Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 8/17/2011. Some additional observations at the end.
It’s a classic scene: Mad Max rolling a shotgun shell between his fingers, trying to see whether it is still any good.
Will it crumble? If it doesn’t, will it still fire?
Only his script-writer knows for sure.
But how much does it have to do with reality? How long will ammunition stay good, and under what storage conditions? Talk about classics – that basic question has been a standard of firearm discussions online going back to before there even was an “online”.
Whether you’ve just found an old box of shotgun shells in the back of your closet or you’re planning ahead for the Zombie Apocalypse, it’d be good to know whether you could trust those rounds to go bang when needed.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, it depends.
Chances are, if the ammunition has been made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.
OK, let’s qualify, qualify, qualify that statement. Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.
Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.
Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.
Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and hasn’t been immersed in water or subject to prolonged sub-freezing temperature, then it’ll still be good.
Hmm. That makes it sound like there’s not a good chance, doesn’t it?
But I don’t mean to say that. The truth is, if you come across a box (or can or pallet) of ammo made after WWII, and the exterior doesn’t show signs of obvious damage or corrosion, it should be fine. I’ve shot plenty of such ammo over the years – stuff that is older than I am. And it’s likely that if the ammunition was made after the shift to non-corrosive primers in the 1920s – which covers most non-military ammunition – it’ll also be fine. In the West, even military ammunition made since WWII has predominantly been made using non-corrosive primers, and is likely very stable. Eastern bloc countries used corrosive primers until much, much later, which meant not only could they present a problem with barrel damage if the firearm wasn’t cleaned properly, but that there was a chance that the primer would become weak with age and wouldn’t completely ignite the gunpowder in the cartridge.
How about storage? I mean of ammo made recently – how should you store it to increase the chances of it staying good?
The biggest thing is to keep it from resting in water. Sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.
Some ammunition is sealed (tracer rounds, for example) after manufacture. But most of it just relies on the mechanical qualities of manufacturing to keep moisture out. This is actually pretty good, and serves fairly well in the case of metallic cartridges. You don’t have to worry about a brief exposure to water, from rain or dropping a round into a puddle or something. You should avoid allowing non-sealed rounds from sitting in water for a prolonged period, since such exposure could allow water to seep into the cartridge and compromise the gunpowder. It could also lead to case or primer corrosion, which could weaken the structural integrity or loading problems. So, if you want to store ammo for a long time, keep it in some kind of waterproof container. Double-bagging, using a vacuum sealer, and related strategies should all work fine.
Oh – did you notice that I specified “metallic cartridges” above? Yeah. That’s because plastic shotgun shells are not as water-tight. They’re still pretty good, given modern manufacturing tolerances, but you probably want to be a little more careful with them for long-term storage. Just sayin’.
One other thing to be aware of: freezing can cause some gunpowders to “crack” – to make smaller particles. While it may not seem to be a big deal, it can greatly increase the surface area of each small particle of the propellent. Which can cause it to burn faster. Which can cause over-pressure. Which can cause case rupture or even potentially the dreaded “ka-boom.”
So, there you have it, whether you’re wanting to have a rainy-day stash, just stockpile ammo when you find a good sale, or are wanting to be accurate for your next screenplay – take these things into consideration and you should be fine. Modern ammunition is generally of very high quality, and very reliable. A little planning ahead on your part should maintain that reliability for as long as you want.
Because it’s better to have a gun than a club.
There’s isn’t a lot that I would add to this piece regarding old ammo. But since I wrote this we’ve tested something like an additional 20,000 rounds of new commercial ammo from the biggest manufacturers to boutique ammo from small shops. And I continue to be impressed with just how uniform the quality has been — it’s easily in the 99%+ range. It’s to the point where if commercial ammo fails to fire reliably, I would always first inspect the gun to see what the problems was, because it’s much more likely that the gun has some kind of problem than the ammo.
Which isn’t to say that all ammo will work reliably in all guns. I still advocate that for self-defense firearms in particular, you should always run at least a couple of boxes of a given type/brand of ammo through the gun before considering it sufficiently reliable enough to depend on to save your life. YMMV, of course.
All along, we’ve said that if someone wanted to take the time, trouble, and expense to do some additional research along the lines of our protocols, that we’d be happy to include their data on our site. This is particularly true if it helped expand the selection of “real world guns” associated with the data for a given caliber/cartridge. Well, for the first time someone has expressed an interest in doing just that, prompting us to come up with an outline of what standards we feel are required for making sure it relates to our previous tests.
