Ammo Lingo, Frangible edition
This is the third installment of “ammo lingo,” a primer on the meaning of language often seen on ammunition boxes and heard in discussions about ammo. One reader of the first article asked for coverage about frangible ammunition. I’m so glad they asked. This ammo just happens to be a favorite of mine after a couple experiences using it in urgent situations just this year.
Frangible is defined as “easily broken or breakable.” Frangible ammunition is so named because it’s designed to disintegrate into powder upon impact with a solid surface. Its most common use is for training in shoot houses, where students must navigate a realistic indoor setting in a law enforcement or self-defense scenario. Loaded with frangible, shooters can have the relatively rare experience of live fire in a setting that teaches and tests skills such as room-clearing and teamwork.
Many companies make frangible ammunition. However, it’s not likely to be available from the local hardware store sporting goods section, and in many communities it’s also not to be found on the shelves of gun stores. It generally has to be ordered from an ammunition supplier. Lucky Gunner , for example, is a current online supplier.
Some frangible ammunition is in the form of a solid bullet that is visually indistinguishable from full metal jacket ammo. This should serve as a WARNING to those preparing to enter a training or real-life exercise that requires frangible to be absolutely sure it is the ONLY kind of ammunition currently loaded in all available magazines and in the chamber. Of course, this begins with storing frangible in its original, marked boxes or other storage that you’ve clearly labeled and devoted exclusively to it.
Frangible bullets are made of powdered copper, and in some cases include other powdered metals. If you’re in a jurisdiction that has banned lead ammo, it may hold appeal for that reason alone.
Team Never Quit (TNQ), a veteran-owned, American ammunition brand, devoted substantial research and development to the creation of a frangible hollow point, made by Sinterfire, that’s specialized for urban law enforcement applications. This load is available to civilians. In locations where paved streets, sidewalks, and towering buildings are the norm, frangible offers damage control and peace of mind by preventing injuries and damage due to ricochet. Frangible offers almost all the benefits of JHP in those environments, with the exception of the ability to effectively penetrate the sheet metal that covers automobiles—something that can be a concern for police on rare occasions, and an even rarer concern for civilians, who aren’t in the business of pursuing fleeing felons. Sure, there are exceptions to that generality in the realm of self-defense, but they’re extremely rare.
New shooters should be aware that shooting steel pistol targets at distances of 12 yards or less is dangerous business. Shards of jacket material quite predictably bounce back toward the firing line in unpredictable patterns. This video by Snake River Shooting Products shows that frangible, in particular the TNQ training load, can be safely used up close and personal distances on steel.
TNQ kindly sent me some samples of their HP in 9mm over a year ago. At that time, my only experience with frangible was in a concrete shoothouse, where close-range shots could be made without so much as noticeable splash-back. Having listened to the TNQ ballistician’s description of how effective the load could be for real-world defense, I was eager to test it out. It wasn’t surprising, then, to see how the round effectively blew out the innards of a watermelon, as well or better than a regular JHP round. It was surprising to me that, firing upon typical concrete blocks, the round penetrated the front layer of block and shatter the layer on the other side of the hole of the block.
These demonstrations showed me the nature of frangible’s performance, with lessons about its utility for indoor self-defense. Like other ammunition, frangible does penetrate most building materials with the exception of hardened concrete and thick steel. In order to break up as designed, a frangible round has to strike a target harder than itself. The only material TNQ frangible HP doesn’t do well against is tempered glass, like that used on automobiles.
TNQ frangible HP performs even better than standard loads in some ways. Using their stats of a 9mm with a 100 grain bullet being fired from a five-inch barrel, muzzle velocity is better than most at 1,250 feet per second. Penetration of bare and clothing-covered ballistic gel blocks and sheet metal produced penetration of up to 15.25 inches, with fragments penetrating up to 6.0 inches. That’s very impressive performance, matching or exceeding more expensive JHP loads without the risk of ricochet.
The summer of 2016 brought some personal experiences that made me a believer in frangible, specifically TNQ’s unique hollow point design, for home defense. On two occasions, my dog’s urgent barking alerted me to the presence of a rattlesnake on the back porch. On the first occasion, wrist injuries kept me from picking up the trusty shovel I keep for such occasions. Looking for an alternative, I picked up my shotgun, which has buckshot loads in the magazine. It seemed a good choice until I realized the snake was right in front of a floor-length window. I couldn’t fix this problem and create another by breaking a big window if the shot pattern happened to include it. Using normal ammunition was out of the question—the snake was coiled on my concrete porch, and might be impossible to see if I chased it off the porch and into the grass. The thought occurred to me that I still had a partial box of frangible HP around. A-ha! I loaded up with that, and a single round sliced the threat into three pieces. A couple weeks later, this exercise repeated itself, except that it was an easy decision to reach for proven TNQ frangible HP first.
A side note for would-be reptilian pacifists: western diamondback rattlesnakes inflict more fatal bites on humans than any other snake in North America. Though some people advocate applying a cooling gas to these poisonous critters and relocating them to less populated areas, I consider them an immediate threat to myself and my animals, one for which deadly force is a legitimate response. I can’t help but notice my well-intentioned, rattler-hugging friends don’t often venture into the backcountry where they view these snakes as harmless. Just my logic—by the way, if a reptile doesn’t rattle, it lives, at least on my property.
Frangible ammunition has a well-established place in training. It’s well worth considering a specialized round such as TNQ frangible HP for personal and home defense if your likely area of engagement involves surfaces that would induce ricochets. Personal experience with unwanted, shoulder-less guests has made me a believer.
The shooothouse pic is courtesy of Alliance Police Training.