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HPR’s Black Ops ammo, a jacketed frangible bullet is a new entry into the market. In their product announcement you can see how HPR positions this ammo in the marketplace. HPR has kindly supplied some 9mm and .45 ACP ammo for testing. I’m not sure what to make of their describing it as being “one of the most operational personal defense rounds available on the market today.” To me, all defensive ammo better be 100% operational, or else it’s useless. I can say that it’s packaged very slickly, with an apparently plastic box, an attractive hexagonal ammo tray, some nicely polished nickel-plated cases, and an attractive black finish. This is expensive ammo (AmmoSeek lists a box of 9mm for about $1.25 per round, and the .45 ACP is going for about $1.53 each). Where other ammo comes in a cheap paper box, this packaging does lend an initial impression of quality . . .

But, frankly, I don’t care about the packaging or the marketing. All I care about is the terminal performance. Accordingly, I fired the 9mm and the .45 ACP versions into ClearBallistics synthetic ballistic gelatin to get an overview of its penetration and expansion characteristics. The test pistols were a Springfield XD-S in .45 ACP with 3.3″ barrel, and a Sig P938 in 9mm with a 3.0″ barrel.

However, it’s not necessarily enough to evaluate a frangible round against conventional ammo. So in order to provide perspective, I also tested the HPR rounds against another, relatively similar ammo cartridge — the DRT 85-grain 9mm jacketed frangible. DRT appears to use a similar construction (copper jacket over compressed powdered frangible core), at an identical weight (85 grains), and very similar velocity. I felt it would prove interesting to see if the Black Ops provided any improvement over the existing state of frangible ammo, especially since the Black Ops costs about double what the DRT does.

I know from past experience that people can get upset when a reviewer says that the “new technology” rounds don’t perform particularly well. And by “upset”, I mean trolling, slander, libel, threats of lawsuits, all of that. So, to keep everything in context, I decided to dispense with lengthy comparisons against conventional ammo and decided instead to explore the concept of “is this type of ammo really new? Does it really advance the state of terminal ballistic effectiveness?”

Accordingly, I compared the current generation of jacketed frangibles against an older-school round, the Extreme Shock Fang Face. Extreme Shock first started selling their ammo in 2000 and exhibited it publicly for the first time at the 2001 SHOT Show, so this is a cartridge that dates back to the turn of the century. However, the construction of the Fang Face sounds very similar — a hard copper jacket over a compressed powder core. Of course, those who have been involved in the firearms community for a while will likely recall that Extreme Shock was received rather poorly in the gun community, largely because of their excessively grandiose marketing claims (the “three ninjas”, the “NyTrilium” core, and wildly inflated ballistic claims for which they actually had to issue a public apology). Many in the gun community may have very negative impressions of Extreme Shock and their ammo may have been laughed off the market, but be that as it may, it’s still a compressed-core frangible with a copper jacket, so I felt that it would be appropriate to test it, to show how the newer versions of this basic design compare to one that’s been around for quite a while.

The nature of fragmenting rounds limits the number of rounds I can fire per gel block. To avoid the potential of cross-contamination, I limited the testing to one round of each per block. Generally I prefer to test multiple rounds of each cartridge to get a higher likelihood of statistically representative results, but in this test I thought it more important to put my limited number of gel blocks towards getting comparative results among multiple types of ammunition, rather than using them on multiple rounds of the same type of ammunition.

I didn’t bother with denim testing, because the point of these rounds is to see their frangibility in action. Had one clogged in denim, we wouldn’t have learned anything about how the round performs generally, since any bullet that clogs with denim performs pretty much the same as any other bullet that clogs with denim. It’s possible that in the future I may revisit the Black Ops and/or DRT with denim, just to verify whether they do indeed expand through denim.

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  1. HPR. Meh.

    Fired their 9mm, 10mm, and 380. And when I’m done, my shooting table looks as though I’ve just brushed off my flip-flops after a sandy day at the beach. An exotic black-sand beach, but a beach nonetheless. Not the dirtiest ammo in the world regarding firearm cleanliness but the particulate matter all over the table makes you feel like you’re sandblasting. It’s an ammo of last resort for the range these days.

    • Interesting. This past summer, I fired several hundred rounds of HPR .45 ACP ball and hollow-point during a session at Gunsite. I noticed that, at the end of the day, my hands were immaculate, and the pistol (Ruger SR1911) was remarkably clean. I have had no experience with other HPR calibers, however.

