Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ruger ARX 38 Special Ammunition Test and Review

PolyCase Ammunition, the maker or Ruger ARX ammunition, launched the Ruger ARX 38 Special load at the 2016 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits.  Previously available in many popular semi-auto handgun calibers, the 38 Special load extends the Ruger ARX line with ammunition suitable for revolvers.  Initial shipments of 38 Special ARX should be arriving in stores by the time this review is published.

The PolyCase designed ARX projectile is quite unique.  I previously discussed the projectile in great detail in this test and review of Ruger ARX 380 Auto.  If this is your first exposure to the ARX projectile, you might want to review the initial section of the 380 Auto test.

PolyCase Ammunition provided the ammunition for this test.

Test Pistol:

Test Protocol:
Step 1)  Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2)  Run a 5 shot velocity average over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
Step 3)  Run various terminal test shots, with and without simulated clothing barriers, into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that has a similar density to 10% ordnance gelatin.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4)  Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth to verify density.

Test Results:

Video Documentation of the Entire Test from Range to Bullet Recovery:

Direct Link to Video On YouTube

My Thoughts on This Load:
Overall, ARX 38 Special performed exceptionally well.  Laying the ruler on the gel block I was pleased to see that all four test shots had exceeded 12 inches of penetration before marginal bounce back on the bare gel test shot.  Regardless of the clothing barrier placed in front of the gel block, the bullets punched through and penetrated to the desired depth between 12 and 18 inches.

The velocity generated by my LCR revolver fell about 60 to 70 feet per second slower than the velocity printed on the box.  I like that because in a way it proves I wasn't sent a box of ammunition that was custom loaded to exceed published velocity specification.  The good news is that even at the lower velocity, the penetration was still within our 12 to 18 inch requirement.

Pick or Pan:
If you are looking for a low recoil standard pressure 38 Special load, that should be suitable for use in all 38 Special revolvers, this load might be for you.  I'm not an expert on fluid dynamics, so I take the force multiplier effect of the fluted bullet on faith.  It does appear to have a significant drag effect on the bullet and keeps penetration within the desired 12 to 18 inch window.  I have one 38 Special revolver in my collection that will not withstand +P ammunition.  I will certainly consider ARX 38 for use in that revolver when adequate supplies start hitting dealer shelves.

Added Commentary:
After completing this test, I realized I had three ARX tests completed and it might be interesting to take a step back and recap the test series.  If this is the first ARX test you are reading, the other two previous tests can be found on the following links.
Ruger ARX 380 Auto
Ruger ARX 9mm +P

Going back into the test videos, I grabbed screen captures of the stretch cavities created by each caliber.  I found the similarity of the stretch cavities very interesting.  They look much more similar than I would have expected.  The stretch cavity size varies by the kinetic energy of the bullet, but the similarity of cavity shape is what I found most interesting.  It appears that the fluted bullets are performing similarly across all tested calibers.

38 Special Stretch Cavities

9mm +P Stretch Cavities

380 Auto Stretch Cavities

To recap the three tests, I was really pleased with the performance of the 9mm +P and 38 Special ARX loads.  Both loads performed well from the 1.875 inch barrels used for testing.  The 380 Auto test shots came up a little short on our 12 inch penetration minimum. After reviewing the 38 Special test results, it appears that the 380 Auto bullet is just a bit too light and fails to hold momentum long enough to consistently meet the 12 inch penetration minimum.

All three loads generated less felt recoil than traditional JHP defensive ammunition.  This could be a factor for those that are recoil sensitive.  I place less value on the promise of faster follow up shots. Within reasonable boundaries, I believe live fire practice and firearm familiarity are much more important factors contributing to faster follow up shots than ammunition.  Your opinion may be different.

I always start out skeptical when looking at a new bullet design.  In my testing, the three calibers of ARX bullets tested have proven to penetrate to the lower end of our 12 to 18 inch expectation without any indication of exceeding the 18 inch penetration maximum.  All recovered projectiles were perfectly formed and showed no indications of fracturing after impacting clothing barriers and gel testing media.    

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.