For 2017, Hornady is offering a new line of ammunition. Unlike most lines from various ammo manufacturers, the company’s new Black line is not bullet-specific. Instead, it might be best described as platform-specific. This means instead of all of the loads in the line utilizing the same type projectile, each is optimally tailored to the most-common platform the ammo is likely to be fired from. In other words, Hornady’s Black ammunition is made up of loads ideally adapted—for common practical use—to the guns for which they’re intended. The 5.56 NATO SBR Black load is a perfect example.
In truth, this load is not really all that new. Hornady has actually been offering this same ammunition in different packaging to law enforcement for some time. The Hornady TAP SBR load was designed specifically for 10.5- to 11.5-inch SBRs. It combined two bits of engineering brilliance when assembling this load. First, the manufacturer used proprietary propellant technology. This was to make sure proper pressures were met for the operation of short-gas systems that are typically known to be finicky when matched with short barrels. Second, Hornady borrowed from the blueprint of its industry-leading Critical Duty FlexLock bullets to create a 75-grain projectile that could meet the tactical standard.
This load was intended to provide strategic law enforcement teams equipped with SBRs reliable suppressed or unsuppressed performance, with virtually no flash or propellant residue. In other words, this was to be the ideal, signature-free, tactical-SBR load. The bullet was engineered to meet the terminal-performance requirements of the FBI’s testing protocol. It averages between 15 and 17 inches of penetration in 10-percent ordnance gelatin, regardless of the intermediate barrier encountered. Through bare gelatin, steel and wallboard the bullet expands to between 1.9 and 2.3 times its original diameter while retaining 80 percent or more of its weight. Through tougher auto glass and plywood barriers, recovered bullets measure between .32 to .37 inches in diameter, and only shed about 4 percent of their weight.
I do not own an SBR. This is partly because I’ve never been motivated to pay the additional tax of $200 that would allow me to install a short-barreled upper receiver on one of my lowers. Notwithstanding legalities, the Hornady Black SBR load is perfectly suited for any SBR or AR pistol with a barrel shorter than 16 inches.
What I do have is a buddy who is a Class III FFL dealer. He brought two SBRs over to help me test the Black SBR load from Hornady. One SBR had an 8.5-inch barrel and the other a 10.5-inch tube. Both were of the selective-fire variety. We pushed 50 rounds through both rifles without issue. There were no failures of any kind, and accuracy at 100 yards with the 10.5-inch gun hovered around the 1-MOA mark. The shorter-barreled SBR was tested at 50 yards, partly because it had a shorter barrel, but mostly because it was wearing a 1X Trijicon MRO optic. Though a limited test at best, we also ran a full magazine through each SBR in the full-automatic mode. Here again, the ammunition functioned perfectly; both rifles ran as smooth as butter on a hot biscuit. And needless to say, we were both wearing wide grins by the time all the brass gravitated to Earth.
The velocity Hornady advertises for this load appears to have been verified on the range as opposed to being generated in fantasy land, as is the case with some factory ammo. Hornady lists a muzzle velocity of 2,321 fps from an 11.5-inch barrel, and 2,201 fps out of a 10.5-inch tube. We measured an average velocity of 2,183 fps from our 10.5-inch SBR—that’s only 18 fps short of Hornady’s numbers. Given these speeds with the 75-grain bullet, you’re looking at kinetic-energy levels of about 800 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle and about 500 ft.-lbs. at 100 yards.
NFA-restricted firearms are unquestionably fun to shoot; they can be the highlight of any day at the range. However, SBRs are built with a different, very specific purpose in mind. They are perfect for working in close quarters—such as during building entries—and may be one of the ideal choices for equipping a reactionary or high-risk warrant-service team. Similarly, average folks like us can appreciate their compactness for home defense purposes or during the high-speed go-cart gun battles we’re sure to experience as part of the highly anticipated apocalyptic meltdown.
Of course, none of the advantages an SBR offers are worth a nickel to a pauper unless the ammunition is absolutely 100-percent reliable, and suited to the tactical applications for which these guns are best suited. Hornady’s decision to offer its SBR TAP load in the company’s new line of ammunition seems to check both boxes with a big fat black mark.