Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My 4 P's of Ammunition Selection


As Pocket Guns and Gear celebrates it's second anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to share a bit of what I've learned over the last two years and more than 100 terminal ballistics tests.  In addition to my own tests, I've also viewed the work of others that share my hobby.  I also receive occasional emails with links to, or digital copies of, law enforcement ammunition briefings.  I have taken all this in and come up with my own personal observations on personal defense pistol ammunition.  I sum it up in two statements.


All hollow points expand, except when they don't. -or-  All bullets behave like a full metal jacket, except sometimes they expand.
 

In a real world situation there are simply too many uncontrollable factors involved in ammunition terminal performance.  A great performing load in a 4" barrel may be a dismal performer in a 3" barrel.  There may also be various barriers between the bullet and the target that can also impact terminal performance.

After sponging up data from others and assimilating my own data with theirs, I've come up with my own personal ammunition selection criteria.  I'll share it with you, but understand I'm in no way, shape, or form anything other than a hobbyist.  Regardless of which ammunition expert's doctrine you subscribe to, I hope you can appreciate what I think is a rational and common sense set of ammunition selection criteria.

My Four P's of Pistol Ammunition Selection In Descending Order of Importance

Placement - I must be able to place multiple shots on target quickly under any potential self defense scenario. Period.  Misses do not count.     

Penetration - The ammunition must be capable of penetrating to at least 12" in ballistic testing media. 

Performance - The ammunition must feed, fire, and extract with 100% reliability in my pistol.  Validating this with hundreds of rounds is better than just testing one or two boxes.

Price - Ideally, I would like to practice with the same ammunition I choose to load for self defense.  Faced with two options that meet the first 3 P's, I would pick the less expensive option in order to allow myself to practice more frequently for the same cost.  If I practice with my carry ammunition, I'm also validating the Performance criteria above.

At this point you may be wondering why I have not mentioned velocity, expansion, energy, or weight retention.  I don't consider those metrics as primary selection criteria.  No amount of expansion or weight retention will ever trump the shot placement or penetration criteria.  Bullets don't expand if they don't hit the target. 

So, does this mean I'm turning my back on my terminal testing hobby?  Absolutely not!  I'm still very interested in learning more about projectiles and studying how they perform in a controlled testing environment.  If I'm facing a purchasing decision with two loads that meet all 4 P's equally well, but one consistently expands more than the other, I would be foolish not to take advantage of that secondary benefit of greater expansion.

That's the practical side of the article.  Let's turn our attention to something a bit more entertaining, albeit less practical.  Last week I mentioned the high-speed camera I've been working with that was provided by Aimed Research.  I'm finally starting to get comfortable with the camera and captured some really interesting video over the long weekend.  For a geek like me, this high-speed video really helps me better understand what happens when bullet hits block.  They are mercifully short, but I think they are super cool.  Best viewed in 1080p HD if you have the band-width to support that.



As I was recovering the bullets from the gel blocks and prepping them for reprocessing, I snapped a picture of the stretch damage and permenant would channels left in the block by the 45 +P HST rounds featured in the first video above.  The first side view photo sure does look impressive.


Now contrast that picture with the front view of the block showing one of those wound channels in close detail.  All six stretch wings are distinctly visible, but everything has healed back up.  It makes me pause and wonder if a similar thing would happen if the bullet traversed an organic target.  And so it goes with this hobby.  One observation leads to more questions, but I find it all interesting. 


For those expecting a Terminal Test Thursday this week, I'm publishing early in order to spend more time getting prepped for my last weekend with the high-speed camera.  I really wanted to wow you all with an updated 380 vs. 9mm test with  the six loads pictured below.  As I was packing I also grabbed the Remington UMC bulk pack 380 and 9mm so the plan was to test all four.


Unfortunately, what you get is this.  A behind the scenes look at what goes into terminal testing when things go bad.  In a way, it's a fitting two year celebration video bringing me full circle to two years ago when I tested just for fun and didn't worry so much about capturing data.


As I was looking back at the last two years of Pocket Guns And Gear, I found the first picture of me that appeared on the blog 2 years ago.  I'm wearing the same tee-shirt in the video from this weekend.  I really have come full circle and I'm much better at not chopping the top of my head off in pictures.

Thanks for reading and following the blog.  I'm looking forward to a great 3rd year. 

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