The biggest problem is that ammo manufacturers may, and do, change the performance of their products from time to time. This is why we have on occasion revisited certain cartridges, doing full formal chop tests in order to check how specific lines of ammo have changed. That gives us a benchmark to compare other ammo after a period of several years have passed, and shows how new tests relate to the old data.
But without going to such an extent, how can we be reasonably sure that new data collected by others using their own firearms is useful in comparison to our published data?
After some discussion, we feel that so long as any new testing includes three or more of the specific types of ammo (same manufacturer, same bullet weight & design) we had tested previously, then that will give enough of a benchmark for fair comparison. (Obviously, in instances where we didn’t test that many different types of ammo in a given cartridge, adjustments would need to be made). With that in mind, here are the protocols we would require in order to include new data on our site (with full credit to the persons conducting the tests, of course):
- Full description and images of the test platform (firearm) used in the tests. This must specify the make, model number, barrel length, and condition of the firearm. Ideally, it will also include the age of the firearm.
- That a good commercial chronograph be used. Brand isn’t critical — there seems to be sufficient consistency between different models that this isn’t a concern. However, the brand and model should be noted.
- Chronographs must be positioned approximately 15 feet in front of the muzzle of the firearm used to test the ammo. This is what we started with in our tests, and have maintained as our standard through all the tests.
- That five or six data points be collected for each type of ammo tested. This can be done the way we did it, shooting three shots through two different chronographs, or by shooting six shots through one chronograph.
- All data must be documented with images of the raw data sheets. Feel free to use the same template we used in our tests, or come up with your own.
- Images of each actual box of ammo used in the test must be provided, which show the brand, caliber/cartridge, and bullet weight. Also including manufacturer’s lot number would be preferred, but isn’t always possible.
- A note about weather conditions at the time of the test and approximate elevation of the test site above sea level should be included.
We hope that this will allow others to help contribute to our published data, while still maintaining confidence in the *value* of that data. Please, if you are interested in conducting your own tests, contact us in advance just so we can go over any questions.
We had another of those wonderful & rare mid-50s January days here today, so I decided to get out for a little range time.
In addition to the other shooting I did (basically, practice with some of my preferred CCW guns), I also did a little head-to-head comparison between a Smith & Wesson M&P 360 J-frame in .38 Special and a Colt Anaconda in .44 Magnum.
Wait … what? Why on Earth would anyone even consider trying to do such an absurd comparison? The S&W is a very small gun, and weighs just 13.3 ounces. The Anaconda is a monster, weighing in at 53 ounces (with the 6″ barrel that mine has), and is literally twice as long and high as the J-frame. The .38 Special is generally considered a sufficient but low-power cartridge for self defense, while the .44 Magnum still holds a place in the popular mind as ‘the most powerful handgun in the world‘ (even though it isn’t).
Well, I was curious about the perceived recoil between the two, shooting my preferred loads for each. The topic had come up in chatting with a friend recently, and I thought I would do a little informal test, just to see what I thought.
So for the M&P 360 I shot the Buffalo Bore .38 special +P, 158 gr. LSWHC-GC which I have chrono’d out of this gun at 1050 fps, with a ME of 386 ft-lbs.
And for the Anaconda I shot Hornady .44 Remington Magnum 240gr XTP JHP, which I have chrono’d at 1376 fps, with a ME of 1009 ft-lbs. (Actually, I don’t have a ‘preferred carry ammo’ for this gun, but this is typical of what I shoot out of it. Were I going to use it as a bear-defense gun, I’d load it with this.)
My conclusion? That the M&P 360 was worse, in terms of perceived recoil. In fact, I’d say that it was *much* worse.
It’s completely subjective, but it does make sense, for a couple of reasons.
First, look at the weight of each gun, compared to the ME of the bullets shot. The J-frame is 13.3 ounces, or about 25% of the 53 ounce weight of the Anaconda. But the ME of 386 ft-lbs of the .38 Special bullet is 38.25% of the ME of the .44 Mag at 1009 ft-lbs. Put another way, the J-frame has to deal with 29 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun, where the Anaconda has just 19 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun. That’s a big difference.
Also, all that recoil of the J-frame is concentrated into a much smaller grip, when compared to the relatively large grip of the Anaconda. Simply, it the difference between being smacked with a hammer and a bag of sand, in terms of how it feels to your (or at least, my) hand.
Following the success of our .45 Super/.450 SMC tests this summer, I sat down to work up some reloads which would mimic the factory ammo we had tested.
Since both of these cartridges are fairly unknown, there isn’t a whole lot of good information out there to draw upon. But there is some, at least for the .45 Super, and late last year/earlier this year I had worked up some preliminary loads, starting with .45 ACP +P (overpressure) published load data. But that was done using .460 Rowland cases and shot through my converted Glock G21, which I knew could handle the extra power. When reloading, it pays to be careful and conservative.
