September 24, 2010
By Patrick Sweeney
Extreme Shock ammo takes a radical approach to lethality.
By Patrick Sweeney
OK, I'm going to risk the wrath of the traditional bullet folks and talk about Extreme Shock. Yes, the advertising campaign is different. So is the ammo. Extreme Shock loads the projectile jacket with a compressed pellet of tungsten powder. The powder has been treated so it does not sinter-weld in the jacket and thus does not form a homogenous projectile. When it hits a target, the jacket breaks up and the tungsten powder pellet then creates a storm cloud of hundreds of small wound channels.
If you are firmly of the belief that the FBI 12-inch penetration protocol is not just correct but graven in stone, you're probably sputtering at this point. To see what it was about, I
took a trip to Extreme Shock (extremeshockusa.com) and spent a day with Jeff Mullins and his crew. The plant is large (for a custom bullet/ammo maker) clean, well-lit and has modern loading machines as well as the testing instruments you would expect for a metal-working shop.
I also shot and watched shot a bunch of blocks of a waxy substance to see what happens. I later shot ballistic gel to test the various bullets, and not surprisingly the bullets perform as described.
But they do not work as we expect traditional bullets to, so I'm still trying to get a handle on the dynamics and physics of it. Extreme Shock controls the rate of bullet disintegration by changing a number of bullet features. Obviously, jacket thickness controls bullet breakup, as does velocity; thinner jackets and higher velocities are going to create faster/sooner breakup.
Also, some of the Extreme Shock bullets have plastic tips in them. The tip material controls the rate of breakup as well. A harder plastic is going to set back faster, compressing the tungsten and bursting the jacket sooner. A softer composition is going to delay breakup, and the plastic compresses more before transferring the load to the tungsten core and thus to the jacket.
Still, there are some matters of simple Newtonian physics that simply cannot be gotten around, which I confirmed in my own testing. First of all, for this approach to work you need velocity. Slow things down enough and you decrease or eliminate the effect of the cartridge design.
Yes, I managed to make the rounds fail. It was not easy, but I managed it. The solution was to take the slowest round of the toughest design and shoot it in a firearm that decreased velocity even more. You also have to decrease resistance. Wax, ballistic gel, water-soaked paper, all offer more resistance than plain old water. So I shot into water, trying to make the bullets fail.
I know, I know, the FBI test protocols call for ballistic gel. I should know; I've done it enough times that I sometimes can smell the oil of cinnamon in the gel in my sleep. I was looking for the threshold of performance, the "below this it doesn't work" level. I did find it, but it took some effort.
The route to that threshold is to take the .38 Special 115-grain Enhanced Penetration Round and fire it into water at the lowest velocity possible, where you will get an undeformed projectile for your efforts. To minimize the velocity, I shot it from a two-inch Charter Arms Undercover. The same bullet (115-grain EPR) out of a 9mm Ruger SR9 produced the impressive performance you expect from these bullets. The higher initial velocity of the 9mm loading and the longer barrel of the SR9 ensured the bullet performed as expected.
What do the Extreme Shock bullets do, you ask? To compare once again to the FBI test, where anything that does not penetrate 12 inches has been deemed to fail, Extreme Shock bullets produce a six- to eight-inch wound track in ballistic gelatin with hundreds of particles in the impressive, football-shaped wound track.
In the larger calibers, with more mass to deliver, there are sizable fragments exiting the "wound cloud" that exceed the 12-inch minimum. Even in water, once the velocity is up high enough, the follow-on water jugs look as if they have been shot with a shotgun. They'll have dozens of holes through both sides of the jug walls.
Now, a lot of you with long memories will say "This has been done before" and point to various lead pellet-filled bullets from the past. However, tungsten has a greater density than lead and thus will penetrate deeper for any given size. Also, the formula Extreme Shock uses does not readily self-weld, and even those fragments that hold together are small while still penetrating well.
In the course of shooting various calibers, I ran into some interesting and entertaining info. The muzzle blast of the 9mm 85-grain AFR (Air Freedom Round), which is meant to be highly frangible, is so great that the first few shots recorded an average of 3,372 fps—which happens to be the speed of the muzzle blast shock front. I backed up a few feet and then got the real bullet velocity, shown in the accompanying table.
The velocities of the rounds do not appear to be obtained with excessive chamber pressure. In fact, the .38 Special and .45 ACP had primers that didn't appear any different than the powder-puff target ammo I was testing on the same range trip. The .40 loads had normal primers, and the 9mm cases had primers that appeared to have had to work for a living, but not any harder than any other 9mm +P load I've ever shot.
The traditionalists among you will dismiss all this as just so much ballistic voodoo. However, the folks at Extreme Shock have a large number of satisfied customers and an impressive file of dead critter photos to show that, in hunting loads, the bullets kill game quickly.
One thing is for sure: This is the absolutely best ammo to be using indoors, in shoot houses and on steel plates. No lead, no fragments and no steel damage. Even if you believe the whole terminal ballistics of it is hoo-ha, police departments would be negligent if they didn't investigate Extreme Shock ammo for indoor training.
Compared to traditional cup-and-core bullets Extreme Shock is expensive. Compared to other frangibles, it isn't. Extreme Shock is developing a new formula that will lower the cost of the bullets without decreasing performance. Me, I'll have to do more testing to wrap my brain around this.