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How To Evaluate Ammunition

A lot of factors must be considered when selecting ammo for police operations.

by Nick Jacobellis
Imagine for a moment that you are a law enforcement
administrator who is responsible for evaluating ammunition for
your agency. The decisions you make can have a profound effect
on the safety of your sworn personnel and the civilian population
that they serve. The same is true if you are an individual officer
who is allowed to use personally owned firearms and ammunition
A lot of factors
on the job. You have a responsibility to select the best
must be considered
ammunition available.
when selecting
The question is, how do you know which ammunition is the
ammo for police
most reliable and effective for your specific law enforcement
Talk to Other Cops
One of the most important contacts you can make regarding
ammunition selection is with another law enforcement officer who
is extremely well versed in this subject.
To find someone with the proper credentials, I recommend that
you contact local police firearms instructors and law enforcement
agencies that have a reputation for being progressive when it
comes to firearms and ammunition. Certain federal agencies
such as the FBI, the Border Patrol, the DEA, and the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS) should also be
approached because over the years these agencies have
conducted large-scale ammunition and firearms tests.
Once you have located someone who is familiar with this topic,
talk to him, take copious notes, and ask for copies of any test
results or research that was used to justify the purchase of a
particular caliber, brand, or type of ammunition that fits your
needs. Also, ask for any documentation about the effectiveness
of ammunition in actual police-involved shootings.
Now, contact various agencies that use the same ammunition.
Hopefully, you will receive the same glowing reports about the
ammunition's effectiveness. And before you make your final
selection, determine if other calibers, brands, or types of
ammunition are capable of producing even better results.
Remember, when you conduct research, your goal is to
examine as much documentation as possible. Look for data that
supports the claim that a particular caliber, brand, and type of
ammunition works reliably in a variety of firearms and is very
effective in defeating certain barriers and stopping an attacker
from continuing to pose a threat. But be on guard for faulty
research or findings that are based on very limited samplings of
Issuing ammunition
that produces a low
Consider your mission and the requirements of your
jurisdiction when you select service ammunition or special
level of muzzle flash
purpose ammunition. Law enforcement officers assigned to
can also help your
traffic and motor vehicle enforcement duties need to be issued
ammunition that is capable of delivering effective stopping
officers shoot more
power after defeating automobile glass, heavy clothing, and the
components such as steel and plastics that are used to
accurately in low-
manufacture motor vehicles. In contrast, officers who work
light conditions
inside a courthouse or in an urban setting should be armed with
ammunition that is less likely to over penetrate a human body or
building construction material.
It's important that you also consider the problems of recoil and
muzzle flash when adopting a new caliber, brand, or type of
ammunition. Adopting new ammunition is not wise if by doing so
you dramatically increase felt recoil and make it difficult for
some sworn personnel to qualify or accurately use their service
handguns to protect life and property.
Failing to consider recoil when changing ammo may cause
certain members of your agency to file legal actions if they are
terminated because they are unable to qualify. Issuing
ammunition that produces a low level of muzzle flash can also
help your officers shoot more accurately in low-light conditions.
It's also a good idea to resist the temptation to use a particular
caliber, brand, or type of ammunition that receives extremely
positive test reports until some time has passed. I mention this
because ideally a specific caliber, brand, and type of
ammunition, as well as the firearms that it will be used with,
should be adequately tested in the field before they are adopted
on a widespread basis.
For example, allow a portion of your patrol and investigative
force to carry a sampling of different makes, models, and
calibers of handguns for six months to a year before the final
selection is made. This may be the most intelligent way to
convert to a new handgun or adopt a new caliber or type of
ammunition. Remember, evaluating firearms and ammunition
under constant field use and "combat conditions" is always the
best way to go.
evaluating firearms
Contact the Companies
and ammunition
Don't hesitate to contact the ammunition makers about their
under constant field
products. They have a lot of data on performance, and they will
use and "combat
send you stuff to test.
conditions" is
Winchester (Olin) will even assist law enforcement agencies in
always the best
testing the company's ammo. If a law enforcement agency is too
small to justify the expense of testing ammunition locally,
way to go
Winchester will arrange for personnel from that agency to
participate in a ballistic workshop in another area.
Ammunition companies should also be approached to work on
specific projects. One example of this occurred after the FBI
conducted extensive tests and evaluations on 10mm
ammunition as a service caliber and Smith & Wesson and
Winchester launched a joint project to develop .40 S&W caliber
pistols and ammunition. This caliber is now widely used by law
enforcement agencies throughout the United States.
Another example of collaboration between an ammunition
company and a gun company occurred when SIGARMS and
Federal Cartridge developed the .357 SIG caliber. Federal
Cartridge also puts on ballistic workshops for law enforcement
agencies. Due to the tremendous expense involved, Federal
accommodates smaller agencies by inviting them to attend
