Firearms Food for Thought: Frangible Ammo Use

TNQ 9mm Frang HP Gel Block

It just might be the unsung hero of the ammunition world: frangible rounds. Of course, it also seems to be widely misunderstood, not to mention underused. And while there aren’t a lot of companies out there manufacturing quality frangible rounds, there are a few. So for those of you who enjoy giving some thought to a topic and stating your personal experiences, this is the Firearms Food for Thought this week: what are your thoughts on frangible ammunition? Do you use it yourself and if so, do you use it only for specific drills or for more? Ever load your self-defense weapons with it?

Although many gun owners are aware frangible bullets are typically made with compressed powdered copper, there’s more to them than that. Some have a jacket and some do not. Still others are made not with copper but with polymers. Yes, there are multiple types out there, each with their own pros and cons. But the idea behind them is always the same: the bullet strikes an object made of material solid enough to cause it to crumble into pieces, and the risk of splashback drops significantly. The risk of ricochet is also greatly reduced, because it’s hard to ricochet when there’s nothing solid left.

SRSP Team Never Quit has an entire line of frangible rounds

SRSP Team Never Quit has an entire line of frangible rounds

Using frangible rounds for steel plate shooting is a fairly common practice although not quite as common as you might think. With a magazine loaded with frangibles you can advance on a steel plate target without worrying about the splashback and ricochet associated with other types of ammunition, but that’s not all. It’s also great for some of the other more obvious uses such as training in a shoot house or CQB training, but don’t forget rifles. Yes, rifles. Companies like Snake River Shooting Products and DRT manufacture frangible rifle rounds, making it possible for you to train at closer ranges with your favorite rifle.

DRT offers a variety of frangible rounds

DRT offers a variety of frangible rounds

But if you think frangibles are just for shooting steel or working your way through a shoot house, you’re wrong. Frangible ammunition done right makes a capable round for hunting and self-defense. So don’t limit yourself to the range, load those magazines for your next deer or hog hunt and have at it. Don’t worry, they’re going down. As with any round it’s all about shot placement. You provide the placement and let the frangible bullet do the rest.

What’s your experience been like with frangible ammunition?

These guys make good frangible rounds, so click on their company’s name to visit their websites: DRT and Snake River Shooting Products. There are other companies that manufacture them as well, these are simply two that have chosen to focus on frangibles on a larger scale.



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • TheSmellofNapalm

    If you hunt with frangible because your shot placement is that unpredictable, don’t even bother trying to eat it.

    Was anybody NOT aware what frangible ammo was?

    • A.WChuck

      For those new to the shooting sports, everything is new at some point.

    • Nicks87

      We eat birds, shot with birdshot and deer, shot with buckshot so why not with frangible? Just do a good job butchering your meat and eat carefully.

    • Jwedel1231

      You mean copper?

    • phuzz

      “Frangible ammo, as recommended by the American Dental Association”

  • Spencerhut

    I can’t even imagine trying to dig frangible fragments out of a game animal . . . assuming the hit makes it deep enough to even put an animal down.

    • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

      I was thinking the same thing. I imagine you could reliably put down medium and smaller game, but if you hit an elk on a rib bone instead of between them Id wager youre not going to see that animal again. I dont have any first hand experience with frangibles, but Id bet they are useless when encountering bone.

    • It strikes me that eating any game taken with a powdered tungsten frangible like the DRT rifle projectiles might not be the best idea.

      • Spencerhut

        Hey now, I’m not the moron that floated the idea . . . . 🙂

      • RealitiCzech

        Why can’t someone make a frangible projectile out of salt and Old Bay seasoning?

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    When selecting ammunition (particularly for rifles), I prioritize Weight Retention and Penetration. Thats kind of the opposite of frangible ammo; that being said I do recognize the impressive terminal ballistics that frangible bullets have when they hit in an ideal location.

  • The Wound Channel

    These rounds consistently fail to meet the FBI standards for penetration.

    Good for shooting steel up close and some hunting applications. Most of these are terrible for stopping a human attacker.

    • Sianmink

      The ones designed to come apart do so within inches in gel, so on impact against clothing and flesh. The solids just icepick straight through, like a FMJ but without any destabilization.

      Some of the rifle rounds seem viable though, as they go in deeper before violently self-disassembling.

      • Guest

        I feel like if you can get decent penetration out of a frangible before it pulls itself apart, it would make a good home defense round, decreasing the chance of overpenetration through normal building materials.

        • I think you’d probably still be better off with a .223/5.56 hollowpoint with a good cannelure; they have far less penetration through interior walls than 9mm JHPs.

        • Sianmink

          Having fired frangible .223 45 grain into gelatin, I’m pretty confident it could do the job.

        • Jwedel1231

          Research DRT ammo (the same mentioned in the article above). They make their rounds for the sole purpose of penetrating some distance (different for each caliber) before they fragment, just like you said.

    • MikeSmith13807

      Why is failure to meet FBI standards an immediate disqualifier? I know you test stuff–you should go find a hog trapper and offer to handle the executions with various ammo samples so you can see performance on living targets.

      • The Wound Channel

        Nobody said you can’t kill a hog with them, as a matter of fact I specifically said they were good for some hunting applications.

        The FBI spends a lot of time and money evaluating real world shootings and gel tests to develop criteria for what actually STOPS human attackers.

        I’m not willing to disregard all that because “it can kill a hog”.

