In January of this year I had been in contact with Ryan Payne. Ryan is part of a new ammunition company that is based in my home state of Utah. I have known Ryan for a number of years, but this meeting was as a product of my off duty job. I work for a gun store in my off duty hours. My primary responsibility is as a consultant as it pertains to the tactical side of the business, as this gun store sells Heckler and Koch weapons systems to SWAT teams. TTI Armory manufactures a number of rounds for various purposes, but much of what they do services the Law Enforcement and Military community. As my primary employment is as a sergeant in charge of a SWAT team, and a marksman, we had several conversations concerning some ideas on ammunition. One of those was about a 168 grain .308 caliber round with a Low Observable case. This case is coated with an OD green substance that is designed to assist in lessening that ugly feeling when your target sees the brass on your spare rounds despite your tremendous job of stealth and camouflage. The military uses are rather obvious, and it would not hurt in the police world either. The other and more important factor being the "cool factor". It was an intriguing idea so I asked if I could test some of it. As I had just received my long awaited SR90 I was in need of ammunition to test. I suggested the moly coating mostly to assist with the low observable part of the equation. That controversy having been discussed ad nausium, I will leave that choice to each operator. I have extensive experience with boat tailed hollow points, but had much less experience with the A-max or similar bullets. I was looking forward to comparing accuracy and consistency with the BTHP bullets. Many believe the BTHP is simply a target bullet, and the A-max and similar are much better for dispatching live threats. That once again is another article, I simply was interested in how it shoots.
Let me start off by pointing out that the system I used for this test is a brand new rifle. As I was not using a tried and tested shooter you can draw from that whatever conclusions you choose. As is true with any rifle my experience may be different than yours. Rifles and factory ammunition combinations are particular to each system (including the human part). This is simply my experience with my weapons system. The timing was such that I had received my new rifle at the same time the opportunity to test the ammunition. The system is a Robar SR90 in .308 caliber. The barrel has been shortened to eighteen inches, fluted, and threaded for an AWC Thundertrap suppressor. I used both a Parker Hale, and a Harris bi-pod during the test. It is equipped with the Robar M14 conversion, and an AWC Tactical Bolt knob. It is topped with a US Optics SN-3 Mk II 1.8-10X scope. It is equipped with the Illuminated Mill-Dot Reticle. The scope is mounted in Badger Ordnance rings on a two-piece mount. The suppressor was removed for break-in only. Every test after that was accomplished with the suppressor attached, and during my regular police marksman training.
In an effort to quell the military types that are cringing right now at the barrel length please understand the following. This rifle was set up for one purpose alone, and that is as an urban deployment rifle. Prior to acquiring command of the team (yes after the frontal lobotomy), I had deployed fifty or so times as a marksman. Within the environment I work I had never deployed at a range greater than 100 yards, and in fact our average is right around fifty. Essentially this is a one hundred yard gun, and no more than 300 yards. In fact I have a 300WM for the long stuff. The short barrel and suppressor have no adverse affect at that range, at least not any that the guy on the opposite end can discern. I have yet to find anyone that will let me shoot them with a 26" tube and then an 18" tube to determine for sure, but I am pretty sure. Also please understand that the vast majority of the training I run is at practical distances for my world. So, half-minute groups at 600 yards will not be a part of this review. The greatest distance I tested this stuff at was 300 yards.
Taking this system from break-in to about 150 rounds was accomplished at two main facilities. I mention this because they are both quite different. I am privileged to be part of the Thunder Ranch organization. I am generally there at least two or three weeks a year sometimes more. I just happened to get the rifle and ammunition just prior to being there. That being the case the rifle was broken in at Thunder Ranch. I live and work in Salt Lake City. The rest of the testing and deployment was done in Salt Lake City, at the FARM (Firearms Application and Response Training) training facility. I also happen to be employed as a training staff member there. Please take into consideration the vast differences in temperature, barometric pressure, and weather conditions at these extremes when determining consistency. Thunder Ranch is about 1200 feet above sea level; the FARM is at over 5000 feet above sea level. Although winter in Texas at the time, it was in the forty to sixty degree range. It was in the negative numbers at times during the testing in Salt Lake.
There are a number of opinions out there as it pertains to breaking in new rifles. They range from 200 round bench rest regimens, to "why bother". I have tried just about all of them over the years. I have owned and deployed a number of precision rifles varying from the very expensive to the very cheap. What I have found to work with a match grade stainless barrel like this one is pretty simple. I thoroughly cleaned the bore prior to firing the first round. I performed the same process after every round fired for the first ten rounds. I use a Dewey rod, Hoppes number nine, and the best patches I can find. After that I stick to a ten round regimen. On training days I may go as far out as twenty rounds, but never any further.
After firing the first ten rounds I was able to fire the first group for accuracy. The first three round group fired measured almost exactly 1/2 of one inch. The follow up five shot group was measured at slightly under 3/4 of one inch. These groups were fired on the White range at Thunder Ranch. They were fired from a seated position, on a shooting bench. The rifle was supported using my drag bag, bi-pod attached. The day was cloudy and there was a full value 15MPH wind from right to left. The temperature was 45 degrees, and the barometric pressure was 27.99 inches. The target was a 1" red dot on a silhouette target.
