Clark Armory is an online ammo retailer specializing in non-toxic (i.e. lead-free) ammunition options. They set me up with a care package full of two types of ammo from Florida-based manufacturer Alchemist Ammunition, which is one of the more popular brands they sell. One load is called the C3, or Compressed Copper Cartridge, and is a frangible round made from compressed copper powder. The other is Z-Clean, featuring solid zinc projectiles.

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Swaged and cold-formed from solid zinc, Z-Clean offers a lead-free alternative that’s also affordable — what with zinc running about half the cost of copper these days. In fact, it’s likely the most affordable lead-free option on the market (Clark Amory’s price for a 50-round box of 9mm is $13.20). Primers, powder, and projectiles…all are completely unleaded, which is good for you, good for the environment, and good for a shooting range looking to avoid EPA permits, expensive filtration systems, and lead mitigation expenses.

On the downside, zinc is harder than lead. While Alchemist states that it causes no additional wear on a barrel (it’s still much softer than steel) and actually does some cleaning and lubricating on its way down the pipe, it does present an increased ricochet risk. It should only be shot at safe outdoor berms, Grantex backstops, or professionally designed bullet traps.

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C3 projectiles are made by compressing copper dust into a mold, very much like how medicine tablets are manufactured. As you can see above, that mold can have a sense of humor. Actually, the smiley face is to quickly ID it as frangible so it isn’t confused with normal ball ammo.

Unlike many similar products, Alchemist’s frangible bullets don’t employ nylon or resin binders, and every part of the loaded round is 100% lead-free. Upon impact with a target that’s harder than the bullet, it effectively turns right back into extremely fine dust.

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Frangible rounds have a checkered reputation for accuracy, reliability, and cleanliness. Alchemist, as you’d likely expect, assures prospective purchasers that their frange is superior — that it shoots straight, won’t cause undue stoppages, and won’t gunk up your gun. Now, I only shot a couple hundred rounds of the C3, but I can confirm that I saw less copper dust in the bore than expected and found nothing out of the ordinary in my suppressor. It didn’t seem to shed chunks while flying down the bore, as a lot of frangible ammo will.

But don’t just take my word for it. Alchemist’s parent company, National Police Ammunition, was awarded a federal contract by DHS and FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers) to provide them with this very round in various calibers to be used as RHTA (Reduced Hazard Training Ammunition). Which means it passed a “rigorous” FLETC testing protocol.

On The Range

In four boxes of Z-Clean and four boxes of C3, through three different guns, I had zero stoppages of any sort. A small sample size, sure, but I’ve seen other frangible ammo struggle to make it through a single box without a glitch. So, I’m still smiling like Alchemist’s C3 meplats.

Both types of ammo feel like normal ammo in their recoil and blast, and both were right on target. Despite lighter projectile weights than standard ammo, ballistics seemed to match up just fine. Z-Clean and C3 can definitely be swapped out for the leaded stuff without having to worry about adjusting sights or practicing with a round that doesn’t feel like “the real thing.”

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C3 shot at 25 yards from my CZ Scorpion Evo with a red dot. 1.022″, 5-shot group.2

Z-Clean shot at 25 yards from my CZ Scorpion Evo with a red dot. 0.865″, 5-shot group. I shot a handful of groups with both brands of ammo through a couple different guns, and every time found Z-Clean to be a bit more accurate than C3. It basically matched the accuracy of what I’d expect from any quality standard ammo load that my gun likes shooting. Not the best match for the guns I tested it in, but solidly above average.3

CapArms 147 grain ball at the same distance through the same gun. 0.925″, 5-shot group.4

Sellier & Bellot 115 grain, same distance same gun. 0.630″, 5-shot group. This is the exact ammo that CZ uses for all of its 9mm firearms testing and development, and it basically represents the best case scenario from my Scorpion.

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I got up close and personal with an AR-500 steel target, shooting my Ruger AmericanGLOCK 19MOS, and CZ Scorpion Evo at it from just a few feet away. Never once did I feel so much as a fleck land on exposed skin.

