Freedom Munitions American Steel

freedom munitions american steel

New product today from the awesome bros at Freedom Munitions: American Steel. Made in the USA, steel-cased brass coated 9mm ammo. I’ll let their product description say the rest:

Unlike foreign made and imported steel cased ammunition, American Steel is made from the highest quality brass plated steel cases combined with dependable primers and powder. The American Steel line is not only accurate and reliable ammunition but also offered at a more economical price point than traditional brass cased ammunition; setting a new standard for range ammunition.

Featuring a copper plated, lead projectile from X-Treme Bullets, American Steel is loaded to the same performance standards and with the same powder and primers as Freedom Munitions traditional line of new and remanufactured ammunition.

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Ammo review: Hornady Custom Lite Reduced Recoil .308 Winchester

Jeez, that title was a mouthful, wasn’t it? I swear, ammo manufacturers are getting carried away with their product names these days. But that’s not the point, the point is to talk about this product from Hornady. Today we’re reviewing their reduced recoil .308 Winchester load, which is loaded with Hornady’s 125 grain SST bullet.

Hornady Custom Lite .308 Win

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.327 Federal: the little cartridge that should have made it

Very briefly in yesterday’s post on the Ruger SP101, I mentioned the .327 Federal, what is now a boutique revolver cartridge. I loved the idea of the .327 Federal when it was introduced as a joint venture between Ruger and Federal, and I’ve always nursed a bit of disappointment that it never really caught on.


These days, the only company still making .327 is Federal/ATK, and you can have it in whatever flavor you like, so long as you like either Speer JHP, Hydra-Shok JHPs, or American Eagle soft points. New manufactured guns are almost all Rugers, on their small frame single action package with a seventh shot thrown in. The Single Seven, as it’s called, is available as a distributor exclusive through Lipseys and comes with either a 4.63 inch barrel, a 5.5 inch barrel, or a 7.5 inch barrel.

Ruger Single Seven 7.5 inch barrel

It seems that the .327 has settled down into a niche as a solid small game cartridge, even through the preponderance of available loads are catered towards self-defense. Today I want to look at why the .327 never really caught on – in many ways it’s the .357 Sig of revolver rounds. A modern invention with a lot of potential that never really went anywhere. To understand the .327 Federal, you have to look at its parent cartridge, the .32 H&R Magnum, which was itself a stretched and upgraded version of .32 S&W Long. In fact, you can shoot any of those cartridges in a .327 Federal revolver, although with the .32 S&W you’re going to be jumping so much freebore your rounds will think they’re Tony Hawk.

Back to the cartridge itself, it was originally launched with a Ruger SP101 that held six shots, and a GP100 that held seven. The .327 Federal actually did offer a ballistic upgrade over .38 Special as well; while my memory of 8 years ago is a little hazy, I seem to recall ballistic tests showing that it outperformed most .38 Special loads out of the SP101, but not quite up to the snuff of a full house .357 Magnum. It was easy to shoot as well, it was accurate, and as I’ve mentioned repeatedly you could hold one more round in the gun. More ammo is better, right? So why didn’t it catch on?

We actually have a long history with .32 caliber cartridges that don’t quite get there. The .32-20, the .32 Magnum itself, and then the .327 Federal are all great examples. The Federal, in my opinion, suffered from being an answer to a question people didn’t know they should be asking. Like the .32 Magnum before it, most people who carried revolvers looked at the .327 and said “what does this do that my .38 doesn’t?” Because the cost of getting into a new cartridge, buying expensive new ammo/reloading supplies, and searching for important defensive accessories like speedloaders or speed strips wasn’t really worth it just to get one more round in the gun. And really, that makes economic sense. A 10 or 15% increase in terminal performance doesn’t really justify getting into a boutique cartridge.

So the .327 quietly became a small-market round mostly used for hunting. It’s legal for deer in some states, and Buffalo Bore produces pretty hot ammo for it. I do think that if Ruger wanted to try for a comeback on the little round, they should chamber an LCR for it. The .327 Federal and the super-light, super compact LCR would be a pretty good match. It would also be pretty neat to be packaged with a rotary magazine and the Ruger American rifle, but that crosses into the land of “things Caleb likes to imagine.”

Well there’s your problem


You see that frame? You see how it’s cracked like that? That crack is why I’m very, very suspect of using re-manufactured ammo from companies I’ve never heard of. Generally speaking, I’ll only use reman from the following companies: Atlanta Arms, Freedom Munitions and…yeah that’s pretty much it.

Legendary stopping power

Everyone who’s ever been on the gun section of the internet knows two things. The first is that you carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46, and the second is that you carry a .357 Magnum because shooting twice is silly.

Sorry, I know you probably caught the derp from that opening statement, but bear with me here. A forum thread got me thinking about something, specifically the “legendary stopping power” associated with the classic 125 grain .357 Magnum loads. If you’ve read the internet, these are very well regarded for producing rapid incapacitation in badguys, and truth be told do produce some pretty impressive wound trauma in obstructed shots. But the question that ran though my mind this morning was whether or not the .357 Magnum did anything in those situations that a modern JHP wouldn’t have done?

cougar magnum (300x225)

This is the problem when we talk about “stopping power” because what causes a human being to stop can be complicated. Physically, there are only two ways to actually stop the human body: make it stop pumping blood, or disrupt the central nervous system. However, there are lots of document cases of people being “stopped” whose wounds were not incapacitating in any way. Similarly, there are lots of documented cases of people with serious wounds fighting well past when conventional logic says they should have stopped.

