Today’s gun owner has a huge variety of options. Compared to our grandfathers and even our fathers, we get to enjoy more choices for bullet design; these choices include polymer-coated bullets.
Polymer-coated bullets, which we typically associate with shooting handguns, create unique advantages and could help you shoot safer, cleaner, and with greater reliability.
What are Polymer-Coated or Syntech Bullets?
While the name is fairly descriptive, it helps to review what polymer-coated bullets are. As the name suggests, these are simply bullets, usually lead, that have been coated with a modern polymer that covers the entire projectile. This creates a variety of advantages for shooting, and can also bring benefits for hand loading. You might also see these referred to as “total synthetic jacket” bullets.
They usually come in bright colors for easy identification. For example, Federal Premium (the main player in polymer-coated ammo) offers the Syntech line. Within the Syntech brand, you will find options for both target shooting and personal defense; the target rounds are coated red, while the rounds intended for personal defense are coated with a blue polymer.
Depending on the manufacturer, you can find a rainbow of colors for polymer rounds, so they are usually easy to identify when sitting next to metallic hollow point, lead, and full metal jacket rounds.
Note: Polymer tipped ammo is a different animal. Those loads are often used by riflemen and hunters looking for a more sophisticated, expanding projectile. You can read more about polymer tipped ammo here.
Advantages of Polymer Bullets
It’s hard to specifically define the benefits of a polymer-coated round. This is because the advantages are relative to other types of bullets. Polymer rounds have different advantages depending on what you are comparing it to. That said, there are a few general advantages we can identify.
When shooting polymer-coated bullets, you’ll notice a few advantages over other types of ammo. Compared to lead rounds, they release no toxic gas that can float in the air and create unsafe conditions. This is clearly more of a concern for indoor shooters, but it’s still a benefit.
They also offer smooth feeding from the magazine to the chamber. Jamming is a concern for any weapon and any load. You can imagine the trouble if your self-defense gun jammed up. Polymer-coated rounds may cycle into the chamber with greater consistency than other rounds, especially jacketed hollow points.
The purpose of a polymer coating on a bullet is to create smoother performance and less friction, and having a polymer coating on your bullet can bring benefits both as a shooter and as a hand loader.
Compared to lead round nose, there is less fouling in the barrel. Lead is a soft metal that can leave a residue in the barrel, impacting performance, accuracy, and other factors. Polymer-coated rounds, on the other hand, do not leave this residue (at least not as much residue) so they are often better for barrel longevity.
For handloaders, polymer rounds reduce exposure to lead, making them a safer option. They also reduce the need to wax or lube the bullets to fit them into place. This eliminates the smokey and somewhat smelly result when waxed bullets are fired.
Polymer-Coated Bullets Performance
If you are going to adopt polymer-coated bullets for your range shooting or personal defense, you’ll want to know how well these products perform. Stats like speed and energy are essential, especially for conceal-carry and home-defense purposes.
After looking at a variety of different products, we can confidently state that polymer-coated bullets perform just as well, give or take, as traditional rounds.
There are not a lot of manufacturers producing polymer coated rounds. But there is one big manufacturer: Federal Premium. This company, which creates virtually every type of round for practically any type of rifle, pistol, or shotgun, has the Syntech brand. It’s a line of polymer-coated pistol cartridges that is available in 9mm Luger, .40 Smith & Wesson, and .45 ACP. Because Federal has such a large product inventory and provides performance data, this gives us a chance to compare polymer-coated rounds to other rounds in the same cartridge from the same manufacturer.
Here are some stat comparisons for target-shooting and self-defense loads:
|Muzzle Velocity||25-Yard Velocity||Muzzle Energy||25-Yard Energy|
|124 Grain Federal Syntech||1,050||1,011||304||282|
|124 Grain Federal Am. Eagle||1,150||1,095||364||330|
|138 Grain Syntech Defense||1,050||1,016||338||316|
|135-Grain Federal Hydra-Shok||1,060||1,026||337||316|
Based on the above stats, there appears to be very little difference between polymer-coated handgun rounds and other products. Bullet weight makes a difference (we tried to use similar weights in all comparisons), but in many comparison they were slower. In one comparison the polymer round was faster.
There are differences; you could make a claim that the polymer reduces speed and energy. But the differences seem to be, at least in this limited comparison, so small that they are practically insignificant.
When to Use Polymer-Coated Bullets?
If you perform much of your target practice indoors, polymer rounds create a safer, cleaner shooting option of lead round bullets, so they are often the choice for indoor ranges. They eliminate lead and copper fouling and because of less friction, can significantly reduce the internal heat of your barrel. Therefore, shooters who participate in high-volume target shooting should consider using polymer-coated rounds.