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Stand 1 Armory: What makes Good ammo Good?

Although the credit is dubious at best, many attribute Socrates with asking the question “what is the good?” While there is a special place in hell for people who find pleasure in asking questions without concern for their answers, philosophers, academics, and ethicists have come back to this question many times, as a foundation for all other inquiries involving good and evil. Thankfully, when it comes to ammunition, the answers are not so muddied by dishonest pseudo-intellectuals. But to be clear, we reached out to Stand 1 Armory to answer the question: what makes good ammo good?

The Distinction

Sure, at face value, the question sounds pretentious. We can go down the unfulfilling but simple answer and say it depends on the goal. But that will leave us with the same bad taste in the mouth that comes from saying it all comes to personal preference. Surely if this were sufficient, the 9mm vs .45 acp wars would finally end and we would rejoice in a millennium of peace.

Except that hasn't happened, and the unfulfilling answer leaves more than just personal satisfaction to be wanting. However, instead of determining what makes the perfect combination of projectile, powder, primer, and case to make a good package, rather, we look at the metrics considered when evaluating the quality of ammunition that transcend caliber. Amidst the outrageous demand for ammo in 2020, Stand 1 Armory, brought knowledge to the table regarding what goes into making premium ammunition.

On the nose, each component contributes to a specific domain of quality. The powder, for example, is evaluated on not only how fast it burns, but how consistently. First of all, reliability of the ammunition sets the acceptable apart from those not worth trusting. Follow that trajectory: from untrustworthy, to reliable, and keep going until you reach consistent. By measuring the standard deviation of velocity across a batch of, say, .223 Remington rounds, the shooter evaluates the range of variety, as well as the frequency. How big is the pattern at impact, and how often are outliers reported? The deviation tells the story.

Does Stand 1 Armory make all their own components? No. But they take responsibility for their ammunition's performance through their quality control methods. Combine attention to detail with the “secret sauce” that goes into their proprietary “chubbies” and you have a premium ammunition manufacturer. Okay, it's a little more complicated than that.

Starting with the projectile, bullets are inspected for consistency by weight, shape and concentricity. For a company that orders bullets from Hornady in the millions, repeating each month, their burden of pumping out accurate and reliable loads is saddled deeper with repeatable performance across batches. A cross section of each incoming batch will be tested, and required to pass standards before moving on. James, the ammo chef at Stand 1 Armory pointed out that an a-centric projectile will easily throw off the point of impact of .223 Remington by 2 inches at 100 yards.

Both primers and powder contribute to the velocity of a projectile. Propellant, in our case, powder, is evaluated not only on how fast it burns, but with what characteristics. Mike Bussard, in his Ammo Encyclopediashows the difference between digressive, neutral, and progressive burning powders. When the powder burns, the expanding gas becomes kinetic energy, and the efficiency of the load comes into play. Typically speaking, when using a progressive powder that burns faster and creates more gas over time, 30% of the energy from a cartridge goes directly into pushing the bullet down the barrel. A combination of unburned propellant, gas friction on the barrel walls, heat transfer, and unused energy escaping behind the projectile account for the remaining 70%.

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Although this sounds problematic, there is more to it than efficiency. One can reduce the percentage of energy lost by cutting down the amount of powder used so far that when ignited, there's not enough energy to push the projectile out the barrel. Maximizing the efficiency of powder burnt doesn't make the perfect cartridge, but remains desirable if the primary objectives are met. Taking this into consideration, when evaluating the velocity of a given load or cartridge, variation from round to round might very well be of much greater importance than maximum velocity.

Take, for example, competition shooters who have chosen to load their own ammunition. In USPSA, power factor affects your score, and is determined in part by the velocity of the round as it leaves your barrel. In order to be scored with the more forgiving major power factor, the velocity has to be above a certain threshold consistently. Conversely, more powder means more velocity, and more powder also means more expanding gas which translates into more felt recoil. So the intoxication of riding the line becomes catastrophic to the shooter's score if their loads suffer from inconsistent deviation.

stand 1 armory crimping

And while we'd think that computer-based manufacturing would simply remove this concern from the market, let's just say that the collective of American ammunition manufacturers have not ascended to that level of consistency across the board. That being said, let's leave that topic for another day.

Which is why the proprietary voodoo that goes into Stand 1 Armory's flagship “chubbies” comes with such a punch. With a standard deviation of 10 feet per second, the 9mm round tightly hovers on the lowest end of the power factor scale with just enough velocity to reliably knock down competition steel while minimizing recoil. Where most home loads, and other competition-targeting manufacturers choose to accept a little more felt recoil in order to safely stay just above the danger zone, Stand 1 Armory is challenging this norm.

And while they're not going to disclose their secret sauce, they'll offer tidbits of advice. For example, those who have been reloading their own ammunition know that their choice in primer can impact the velocity of the projectile. Thus, if we ever reach the luxurious days of having primer options simultaneously available, we can enjoy the opulence of determining which primer has the most consistent ignition and oomph.

Loading Your Own

There's a joke that continually rolls its way though the competition and reloading circles, passing from generation to generation, that goes something like this: “I started reloading to save money, but ended up just shooting more.” There's a sting of truth in there, and though it can be a bite to some egos, it doesn't go without acknowledging that we can learn from those who have come before us. Stand 1 Armory's James offers his own advice when considering loading your own: Reloading is like cooking, you have to enjoy it. Unlike food, however, it's not something to fumble through. If you're considering it, find someone who already loads their own ammunition and learn from them. For those who cannot find a mentor, there's no shortage of loading manuals, and in some cases video where they're not censored online.

If you're still thinking of doing it for the money, James suggests setting a threshold and treating it like budgeting. There's no way to get away from the fact that reloading is for people who have time. A serious consideration of the opportunity cost of time spent learning and loading matched with what you could be saving on ammunition could look something like setting a threshold at $5,000 a year. Once you're spending more than that on ammo each year, it's time to consider reloading, if you have the time and space. Reloading is not for minimalists.

Closing Off

Thankfully, evaluating ammunition does maintain an element of objectivity. When it comes to quality, at the forefront is reliability, both that the round will go off, and that one after another will perform with predictable repeatability. There's much to learn from those who have skin in the ammo game, such as Stand 1 Armory, and there's plenty more where that came from. The mad science of igniting handheld explosions to send objects hurling through the air has a long history, and we'd be fools to forget just how far we've come.

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