I was recently contacted by the TargetBarn company – an online ammo and targets retailer – and asked to do an ammo review for them. I was humbled by this opportunity, and we spent a couple exchanges deciding what ammo made sense for this and what protocols I’d utilize for such a review. Obviously, reviewing some bulk blaster 115gr was not going to be terribly interesting to anyone involved (including my readership), and I lack the facilities and time to do proper gel testing on JHPs and similar self-defense ammunition.
We landed on Federal Syntech 130gr “PCC” 9mm ammo. Did you know Federal made PCC-specific ammo? I did not before encountering this ammunition! I am broadly familiar with the “regular” Syntech ammunition, having successfully shot about half a case of the 150gr 9mm variety in competition and classes, but have never used this stuff before. I felt that that made it a good candidate for a review.
(Full disclosure: I received three free boxes of this ammunition from TargetBarn for my review. Given that they were from a vendor and not the actual manufacturer, I don’t believe this prejudices the review of the ammunition itself too much. It does make me favorably disposed towards TargetBarn, but I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable!)
First, let’s talk a bit about TargetBarn, who I guess I’d call the sponsor of this review given that they provided the ammo. I don’t just jump into bed with anyone, so I did a little research. It turns out they’re one of the bigger providers of cardboard action shooting targets; it’s likely I’ve been putting holes in their products for the past year or so! Their ammo prices seem very competitive as well. The reviews online also had very good experiences with their customer service and shipping.
Thanks, TargetBarn! You rock!
- Longer barrel life due to lack of metal-on-metal friction
- Lead-free primers
- Cleaner-burning powder
- Less splash-back on steel
The Syntech line is subdivided into four sub-brands:
- Range: Red round nose bullets. I guess this is for blasting at the range?
- Action Pistol / PCC: Red conical nose bullets. These are supposedly loaded light (ie, minimum power factor), and have a flatter nose for nicer holes.
- Training Match: Purple conical nose bullets. These are loaded to match HSTs of the same weight.
- Defense: Blue JHP bullets. I was a little skeptical of this stuff’s effectiveness when I saw it, but it’s apparently not too bad in terms of expansion.
The ammo we’re looking at today is Federal Syntech 130gr 9mm “PCC” (AE9SJPC1). It differs from the Action Pistol ammo in that it is optimized for longer PCC barrels.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what makes for good ammo for how I shoot (matches and classes). I think it comes down to:
- Reliability: does it feed, cycle, and eject correctly? There’s more to this than people think.
- Accuracy: does it have acceptable accuracy? I don’t have tremendous expectations, but it needs to be able to make A-zone / close C-zone hits out to 50yds to be truly good enough for USPSA use.
Accuracy is easy enough to test – shoot a group at 25yds with a known-accurate PCC and see how the ammo does. But reliability is arguably much trickier, and requires using a few different guns to check out various scenarios:
- Does it feed reliably in guns with a tight throat? Bullets with the wrong profile can get jammed up against the lands, sometimes causing a jam in your gun. My Lone Wolf Glock 34 barrel has an insanely tight throat that makes it difficult to reload for.
- Does the primer ignite reliably in guns that have a weaker/shallower firing pin hit? My torture test for this is my Silencerco Maxim 9, which is infamously picky about primer sensitivity.
- Does it feed well in PCCs that are double-stack with steeper feed ramps? I have an Uzi SBR that does not love JHPs for this reason.
- Does it cycle acceptably in non-direct-blowback PCCs? I have a roller-locked Special Weapons SP-10 that can be a little finicky on this account (albeit not too bad).
- Does it cycle acceptable in direct-blowback PCCs? Generally speaking, this is not a difficult task, but it’s something that should be tested.
These are supposed to be (mostly) difficult tests. It is entirely possible that ammo could fail all of them and be fine in any other weapon. But you’re also not proving much about the ammo if you’re just blasting a box in a random PCC and then calling it perfect.
To have something to compare the ammo to, the control group will be my own reloads. These are 125gr .355 BNBCasting coated bullets loaded to 1.10 OAL with 3.7gr of Titegroup. This is a relatively hot load designed to cycle a handgun with a comp, so it’s not quite comparable to what Syntech PCC sets out to do. On the other hand, if the Syntech ammo’s claim of less recoil is true, it should be easy to comparatively discern.