    • I’ve had the same experience with HPR as well but it seems like we are in the minority here. Most people report good results, and I talked to the president of the company and he seemed genuinely surprised when I told him.

  2. Why is there such an emphasis on barrier penetration? What I want is actually the opposite – a bullet that penetrates against a soft target, but turns into powder against drywall. I get that law enforcement wants to be able to shoot through a windshields, etc. – but as a civilian, I want something that is less likely to go through my neighbor’s wall if I miss.

    • Anything under 3000 fps that’s going to incapacitate a Bad Guy is going to go through drywall like it wasn’t even there. It’s just physics.

      • This.

        Wish in one hand for a projectile that will provide effective terminal performance on a BG yet not penetrate drywall. Spit in the other. See which fills up quicker.

        • Yep.
          Advice to anyone looking for defensive ammo, get the most damaging kind against flesh and practice so you don’t miss. If you aren’t confident in yourself, put the gun in the safe and get a baseball bat.

        • A tip I got from my CCW instructor was to think carefully about where people in your house sleep and what shots you will and won’t take as a consequence.

    • Because Murphy is a bitch, and your bad guy is going to be wearing heavy clothing or will run to cover at the first opportunity.

    • Because more than 20 years ago, at what became known as the Miami Massacre, an FBI swat team member shot one of the perps, and if it had penetrated more deeply, it would have ended the fight almost immediately. So there was a focus on deep penetrating rounds. What some people at the time claimed (and had real shooting data to back it up) was the best round, the 357 mag 125 grain semi jacketed hollow point fails that test.

      The FBI didn’t want to focus on things like bringing a second set of glasses if you cannot see without them (the guy fired 30 rounds, only one of which hit, probably because he had lost his glasses, and was nearly blind without them), or any of the other exceptionally bad decisions the FBI agents made (if you are going to ram someone, don’t put your gun on the seat so you have easy access to it after the collision! (to name one)).

      My info is from dimly recalling Massad Ayoob’s write up a few years later.

    • I generally agree with the others here; bullets go through drywall very easily. If you are overly concerned about danger to other occupants or neighbors, there’s really only two things that I can see would be wise here:
      1) don’t miss (not being facetious, I mean it, the best way to prevent danger to another person is to hit your intended target with a big-expanding hollowpoint)


      2) Use something other than a gun. A baseball bat or pepper spray or a golf club are all much less likely to result in damage to innocents in adjoining apartments, etc.

      Interestingly, while doing this test, I tried a fully-frangible training load from RUAG/RWS, their “Copper Matrix”, to see how frangible training ammo performs as compared to frangible jacketed self-defense ammo. The training round punched right through the gel just like an FMJ, with no “frangible” action, so I thought it was too boring to include it. However, I wonder how such an ammo might perform against drywall; if it would be stopped after a couple of sheets of drywall, then it might be something that apartment dwellers might think about… I think it would be a poor wounder, but heck, any bullet that punches clean through someone, while POTENTIALLY not going through too many walls, would perhaps be of interest to some of the members of the gun community, even if it doesn’t expand.

  3. can think of a number of business reasons why the major manufacturers do not have frangibles, but the really curious thing is that we have no declarations from them as to why they do not produce frangibles.

    as for wanting bullets that only hurt the intended target, the weight of the largest non-frangible pieces should be tested for collateral damage after hitting the target (say, an arm or leg hit), thinking that if the frangibles would not be significantly damaging after a let/arm hit, how effective can they be when hitting the sternum, or skull? is a 50gr bullet at less than 1000fps going to benetrate or break bone and travel to vital organs?


    • I should have stated more clearly in the vid: the major companies make training ammo that’s frangible, but they don’t sell it for self-defense purposes. They make it specifically because it reduces the risks associated with ricochet, from steel targets or concrete or whatever may be in the training environment the law enforcement officers are being trained in.

      The smaller companies are taking the idea of a frangible bullet and putting a copper jacket around it, and a hollowpoint in it, and selling it as a self-defense round. That’s the major difference between what the major companies are offering and how the smaller companies are positioning it.

      “is a 50gr bullet at less than 1000fps going to benetrate or break bone and travel to vital organs?”

      That depends on the bullet shape and design, largely. If it’s a 50gr hollowpoint, maybe.,, I tested .22 Magnum 45-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints from an NAA black Widow 2″-barrel mini-revolver, and they got up around 1,000 fps and they did expand and penetrate deeply. I was really impressed with them, considering the tiny size of the gun and the bullet. Obviously I would prefer 147 grains or 230 grains at comparable velocity, but heck, if you really just had to use a .22 Magnum revolver, they were impressive for that gun size.

