What is Frangible Ammo, and Is It Worth It?

Of all the ammunition ever made, frangible ammo is probably the most misunderstood. Utter the word “frangible” at a gun show or industry event and you’ll be met with a combination of disgust and horror. Suffice to say, knowledge of how frangible ammunition works today compared to how it used to be can be a little hard to come by.

An example of a frangible bullet made by SinterFire.
An example of a frangible bullet made by SinterFire. (Photo credit: AmmotoGo.com)

What is frangible ammo?

At its simplest, frangible ammunition refers to a bullet designed to powder, or disintegrate, upon impact with an object harder than itself. Frangible rounds were originally designed to make shooting steel plates safer, and that remains a great use for them, but advances in technology have broadened their applications enormously.

Modern frangible bullets are traditionally made through the process of powder metallurgy. This involves pressing and sintering extremely finely ground metals into projectiles. The vast majority of ammunition manufacturers use copper for this due to its malleable and ductile properties, meaning it deforms easily through tensile (pulling) and compressive (pushing) methods.

A tiny percent of the projectile is a binding agent such as tin to keep it all together. Some manufacturers use other binding agents such as polymer, tungsten, or zinc. As mentioned before, the resulting bullet will powder upon impact with an object harder than itself. That means frangible bullets powder or fracture on steel, trees, bone, and other dense objects. The precise degree to which they powder, returning to their original state, depends on the object they’re striking and the angle at which they hit.

Ruger LCP II with SinterFire 380 ACP frangible ammo
Frangible ammunition is made in a wide variety of calibers including this SinterFire ammo in 380 ACP. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

There was a time when frangible ammunition had limited use and was totally incapable of performing to reliable or trustworthy levels. Thanks to technology, we’ve come a long way since the early days of frangible ammo. Of course, we’re still grateful for the work of the current bullet’s predecessors. We wouldn’t be where we are today without a little ammo history.

Remington Kleanbore 22 Short Gallery Special Spatterless frangible ammo
An example of one of the original frangible rounds: Remington Kleanbore 22 Short Gallery Special Spatterless. (Photo credit: CollectibleAmmunition.com)

Who invented frangible ammo?

In order to understand how and why frangible ammunition became a thing, you need to know the history of shooting galleries. Early in the 20th century, shooting parlors and galleries were a popular pastime. There is some debate regarding who, specifically, invented frangible ammunition, but we know it was an ammo designer from a major manufacturer.

We can trace the appearance of frangible ammunition in the gun industry to the 1967 edition of The Shooter’s Bible. In that book, there are two contenders for being the first inventor: Remington and Winchester. It advertises Remington’s Spatter-Less rounds and Winchester’s SpatterProof, both of which were made for gallery shooting. However, firearms historians agree frangible ammunition was designed decades earlier for shooting galleries, meaning around the 1930s. Unfortunately, there aren’t good records of its original creation.

An example of a mid-20th century shooting gallery.
An example of a mid-20th century shooting gallery. (Photo credit: Soulis Auctions)

Other companies producing early designs of frangible ammo included the Peters Cartridge Corporation’s Krumble Ball and Western Cartridge Corporation’s Kant-Splash. All these loads were commonly used in galleries of the era to reduce the risk of injury due to ricochet and backsplash at such close proximity to the targets.

Who makes frangible ammo?

The lion’s share of frangible projectiles is designed and manufactured by SinterFire, an ammunition maker located in Pennsylvania. When explaining the pros of using frangible ammunition, Keith Porco, the company’s head of new product development and ballistic technical services, said, “As law enforcement, military or everyday people, we are responsible for every bullet we fire. SinterFire frangible hollow-points can greatly reduce the chance of ricochet from a missed shot fired in self-defense.”

SinterFire provides the projectiles or loaded rounds for a vast number of companies in the firearms industry. Their frangible ammunition is well-proven to perform reliably and precisely and is made for everything from training to hunting.

There are other companies making frangible ammo on a smaller scale such as DRT, Inceptor, and CorBon (Glaser Safety Slugs). DRT’s focus tends to be on frangibles made for hunting while Inceptor has an emphasis on training and self-defense. CorBon produces Glaser Safety Slugs which are well-known as an older, proven defensive load that was first launched in the 1970s.

SinterFire Special Duty Self Defense frangible ammo
SinterFire manufactures hollow point frangibles made specifically for self-defense applications. Their projectiles have a distinct appearance that makes them recognizable even when marketed under other brands. (Photo credit: SinterFire)

Why shoot frangible ammo?

Frangible ammunition is a good choice for many applications. Primarily it is seen as necessary for steel target practice because it significantly reduces the risk of backsplash and ricochet, but it can be used for far more. That’s not to discount how fantastic it is on steel because it is a stellar choice for safety’s sake whether you’re shooting steel at closer ranges with handguns or rifles.

This ammo can be used for training, hunting, and self-defense. Now, just as other ammunition loads aren’t one-size-fits-all, not all frangible ammunition is made for every use. For example, SinterFire manufactures hollow points specifically made for defensive purposes and DRT has ammunition designed for maximum efficacy on game animals. “Frangible” isn’t code for “use this ammo for everything.” Pay attention to the use recommended by the manufacturer when selecting any ammunition, including frangibles.

Contrary to often-repeated beliefs, frangible ammunition can be a good option for self-defense use. They drastically reduce the risk of injury to innocent bystanders thanks to their ability to powder on impact with solid objects and create significant wound channels. There are countless law enforcement agencies overseas using frangible ammunition and some here in the United States as well.

If you’re still skeptical, this ammunition has repeatedly dropped feral hogs weighing up to 300 pounds with a single shot by calibers such as 40 Smith & Wesson, 10mm, and 45 ACP. The entry wounds are typically quite large and they often do not exit—meaning over-penetration isn’t much of a risk. Ballistic gel testing has also shown excellent results from various calibers.

pistols with Inceptor 10mm frangible ammo
Inceptor manufactures a 10mm frangible round that’s fantastically precise in a variety of guns. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

Should I get frangible ammo?

Whether you use frangible ammunition yourself depends on personal preference and application. If you do a lot of close-range steel shooting, it makes good sense to use frangibles for safety’s sake. As for hunting and self-defense, there are quite a few loads on the market covering those bases. It’s a matter of doing your homework and making choices. Keep in mind that the lighter weight of frangible bullets may not match well with the factory spring in your handgun. Try running it through your gun before investing in massive quantities (that or upgrade your spring if it’s a problem). Most guns cycle frangible ammunition with no issues whatsoever.

Remember, frangible ammunition is not what it was years ago. It can be hard to understand or acknowledge significant technological and ballistic advances, but there are enough years of success backing today’s highly improved frangibles to make it clear they’re worth a try.

Do you use frangible ammunition? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are frangible rounds good for home defense?

One reason frangible rounds are good for home defense is that they reduce the risk of over-penetration or hitting innocent bystanders. That doesn’t mean they can’t possibly go through drywall, but it reduces the risk enough to make it worth considering using them.

Is frangible ammo legal?

Yes, frangible ammo is legal.

Is frangible ammo good for self-defense?

Frangible ammo designed for self-defense is effective and can work quite well.

What is lead-free frangible ammunition?

Unlike traditional bullets, you can find a lot of lead-free frangible ammunition. SinterFire even has an entire line of lead-free ammunition.

Can frangible bullets be traced?

Television shows and movies largely exaggerate bullet tracing. It’s not likely any projectile can be readily traced.

 

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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