Thursday, April 4, 2013

MagSafe 9mm Defender Clear Gel Test

First off, I'd like to thank Matt W. for providing the ammunition for this test.  MagSafe Ammo has been around for quite some time.  As I was pulling my thoughts together for the introduction of this test, I remembered I had purchased some MagSafe ammo back in the 90's, but never did shoot any of it.  Sure enough, at the very back of the closet I found my two packages of .38 Special SWAT loads.  As you can see, the packaging has changed but the concept behind the ammunition remains the same.

Joe Zambone came up the concept of packing an empty copper bullet jacket full of size 2 or 4 lead birdshot surrounded by an epoxy compound to hold the shot in the bullet jacket.  The end result is a lightweight projectile that can be loaded in standard brass cases.  MagSafe claims that the shot is carefully placed, by hand, into the bullet jacket in a manner that assures a consistent dispersion pattern as the projectile fragments upon contact with a hard or soft barrier.  The picture below is a close up view into the nose cavity of one of our tested 9mm rounds.  You can see the round shot surrounded by a clear epoxy compound.

By loading MagSafe ammunition with such lightweight projectiles, it is possible to produce loads with velocity levels 50+% higher than traditional full weight bullets.  I've discussed the kinetic energy calculation in many of my previous blog articles.  Since the formula applies half the bullet mass and squares the bullet speed, light and fast bullets will have a higher energy value than a heavier slower bullet.  For example:
60 grain bullet at 1800 fps = 432 foot/lbs of energy
124 grain bullet at 1150 fps = 364 foot/lbs of energy

If you've ever accidentally stumbled into a heated internet gun forum debate on the virtues of light/fast bullets over heavy/slow bullets you may have wondered what all the fuss was about.  I've seen a few of these epic battles go down and while I appreciate the passion some of these folks have for their side of the argument, it usually degrades into name calling and worse.  You may even see names like Fackler, Marshall and Sanow, or even The Strasbourg Tests mentioned in these debates.

If you are interested in learning more about the Strasbourg Tests and how MagSafe ammunition became the shining beacon of light for the fast/light bullet crowd, you can read about it HERE.  The early 90's test involved shooting goats in a very controlled environment to judge the effectiveness of ammunition in delivering 1 shot stops.  If you find reading about such testing offensive, you can skip forward to page 8 where the most effective loads in each tested caliber were named.  MagSafe was listed as the 1st or 2nd best load across all tested calibers.  The 9mm load, similar to the one tested here, even out scored the venerable 115 grain 9BPLE +P+ load from Federal which was considered one of the best of the best 9mm ammunition options at the time.

Just a little history for you before we launch into the test results.     

Test Pistol Specs:
Glock 27 with 9mm Conversion 3.46" Barrel

Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at the end of a Clear Ballistics Gel block that measures approximately 6" x 6" x 16" and weighs approximately 16 lbs.  I take the test shot from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured less than 2 inches away from the block.  Clear Ballistics Gel is calibrated to 10% ballistics gel density.  I shoot the block at the range and then bring it home to analyze the block and recover the bullet.  Immediately prior to shooting the block, I take a 5 shot velocity test over a ProChrono Digital chronograph.  Due to limited ammunition available for this test, the velocity average was cut to 3 rounds.

Test Results:
The test results are summarized in the data sheet below along with a close up shot of the recovered bullet.


Video documentation of the entire test from range through bullet recovery is available below.  The high definition video is best viewed on YouTube, but you can also view it here.

My Thoughts on This Load:
I really don't have much to add to this test other than a few additional details I discovered while cleaning up the block.  I did weigh and measure the recovered shot and determined they were size 4 birdshot with an approximate weight of 3.19 grains per piece.  Each shot pellet started out as a .129" round ball, but some had flattened during impact.  I discovered the shot pellets that penetrated the deepest were those that had maintained their round shape.  The pellets that penetrated less had been flattened during impact with the gel block and the larger surface area caused them to slow down faster than the round shot.

This load is so unique it doesn't make sense to compare it with anything other than another MagSafe round in a different caliber.  Regardless of which side of the fast/light or slow/heavy bullet debate you side with, I hope you enjoyed the test and seeing something a bit different and exotic for a change.

I can't, and won't, comment about the effectiveness of this ammunition because that's out of my area of expertise.  I will comment that as a business person, I am quite envious of Joe for creating and marketing a unique consumer product for more than two decades that appears to be the same today as it was 20 years ago.  

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.


  1. VERY Interesting. More fuel for the light/fast versus heavy/slow debate, remember the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, I believe it was Eraser?
    They had the gun with the X-ray vision scope, and it used extremely small/light Iron Projectiles, accelerated close to the speed of light... Rail Guns
    Also, meteors going several miles per second in space, very explosive force.
    Think about it

  2. This particular load looks better than I expected, though I personally would have more confidence in it if more of the pellets had gone further. 0.13" pellets are #4 birdshot, I believe. It may be that lead #2 or lead BB shot would have given better penetration, though I also know there is a limit to what you can get into a 9mm bullet jacket, and twelve #4 pellets and a bit of epoxy is as much as will fit, unless you're ramming the pellets in with a press and deforming them to take up air space (and would the deformed pellets penetrate as well afterward?). Would hardened, plated shot have penetrated further, I wonder? Would the extra velocity from a carbine or SMG barrel help? I suppose the late Mr. Zambone (pbuh) knew what he was doing.

    Whenever I see tests like this I wonder what would be possible with more exotic materials. Would tungsten or depleted uranium pellets have gotten past the 12" mark? Of course our government disapproves of the peasantry having access to such things, but maybe such things exist and are being used by the Black Ops guys.

    Me, I will stick with Gold Dot and Ranger-T in my 9mm carry and defensive guns, but I am always fascinated to look at other technologies.