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American Eagle Syntech ReviewWords by Patrick Sweeney | Photos by Jeff Jones
OK, you want to get better. You want to be a faster, more accurate, more competent shooter. You want to win matches or feel confident carrying. Or maybe you just don’t want to be the worst shooter in your group.
You accomplish all that the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. No, it isn’t by taking the A Train to Columbus Circle. You practice.
Proper practice does include draw-and-dry-fire, but sooner or later, you have to actually get yourself to the range and put real, live ammo into the backstop.
That costs money and puts wear and tear on your pistol. There is also the minor matter of lead exposure.
The cheapest way to practice is with lead-bullet ammo, either factory or that which you have loaded yourself. This has several problems: one of smoke in the range (or on the range) and a really grubby shooting experience. Yes, you have to expect a certain amount of mess when shooting, but lead-bullet ammo can leave your hands looking black, greasy, icky and not at all appealing.
On the range, you will be spending a lot of time shooting steel. Lead bullets make even more smoke when they break up on steel and can bounce fragments around. Jacketed bullets can send slivers of copper rattling around the range. If you follow proper range safety and only use steel targets in good repair, you’ll be fine. But if you could be even safer while shooting, why wouldn’t you?
The solution to those problems has been, for a long time, a jacketed bullet. However, jacketed bullets cost much more than lead, and they also produce more wear on your bore.
Back when IPSC was just transitioning from single-stack to hi-cap guns, we also were changing from lead bullets to jacketed. A competition pistol, fed lead bullets, would last pretty much forever. I’ve talked to shooters with literal hundreds of thousands of rounds through a pistol with no apparent loss in accuracy or velocity.
When competition shooters switched to a steady diet of jacketed bullets in their pistols, bore life plummeted. It may seem ridiculous to complain that a pistol barrel “only” has a service life of 150,000 rounds, but to a serious competition shooter, that is maybe two years of practice and competition.
American Eagle Syntech solves those problems. What Federal has done is upgraded the old approach to “non-jacketed” jacketed bullets. The company went plastic.
The new polymer coating provides a tough but lower-friction-than-copper surface for the bullet. There is less friction, and thus less heat and wear, on the bore. Since the bullet is completely encapsulated by the polymer, the lead core is protected from the hot gases of combustion.
That means no smoke, or at least, the smoke you get is just smoke from burnt powder. In addition, the lack of lead exposure from firing means you don’t have lead scrub out of your pistol and off your hands after you’ve shot and then cleaned your handgun.
Won’t the Syntech build up in the bore? So far, it hasn’t, not that I’ve had a chance to shoot more than a few buckets worth of ammo. But if it does, so what? It is polymer, and it will scrub out with a couple of passes of a brush. That’s a lot less than the arduous scouring I’ve had to do with lead bullets in the past.
Plus, the slicker polymer means there is less heat and wear on your bore, so your barrel lasts longer. As I mentioned, it may seem absurd to complain about “losing” 100,000 rounds of service life on the barrel of your handgun, but think long-term. If you only go to the range once a month and put 200 rounds through your pistol, that adds up to 10,000 rounds a year. (A small amount, compared to the shooters who are building skills.)
Without Syntech, just about the time you are considering which of your children should be in line to receive your handguns, you need to replace the barrel. With Syntech, they’ll get a lot more practice on their own before they need to decide about barrel upgrades.
And then there is the practice itself. Bullets on steel break up and splatter. Federal tested this in a simple and straightforward manner. The company spread a couple of acres of tarp (or so it seemed) to collect the splatter, marked concentric rings away from the steel plate, and then shot a couple of truckloads of ammo at the plate.
Then the real boring part came. Federal lab techs collected all the fragments and tabulated total weight, average weight of fragments and relative distance from the plate. What they found was that Syntech created smaller fragments that bounced back shorter distances than lead or jacketed ammo had. Smaller means lighter, and shorter means with less velocity, so the already low odds of getting tagged by flying lead were reduced even more.
But that isn’t all that’s new with Syntech. Federal also spent the development time (Syntech itself took four years) working on a new primer. The new Catalyst Primer uses a new formula that contains no lead products at all. Part of the lead exposure in shooting is the bullet, but part of it is the lead in the chemical compound that is the priming pellet. That lead is vaporized and can be a nuisance.
Now, before you get all alarmed by “lead in my primer,” keep this in mind: The lead exposure that is of concern is very limited.
The typical lead problem “customer” is a full-time law enforcement officer, assigned to the department’s indoor range, who spends an eight-hour shift supervising range qualification and training. If that isn’t you, then you likely do not have a problem. To make the situation better, you can do two things: use Syntech ammo and wash your hands.
I have joked from time to time that my job is to “make once-fired brass for a living.” I shoot a lot. I also wash my hands. The State agency I teach for requires that I get an annual blood draw and lead test. I have, every year for a decade now, posted a lead score of 4, 5 or 6. That is barely above the detectable level for lead, and pleasingly below the threshold of “let’s keep an eye on that.” (20, by the way.
All of this comes to you in ammo that is competitively-priced, has reloadable brass casings and shoots very well indeed. Now, you’ll hear grumbling from some quarters that Federal “re-invented the wheel,” and handloaders have been using coated bullets for many years.
It is true that the idea of coating is not new. However, Federal has spent the time and effort to figure out how to do it on an industrial scale. A handloader may be content to spend a week crafting a couple of hundred rounds of coated bullets, loaded into ammo. Experimentation is good and can teach us a lot, but many of us are more interested in improving our shooting skills and want lots and lots of ammo right now.
Sometimes, it is profitable to re-invent the wheel. And in the case of American Eagle Syntech, we all benefit.