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Frangible Ammo: What Is It, and Do I Need It?

Frangible Ammo: What Is It, and Do I Need It?

15th Feb 2024

Hero Image Source: https://www.shootingillustrated.com/content/frangible-ammo/

What do military special forces operators, suburbanites, and apartment dwellers have in common? They all need ammo that, when fired indoors, won’t sail through multiple layers of building materials like sheetrock and drywall.

The primary reason for this is safety. Shooting in close confines sends bullets either through “soft” walls like drywall, or ricochets them off hard walls (and back into your gut). You might be an operator clearing a training shoot house, or a resident clearing your house of home intruders. In both cases, you want ammo that will put the threat down but won’t go sailing into the neighbor’s dog (or worse).

Contrary to popular belief, downgrading your caliber won’t prevent penetration. Studies have shown that even the humble .22LR can go through about five walls of sheetrock. A .380 revolver will still have the same penetration risk, without the benefits of a good defensive round (Hint: get something bigger).

Enter frangible ammo — ammo designed to disintegrate on impact.

When frangible ammo hits a hard surface, the bullet literally fractures, which all but eliminates the risk of ricochet or overpenetration. This is useful both when training with a team in an indoors environment and for self-defense. This design also has the happy secondary effect of explosive terminal performance on soft tissue (i.e., meat/flesh & bone).

Let’s take a closer look at how frangible ammo works and why it should be a part of your arsenal.

(source: Bullet Theory Films - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAH5XF3mnIk)

What Is Frangible Ammo?

Frangible ammo begins as powdered copper that’s squished together in a mold under ridiculous pressure with a bonding agent. The result looks and feels like a regular bullet, but performs differently when impacting a target.

When a bullet is fired, it creates immense pressure inside the firearm, so it needs to be incredibly solid — just not too solid. Frangible ammo won’t fall apart in your hands, but it will blow apart in dramatic fashion if it hits your hand at 2,000 fps.

How Is Frangible Ammo Made?

The process of making frangible ammo is known as sintering. Copper powder (and sometimes other metals) are formed into the shape of a bullet and then put under extreme heat and pressure to create rounds that are loaded into cases like traditional ammo.

The end product can withstand the rigors of feeding into a gun from a magazine and being fired, all with the same accuracy potential of traditional ammo, but with the added benefit of exploding into a bajillion pieces upon impact.

Frangible Ammo for Self & Home Defense

Is frangible ammo a good option for home and self defense? Absolutely, assuming that it functions properly in your firearm(s) of choice.

It’s a great option for two reasons:

  1. It often does work well in guns used for self-defense.
  2. It has ridiculous terminal effects on soft tissue.

Most frangible bullets are regular old full metal jacket (FMJ) style. There’s no need for fancy hollow points with this style of ammo; its construction leads to explosive terminal effects.

(Source: The Chopping Block)

Frangible Ammo Ballistics

Because testing ammo on people or animals isn’t quite ethical, gel tests are the accepted standard for testing how well ammo performs on flesh-like material. Ballistics gelatin has a consistency that replicates flesh, so when shot, it shows how the bullet performs. Factors like expansion, fragmentation, and penetration depth are all measured, and frangible ammo has some very “special” effects on ballistics gel.

Check out this gel test using 10mm frangible rounds. Notice the rapid disintegration of the rounds, sending shards and fragments in every direction. It’s pretty nasty stuff, showing that frangible ammo can be effective outside of training.

Frangible Ammo Vs. Regular Ammo

So frangible ammo seems awesome, but why is it better than a traditional hollow point for self defense, or FMJ for training?

  • FMJ - Traditional lead-core, copper-jacketed bullets have been the standard for shooting for more than a hundred years. They’re capable of fantastic accuracy, terminal performance, and incredible reliability in all kinds of guns, but they’re not the answer for every situation.
  • Hollow Points - Hollow point ammunition expands upon impact with a target, then penetrates deeply, leaving a hole on the backside as well. This is great for hunting and many tactical scenarios; two holes are better than one and will spill twice the blood.

