What it takes to Test Ammunition

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by Graham Baates

Editor’s note: We wish to thank our friend, Graham Baates for contributing this story. 



We all enjoy shooting, so testing out a new type of ammo sounds fun enough, but why aren’t there tons and tons of true ballistics reports out there?

Of the ones that can be found their results seem to vary, so how do you know what to believe?  Why not just test it yourself?  Here’s a list of what you’ll need (prices approximated):

Handgun: $200-2,000

Place to shoot: $0-30

Box of that magical ammo: $15-37

Block of ballistics gel: $150

High-resolution camera: $900

Computer: $2,000

Video editing Software: $80

Tripod: $75

Chronograph + Tripod: $225

TOTAL:  $3,677-5,497

Liberty Ultra Defense Frangible

What goes into testing

Once you’ve got all of that how do you test?  There are so many variable that it can be dizzying so we try to limit those variables in our tests by using the same guns at the same distance and temperature conditions.  The consistency of the ballistics gel and the performance of the powder propelling the bullet will be different at different temperatures.  Can barrel length really make a difference?

Take a look (see chart below) at these results from our chronograph averaging 5 shots at seven yards using match-grade ammunition.  The differences are small, maybe 10% or so between what a 3.18” and 5” barrel deliver, but that can make a difference in how your round performs in and from your gun.  The velocity plays a major role in how the round performs when it impacts the target.  If the round hits much slower than intended there may not be enough impact for the hollow point to open as intended or the fragmenting pieces to break apart.

F5 VelocityThis chart showing the energy of those same shots from those same gun displays that even though the velocity ranged by just over 10% the energy varied by 20%!  If the round hits too fast it may also perform less than ideally.  Unfortunately the majority of manufacturers either assume the customer is ignorant or just doesn’t care and so we rarely are told what velocity is ideal for the advertised performance to take place.

In fact, several companies will advertise a muzzle velocity and energy on the box but not tell you what the barrel length was.  Those that do reveal typically use a 5” barrel.  As you can see from our test that of course give you more velocity than a shorter barrel, and so of course more energy.  Now tell me that you carry a 5”-barreled gun.  I didn’t think so, this is why GBGuns uses a 3.2” and 4” for testing.  We use the 4” Glock 19 for the ballistics gel as it is an incredibly common handgun and so is likely to give us the results that will apply to the most people.  As hard as we try though, every shot will be different.

F5 Energy (1)We hope this helps you understand why not all ballistics tests are the same, and why GBGuns tests the way they do.  At the very least it should help you in determining if the test you’ve found for X brand is something you can believe will apply to your own situation.  If you haven’t researched the ammunition you’re considering check out the “Ammo” playlist at www.youtube.com/user/grahambaates

Graham Baates is an Army veteran of 15 years who now works as a firearms instructor and journalist.  His work can be found under the name GBGuns on the blog www.GBGuns.org and YouTube channel www.YouTube.com/GrahamBaates.

Photos courtesy of Graham Baates.






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