After I had seen the results from the extensive .45 Super/.450 SMC tests (some of which has already been published), I had a pretty good idea of where the power band for these loads was, and how different guns could handle it. Since I had previously worked up loads for .460 Rowland as well as done a lot of .45 ACP reloading over the years, I figured that I could come up with some pretty reasonable load levels to match what we had seen in the factory ammo.
So I sat down, looked through all my results and what was available elsewhere, and came up with loads* for three different bullet weights I had on hand: 185gr XTP, and 200gr & 230gr FP. I chose to use Longshot powder, which I have used successfully for both .45 ACP and .460 Rowland loads. (This is not an endorsement of any of these products, and I have not been compensated from these manufacturers in any way. This is just stuff I have on hand and know has worked previously.) I loaded 50 rounds each in .45 Super cases, using standard Large Pistol Primers.
But as I was doing so, I also realized that I had a bunch of .450 SMC cases left from the tests. And I figured that it might be an interesting experiment to load those cases to the exact same specs, other than the difference in primer size. To give the cartridge the benefit of better ignition, I used Small Magnum Pistol primers. Again, I loaded 50 rounds of each bullet weight.
Again, other than the difference in primers, the reloads I worked up were identical.
OK, before I go any further, I want to toss in some caveats and explanations:
- This was an informal test, using only one chronograph and under less rigorous conditions than the formal BBTI tests. It was just me shooting a string of five shots, keeping mental track of what the numbers were for each, and then writing down a ballpark figure which seemed to best represent the overall performance. Also, I wasn’t using the BBTI light-frame which gives us more consistent chrono results.
- I was using my personal firearms, two of which (the Cx4 and Glock G30S) were brand new — this was their very first trip to the range. Yeah, I got them after seeing how similar guns performed in the .45 Super/.450 SMC tests earlier.
Now, about the guns used:
- Glock G30S with a Lone Wolf 23lb recoil spring and steel guide rod package. 3.77″ barrel
- Glock 21 converted to .460 Rowland (heavier recoil spring, compensator, and Lone Wolf .460 R barrel). 5.2″ barrel
- Beretta Cx4 carbine, standard right out of the case. But I am going to install a steel guide rod and heavy buffer in it. 16.6″ barrel
Ammo G30S G21 Cx4
.45 Super 185gr 1185 fps / 577 ft-lbs 1250 fps/ 642 ft-lbs 1550 fps / 987 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr 1125 fps / 520 ft-lbs 1200 fps / 592 ft-lbs 1500 fps / 925 ft-lbs
.45 Super 200gr 1130 fps / 567 ft-lbs 1225 fps / 667 ft-lbs 1420 fps / 896 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 200gr 1090 fps / 528 ft-lbs 1180 fps / 619 ft-lbs 1420 fps / 896 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr 1080 fps / 596 ft-lbs 1160 fps / 687 ft-lbs 1310 fps / 877 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 230gr 1060 fps / 676 ft-lbs 1130 fps / 652 ft-lbs 1310 fps / 877 ft-lbs
Interesting, eh? What seems to be happening is that full ignition of the powder takes longer with the .450 SMC loads. That would explain why there’s more of a discrepancy with the lighter bullets and shorter barrels, so the bullet clears the barrel faster — some of the powder hasn’t yet ignited with the Small Magnum Primer. But with the heavier bullets and longer barrel of the Cx4, there more time for more of the powder to ignite, reducing or eliminating the difference in performance.
That’s my take on it. If you have another one, please comment.
Also, I want to note just how well I managed to emulate the performance of the factory ammo. Compare the numbers above with what I have already published for the Glock 21 and Cx4 used in the tests earlier. And it isn’t published yet, but the G30S numbers are also right on-the-money for how the G36 used in the tests earlier performed (the two guns have the same barrel length). In all instances, my reloads* performed within 10-15 fps of the factory loads.
*So, what exactly were those loads specs? OK, here’s the data, but provided with the understanding that you should WORK UP YOUR OWN LOADS starting below these amounts, and accepting that you do so on your own responsibility. Also note that any changes in bullet weight, bullet brand, or powder type may/will alter the results you can expect. AGAIN: you use this data on your own responsibility. Be safe.
All bullet weights had a 1.250″ O.A.L.
All were given a slight taper crimp.
185gr XTP rounds had 11.0gr of Longshot powder.
200gr FP rounds had 10.5gr of Longshot powder.
230gr FP rounds had 10.0gr of Longshot powder.
