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June 02, 2014
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Why Black Hills Barnes TSX is the first purpose-built police patrol rifle load

The Barnes Tac-XP lineup of pistol bullets brings the same combination of excellent expansion and deep penetration to loads for sidearms

Since gunpowder first launched projectiles, lead was the bullet metal of choice because it was soft, dense, readily available, and cheap. When smokeless powders developed increased velocities, the soft lead had to be protected by a harder, yet still ductile metal, and alloys of copper have traditionally filled that role. Today, we see more and more projectiles leaving out the lead for both performance and environmental reasons. 

One of the first successful all-copper projectiles was the Barnes “X” bullet. This rifle bullet was designed to expand dramatically with four petals which shaped a crude X when viewed from the impact end. Designed as a high performance hunting rifle projectile, the X has evolved into the TSX for rifles and the Tac-XP variation for defensive handgun loads.

Over the last few years the company I consider the premier ammunition maker in the U.S. has partnered with Barnes bullets to give us some of the most effective police ammunition on the market. If I sound prejudiced in favor of Black Hills Ammunition, I am. The owners — Jeff and Kristi Hoffman — have an unrelenting drive to produce the finest ammunition possible. 

Excellent Expansion and Deep Penetration 
As anactive Deputy Sheriff and SWAT sniper, Jeff well understands the shortcomings of the .223 Remington/5.56x45mm round for police use. Both versions of the military Full-Metal Jacket (FMJ) loads deliver good, though somewhat erratic terminal performance at high velocity, but most police carbines now sport barrels much shorter than the original 20-inch design. Shorter barrels produce drastically reduced velocities, making the FMJ drill deep holes with no additional terminal effects. Soft-point or hollow-point bullets expand reliably but violently, generally giving insufficient penetration. 

Jeff experimented with several projectiles and the Barnes TSX offered great promise until it was turned against the barriers of the FBI eight-part testing protocol used to evaluate handgun projectiles. Frequently, the TSX projectiles would expand fully then have the exposed petals shear off when penetrating the barriers or when fired from longer barreled weapons at very close range. The resulting slug was almost like a .22 caliber wadcutter bullet which gave excessive penetration and reduced overall terminal effect. 

So, Jeff worked with Barnes to design a custom variation of the TSX, exclusive to Black Hills, which would hold together while penetrating the test barriers and still expand dramatically when it reached a human target. Knowing police agencies frequently have a mix of 5.56mm weapons, including M16A1 rifles on loan from the LESO program, he chose a 50-grain bullet which will work effectively in all weapons from 1/12 to 1/7-inch twist rates. 

Now available in a full-power 5.56mm load, the Black Hills Ammunition 50 grain Barnes TSX round is the first purpose-built police patrol rifle load. In  testing, Jeff found the new bullet design was almost totally barrier blind, giving excellent expansion and deep penetration from almost any barrel length from 20 inches down to eight inches. The only downside to the tougher design is expansion drops off dramatically past 75 yards from an eight inch barrel out to 200 yards from a 16 inch barrel. 

Adding New Loads to the Lineup
As with all expanding projectiles, as expansion decreases the smaller frontal area results in deeper penetration but less overall terminal effect. But, how many police patrol rifle shots exceed 100 yards? The 50 TSX load is a trajectory match with M193 FMJ ammo, allowing the cheaper round to be used for much of your training. Recently, Black Hills added a 62-grain TSX load to their lineup. The 62-grain bullet is a standard Barnes TSX design, offering a trajectory match with the M855 load if you want to use heavier bullets in a fast twist barrel (1/9 inch or faster).

The Barnes Tac-XP lineup of pistol bullets brings the same combination of excellent expansion and deep penetration to loads for sidearms. Black Hills currently offers the Tac-XP loads in 9mm P, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, with a .380 ACP load coming down the road. Loads using the Tac-XP projectiles are also available from Cor-Bon and Barnes’ own brand of loaded ammo.

After testing, I have adopted the Black Hills/Barnes loads for my M4 and self-protection handguns. The Black Hills/Barnes loads aren’t inexpensive, but I adhere to the old saying, “bullets are cheap, life is expensive.”

I once had a U.S. Army Drill Sergeant yell at us to “get the lead out of your ass!” 

Now I’ve got it out of my self-defense ammo as well.

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

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