One of the more interesting areas of self-defense shootings is the concept of the “psychological stop” – where the person who has been shot realizes they’ve been shot, and decides that regardless of the severity of the wound, it’s time to rethink their life choices up to that point. I’ve seen gun articles that suggest that this could be part of the reputation of the .357 Magnum for putting dudes down – the tremendous muzzle blast and concussion associated with cooking off a 125 grain magnum out of a 4 inch gun makes it somewhat difficult to ignore the fact that you’re being shot at.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the legend of the .357 Magnum’s “stopping power” is just that: a legend. Yes, there are tales of it producing incredible one-shot stops, but you can find those with any round. There are also plenty of stories about it failing to stop badguys, which are also common with plenty of other rounds. It seems that the common thread in all of these stories is simple: marksmanship matters.

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P Review

The last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to do a considerable amount of shooting with the excellent Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P which uses Hornady’s FTX bullet. The Critical Defense line of rounds is designed to always expand regardless of whatever clothing it must first penetrate. Here’s Hornady’s boilerplate:

Since their inception, conventional hollow point pistol bullets have performed well, but have never delivered 100% reliability especially in self-defense situations. The patented Flex Tip® technology used in Critical Defense® ammunition eliminates the clogging and inconsistency that often plagues hollow point bullets. Hornady® achieved this by using the same tip material as used in LEVERevolution® ammunition.

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P

Reviewing ammo is tricky, because there are a lot of qualities that are subjective interpretations on the part of the shooter. To hopefully avoid as much subjective information as possible, I’ll look first at the objective qualities of the Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special: Accuracy, reliability, consistency, and penetration.

The Hornady FTX bullet is based on the XTP bullet, which in addition to being a top notch self-defense round is also legendary for its accuracy. XTPs are popular with competition shooters looking for maximum accuracy. It’s no surprise then that the FTX bullet used in the Critical Defense ammo would also provide excellent accuracy. For accuracy testing, two test platforms were used: a Ruger GP100 with a four inch barrel and a Smith & Wesson 640 Pro Series. The guns were shot for groups off a rest at 25 yards for maximum accuracy, and freestyle at 15 yards as well. An interesting side note – I’ve found that freestyle slowfire groups at 15 yards produce mathematically similar results to sandbagged groups at 25 yards. This is obviously not the case for all shooters, and has much more to do with the individual marksman than the gun itself.

Out of the GP100, the average group at 25 yards was 2.15 inches. Owing to its shorter sight radius, the average group from the 640 opened up considerably to 3.44 inches at 25 yards. Five 5-shot groups were fired from each gun at each distance (15 and 25 yards), with the exception that the last group from the 640 was four shots because I was out of ammo. Best group of the day was a 1.22 inch group from the GP100 at 15 yards freestyle. Out of either gun, the accuracy from the Hornady Critical Defense rounds was excellent. I have held back a few rounds for testing out of a 6 inch revolver as well.

Revolver ammo is subject to reliability issues just like semi-auto ammo. A “feed” issue with a revolver occurs when a cartridge doesn’t fully seat in the cylinder during a speed reload, or if it sticks and doesn’t eject. This problem can be exacerbated by dirty cylinders as well, or by rough/dirty cases. The nickel plated cases of the Hornady Critical Defense fed without issue in the test platform GP100 during the recent IDPA Nationals. Fired cases extracted easily with a positive strike on the ejector rod, and new rounds were quick and easy to reload using the Comp-III speedloaders. In fact, the pointed shape of the FTX bullet makes the Critical Defense easier to reload in a hurry than other defensive pistol rounds. The large, flat ogive on other JHP bullets can make aligning the rounds with the charge holes difficult; Critical Defense doesn’t have this issue.

As mentioned, the Hornady Critical Defense was very reliable and very accurate. It was also very consistent, meaning that shot to shot there were no obvious variations in powder charge. Hornady states a muzzle velocity from a test gun of 1090 FPS with a 4 inch barrel, the rounds were able to provide at least 954 fps in all tests, and were sufficient to meet the IDPA power floor of 105 for Stock Service Revolver. Performance on steel was excellent, all the steel targets that needed to be engaged at IDPA Nationals went down with single hits from the Critical Defense.

My friend and colleague Richard Man did extensive penetration testing with the Critical Defense for Shooting Illustrated, which you can read here. Richard tested the Critical Defense using a 2 inch barreled revolver in 10% ordnance gel, where it achieved 10 inches of penetration at a fairly low muzzle velocity of 955 FPS. Other tests have shown similar penetration, ranging between 10-14 inches depending on the gun and consistency of ballistic medium.

The FBI standard for penetration is 12 inches after defeating 4 layers of denim, in many tests the Critical Defense .38 Special round failed that test…and in other tests it passed. This illustrates the problem with internet ballistics tests, namely that it’s impossible to know if proper testing methods were used, if the gel is calibrated correctly, etc. Richard’s test for Shooting Illustrated are the best of the lot, since Richard is a known entity and a professional.

Another note on the Critical Defense round – it is not a bonded round like Winchester Ranger or Federal HST. If you’re looking for a bonded round using similar technology, check out Hornady’s Critical Duty line of ammo.

The Verdict
Hornady’s Critical Defense .38 Special +P load is a solid choice for your carry guns. While it doesn’t consistently reach 12 inches of penetration in testing, it will provide reliable expansion after defeating most common types of clothing. It’s well made, fast to reload, and has Hornady’s excellent levels of quality control. This is my summertime carry load for my j-frame, and my match load for IDPA competition. In fact, I like it better as an IDPA competition load than I do a carry load, because of it’s excellent accuracy and easy reloading. I’d rate this 4 stars out of 5. If I hit 12+ inches of penetration reliably, it would be a lock for five stars.