June 24, 2015
SIG Sauer is now making ammo. Your first thought is probably, "Sure, now that ammo is really expensive, why wouldn't they?" Well, that is part of it, but not for the reason you think. SIG wants you to have ammo as reliable as its pistols, and if you are scouring every gun shop, sporting goods store and bait shop within the radius of a half tank of gas of your home, you probably are using some pretty sketchy ammo at times.
SIG wants you using the best possible ammo and so decided to produce its own. The company is calling it SIG Elite Performance Ammunition. Ammo is simple, right? Case, primer, powder, bullet. Slap them all together, and you're off. Well, close.
Let's just look at the case. A cartridge case has to be the correct size, inside and out, with uniform wall thickness. It has to be the correct length, and the alloy it is composed of has to have the correct grain size and hardness—and not necessarily the same throughout the case. And in the instance of the .357 SIG, the case has to have a shoulder at the correct location, or else feeding, accuracy and case life will suffer.
SIG took care of all that and then went further. Each case is nickel-plated, and then the plating has a proprietary coating applied to it to reduce friction. What is this coating, and how is it applied?
When I was at the SIG Academy getting the rundown on the new ammo, I asked SIG's Bud Fini those questions. He wanted to be clear. "Patrick, I'm not a chemist. What I do know is that it reduces friction, it won't rub off, and we apply it to the cases before they go into the loading process. We've tested it, and it works."
I am a chemist, but I realized that when there are trade secrets involved, it is best not to press too much, because no one will talk and everyone will get annoyed if you wheedle them. So I left the subject alone but paid attention to the cases as we were test-firing.
The ammo I tested at the Academy was preproduction, and the calibers were SIG's starting point: .380, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. For now each caliber will be offered in only one weight. The .380, 9mm and .357 SIG will have bullets in the normal range of weights. The .40 and .45 will start out with bullets a bit on the light side—as in lighter than the typical starting point for those calibers.
The Sig .380 Elite Performance Ammunition will have 90-grain V-Crown bullets. Given the extreme consumer interest in carry pistols chambered in .380, this will be good news to those who like to carry a flat, compact, soft-recoiling pistol.
The 9mm Luger will begin with 124-grain V-Crown bullets. Some might want lighter-weight bullets for more velocity, such as the common 115-grain weight, but lighter bullets in short-barreled carry guns sometimes shed too much velocity to be as effective as we'd like. And even if SIG did make a load with 115s, I'd still opt for the 124s. And for fans of the heavier 147-grainer, all I can say is SIG would be crazy not to make it, and the folks there aren't crazy. After all, a subsonic 147-grain V-Crown bullet out of a suppressed SIG MPX would be greatly effective and vastly fun. And if you have no need of a 9mm carbine, SIG has a panoply of 9mm pistols.
The .357 SIG will have a 125-grain bullet (not the same bullet as the 9mm), which I feel is the correct weight for this high-speed round. The whole point of the .357 SIG is velocity and the performance that speed delivers, and heavier bullet weight costs you that. Lighter bullets go faster, but then you encounter problems with bullet construction. I'm glad SIG has stuck with 125 grains. The .357 SIG is favored by a number of law enforcement agencies, and having another ammo source available is a good thing for them—and us.
For the .40, the choice of 165 grains is interesting. The traditional weight, 180 grains, risks over-penetration on the FBI tests, so with the 165-grain weight SIG eases up on felt recoil and takes over-penetration out of the picture.
In .45 ACP, 200 grains does the same for the .45 as 165 grains does for the 40: less recoil and less potential for penetration past the FBI ideal.
As you might have gathered by now, SIG has also come up with a new bullet design: the V-Crown. These are not some other company's bullets rebranded for SIG. These are SIG bullets. They're lead-core bullets with copper-alloy jackets. The jacket is crimped in toward the hollowpoint, and the edge is pre-notched to initiate expansion.
The lead core is bonded to the jacket, and SIG is pushing the bullets at normal, not warp-speed, velocities. We had a chance to thwack a block of ballistic test medium on the SIG range. The gel was clear, not the usual yellow, so we could easily see that the V-Crown bullet (there was only time for one) tracked dead-straight, expanded fully and went 12 inches deep. That's promising, and I'm looking forward to testing SIG ammunition on regular gel to see how it performs.
I got in some test-firing at the academy, and everything went fine. Frankly, I'd have been stunned if there had been any problems.
I also managed to get my hands on some preproduction ammo for testing at home with a variety of pistols. Due to deadlines and subzero weather, I wasn't able to do expansion and penetration tests—I will when the production stuff comes out—but I was able to shoot enough to make some observations.
In all instances Elite Performance provided soft-for-the-velocity recoil. Not that it was poofy like soft target ammo, but for the speeds it delivered, the ammo didn't have the snap in recoil I've noticed in other ammunition.
Accuracy-wise, it was very good, with consistently regular groups—that is, there were no strange fliers. Results are shown in the accompanying chart.
I can't report on the proprietary coating SIG applies to its cases because I didn't have enough of any one caliber to do an endurance test or to get a gun so dirty that I would be able to test the coating's limit. That will have to wait until SIG has ammo in full production and can spare a few thousand rounds.
One advantage to testing ammo in the depths of winter is that the low cloud cover really makes muzzle flash show up. Even with the .357 SIG and its speed, I did not observe muzzle flash, which is obviously a positive trait for defensive ammo.
That's what I was able to glean with my limited time working with this ammo. And for those who might have missed the point, this is more than just another brand of ammo on the shelves. What we have here is synergy—ammo maker and firearms maker, able to address both sides of any problem. SIG can test tons of its ammo during the quality-control and safety firing tests it does for every pistol it makes, and if some obscure problem rears its ugly head (whether gun or ammo), everyone involved in the solution is just a short walk away. No long-distance phone calls to the ammo maker who provided the test fodder to try to determine what the issue could be.
I think this is a strong point. As long as you don't have layers of bureaucracy (and in today's lean manufacturing that is nigh-well impossible) having a company that makes both firearms and ammunition for firearms is a good thing. A very good thing.