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Forged in the USA: Winchester's new steel-case 9mm delivers the goods at low cost.

IF YOU WANT TO CET GOOD AT SHOOTING, dry-fire practice is useful, but it will only get you so far. While it is an integral part of getting better, it is not a complete exercise of your skills. Even airguns can take you only so far. You have to shoot real ammo to solidify your skills. And that costs money and time.

The big obstacle for most shooters is the cost of ammo, especially during recent price increases due to commodity price spikes. Winchester was well aware of that and looked into every avenue it could to reduce costs because practice ammo is particularly price sensitive--a product shooters choose primarily by cost.

Enter Winchester's new steel-cased USA Forged 9mm ammunition meant for practice and competition. I talked to Winchester's Laci Warden, who told me it's simply the company's "white box" ammunition--the USA 115-grain fullmetal-jacket load--stuffed into steel cases. "It's the same bullet, powder and primer," she said.

If you don't know white box, it is common, inexpensive, reliable and accurate, and for many competitions it makes the minimum power level. Since it's already an accepted load, Winchester's challenge was to make it cost even less.

When it comes to FMJ loads, the largest single expense is the cost of the case--making up two-thirds to three-quarters of the final cost, which is why many shooters take up reloading. Copper-based case production has been refined over more than a century, and there are no more economies to be wrung out of it. Aluminum costs about a third as much as copper, but it's still relatively expensive. Steel, on the other hand, is dirt cheap. At the moment, the cost of steel is about four percent by weight of the cost of copper.

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Winchester has been looking at steel cartridge cases for more than a decade, and Warden noted that research and development on the 9mm load specifically has been underway for three years. And one of the key areas the ammo folks focused on was ensuring the steel-case ammo wouldn't cause any problems due to added stress on the extractor, although I can tell you that steel-cased ammo is within the same extraction force range as brass/copper-cased ammunition.

"We work hard to keep our firearm inventory current with industry trends in new pistols," Warden said, and engineers tested USA Forged in every gun in the company's inventory until they were satisfied.

That's not to say USA Forged will work in every single 9mm pistol ever made. No one can make that promise, even with brass-case ammo.

The cases are not imports. They're made in Winchester's brand-new plant in Oxford, Mississippi--giving the company complete control of production. If the USA Forged ammo-loading supervisor has a question, he or she has only to walk over to the next building and buttonhole the case-manufacturing supervisor.

The bullet is a lead-core, gilding-metal-jacket bullet. There is no steel in the bullet, so those of you who frequent indoor ranges need not worry about backstop damage. Likewise, the ammo will be fine at outdoor ranges where steel is prohibited due to fire danger. The bullet is not a plated design; it has a regular, tough, jacket, and it will work with any rifling design.

As Warden mentioned, powder type and charge are the same as the 9mm white-box loading, and USA Forged uses good old Winchester Small Pistol primers. But just because the cases are Boxer-primed doesn't mean they're reloadable. They're not. It just made more economic sense to design a case that uses the same primers Winchester already manufactures and uses in other loads.

To test reliability and accuracy, I checked the performance of USA Forged in two pistols: a high-end Nighthawk T4 1911 and a medium-cost Walther PPQ M2. I could have saved myself a bitterly cold range trip, as they both not only consumed all the ammo I fed them without a fault, they both delivered excellent accuracy results as well.

The best group with the Nighthawk was 1.95 inches; with the Walther, it was 2.10 inches. And as a bonus, it exceeds the power threshold for competition, so you can use this in matches and not regret your lost brass.

Winchester has saved even more money in the packaging. If you're like me, you view packaging as simply stuff to be tossed into the trash bins at the gun club. Fancy, multicolor printing doesn't really do much except help me find what I want on the shelves at the gun store. And I do not practice in mere boxes of 50, let alone mini-cartons of 20 or 25.

Winchester took the same attitude, and USA Forged is packaged in boxes of 150 rounds. Each box is a minimalist exercise in "get from the shelf to the range."

The box is plain brown pasteboard with black-ink printing, tough but not heavy. Inside are three foam trays of 50 rounds each. The box will take up a minimal amount of space in your range bag--and a minimal amount of space in the firing line trash can, which those who own or maintain gun ranges will appreciate.

PRICE CHECK

"We anticipate a retail price of $31 to $33 per box, or less," Warden told me. That's not much more than $10 per 50 rounds, a price point we haven't seen for a long time. I did a quick price check, and I found you can buy the regular USA white box ammo for about $15 per 50 rounds. That means you can, roughly speaking, buy a 150-round box of USA Forged for what a 100-round box of white box costs you.

I don't know about you, but getting half again as much practice ammo for my hard-earned dollars sure appeals to me. So peruse the ammo shelves until you find a plain brown box with the stock number WIN9S. That's the stuff you want.

Will Winchester expand the line to other calibers? "We are currently monitoring the potential for future expansion of the USA Forged technology and brand," Warden said. I expect if this flies off the shelves as expected, we'll see more.
PERFOMANCE RESULTS | WINCHESTER USA FORGED

                Bullet    Muzzle    Extreme   Standard    Avg.
                Weight   Velocity   Spread    Deviation   Group
9mm Luger       (gr.)     (fps)      (fps)      (fps)     (in.)

Walther PPQM2

FMJ              115      1,176       60        21.7      2.65

Nighthawk T4

FMJ              115      1,191       42        14.9      2.30

Notes: Accuracy results are the averages of four five-shot groups at
25 yards over a Sinclair shooting rest. Velocities are averages of 10
shots measured by a LabRadar chronograph 15 feet from the muzzle.
Abbreviation: FMJ, full metal jacket
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Title Annotation:AMMO SHELF
Author:Sweeney, Patrick
Publication:Handguns
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:1104
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