In 1991, Remington introduced the Golden Saber bullet. It was purpose-built to meet Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requirements and has sort of become the standard with regard to defensive handgun ammunition. It was later modified to a bonded bullet and, more recently, to perform better from short barrels. In 2014, Remington gave the Golden Saber a black belt, and, as with martial arts, that belt might represent the highest achievable level of accomplishment.
Firearms enthusiasts revere names such as Mauser, Colt, Kalashnikov and Browning. However, without bullets, the iconic guns these men created would be nothing but ill-formed clubs. A Golden Saber bullet fired from a Glock serves the same purpose as the round ball fired from a Colt Dragoon. However, few recognize that since 1848 the bullet has evolved as much as the handgun. This is why you’ve probably never heard the names Schluckebier, Sachse, Imhoff or Burczynski. Bullet engineers never get any credit, even though creating a tool the size of an M&M that’s capable of doing work while traveling at 700 mph is an engineering marvel.
Origin of the Golden Saber
The story of the Remington Golden Saber actually starts at Winchester in 1990. It was there that bullet engineer Dave Schluckebier conceived of what might be the most notorious bullet of all time, the Winchester Black Talon. Schluckebier left Winchester to work for Remington before the Talon was introduced. Upon his arrival, Remington immediately tasked him to build a premium defensive handgun bullet.
Like with the Talon, Schluckebier started with a reverse jacket, meaning that the jacket was drawn from the base forward, and the core was inserted from the nose of the bullet. However, he went a different direction with the jacket material. He selected cartridge brass (70 percent copper and 30 percent zinc) because it is stiffer than gilding metal, the commonly used bullet jacket, and it also has a higher yield and tensile strength.
Then, instead of using wax, water or bare gelatin for terminal performance testing, Schluckebier used heavily clothed gelatin. Remington and Schluckebier wanted to target the FBI, which specified cloth-covered gelatin testing when evaluating service handgun ammo. It knew that if its bullet met FBI standards, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies would consider it for service. If that happened, civilian shooters would follow suit.
In addition to the brass jacket, there were two other unique and patentable features. The Golden Saber had what Remington called a driving band, which was bore diameter, at the rear of the bullet. This raised section of the jacket reduced the bearing surface, allowed for precise bullet-to-bore alignment and permitted higher velocities with less pressure. The bullet also had spiral nose cuts and pre-stressed areas of the jacket at the hollow point to help the bullet deform widely and reliably. However, unlike with conventional hollowpoints where the core is the primary element of expansion, these spiral nose cuts made the jacket expand wider than the core. It also translated to more weight retention and deeper penetration.
In testing almost every Golden Saber load available, I’ve found them all to offer reliable expansion, even when fired through a varied selection of barriers. If there’s one complaint, it’s that sometimes the core can separate from the jacket, yet this generally only occurs when the most rigid barriers are encountered.
The Benefits of Bonding
Enter another smart guy, bullet engineer Nick Sachse. Sachse came to work at Remington in 1992. One of his first assignments was to improve the Golden Saber, a bullet many considered almost perfect. His response was to bond the brass jacket to the lead or lead-alloy core. At that time, bonding bullets was not as common as it is today, and Remington found it tricky, particularly with regard to finding a flux — or glue, if you will — that would work.
Sachse discovered that, with bonding, a pure-lead core was required to prevent voids inside the bullet. He also had to reengineer how the driving band was formed. In the end, bonding proved to be the answer to the unwanted but also rare core-and-jacket separation. Testing I’ve conducted with bonded Golden Sabers has confirmed their effectiveness at defeating barriers such as sheet steel and even the bear of all barriers, auto glass.
The bonded Golden Saber became available in 1998, but Remington restricted its sale to law enforcement. Some consumers, and I’m one of them, feel that this restriction was unwarranted and discriminatory. However, Remington had its reasons, and, from a practical standpoint, the standard Golden Saber will arm you almost as well but for less money. Bonding bullets is not cheap.
A Nonbonded Alternative
With modern projectiles, it’s common for the jacket to be configured to sort of lock the core inside the jacket. This lock is often in the form of a crimping groove that impresses a thin section of jacket into the core. This lock helps to hold the core in place as the bullet deforms. Bullets designed in this way are better at core retention, but it’s not a foolproof system.
