Frangible Ammo 101
In years past, ammo options were fairly restricted. Standard FMJ or hollow points were the two main categories, and not much else. Today, there is a wide selection of specialty ammo, each designed for a specific purpose. In this article, we will take a closer look at frangible ammo.
What is Frangible Ammo?
Frangible ammunition is no different than traditional ammo, except for the projectile. Frangible ammo is a type of ammo loaded with a special bullet. Unlike a traditional bullet’s swaged lead or lead core wrapped in a copper jacket construction, a frangible bullet is generally constructed of a powder metal compressed or “sintered” into a bullet. This unique bullet construction provides an effective and lethal force with additional safety features for shooters, trainers, and marksmen. The main safety benefit frangible ammo provides is the bullet’s ability to shatter into a powder upon contact with a surface harder than itself.
A lead core round leaves a trail of lead behind once it is fired until it makes contact with its target. The exception may be ammo with a full metal jacket. That shedding does not occur in a non-lead ammo nor in frangible ammo. The big difference is that when frangible bullets strike a steel target, for example, it explodes into powdered copper that is nearly harmless.
Why Should You Use Frangible Ammo?
Much of this answer is dependent upon the purpose and circumstances in which you are shooting. Since frangible ammo has a very low-risk of ricochet and over-penetration, some of its most common applications are shoot-house training, home defense, and short range target practice with steel targets.
Frangible ammo is an excellent option for training law enforcement or military personnel in close quarters or indoor tactics. With traditional bullets, indoor shoot house training would be nearly impossible because of the damage that non-frangible ammo has on targets, and the danger of ricochets. Reducing ricochet potential to almost nil helps immensely in the tightly controlled environment of close quarters training. Frangible ammo also works in these situations when new students are being trained. This is because frangible bullets are often lighter than traditional bullets and therefore have less recoil. Rob Pincus, points out in his Frangible Ammunition for Training and Safety: The Good and The Bad that frangible ammo can help newer shooters with less developed skills improve recoil control and shooting form.
Anytime shooters, law enforcement and military personnel can utilize lifelike, realistic training scenarios and significantly reduce shooting hazards, it’s a win-win.
Home and Personal Defense
Home defense and personal defense ammo is application of frangible ammo. Again, there is a decreased risk of ricochet. There is also a much smaller risk of the bullet traveling through doors, walls, or other surroundings and wounding or killing bystanders. If you are defending yourself or your home, frangible ammo can deliver the punch required to take down your target while reducing the risk of injuring others. John Mullins, in his book Frangible Ammunition: The New Wave in Firearms Ammunition, says that Frangible ammunition is "the first viable revolutionary change to firearms science in the last 100 years."
Penetration reduction does not mean that frangible ammo is not lethal or that it does not cause serious damage. It does. A frangible bullet is very lethal to any unarmored target, no matter if they are a “good guy” or “bad guy”. Their dispersal quality just ensures that unwanted damage or injury is limited in the event of an errant shot.
The Gray Areas of Frangible Ammo
One major issue surrounding frangible ammo is the resulting injury. A traditional bullet is a relatively simple wound channel, which medical experts are extensively trained to care for. Frangible ammo results in a much more erratic wound, and the bullet often breaks apart or changes trajectory. This results in a much more complex injury that is much more difficult to treat. The difference in how frangible ammo creates wounds is changing how medical teams respond to gunshot victims.
When is Frangible Ammo not the Best Choice
Due to the nature of frangible ammo, it does very poorly against armored targets or other hard, heavy targets. As with all specialty ammo, it excels in the area that it was designed for, but doesn’t do as well as other applications outside of that focus. So, if you’re looking for ammo that inflicts a deeper wound cavity or excels in penetration, frangible ammo isn’t for you. If you want ammo that can handle a variety of uses, consider a more general purpose round.
When choosing any ammunition, the key consideration is application; what purpose you want your ammo to fulfill. Frangible bullets are regularly used in the military and in many law enforcement agencies across the nation and world. They do have limitations, many of which are the same features that we also praise these bullets for providing. If you are interested in learning more about standard types of ammo, check out our article on Personal Defense Ammo: Picking the Right Tool for the Job.
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