While PCP declined to send us ammunition for testing, several of our readers got in on the initial offer. Jamie Johnson was kind enough to thoroughly evaluate his lot of PCP ammunition and share the results with us.
Jamie found some considerable inconsistency with the ammunition. We have posted the results below so that you can come to your own conclusions. At the introductory price of $39.99 per 20 round box, it is not likely that this ammunition will be able to compete with match ammunition from Federal, Black Hills or even smaller companies like Southwest Ammunition. I love to see innovation in the firearms industry, but this technology does not appear to be ready for the precision rifle subset.
We have been contacted by PCP Ammunition regarding this review. PCP Director of Sales & Marketing, Jay Duncan has advised us that this appears to be an isolated incident and is initiating an investigation into it. PCP has offered to send us some ammunition so that we can conduct our own review. We will update when we have more information.
PCP Ammunition sent us a statement regarding the information contained in the review. We have added the information to the bottom of the page.
PCP Lightweight Polymer Cased Ammunition Review
by Jaime Johnson
Firstly, I am by no means an ammunition specialist, nor am I firearms expert. Secondly, there are plenty of people out there who a lot know more than me. What I am, is a veteran with 8 years of training and experience as an infantryman in the US Army. Between both military and civilian applications, I am either qualified or familiarized with over 20 different firearms/weapon systems.
Please keep in mind that this “review” is mostly just raw data. From basic measurements, results on the range, and so forth. Very little personal opinion will be applied. It will mostly be with regards to look, design, function, etc. The tools used will be named with the corresponding measurement later in this review.
The firearm used for range testing is a Remington 700 SPS Tactical in 308cal, with a 20” heavy barrel, in a 1 in 10 twist. It is fitted with a Bell & Carlson Medalist A2 stock, and a Timney 510 trigger with a 3.5lb pull. No other mechanical adjustments have been made. Said rifle has had approx. 775 rounds fired through it over the course of 1 year, and has been properly maintained/stored on a regular basis.
Right out of the shipping box, the ammunition looks both appealing and expensive. At $39.99 for a box of 20 cartridges, it better be. The shipping packaging was proper and just the right amount. The first thing that struck me as odd, was the larger sized box of ammunition (fig. 1), when compared to typical store bought ammunition. That was due to the added length of the crate inside the box (fig. 2). It folds open. I have no idea why. Possibly a packing design for expedience at the factory. All of the ammunition was properly inserted and nothing was damaged or out of place.
The ammunition itself is even more strange. A metal head, white plastic lower body, with a black plastic upper body and shoulder (fig.3). The metal base is magnetic, so it’s probably made of steel or something similar. The primer of every cartridge was level with the base of each cartridge (fig. 4) and is sealed with a clear plastic or glue. The lower, white part of the body is very malleable, which brings to question it’s capabilities as anything other than rifle or revolver ammunition. The upper, black part of the body is much more durable, due to it needing to feed without it becoming damaged in the chamber. With there being multiple seams in the design of this cartridge, it re-raises the question about the durability of this ammunition. Nearly every single person who has built anything, knows that the more parts you have, the greater the chance of something going wrong.
None of the 40 cartridges I had ordered looked defective, but some didn’t feed properly when loaded into the rifle when loaded one at a time. I had to “jimmy” the bolt a few times. 38 out of the 40 cartridges loaded properly from the internal magazine. I say 38 because I took apart 2 before this test.
To overlap a little bit from the appearance section, the cartridge looks appealing, but the additional number of individual sections makes me want to second guess it’s structural integrity. I understand the need to lower weight for large quantities of ammunition, but unless you’re carrying a machine-gun, the weight difference won’t add up for the average shooter.
Cartridge overall length ranged from 2.772” to 2.793”, with the average measuring between 2.781” and 2.784”. I suspect that PCP was either going for 2.780” OAL and ran over, or 2.800” OAL and ran short. The tool used is a Starrett Dial Caliper.
Cartridge weights ranged from 288.0 gn (grains) to 289.6 gr., with an average weight of 288.71 gr and the majority weighing in between 288.3 gr and 288.9 gr. The scale used is a Hornady Lock-N-Load Bench digital scale.
2 cartridges were “sacrificed” (1 at the lowest overall weight, 1 at the highest overall weight) for individual component measurements, other than the primer by itself. In the process, I discovered a colorless “glue” that was holding the bullets in place (fig. 3). What this is, I have no idea.
The cases, with primer, weighed in at 83.7 gr and 85.0 gr. The powder weighed in at 35.3 gr and 36.5 gr. The HPBT projectiles weighed in at 168.0 gr each. Due to the limited amount of powder measured and the inconsistency of the cartridge weights, I cannot come to any conclusion as to how much powder, per load, they were attempting. I’m sure someone else reading this will have an idea. The powder looks to be both ball and disk shaped (fig. 5) and was consistent between both cartridges.