      Okay, on bone — Huelke et al did a 1968 study on firing steel spheres through bones. They tried two sizes, a .40-cal 69-grain ball and a .25-cal 16-grainer. In both cases, at 1000 fps, both projectiles easily smashed through embalmed human femurs. The .40-cal exited the bone at 801 fps, the .25-cal exited the bone at 631 fps. According to Schwartz’s Quantitative Ammunition Selection, that .40-cal 69-grain ball would still be able to penetrate over 12.4 inches of soft tissue after getting past the bone. The .25-cal, not quite, it would only make it to about 8.2″. So, based on that, I would think that a 50-grain lead bullet, which would probably be about .25 cal, should easily be able to smash through the bone and still penetrate deep enough to potentially hit a vital organ. Of course, the smaller the bullet, the less momentum it has, and the more potential there is for the bullet to wander off course, especially if it strikes a bone first. And even if it does hit a vital organ, it’s an awfully small bullet making a small wound channel, because spheres are the least-damaging types of bullets. If we were talking about an expanded hollowpoint, that might be a different story.

  4. I would guess that the principal use for frangible ammo would be for indoor house-clearing training simulations. Inside a concrete block “fun house,” standard ammo could bounce around quite a bit.

  5. Frangible rounds trade lethality for lowering the chance of collateral damage. You can have deep penetration or you can have reduced levels of collateral damage. Pick one or the other. Wait a minute, I thought conventional JHP did that. So what purpose do these rounds serve?

    • You do, indeed, raise the question. And the best answer I can find is — they make a potentially bigger initial damage cavity, at the expense of making a smaller final damage cavity. And to me, that’s the wrong tradeoff to make. Not saying it might not potentially work, but that I feel a lot more confident about a bonded bullet that grows to a huge size and penetrates deep, than I do about a round that only has a small portion of its total weight doing the deep penetration.

  6. I would rather have the big chunk of star shaped lead with razor points spinning through the BG over the pile of dirt. Gold Dot, XTP, or the Win Ranger bullets all are pretty nasty looking when expanded and would cause some nasty damage wound wise. Yes sometimes they fail to expand but I would expect the frag bullets will fail to break up some of the time too. Weight beats speed when it comes to penetrating.

    • That is my general feeling as well.

      Also, and this is something I didn’t really know how to elucidate in the video — the only reason these bullets have a deep penetrating core, is because that’s a chunk of powder that DIDN’T fragment. I didn’t mention it because all four of the bullets performed the same way, so — 4 out of 4, that’s a pretty decent indicator of how these bullets are likely to perform, right? Yet… the deep penetrating chunk was made of the same compressed powder as the parts that broke off and penetrated very shallowly. So does that mean that if the entire bullet had fragmented, that the overall penetration would have been shallower? Possibly. And I’m not certain that I trust that idea.

      That’s actually one thing that I prefer about the G2 RIP’s design over these types of frangibles — at least with the RIP, the base is a solid chunk of metal, so it will always penetrate deep. With the frangibles, you don’t really know whether you’ll get one big uninterrupted chunk or not. You may or may not get the deep penetration you need. In both cases, however, the big chunk will still be relatively tiny as compared to the — how did you phrase it, “the big chunk of star-shaped lead with razor points spinning through the BG”. When that bullet hits the lungs or heart or vena cava, I want it to be 3/4″ in diameter and 230 grains huge and razor sharp; I’m not nearly as happy with the idea of the deep damage being done by a small detached and smooth chunk of compressed powder that isn’t even the diameter of the original bullet…

  7. Thanks for doing this test, great work as usual. I sell this ammo and while it is not my preference, it’s nice to see that it does perform as advertised and, gimmicky packaging aside, it doesn’t suffer from the same marketing hyperbole that makes me despise the RIP ammo on principle. I question the utility of fragmenting ammo in a pistol but if you have time I would love to see some follow up tests for drywall penetration as well as testing their .223 Remington load (along with drywall penetration) as we have a lot of customers using carbines for home defense. From what I’ve seen in their promotional gel blocks, the .223 fragmented further into the block than their pistol loads did and I think they may have something there.

  8. I’m not into frangible for duty or self d. I like my bullets to expand and retain most all its weight for that all important penetration. I stay away from gimmicky boutique rounds.


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