        • MikeSmith13807

          My point is that the gel test is just a starting point. I’m sure you know its history. It’s 2016–a lot has changed since that was first developed. If you take a round that “only” penetrates 10″ in gel but then you shoot a 150 pound hog with it and you get no exit wound yet you open it up and find that it pulverized the internal organs and the hog dropped where it stood without a kick, I’m going to be pretty confident that it would be an effective self defense round with minimal concerns for over-penetration.

          Let’s just remember that a human torso can easily be less in thickness than the FBI’s minimum standard for gel penetration. The gel is not gospel, it’s just the easiest way to apply the scientific method to evaluating ammo.

          Edited to add… I only choose hogs because nobody is going to get upset if you use them as live targets. It’s probably challenging to get your hands on human cadavers to do such testing, and it wouldn’t be desirable anyway because ammo like DRT is designed to to interact with fluid, and dead human bodies won’t simulate live bodies well. Until we are executing humans routinely by firing squad and they let you conduct ammo experiments with the executions, hogs are probably the best alternative. 😛

          • The Wound Channel

            Correct, I never said it was the be all end all for ammo choices. But it’s the best correlation between actually shooting humans, and testing. Remember the thickness of the gel and the penetration requirements don’t assume a perfect shot that misses bones. Sometimes when someone is shooting back at you or otherwise attacking you their arms are outstretched in front of them. You might have to go through 3 layers of skin, a forearm bone, a sternum, and some tissue to hit an attacker in the heart or lungs. That’s why the minimum penetration depth is more than the thickness of a torso.

            If frangible ammo hits an arm and comes apart it’s not going to go into someone’s chest the way a bonded JHP will. That’s something to consider when you’re talking defensive shootings with humans and hunting a pig.

            Over penetration in defensive shootings is a myth. It simply doesn’t happen.

          • MikeSmith13807

            DRT claims the bullet doesn’t come apart if it hits bone first–it only initiates fragmentation when it hits liquid. It would be interesting to see what happens when it hits a hog’s rib first. It would also be very interesting to see what happens when you shoot a hog in the skull.

            My interest is not so much in preventing over-penetration as maximizing the impact of each bullet. It seems to me that on surface examination something like DRT is the closest thing to the magic bullet (that makes a one-shot-stop every time) we’ve seen so far, but it’s hard not to be skeptical and gel demos are only the first step in validating the design.

    • CommonSense23

      I have yet to see a round that drops people as efficiently as MK262. Placing to much blind faith in gel test without comparing it to live tissue isn’t a good idea.

    • FrenchieGunner

      You forgot that the FBI standards are only for pistol rounds, because they don’t have enough energy to incapacitate on its own, it needs penetration. With rifle rounds that’s another game, bullet are smaller, have much more kinetic energy and it uses different principles to wound, primarily energy transfer and fragmentation.

  • Austin

    Realistically frangible is beat used for steel and limited use where overprotecting could be catastrophic (like say Air Marshall) for most other applications rounds designed to fracture(Like Lehigh’s controlled chaos or controlled fracture) are better suited for most applications.

  • Big Daddy

    Do not use this ammo type for self-defense, ever. Bonded JHPs that meet the FBI protocol is the only ones to use. Minimum of 12″ penetration and not more than 18″ with as much expansion as possible for handgun ammo. Any one who would recommend frangible ammo for self-defense does not know what they are taking about. They should not be telling others what to use, it’s could turn into a life and death situation. You do not put incorrect information out there, you do have some responsibility to people even if others in the media and government feel they do not, in this community you do.

  • The only frangible ammunition I’ve ever used were some cylindrical pieces of Portland Cement I got out of a PVC pipe I’d filled up with leftover concrete mix from pouring a shed slab; they were exactly big enough around to fit in the shot cup of 20ga shells with the birdshot emptied out. No chronograph was involved, but fired out of an open choke 24″ barrel, I estimate they were moving at roughly half the speed of light. Utterly destroyed a pumpkin and a gallon milk jug full of slurry mud while mostly disintegrating in the process; I stopped making new ones when I fired one at a piece of creosote railroad tie from twenty feet or so and had a chunk bounce off my eyepro.

    I wouldn’t want to hunt with them because I like meat to be edible, but I bet they’d make a home intruder reconsider his career choices.

  • Jeremy Hatley

    I have shot the Federal 9mm green box fran on steel targets and have gotten a lot of splash. Not jackets, but more of a sand blast feeling. Neither one of them is comfortable.

  • gunsandrockets

    .44 magnum glasers fired from a revolver or carbine seem like a reasonable choice for apartment home defense.

  • sean

    If anyone is in the Flathead Valley on July 23, Team Never Quit, Falkor, Proof Research, Nemo, and Kimber are doing a Outdoor Expo for the public…There will also be a opportunity to shoot down some Gnat Warfare Drones!!!!

  • Sulaco

    The Ammo Quest guy on Utube did testing of the “Black Ops” frangible by HPR. His conclusion was that the rounds (9mm and .45 I think the .45 is only 150 grains weight) did “ok” but were IHO lower end of what he would carry himself. My office had a gel block shot with the .40 S+W Black Ops and it pretty well filleted the internals but came up short in penetration, about 9 – 10 inches. You pays your money and takes yr chances in life…

    • Bronson

      His channel is ShootingTheBull410 on YouTube and he’s got tons of great ballistic testing videos that people should check out.