When I began shooting in the late 1970s, the world of handguns and rifles—vis-à-vis bullets—was simple. Rifles used “cupand-core” bullets, and they performed pretty well … as long as your expectations were firmly rooted in the 1920s. Handguns had just gotten hollowpoint bullets, but no one expected them to actually expand, no matter how you tested them, unless they were from Super Vel; and who wanted the blast and recoil?
Now? Wow! Over the last couple of decades, rifle bullets have been the subject of hi-tech inquiry, testing and computer modeling and are so superior to what they used to be that it’s almost a surprise we still call them “bullets.”
And handguns? Well, once the FBI appropriated the test procedure of the IWBA and added barriers, bullets now perform all out of proportion to previous expectations. Today, if a handgun bullet doesn’t expand in testing, we are surprised.
And we’re poised for another advance … or are we? The latest comes from NovX, a company that didn’t just change the bullet; it changed the cases as well.
SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME
The bullets are injection-molded sintered copper and a binding agent, with flutes. They call it “Engagement Extreme,” and the process is not easy to grasp, short of having one of several different college degrees.
OK, when you fire a bullet, it leaves the muzzle with a certain velocity. It also leaves with a certain rpm—a rotational rate. Regular bullets then strike the target and trade energy for deceleration and deformation. We call it “stopping in the target” and “expanding.”
The NovX Extreme Engagement doesn’t deform. What happens is that it uses the rotational energy—which, for the most part, isn’t used in the previous model—to decelerate the bullet. It transfers its energy to the target, using the flutes to “stall” in the medium it has entered. (And yes, this is a gross simplification. But short of pages of calculus, that’s as far as we’re going.)
So, the average shooter takes a look at the NovX EE bullet, studies the flutes and says, “No way.” Of course, to most shooters, the hollowpoint bullet of today looks little, or no, different from the JHP of 1978, 40 years ago.
If the NovX Extreme Engagement did not do what it is posited to do, it would perform just like the JRN it looks like. Here’s a benchmark: I have never stopped a 9mm (or larger) FMJ or SWC in a normal block of gel. Not the rifle or the handgun, which is a bit smaller. In fact, a lot of the bigger ones will exit two blocks, back to back. A 9mm 124-grain FMJ will penetrate 28 inches of ballistic gelatin. If the NovX doesn’t do anything, it would penetrate as deeply, despite being lighter.
NovX penetrates only to the back of a rifle block, sometimes falling out of the back and failing to stick in the next block in line. Eighteen inches. Those 10 “lost” inches of penetration are happening from something. We won’t know if it is significant until we (and pardon me for being so blunt) get enough after-action reports of people being shot with them to get a sense of “yes or no” on the bullet.
NovX added a bonus: The case is a two-part design, using stainless steel and aluminum. It is lighter and it can be picked up at the range with magnets; but unlike the commie-derived steel cases, it can be reloaded.
Another approach along these lines is the Honey Badger from Black Hills. Instead of a molded bullet, it is machined from copper rods, and the nose is an ”X” shape—the same sort of flute design/action to take advantage of rotation for energy transfer. It, too, would overpenetrate, were it not performing as described, but it also penetrates more along the depths of expanding bullets, rather than FMJs.
The world is changing. Change is neither bad nor good. It is what you make of it. Some shooters will jump on this advance. Some will study it and adopt it only once it is proven. Others will utterly reject it, regardless of how good it might be.
The question is, Is the FBI adaptable enough? It is the current gatekeeper of ammo performance testing, and part of its scoring system tabulates bullet expansion. The NovX and the Honey Badger do not expand. If the FBI penalizes them (or others) for that failing to expand, it would be understandable—but unfortunate.
The world is changing, whether we want it to or not. Me, I am keeping a close eye on these, because if there is an advantage, I want it. Yes, I’m greedy that way, so sue me.
About the Author
Patrick Sweeney has been a decades-long reloader, competition shooter, gunsmith and firearms writer. He is also a state-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, a court-recognized expert witness—and winner of much more than his fair share of loot and glory.
A version of this article first appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.