but also as a drive band when used in riﬂed barrels or as a drag stabilizer when ﬁred from smoothbores.
With a full weight of just over an ounce and muzzle velocity of 1,200 feet per second, it has mild recoil. Spread was about 3 inches at 25 yards when ﬁred through an Armagon G12 cylinder bore barrel, and 1 inch when used with a riﬂed choke. The same slug grouped 2 inches at 25 yards from a Benelli M3.
SMOOTHBORE ACCURACY DEPENDS ON MANY FACTORS, including the concentricity and evenness of the bore, the amount of ﬂex on ﬁring and many others, so it is difficult to predict accuracy without testing individual ﬁrearms. Molot Vepr 12 and Fostech Origin 12, for example, are extremely accurate even in smoothbore versions, as are most Remington 870s. Similarly, nominal velocities listed here can vary by 10 to 15 percent based on the barrel length, choke and chamber used.
In testing, the Team Never Quit slug delivered textbook perfect results, with about 12 inches of penetration through four layers of denim, and reliable 1½-inch expansion. Fired into bare gelatin, it penetrated 16 inches and had just enough energy left to penetrate halfway into standard residential drywall. While high-energy numbers make for easy marketing, this load minimizes overpenetration and reduces follow-up time, both of much value in home defense. This slug was designed for use in smoothbore defensive shotguns at ranges under 50 yards. With riﬂed barrels or with riﬂed chokes, it can be used for deer-sized game out to about 100 yards.
OATH Ammunition recently introduced the Tango expanding slug, a 600-grain, 1,200 fps copper projectile available in traditional plastic or in a machined aluminum case. I was only able to obtain one unﬁred shell, and unﬁred and expanded slugs for photos, so I can’t comment on accuracy or recoil. I would, however, expect the sheer weight of the slug to produce a noticeable push on the shooter.
The wasp-waisted projectile uses two rubber rings for obturation. The slug expands to an impressive 2.6 inches, with a ring instead of a solid base to reduce resistance. In gel, it penetrated 12 inches and then bounced back to 7-inch position from the resistance of the media. That’s consistent with how OATH pistol ammunition works, being designed for a penetration depth of 7 inches. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the company is in Chapter 11, so the future of this load is uncertain.
D Dupleks makes two loads that combine fragmenting and expanding features, a 1.25-ounce Hexolit and a 1-ounce Dupo. Both are made of mild steel and have six preformed petals attached to a cylindrical base, then encased into plastic. The plastic provides obturation and improves aerodynamics. Both loads are very accurate from smooth or riﬂed barrels. Hexolit always expands to 1.5 inches and then produces six sharp 24-grain fragments penetrating about 12 inches with equally wide spread, and a base penetrating about 20 inches.
Destructive effect on gel was greater than from a .308 Win soft point, and approaching that of .338 Lapua Magnum soft point. At longer ranges, Hexolit acts as a large hollow point, penetrating up to 20 inches! The lighter Dupo acts similarly at close range or in case of bone impact, but stays together as a 1.2-inch expanded hollow point in soft tissue at longer ranges. As a hollow point, it penetrates about 18 inches.
With the initial velocities in the 1,400 to 1,460 fps range, these rounds have more felt recoil than Team Never Quit but also a longer useful range. They were originally developed as medium and large game hunting loads, so they are accurate out to about 65 yards from smoothbores and past 100 with spin stabilization. Because of the highly penetrative base, however, both have the potential to hit bystanders beyond the target.
All of these expanding loads are lead-free, which is helpful for indoor use. D Dupleks and OATH slugs, in particular, gain an efficiency from having relatively hard materials shaped with sharp edges facing forward to cut tissue.
FRAGMENTING BULLETS have a poor reputation among handgun users, primarily because of insufficient penetration. With shotguns, each fragment has the weight similar to a complete pistol bullet and higher velocity, so they are rather more effective. Both Winchester and Rio loads proved very accurate, with groups around 1 inch at 25 yards from smoothbores. Both stayed together well through such obstacles as car doors and laminated glass.
Winchester PDX1 is a 1-ounce load starting at 1,600 fps, and the high velocity makes ﬁring one a bit exciting. When I ﬁred it from a Vepr 12, a semiauto shotgun with some drop to the stock, the muzzle rise knocked my safety glasses off. It was much more comfortable ﬁred from MKA1919 and Origin 12, since both are semiautos with straight-line stocks. The same high velocity makes it very effective on target. The slug breaks into three 145-grain fragments, each sufficient to go through 18 inches of gel with considerable cavitation around. The fragments dispersed about 6 inches by the end of their travel, pretty much destroying the 10-inch by 10inch by 20-inch block. If you can handle the recoil, this is a very effective round.
