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Tactical Briefs #12, December 1998

.38 Special Snubby Ammo -- Two Cartridges Tested

We recently tested two .38 Special loads using the water-filled half-gallon milk carton procedure published in Tactical Briefs #3, "A Simple Method for Testing Bullets with Your Guns." An Oehler model 35 proof chronograph was used to measure bullet velocity prior to impact with the milk cartons. The distance between the muzzle of the handgun and the first water-filled milk carton was approximately 20 feet.

After each test shot was completed, the number of milk cartons in which the bullet penetrated was counted, including the carton where the bullet came to rest. Estimated bullet penetration of standard ordnance gelatin/soft tissue is calculated by multiplying the number of cartons penetrated by 2.5, as prescribed by Cotey.1 Results are as follows:

Federal .38 Special 110 grain Premium Personal Defense HydraShok JHP (11/7/98):

Test Gun:  Smith & Wesson model 60 revolver, 2-inch barrel
Test Medium:  Water-filled half-gallon cardboard milk cartons

Shot #

Velocity Penetration Expansion
1 775 fps 8 cartons none
2 822 fps 8 cartons none
3 779 fps 8 cartons none

Three shot averages: Velocity 792 fps, penetration approximately 20 inches, no expansion of the bullets observed.

Notes: Federal product # PD38HS3, lot # 120149W156.  Bullet velocity advertised by Federal is 1000 fps (4-inch test barrel).  Click here to view recovered bullets (click on your brower's Back button to return).


.38 Special CCI 148 grain Blazer WC TMJ Cleanfire (11/7/98):

Test Gun:  Smith & Wesson model 60 revolver, 2-inch barrel
Test Medium:  Water-filled half-gallon cardboard milk cartons

Shot #

Velocity Penetration Expansion
1 790 fps 8 cartons N/A
2 771 fps 8 cartons N/A
3 776 fps 8 cartons N/A

Three shot averages: Velocity 779 fps, penetration approximately 20 inches.

Notes: CCI product # 3470, lot # B21A24.  Bullet velocity advertised by CCI is 710 fps (4-inch test barrel).
Click here to view recovered bullets (click on your browser's Back button to return).

We compare our test results to MacPherson's penetration model to validate the accuracy of our estimated penetration.2

None of the Federal 110-grain JHP bullets expanded. Each bullet retained its pre-fired truncated cone shape. Our average penetration measurement is reasonably close to MacPherson's model for a 115-grain .38 caliber truncated cone bullet, propelled at 790 fps. Figure 10-3 Truncated Cone Bullet Penetration Depth (Curve D, p. 248) shows a model penetration depth of approximately 23 inches in standard ordnance gelatin and soft tissue.2 The 3-inch difference between our test results and MacPherson's model can be explained by the 5-grain difference in bullet weight, the inexact nature of our test method, and possible dynamic differences between an unexpanded open tip hollowpoint bullet versus the meplat of a closed tip TC bullet.

Our average penetration result for the CCI 148-grain wadcutter bullet is identical to MacPherson's model. According to Figure 10-2 Cylinder Bullet Penetration Depth, Curve B (145-grain bullet, 780 fps), the model indicates a penetration depth of approximately 20 inches of standard gelatin or flesh (p. 247).2

It appears the Federal 110-grain Personal Defense HydraShok bullet doesn't achieve sufficient velocity necessary to cause the bullet to expand, when fired out of a short 2-inch barreled revolver. Water usually produces slightly greater JHP bullet expansion than gelatin and soft tissue. Therefore, if a bullet doesn't expand in water, it is highly unlikely to expand in an attacker's body.

The unexpanded, streamlined, and less wound efficient truncated cone shape allowed the light Federal 110-grain Personal Defense HydraShok bullet to penetrate as deeply as the heavier, cylindrical shaped CCI wadcutter bullet, although both were propelled at similar velocities.

We'll be testing more .38 Special cartridges with our S&W model 60 in the future and publishing our results. Upcoming tests include Federal 125 grain Nyclad JHP (standard velocity) and Hornady 125 grain XTP JHP.

