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The current awareness that personal defense is just that—personal—has led to the introduction of a host of new products. Small handguns abound, and new models appear with a frequency that is surprising.

However, as the options in defensive handgun models increase dramatically, so do the number of types of defense ammunition. Some carry such names as Hornady Critical Defense, Winchester PDX1, Federal Hydra-Shok and Speer Gold Dot. It is not unusual for firearms manufacturers to introduce products other than those that made them famous. Over the years, such ancillary products have included everything from razor blades to bicycles. Airguns and knives are now popular items that carry the name of a producer of firearms.

Firearm manufacturers have also offered ammunition over the years. Sturm, Ruger & Co. produces a range of firearms that is unsurpassed by any other American company. The product line includes firearms that range from tiny pocket pistols to rifles suitable for hunting the largest of terrestrial game animals.

“Ruger’s ARX ammunition represents a significant alternative in defense ammunition.”

Ruger handguns include semi-automatics, as well as both single- and double-action revolvers. Shotguns and AR-style rifles also appear in the Ruger catalog.

 

Now Comes Ruger Ammo

Although Ruger does not actually produce ammunition, it has not precluded the Ruger name and logo from appearing on ammo boxes. The early offerings include loads in .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 Auto calibers. According to Ruger, .38 Special is supposed to be introduced in the very near future.

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Currently, there are Ruger ARX loads in .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W and .45 Auto.

Atlanta, Georgia-based PolyCase produces the Ruger ammunition line, which is labeled the ARX. The ARX bullets feature a radically different construction from the usual lead core and metal jacket types. Instead, the ARX is constructed from a material that consists of a matrix of copper and nylon produced by an injection-molding process; as a result, it is lead-free. This bullet is very lightweight for its caliber. For example, the bullet in the .380 Auto load weighs only 56 grains, whereas the 45 Auto bullet weighs 118 grains. As a result, velocities are very high (for handgun ammunition), and hydrostatic expansion is extreme, even though the bullets are non-expanding.

“ … the ARX is constructed from a material that consists of a matrix of copper and nylon produced by an injection-molding process; as a result, it is lead-free.”

Other benefits of the light bullet/high velocity approach include reduced recoil. While ARX bullets are non-expanding because of rapid energy loss due to hydraulic effects, they do not give excessive penetration. Therefore, they cause extensive damage in soft targets. In other words, there is a lot of horizontal damage (perpendicular to the path of the bullet), rather than deep penetration.

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Testing Ruger ARX Ammo

Having tested many types of defense ammunition over the years, we naturally wanted to put some Ruger ARX bullets through our handguns. We visited the usual retail stores and were able to find all four of the currently available loads. A Bersa Thunder was used to test the .380 Auto load; the 9mm load was fired in a FNX-9; a SIG P2022 was used to test the .40 S&W load; and the .45 Auto load was tested in a Kimber Stainless II. In all cases, five shots were fired over a Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph to measure bullet velocity.

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The Ruger ARX ammunition was tested by firing from a bench.

As shown by the data in the table, velocities produced by the Ruger ARX ammunition were very high. It should be kept in mind that advertised muzzle velocities are not the same as those recorded at 10 feet.

“This bullet is very lightweight for its caliber. “

True muzzle velocities are usually high by at least 25 fps. The data shows that the .40 S&W and .45 Auto loads actually exceed the advertised velocities; and velocities for the 9mm and .380 loads are acceptably close to the published values.

Ruger ARX Handgun Ammunition Results

Caliber

Weight (grains) Adv. Vel. (fps) Energy      (ft-lbs) Penetration (inches)* Meas. Vel. (fps)