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Even looking at the ground under the target, which is normally trenched out from the ricocheting lead and jacket pieces, I could see no signs of my shooting other than a line of shimmer on the soil.

Conclusions

The market for lead-free ammunition is growing, both due to various legislation in a few jurisdictions and due to the toxicity of lead. In fact, there are now enough lead-free options that Clark Armory can be an exclusively “non-toxic shooting supply.”

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From the Alchemist Ammunition brand, Z-Clean offers a viable, accurate, lead-free alternative that’s also affordable, which is a rare thing in the lead-free world. C3 offers a frangible round that seems to function extremely well — service with a smile. The caliber list for each is currently being built out, but it’s already very impressive.

I’d really like to run a few thousand rounds of Z-Clean through a barrel to see if it wears differently than standard copper jacket, lead core ammo. After a couple hundred rounds, though, all I noticed was a clean bore. Both Z-Clean and C3 ran great, felt like standard ammo, and were right on target.

Specifications: Alchemist Ammunition Z-Clean

Projectile Composition: solid zinc
Projectile Weight: 100 grains (for 9x19mm)
Velocity: 1,150 fps from 3.8″ barrel (for 9x19mm)
Available Calibers: 9mm, .380, .357 Sig, .38 Special, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .223, 300 BLK, .308 Win, 12 gauge 00 buck, 12 gauge 325 grain slug (most of these calibers are “coming soon”)
MSRP: MSRP not stated, but Clark Armory sells the 9mm for $13.20 per box of 50

Specifications: Alchemist Ammunition C3 (Compressed Copper Cartridge)

Projectile Composition: compressed copper powder
Projectile Weight: 90 grains (for 9x19mm)
Velocity: 1,260 fps from 3.5″ barrel (for 9x19mm)
Available Calibers: .380, .38 Special, 9mm, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .223 Rem 45 grain non-jacketed, .223 Rem 50 grain partial jacket, 300 BLK, 7.62×39, .308 Win, .50 BMG (.50 “coming soon”)
MSRP: MSRP not stated, but Clark Armory sells the 9mm for $17.70 per box of 50

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy * * * * *
It won’t appear in the olympics any time soon, but better-than-average accuracy and normal point of impact from a lead-free option is a five-star feat.

Reliability * * * * *
Limited sample, but 100% function over 400 rounds is a very positive sign. Especially with the frangible stuff.

Function * * * * *
As I inched up to point blank range, I still felt zero fragments or dust landing on exposed skin at all, whatsoever. The frangible C3 functions exactly as I’d hoped, and did so without leaving chunks in my barrel or suppressor. The Z-Clean was extremely accurate and functioned in every other way like a standard FMJ round, just sans lead.

Overall * * * * * 
Practicing with ammo that has no lead in the primer, powder, or projectile is a great way to avoid potential lead exposure, and Z-Clean finally provides the market with an affordable, functional way to accomplish this. C3’s frangible, lead-free projectiles open up options for training in ways that aren’t possible with standard ammo. Both of these rounds are reliable, clean, and competitively priced, and earn this five-star rating.

20 Responses to Ammo Review: Alchemist Ammunition C3 and Z-Clean

  1. Interesting. I’ve used Speer Lawman Cleanfire in the past, in no small part because the ammo leaves minimal gunk and reside from powder & primer, compared to “regular” ammo. (The case interiors look almost as good as freshly cleaned.)

    How do these rounds compare for cleanliness of the gun afterwards?

    • The Z-Clean really is very clean. The C3 leaves a little bit of dust behind but is way cleaner than the other frange I’ve shot. Both of them seem to have fairly clean-burning primers and powder.

      …the main reason, by the way, that primers have lead in them is for long-term shelf life. At least from what I’ve been told. Lead-free ones aren’t as common and tend not to be as reliable. Maybe just because they’re a bit of a niche thing and don’t have as much R&D or whatever behind them. Obviously Alchemist says their product is solid in this way and certainly I got through 400 rounds without a single hitch of any sort, but admittedly that’s still a small sample size. Not sure how it would do if I shelved it, didn’t control temperature or humidity well, and then tried to shoot it 10 years from now though haha. But so far so good.