Another quick post about getting together for a bit of shooting weekend before last. This time, let’s look at some semi-auto carbines.
The first two are a pair of Beretta CX4 Storms, one in 9mm and the other in .45ACP. You can see them here with the pump guns:
I’ve previously reviewed the Cx4, and would only add that each time I shoot one of these guns I just enjoy the hell out of them. At just under 30″ overall length and weighing 5.75 pounds, they’re light, easily maneuverable, and very ergonomic. Great little pistol caliber carbines.
Now, see that gun partially visible off to the right in the pic above? And here’s another shot of it with the other pumps and carbines:
See that short little thing third from the left? Yeah, it’s an AGM-1 carbine in 9mm. Here’s a much better pic of it:
It’s an old-school bullpup, made in the 1980s in Italy. None of us had seen one before, and since it was a used gun it came with no paperwork or information. In picking it up, it felt almost too small to be civilian-legal (I mean non-NFA regulated), but the overall length is a tad over 26″ and the barrel is barely 16 and 1/8th inch. It has a little more heft than the Cx4, and most of the parts are heavy stamped steel. It uses Browning Hi-Power magazines. Interestingly, it was intended to be a modular design you could easily convert over to either .22lr or .45ACP, though I doubt the parts to do so are very common now.
But it was a surprisingly nice little gun to shoot. And when I say little, I mean it — damned thing is shorter than my arm. It was accurate, had a nice trigger, and almost no recoil. All of us were able to put a magazine full of bullets into a one-inch hole at 11 yards the first time we picked it up and tried it. Cool gun. If you ever happen to stumble across one in a shop, don’t be afraid to give it a try.
… great balls of fire*:
How was it to shoot?
Actually, pretty nice. Has a surprisingly good trigger. In general, I like Kel-Tec guns for what they are: reasonable quality at a very affordable price. And I downright love my Sub-2000 in 9mm.
But I won’t be getting a PMR-30 anytime soon. Because at the 4.3″ barrel length, it just doesn’t take real advantage of the .22WMR cartridge — you only get about a 20% improvement over a .22lr cartridge.
Unless you like making fireballs.
*With apologies to Jerry Lee.
Last week I posted about some historical reproductions. Now let’s have a quick overview of some newer guns we got to try on the same trip to the range. I’ll include some *very* brief comments, and may return to do longer reviews later when I have some additional time.
First up, the USFA ZiP .22LR, shown with 25-round mag for additional grip purchase:
Comments: Ugh. I hated this gun. Seriously. It’s awkward to hold, worse to shoot, all sharp angles and weirdly thick. It’s the kind of ugly that isn’t even interesting. The design requires you to put your hand right up close to the muzzle to cycle the action. Since it was brand new, I’ll forgive it having problems cycling properly (this is fairly common with rim-fire guns which are brand new), but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have to shoot it enough to break it in.
Bottom line: if someone insisted on giving me one of these, I’d just turn around and sell it to use the money for almost any other purpose.
Next, the Excel Arms MP-22 .22mag Accelerator:
Comments: Nice gun. Shot very well, and the 8.5″ barrel is sufficiently long to get some benefit out of the .22WMR cartridge. The heavy bull barrel also does a good job of taming the recoil and muzzle-flip, as can be seen in this vid:
Next, the SIG 232 .380acp:
Comments: SIG SAUER’s version of the classic PPK. Just what you’d expect: quality, accurate, easy to shoot for even someone with large hands, as can be seen in this image of my buddy who has even larger hands than I do:
Next, the Glock 42 .380acp:
Comments: I did not expect to like this gun. I was REALLY surprised when I did. Seriously, it is the best-shooting Glock I’ve ever handled. For such a small gun, it fit my large hands comfortably and was easy to shoot well. With Glock quality and reliability, this may be the first .380acp I would seriously consider as a CCW gun.
Next, the Kimber Solo Carry 9mm:
And here’s a vid of shooting it:
Comments: Kimber quality. Lot of power in a small package, and I felt it in the web between thumb and forefinger of my dominant hand. But that was just a sting, not uncomfortable, even shooting premium SD ammo. Another good candidate for CCW.
Comments: Like I said, a classic. And as such, a known quantity. But the first time I’ve shot one in 6.5 Swede, and I was pleasantly surprised by how little recoil there was.
Well, that’s all that I have images of, though we also shot a Chiappa M1-22 and a KelTec PMR-30 .22 mag. Again, both are known quantities and shot as expected. Oh, and my buddy gave my Steyr S9 a go, and you can see that vid here.
As noted, I may revisit any of these with a longer review sometime later, but don’t hold your breath.