.380 Auto

56 1,315 215 12

1,217

9mm +P

80 1,445 371 14

1,377

.40 S&W

97 1,410 428 17.5 1,419

.45 Auto

118 1,307 448 15.5

1,366

.38 Special**

77

1,116

215

N/A

N/A

*Penetration in 10 percent ballistic gelatin

**Available soon

Moreover, the barrel lengths of test guns used by the manufacturer are not specified, and there are differences in chamber dimension, diameter and condition of the bore, as well as other factors that affect velocity to some degree. The bottom line? The Ruger ARX delivered the advertised goods. One factor to be kept in mind is that lightweight bullets at high velocity spend less time in the bore of a handgun than do slower-moving heavy bullets. Consequently, the muzzle does not have sufficient time to rise during recoil, sometimes resulting in the bullets’ striking lower on the target. However, this was not observed to any significant degree with the loads tested. At 25 yards, the point of impact was typically close to the point of aim. In defense situations, any difference in point of impact produced by bullet weight is not likely to be a concern. Scientific tests to measure terminal ballistics are complex and require sophisticated equipment.

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Guns used for testing Ruger’s ARX ammunition were (clockwise from the upper left) the Bersa Thunder Combat, Kimber Stainless II, FNX-9 and SIG P2022.

Our substitute has been to fill 1-gallon plastic jugs with water and place four or five in a row. The load to be tested is fired into the front jug from a distance of 10 feet, and a photographic record is made of the results. Bullets can be recovered, usually from the third or fourth jug, and measured to determine expansion. Although penetration is not measured precisely, each gallon jug is approximately 6 inches thick, so an assessment of bullet penetration in water can be made. This procedure might not be equivalent to firing bullets into ballistic gelatin or some other test medium, but it does give a reproducible assessment of relative penetration and expansion.

To test the .380 Auto ARX load, four water-filled jugs were placed on the stand. Photos taken from just before firing to after everything had happened provided one frame showing a fair representation of what had happened. In the case of the .380, the first jug was shredded, and the bullet was found in the third jug, looking almost unfired.

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The lack of the ARX bullet’s expansion is illustrated in this before-and-after photo.

The .45 Auto ARX load was fired into a line of five jugs. The explosive effect caused by hydraulic pressure is shown in the accompanying photo. We have tested numerous handgun loads in this way, and none has produced a more dramatic effect than that caused by the .45 Auto ARX: The first two jugs were completely ruptured, and the bullet was found in the fifth jug—again, looking almost unfired.

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An ARX bullet from a .45 Auto produced this effect, and the bullet was found in the fifth jug.

From an elementary point of view, it appears that a dramatic initial hydraulic effect is produced on the first jug or two by the ARX bullets when the velocity is high. However, when velocity is lower after that initial effect, penetration appears similar to that produced by a non-expanding bullet. The holes in the later jugs in the series were virtually the diameter of the bullet, and there was no evidence of a hydraulic effect. The recovered bullets clearly showed that no expansion occurred when they were fired into water.

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Except for marks left by the rifling, these ARX bullets look unfired.

The dramatic hydraulic effect is the result of the high velocity and the fact that the bullets have inclined, curved surfaces with slopes that increase progressing from the point of the bullet. When the bullet passes through some fluid or gel, the medium is forced outward violently as it moves along the bullet surface. The photos indicate that this effect is both real and substantial.

These jugs show the effect of violent expansion caused by a .45-caliber ARX bullet.

These jugs show the effect of violent expansion caused by a .45-caliber ARX bullet.

Nevertheless, the fact that the .45 Auto bullet was found in the fifth jug indicates that penetration is not reduced. In fact, bullets from most defense-type .45 Auto loads we have tested are found in the fourth jug. Penetration of the very light .380 Auto bullet appears to be comparable to that of other defense loads we have tested in that caliber.

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When an ARX bullet from a .380 Auto hit the line of jugs, the effect was dramatic.

Ruger’s ARX ammunition represents a significant alternative in defense ammunition. It gives a high level of effectiveness based on a radical departure in bullet construction. Rather than relying on bullets that expand to enhance energy transfer, the ARX loads employ enhanced hydraulic effects based on curved surfaces and high velocity.

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The .380 Auto ARX bullet has a nominal weight of 56 grains, and it is apparent that it did not lose any weight when fired into jugs filled with water.

 

Priced about the same as other premium defense loads, the Ruger ARX is now available on dealers’ shelves and should be given serious consideration.

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2016 print issue of Gun World Magazine.