      • Better living through chemistry, I suppose. I’ll have to start considering these, after I get through some of my backlog. The answer to a shorter shelf life for primers is, of course, to shoot more! 🙂

        On that note, I recently had a chance to try some Syntech from American Eagle / Federal. Not the cleanest ammo I’ve ever shot, but definitely closer to Speer’s Cleanfire than, say, WWB.

  2. Not too long ago when I was shooting many thousands of rounds per year, I regularly had my blood tested for lead. The results were always normal, so lead doesn’t scare me.

    I’m not much of a tree-hugger, so the whole “save the planet!” nonsense has no appeal for me either.

    The unleaded that I’ve shot in the past has reasonably accurate and surefire but very dirty and sooty, so I didn’t like using it. Still, these new flavors seem pretty good and reasonably priced, so I would give them a try.

    • This stuff is definitely clean.

      Lead exposure is probably a much bigger concern if shooting indoors and shooting rounds with enough heat/pressure to vaporize exposed lead on the base of a bullet. Most indoor ranges have gone to ventilation systems that pump in clean air behind the shooters and suck the air out downrange. That way it moves away from the people. Which is, of course, good. Lead gets in the air from primers and from anything vaporized off bullets. Not ideal to breathe. Nothing I’ve ever concerned myself with, either, but at the same time I’d just as soon avoid it given the option to haha

  3. Unless you’re looking for .380 lead-free ammo, don’t bother going to the Clark website. Every other caliber is “Sold Out”.

    • Apparently Alchemist is right in the middle of launching the rest of the calibers. It was basically just 9mm and .380 when I got my hands on it a couple months ago. They’re close enough that it’s all on their site and Clark Armory has built out its site with all the different calibers, but “sold out” mostly means “coming soon.” They should all be in stock in the near future, apparently.

  4. What I want to see is some slo-mo video of a round shot into a jug of water…oh….and into some ballistic gelatin.
    Who’s going to rise up to this challenge?

  5. Just wondering….there are some companies making monolithic copper bullets with very high BCs. These bullets are pricey as compared to traditional bullets meant for the same application. For long range shooting, ala PRS type matches, could zinc be an alternative? I have not thought about the relative specific gravities between the two, and the differences between the sectional densities to get downrange performance. Could zinc reasonably replace copper for high BC monolithic bullets at a price point that would make handloading a zinc monolithic rival the cost/benefit that has been keeping the copper monolithics in the background .vs jacketed lead such as Bergers, A-MAX, etc.?

      • SG of copper is 8930, zinc is 7135, an 80% value. Given the length of monolithic copper bullets, not a great idea. Need a metal with a higher specific gravity, a lower cost per gram, and similar heat conduction as well as being softer than steel by a decent amount. Not to mention properties that lend themselves to mass production. Ideas?

  6. “The other is Z-Clean, featuring solid zinc projectiles.”

    As I understand it, barrel heating is mostly friction as the projectile passes down the barrel.

    (There simply isn’t enough raw BTUs in the powder that burns to heat the barrel as much as it does.)

    That being said, after learning here recently that hot Zinc fumes are something you really don’t want to breathe, are there any cautions to use it only in a very well ventilated environment?

    And I’m *loving* the smiley face on the bullet itself. It probably degrades its accuracy a bit, but damn is it cool.

    I can visualize that ‘Punisher’ logo on there as well. They might start a trend with that…

    • Given the smiley doesn’t touch the edges, the effect will be marginal, if any. the rotation of the bullet will stabilize most minor imbalances. any gouge or nick on the base has a far higher impact on accuracy, as there will be a “jet” of escaping gas at that point, nocking the bullet off balance.

  7. Another look at this for reloaders, range owners and indoor ranges; If one wants to ruin a batch of lead for example wheel weights (most are lead some are zinc) add some zinc to the lead mixture and the result is an unusable mixture.

    • You can easily avoid this problem by raising the temperature of your smelting pot gradually. Lead has much lower melting point (621.43F) than zinc (787.15 F) and will melt first. Zinc floats on surface and can be skimmed with the rest of junk like steel clips etc.

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