Federal Premium has introduced what could be a game-changer in range ammo with its new Syntech, which is sold under the company's American Eagle economy brand. Federal developed American Eagle Syntech to appeal to new shooters, but it has advantages that should be attractive to newbies and veterans alike.
If you shoot a lot, unless you're made of money, you're not using your very best defensive ammo. You shoot full metal jacket, total metal jacket, plain lead roundnose or perhaps plated lead. One problem with all these, especially plain lead, is they're dirty. And Federal believes newcomers would rather not spend a lot of time cleaning their handguns, either at the range or when they get home.
The company is probably right. Few people enjoy scrubbing out lead, copper and powder fouling after an extended practice session. And new folks are less likely to have dedicated gun cleaning areas in their homes, which adds to the time and hassle it takes to clean a gun.
American Eagle Syntech doesn't eliminate the need to clean a gun, but it does make life easier. The bullet's soft lead core is enclosed in a polymer jacket—the company calls it a TSJ or total synthetic jacket—that eliminates metal-to-metal contact with the bore. The result is no copper or lead fouling, which is more than half the battle in terms of cleaning.
I shot 200 rounds of American Eagle Syntech out of three different 9mms, and not only does it run flawlessly, the guns were much less of a hassle to clean when I was finished. But you still have to clean the gun at some point, and one of my first questions was whether the red polymer coating was going to build up in the barrel (think plastic deposition from wads in a shotgun) or require special cleaning solutions. Federal senior product-line manager Mike Holm says we can rest easy.
"We've fired thousands of evaluation rounds and have noticed no substantial residue from the polymer coating," he says, adding that the usual brass brush and powder solvents should be all you need.
American Eagle Syntech also uses new propellants and a new primer. More on the primer in a second, but the new primer/powder combination really reduced powder-related fouling—to the point I didn't see a need to wipe the barrels or slides of the three pistols while shooting Syntech. Even more striking was the difference in the condition of the fired cases when compared to the FMJ ammo I later shot. The American Eagle Syntech spent cases were still bright and shiny, an advantage any reloader will appreciate.
Now, about the primer. There are indoor ranges that require ammunition to have lead-free primers, and because Syntech is particularly targeted at indoor range users, Federal decided to develop a new lead-free primer, the Catalyst.
Federal ammunition product specialist Dan Compton explained to me that not only is Catalyst a cleaner-firing primer, unlike other lead-free primers it's not hygroscopic. It won't absorb ignition-robbing moisture and will always deliver consistent performance no matter how long it's been sitting on the shelf. Federal asserts Syntech is the least expensive lead-free-primer ammo on the market.
And because of the Catalyst's improved performance, you're also getting a more complete powder burn, which translates to consistent velocities, as you can see in the accompanying chart. (The range I was using is not set up for accuracy testing, but in the drills I ran and in chronographing the ammo I found it to be accurate in all three guns.)
There's another American Eagle Syntech advantage indoor range shooters will certainly appreciate. Some facilities require not only lead-free primers, but also TMJ bullets, whose jackets cover the bullet's base to eliminate lead vaporization during firing.
American Eagle Syntech's TSJ bullet accomplishes the same thing, only with polymer, and Compton says the company has received positive feedback from indoor ranges regarding Syntech.
This new ammo probably going to come in a bit higher per box than economy FMJ ammo. So if you're a high-volume, veteran shooter and cleaning doesn't bother you a bit, why would you use Syntech?
For one thing, the polymer jacket not only eliminates copper and lead fouling, it reduces bore friction (Federal testing in a .45 found 12 percent less friction than copper-jacketed lead bullets). This means it takes a slightly lower powder charge to achieve a normal velocity—translating to a little less recoil. I did find this to be true, although I can't quantify it other than to say it shot "softer" than the FMJ loads I was comparing it to.
The reduced friction also means longer barrel life. Friction and heat are barrel killers, and in addition to less friction, Syntech tests conducted with a 9mm showed 14 percent less heat than a comparable FMJ load.
Want another reason? Splashback. If you've shot any amount of steel in competition or plinking, you've felt the sting of tiny pieces of lead pelting your face or bare arms or legs. Federal conducted a controlled test by firing FMJ, TMJ and Syntech into a steel target 23 feet downrange. Results showed American Eagle Syntech produced 51 percent less recoverable fragment weight than jacketed bullets between five and 15 yards of the target; 91 percent less weight in fragments traveling more than 15 yards from the target; and at least 77 percent fewer fragments over 10 grains in weight.
I think there are a number of clear advantages to American Eagle Syntech. We shooters are a funny bunch, though, and we're not always big on change. If Federal can attract all the new people it hopes to reach and also appeal to longtime shooters—especially those who spend a lot of time on indoor ranges—the company should have a hit on its hands.