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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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