RFI: A Different Testing Medium

My RFI is for someone in the north Texas / southern Oklahoma area who can weld heavy steel.  Anyone out there interested in doing a long-term project with me?

Here’s my line of thinking.  When a bullet strikes a soft target, you’ll get penetration to varying degrees (as we’ve been seeing here, for example).  That kind of measurement and analysis is made  possible with the use of ballistic gel.

I want to measure something a little different:  kinetic energy.  I know that ammo manufacturers usually supply this information in ft/lbs for their products (at least, most of the centerfire rifle stuff does);  but I want to try it for myself.

Here’s what I want to do.  We’re all familiar with the tractor-pull thing, where trucks compete to see who can shift a specific weight the furthest (with a shifting weight which increases drag over distance).  I want to apply that same principle, only using a weighted sled running on rails.

The methodology would be to have a stout piece of steel, e.g. a 1-ft x 1-ft x 2″ thick steel square — the target (solid, to avoid any thought of penetration) — welded to a  weight with four wheels (like below) attached.

Ideally, the whole weighted/wheeled target would weigh about 100lbs.

Then I’d want to get two lengths of steel I-beam laid on their side, upon which the wheels would run, set on level ground.  (I don’t know how long the beams would have to be;  10′? 15′?  We’d have to see.  Or if we needed shorter channels for ease of use, remove the wheels and replace with skids instead.)


The we could shoot the 1′-square steel target, and see how far the bullet(s) pushed the sled along the rails.

This all came about when I was talking to someone about the wisdom / folly of hunting a Cape buffalo with a .45-70 Govt vs. the Usual Suspects (.375 H&H, .458 Win Mag etc), and the guy (a seasoned hunter) said that it was all very well to use a round which penetrates a buffalo, but if it went all the way through, it was wasted energy;  he’d prefer to dump all the energy into the animal, to “knock it on its ass”, as it were.  A buffalo’s hide / body is tough, all right:  but the old “needle vs. bowling ball” argument always rears its head.

My goal in this is not to test rifle ammo, but to test self-defense pistol  cartridges.  I believe that if you were to combine ballistic gel-penetration numbers with the sled’s momentum / ft.lbs data, you’d be able to add yet another dimension, and judge a cartridge better than simply relying on the Lucky Gunner formula of muzzle velocity / bullet expansion / gel penetration.

If someone (e.g an engineer) has experience doing this kind of thing and wants to scope / design the project, please let me know.  Right now, I’m just blue-skying the thing out of ignorance.

Or has this, or something similar, been done elsewhere and I just missed the party?

Your thoughts in Comments.

Excellent Ammo Test – 2

Following on from my last post on the topic, let me turn to 9mm ammo, because I have little or no experience with the Europellet to speak of.

If I’m going to use lesser (than .45 ACP) ammo in my primary carry piece, I’m going to ask quite a lot of the ammo.  Specifically, I want substantial bullet expansion (to bring it up to .45 dimensions), and added velocity to punch the bullet home — therefore, using Lucky Gunner’s metrics, I want penetration greater than 16″, expansion greater than .5″, and velocity higher than 1,100 fps.

Casting my eye at LG’s 9x19mm test results, then, I see that two cartridges seem to be able to deliver said criteria:


Man, this Federal stuff looks like just what I’m looking for:  deep penetration,  consistent expansion, and excellent velocity.


The XTP lags just behind the Federal HST in terms of velocity, but it’s not bad at all, and almost as consistent in terms of expansion (albeit less than .5″).

For the record, here are the results for the load I’m currently carrying in the Browning High Power:

Not bad at all, although the greater expansion of the bullet on the extreme right is the one which dragged the penetration average down.  I like the ammo, though:  it’s wonderfully accurate in my elderly hands and still-more elderly gun.

However, there does seem to be a ringer in the 9mm ammo tested, and it’s this one:

Okay, the Speer looks outstanding — I’ve always been a fan of the Gold Dot, in other calibers — and the lighter boolet (115gr vs the others’  124gr) likely means less recoil.  The only negative to the lighter bullet weight is the penetration — barely breaking the 16″ criterion — but I’m adding it to the list nevertheless because as with the SIG load, one bullet over-expanded to bring the average penetration down.

