September 12, 2022
Since the latter days of the Civil War, most of the world has used brass cartridge cases for centerfire and rimfire ammunition. The material is so synonymous with cases that the term “brass” will be forever part of the shooter’s lexicon. Brass has served us well for decades, but is it really the best material for the job?
A company called True Velocity Ammunition decided to push back against the conventional wisdom that has permeated the ammunition world for years. The result is an innovative product that is already having a big impact on both the military and civilians. Polymer-case ammunition is here, and the results are impressive. Let’s begin by discussing what a cartridge case is. It’s simply a container and a gasket. The case encapsulates the propellant, holds the primer, secures the bullet and obturates to seal the cartridge into the chamber as it is fired. That’s it.
In order to do those things well—to produce accuracy downrange—is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. To accomplish this, we want the case to be as straight and consistent as possible, and we want the material to flex appropriately when fired. That’s where True Velocity’s technology comes into play. The traditional method of producing brass involves drawing batches of raw material through progressive dies, punches and trimmers until the case meets its proper dimensions. In most cases, the brass is annealed after each step in the forming process. The quality of the end product can vary based on the materials, processes and specifications used in production. Quality, strength and dimensional characteristics can vary wildly. With today’s bullets, primers and powder, brass is often the weak link in the chain.
By eliminating brass from this equation, True Velocity is able to build incredibly consistent ammo, and when it comes to reliably hitting the target, consistency is everything. By molding rather than drawing the cases, True Velocity claims it can produce superior dimensional consistency, both inside and out, to any brass case on the market.
True Velocity’s cases are manufactured using state-of-the-art equipment, most of which is automated. The case starts with a stainless steel head, which True Velocity calls the “insert.” Steel offers three important qualities here: It’s strong; it can be machined to exacting tolerances; and it is magnetic. Using a magnet, cases can be picked up with minimal effort, which has the side benefit of reducing an individual’s exposure to toxic chemicals that are byproducts of fired ammunition. Anyone who has had to police brass after a major training event can appreciate how valuable this is.
Polymer Case Benefits
There are other benefits of the mostly polymer case, one of them being weight. A given load of True Velocity ammunition is roughly 30 to 40 percent lighter than comparable brass-cased ammo. This might not be a huge advantage for a trip to the range, but it is a game changer for military applications. For example, an individual soldier can carry three extra 30-round magazines of True Velocity 5.56mm at the same weight as traditional brass case ammo. Not to mention the savings of the shipping costs for the military, which has to move vast quanities of ammunition across the globe. Weight-obsessed backpack hunters and rifle competitors who have to carry gear over long distances also will appreciate the weight savings, however minute.
The polymer section of the case is molded in two separate operations. The main body of the case is one section, while the shoulder/neck is another. They are bonded together in a way that ensures they will not separate. There are no issues of strength despite hundreds of thousands of rounds of in-house and military testing.
Brass is a conductor of heat, while polymer is an insulator. When a cartridge is fired, most of the energy is directed toward the bore, propelling the projectile along its path. Some energy, though, comes in the form of heat—heat that is conducted into the chamber and bolt face with brass or steel cases. With True Velocity’s polymer case, minimal heat is transferred, reducing bolt face and gas port temperatures (where applicable) by around 25 percent, reducing wear and tear on those components. When True Velocity’s cases are extracted from the chamber, they are cool to the touch. If you’ve ever been burned by hot brass—particularly from a belt-fed machine gun—you can appreciate this attribute.
Using these observations, True Velocity was able to form the inside of the cases in such a way that powder ignition and burn are optimal. When compared to brass-cased ammunition, this optimized case produces the same velocity while burning eight to 10 percent less powder. Less powder means less recoil, reduced parts wear and a less visible muzzle flash. Strength-wise, the cartridge case is the failure point when out-of-spec ammunition is used. When things get too hot, primers pop, and a small amount of propellant gas escapes. When things get really hot, the case itself can give way, usually at the case head. Depending on the rifle’s design, such an event can pump a large amount of gas and shrapnel into the shooter’s face.
I’ve had it happen more than once, and but for my shooting glasses it would have caused real problems. Polymer-case ammunition removes the potential for brass shrapnel under these circumstances. For the record, True Velocity is not making that claim. I am. Precision shooters work hard to ensure that brass-cased ammunition is held consistently in the chamber. For this reason, chambers are often cut to minimum headspace dimensions on custom rifles. This can be great for accuracy but bad for reliability since a dirty chamber or a slightly oversize case will prevent the bolt from closing. Because of the malleability of True Velocity’s polymer case, this is not an issue. Since the polymer flows so readily, it can make up for a more generous chamber in ways that brass cases can’t.
The case is but one element of True Velocity’s ammunition, albeit an important one. The same careful attention to detail that is applied to manufacturing the cases is applied to every element of the cartridge. Primers are seated using a method that ensures they are at a consistent depth, which eliminates one more variable. The powder fill process is exact as well and borrows from technology used in the pharmaceutical industry. Using this method, True Velocity is able to maintain propellant consistency down to 0.01 grain. The firm’s equipment can actually produce more precise measurements, but that would require altering the size of individual kernels of powder.