This past weekend I had the chance to do some black powder shooting with a couple of friends. Here’s most of the firearms we shot:
From left to right: 15th century Handgonne (.75 cal), 16th century Japanese-style matchlock (.50 cal … I think), then a matched pair of smoothbore flintlocks from about 1760 (.69 cal). We also shot my 1815 Mortimer flintlock and a 1876 Hawken percussion cap rifle (.50 cal).
It was all kinds of fun. Here’s a short video of shooting the Handgonne:
Here’s a nice detail of the mechanism showing the match and pan on the matchlock:
This clip of shooting it shows the problems inherent in having a match (the burning cord) which was actually too small:
Then here’s a shot of loading the Hawken:
Examining it before shooting:
And then shooting:
And here’s a bit of video:
Some modern guns and short reviews of them to follow later this week.
I thought I would share a question I got in email today, and my generalized answer, since it is something which comes up surprisingly often.
I love this data! Would it be possible to fund the testing of additional cartridges? I’m looking for more .XYZ load tests.
Our baseline costs for testing a particular cartridge (out to 18″ barrel length) runs a couple hundred dollars for the barrel blank, then perhaps another hundred to get the smithing work done on it to fit the T/C platform. Then add in the actual cost of ammo, with a minimum of probably 100 rounds (3 shots at each inch of barrel, additional rounds for each ‘real world gun’, and then another box or two for repeats when something goes buggy with the data). So realistically, to actually fund a test sequence is a minimum of close to $500 for just one ammo load, and another $100+ for each additional ammo. Add in equipment and site hosting costs, and that’s how we’ve managed to spend something on the order of $50k so far for the data on the site. Which doesn’t include any labor costs, of course, since we only do this because we were curious about the data, not as any kind of testing business.
Which is to say that we’re always happy to accept donations and feedback on what sorts of things people would like to see, but as of yet no one has been willing to step up and finance an entire test sequence for something we’re curious enough to want to sink the time into. (Each test sequence takes 100 man-hours of labor or more … from our vacation/weekend/fun time.)
We don’t *currently* have any plans to retest the .XYZ anytime soon. Actually, we don’t have plans to do any specific tests at all in the near term. But we are looking at revisiting most or all of the cartridges tested to date at some point in the future, just to see how ammo quality/selection may have changed over a 5 or 10 year period.
A friend dropped me a note, after looking over my previous experiments with putting .460 Rowland load power into .45 ACP cases, and asked a fairly simple question: Do you think that the case walls are actually thicker in the .460 Rowland?
Now, I have read several articles over the years which mentioned that the .460 Rowland cases were “stronger” with others saying that the cases were “thicker”. In fact, in the blog post cited above, I myself said:
Even shooting them in a gun designed to handle .460 Rowland power was risky, since the .45 ACP cases do not have the same strength as the .460 Rowland cases.
But is that actually true?
Good question. My Lyman 49th Edition Reloading Handbook doesn’t give case wall thickness for the .45ACP, and doesn’t list .460 Rowland at all. A quick check online also didn’t turn up any case wall thickness specs for either cartridge. As noted above, there are some gun writers out there who claim that the .460 Rowland case has thicker walls “for strength” but this claim isn’t made on the 460Rowland.com site that I could find.
So, being the data-curious guy that I am, I decided to just take some measurements and see what I found.
The only .460 cases I have are all Starline brass (I ordered 500 from them, and supplemented with other brass from factory Buffalo Bore ammunition – again, all of it marked as Starline), and I went through and checked a bunch with my simple calipers. Now, those calipers aren’t the pincer type, just the standard parallel-jaws type, so I only trust the measurements to about halfway down the case. And they all fell into a range of wall thickness from 0.012″ to 0.014″.
Doing the same measurement with ten different ‘marked’ sets of .45 ACP brass I also have readily to hand, the results were almost identical, with the vast majority of cases being 0.012″ or a thousandth of an inch on either side of that. It didn’t matter whether the cases were nickle-plated or marked “+P”. The ‘marked’ brass was as follows:
- Cor Bon +P
- Federal Brass
- Federal Nickle
- Speer Brass
- Speer Nickle
And when you stop to think about it, there would be no reason or way for the case walls to be significantly thicker in the .460 Rowland cartridge, and still allow you to use standard .45 ACP reloading components and dies. If the case walls were substantially thicker, then you’d have to have slightly smaller bullets, if nothing else, and would probably need a different resizing die and/or neck expanding die.
Also, when I was conducting those experiments last summer, I didn’t note any differences in how the .45 ACP cases looked or functioned (when being reloaded) after being shot with .460 Rowland power loads.
