Black Talon and Today’s Best Self-Defense Ammo

Picture shows a handgun round with shiny case and a black bullet.

Quite a few years ago, an IDPA shooter handed me a shiny silver cartridge with a black bullet and said, “Don’t lose this. It’s a Black Talon.” I had no idea what he meant, but he sure looked and sounded serious, so I nodded my head, gave my thanks and accepted the gift. Not exactly sure what to do with one round none of my guns could eat at the time, the Black Talon was soon forgotten and lost in the black hole I call a car. If you are as clueless as I was, the Black Talon is a self-defense round manufactured by Winchester in the early 90s.

Picture shows a handgun round with shiny case and a black bullet.
Even now, people still claim Black Talon were the best defensive round and search for the modern-day equivalent.

I missed a lot in the 90s. I lived in countries where citizens could not own firearms and therefore I was pretty much out of the loop when it came to American gun control and gun laws. By the time I moved back to the States and started shooting again, new stories and legends long surpassed talk of the Black Talon. I had no idea I was sitting on a collectable round that now sells for close to $100 a box.

Introduced at the 1991 SHOT Show, Winchester’s Black Talon was the ammo company’s answer for a more effective self-defense bullet demanded by the FBI following the 1986 Miami Firefight. In a shootout with two bank robbers—William Matix and Michael Platt—eight FBI agents, mainly armed with .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with .38 Special went up against Matix and Platt armed with .223 Remington rifles and shotguns. Despite being riddled with bullet holes from the FBI, Platt was able to continue firing back. In the end of the nearly five-minute shootout, five FBI agents were wounded and two—Jerry Dove and Benjamin Grogan—were killed.

The FBI agents had loaded jacketed hollow point bullets into their firearms. However, after medical examiners performed autopsies on the bank robbers’ bodies, it was discovered that one bullet stopped just less than an inch from the heart. John Hall, FBI Firearms Training Unit Director at the time called the tragedy “an ammo failure.” The aftermath encouraged the FBI to seek new guns, more effective ammunition and set precedence for the FBI’s protocol on ammunition evaluation and testing. For ammo to pass FBI protocol, it must meet a minimum of 12 inches of penetration in ballistics gelatin, but no more than 18 inches and penetrate clothing including heavy jackets, denim and leather.

Black Talon has a black bullet with six serrations at the nose seated on a shiny nickel-plated cartridge. The round is a traditional hollow point bullet, but with a then-innovative “reverse taper” (the bullet jacket is thicker at the tip than at the base) and a Lubalox—not Teflon—coating. The Black Talon, like all hollow point bullets, opens up (commonly called expansion or mushrooming) when it hits soft tissue. What sets the Black Talon apart is its six sharp pointy edges. At the time, Winchester’s Black Talon was one of, if not the most effective self-defense round you could buy.

When a hollow point bullet hits a soft target, it mushrooms out to what looks like a flower with petals. This creates a wider wound channel. The Black Talon’s petals look more like… well… talons, essentially making the wound channel even wider. The wider wound channel makes the round more likely to stop a threat—something usually referred to as “knockdown power”—when compared to other hollow point rounds. In fact, for the first two years Black Talon was on the market, it received an award from Shooting Industry magazine. Even now, people still claim Black Talon was the best defensive round and search for its modern day equivalent.

Picture shows a .40 S&W round next to a hollow point bullet already shot.
When a hollow point bullet hits a soft target, it mushrooms out to what looks like a flower with petals. Image courtesy of Oleg Volk.

Winchester pulled it in 1993 and permanently discontinued the ammo in 2000. Due to all of the controversy, the Black Talon has now become a notorious legend of almost mythical proportions.

Two high-profile mass shootings in 1993 led to the Black Talon’s demise. In December, Colin Ferguson killed six people and injured 19 more on a train in New York. Supposedly, he loaded his handgun with Black Talon. Seven months later, Gian Luigi Ferri loaded his gun with Black Talon and open fired in a law office in San Francisco, California, killing nine people. Gun grabbers jumped at the chance to push their anti-gun agenda. Time magazine described the Black Talon as a bullet “designed to unsheathe its claws once inside the victim’s body and tear it to pieces.” A surgeon in Houston said Black Talon “explode inside a person like a thousand razor blades.” The media called it exotic and “designed to do greater damage than ordinary ammunition.” Many politicians called for an outright ban on Black Talon ammunition. Even a family member of a victim from the New York shooting attempted to sue Olin Corporation for the manufacture, sale and marketing of Winchester’s Black Talon ammo.

The gun community is all too familiar with the lies and language of fear from the media and anti-gun politicians. Those knowledgeable about guns and ammunition know that a Black Talon isn’t any more deadly than other hollow points, just like an AR-15 isn’t any more deadly than a Remington Model 700. Nevertheless, Winchester still buckled to the pressure and in 2000 discontinued the Black Talon, albeit in name only.

Winchester repackaged and renamed the round throughout the years. Introduced in 2007, the Ranger T Series is still available for purchase today. The Ranger SXT is the same bullet without the Lubalox coating. Some say that SXT stands for the “same exact thing.” If you are desperate to get your hands on the original Black Talon, you can find it online, but at a jacked up price. However, not many would recommend spending the money unless you are a collector or a sucker for nostalgia. Black Talon, though innovative and groundbreaking back in the day, is nearly 25 years old. Bullet innovation, invention and design have come a long way baby and there are plenty of effective, accurate, reliable and better self-defense rounds available today.

For a round very similar to the old Black Talon, check out the Winchester Ranger series or the PDX1—though both are difficult to find. Remington will never tell you this, but those in the know say Remington’s Golden Saber has petals designed to expand the same way as Black Talon. A great go-to self-defense round in any caliber is the Speer Gold Dot. For 9mm or .45 ACP, try Hornady Critical Duty. In addition, some recommend the Federal HST. On the more expensive side, the Cor-Bon solid copper DPX in any caliber is a also good self-defense round. Buffalo Bore ammunition also loads this solid copper Barnes bullet in some of its calibers.

What is your favorite self-defense round? Tell us what it is and why in the comment section.

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Comments (37)

  1. I still have 10mm Black Talons for my Glock 20 (Gen 1) and S&W model 1006. I bought them before they were not so infamous. I only fired one magazine, but I still remember the reaction at the range as an overly large flame and extremely loud bang provoked extreme interest from the other shooters. Some were enthralled by the black bullets and wanted to examine them closely. Luckily, 10mm handguns were new and not many shooters had them. Everyone there was shooting 9mm or 38 SPL/357 magnums. I told them they could ooo and aaah at their own discretion as I collected the loose rounds. I packed up my gear and left. I’m still missing one round.

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