Bullets are a critically important cartridge component, and True Velocity is particular about which bullets it uses in its ammunition. True Velocity has partnered with both Sierra and Nosler, two companies that have been leaders in bullet design and production for many decades. Nosler’s Custom Competition bullet is used in some of the loads, and my test ammo used 168-grain hollowpoint boattails of that variety. True Velocity uses a proprietary non-crimping method to achieve neck tension on the cartridge, so no cannelure is necessary. There are also loads that use traditional full-metal-jacket bullets for military use.
True Velocity is now offering Nosler AccuBond bullets as well, providing a premium controlled-expansion hunting bullet option. At this time, the company is producing ammunition in five different cartridges: 50 BMG, .338 Norma Mag., 7.62 NATO, .308 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor and 5.56 NATO. This is in addition to two 6.8 rounds in the works: 6.8 True Velocity Composite Munition (military) and 6.8 True Velocity Composite (civilian). Pat Hogan, True Velocity’s chief marketing officer, said he expects the 6.8 TVC to be offered initially with a 135-grain solid copper projectile and a muzzle velocity right around 3,000 fps—with more loads to follow.
I tested the .308 Win. offering. My test rifle was an out-of-the-box Ruger Precision Rifle on which I mounted a Vortex Venom 5-25x56mm scope. These rifles have a reputation for great accuracy and so potentially eliminates one factor in our evaluation. A few years ago, I sat down with the ballistic engineer from a major ammunition manufacturer who explained in definite terms why rifle bullets don’t all land in the same hole. Each of the factors came down to consistency. Two of the more important variables were bullet runout and powder charge. Runout is a measurement of how straight a bullet is seated relative to the rest of the cartridge. Low runout, combined with a chamber cut concentric with the bore, ensures that the bullet will enter the rifling properly.
“When you’re talking about accuracy, dimensional consistency is crucial,” Hogan told me. “All of the dimensions of our case are more consistent than brass just due to the manufacturing process. We are molding it, so we can hold much tighter tolerances. Our total indicator runout is 10 times better than typical brass. This ensures that the projectile is perfectly seated with the center axis of the bore.” I don’t have the equipment on hand to test total indicator runout, but I can get some clues. I test runout regularly, both on factory ammunition and my own handloads. Anecdotally, I have found runout to be an incredibly important factor in whether a given load will shoot.
I use a Hornady concentricity tool to measure runout, but there are several quality options on the market. In my experience, any measurement under 0.005 inch is acceptable, and under 0.003 inch is great. Under 0.001 inch is as good as I’ve seen, and that type of runout usually only comes from handloads. I randomly selected 10 rounds from a single box of True Velocity ammunition and tested the runout of each. Most of them measured right at 0.001 inch, and the largest was still just 0.003 inch. Runout was so minimal on one of the cartridges that the 0.001 dial indicator barely moved.
For comparison’s sake, I randomly selected several rounds from my testing stash, loaded by various manufacturers of high-quality match ammunition. The True Velocity’s average runout was better than any of them. The second test I performed was simply to weigh each loaded round. Consistency in overall weight indicates that variations in the case, powder charge and bullet are all minimal. My entire box of True Velocity was consistent to within less than 1.0 grain on my RCBS Chargemaster Scale. Most of the box was within 0.4 grain. Again, compared to other match loads on the market, that is very good.
Of course, live-fire results are what really matters to shooters. To evaluate the accuracy of this ammunition, I fired three three-shot groups at 100 yards from a sturdy bench and recorded the accuracy and velocity results. Accuracy was very consistent. My average 100-yard group was 0.87 inch, and my best measured 0.81 inch. To confirm my results, I fired the ammunition in a second rifle of known accuracy, a Remington 700 5R. Groups were slightly tighter with the second rifle and averaged 0.75 inch.
In long-range shooting, the consistency of velocity can be more important than raw accuracy. Differences in velocity lead to vertical dispersion at extended distances. For this reason, the standard deviation of muzzle velocity is important to the long-range equation. The standard deviation for 10 shots with the True Velocity ammunition was 9.2 fps. I test a lot of rifles and ammunition, and I can tell you that single-digit SDs are rare, especially for 10-round strings. The extreme velocity spread over those same 10 rounds was just 24 fps. This vertical spread would translate into approximately nine inches at 1,000 yards, less than one m.o.a.
To answer a common question: No, True Velocity’s polymer cases are not consumer-reloadable—at least not with the equipment currently available. This is actually a selling point to the military because it denies the enemy the use of spent brass as either a valuable commodity or shrapnel. Reports indicate that in recent years our nation’s enemies would take pot- shots at U.S. military convoys, knowing the return fire would produce a great deal of brass that could later be recovered. Polymer cases give them nothing of useful value. Additionally, China controls roughly 80 percent of the world’s copper production, which would put us at a strategic disadvantage if hostilities ever broke out between the East and West.
True Velocity ammunition is currently available via several channels. Customers can order products directly from the company (TVammo.com) or from online retailers. Ammunition is shipping to wholesale distributors as well, meaning that True Velocity ammunition will be available at small dealers as well as large outdoor stores. Current suggested retail price for the load I tested is $70.
True Velocity is a market disruptor that could change the shooting world in the ways that products such as smartphones and Netflix have changed the way that we consume information. The ability to reliably produce lightweight ammunition with previously unheard of consistency is a real asset to both military and civilian shooters. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where this technology takes us.