With all of that laid out, let’s go to the results of my testing:
Specifications: I took calipers to a few of the cartridges and came back with a 1.1190″ overall length, with a bullet diameter at the case mouth of .353″. Those dimensions are probably enough to ensure that the bullet is well off the lands no matter how tight your barrel’s throat is – but I’ll test it anyways. It should also comfortably fit in any 9mm magazine, but seems long enough that feeding shouldn’t be too problem
Tight Throat Testing: The Syntech ammo fed fine into my Lone Wolf Glock 34 barrel. No signs of the bullet contacting the lands. This was not the case with my handloads, which had a nice imprint of the rifling near the front of the bullet.
Primer Testing: I loaded nine rounds of Syntech ammo into a magazine, and fired it through my Maxim 9. Every single round fired! This is a very impressive performance, and beat my reloads (only 3 of 5 fired). I’ve used a mix of CCI and Federal primers in those reloads, so it could be that I got 3 Federal and 2 CCI – I’ll experiment with this more in the future. Either way, it seems like the Syntech ammo is solid on this front.
Feeding Testing: The Syntech ammo hand-cycled correctly in my Uzi SBR. So did my handloads. I wasn’t expecting anything else given the generally-rounded shape of the bullet, but you never know.
Non-Direct-Blowback Cycling: The Syntech ammo fed, fired, and ejected as expected out of my Special Weapons SP-10. My handloads were also fine.
Direct-Blowback Cycling: The Syntech ammo fed, fired, and ejected as expected out of my Glock SBR PCC build (10″ barrel). My handloads were also fine. Both loads locked back the gun on empty.
Recoil: I don’t have a proper rig to scientifically test recoil, so this is subjective. Take it with a grain of salt, etc. In an attempt to do a “side by side” comparison, I loaded my reloads and the Syntech alternating into a single Special Weapons SP-10 magazine, noted which was first, slowly shot through the magazine, and noted my results.
There was a very substantial difference in felt recoil, and I had no difficulty telling the Syntech apart from the handloads. The Syntech absolutely kicked less, and I think would provide some slight advantage when shooting strings of fire, especially past two rounds. It’s worth noting that the SP-10 was also my non-direct-blowback PCC for the comparison, and it started out with somewhat reduced recoil, so any differences would have been reduced… it was still pretty obvious which round was which in testing. More anecdotally, I would say I also noted similar results with the Glock mag AR-9 SBR, but did not run this particular test in it.
On a lark, I also tried some of this ammo when shooting a few rounds of the 4 Aces drill using my PF940C. The lessened recoil was noticeable, but didn’t seem to make a substantial difference in my times. That’s probably more of a commentary about me than much else.
Accuracy Testing: Since this is PCC-oriented ammo, it seemed only fair to conduct my accuracy testing using a PCC. I chose my Glock-mag AR-9 SBR, which I built for USPSA matches (not that I’ve run it at one yet, but give me time!). I shot it from a supported position on a solid front bag in an indoor range. I will freely admit I am not the world’s best shooter of tight groups, but I really gave it my all this time.
Results were generated using the Ballistic-X app. The Syntech had a 1.6″ group at 25yds. My 124gr handloads managed to squeak in at 1.57″. These are pretty respectable group sizes for a PSA barrel, Eotech sight, and no rear-bag setup. In the future, I may experiment a bit more with raw PCC accuracy to see if I can tighten these up further, perhaps with a different gun and sight combination. Both groups were far tighter than the 115gr groups reported in Recoil’s Glock barrel testing part two article! That is to say, there are a lot of people who are shooting competition who have less accuracy and precision than this. The test success criteria is “can it reliably tag an A-zone at 50yds”, and these group sizes suggest that is the case, at least with a PCC.
As you can see, the Syntech 130gr 9mm PCC ammo performed with distinction. In fact, it performed better than my own ammunition in some ways! I did not do a compensated pistol test (my compensator broke during a class and I have not replaced it), but this ammunition was designed to run PCCs optimally, and it seems to do it quite well. I shot a bit of it free-style, and I felt it was more pleasant than my handloads, or the 9mm NATO FMJ ammo I sometimes use. If anything it reminded me quite a lot of my 160gr handloads, which is some high praise given how soft those shoot.
Do you NEED it? There are people who are perfectly happy bulk-blasting 115gr ammo and calling it a day. I don’t really begrudge them that, as I used to be in that camp. But when you need the fastest splits and transitions for competition, plus a gun that goes bang every time, it may be worthwhile to invest in something a little better… like this Syntech 9mm PCC ammo from TargetBarn.
Many thanks again to TargetBarn for providing the review ammo. If you liked this review, I’d encourage you to buy from them, because they’re the ones who made it possible. Pick up some targets and pasters while you’re at it, too!