The Legend of the Black Talon
Let me tell you a tale of the mythical Black Talon ammunition from Winchester-Olin…
Once upon a time, the real-world performance of self-defense ammunition real world performance was still hit-or-miss (pun intended). Back then, hollowpoints often failed to expand, essentially turning into round-nose bullets after impacting targets. The terminal effectiveness dropped when these older hollowpoint rounds met with barriers or heavy clothing. Back in the the 60’s and 70’s, hollowpoint ammo was just a lead tip that had been carved out like a volcano. Law-enforcement officers often made their own “dumdum” ammo: Using flat-tipped lead rounds, they would take a knife and cut a cavity and grooves on the face of the bullet. This was less than optimal, and it cost officers’ lives.
One pivotal moment occurred April 11th, 1986, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which became known as the “1986 FBI Miami shootout,” an FBI arrest that went terribly wrong. Several FBI agents attempted to apprehend William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt. Even though the FBI agents basically had the pair surrounded, Matix and Platt did not surrender. What happened turned into a shootout straight out of a high-dollar action flick.
Even though the bad guys were outnumbered by eight FBI agents, Agents Jerry Dove and Ben Grogen were killed during the ensuing firefight. Both bad guys were hit by LEO fire, but the hits were not critical, so the pair was able to continue shooting back. Platt is said to have been hit at least five times before the shot that eventually killed him. Even after a .357 Magnum hit to the forearm that fractured Platt’s radius bone, he was able to still fire with his left hand. Of the 10 individuals involved in the firefight, only one agent was unscathed. The shootout lasted under 5 minutes and approximately 145 shots were exchanged.
The aftermath of the ‘86 FBI shootout revealed that neither of the bad guys were on any drugs to help them keep fighting despite their dramatic injuries. It was blamed squarely on the lack of stopping power that the Agents were using …combined with the fact that most were using revolvers. It was discovered that the revolvers’ limited capacity and the slower reload times allowed two Agents to die. This one incident led the FBI and police departments across the country to transition to semi-auto pistols with maximum firepower.
After the ‘86 Shootout the FBI adopted the Smith & Wesson 1076 chambered in 10mm. But what they then found was that most Agents were not able to effectively control the large, powerful pistol. As a result qualification scores significantly dropped, especially for agents with smaller hands. The FBI basically went too big for its own good. Back to the drawing board! The FBI and Smith & Wesson came up with a shorted 10mm “lite” known as the .40 S&W. It was a “magnum” powered load, but in a package that was small enough to fit in a 9mm sized pistol frame.
That left the problem of the hollowpoint. Specifically, the problem of how to keep a hollowpoint from turning into round-nose ammo. As you know, round nose ammo, no matter the caliber, tends to cleanly go though the target. Unless you have a perfect shot that hits a major critical area like the heart or brain, the bad guy can stay in the fight just as Platt and Matix showed. In New York, for instance, NYC was on the hook for multiple bystander deaths and injuries from round-nose ammo that hit the target, but then kept on going. Think of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy shoots three Nazis back to back to back with one 9mm round because of the over penetration—a slight exaggeration, but better than you’d expect from Hollywood! Hence, the hollowpoint.
The theory behind them seems simple. As the bullet hits a target, the cavity is filled and expands larger than its normal diameter—and that creates more terminal damage and dumps the bullet’s energy into the target, not through it. Trouble is, that cavity was prone to filling up “too fast.” Barriers like windshields and cold-weather clothing would clog up the hollow tip and keep it from expanding.
Enter the Black Talon, a name so tacticool it actually caused some problems for Winchester-Olin. It sounds menacing, but really it’s just a descriptor of how the ammo works. The Black Talon bullets are coated in an oxidizing technique called Lubalox that leaves the actual bullet a darker copperish, black color. It gained a mystic status and was rumored to have armor piercing capabilities (um, no). In reality though the Lubalox coating was to help protect the barrel, and make them last longer…nothing more. The Talon part comes from the “Death Petals” that occur after expansion. The Black Talon bullet had six scallops that came together to form the hole for the hollow point. Each scallop was where the copper jacket was pre-scored and when it hit a target would expand along the score. The way the Black talon was designed, the bullet expanded the result was like six petals of a lethal flower. These razor-sharp edges were so “dangerous” that they featured in an episode of the TV Show E.R., in which the surgeon characters fret about danger to themselves from removing an expanded Black Talon from a patient.
Of course that was all hype. In reality, the Black Talon was just a victim of its success and cool name. After only a couple years the ammo was “restricted” to Law Enforcement only sales, meaning that it said so on the box (although it was still perfectly legal for civilians to buy and own under Federal law). Even then, after less than a decade, the stigma of the Black Talon brand was even too much for Law Enforcement.
