ATK Wound Balllistics Workshop

Bullet selection is much more important than caliber selection.


The ATK Wound Ballistics Workshop begins in the classroom. A lot of what will happen later on the range needs to be pointed out ahead of time. A lot of ammo-specific terms need to be explained.

The workshop begins with the one event that put bullet performance on the front page: the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami where two agents were killed in a gunfight. The problem: One of the gunmen took a 9 mm 115 grain hollowpoint through the arm and lung. He was able to continue the gunfight for another 4 minutes.

The bullet killed him but didn’t stop him. He almost certainly would have been incapacitated sooner if the bullet had penetrated 2 inches farther to the heart. As a result, the emphasis of the ATK Wound Ballistics Workshop is that load (bullet) selection is much more important than caliber selection.

Do Your Own Research

The overriding theme of the ATK Workshop is to do your own research to make informed decisions. Just because the State Police are using the ammo doesn’t mean it is the right load for your department unless your patrol scenario exactly matches that of the “other” agency.

A lot of classroom time is spent dispelling myths, clearing away the smoke, and sweeping aside the smoke and mirrors. In fact, part of the “do your own research” is to check with other ammo makers. Each has a website with varying amounts of ammo test results. How far did the 40 S&W 180-grain hollowpoint you are looking at penetrate after auto glass? What did it expand to after layers of heavy clothes?

Some of the websites show the penetration and expansion in gelatin of most police duty loads after penetration through the common tactical barriers of auto glass, car bodies, heavy clothes and building materials.

Encouraging law enforcement to look at all of the ammo makers is not a very risky policy for ATK to take. ATK ammo, either CCI-Speer (SpeerLE) or Federal Premium LE is used by 76 percent of the state police and highway patrol departments. ATK is the 800-pound gorilla.

The ATK Wound Ballistics Workshop is actually vendor-neutral. ATK ammo, either Speer LE or Federal Premium LE, is used for all the demonstrations. ATK handgun and rifle ammo is fired into gelatin. ATK shotgun loads are fired for patterns. However, the other makes are all mentioned, and none are mocked or criticized.

At the end of each demo, officers are invited to have their department’s duty ammo of a different make fired in the same side-by-side test. Most ammo makes offer comparable loads. The bullet designs and weights may not be the same, but the solution to the same problems are the same, i.e., specifically to defeat glass, general patrol use, etc.

Bonded Versus Non-Bonded

The ATK reps are cop-to-cop honest about their products. The Tactical Bonded™ versus Tactical HST™ non-bonded handgun ammo discussion is a good example. With a bonded bullet, the lead core is actually soldered to the copper alloy jacket. Non-bonded bullets generally expand more and penetrate less. Bonded bullets generally penetrate more and expand less.

However, at velocities over 1000 fps, the non-bonded Tactical HST may shed its jacket going through glass. Not so much for velocities under 1000 fps. The 9 mm 40 S&W and 357 SIG are above 1000 fps, the 45 Auto is below 1000 fps. That kind of heads-up honesty is refreshing.

ATK has performance goals for all its police duty ammo. In bare, calibrated, 10 percent ordnance gelatin, the bullet must have 150 percent expansion. That means the .40-caliber bullets must expand to at least 0.60-inch. The bullet must penetrate a minimum of 12 inches and a maximum of 18 inches, again in bare gelatin.

Finally, it must retain 100 percent of its weight with no jacket loss or fragmentation at all. That means a 180-grain 40 S&W hollowpoint will weigh 180 grains when pulled from gelatin.

Rifle Ammo

With patrol rifle ammo, the presenters at the ATK Wound Ballistics Workshop voice some concerns about two AR-15/M4 loads. First, think twice about using FMJ ball for police work. It is too unreliable in how it performs. Sometimes it tumbles intact in the target. Sometimes it tumbles and breaks in two, with the two pieces going in different directions. Sometimes it tumbles, breaks in half and these two pieces themselves fragment.