workshops with other departments in other areas.
More than 100 such ballistic workshops are hosted by Federal
Cartridge each year. CCI Speer is another ammunition company
that will host ballistic workshops and assist law enforcement
agencies in selecting the best ammunition for their operation.
(CCI Speer and Federal cartridge are now both under the ATK
corporate umbrella.)
Every major American ammunition company has law
enforcement representatives who can provide you with the
The most scientific
research data that you will need to make your decision before
you purchase a particular brand or type of ammunition. Some of
way to test
this information can be found on the Internet. But as a consumer
ammunition is by
you must not be shy about asking questions. You should also
ask for copies of documentation that prove that certain
shooting it into
advertised "facts" are true.
carefully mixed and
Gelatin Tests
maintained Kind and
Knox Ballistic Gelatin
According to some experts, a hollow-point bullet should
penetrate a minimum of 12 inches and a maximum of 15 inches
in properly prepared ballistic gelatin, but must not be so
powerful as to over penetrate and cause collateral damage.
But some controversy exists about minimum and maximum
levels of penetration in ballistic gelatin that is designed to
replicate human tissue. The 12-inch penetration guideline was
established by the FBI to rate ammunition that is more likely to
reach a vital organ and the central nervous system after
entering a human body. The experts also say that the best
hollow-point ammunition should mushroom or expand beyond
its caliber size and should retain much or all of its weight after
being fired into a human body.
The most scientific way to test ammunition is by shooting it
into carefully mixed and maintained Kind and Knox Ballistic
Gelatin that is properly prepared and used according to
accepted protocols.
One of the accepted protocols used in modern ammunition
testing is to cover a properly mixed and prepared block of
ballistic gelatin with layers of denim cloth to simulate penetrating
a human subject wearing heavy or winter clothing. Bullets that
achieve the proper penetration and expansion through different
types of barriers, including covered and bare gelatin generally
provide effective stopping power in the field under ideal
Of course, there is no way to inject ballistic gelatin with
A tremendous
tremendous amounts of adrenalin or illegal drugs to duplicate
the effects that such substances can have on a person's ability
amount of research
to continue to resist after being shot by the police. There is also
and testing must be
no way to reproduce the human fight-or-flight mechanism in
conducted before a
gelatin testing.
bullet design is
The human response to danger can cause an armed violator
to do amazing things to avoid capture after being seriously or
even mortally wounded. These factors are the wild cards that
can dramatically influence the way a person behaves after being
shot by law enforcement officers or a legally armed citizen. The
adrenaline we produce during a life-threatening situation, along
with the psychological desire to either avoid danger or fight to
the death when absolutely necessary, also enables armed
professionals and law abiding citizens to go to great lengths to
Revisit and Refine Your Research
In order to achieve the preferred or ideal results, a
tremendous amount of research and testing must be conducted
before a bullet design is perfected. Even then, ammunition
companies will periodically update their designs to improve the
effectiveness of their products. This is a critical point to
remember because ammunition that you once ignored because
it was previously proven ineffective may one day become highly
rated because it was modified to perform to a higher standard.
This means that it is in your best interest to constantly monitor
the performance of all law enforcement ammunition.
It is also important to consider the potential ramifications of
using service ammunition in handguns of the same caliber with
different barrel lengths. Ammunition should always be tested
before being issued or used to determine the actual velocity
produced when fired from the same make and model handgun
that you intend to carry.
If it is determined that the ammunition you are interested in
adopting will suffer a significant loss of velocity when fired from
should always be
a certain handgun, you may wish to select a different caliber,
tested before
brand, or type of ammunition, or use a different firearm in order
being issued or
to achieve better results.
You must also recognize that some compromise may be
required when you select certain types of ammunition. I mention
this because some of the most effective service ammunition is
often more difficult to comfortably shoot, especially in certain
lightweight handguns. This was also true in the old days when
many of us carried .357 Magnum revolvers but loaded our wheel
guns with softer shooting .38 Special Plus P ammunition.
In the end, you must consider the need to be accurate over all
other factors because it makes no sense to issue or use the
most effective ammunition available if the recoil this ammunition
produces prevents you from being able to qualify or consistently
hit what you are aiming at.
If you believe that knowledge is power, you will learn all you
can about ammunition and firearms. One way to accomplish this
is to converse with people who are extremely knowledgeable
about these subjects. As you learn more, you should be able to
draw your own conclusions and separate fact from fiction. I
would also go online and carefully read everything you can find
about ammunition effectiveness, ammunition testing, and the
selection of ammunition. You can also increase your knowledge
by reading books and magazine articles about firearms and
ammunition. However, I caution you about drawing conclusions
or taking sides on various issues until you become significantly
more knowledgeable about firearms and ammunition.
Copyright 2007 POLICE Magazine

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