But what if I told you Winchester-Olin continued to develop and sell the same ammo? In 2000 Winchester dropped the Black Talon name brand and packaging and launched the “new” Ranger SXT but this time did not include the black Lubalox. The inside joke was that SXT stood for “Same eXact Thing,” instead of the official Supreme eXpanding Technology.
Am I saying that the non-shooting public is dumb enough to fall for a color change and new name to move beyond the controversy? MAYBE.
That said, Winchester engineers had a decade of real-world data to improve the bullet’s design. The SXT was one of the first second-generation hollowpoint designs that boosted improved reliability, with expansion in different target mediums. Moving on to around 2007 and Winchester released essentially a generation 3 bullet and renamed the series as Ranger. In 2009 PDX1 Bonded ammo was released and was officially marketed for both Law Enforcement and civilian use. This ammo was so good that the FBI used it up until around 2017, when they switched to Hornady’s Critical Defense load.
While the loss of an FBI contract might seem like a death toll, it really is far from it. When the Army adopted the Sig Sauer M17 (320) pistol, it needed some new hig- performance ammo to go with it. Enter Winchester’s M1153 Special Purpose 14-gr. jacket hollow point, which ….hmmm looks a hell of a lot like a Black Talon/SXT/Ranger/PDX1. With inline upgrades over the years, the M1153 is probably a 5th or 6th generation descendant. As of this writing I have not seen any of the M1153 ammo for sale, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be available in the future.
I bet you never thought about the continued history of Black Talons have you? It’s hard to imagine another bullet series that has had that many different improvements. I have friends who swear by it, like real cane-sugar Coke, it just tastes better. At gun shows one 20-round box of “originals” can sell for $100. In my opinion that is ridiculous; I could not fathom carrying 30-something-year-old ammo. I want the best performance over nostalgia. Would you use Black Talon ammo in your carry gun?
James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself.
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May 15, 2023 at 10:34 am
You left out two major aspects of the Black Talon story. At one point the media touted the round as “cop killers” due to its alleged ability to penetrate “bullet proof” vests. That didn’t get the outraged reaction from the public that the media wanted. They finally hit on the perfect story by claiming Black Talons were used by police… specifically to kill black people. That generated the reaction the media wanted and within a couple months agencies nationwide were dropping the round. You can rewrite history but you can’t change it. I was there.
May 19, 2023 at 3:59 pm
I remember all of that, specifically the “cop killer” nonsense.
Anyone familiar with how a hp projectile works should know that’s the antithesis of a vest popper.
Unfortunately a vast majority of cops (at least locally & the dingbats writing op-ed pieces) fell for the b.s., some going as far as lecturing students in DARE classes on this “new danger rendering their vests useless”, to report anybody claiming to have them.
What really set the mark for me as far as the lack of firearms knowledge amongst cops was being pulled over with a bb gun I forgot in the trunk. The idiot couldn’t figure out how to drop the mag (or render it useless by discharging the C02 canister), instead he started shooting recklessly with traffic wizzing by until it was empty.
He then attempted to give ME a safety lecture. Similar situation when a seller called 911 on me after selling me an old mauser.
It wasn’t loaded & was locked in a case in the trunk. Cops couldn’t figure out how to manipulate the action & verify clear.
About a dozen who minutes earlier had their pistols in my face surrounding my vehicle (it was a literal circle, dummies would have hit eachother considering how close they were) stood around & finally had to ask me how the rifle worked.
Honestly I shouldn’t have shown them as I did nothing illegal & one still had a pistol on me while I opened the bolt for the officer holding it.
Again, I got a lecture on gun safety despite their lack of trigger & muzzle discipline along with not being able to operate a damn mauser that has been around for well over 100 years.
With all the “tacticool” high speed gear they donned, I’m sure they didn’t know how to use 90% of it. Amazingly two in the rear had AR patrol rifles (earlier aimed at me) not realizing how close they came to plugging their own buddies.
I saw the same dept do a cqb swat entry demonstration, it was hilariously dangerous. Again with zero muzzle/trigger discipline (most had their muzzle aimed at the small of the back or butt of the guy in front of them rather than in a safe direction to the side) they plowed through a doorway dressed like ninjas in ACU garbage,one in the rear tripped over the entry, luckily the pistol didn’t discharge (blanks but still not safe) as his finger was ON that trigger.
They did this at the PAL center trying to recruit for future officer training.
Talk about setting a bad example, not only with the lack of safety but also making impressionable teens interested in the career think the job of a cop is to pull pseudo commando raids on homes rather than knock with a warrant.