Second, be very careful in the use of Match boattail hollowpoint (BTHP) ammo. The Match BTHP ammo is excellent for open air shots, i.e., no obstacles whatsoever in the way. In fact, the failure of BTHP Match ammo after barriers like glass led directly to the development of tactical (bonded) ammo. Don’t repeat the bullet failures of the past. (Sacramento, 1991; Indianapolis, 2000) Match ammo is designed for matches, i.e., target competition against paper. So, consider using match ammo only for match-like, open-air scenarios. Consider using tactical (bonded) ammo for tactical situations involving barriers of any kind, i.e., glass.

That said, the ATK presenters have a policy to neither recommend nor not recommend any particular load for any particular circumstance. Load selection is always left up to the discretion of the officer, team or department.

With the caution flag thrown on the Boat Tail Hollow Point (BTHP) and the Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammo, the focus for police-oriented rifle ammo shifts to two loads. First, in 223 Rem, the Tactical TRU (Tactical Rifle Urban) selection of Hi-Shok Softpoint (SP) in either 55 grain or 64 grain. Second, in both 223 Rem and 308 Win, the Tactical Bonded line of Bonded Soft Points in either 55 grain or 62 grain (223 Rem) and 165 grain (308 Win).

Force On Force

The classroom was also a good setting to introduce their Force on Force™ line of training ammo, conversion kits, personal tactical training equipment and three-day instructor certification course.

New for 2012, ATK introduced 5.56mm Marker Rounds and a very low-cost 5.56mm bolt conversion kit. The kit includes a complete bolt carrier, anodized blue. This carrier converts any AR-15 pattern rifle into a training-only weapon. The Force on Force bolt carrier group prevents the firing of lethal ammo. The training bolt carrier does not interfere with rail-mounted accessories like weapon lights. The bolt carrier is made by Lewis Machine & Tool and goes for approximately $275.

With a safe, stand-off distance of just 1 foot, Force on Force ammo is available in 9mm and 5.56mm. Their 9mm ammo is designed to work with Simunition™ conversion kits. The 5.56mm Marker Rounds grouped into a 1-inch cluster from 40 feet. This rifle load has an effective range of 35 yards. The 5.56mm Marker Rounds fit standard AR-15 magazines. Blue, green, red, yellow and white colors are available, as is a non-marking round.

Down on the Range

At the range, a number of wound ballistics tests were conducted. These included penetration and expansion: 1) in bare gelatin; 2) in gelatin after penetrating 20-gauge sheet metal, i.e., car door; 3) in gelatin after penetrating laminated auto glass, i.e., windshield; 4) in gelatin after penetrating plywood; and 5) in gelatin after penetrating heavy clothes.

Heavy clothes may plug up a poorly designed hollowpoint and cause it not to expand. However, glass is by far the toughest barrier the bullet has to defeat. That is laminated auto glass (windshields) and thermopane, tempered and heavy float (building) glass.

Glass flattens the bullet on impact, collapsing the hollowpoint, and then the bullet fragments to a lesser or greater degree. Some rifle bullets are turned into lead and copper dust. Some are broken in two, flying off the point of aim in different directions. Some handgun hollowpoints are cut and eroded down to less than half of their original weight. This is especially true for hollowpoints that shed their jackets after glass impact.

Conventional hollowpoints don’t expand into a mushroom shape in gelatin after glass. They sort of deform into a lead-copper lump. That is the reason behind the development (by all ammo makers) of bonded handgun and rifle bullets for police work.

Penetration Depths

Penetration depths – too much versus too little – have been the topic of intense debates over the last 20 years. Some stats may help frame the argument. The average adult male measures 20 inches across the chest, arm to arm; 10 inches front to back; and 9 inches at an angle through the arm into the heart. A significant number of officer involved shootings involve glass.