The primer pockets were uniform between both cartridges, allowing for an even expansion of the blast from the primer (fig. 6).
Case head to shoulder length measured between +0.02 and +0.11 on the RCBS Precision Mic, with the majority measuring between +0.03 and +0.08. Most shooters won’t really care about this measurement, but the precision shooters will probably greatly appreciate it.
I would love to give a description of amazing performance and accuracy, but alas I cannot. Out of the 40 cartridges, only 17 fired. Including the 2 I took apart for component measurements. I fired those so I wouldn’t have live primers sitting in my ammo box. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. I have never had this many FTF’s (Failure To Fire). Ever. I have had 2 FTF’s out of the 775 mentioned earlier and they were hand loads. I had dropped the primers during loading, thus damaging them. Every other hand load has fired and all of the factory ammo I have ever purchased, Federal, Hornady, CBC, even cheap, ball ammo, has fired.
When I had a “batch” of FTF’s with the PCP ammo, I fired a Federal Gold Metal Match 175gr., to make sure it wasn’t my rifle. And it wasn’t. The FTF’s were sporadic in one box, but nearly an entire box of ammo was duds (fig. 7). All I can suspect is that when they sealed the primers, a little got into the primer itself. Making it inert. Each cartridge was struck by the firing pin properly (fig. 8). Also, several of the necks on the cartridges broke during firing, as in disintegrated some what (figs 9&10). The obvious downside of this, is a huge increase in “waste” left in the chamber of the rifle after each firing. For rifles with large chambers and loose tolerances, like AK’s, this isn’t that big of an issue. But it’s still an issue. Chunks of plastic polymer being left in your rifles’ action can greatly increase the chance of poor feeding, cartridges getting stuck in the chamber, etc.
The accuracy of the ammo was just as sporadic. The only consistency with the cartridges that fired was how high they hit on paper (fig. 11). The groups are large and oddly shaped. The rifle was fired from a bipod/sand-bag bench-rest setup, with the barrel cooled between each firing. The weather/location details were as follows. The tool used was a Kestrel 3500 Weather Meter.
Time : 0920 hrs Temp : 53.9* F Density ALT : 120meters
Humidity : 45.0% Baro. Pres. : 999.0 Distance : 100yards
Location : Sunnyvale Rod & Gun Club Date : 27DEC2013
I fired a 20 round box of Barnes Vor-TX 168gr TTSX. First, 10 in 3 round groups and 1 cold bore zero fired first, (fig 13), then 10 “hot fired” (4+1 twice and fired in rapid succession) (fig 12) with no problems. The Barnes ammo performed well. The weather/location details were as follows.
Time : 1045 hrs Temp : 53.6* F Density ALT : 123meters
Humidity : 48.6% Baro. Pres. : 998.5 Distance : 100yards
Location : Sunnyvale Rod & Gun Club Date : 27DEC2013
With the weather conditions almost identical, this only confirms my earlier suspicions of the PCP ammo being loaded improperly, as well as being greatly inaccurate. I have not cleaned my rifle because of the “contamination” of the added carbon build up from the Barnes ammunition I fired after the PCP ammunition.
Technology is always advancing and that’s always a great thing. The problems come with how they are being advanced, why they are being advanced, what that advancement costs us, and whether or not we are willing to pay it. With regards to the PCP polymer ammunition, something has gone terribly wrong.
The ammunition is horribly inaccurate, the powder is “thrown” inconsistently, and the cartridges disintegrate in your rifle after being fired. The only thing good about this ammo was the consistent bullet weights, but that doesn’t do you any good if the cartridges don’t fire. At a 57.5% Failure To Fire rate (17 out of 40 fired), added on top of the above mentioned downsides of this ammunition, I have nothing to say other than “absolutely pathetic”.
PCP stated in the email they sent me, regarding their selection of me for their public testing trials, that PCP had conducted 1,000’s of factory tests before opening the testing to a select few of the public. I sincerely would like to know the results of those tests because if they coincide with my results, I would like to know why they think this ammunition is even close for public use.
We appreciate the thorough examination of our polymer cased ammunition and
we are extremely sorry that it did not perform well in your firearm.
At the current time we are still receiving and compiling the data sent to us by the
other shooters who are evaluating our polymer cartridges. With the limited
responses gathered so far, we have received a far greater number of positive
results rather than negative, with most shooters stating that it either shot as well
as brass cases or better.
Please keep in mind, that the point of the limited release was to gather
information on a wider group of firearms to determine if there are any makes or
models that have particular issues so that we can perform failure analysis to
determine the root cause.