My conclusion? That the .460 Rowland cases are no thicker walled than .45 ACP cases. They may still be “stronger”, if there is some metallurgical difference, but I doubt it. The real difference is in whether or not the chamber of the gun in which the ammo is being used is strong enough to handle the much-greater pressure of the .460 Rowland loads. Because remember, the maximum pressure for standard .45 ACP is just 21,000 PSI, and 23,000 PSI for .45 ACP +P — while the .460 Rowland cartridge reaches pressures of 40,000 PSI.
Of course, there are additional factors to consider (like recoil and timing) with the .460 Rowland cartridge, so you can’t just make the chamber of the gun stronger and then start putting those kinds of loads into .45 ACP cases. And you really wouldn’t want to accidentally put such power into a ‘normal’ .45 ACP gun — that could lead to catastrophic failure of the gun, and result in serious injury or death. So it still makes ALL KINDS OF SENSE to only load the longer .460 Rowland cases with that much power.
Some weeks back I put up a post about my preliminary experiences with a .460 Rowland conversion for my Glock 21 Gen 4. In it I mentioned how much I like the resultant gun, but also how I was having some problems with magazine wear when shooting full-force .460 loads.
Well, after thinking a lot more about it, as well as discussing it with people online and with the other BBTI members when they were here for the recent tests (one of whom has been a Glock armorer for 15+ years) a couple different strategies emerged for me to test. Briefly, those were:
- See whether putting in a heavier mag spring would help
- See whether the problem was due to the case length of the .460 Rowland cartridges (they’re 1/16″ longer than .45 ACP).
- See whether the problem was due to the *power* of the cartridges rather than the length of the cases.
To test the first, it was a simple matter to get a more powerful mag spring and test it in one of the magazines. I picked up a Wolff magazine spring from Midway and did so.
To test whether it was the simple case length of the .460 Rowland cases, I made up some .460 Rowland rounds using .45 ACP reloading standards.
To test whether it was the *power* of the .460 loads but not the case length was another matter. Here’s where we get to the Don’t Try This At Home part of today’s blog post: I made up a number of .45 ACP rounds which were loaded to .460 Rowland specs.
Let me repeat that again: Don’t Try This At Home. These are wildcat rounds, and potentially dangerous. Shooting them in a gun not rated for .460 Rowland stresses could very well result in catastrophic failure of your gun, of the “KABOOM!” variety. Even shooting them in a gun designed to handle .460 Rowland power was risky, since the .45 ACP cases do not have the same strength as the .460 Rowland cases. I made up just 10 rounds of each of these loadings, and was careful to make sure I shot them all, so that they didn’t accidentally wind up in a .45 not strong enough to take the punishment.
Here are each of the loadings I made up, just for reference, along with their approximate chrono results:
- 185gr XTP bullet, .45 ACP case, .460 Rowland power 1480fps
- 200gr RNFP bullet, .45 ACP case, .460 Rowland power 1440fps
- 230gr RNFP bullet, .45 ACP case, .460 Rowland power 1350fps
- 250gr LFN bullet, .45 ACP case, .460 Rowland power 1250fps
- 230gr RNFP bullet, .45 ACP case, .45 ACP power 920fps
- 230gr RNFP bullet, .460 Rowland case, .45 ACP power 925fps
- 185gr XTP bullet, .460 Rowland case, .460 Rowland power 1490fps
- 200gr RNFP bullet, .460 Rowland case, .460 Rowland power 1420fps
- 230gr RNFP bullet, .460 Rowland case, .460 Rowland power 1355fps
- 250gr LFN bullet, .460 Rowland case, .460 Rowland power 1265fps
No, I’m not going to give the specific powder amounts for any of those. I used Hodgdon Longshot powder, and you can look up the specs if you want to know more.
In addition, I had these factory loads on hand for comparison, along with their approximate chrono results:
11. 185gr DPX .45 ACP +P 1110fps
12. 230gr GDHP .45 ACP 850fps
13. 230gr JHP .45 ACP +P1040fps
14. 230gr JHP .460 Rowland 1380fps
15. 255gr LFN .460 Rowland1260fps
OK, a couple of comments before I go further: those are “approximate” chrono readings because I wasn’t being anywhere near as careful as we are when we do formal BBTI testing. To wit: I was just using one chrono; I wasn’t worried about getting the exact same number of readings (so long as I got three or four, I wasn’t too worried about it); and I didn’t do anything to control for consistent lighting or suchlike. But they should all be in the right ballpark.
