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.