The FBI Protocol Ammunition Test: what is it, and why do you care?
Read on and you will understand what the test is and how it helps you choose better self-defense ammunition.
This video demonstrates how the FBI Ammunition Testing is carried out to come up with a score that shows how well a particular ammunition performs for self-defense.
Early in my law enforcement career, the duty ammo we were issued had a stellar reputation. Several of us experienced pistol hunters took this ammo to the field to test on deer.
We all experienced bullets that repeatedly failed to expand. The experience caused us to rethink our choice of ammunition.
Thankfully, the modern selection of self defense ammunition has been put to a rigorous test to weed out the bad performers.
The Miami Shootout
The testing method has its roots in a famous 1986 shootout between multiple FBI agents and two bank robbers. Five FBI agents were injured and two agents died along with the two suspects. What makes this event so special is it proves the importance of better weapons and better bullets.
The test is meant to score duty ammunition for the FBI. It turned out to be a way to measure how a bullet would perform in a real-world shooting situation.
Whatever the weaknesses of the FBI test may be, it resulted in better ammunition for law enforcement and for the general public.
The core of the test is ballistic gelatin that is meant to closely react the way that real body tissue does when struck. All six tests use the gelatin to judge penetration of the ammunition in different conditions.
- Ballistic gelatin alone – The ideal penetration is at least 12 inches but not more than 18 inches. If a bullet passes through, some energy and expansion are lost.
- Heavy clothing – The bullet passes through cloth that someone dressed for winter wears and then into the ballistic gelatin.
- Steel – The round passes through two pieces of steel set like a car door before hitting the ballistic gelatin.
- Wall board – A wall made of drywall is shoot through to the gelatin.
- Glass – This test resembles shooting through automobile glass.
- Plywood – A bullet is fired through a piece of ¾-inch plywood before the gelatin.
In each test, five rounds are fired. Scoring comes from the measured depth of penetration into the gelatin block, the amount of weight the bullet loses, and how well the bullet expands. The maximum score is 500.
How You Benefit
Before the FBI Test Protocol, manufacturers mostly planned for penetration or expansion.
It is not hard to design a bullet to pass through a body but if you have ever shot a deer with a bullet that did not expand, you know that they can run a long way even when hit in the vitals at close range.
Designing a bullet to expand and cause damage is also not hard but, as the FBI learned in Miami, if the bullet stops short of hitting the vitals, the fight is far from over.
Demanding that bullet-makers combine the best of both worlds and lucrative government contracts for those that are successful, has resulted in massive innovation and design advances. Plus, the testing has helped weed out some bullets that looked good on paper but did not perform when put to the test.
The outcome is new generations of self-defense ammunition that you know you can depend on before you really have to.