I tried contacting the chief to point out these flaws in an educational manner citing both officer & public safety, he refused to speak to me in person, on the phone or via email. At that point I just said forget it.
May 15, 2023 at 11:27 am
When was the Winchester Silver Tip introduced? My father was a Chicago Police Officer and I remember his Smith and Wesson Model 59 loaded with 15 rounds of Silver Tips.
That was in the 1980s when handgun ammunition came in 50 round boxes, so you could actually load your weapon and two 15 round magazines with one box!
May 15, 2023 at 11:31 am
I still have a couple of boxes of the Infamous “Black Talons.” The hype and absolute False claims about the bullet, led to its so called demise. You’re right though Win used the same bullet design sans the coating for the Ranger SXT.
The lesson really illustrated “How much influence a product’s Name can influence popular perception and Urban Myths that soon follow.” A more generic or bland name for Black Talons would never have created all the Hoopla that ensued.
It’s funny in a way because Federal’s Hydroshock ammo didn’t generate near the angst that Black Talon did, even though both promoted their expansion into nasty tissue destroying projectiles.
Robert B. Manley
May 15, 2023 at 2:41 pm
I have a box or two of Black Talon ammo amd even have it loaded in one of my mags for my Springfield Xdm compact. Most of my carry ammo these days though is Hornady critical defense.
May 15, 2023 at 3:19 pm
“Enter Winchester’s M1153 Special Purpose 14-gr. jacket hollow point,”
That would be a hell of a hard hitting round. (NOT)
May 15, 2023 at 5:33 pm
I was at a match in Michigan that a representative from Winchester was firing rounds in a container of water. Very impressive display of expansion. I still have a couple bullets retrieved from water container in my collection. A good round ruined by over selling its capability. As stated above a few months later the same round was sold without the black coated bullet. Amazing!
May 15, 2023 at 9:51 pm
Next, Do a story on the Fictional “BLACK RHINO” Bullet Remember that one?!?! The news media had a field day with that one
May 16, 2023 at 12:53 am
That “14-gr.” is probably a typo. It should be “147-gr.”.
May 16, 2023 at 9:30 am
Mr Walsh, good point. I was also a cop back then and we were miffed when we heard the media talk about Black Talons were made for black people. One coworker stated he’ll be in a white neighborhood tonight so he’ll be using his White Talons. I was really sorry to see this rounds no longer issued.
May 16, 2023 at 3:44 pm
I had heard that the name was objected to by the NAACP and that is the reason the name change was made. Not one to rely on rumors, I called Winchester and spoke with a LE rep and was told that that was indeed the case.
May 17, 2023 at 2:20 pm
Some stories by the leftist news media were hysterical.
One showed a drawing of a black and decker circular saw blade and said this was Black Talon and it would saw off a arm or leg of the person it hit!
If that had been true, that would be the perfect
round for protection against bears in the national forest!
I recall another drawing from a newspaper that showed what looked like a mini rocket ( with flames behind it!) punching through steel plates ! I’m sure.
May 17, 2023 at 6:31 pm
As I recall, I was carrying SuperVel hollow points in the early 70s which were also being carried by some friends. We were all impressed by these rounds. I realize that they were a start-up at that and didn’t have the stature/recognition of Winchester-Olin. How did they fit into the hollow point story. Today, I still carry their all copper hollow points.
Big Al 45
May 18, 2023 at 10:05 am
That FBI incident was the biggest bunch of B.S. I had heard at that point, “Lack of stopping power” and the .357 magnum really don’t go together.
I agree with the reload time and capacity, but we here all know that a properly placed .357 is devastating, compared to the 9mm in major use today.
But hey, you could shoot a deer in the gut with an elephant gun and it would still run away.
The FBI went looking for a miracle pill, IMO, to shunt blame away from their abysmal shooting.
May 18, 2023 at 7:13 pm
I have a target shot w/ Black Talons. Two cylinders through the S&W 629 at 50 yards into one hole. It was great ammo.
May 20, 2023 at 2:56 pm
In the 80’s, the FBI used 38 spl 158 gr LSWHP +P in their 357 mag revolvers. The FBI Miami shootout fiasco was due to poor marksmanship and tactics.
Aaron G Chamney
May 22, 2023 at 12:49 am
I took was interested in the Black Talon ammo and it was my surprise that my first encounter was during my second job away from the fire department. I was working at the county morgue and had a person who had gotten into a shoot out with the police and lost. During the x-ray I saw it was a Black Talon, it actually looks like a beautiful flower, in your chest. After the autopsy I spoke to an officer from the agency involved and he confirmed they were Black Talon s. Before and after I had seen various other hollow points and some definitely didn’t hold up to the hype. Since then, I ONLY carry the Black Talon in 40S&W.