So, looking over all those, you will see what I see: that there was a remarkable consistency in power levels, whether you’re looking at my reloads or factory loads, and between those rounds which used either .45 ACP cases or .460 Rowland cases. That tells me that following the published data for .460 Rowland reloads, and making some intelligent decisions on how to adapt those to the .45 ACP cases for purposes of this experiment, was by and large successful. Meaning that I can use those loads to fairly evaluate what makes a difference on the basic problem I was investigating: what is causing the magazine damage and how to resolve it.
So, what conclusions did I draw from all this?
First, the more powerful magazine spring seemed to help with consistent loading. I will be swapping out all the Glock 21 mag springs I have. This makes intuitive sense, since the slide is moving faster when shooting the more powerful rounds.
That doing a little customizing on the magazines also seems to help a great deal. Here’s a pic showing an unaltered magazine and one I have taken a Dremel tool to:
Note that these are just the magazine ‘boxes’ — the guts (spring, follower, etc) have all been removed for clarity.
With the altered magazine and stronger spring, any problems I had with Failure To Feed was minimized.
And most important, it is the *power* of the round, not the case length, which seems to cause damage to the unaltered magazines. Shooting the .460 Rowland power loads in the .45 ACP cases demonstrated this. Conversely, shooting the .45 ACP power loads in the .460 Rowland cases didn’t cause any magazine damage at all.
Two additional notes I want to add: the first is that I had pretty consistent problems with the heavy Lead Flat Nose rounds in all configurations. They kept getting jammed up in transitioning from the magazine into the chamber. I’ll probably continue to experiment with this in the future, but I’m not too worried about it, since many guns run into some ammo specific problems.
The second is that once again I was really impressed at just how well this reconfigured Glock 21 did with .45 ACP loads. Seriously, with the .460 Rowland conversion in place, there was very minimal recoil (more than a .22, but not much) and it was VERY easy to control and shoot the gun well. I suspect that going forward the vast majority of the shooting I will do with this will be using standard .45 ACP reloads, saving the much more powerful .460 Rowland rounds for occasional practice. In this sense, I am thinking of the .45/.460 relationship the way I think about .38/.357 — it seems to be a perfectly appropriate analogy.
Now that I have all this sorted, I can go ahead and write up a formal review. But I thought I would share a little of the process of how I got to this point.
We’ve long known that many pistol calibers/cartridges are optimized for fairly short barrels — you see real benefits in increasing barrel length out to 6″ or 8″ or so, with diminishing returns beyond that. (The exception to this is the ‘magnum’ rounds: .44mag, .357mag, etc.) It’s not that you don’t see any benefit in a longer barrel, but the gain tends to flatten out. Take a look at the muzzle energy graph for the 9mm Luger (9×19) and this is quickly apparent:
Take a look at the left side of that graph. There’s some indication that the bullets are actually slowing down in the last couple of inches of an 18″ barrel. Whether or not this is just a glitch in our earlier test data, or an indication that friction is starting to win out over the remaining energy from the expanding gas of a fired cartridge is something I’ve always wondered about. Clearly, at some point a bullet will start to slow down, even stop; anyone who has ever fired a squib load and had to hammer the bullet out of a barrel knows that this can indeed happen. But at what point would this effect start to be clear?
Good question. And not one we really wanted to spend the money on to find out. See, the barrel blanks we’ve used all along came in an 18″ length standard for pistol calibers/cartridges. Longer barrels were available from different sources, but there was a big jump up in price for those, and it just didn’t make much sense to get into that.
When we started to set up to do the so-called “Glock Tests” we had to find a different source for our barrel blanks, since our other supplier couldn’t provide a polygonal barrel (the kind of barrel Glock uses, though they are not unique in this). We sourced the barrels from Lothar Walther. And as it turned out, their barrel blanks are longer than 18″. Specifically, we received a 26″ barrel with traditional land-and-groove rifling and a 24″ barrel with polygonal rifling. Here they are:
Well, we didn’t want to spend the time and money doing full chop tests from 26/24 inches down to 18″. But we did decide to just go ahead and get some benchmark data at the full length, just for shits and grins. And here is the data for those lengths, along with data from 18″, 17″, and 16″ lengths for comparison:
PNW Arms STD P 115gr SCHP
Trad: 1074 fps 1161 fps 1163 fps 1171 fps
Poly: 1064 fps 1131 fps 1131 fps 1135 fps
Federal STD P 115gr Hi-Shok
Trad: 1305 fps 1330 fps 1333 fps 1330 fps
Poly: 1323 fps 1331 fps 1336 fps 1135 fps
CorBon +P 115gr DPX
Trad: 1117 fps 1232 fps 1249 fps 1236 fps
Poly: 1057 fps 1186 fps 1195 fps 1208 fps
Black Hills +P 115gr JHP
Trad: 1494 fps 1508 fps 1512 fps 1498 fps
Poly: 1496 fps 1521 fps 1515 fps 1518 fps
Federal STD P 147gr JHP
Trad: 1036 fps 1061 fps 1084 fps 1085 fps
Poly: 1046 fps 1088 fps 1098 fps 1088 fps
So, there ya go: in each and every case, there is a noticeable decrease in velocity in going from an 18″ barrel to either the 24″ or 26″ barrel. And keep in mind that the protocols for this test were 10 shots of each ammo at each barrel length over two chrono units, rather than just 3 shots as we had done for previous chop tests.