Remington promoted Sachse to a managerial position and once again asked him to improve the Golden Saber. He turned to another engineer, Jason Imhoff, who astutely sought out the expertise of handgun bullet guru Tom Burczynski. All real bullet geeks know of Burczynski; he has given us the Quick-Shok, Eldorado Starfire, Hydra-Shok and Expanding Full Metal Jacket (EFMJ) bullets.
Burczynski and Imhoff decided to try to achieve bonded-bullet performance without bonding. If this could be done, it would greatly reduce bullet cost. Their answer was to fit a belt around the bullet, just forward of its bearing surface or driving band. This would work similarly to a weight-lifter’s belt, which keeps things from busting when extreme stress is applied. On the bullet, this belt prohibits expansion past the belt and holds the core in place. Ultimately, they settled on a black, nickel-plated belt made of the same cartridge brass as the Golden Saber’s jacket, hence the name Black Belt.
Remington is just now releasing 9mm Black Belt loads to law enforcement, but by early 2015, Black Belts in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP will be available for average guys like you and me. They’ll sell for about the same price as the standard Golden Sabers.
Testing the Black Belt
Like the Golden Saber, the Black Belt was engineered to meet FBI requirements. When the FBI tests duty ammunition, it exposes the loads to an overly detailed and somewhat bizarrely scored assessment. Half the score is based on obtaining penetration between 12 and 18 inches, 33 percent on expansion and weight retention, and the final 17 percent by how many shots fail to penetrate at least 12 inches.
Remington provided me with 300 rounds of 124-grain 9mm +P Black Belt ammo for testing. Instead of trying to duplicate the FBI’s analytical evaluation, I opted for more practical testing by subjecting the ammo to tests I felt average gun owners could relate to. After all, it could be argued that FBI requirements evaluate barrier penetration more than bad-guy stopping ability.
First, I established average accuracy and velocity from 3½- and 4.6-inch-barreled handguns. Next, I fired the load into bare gelatin with those same handguns. Then, using the shorter-barreled handgun — a new Remington R51 — I shot into gelatin covered with a section of pork ribs and a cotton T-shirt in order to simulate a summer shooting. A winter shooting was replicated by shooting into a gel block covered with pork ribs, a cotton T-shirt and a heavily insulated canvas coat. In these tests, penetration ranged from 13 to 15 inches, expansion was between .52 and .58 inch, and retained weight was between 122 to 124 grains. The addition of the clothing and ribs had no measureable impact on terminal performance.
If you have to shoot a real person, he’ll have ribs on both sides of his body. To simulate this, I created an imaginary bad guy by placing an 8-inch gel block between two rib sections. The first shot penetrated the test sample and 3 inches into another gel block. (The bullet centered a rib when exiting the first gel block.) The second shot penetrated the fake felon and 8 additional inches. (That bullet passed between rib bones after exiting the first gel block.)
Finally, I dressed up my bad guy with a T-shirt and a heavily insulated coat. Three shots were fired, and in every case the bullet penetrated the bogus villain and came to rest against the winter coat. For these three shots, the retained weight averaged 120.63 grains, and average expansion was .53 inch, or 1.49 times original bullet diameter.
Considering the accuracy delivered, the absence of malfunctions while firing 300 rounds from duty and compact-size handguns, and the terminal performance results obtained with a compact handgun, what more could you ask from a 9mm defensive handgun bullet? A felonious fiend taking a Black Belt center mass best hope his criminal accomplice is a trauma surgeon or have a genie in a bottle with at least one wish left because a Band-Aid is not going to solve his problem.
Thanks to savvy bullet engineers, the original Golden Saber bullet is a fine defensive handgun load. If defeating barriers is a priority, the bonded version is even better. The latest incarnation of the Golden Saber, the Black Belt, continues this evolution and does what the others will do more affordably and, it appears, even better. During FBI testing, the Black Belt outscored the bonded Golden Saber by 20 percent.
I know what I’m feeding my nines. What’s in your magazine?