References/End Notes:

1.  According to Cotey: "Penetration in rows of water-filled, 2-quart (1.89 liter) cartons is approximately 1.5 times that which would occur in 10% 4 degrees C gelatin. Since a U.S. 2-qt. carton is 3.75 inches (9.525 cm) wide and 3.75/1.5 = 2.5, one simply multiples the number of the carton in the row from which a test bullet was recovered by 2.5 to determine approximate gelatin penetration in inches or by 6.35 for the reading in centimeter. For example, a shot recovered from carton #6 would correspond to a gelatin penetration depth of approximately 15 inches (38.1 cm). (Cotey, Gus Jr.:"Number 1 Buckshot, the Number 1 Choice." Wound Ballistics Review, 2(4): p. 11; 1996.)

2.  MacPherson, Duncan: Bullet Penetration - Modeling the Dynamics and Incapacitation Resulting from Wound Trauma.  Ballistic Publications, El Segundo, CA; 1994.

Winchester Black Talon Revisited

There appears to be continuing confusion surrounding the different versions of the Black Talon bullet, its legality for possession by private citizens, as well as its alleged "cop-killer bullet" armor-piercing capability. Here's the lowdown:

Black Talon SXT: The original Black Talon handgun bullet. It was introduced in 1991. The cartridge consists of a black colored bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The black paint-like coating on the bullet is a Winchester proprietary lubricant called Lubalox. The bullet has six serrations on the rim of the hollowpoint cavity (meplat), and six talons. The talons deploy when the bullet expands. They are described by Winchester as: "six uniform, radial jacket petals with perpendicular tips." Winchester voluntarily discontinued sales of Black Talon SXT to the general public in late 1993/early 1994 due to intense negative media and political pressure. Some political activists derisively referred to it as "Black Felon" ammo. Black Talon is packaged in boxes of 20 cartridges.

Ranger SXT: Ranger SXT is a less expensive version of the original Black Talon cartridge intended for the law enforcement market. It consists of a black Lubalox coated bullet seated in a brass case. The bullet has six serrations on its meplat, and six talons. Ranger SXT is packaged in boxes of 50 cartridges marked "Law Enforcement Ammunition."

Supreme SXT: Redesigned "civilian" version of the original Black Talon bullet. The cartridge consists of a copper-jacketed bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The bullet has eight serrations on its meplat, and no talons. Supreme SXT is packaged in boxes of 20 cartridges.

According to Olin-Winchester public relations, the Supreme SXT bullet design has not been factory tested in standard ordnance gelatin because it was not designed to meet police ammunition performance specifications. As a result, there's no valid and verifiable performance data available from Winchester or the FBI.

We find Winchester's attitude troubling because they're marketing a personal defense bullet (a life safety device) in which they confessed to us that they've no idea how well (or poorly) it performs. Therefore, we advise you not to buy and use Supreme SXT until Winchester gets its act together and coughs up performance data for this cartridge.

Ranger Talon: The second generation version of the original Black Talon SXT bullet. The cartridge consists of a copper-jacketed bullet seated in a nickel-plated case. The bullet has six serrations on its meplat, and six talons. Ranger Talon is packaged in boxes of 50 cartridges marked "Law Enforcement Ammunition."

There is no Federal law that prohibits a private citizen from purchasing or possessing any of the Black Talon bullet variants.  Additionally, there is no Federal law, which forbids private possession and use of "law enforcement" handgun ammunition, except specifically defined armor-piercing handgun ammunition. Black Talon, Ranger SXT and Ranger Talon do not meet the criteria for armor-piercing handgun ammunition as defined by Federal law. However, there may be State or local laws that ban private possession of Black Talon and its variants.

The negative media frenzy of late 1993 produced untrue assertions that Black Talon was an armor-piercing "cop-killer" bullet. We've fired both 9mm and .40 S&W Black Talon bullets into threat level IIA soft body armor and the armor easily stopped the bullets. The "armor-piercing" myth may have originated from the markings used on certain military small-arms ammunition.  U.S. military cartridges with a black painted tip indicates the bullet is armor-piercing.

(Federal Nyclad ammunition is often mistaken as armor-piercing ammunition too, due to the blue-black nylon coating on the lead bullet.)

The black Lubalox coating on the Black Talon bullet is meant to reduce in-bore friction and chamber pressure. Once the bullet leaves the muzzle, the mission of the coating is completed. Lubalox does not give the bullet any special property that allows it to blast through police soft body armor.

Recently, the newer Winchester 9mm 127 grain +P+ Ranger SXT bullet (product number RA9SXTP) has been found to penetrate some lower threat level soft body armor. Second Chance Body Armor Company recalled one of its vests in response to officer safety concerns posed by this particular bullet.

Click here to read the Second Chance vest recall press release.