Glass reduces penetration distances and limits expansion. A significant number of officer involved shootings involve clothes heavy enough to plug up a hollowpoint cavity. Heavy clothes increases (yes, increases) penetration distances and limits expansion.

In the past, the penetration in calibrated gelatin was arguably, roughly equal to the penetration in combinations of muscle and other soft, dense body organs. More recently, however, the first 4 inches of gelatin penetration has been correlated to the ability to penetrate the various layers of skin. So, 16 inches of gelatin penetration is roughly, arguably equal to the penetration of skin and then 12 inches of combination of soft tissue.

Voluntary action is where the bullet did not “stop” the person, and he continues his aggression—the aggression that forced the officer to shoot in the first place. Even with the heart totally destroyed so it pumps no blood, a person can still act for 8 to 10 seconds. That is plenty of time to empty a 20-round AR-15 magazine or high-capacity handgun.

Bullet Selection Is Everything

The biggest lessons from the ATK Wound Ballistics seminar are 1) bullet selection is more important than caliber selection, and 2) some bullets perform differently from other bullets. The bullet (design and weight) has much more of an effect on stopping power than the caliber of the police duty handgun. This is especially true for the smaller calibers but is still a factor for the large calibers.

Penetration is determined by bullet design. Bullets that expand more penetrate less. Bullets that expand less penetrate more. All bullet designs are a compromise. The most recent bullet designs are across-the-board better than older bullet designs. The general guidelines from ATK are to select both handgun and rifle bullets based on their overall penetration ability, expanded diameter and retained weight.

Shotguns and Buckshot

Federal Premium recently introduced their Flight Control® wad to the Tactical Buckshot line. This plastic housing, filled with granulated buffer around the hardened buckshot, produces much tighter patterns than standard buckshot. On the range, the 9-pellet, 00 Buck Flight Control loads patterned 8 inches at 25 yards. The standard 00 Buck load grouped into 15 inches.

The longest running debate on police ammo is not 9 mm versus 45 Auto. (Anyhow, this was arguably settled by the 40 S&W.) Instead, the longest running debate is 9-pellet 00 Buck versus 27-pellet 4 Buck.

The 00 Buck load packs a lot of punch in each pellet, but the 9-pellet pattern has some large holes at longer distances. The target may not get hit at all. The 4 Buck throws a lot of pellets and fills the pattern to very long ranges, but the smaller pellets don’t have much energy downrange. The target may be hit but not hurt.

For decades, some police trainers and police ammo experts have proposed 1 Buck as the best of both worlds. New for 2012, ATK has introduced a 15-pellet, 1 Buck load in their Tactical Buckshot Flight Control line. With 1 Buck, the target is more likely to get hit than with 00 Buck. And 1 Buck is more likely to have an effect than with 4 Buck. A win-win.

Tactical Bonded Defeats Glass

Again, the ATK instructors are straightforward on patrol rifle ammo. They fired 5.56 mm 55-grain ammo through auto glass and into gelatin. The Tactical TRU 55-grain Hi-Shok Soft Point penetrated just 8.8 inches of gelatin after glass. The Tactical Bonded 55-grain Bonded Soft Point went 14.3 inches of gelatin after glass.

To show how auto glass affects the Tactical TRU and Tactical Bonded bullets, consider this: After heavy clothes, this Tactical TRU bullet penetrated 11 inches, while this Tactical Bonded bullet penetrated 16 inches of ordnance gelatin after heavy clothes.

In an open-air shot, i.e., no barriers or obstacles whatsoever in the way, the Tactical TRU would probably perform OK. On the other hand, the Tactical Bonded will be good, no matter what. Bonded bullets, handgun and rifle, cover more likely police scenarios.

The purpose of the ATK ammo seminar was to inform officers about what the various calibers and loads can do and cannot do. Then, of course, pick ammo that can do the task at hand. Avoid ammo that fails at that particular task.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2013

Rating : Not Yet Rated

Related Products



No Comments

Related Companies

Close ...