Feel free to peruse the test results for your own conclusions.  Note, by the way, that several loads achieve much higher penetration than any of the above, but I think one can have too much  of that — think “innocent bystanders” and you’ll get my drift.

Have at it.  Are we having fun yet?

Excellent Ammo Test – 1

The guys at Lucky Gunner don’t just sell ammo at decent prices;  their ammo tests are superb.  Here’s the .38 Spec / .357 Mag test, using both 2″ and 4″ barrels(!), and the ability to rank by various factors such as speed and penetration makes the test just gold for guys like me, who want the very best combination of effectiveness, but lack the space or facilities to do the testing for ourselves.

Just looking at this chart for my 2″-barreled S&W 637, and given that I’d like penetration greater than 14″, expansion greater than .38″ and velocity higher than 800 fps, it would appear that these two loads would be my best choices for .38 Spec ammo:

Incidentally, my current carry load is the Hornady FTX, which seems to have better expansion and speed than the Federal.  But the Federal ammo seems to have the more consistent penetration (note the tight grouping) — and as a former statistician, I prefer results that are consistent with not too many “fliers”, such as Federal’s heavier load, which is all over the place:


Now, when I finally (eventually?) get my hands on a 4″-barreled S&W Model 65 in .357 Mag, I’ll be looking for penetration > 16″, expansion > .50″ and velocity > 1,300 fps — which means that these two cartridges will be getting my attention, you betcha:

There’s just this caveat, however.  As LG themselves note:

“Keep in mind that the loads with the best numbers might not necessarily be the best choice for your defensive revolver once the effects of recoil are taken into account.”

…so any of those options might not be my final decision, of course.  That would require… field testing!

I love this stuff.  And well done, Lucky Gunner.  When I test the ammo, I’ll be getting it from you guys:  it seems the right thing to do.

Range Report: Different Guns, Different Ammo

So back I went back to DFW Gun Range for Round 2 of “getting to know the High Power (again)” (with a small detour along the way).  Some parameters:

  • all shots in this session were fired “slow, deliberate”
  • in 8-round strings
  • into a standard NRA B-27E silhouette target
  • at 8 yards (25 feet) distance — because I had a little trouble with the mechanism and couldn’t get the target past that distance, not that it’s important.

Because I’m a Cheap Bastard, I prefer to use as few targets as possible, so what I do is shoot one round into an open area of the target, then use that bullet-hole as the aiming-point for the remaining 7 rounds.  The grouping is what it is.  Here’s what the target looked like afterwards (explanation to follow):

Item 1:  The 1911 detour
I wanted to do a quick comparison in feel between the .45ACP 185gr JHP practice ammo vs. my old 230gr FMJ standard.  The 185gr was the super-cheap “Monarch” brand (on sale for almost a pre-2008 price):

…while the 230gr stuff was regular Winchester White Box.

So here’s the “.45 area” of the target, with each group noted, starting with the 230gr:


I have to say, I’ve fired a lot of 230gr FMJ ammo in my life — at a rough guess, well over 50,000 rounds in various 1911 pistols, so shooting it holds no surprises for me.  Nevertheless, as I’ve noted recently on these here pages, the recoil from the heavy bullets may be starting to cause a little distress to my old wrists, hence my desire to try a lighter load.  I’ve shot quite a lot — close to a thousand — of the 185gr loads before, but never this brand, and its cheapness gave me low expectations.

Not anymore.  Hell, given the fact that the Monarch ammo is hollow-pointed, I may just use it as my carry load — but before I make that decision, I’ll do a few “real life” comparisons between the cheap Monarch JHP and the premium Hornady self-defense stuff.  (Don’t get excited;  I’m not going to use hippies as targets, tempting as the idea may be.)  I’ll use the old standby (watermelons, water jugs or something like that).  Watch these pages.

On to the High Power, and the cheap Sellier & Bellot 9mm 115gr practice ammo.