In the latest issue of the International Wound Ballistics Association's journal, Wound Ballistics Review, there's an article written by Duncan MacPherson, "A Body Armor Penetration Rumor," that explains the reason why the RA9SXTP bullet can penetrate some body armor. According to MacPherson, it's not due to any special aspect of the bullet design nor does its performance represent any new dynamics in armor penetration. He says it's due to a minor flaw in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) body armor certification test protocol:

"There are two principal limitations in [the NIJ] rating system. The first limitation is that all armor with the same rating (e.g., passes level 2A and fails level 2) does not have identical performance; this is obvious (because there is no attempt to, or mechanism, for evaluating intermediate performance), but is often overlooked. The second limitation is that different bullet designs do not necessarily have the same relative efficiency in penetrating the quite different armor designs of different manufacturers; this whole area is not well modeled either analytically or experimentally."

Winchester tightly controls distribution of its RA9SXTP cartridge. When we last checked, Winchester did not permit its distributors to stock this load. It had to be shipped from the factory directly to a law enforcement agency address.

Finally, Winchester also produced and manufactured a line of centerfire rifle ammunition under the Black Talon name, which has since been renamed Fail-Safe. The Black Talon rifle bullet was completely different from the handgun bullet design. It did not expand to deploy talon-like claws. Instead, it had a solid copper nose (similar to a Barnes X-Bullet), with a lead core base encapsulated in a steel liner to prevent jacket rupture upon impact. This bullet had a baked on coating of molybdenum disulfide, which gave it a distinctive black colored appearance also.

Click here to read our previous article, "Winchester Ranger Talon
(Ranger SXT/Black Talon) Wound Ballistics." (This link opens a new browser window.)

Winchester Ranger Talon Distributor

If you're a law enforcement officer (full-time, reserve, limited authority, etc.) who works for an agency that requires you to purchase your own duty/off-duty ammunition, we've located a Winchester ammunition distributor who sells Ranger Talon, by the box, to individual officers, at very reasonable prices.

The Hunting Shack, Inc
4406 Rathbun Lane
Stevensville, Montana 59870-6139
Voice: (406) 777-2106
Fax: (406) 777-3908

To order Ranger Talon handgun ammunition, you need to provide a photocopy of your official law enforcement identification card. You will also be required to sign a statement certifying that the ammunition is to be used only by you or other law enforcement personnel, and will not be sold to the general public. You can call and ask The Hunting Shack to fax you a copy of this form, which you can fill out and sign, and fax back to them along with a photocopy of your commission card.

As mentioned in the preceding article, Winchester restricts the distribution and sale of Ranger SXT/Ranger Talon ammunition to law enforcement agencies and officers. It's not intended for sale to the general public. If you're not a bona fide law enforcement officer, please don't waste your time, or the time of the employees at The Hunting Shack, attempting to order this ammunition. Your purchase attempt will be denied.

Now Available: Latest Issue of Wound Ballistics Review, the Journal of the International Wound Ballistics Association

The IWBA has just distributed its latest issue of Wound Ballistics Review. The following table lists the articles published in this edition:

Wound Ballistics Review Volume 3 Number 4, 1998

Questions and Comments

Notice for Members Outside the USA
Viper Velocity
Review of Understanding Ballistics
Federal Lawsuit Dismissed

Forensic Pathology in Firearms Cases
Joseph H. Davis, M.D., Director (Retired), Medical Examiner Department of Miami-Dade County; Professor of Pathology Emeritus, University of Miami School of Medicine

The Wounding Effects of 5.56mm/.223 Law Enforcement General Purpose Shoulder Fired Carbines Compared with 12 Ga. Shotguns and Pistol Caliber Weapons Using 10% Ordnance Gelatin as a Tissue Simulant
Gary K. Roberts, DDS

Editorial Comment: Perspectives on the .223 Remington
Martin L. Fackler

A Body Armor Penetration Rumor
Duncan MacPherson

Update on the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification
Duncan MacPherson

A Review of the Wounding Effects of the Colt AR-15 and FN FAL Rifles used by Martin Bryant in the Port Arthur Shooting Incident, April 26, 1996; Tasmania, Australia
Sergeant Gerard Dutton, Ballistics Section, Hobart Tasmania Police;
Dr. Tim Lyons, MB ChB, FRCS(Ed), MRCPath, DMJ(Path), FRPCA(Forensic); Director of Forensic Pathology, Tasmania;
Sergeant Shaun Roach, Forensic Ballistics Section, Sydney, NSW Police;
Sergeant John Dickinson, Forensic Ballistics Section, Sydney, NSW Police.