Since breaking in the rifle I have been able to take several "cold bore" shots. As this is primarily a Law Enforcement system the cold bore is likely the most important shot. It must hold its cold bore, and there should be as little deviation as possible between the cold bore and the subsequent follow-up shot. Yes, I am aware of the "dirty rifle is a clean rifle" crowd. Once again my review, my world. I subscribe to the clean cold bore and to me that is the most efficient, and most easily defended method. Although the cold bore is truly a "shooting system" problem, the consistency of the "match grade" ammunition plays a very critical part. This evaluation encompasses shots that occurred on days varying from 40 degrees, to 5 degrees. They were all fired at an elevation of at least 5000 feet, and some a little more. In one particular instance the temperature change from one cold bore to the next was over 40 degrees. At the FARM range there is always a wind in the winter so all shots had wind ranging from 1/4 to full value, and at times as much as 30mph. When we train we train regardless of the weather so snow and ice are part of the equation. These shots were taken from a number of positions to include prone, seated, braced kneeling and a few more awkward shots. Some prone shots involved a drag bag, but others were taken in the snow.
Over the course of this evaluation I had no cold bore shot impact outside 3/4 of one inch from the previous cold bore. Once again please take into account these are practical cold bore shots, and the positions varied, and often involved considerable stress. That being the case 3/4 of one inch is pretty good. I have yet to see any deviation greater than 1/2 inch from cold bore to follow up that was not attributable to the shooter. I deploy this weapon and ammunition with great confidence that the shot will go where I want it to go regardless of conditions.
I realize for some of you 300 yards is anything but long range. Although I often shoot at longer ranges, most of my time is spent at 300 yards and in. Also, the likelihood of me taking a shot at 300 yards is pretty slim. In order to be fair to the ammunition I tested it at 200 and 300 yards respectively.
Also in an effort to be fair I tried to pick a decent day that was as calm as it gets at the FARM. The wind was next to nothing, and was generally at a no value wind. The temperature was 80 degrees, the elevation 5000 feet, and the barometric pressure was 28.95 inches.
At 200 yards my best group measured at slightly less than one inch with the average over three five shot groups being 1.25 inches. At 300 yards my best group was right at 2.5 inches, with an average over three five shot groups of 2.75 inches. In both instances it held under 1 MOA while shooting from practical positions. I must also point out that I do not precisely measure these groups as I find that kind of precision more appropriate for bench rest shooters. Frankly, at 300 yards I cannot see the difference between a 1.25 and a 1.28 inch group, let alone measure it. I am concerned with hitting what I need to hit, from where I need to hit it. A headshot with this ammunition at 300 yards is not a problem and that is good enough for me.
I was afforded the opportunity to fire a number of these rounds through various media. Although I am aware this was not designed to be a "penetrator" round its ability to hold POI is important should the need arise to shoot someone through glass or other media. I have had significant experience shooting the Federal GM308M through glass, so I was curious to see what differences there may be with the A-max bullet. This particular training was designed to prepare the unit for engaging targets through media at practical ranges, so we shot the glass at a range from 50 to 100 yards. This was not a "media" test as much as it was rifle training shooting simulated threats through glass.
I find that this round acts pretty much the same as any of the BTHP's I have fired through glass. Through un-tempered glass it holds point of aim to within one inch, but it almost always separates from the jacket causing a very unpredictable secondary projectile. It is no more or less consistent through tempered glass with a thickness ranging from 1/4 to 3/4 of one inch than any of the other match rounds out there. I was able to hold my POI through a car windshield when I held the high ground. When shooting at ground level it had jacket separation, and a rather unacceptable grouping. I had as much as a 3" variation in POI at 100 yards from ground level. In short, it only proved the need to train with a dedicated penetrating round.
In looking at the round from a distance with the low observable case, it truly is hard to see. This is especially true while the Moly is still on the bullet. The moly did however tend to rub off pretty quickly. I am not certain it would survive a long stalk. Once again, it is pretty cool looking though. I have only one other concern. I express it with some reservations though. I am a firm believer in running the bolt hard and fast so as to be able to fire a follow up shot. The reservation is that this is a Robar rifle, and it was new. Robar is well known for its tight chambers and this may have been a part of the problem. I often had some difficulty running the bolt. I tried a few of the same rounds without the coating and it seemed to be less "sticky". I did the same with some Gold Medal and it was also less "sticky". It has loosened up over time, but it is not as smooth as I would like it. I also tried some of the same manufacturer's 170 grain subsonic that has a black case and it had no problems. I fired a few of the LO rounds through a department LTR and it was "rougher" but not nearly as big a problem. It may also be a product of bullet length. I did not measure them in comparison to the BTHP's but that may be a part of it as well. In any case this issue may be just as much a very tight match chamber as it is the coating. According to Ryan the coating is so thin that it cannot be an issue from a mathematical standpoint.
I found this to be an excellent all around round for use in an urban environment. As I am told the BC is better than the Sierra's, it may be even better at longer ranges. I was unable to shoot any Simulant with this round, but that has been done by many and the A-max performs well in soft targets. In fact, many agencies are changing to this type round. It is their belief that they perform better on human targets than the BTHP rounds. The Gold Medal rounds are often referred to as "target rounds, designed for making holes in paper". The A-max has however acquitted itself well in four legged targets, so it should be fine in the two-legged variety. If you are part of that camp this would be an excellent alternative. This round is as consistent, as accurate, and acts the same in most media as any of the other comparable rounds out there. With the exception of the tight chamber issue, this ammunition never had a problem. I never had a malfunction, misfire, or failure to feed. It went where I wanted it to go, and did so consistently. I intend to continue deploying this round for as long as I can, and am in fact going to try their 300WM ammunition in the near future.