Trends and Gimmicks in Ammo Design

Trends and Gimmicks in Ammo Design

Like a great many of you, I get a lot of fliers, catalogs, and mailers from various vendors and manufacturers within the firearms industry. Some are physical, some are digital, and all seek to separate me from my cash in exchange for new gun-related toys. While I very rarely see a firearm that catches my eye—I’m of the opinion that the industry has reached a plateau—I do see some innovations in ammunition that are a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, I also see a lot of trends, gimmicks, or just plain weirdness in ammo design these days.

I’ve been around long enough to recall the controversy around Winchester’s “Black Talon” brand of expanding ammunition. I won’t recount the whole story here, but I will say that in retrospect most of the hype around it was just that: unsubstantiated hype. However, the followup line “Ranger SXT” did fairly well, in part because it rode the back of the Black Talon controversy. The joke at the time was that SXT stood for “Same eXact Thing”–which it largely was. While I’m sure Winchester was just making the best of a bad situation by reusing Black Talon components in a new product, I have to wonder to what degree the Black Talon controversy drove sales of SXT. It wouldn’t be the first time that clever marketing/word of mouth has boosted a product’s popularity.

I bring this up because I think it influences what comes later. Following the Black Talon debacle, ammo design and marketing get a lot edgier. There’s a continued search for novelty in projectile design for existing calibers, whereas for most of the rest of modern firearms history the trend had been toward introducing new calibers when novelty was needed. The trends have arisen with regularity over the years: +P loads, various modes of expanding ball ammunition, flechette or frangible rounds, and oddly shaped projectiles designed to twist, spin, or fragment in unconventional ways. Some of these trends have stuck around, others have faded or disappeared. Some were genuine attempts at innovation, others were gimmicks—Zombie Ammo, anyone? The question thus remains: what effect does this have on ammo development and the consumer?

In one sense, this is a great thing. Competition fuels innovation, and even a gimmicky new product might become a happy accident that pushes development to the next level. At the very least, it keeps things interesting—being a gun enthusiast is a special kind of nerd-dom. We love research, argument, and debate; new products add fuel to that fire. I strongly feel that we occasionally forget how much fun this hobby is supposed to be, and that can be a happy reminder.

There are some problems, however. A lot of new shooters (and old shooters, if we’re honest) get caught up in chasing the latest and greatest as opposed to focusing on proven and effective. Perfect, once again, is the enemy of good enough. And I genuinely hate to see shooters waste money on either trends or panic buys. Do your research, test your carry rig, and treat your magazines and ammo properly.

So what do we do? Ideally we’ll all use common sense, make good purchases, and support the manufacturers and innovators who are improving shooting as we know it. However, I suspect we’ll also pursue a lot of nifty-new gimmicks and then argue about them endlessly. Both are fun—I’ll see you in the comments section.

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  • Steve Chiles

    I would have preferred this article list and debunk the useless fads/trends than just a generic article. I would also have preferred seeing how LEOs see these fads. The data would be more “proving” to me if a “new” bullet type is good or bad and how.

    • Bdpenn

      When we shoot a deer it’s: one shot with a Remington 700BDL 30 06 at 150 yards using a Winchester Deer Slayer Silver Double Bonded 172 grain round.
      A little morbid for some, but, it would be great to get that kinda information from defensive shootings. Would also help folks with different guns. Three shots out of a LCP, but, only one shot out of a Shield. So on and so forth.
      To be honest, isn’t that the questions we ask ourselves each time we read of a clean shooting.
      Ballistic gel is gotten to be to controversial and really boring.

  • G50AE

    Does anyone remember the Kaswer Pin Grabber? (Forgive me if my spelling is off.) This round was designed specifically for bowling pin shooting, IIRC.

  • Mac Humble

    I use cast lead, 230 grain round nose 45acp in my 1911. Functions well and a couple of 5x will work as well now as it did 100 years ago. By that I mean there is nothing new out there, Look at the stats on the 38-40 44-40 45 colt, 45 acp, and the 40 S&W. there is not a lick of difference in in velocity, bullet weight, energy. They are all very close to one another. So, what to do, you can spend a buck a round for the latest wiz bang or load your own for a dime, or less. a 230 grain bullet going 900 FPS will do what it does. the only thing that can change is weight and speed. However the end result is about the same.

  • Fred Miller

    I’ve found Inceptors work far better in large rounds like the .45, but not so in light, small caliber rounds like 9mm or .380. They have a strong tendency to track off when they strike their target, potentially reducing effectiveness. I’ve seen this when testing on ballistic gel. In .380 and 9mm I use Hornady Critical Defense and Glaser Pow’rball exclusively (Hornady Critical Duty for my 9mm).

    • Vic vapor

      thanks Fred,
      I can accept that the 45 most likely works better.
      I laughed one day when some one
      called it, grandpa’s cartridge.
      Say what anyone will,
      in its many bullet configurations,
      it is a capable round for up close protection.

  • onebigelf

    Don’t look at me. I’m carrying a Webley.