January 02, 2019
By James Tarr
A lot of gun magazines are writing up the “brand new” Black Belt ammo line. Um, no. Remington introduced the Golden Saber Black Belt line of ammunition in 2014. I know because I was there at the big rollout at Gunsite Academy in Arizona. So why are you just hearing about it now?
Initially, the Black Belt ammo was sold only to law enforcement, which is why it didn’t get much press in commercial gun magazines. This line of ammo was originally supposed to be offered for commercial sale in 2015, but the timetable got pushed back, and it is now on sale to the general public.
Remington’s original, standard Golden Saber ammunition line gets surprisingly little attention. First introduced in 1991, it features what is considered a modern premium hollowpoint projectile. The bullet has a brass jacket, which gives it a unique color and is the impetus behind the name. It also has spiral nose flutes that expand on impact.
It was designed to pass the rigorous FBI protocol ballistic testing and performed well enough to be approved for use by all sorts of law enforcement agencies. In fact, I remember sometime in the mid-1990s going shooting with a close friend of mine who was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and his issue duty ammunition was Remington Golden Saber.
Now we have the Golden Saber Black Belt. One look at the projectiles will tell you how this ammo got its name, but it is not just a marketing gimmick. Most bullets featuring bonded cores have their lead cores electrochemically bonded to the jacket. The Black Belt bullets feature a core that is mechanically locked to the jacket via a black belt Remington calls Mechani-Lokt. The lead core is hourglass shaped, and with the belt around its midsection there is no way for the lead core in the base of the bullet to separate—no matter what type of unforgiving barrier it is shot through.
A core that is mechanically locked to the jacket performs the same as one that is electrochemically bonded to the jacket, but it’s cheaper to manufacture. And during FBI testing, the Black Belt outscored the electrochemically bonded Golden Saber by 20 percent, so with this ammo you’re getting better performance than Remington’s bonded load for the same or less money.
The belt is made of the same brass as the bullet jacket, but it is then given a black oxide coating. The cartridge cases are nickel plated and crimped against the black belt. There is a waterproof seal around the neck of the case and the primer pocket. It is loaded with low-flash powder.
The front half of the bullet features the same profile, hollowpoint cavity and spiral nose flutes that you’ll see on standard Golden Saber bullets, which means consistent expansion upon impact.
Currently, Golden Saber Black Belt ammunition is available in 124-grain 9mm and 9mm +P, 180-grain .40 S&W and 230-grain .45 ACP. I secured some of the 9mm +P loads for testing, as this is the most popular duty load these days.
Out of a four-inch barrel, the 9mm +P Black Belt is supposed to do 1,180 fps, which is on the low end of the +P power spectrum. However, you have to remember this ammunition is designed to meet and surpass the FBI protocol, where velocity is immaterial. Penetration and, to a lesser extent, expansion are what count.
To score well in the protocols, the bullet must penetrate a minimum 12 inches in ballistic gelatin but preferably not more than 18 inches—and the larger the recovered diameter the better.
The full FBI protocol involves eight tests: bare gel, gel covered with heavy clothing, and gel behind 3/4-inch plywood, drywall (two pieces 3.5 inches apart, simulating an interior wall), metal (two layers of 20-gauge galvanized sheet steel, mimicking the weakest part of a car door) and auto glass barriers at 10 feet. That’s six. The heavy clothing and auto glass tests are repeated at 20 yards for eight tests total.
For the purposes of this column, I did an abbreviated FBI-ish test because I figure while most of you aren’t law enforcement, you’d be interested in how it performed when fired into a bare gel block and through plywood, drywall and metal at the 10 feet standard.
I say “FBI-ish” because instead of FBI-spec, properly calibrated, 10 percent ballistic gelatin, I used Clear Ballistics blocks. These are polymer instead of gelatin but designed to provide the same performance—and that has been my experience with them.
And the galvanized sheet steel I managed to acquire was 18 gauge, which means it is a bit thicker and tougher than the test protocol 20-gauge steel.
For testing I used my SIG P226, which has a 4.4-inch barrel. Out of the SIG, the 9mm +P Black Belt averaged 1,186 fps and was relatively soft shooting for a +P. In bare gel the bullet penetrated 14.5 inches and expanded to 0.55 inch. It did not shed any weight, and that was a recurring theme throughout the test. No matter what I shot them through, the Black Belt bullets remained whole, not shedding its petals or breaking apart.
When fired through the plywood, the bullet didn’t really expand. Half the cavity was slightly ripped open, but that was about it, and the bullet penetrated 19.25 inches and expanded to 0.40.
I’ve done a lot of this kind of testing, and this is a pretty common result with plywood. It tends to rip open or deform hollowpoint cavities while not really causing the bullet to expand, so they tend to penetrate more like a full metal jacket.
When fired through the drywall, the bullet penetrated 15 inches and expanded to 0.54 inch, which is excellent performance. It looks nearly identical to the bullet fired into bare gel, and the drywall didn’t “clog up” the hollowpoint cavity at all.
The sheet steel test is a tough one for bullets and tends to collapse hollowpoints. In the case of the Black Belt, the sheet steel didn’t collapse the hollowpoint cavity so much as flatten the nose of the bullet. In profile it reminded me a bit of an air rifle pellet, and the belt kept the front half of the bullet more restrained than it otherwise might have been. The bullet penetrated 19.75 inches and expanded to 0.45 inch.
While my little ballistic test was far from exhaustive, the Remington Golden Saber Black Belt ammunition provided consistent weight retention, deep penetration and expansion every time (except for that pesky plywood), in a soft-recoiling load. And it’s usually priced below its competitors.