Click here for information to order this journal.

Ed Sanow and Guns & Ammo Insist upon Intentionally Misrepresenting Facts of Dayton, Ohio Police Shootout

In Tactical Briefs #8 we reported the efforts of Dayton, Ohio police detective Mark Lukas to correct misinformation presented by gun writer Ed Sanow in an article published in Handguns magazine. Officer Lukas contacted Handguns editor Jan Libourel by telephone and also submitted a letter to the editor, which was subsequently published in Handguns.

Officer Lukas, a member of his agency's firearms training unit, disputed the accuracy of facts reported by Sanow about a fatal shootout involving officers of his department.

Despite the efforts of officer Lukas to set the record straight, Guns & Ammo has recently reprinted Sanow's article in its special edition magazine Firearms for Law Enforcement.

On page 47 of the article "Latest Loads for the .40 S&W," Sanow has re-written his description of the Dayton police shootout. However he insists upon spinning the same untruths: "A high profile Dayton Police shootout involving this Medium Velocity 165-grain JHP raised expansion and cycle reliability questions that were answered by the switch to higher-velocity ammo."

According to officer Lukas (who is also a member of the IWBA), the detectives who investigated the shooting believe one of the bullets that hit the suspect, which did not expand, first passed through the driver's side door of the truck he was attempting to escape in before it hit him. FBI ammunition tests have shown that most bullets do not expand, regardless of velocity, whenever sheetmetal is encountered. Officer Lukas and his fellow detectives feel this is the most likely scenario, and that it reasonably explains why this particular bullet did not expand.

Also, the cycle reliability problem alleged by Sanow never happened, according to officer Lukas.

In the Firearms for Law Enforcement article, Sanow also claims: "Other agencies using the Medium Velocity loads complain of a lack of expansion, and poor cycle reliability from short barreled handguns or when fired fired by small statured officers." Since Sanow chose not to name the departments involved, we're left to wonder if this claim is more fraud and deceit.

Blackhawk Down

This is a 29 part multi-media story published online by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. It includes audio clips, video clips, still photographs and illustrations. The story of this battle is very compelling reading:

"LATE IN THE AFTERNOON of Sunday, Oct. 3, 1993, attack helicopters dropped about 120 elite American soldiers into a busy neighborhood in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct several top lieutenants of Somalian warlord Mohamad Farrah Aidid and return to base. It was supposed to take about an hour.

"Instead, two of their high-tech UH-60 Blackhawk attack helicopters were shot down. The men were pinned down through a long and terrible night in a hostile city, fighting for their lives. When they emerged the following morning, 18 Americans were dead and 73 were wounded. One, helicopter pilot Michael Durant, had been carried away by an angry mob. He was still alive, held captive somewhere in the city.

"The Somalian toll was far worse. Reliable witnesses in the U.S. military and in Mogadishu now place the count at nearly 500 dead - scores more than was estimated at the time - among more than a thousand casualties. Many were women and children. This was hardly what U.S. and United Nations officials envisioned when they intervened in Somalia in December 1992 to help avert widespread starvation."

The link below takes you to the story's Table of Contents page. If you're interested, we suggest you begin by reading "Background: A defining battle leaves lasting scars," and then progressing sequentially from Part 1 through Part 29.

Click here to read "Blackhawk Down"

D.C. Metro Police Shootings

The Washington Post recently published a five article special report about the poor firearms training of D.C. Metro police officers. The articles allege a lack of training and supervision by police administrators has resulted in an unusually high rate of shootings by D.C. police. According to the newspaper:

"The District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department has shot and killed more people per resident in the 1990s than any other large American city police force.

"Many shootings by Washington police officers were acts of courage and even heroism. But internal police files and court records reveal a pattern of reckless and indiscriminate gunplay by officers sent into the streets with inadequate training and little oversight, an eight-month Washington Post investigation has found.

"Washington's officers fire their weapons at more than double the rate of police in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Miami.  Deaths and injuries in D.C. police shooting cases have resulted in nearly $8 million in court settlements and judgments against the District in the last six months alone.

"'We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot,' said Executive Assistant Chief of Police Terrance W. Grainer, who became the department's second in command in May."

Click here to continue reading "D.C. Police Lead Nation in Shootings."

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