Shooters who spend a whole lot of time at a shooting range open themselves up to a few unfavorable things, including the torture of cleaning a befouled barrel and cruddy chamber—not to mention the fact that every range session results inevitably in wear and tear on a gun’s bore from all that heat and lead and copper constantly being blasted through it.

Earlier this year, Federal Premium endeavored to solve these problems with an innovative approach to ammunition using modern materials and manufacturing processes. Under its American Eagle ammo line, Federal introduced Syntech, a new breed of pistol cartridge specifically designed for target practice at the range.

American Eagle Syntech: Ammo Test
The Syntech bullets are made of compressed lead wrapped in a polymer jacket. mfg photo

Syntech is engineered from the primer to the bullet tip to be clean-shooting and to cause less friction on its way from chamber to muzzle, extending barrel life.

Fouling is made up of copper and lead residue left behind by the bullets themselves, along with burnt propellant that gets caked onto the bore walls and, more importantly, into the rifling grooves.

At worst, heavy fouling can erode a barrel if left uncleaned too long, though this isn’t nearly as much of a problem with modern propellants as it was in the blackpowder days, but it’s still a concern. It will, however, reduce the accuracy of a firearm with every pull of the trigger.

Syntech bullets are a unique creation of compressed lead coated completely in a red proprietary-formula polymer. The coating acts as a buffer between the lead core and the lands and grooves of the barrel.

When the new cartridges were first announced at SHOT Show 2016, Federal wouldn’t say how the bullets are made or seated in the casing, but only that the fancy new bullets wouldn’t be available for reloaders—though the brass from Syntech ammo is perfectly suitable for reloading.

PHOTO – bullets

American Eagle Syntech: Ammo Test
The polymer surface of the bullets is extremely smooth, resulting in greatly reduced friction and heat when fired. mfg photo

The plastic-like coating is lacquer-smooth to the touch, which is another purposeful feature.

As the Syntech bullets travel down the barrel, the smooth polymer engages the rifling, but produces less friction and heat than a copper jacket or lead bullet. According to data from Federal, Syntech produces an average of 12 percent less barrel friction and 14 percent less heat while eliminating copper and lead fouling.

Couple that performance with a specially formulated clean-burning propellant, and you have some clean-shooting range ammo.

A bonus for steel-target shooters: the compressed lead rounds result in less splashback than FMJ ammo when they impact steel. Federal says Syntech rounds produce as much as 91 percent less weight in fragments traveling more than 15 yards. That’s significant.

At the back of the cartridge is a Catalyst high performance lead-free primer, which Federal says provides “the most reliable, consistent ignition possible in handgun range ammunition.”

American Eagle Syntech: Ammo Test
Syntech ammo is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. mfg photo

Range Report

Testing the claim that the reduced heat and friction produced by Syntech extends barrel life would require some serious longitudinal testing to the tune of a couple thousand rounds of Syntech or more, compared to an equal number of FMJ rounds fired in identical pistols. But it’s hard to argue that clean-burning ammo producing less heat and friction isn’t beneficial.

So what can we observe from a couple of range trips?

The claim of no copper or lead fouling is fairly easy to test. After generously receiving 200 rounds of Syntech 9mm 115-grain ammo from the folks at Federal, I put 150 of those rounds through an HK P30.

The first thing I noticed was that there was less scorching at the muzzle than I usually see after 10 full mags of FMJ. Next, I wrapped a patch soaked in Hoppe’s Elite Gun Cleaner around a 9mm Boresnake and ran it through the barrel twice, to make sure I made good contact with the bore, and then wiped out the interior of the slide and the feed ramp.

American Eagle Syntech: Ammo Test
A cleaning patch after 150 rounds of Syntech (top) and after 150 rounds of FMJ ammo (bottom). author photo

Then I gave the chamber and muzzle a quick cleaning. The feed ramp and chamber, which would usually have a decent coating of gunk, came clean with one swipe. So far so good.

Then, I put 150 rounds of good ol’ American Eagle 115-grain 9mm FMJ downrange and repeated the same procedure with the cleaning patch.

You can see the results below for yourself. The patch from the FMJ session is significantly dirtier than the Syntech patch, and the muzzle and chamber were obviously fouled, later requiring a brush and some effort to clean properly. Even after just 150 rounds it was an obvious difference.

As far as performance, I didn’t experience a single malfunction with the Syntech ammo, though on several magazines the slide failed to lock back after the last round was fired. Not blaming it on the ammo. That being said, I haven’t had a malfunction with my P30 yet after nearly 2,000 rounds.

American Eagle Syntech: Ammo Test
After the author warmed up, accuracy with the Syntech ammo was indistinguishable from the FMJ ammo. This is the last rapid-fire target of the day at 12 yards. author photo

While shooting the 150 Syntech rounds, I felt like they were a bit tough to keep on target and my groups weren’t as tight as I would have liked.

I was further dismayed when my groups with the following 150 rounds of FMJs were significantly tighter—but it turned out to be all in my head.

I used the last 50 rounds of Syntech to concentrate on accuracy. As it turns out, I was just more warmed up for the FMJ session. In fact, I shot my best rapid-fire target of the day with the Syntech rounds, so when it comes down to accuracy at the range, the polymer-coated stuff is just as good as the dirty copper and lead stuff, at least in my hands.

American Eagle Syntech is currently offered in the three big pistol calibers: 9mm 115 grain ($19.95/box of 50), .40 S&W 165 grain ($26.95), and .45 ACP 230 grain ($33.95). It’s priced just a couple bucks more than comparable American Eagle FMJ ammo.

Overall, Syntech is target ammo that safer for the shooter and the firearm, cleaner for the range, and results in dramatically shorter cleaning sessions. Time will tell on its barrel life-extending properties, but it looks pretty good from here.