Black Talon is a type of ammunition that was introduced by Winchester Ammunition in 1991 primarily for law enforcement and self-defense. This hollow-point ammunition became known for its bullet's unique construction and sharp petal shape after expansion following impact with tissue or other wet media. Black Talon ammunition was produced in the following calibers: 9mm Luger, 10mm Auto, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .308 Winchester, .338 Winchester Magnum, and .30-06 Springfield.
The Black Talon handgun bullet is a jacketed hollow-point bullet with perforations designed to expose sharp edges upon expansion. The bullet included a Lubalox coating, a proprietary oxide process. Though widely misreported to be Teflon, molybdenum disulfide, or wax, the ammo has an unusual black appearance compared to other copper-jacketed or lead bullets. The black appearance was due to the oxidized copper jacket. This Lubalox coating was to protect the barrel rifling, and did not give the bullet armor-piercing capabilities. This coating is still widely used on many of Winchester's rifle bullets today.
The bullet was designed in 1991 under the supervision of Alan Corzine, who at that time was VP of research and development for Winchester. The round quickly developed a reputation as a very effective expanding bullet. The alleged armor-piercing notion is urban legend, and was a result of media hyperbole—rather than test or field data from actual shootings considering the short time it was on the market. Col Leonard J. Supenski of the Baltimore County police department said "It has the stopping power that police officers need and it is less likely to ricochet or go through the bad guy," something that could be said of any reliably expanding hollow-point. Despite its unique design, the Black Talon was found to be comparable in performance to conventional hollow-points. Black Talon pistol loads are not loaded to higher working pressures or higher velocities "+P" loadings for like and different calibers.
The first shooting which brought critical media attention to Black Talon was by Gian Luigi Ferri, who used Black Talon and other ammunition to shoot 15 people at a San Francisco law office in 1993; nine of whom died (the 101 California Street shootings). Dr. Boyd Stevens, the San Francisco Medical Examiner who performed the autopsies, later reported at the 1994 International Wound Ballistics Association's conference in Sacramento that the wound trauma caused by Black Talons was unremarkable and that all victims died due to penetration of a vital structure.
The rifle version did not share the handgun bullet's barbed petal design and was basically a solid copper hollow-point with a hollowed out rear shank containing a lead core in a steel liner to prevent jacket rupture thus maintaining necessary penetration in tough game. This ammunition line was renamed Fail Safe.
The ammunition was decried by those opposed to civilian ownership of handguns. Some medical personnel were concerned that the sharp barb like tips could potentially cause tears in the surgical gloves and hands of the medical workers, exposing them to greater risk of infection, however there are no documented reports of this actually happening. Most jacketed bullet designs that expand expose sharp edges or corners, yet this had not been raised as an issue by any medical group previously.[original research?]
The ammunition was used by the gunman of the 1993 Long Island Railroad mass murder for his Ruger P-89 9mm pistol. In 1996 a lawsuit was subsequently filed by one of the victim's family members (McCarthy v. Sturm, Ruger and Co., Inc., 916 F.Supp. 366 (S.D.N.Y., 1996)) claiming that Olin Corp. should be liable for the shooting spree based on the design, manufacture, marketing, and sale of Black Talon ammunition. The claims against Olin were dismissed because it was held that the bullets were not defectively designed.
In 1993 Winchester removed the ammunition from public sale, but at no time was Black Talon ammunition uniformly prohibited by law. Winchester's Ranger SXT line of ammunition is of the same basic design.
Winchester discontinued the Black Talon line completely in 2000. The “Ranger SXT” ammunition sold later by Winchester is very similar to the Black Talon though without the black Lubalox coating on the bullet. Among shooters, a running joke is that SXT stands for “Same eXact Thing", though the official branding is “Supreme eXpansion Technology”. However, there are differences in the anatomy of the bullets which become apparent when carefully examined side by side. The hollow point cavity dimensions and angles of the meplat were altered to enhance reliability of expansion, though the basic "reverse taper" design pioneered by the Black Talon was retained. This "reverse taper" refers to the bullet's jacket being thicker at the tip than toward the base, enhancing rigidity which allows the sharp petals to remain largely perpendicular to the wound path, unlike traditional designs where the expanding jacket petals would peel back almost completely behind the expanded lead mushroom. This difference is obvious after firing into ballistic gelatin. In 2007 Winchester updated their Ranger SXT line and renamed it Ranger T-Series. Besides further dimensional changes to the hollow point for reliable expansion, the distinctive perpendicular petals were made longer yet more rounded at the tips to retain stiffness.
In 2009 Winchester-Olin released a new hollow point bullet in its Supreme Elite line of handgun ammunition called the Bonded PDX1. It is similar to the Ranger SXT series and, therefore, the older Black Talon line in its structure, and is available in several calibers and loadings. The most obvious difference from the SXT is that the bonded design, meant to maintain structural integrity through difficult intermediate barriers like auto-glass, largely prevents the sharp petals from peeling away from the lead core and fully protruding into the wound track. The .40 S&W PDX1 cartridge is the primary service ammunition of the FBI. The PDX1 series is also available for purchase by civilian shooters.
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- A Tax Debate Focuses on Destruction Science by Ronald Smothers, The New York Times, November 7, 1993
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- Hex Bullet Hi-Jinx: Taurus' capable copper bullet by Charles E. Petty, American Handgunner, March 10, 2003.
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- "These are bullets that are strictly used to maim and kill", "IN PERSON; On the Other Side of the Divide", by Debbie Galant, The New York Times, March 17, 1996.
- "Cleverness - and luck", Evan Thomas and Russell Watson, Newsweek, May 1, 1995.
- "[N]o injuries have been reported to medical professionals removing the bullets" in "Police use new brand of bullets Surgeon says removal may endanger doctors" by Dan R. Barber, The Dallas Morning News, July 6, 1993.
- McCarthy v. Sturm, Ruger and Co., Inc., 916 F.Supp. 366 (S.D.N.Y., 1996).
- "Winchester to Limit Sales of Controversial Bullet", by Pierre Thomas, Washington Post, November 23, 1993.
- "Supreme Expansion Technology".