Not too surprising, but nice to see actual data.
We hope to have the full data sets, with charts & graphs, up on the website soonish (maybe next week?). Watch here and on our FaceBook page for a posting when it is available.
I said it before and I’ll repeat it here: if you carry a .45, you should instead be carrying a .460 Rowland.
So, early this year I put in an order for a .460 Rowland conversion kit for a new Gen 4 Glock 21.
I’m planning on doing a full formal review of the kit and the resultant gun, but I thought I’d share some of my experience so far. Why “so far”? Well, because I haven’t worked out all the minor kinks yet.
OK, first thing: it didn’t just take the 3 weeks for delivery which was promised. It wasn’t even 3 months. It was almost six months. And a buddy of mine who ordered his before I ordered mine still hasn’t gotten his. So, there’s that.
Second, and part of the reason for the delay, I didn’t receive a new barrel which was marked .460 Rowland. Rather, I got what looked like a standard Wolff .45 barrel. But it had indeed been rechambered to handle the .460 Rowland cartridge. Before I received the kit I got an email advising me of this problem, and I figured I could just roll with it. This is what I got in the kit:
Going clockwise from the top: That’s the threaded barrel, a screw-on compensator, spring assembly adapter, small serving of red loc-tite, and the heavy spring assembly (which is actually the Gen 3 design, but with the adapter works just fine in my Gen 4).
As advertised by .460 Rowland, the conversion takes like 30 seconds. If you can field strip your Glock, you can do the conversion. I’ve opted for using blue loc-tite rather than red, since it still works well but allows me to remove the compensator easily if I need to.
How does it work? Well, I’ve taken it out to the range several times now, shooting both factory rounds as well as my own reloads. Doing some informal chrono tests, I have gotten exactly the kind of performance promised and expected. The Buffalo Bore 230gr JHP were right at 1300 fps. 200gr RNFP reloads were at 1380 fps, and 185gr XTP (JHP) reloads were at 1410 fps. And those reloads are actually fairly mild — just 12.5gr of Longshot powder — based on what data I’ve seen, I could probably push that to 13.5gr without any risk. (Don’t consider this an endorsement — do your own research, and work up your own loads using published data and standard safety practices.)
Shooting the .460 loads out of the Glock is like shooting a .44 magnum (which I have a fair amount of practice with), but having 13 rounds on tap. Seriously, it’s like flinging thunderbolts with each shot. And the recoil is surprisingly manageable, though I’m not someone who is very recoil shy.
So, why did I say I was still working out the kinks?
Well, there’s a problem with the magazines. Here’s what happened after the first outing:
Look closely on the left side of that magazine, and you’ll see that there’s a tab which has been torn a bit loose and pushed forward. That’s from the force of the .460 cartridges slamming forward. At about this point the magazine would no longer release or insert smoothly. That was after my first outing, with about 60 .460 Rowland shots fired. And actually, I damaged two magazines to that extent with those 60 rounds.
So after that first outing, I took a Dremel tool to the magazines and cut away about 1/8″ of material, and flattened the whole face back into position. Today I took those two magazines back out to the range, and ran about another 50 rounds through the gun using the two of them. Here’s one of them after today’s outing, next to a new unaltered magazine:
More problems. This time, the little metal tab snapped off, as well as distorting the face of magazine again. Clearly, I need to sort out how to fix this.
Two other things I want to mention. One, I tried shooting standard .45ACP cartridges out of the .460 Rowland conversion. They work wonderfully. Seriously, there’s almost no recoil, the gun cycles just fine (with my mild reloads as well as factory +P self defense ammo), and there’s no accuracy loss that I could determine casually shooting the gun. So, that’s a plus.
But the other thing? Heh — take a look at what happened with my front site today:
Yeah, it really shouldn’t be facing that way, nor sticking up quite so much. But I can fix that easily enough.
If you have thoughts on how I can correct the magazine problem, I’d love to hear ’em.
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