But suppose you live in a house where your next door neighbor is so close his alarm wakes you up in the morning. If you have to use a gun to defend yourself, you don’t want the lead to go any farther than it has to.

  • Frangible Ammo - Frangible ammo’s “explosive” nature shines in close-quarters applications. You do not want to make a justified shooting case become a justified shooting and manslaughter case. The faster that bullet bursts into hundreds of smaller bits with less kinetic energy, the better. If a perpetrator catches a round, 100% of the energy from the round is staying inside, unlike regular hollow point ammo that continues to travel after impact.

Since frangible ammo is all copper, it’s better for your long-term health as well. Lead exposure causes all kinds of ailments, and the less you shoot ammo containing lead, the better. After an extended shooting session, all that grime and dirt on your hands is part gunpowder, part lead. You want to wash it off, pronto. Finally, some states (looking at a few Western states in particular) prohibit using lead ammunition for hunting, so frangible or all-copper ammo is a must.

Downsides of Frangible Ammo

While there are a ton of benefits of frangible ammo, it has a few downsides to be sure. Chief among them are cost and availability.

For every 100 options of traditional lead ammo, there are often only one or two frangible options. Sometimes there are none. Frangible is a niche variety, so only the most popular cartridges have frangible loadings. You’ll likely find frangible ammo in 9mm, .40S&W, .45 ACP for handguns and .223/5.56 or .308 for rifles. That covers the bulk of shooters and gun owners.

When you do find it, your eyes might bug at the price. It’s a specialty ammo with less demand, and more expensive to make — this effectively drives up the price. To be fair, it’s made for serious training and tactical use, not plinking.

Can I Shoot Frangible Ammo in Any Gun?

Provided your gun is safe to fire, yes. Semiautomatic rifles and pistols all work great with quality frangible ammo. It endures the rigors of feeding and loading from a magazine, so it’ll work great in a bolt-action or single-shot as well.

Another word on the reliability of frangible ammo: of all the stupid things to argue about on the Internet, some people say that FMJ ammo feeds more reliably than other types of ammo (including frangible). But it’s a long established fact that the simplicity of the design encourages positive function in semiautomatic pistols and rifles. Both rifle and pistol FMJ ammo are the gold standard for feeding and function reliability, and frangible ammo holds this distinction as well.

Best Frangible Ammo Rounds

Here are a few primo choices in frangible ammo:

  • Fenix 45-grain .223 - A lot of frangible ammo comes in light-for-caliber loadings. Copper is lighter than lead, and frangible ammo is lead-free. This is a boon to shooters (especially in rifle calibers) because lighter bullets travel faster, and faster frangible means more devastating effects.
  • Polyfrang 5.56 - Polyfrang claims their rifle ammo is safe for use within inches of steel targets. Yeah, don’t go try that with traditional lead. Spall (the splattering effect of lead on steel) will eat you up.
  • Hornady 9mm frangible - Check out the bisected bullet pic to see what frangible ammo looks like on the inside. At 90 grains, this ammo is lightweight for 9mm. Again, it enhances terminal performance (and safety on steel and in close quarters) from increased muzzle velocity.
  • Norma .22LR frangible - Yep, there’s even a frangible option for rimfire shooters. It’s a great round for hunting and for those who use a .22 as a training stand-in for a larger rifle or handgun caliber.

Final Thoughts

Frangible ammo is a niche product that excels in the role for which it’s designed. It’s safer, cleaner, and very good for training and close-quarters tactical uses. However, it’s not ideal for everyone or every situation. If you’re just looking for some good plinking ammo, choose something else. If you want to feed your nightstand gun with a safer round that won’t go soaring into your neighbor’s dinner table, don’t sleep on a box of frangible ammo.

Looking for great quality ammo at a price you can afford? We’ve got your six at Pro Armory. Get handgun and rifle ammo in small boxes — and save even more when you buy in bulk. We also offer ammo subscriptions to keep your guns fed and happy without breaking the bank.

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