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Non lead ammo and the future of ammunition development: A inside look/review Part 1

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A quick background: This is a review I have been working on for the forums for a few months now. One of many of my professional shooting responsibilities these days is that I work as a R&D for a Ammunition Laboratory. We develop every kind of ammunition mainly for LE and Military application. I had to ask permission to do this review and it had to be released as not to give away any sensitive or proprietary information. Good news is that with all the R&D for LE and Military, there will also be similar consumer lines closely mirroring the Pro stuff. Obviously the consumer wont get the very specialty stuff directly designed for the Military but from evaluating both, the consumer gets a very similar product. Here is the review:

Part 1

Non lead ammo and the future of ammunition development:

The future of ammunition isnt that hard to predict. The EPA as well as other outside forces have imposed their concerns on the ammunition industry for awhile now. The outrageous expense of lead clean up at public and private ranges have close many. A lot of this depends on which state you live in. That said, my concerns about my ammo are that it is reliable and accurate. I don’t want to seem insensitive to the environment but my heart is all about performance. I am all for non-lead bullets providing they equal or better the current high performance lead based ammo. I think those days are here. I have been involved with testing some very interesting ammunition for Law Enforcement and Military application over the last few months. There is also a consumer line that mirrors most of the LE/ Military version and this makes sense because of all the R&D in this kind of ammunition is expensive. I was allowed to do this review through the Ammunition Laboratory as long as I did not give any proprietary secrets so I will give a general review and most of all the ammo pictured is from the consumer line. LE and Military have certain specs they require for the bullets of tomorrow. What this means is that their specs will become the standard of ammo for the general public.

The Test Firearms and Caliber: As with most LE and Military testing, there are certain platforms that are required. I am testing with the required firearms as well as others not on the list.

My test firearms are: Sig Sauer P226, P229, P220, P227 Glock 17,19, 23, M&P 45, 380, Walther PPQ 9mm, PPQ 45, PPK, HK USP, HK USP Compact, LWRC M6 iC, HK416. The Calibers being evaluated are 380, 9mm, 38spl, 357 Sig, 40S&W, 45acp, 5.56, 7.62, 300 BLK.

There are two non lead bullets being tested. A Zinc general range and mil spec bullet to replace the lead based fmj. This would be used as a range and mil-spec duty round. It is currently called “Zclean” in its consumer name. Its main component is zinc as well as other proprietary compositions.

The next is a compressed copper Frangible. It is currently labeled as a “Alchemist C3 round” for non-LE sale. This is used as training rounds for CQB, door breaching, hostage rescue, etc. Some may know these training areas as the “kill house”. These enclosed areas have hard walls such as cinder blocks and other real world hard surfaces where ricochets and “bounce backs” are extremely dangerous with conventional ammo. Air quality is also a factor and there are guidelines that must be met. Cheaper alternative frangible ammo was known to create a high content of airborne silica. The Alchemist are engineered to stay well within the guidelines. The last performance factor that has been associated with frangible bullets are the content of iron. These older types of frangible bullets have been known to spark when hitting steel plates and cause range fires. The Alchemist and their LE counter parts have eliminated the spark issues with not having any iron in them. As you can see there are a lot of factors that go into a modern frangible. Both types of ammo use a sealed non lead primer that does not absorb moisture. This gives them a very long shelf life that most military ammo is known for.

Zclean (non lead bullet) testing:
I will first start with the Zclean ammo since this will be the most popular for myself and most shooters. I quickly found many benefits of this kind of bullet for the average shooter. First, as the name implies, it is actually very clean to shoot. Shockingly so that after 500 rounds of shooting through many different platforms of firearms, all remain cleaner than what they would have been with a quality lead fmj.

Obviously cleaner ammo means less cleaning for the LE or soldier in the field as well as the serious shooter that takes extended tactical classes. Next is the inherent accuracy. Groups are as good or better than what I typically get with premium ammunition like HST or Gold Dot. I actually used several calibers of HST as the control round to compare against.

Because it is not a lead round, bullet weights of the Zinc bullets are different than their lead counter parts but poa/poi are the same. For example 9mm ='s 100 grain, 40S&W='s 125 grain, 45acp='s 155 grain, etc.... I tested the rifle zinc rounds but at this time only the pistol calibers are ready for prime time release.

The ammo with its truncated design inherently feeds better and has functioned flawlessly with all firearms tested.
The Zink bullets has not created any issue with any build up in either conventional or polygonal rifling. They also have a lubed characteristic between the bullet and barrel from the zinc. This is kind of a added benefit not foreseen at the beginning of the testing. At this point with 1000s of rounds I have shot, I see no down sides to this bullet. There was only one issue brought up to me and its either a positive or negative quality depending if you are using this as a practice round or NATO military replacement. It penetrates better than the conventional FMJ. This means it may ricochet (or penetrate) with poorly designed steel bullet traps. Some may see a tactical advantage for these characteristics, especially the military. Both of the “Alchemist” frangible and “Zclean” zinc ammo ran flawlessly in full auto weapons that they were tested. I can confirm there were many more than the ones mentioned above.