The Rio Royal Expanding Fragmentary slug – there’s a nice mouthful of branding – also weighs at 1 ounce but comes out slower, at 1440 fps. Breaking up into four 45-grain petals and a base, it produces 7-inch penetration with 7-inch dispersion – meaning an approximately 22-degree cone of fragments. The base, about 60 percent of the whole and smaller than the bore diameter, keeps on going 18 inches or so. This load combines reasonable recoil and terminal performance with excellent accuracy and budget price. At $1.40 per shot, it’s the least expensive of the specialty loads.
While most of these slugs can be used from a riﬂe bore, they are accurate enough at typical self-defense ranges to make it unnecessary. Riﬂing would make the shotgun less versatile by dispersing shot patterns into donuts, and so should probably be reserved for hunting use. With fragmenting projectiles, the spin would also cause slightly wider dispersion of petals.
The last round to consider is the American hunting stand-by, the Foster “riﬂed” slug. With the ribs on the outside designed to pass safely through chokes, these projectiles are unsuitable for actual riﬂed bores. They stabilize by having most of the balance forward, and are hollow based. Remington Slugger, the most widely available (and cheapest at around $1 each) Foster slug, is thimble-shaped. On impact, at least up close where the 1,550 fps muzzle velocity is retained, it acts as a frangible despite its intended use as a solid.
Further out, at ranges more typical of deer hunting, the slug holds together better. At room distance, Slugger turns into a cloud of small lead chunks extending about 9 inches deep and nearly 6 inches wide. The smaller 20-gauge Slugger does the same, but to 7.5 inches and 5 inches of width. This is less depth than is recommended by the FBI testing protocol, but probably noticeable to the hostile recipient.
ALL MODERN EXPANDING LOADS are generally adequate for selfdefense. Except for D Dupleks Caviar, none of them would safely break up on typical residential walls in case of a miss. Caviar won’t stop for drywall, but tends to break up enough on wooden studs to pose reduced danger downrange. Given the massive variability of shotguns, be sure to test your selected load for functioning: I’ve seen Mossberg 930 autoloader run with plastic riot-control birdshot, and have also seen pump shotguns choke on standard slug or buck loads. Given the precision with which slugs should be applied for best effect, I would also recommend adjustable riﬂe sights or a red dot zeroed to your favorite load. ASJ
An exhibit, featuring the original photographs will be on display at the Griffin Museum Of Photography in Winchester, Mass., from January 14 through March 6, 2016. ASJ
You can see more of Sabine Pearlman’s work here.
Story and photographs by Bob Shell
In this segment on loading your own ammunition, we will focus on cartridge cases since this is what holds the other three main components (powder, primer
All cases should be visually inspected and that includes new ones. I have bought a lot of cases from various brands and there are occasionally defective ones. While not common, they do exist and should be discarded. When in doubt, throw it out.
New cases can be out of round and/or oversized. Part of that comes from shipping when they are banged around. After sizing, I take an RCBS very low drag (VLD) tool and ream the inside of the casing’s necks. This helps seat the bullet and keeps it from catching on the sides of the case. This is especially important with some flat-base slugs. I feel that this also adds accuracy and consistency. Sometimes, I’ll even create a cannelure, which is a groove that I crimp a little to aid in feeding the bullet. All revolver ammo should be crimped, especially with the heavier loads. Failure to follow this rule will usually result in the bullet coming out and tying up the cylinder.
Fired cases should be inspected prior to any other procedure. This is really important if you pick up range brass. There may be a reason someone discarded their brass rather than take it home.
Before inspecting, you should clean your cases. There are several ways to do this. I use a Dillon case cleaner with crushed walnut hulls and some cleaning liquid. A couple of hours in there and they come out looking great not to mention defects are easier to spot.
You may encounter cases with Berdan primers, and we will talk about this in a minute, or some that were shot with a load that was too hot. This will produce swelling and should be discarded. If you see a shiny ring about a quarter of an inch above the rim, that may indicate excess headspace in the gun that fired it.
One of the most common problems is a split neck. Cases that are heated and cooled over and over cause them to be brittle and the only way to combat that is to anneal them. This means softening the case by heating it. This isn’t practical with common cases, unless you have more time than I do. The Berdan primer is generally used in foreign military, as well as some commercial ammo. It can be reloaded, but you also need special tools, and as a rule it’s more trouble than it’s worth. In a later installment I will go into more detail on this. The standard American primer is the Boxer, which has a flash hole in the center of the case and is much easier to work with.
When a round is fired the case expands, so when you are reloading, the cases have to be resized. All die sets, which we talked about in Part I of this series, have what is known as a sizing die and which accomplishes this task. If you buy new brass, it normally doesn’t need to be fully resized, though the neck may need to be squared.