For this area of the target, I’ve simply noted the groupings in order of their arrival on target.

Accuracy started to improve around group #5 (with one flyer), then strings #6-#9 just flew where I wanted them to go.  I was so happy that I broke with my normal tradition (I generally don’t shoot at the head of the target), but my blood was up, and in fact, I think I fired that string at a slightly faster pace than the first nine, not “controlled rapid”, but certainly quicker than “slow deliberate” at any rate.

People sometimes say “the worst day at ____ is better than the best day at the office”, or something like that.  That’s not always true of range sessions;  I’ve had some absolutely shitty days at the range — broken guns, etc. — which quite frankly are worse than a couple of really good days I’ve had at the office.  But at the end of this range session I walked away with the Warm & Fuzzies, a much better day even than the time at the office when I told my boss to fuck off, and wasn’t fired*.

I must be getting old, to make a statement like that.

The only problem arising from this range day was:  I can’t actually decide whether I should use the Browning (with its 12-round mag) as my regular carry piece, or stick with the 1911, now loaded with 8 rounds of 185gr JHPs.  (I always have at least one  spare mag on me, btw, regardless of the gun I’m carrying.)

Your thoughts in Comments.

*Details of that  event some other time.

Shaking Hands

Not the quivering that happens before hopping into bed with a first-time lover, or when about to shoot in competition against  (say) Jerry Miculek;  I’m talking here about shaking hands last Friday afternoon with two old friends:

…the Ruger Single-Six having been exchanged for my Ruger MkIV 22/45 (thankee, Reader Jerry!).  As such, this specific gun wasn’t an old friend, but I’ve owned a Single-Six before, so it was a familiar experience.  All shots were taken at 10 yards, and here’s what the target looked like, in overview:

First:  the Browning High Power.  As my delivery of practice 115gr ammo hadn’t arrived yet (some nonsense about needing an 18-wheeler), I had to go with ten rounds from an old box of Fiocchi I happened to have lying around in Ye Olde Ammoe Locquer — oh sure, like none of you  have any “orphan ammo” in your lockers, right?  The self-defense load tested was thirteen rounds of SIG V-Power 147gr.  I wasn’t trying for any serious accuracy with the 115gr. stuff;  it was just getting re-familiarized with the High Power’s trigger.  Here’s the result:

Shooting the 115gr was a breeze, and the three outliers were the first three shots taken, holding on the “8” in the target — trigger familiarization, folks.  Then I got a little more serious, and dropped the last seven bullets into the single hole, as shown.  A tad high, but next time I’ll hold at the bottom of the 8.

Then I changed to the SIG ammo, and I have to admit that the heavier 147gr. bullets took a little getting used to (the hold was on the X):

The 13-shot grouping wasn’t as tight as that of the lighter 115gr, but certainly in terms of self defense clustering, I wasn’t too displeased with the outcome.  (Only one  flier?  I must be getting better, or else the High Power is a better gun than I remember.)  It looks like the hold, as for the 115gr FMJ ammo, is at the bottom of the target circle.

I love my High Power 9mm, and once its carry holster arrives from Don Hume and the spare mags from [can’t remember] , it’s onto my waist it’ll be going, on probation of course. You may all reach for the smelling-salts now.

Next came the Single-Six (aiming at 2 1/2″ yellow targets), and I shot one cylinder each of .22 LR and .22 WinMag without too much regard for the grouping, just to get used to the single-action trigger.  Then I got a little more serious, and took my time with the next two cylinders, first with the CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR 40gr. solids:

…and then with the CCI Maxi-Mag .22 WMR, also 40gr. solids:

Hmmm…  thought I’d do better with the .22 Mags, as I was getting really used to the trigger by then.  So what does that mean, Readers? [3…2…1…]


Can’t wait.  It’s a good thing I stocked up with .22 WMR during the Dubya Administration:  .22 Mag is more expensive than 9mm.

And yes:  a slow, deliberate, one-shot-at-a-time session with the single-action Ruger was just fantastic.