I will attempt to offer some clarity on some of the issues mentioned in your
1. Overall Length Measurements – Although Starrett calipers are good
precision instruments, measuring a cartridge from base to tip is not the most
accurate method to determine loading inconsistencies. Match projectile
offerings from precision manufacturers such as Sierra are well known for
their consistency in manufacturing but often vary by several thousands of an
inch because the measurement held tight is based on the ogive, not the tip.
Production loading follows the same logic because the bullet jump is from
the case to where the ogive first contacts the rifling. During our production
process, each round is measured from the same point on the projectile that
is contacted during seating. This provides for much better consistency in
performance from round to round rather than measuring overall length. The
overall length is expected to vary somewhat from round to round within an
acceptable tolerance, though it should not affect performance. That said,
the variation you measured appears to be significantly outside the norm in
this process. Since the rounds have more ductility than brass cases, any
difference in pressure applied by the calipers could affect your
measurements. This coupled with the inherent variation in the projectile
length could account for most of what you found.
2. Cartridge weight and powder weight – Our cases have about a grain of
variance in their weight due to the manufacturing process for the metal head
which is the majority of the case weight. Small deviations within the
allowable tolerances add up to these small variations from case to case.
The powder drop on the other hand is always held within +/- 0.1 grain. Not
only do we use high precision loading equipment, but each charge is
checked to be within tolerance prior to seating the projectile. In addition, we
constantly pull rounds off the line to measure the charge weight and verify
that the check is working properly. Upon the return if your ammunition we
will measure the powder weights and report the findings here.
3. Failure to fire – The failure to fire issue is one we are looking into closely.
We have had one other user report the same issue in a similar firearm.
When completing the return, we asked that users provide a sample or two of
brass cases fired through their firearm so that we could look for differences
in the chamber dimensions that could help us ascertain the cause of the
issue. This is an ongoing analysis which we hope to complete shortly after
all the results have been recorded. In the case of the one shooter who
returned his cases and provided sample brass, we have measured the
rounds and found that they all were within the SAAMI specification for length
and headspace and also fired without a problem in our test rifles. We
believe that the possible cause lies in the combination of firing pin protrusion
or energy and the dimensions of the chamber. Since our rounds are
produced using a polymer resin, the case may be absorbing much of the
impact of the firing pin thus exacerbating light strikes in certain firearms. We
will continue to research this while collecting the rest of the data to
determine the exact cause so that it can be corrected. Again, it should be
noted that this is not a common problem across all the makes tested so far
and seems to be limited to a couple of firearms. By no means are we
indicating that there is an issue with the firearm, only that our ammunition in
its current form seems to be incompatible.
4. Bullet Retention – The issue you had with small pieces of the tip of the neck
being pulled off from the case appears to be related to the amount of bullet
retention force created by the adhesive used to hold the bullet in place.
These cases were originally designed for military use where the
requirements are quite high for bullet retention. The rough handling and use
in belt fed machine guns necessitates high pull forces and we exceed those
required significantly. In most firearms, the shape of the chamber prevents
the neck of the case from moving forward thus mitigating the risk of this
occurring. In some firearms where the neck is able to be stretched forward,
the case seems to give before the adhesive breaks completely free thus
tearing the material. The area in question is only a few thousands of an inch
thick, so we are looking into reducing the pull force for commercial
applications to eliminate the chance of this happening. In the situation you
had, I believe the small piece of polymer would follow the projectile down the
bore and exit behind the projectile. The polymer is significantly softer and
less abrasive than the copper jacket of the projectile and will not cause any
damage to the firearm though in certain cases could potentially effect
5. Group Size– It is difficult to determine the cause of the larger group sizes
than expected especially without any information on the wind conditions. It
appears from your photos that the rounds were fired in three round groups
with the initial warmer round fired alone. The vertical spread of the groups
seem very similar to that of the Barnes Vor-TX with one group very tight, one
around an inch and the other just over an inch. Inconsistencies in powder
charges are typically seen in the vertical spread while horizontal deviations
are typically more indicative of the shooter and wind conditions. Groups of
more than three shots would typically be required to determine the precision
of ammunition. That said, not all loads shoot well from all firearms. With this
initial load, we attempted to balance the precision in both bolt guns and gas
guns while maintaining the required port pressures to cycle most gas
operated firearms in an attempt to produce a single load that would suit as
many shooters as possible. The feedback we receive will help us make
changes to the current load or develop alternative loads that will improve
upon the current performance.
Once again, we appreciate your thorough evaluation of our polymer cased
ammunition in your particular firearm and hope this helps alleviate some of your
concerns about our initial release.