Due to limited space : See Part 2 for the rest of the review
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Non lead ammo and the future of ammunition development: Part 2

Part 2 of review:

Alchemest (copper frangible) testing:
That brings us to the Frangible ammo. It was currently labeled as “Alchemist” for the consumer. This is a compressed copper bullet with non lead primers. These are also in different weight bullets than we are use to seeing with their lead counter parts. 380='s 75gr, 9mm='s 90gr, 38spl='s 100gr, 357sig='s 100gr, 40s&w='s 105gr, 45acp='s 145gr, 5.56='s 45gr, 300blk='s 125gr, 7.62='s 112gr, 308='s 125gr, 50BMG='s 640gr.

These frangible bullets are already being used all over the world by the military. As mentioned above they have no iron or silica in them. I watched a 30 round full magazine of 5.56 be walked disturbingly close to a steel plate under full auto fire.

As long as the steel plates are at a 90 degree of the bullet impact, the small fragments travel along the steel and are dispersed in that direction. There is a standard on how small the fragments have to break up in size. The energy has to go somewhere so it is directed away from the path of the bullet.

This includes 380 all the way up to 50BMG. (Have to enclose a “do not attempt unless you are a professional” disclosure). Accuracy of the copper frangible were outstanding. Certainly well within the specs required and most rival match grade in accuracy. They have to be because they have to accurately simulate the duty round in every way.

I found their recoil pleasant to shoot and would function reliably even with a fresh/new recoil spring in every caliber. The 5.56 frangible turned out to be one of the most accurate rounds out of my M6. 200 yard groups were outstanding considering I only was using a 6x VX6 optic. It out shot the typical mill spec xm193 and xm 855.

So in closing, the non-lead future of ammunition is nothing to curse or be fearful of. Technology is developing better bullets in every way. You can accurately say you are saving the planet every time you go to the range even if your main priority for your ammo is accuracy and reliability.
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I want to address the topic of a monolithic defense round. I have received alot of pm questions about this topic. I am/will be working/testing some very exciting defense rounds. My control standard bullet is the HST so that should give you a idea of the level we are working on. Before anyone gets too excited, I am not sure it will be released beyond LE/Military use. The problem is that when you develop a very effective defense round and let the general public have it, there can be alot of backlash if/when it is used as its intended purposes. Think back to the "Black talon" days and that bullet wasnt nearly as nasty as what we can develop today. (I mean, not even close.;))

I promise that if there is a chance for a consumer line, I will get permission to do a similar review and I promise it will be with high quality FBI ballistic gelatin. After all, I have a HK 416 running full auto 10" from a steel plate to demo a frangible.:p
Here are a few LE dept that has adopted Zclean. Since this was publicly announced I can repeat it. (source from "Police Weapons Magazine")

2 Major Florida Agencies Adopt National Police Ammunition (NPA) Z-Clean Ammunition - News - POLICE Magazine

What happens when one of these rounds hits a car door or a windshield?
They penetrate better than a similar FMJ. That's all I can say. A windshield all bets are off because there are too many variables. A car door would be easier to replicate. With different kinds of test media, we have a lot of detailed penetration test done by us and other independent labs. They are extremely scientific but the take away is that they penetrate better. I don't believe I can post any of the data.

What happens when one of these rounds hits a car door or a windshield?
I am against the development of all these new types of ammo. It will just make the idiots in the legislature pass laws based on their "desire to protect the environment" from lead contamination and lead to a ban of commonly used and affordable reloading components. It will make reloading expensive if not impossible as well as making factory ammo too expensive for casual use. This will come back and bite us in the future.
The price I saw for the Zclean was $12.99 a box, the Alchemist was about $5 more a box for 9mm.
The price I saw for the Zclean was $12.99 a box, the Alchemist was about $5 more a box for 9mm.

I found two distributors so far that have some of these in stock. Looks like only a limited amount and calibers so far. Prices vary but one has them selling 9mm by the case. The price break down from them, is $9.25 a box of 50 with free shipping so unless this is a introductory price, Zclean will under sell most all quality FMJ. That said about the price point, the Zclean is cleaner in the gun and more accurate than any FMJ at bargain prices so from a performance stand point, the Zclean really comes out ahead from my experience. When I test new ammo, I never really know it's price point. Now that I know, it's advantages blow traditional lead FMJ away for range ammo.

I have purchased a lot of ammo from Massammo with always a good experience. I worked out some forum deals awhile back.
9mm - 9mm - MassAmmo.com - - $12.99 Flat Rate Shipping on every order

This distributor has some more calibers.
Home - Leadless
Barnes TSX is a monolithic bullet and has proven itself to be very accurate and its terminal performance is well established by now. I remember hunters were very skeptical (including myself) years back but now Barnes has become one of the gold standards of accuracy and performance in hunting bullets. Monolithic bullets are not just developed for Ecco or political reasons. Their performance does in fact better their lead counter parts in many ways. A clean, accurate and reliable bullet is the end result. There is no reason you can't reload a monolithic bullet. I started out my review stating I am all about performance in my ammo. I live in a free state where I can still shoot anything. I am gradually switching over to monolithic bullets because they just out perform their lead counterparts in my rifles. From what I have seen with some upcoming monolithic defense rounds I will be working on for the next few months, I probably will be carrying them soon in my handguns providing they out perform my current gold standard defense round and are released for consumer sale.

I am against the development of all these new types of ammo. It will just make the idiots in the legislature pass laws based on their "desire to protect the environment" from lead contamination and lead to a ban of commonly used and affordable reloading components. It will make reloading expensive if not impossible as well as making factory ammo too expensive for casual use. This will come back and bite us in the future.
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