Should I Use Frangible Ammo for Self-Defense?
Frangible ammo has proved itself safe and accurate for steel competition and Close Quarters Combat (CQB) training, but can you trust it to perform in a real-life self-defense situation?
I remember when G2 Research released its R.I.P. (Radically Invasive Projectile) in 2014. To date, the introduction video of the round has had well over 8 million views. G2 Research designed the round to “take out all your vital organs” and be “the last round you will ever need.” Indeed, it is a very mean looking bullet. The R.I.P. is an all-copper hollow-point bullet with eight petals each. These petals have a three-sided pointy tip called trocars made to fragment and create multiple wound channels. A lot of people saw it and exclaimed, “Holy Cow! I need this!” It seemed appropriate that FPS Russia would test it and recommend it.
Due to increasing hype and demand from the gun community, some more serious gun writers started testing the R.I.P. with less than stellar results. Because I work in the industry, I knew this wasn’t the first time some new-fangled ammo wasn’t performing anywhere near promised. However, despite the tests from trusted gun bloggers and YouTubers, people still buy into these gimmicky rounds.
Will the G2 Research R.I.P. stop a threat? Without a doubt. All ammo has the potential to do that. But does that make it a good self-defense round? Are exotics and non-traditional rounds suitable for self-defense? Let’s dig into it and see.
*Note: I don’t Science, y’all, so this is an extremely shallow explanation of what goes into picking the right self-defense ammo. For extensive testing on ammo ballistics, I highly suggest reading Lucky Gunner.com.
When choosing self-defense ammo, you need to consider bullet construction, velocity, energy transfer, reliability, and accuracy. A good self-defense round needs to penetrate deep enough to hit vital organs, but not over-penetrate to prevent collateral damage, and it needs to transfer enough energy to stop a threat when it hits soft tissue. It also needs to function reliably in your firearm and hit where you aim consistently. Jacketed hollow point bullets are the most trusted self-defense round among experts, professionals and seasoned concealed carriers. A jacketed hollow point bullet combines the penetrating lead core of a full metal jacket round with the expansion of a jacketed bullet. Construction of the entire round ensures the core and jacket stay together when moving through a target. If the two were to separate, the bullet would lose its penetration and expansion—quite possibly failing to create a wound channel devastating enough to put down a threat.
There is a ton of self-defense ammo to choose from—traditional hollow points, polymer tipped, exotics and frangible. One isn’t necessarily more lethal than the other, even though some manufacturers would like you to believe so. All ammo has the potential to be lethal depending on a variety of circumstances. Bullet type, performance and construction all affect what will happen when a bullet hits a soft target and needs to be a top priority when considering which bullet you want to load your CCW with. Certainly, shot placement is equally, if not, more important.
There is no doubt that hollow point bullets work for self-defense and have done for a really long time. Naturally, new technologies, materials and machining practices lead to innovation in cartridge and bullet manufacturing. Eco-friendly, self-lubricating and less fouling are all common now in both self-defense and training rounds. When the very first nickel-plated cases were introduced to the market, I’m sure some thought it was a crazy idea and would never work!
There is nothing wrong with testing new ammo. You never know when you will find one that shoots straight and functions reliably in your gun. Like almost everything in our industry, there are two schools of thought on using anything other than hollow points for self-defense: 1: It’s stupid. Don’t do ever do it. 2. It’s not stupid. There’s room for these in my life.
It’s good to note here: There is no such thing as a magic bullet. They ALL can over-penetrate and they all can fail at controlled expansion.
Exotic ammo—like dragon’s breath—is not meant to be used as a self-defense round. But there are plenty of ammo manufacturers—old and new—making frangible crossovers and hybrids made specifically for self-defense.
What is Frangible Ammo?
Frangible bullets are made from a copper compound formed into a bullet shape by high pressure. When they hit an object harder than themselves, like steel targets, concrete or glass, they break up significantly, decreasing the risk of ricochet and over-penetration.
With the introduction of .22 caliber ammo in the late 19th Century came the popularity of shooting galleries at amusement parks, pleasure piers and carnivals. Revelers would trade a coin for a few shots through a real gun at steel targets for a prize. Shrapnel injuries from these shooting galleries inspired the invention of the frangible bullet. Frangible bullets are usually comprised of a metal compound that is formed into a bullet shape by high pressure and when they hit an object harder than themselves, like steel targets, concrete or glass, they break up significantly, decreasing the risk of ricochet and over-penetration. This design virtually eliminates hazardous splashback—when pieces of a bullet hit a steel target fly back at the shooter and bystanders. Frangible ammo has been used in urban and close quarters combat, on ships, airplanes and hazardous material areas like nuclear power plants.
Though the ammo industry does come up with a lot of gimmicky items, despite what some might say, frangible bullets aren’t one of them. But are they lethal? Will they penetrate soft tissue enough? Are they reliable? These questions are super important to ask when searching for self-defense ammo.
A company called Sinterfire has been producing frangible bullets for over 20 years and takes the top of market share. Lucky Gunner writes that Sinterfire makes 90% of the industry’s frangible bullets. Sinterfire’s own lead-free bullets are made of compressed copper, are jacketless and turn into powder when they hit a hard target.
However, many ammo manufacturers team up with Sinterfire to create new hybrid rounds that combine traditional hollow point bullets with the frangible material in an attempt at creating the ‘perfect’ self-defense round.
Marcus Luttrell, the only surviving SEAL member from Operation Redwing, whose stories were depicted in the 2013 movie Lone Survivor and his company Team Never Quit, along with Sinterfire developed a “crossover” frangible hollow point bullet when tested against the FBI Protocols of self-defense ammunition, passed all but one standards. It successfully penetrates all tested barriers expect auto glass. From a 5-inch 9mm barrel, it penetrates 15.25 inches through clothing, with a fragment penetration of 5.25 inches at 1,250 feet per second and a 52.5-grain weight retention. Informal reviews from Guns.com were surprised by the performance of Team Never Quit’s bullet.
So, how do we distinguish between a gimmick and a viable self-defense round?
Start with this checklist:
- Tried and true design—hollow points work, jacketed bullets work. Phrases like “maximum knock-down power” do not.
- Extensive testing—both yourself and from those you trust
- Reputation—brand new company, lots of promises? Could be just a flash in the pan or lots of marketing hype.
Frangible ammo isn’t designed to meet FBI protocols. There are people who absolutely refuse to use ammo that doesn’t meet FBI Protocols. But, it’s important to remember what the FBI’s criteria are. It includes testing ammo through certain barriers that most of us everyday carriers will never need to shoot through to stop a threat—such as auto glass, sheet metal, and plywood. (You do need your carry ammo to penetrate heavy clothing such a denim and leather.) Just because an ammo wasn’t tested or would fail the FBI protocols, doesn’t mean it isn’t good self-defense ammo. The FBI does not test .380 ACP, revolver or any gun with a barrel shorter than four inches. So, there are no results for the GLOCK 43, and snub-nosed revolvers or any gun chambered for .380 ACP.
At the end of the day, you must choose the round that works best for you. The one that you believe can save your life, protect the innocent around you and that shoots accurately and reliably through your gun. Regardless of what ammo you chose you always need to follow the four golden rules of firearm safety—never point a firearm at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
What side are you on? can the latest innovations in frangible bullet technology convince you to change your mind? Leave your comments below.