After you size the case, you will need to check for proper case length. Cases stretch during firing and sizing, so you should lubricate the inside of the neck, especially with bottleneck cases. If the case is too long, it might be hard to chamber or even cause a dangerous buildup of pressure in some instances. It could also have an affect on accuracy. If you are just doing some informal shooting, mixing brands of cases won’t cause any harm. Some people may disagree with that, but mixed cases work well, as long as they are in good condition. For more serious purposes, such as a big-game hunt, I will segregate the cases by brand and the times that they were fired. The other stuff is used for sighting-in or practice. I’ll run all of my hunting ammo through the chamber and magazine because it’s easier to fix the problem at the shop than in the field. Serious target shooters sort their brass out by lot number, weight, size of the flash hole and other factors that might effect accuracy. They measure groups in the thousandths of an inch, so they have to be more particular than the rest of us.
After you have checked out everything, then you are ready to prime. The primer should have some feel going in, and if it’s too loose, you might want to discard the case. Loose primer pockets are generally a result of hot loads, which will stretch them beyond usefulness. Sometimes soft brass will also cause this problem. The primer should be seated about .002 inch below the head and be flush with the case or you will have another set of problems. If the primer is too tight, you either have a dirty primer pocket or perhaps a military crimp around the primer pocket. Either problem will have to be resolved prior to seating it. There are plenty of tools out there to resolve these problems, but I ream out military-primer pockets as opposed to swaging (a process of bending or shaping cold metal), as this works better for me. If a pocket is dirty you’ll need to clean first. While this may seem like a small detail, improperly seated primers can ruin good ammo.
After priming, it is time to seat your bullets. There should be some resistance when seating so the bullet stays in the case. A bullet that is too loose will either come out or cause an inconsistent ignition. This problem can be caused by a bullet that is too small, a case neck that is too thin or an oversized expander plug. If the bullet is excessively tight, it may not seat at all and will cause other problems. In a later installment in this series we will get into expanding and various types of crimping.
Like everything else in life, you get what you give. If you follow these suggestions, it will go a long way toward helping you produce quality ammo. The thing is paying attention to small details. ASJ
SIG SAUER Introduces SIG FMJ
Full Metal Jacket Centerfire Pistol Cartridges
Newington, NH (March 30, 2015) – SIG SAUER Inc., designer and manufacturer of the world’s most reliable firearms, accessories, and ammunition, continues to expand its popular Elite Performance Ammunition line with the introduction of full metal jacket (FMJ) centerfire pistol cartridges for practice and competition shooting. The perfect combination of affordability and performance, the new SIG FMJ ball ammunition is designed to approximate the performance of corresponding jacketed hollow point (JHP) loads, making the transition from target ammo to carry ammo seamless.
The SIG FMJ pistol ammunition is now available in the following calibers and bullet weights: 100gr .380Auto, 115gr 9mm Luger, 124gr .357SIG, 180gr .40S&W, 180gr 10mm and 230gr .45Auto.
“With the SIG FMJ ammunition, we now have extremely accurate and reliable rounds designed specifically for practice and competition shooting,” said Bud Fini, vice president of marketing for SIG SAUER. “We wanted to give our customers an affordable premium target load that feeds as smoothly as our JHP ammunition and also performs and feels almost identical to the JHP load when shooting. We designed our copper-coated lead bullets to have the most precise, uniform profile and the result is consistent accuracy.”
Manufactured to meet or exceed SAAMI specifications, the SIG FMJ centerfire pistol cartridges feature solid brass cases and durable copper jacketed bullets that stay with the lead at impact. Dependable primers and clean-burning powders are used for reduced barrel fouling with more reliable functioning. Like all Elite Performance Ammunition, the SIG FMJ is manufactured in the United States by SIG SAUER to the same exacting standards as the company’s premium pistols and rifles. For more information, visit www.sigsauer.com/ammunition.
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About SIG SAUER, Inc.
SIG SAUER, Inc. is a New Hampshire-based weapons systems provider leading the industry in American innovation, ingenuity, and manufacturing. SIG SAUER® brings a dedication to superior quality, ultimate reliability, and unmatched performance that has made it the brand of choice among responsible citizens, and many of the world’s most elite military, government, and law enforcement units. As a complete systems provider, SIG SAUER offers a full array of products to meet any mission parameter, from handguns and rifles to silencers, optics, ammunition, accessories, and airguns. The largest member of a worldwide business group of firearms manufacturers that includes SIG SAUER GmbH & Co. KG in Germany and Swiss Arms AG in Switzerland, SIG SAUER is an ISO 9001: 2008 certified company with more than 900 employees. For more information on SIG SAUER, any of its products, or the SIG SAUER AcademySM, log on to www.sigsauer.com.