July 2012

Frangible Ammunition Testing: We Give Nine Loads a Fair Shot

We tested a handful of rounds designed to break apart in various fashions, and found a trio from Glaser, Extreme Shock, and DRT that we’d consider as viable self-defense choices.

This feature report on frangible ammunition was instigated by questions from readers. Most of the questions were along the same line: Can such-and-such ammunition possibly do what they say it does? Can a chunk of lead, fairy powder, or depleted uranium or other secret element possibly increase the effectiveness of a handgun bullet in the manner stated?

The concept of frangible ammunition has been around for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that it is completely understood. As an example, during our rush to collect as many examples of these loads as possible, we found that otherwise knowledgeable gun-store clerks were mistaken concerning exactly what we were looking for. One of the fellows was asked to order frangible loads from as many different makers as possible. When our ammo came in the following week the clerk had batted .500. Half of the ammo was frangible, but the others were “lead free” loads, which are a different animal. We winced inwardly but paid up and smiled because this young man always gets the job done in a timely manner and is helpful in ordering the tons of ammunition we need every year.

Still, we managed to amass enough frangible ammunition to give the loads a fair shot. We were able to educate ourselves on the differences in frangible loads. In the past many writers, including our primary author, have referred to soft-point and hollowpoint loads as frangible. This is strictly correct only when you compare a fast-opening hollowpoint to a hard-cast lead bullet. Another term for frangible and hollowpoints alike has been exotic bullet styles — the Hydra-Shok or Silvertip is pretty exotic compared to a roundnose lead bullet. Just the same, there must be some consensus on what frangible ammo is.

Frangible ammunition is best described as a projectile designed to break up and disintegrate when meeting hard resistance, such as steel plates or a wall in a dwelling. Expansion is advertised in some cases, but those with powdered or sintered cores do not necessarily expand. Rather, they return to their original states. The concept is related to safety. Frangible bullets eliminate ricochet and limit overpenetration. They are useful in crowded environments and in providing safe training ammunition for use with steel targets or at very close range. There is no personal defense application intended or implied. The SinterFire is among the best-known examples of this type of bullet. There is always lethality involved, as the ammunition will perform much like a full-metal-jacketed bullet if it strikes flesh and bone. The loads are truly frangible only if hitting a steel plate or cinder block.

The second type of frangible includes the original Glaser Safety Slug. These are designed to break up when striking flesh and blood and absolutely guarantee that no part of the projectile exits the body. After over 30 years on the market, the facts are clear that the Glaser works as designed most of the time. Prison bureaus and big-city agency’s SWAT teams have used these safety slugs. Sometimes called pre-fragmented, the Glaser relies upon compressed birdshot in a hollow jacket for effect. There are various competing types, including Extreme Shock and the DRT rounds. Each of these uses a different composition of frangible material, with the Extreme Shock depending upon nytrillium and the DRT relying upon a sintered core in a jacket. Since both types of loads are included in the frangible description, we tested both types.

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