.45 Auto Frangible Loads: Our Pick Is Winchester Ranger

Our tests of cartridges from Remington, Winchester, and Speer had excellent to marginal accuracy results with acceptable recoil - and the most over-penetration we have ever seen.


Frangible ammunition has been around for more than 15 years, but many shooters are unfamiliar with it. We were introduced to frangible ammunition at the Sigarms Academy (<www.sigarmsacademy.com>) in New Hampshire. Sigarms Academy uses lead-free non-toxic ammunition exclusively; in fact they provide all the ammo their students can shoot as part of the course fee.

Frangible ammunition is available in most standard pistol calibers and two rifle calibers (.223 and .308), but the .45 auto is one of our favorite calibers, so we choose it for our test. We selected the Rock River Limited Match .45 ACP (<www.rockriverarms.com>), which has an accuracy guarantee of 1.5 inches at 50 yards. At the time of testing, we had already fired approximately 1000 rounds of break-in. Into the gun we fed three training-appropriate .45 auto roundnose loads: Speers 155-grain Lawman RHT Frangible CF (Load No. 53395); Remington 175-grain Disintegrator Plated, Frangible (Load No. L45APA), and Winchesters 175-grain +P Ranger Frangible SF (Load No. RA45SF).

The Hunting Shack, Inc. (www.thehuntingshack.com) sells all three brands tested, as well as one of their own manufacture. The Speer Lawman RHT sells for $19 per box of 50, or 38 cents a round. The Winchester Ranger 175-grain +P Frangible SF sells for $25.55 per box of 50, or 51 cents a round. Remingtons 175-grain Disintegrator sells for $19.25 per box of 50, or 39 cents each.

Most local gun stores do not carry frangible ammunition. Frangible ammunition is not restricted by law, but some sellers that carry it only sell to law enforcement. The Hunting Shack will sell it to anyone who follows their procedure and is of legal age.

The lead-free, non-toxic, frangible round has two advantages over standard ball ammunition and two drawbacks.

The first advantage is that you are not breathing toxic material. If you shoot at an indoor range or an outdoor range on a day with no wind or the wind is in your face, you might be breathing in more lead than you think. Non-toxic frangible ammunition eliminates the risk. Some bullet manufacturers have fully encased the lead (such as Winchesters WinClean BEB, or brass-enclosed base) in their ammunition, which substantially reduce the risk at a lower price, but the lead is still in the environment.

The second and primary advantage of frangible ammunition is the reduced chance of a ricochet. Shooting steel targets or other hard material at close range with standard ammunition is a ricochet waiting to happen. Sigarms Academy has been using frangible ammunition since 1990 and has never had a ricochet or any other shooting-related incident for that matter. All three of the rounds tested were shot at a 0.5-inch-thick steel plate from a distance of 12 inches with no splashback.

The Remington round differs from the other two tested in that it does have plating that can sometimes be recovered. After we pulled and weighed the bullets, we smashed each one with a hammer. The Winchester and Speer bullets chipped and powdered completely after several strikes, however the Remington round broke apart with the center material powdering, but the jacket remained in two large pieces.

Test Procedures
Our testing procedure had several stages in it. If a round was found wanting at any stage, it was removed from the rest of the test, and the survivors continued. The stages are described briefly below; a more detailed testing procedure can be viewed and downloaded free of charge at <www.gun-tests.com/performance/ammunition.html>.

• Reliability. Every round fired passed the reliability portion of the test. The gun worked perfectly. Our test gun has never malfunctioned.

• Velocity. Velocities were recorded by firing 20-shot strings over an Oehler 35P chronograph. Every load met our standard for consistency, albeit barely in the case of the Remington Disintegrator. The results appear in the accompanying table.

• Accuracy. The Remington Disintegrator shined with an outstanding average group size of 0.7 inch. Winchesters Ranger 175-grain +P load more than met the standard, but Speers Lawman RHT missed the mark. The results appear in the nearby table.

• Recoil Level. Though only two loads remained in the test at this point, information for all three loads is provided in the accompanying table. The felt recoil for all three rounds was controllable and similar to 230-grain FMJ standard loads.

The velocity was high for all of these cartridges. The Remington 175-grain load was 80 fps faster than Winchesters 175-grain +P load. Speers light 155-grain bullet zipped along above 1100 fps.

• Penetration, Expansion, Weight Retention. All three rounds were fired into water, lots of water. We lined up six jugs of water for each round, and to our dismay the bullets passed through all of them. We wanted to find out just how much penetration we were looking at so we lined up 12 jugs of water. The Speer Lawman RHT stopped in the tenth jug. Light rifling marks can be seen on the bullet, but there was no expansion or damage to the round.

The Remington Disintegrator, the least penetrating round, stopped in the seventh jug. More distinct rifling marks are on the bullet, but it did not expand either.

Finally, we fired the Winchester 175-grain +P round into water. It went through all 12 jugs of water and kept going. We were unable to recover the bullet, but strongly suspect that there would not have been any expansion or loss of mass. The bullet penetrated over 72 inches of water!

Normally we limit our testing to water, but because of the surprising results obtained and the unique nature of these bullets we checked penetration on other media. On thick steel plate all of the bullets powdered, so we tried the seat of a steel-folding chair. All three rounds penetrated. Also, all three rounds went through 1-by-4 and 2-by-4 wood boards, but all three rounds stopped in a 4-by-4 board at a depth of approximately 2.75 inches.

Gun Tests Recommends
If you are considering using frangible ammunition for self-defense, dont. All three rounds [PDFCAP(1)] and could be very hazardous to innocent bystanders. There was also no expansion, so energy transfer could be minimal. If you want to reduce your exposure to lead, there are other effective, lower-cost choices. However, if you are determined to shoot steel plates at close distance or are concerned about ricochet hazard for any reason, then they might be the right choice for you.

• Winchester Ranger 175-grain +P frangible SF (Load No. RA45SF), $25.55 per box of 50. Our Pick. It wasnt quite as accurate as the Remington, but we were very pleased with the 1.1-inch group average. It was perfectly reliable in our test gun. Its standard deviation of 12 fps was the best in the test. Although the recoil felt close to the other rounds tested, it might have been a little less considering it had the lowest power factor of 170.1 pf. The bullet has no jacket to clean up, and powdered completely upon hitting a hard surface.

• Remington Disintegrator 175-grain plated frangible (Load No. L45APA), approximately $19.25 per 50-round box. Conditional Buy. It was the most accurate with an average 0.7-inch group size. It worked with perfect reliability in our test gun. Its standard deviation of 20 fps just met our standard. Its recoil was acceptable, and it fragmented when it was meant to. Our concern about the load was that it has a plating or jacket, which might possibly ricochet, although we did not experience this. Sigarms Academy told us that they do not use it for that reason, and it is also harder to clean up the mess from this round on an indoor range.

• Speer Lawman RHT 155-grain frangible CF (Load No. 53395), $19 per box of 50. Dont Buy. Although it was the lowest-priced ammo, it did not meet our accuracy standards. We think the Winchester and Remington cartridges above are better choices.

For more information, contact the companies: Winchester/Olin, (618) 258-3566, <www.winchester.com/lawenforcement>; Remington (336) 548-8899, <www.remingtonle.com>; Speer, (800) 627-3640, <www.le.atk.com>.

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