Saturday, May 5, 2012

Magic Bullet

I suspect one of the more interesting areas of shooting research is bullet technology.

The search for the magic bullet may have started thousands of years ago.  I suspect when David stepped out to fight Goliath he didn’t just grab a handfull of stones for his sling on his way out the door.  He had probably pre-chosen the shape, size and possibly the color of stones that worked the best for him and his sling.  Talk about stopping power!

Our recent history is rife with stories of hunters, police officers and shooters who were dissatisfied with bullet performance and went on to design a better bullet.  Joyce Hornady and Lee Juras come to mind, just to name a few.  
The sole purpose of the gun is to deliver a bullet with a specific degree of accuracy to some kind of target.  If the bullet is inherently inaccurate or fails to perform at the target, well, you can imagine the consequences.

The search for a magic bullet continues today.  Visit any shooting forum and you’ll find a discussion of bullet performance, often disguised as stopping power or penetration.  Gun writers practically leap-frog over each other proclaiming the current month's magic bullet. 

Shooters have their favorite bullet and will spend serious money to find the round they think will provide them with the expected performance.  At  recent gun show I overheard a shooter tell his buddy that he would not even think of shooting 160gr .40S&W, preferring to shoot only 180gr regardless of price.  I’ve seen marriages last for years with less commitment.

I’m interested in .223 Rem bullets.  I was fortunate enough to have access to mounting presses and metal grinding and polishing equipment.  So I took advantage of them.  I potted a round in clear mounting media from three different, but representative bullets.
  • SS109 62 gr
  • Wolf 55gr
  • Hornady 55 gr

If you grind too far, the bullet can fall out of the mounting media, so I only ground about a third of the bullet away. And I finished up by polishing them to a 1 micron diamond finish.
I don’t remember what I macro-etched them with.  It might have been Wheeling’s or Kahling’s. It doesn’t really matter for my blog.

The 55gr FMJ Hornady is a basic bullet. 
55gr FMJ in  .223Rem   It's a plain Jane bullet.
The lead core is surrounded by a thick copper jacket.  You can see a ridge in the copper to help hold the lead core in the jacket.  Having brittle fragments fly apart when it hits a hard surface helps reduce ricochet, but it can decrease penetration.  You’re not likely to be hunting moose with .223, but even with large calibers like .300 Win Mag, bullet strength is an important feature.

We’ve all heard of SS109.  It’s the dreaded Penetrator with its steel core.  It’s a heavier round so it shouldn’t (in theory) be pushed around as much as the lighter 55gr bullets by wind.  I don’t know about wind drift.  I know I shot a match at Camp Perry with 55gr.  I think my light bullets toured the neighborhood, stopped for a beer and then wandered into the target.
The black text doesn't stand out, but the steel core sits on top of the lead.  A small bulge can be seen on the copper jacket to left.  I can't find another one that would balance the bullet's spin.
A lot of ranges don’t want you to shoot this guy at steel and no wonder, the steel core is meant to punch holes in light armor.  Even if it does splatter on impact, the steel core is capable of bouncing back quite some distance creating a safety hazard.

There’s a little asymmetrical ridge of copper that can be seen on the left side of the bullet.  It may be an artifact of mounting and polishing.  Or it could be designed to destabilize the bullet.  More on that later.

The last is the  Ukrainian Wolf.  Its steel case is vilified by most shooters and banned on some ranges.  Non-reloadable cases, having no significant scrap value, are often left to weather into thin-walled rusty shells of their former selves.  Not very attractive.
223 Wolf.  The thin layer of copper between the lead and steel shell is a mystery.  It could be from the metal etch.  Some etches can deposit copper metal, or it may be plating on the steel to provide better bonding to the lead.
The bullet, surprisingly, is also steel with a thin copper wash.  The core is lead, but you wouldn’t see very much deformation from this bullet.  It makes a little hole in and should make a little hole out, at least in theory.

Modern warfare can be a bit grisly at times.  Most nations accept the concept of total warfare.  The extension of this is, it takes only two people to bury a dead hero, but caring for a wounded hero takes dozens.  Wounded warfighters (modern lingo…) use lots of resources as compared to dead and now idealized heroes.
The Wolf ammo has what I think is an oval ridge in the steel case to help lock the lead core in place.  I suspect it also destabilizes the bullet so it tumbles and makes a more aggressive wound.  I also think the SS109 may have a little of that same feature.  It does show a little bulge on just one side.

I know people prepared for the END! based on the Mayan calendar.  Maybe the Day of the Zombie is closing in, what do I know?!  Many of them have a little stash of SS109 just in case they have to shoot through something.  I haven’t tested it, but I suspect Wolf ammo will work just as well as the SS109 for penetrating that Mad Max DIY armored car terrorizing your neighborhood.  If you’re concerned about that, keep a box or two around.

I will say, in my opinion, SS109 shoots smaller groups than Wolf steel jacketed 55gr, but not bullseye accurate.  That also stands to reason.  Most militaries aren’t really interested in shooting out the heart’s left ventricle valve.  They just want to put 3 or 5 holes in the big part of the body.  Works for me too!

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