There was a time when the M1 .30 Carbine was affordable, with the ammunition being both plentiful and not prohibitively expensive. Why? Over 6 million carbines were made during WWII and Lake City (government) surplus ammunition was so available that it has only been in the last couple of years that stockpiles were exhausted. The DCM (Director of Civilian Marksmanship; now called "CMP" or "ODCMP" - Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship Program) sold surplus M1 Carbines (and still does, though stock is now very limited and much more expensive than in the past) and ammunition to qualified individuals at prices that most retailers could not touch; i.e., the point was to encourage and promote firearms safety and marksmanship.
Recommend this product?
A couple of years ago, the surplus Lake City .30 Carbine supplies dried up when stockpiles were finally exhausted and DCM (sorry, that's how I knew it and that's what I still call it) switched over to a commercially manufactured variety - Made in Mexico no less. This caught my attention, particularly given the fact that many people, myself included, were unfamiliar with the manufacturer. I mean, who'd have thought we'd see the day when Russian, Czechoslovakian, Korean, Brazilian, and Mexican made .30 Carbine ammo would be more prevalent (or, at least, more available and more affordable) than American-made?
Be that as it may, since I like the .30 Carbine, both for fun and, when using soft-points, as a ‘defensive' weapon, and I'm always keen to find a source for brass, I thought I'd take a look at the Aguila 110 gr. FMJ ("ball"). I mean, if it's what DCM has switched to, there must be a reason - right?
Aguila - Is It Remington?
The short version seems to be - No.
When Aguila ammunition started showing up, early rumors had it that Aguila was a subsidiary of Remington; i.e., a foreign plant owned by Remington. As Aguila began to be more visible in the U.S. market, some sources stipulated that the original plant was "set up by Remington," while others indicated that Remington engineers and equipment were consulted/used in establishing the plant. Either way, the initial confusion seems to have cleared somewhat. As stated by author David Fortier in an June 2003 article for Guns magazine entitled "Aguila's Innovative Rimfires: Check Your Dealer's Selves, Odds Are The Eagle Has Landed:"
"The plant first began production with a staff of 70 people who received their training from Remington... originally the plant produced ammunition for Remington and some in the industry still refer to it as ‘the Remington plant in Mexico.' However, ownership of the plant has changed and today this is no longer the case... Today Industrias Tecnos competes in the world market with their Aguila (Eagle) brand of ammunition..." (see http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_6_49/ai_100727289/)
According to the box, Aguila ammunition is actually manufactured by Industrias TECNOS S.A. DE C.V. in Mexico; the country's largest ammunition manufacturer which was established in 1961 near Mexico City. While the company makes a number of calibers, including shotgun, the sense I get is the .30 Carbine ammunition is made, primarily, for export to the United States; being exclusively imported into this country by Centurion Ordnance, Inc. in Texas. Just the simple fact that Aguila's .30 Carbine is non-corrosive, boxer primed, and has reloadable, brass cases, makes it, for my use, a product way ahead of the steel-cased Russian brands.
Why .30 Carbine?
At this juncture, it is important to remember what the premise was behind the .30 Carbine. In the 1952 movie Carbine Williams, Jimmy Stewart portrays David Marshall Williams, the man who came up with the "Williams short tappet principle;" what became the design basis for the M1 Carbine. While this principle isn't directly the issue, a portion of the title is. The .30 Carbine cartridge is just that, a cartridge intended for use in a carbine. Webster's defines the word "carbine" as: "a light short-barreled repeating rifle that is used as a supplementary military arm or for hunting in dense brush." Note the descriptors light and supplementary for these are the critical parameters from which much of the praise and criticism of the cartridge stems.
With the changing nature of warfare, by the mid-1930's the U.S. military had decided it needed a personal weapon for troops whose duties precluded carrying a full-sized rifle. The trouble was that the vaunted .45 pistol had its limitations; primary of which were the magazine capacity and the fact that it takes considerable practice/training for all but the naturally gifted to be able to effectively/accurately shoot a pistol beyond a few yards. In fact, as Paul Wahl states it in his 1964 book entitled Carbine Handbook: The Complete Manual and Guide To U.S. Carbine, Cal. .30, M1:
"...It was recognized that the .45 Automatic Pistol, then issued to such personnel, was at best a 50-yard weapon and that few soldiers could hit anything with it at distances beyond 25 yards..." (p. 7)
As a result, according to Ruth and Duff on page 3 of their The M1 Carbine Owner's Guide (1999), the following characteristics for a new, light rifle were issued: 1.) weight not to exceed 5 lbs., (2.) effective up to 300 yards, (3.) carried by sling or comparable device, and (4.) chambered for .30 caliber cartridge. Without going into a more detailed timeline in the M1 Carbine's development, we'll take note of Wahl's statement, again on page 7, regarding the .30 Carbine cartridge: "Essentially this cartridge, with some modifications, was approved for standardization on September 30, 1941 and designated ‘Cartridge, Cal. .30 M1.' From inception to completion, this development project took only about six months."
There you have the crux of it. The military wanted a light rifle to substitute for a pistol as a defensive weapon to supplement (not serve as) a main battle rifle; i.e., a supplemental arm which could add to the capabilities of troops who did not ordinarily utilize a full-sized rifle, but might need more capability than a pistol would provide. As Stephen Bull states in his Encyclopedia Of Military Technology And Innovation (2004): "...Later complaints that it lacked range and stopping power are perhaps unfair, because it was intended to be used only in instances where pistols and submachine guns could also be employed..." (p. 158)
What Did/Does It Do?
S.L.A. Marshall, noting that U.S. Marine criticism of the M1 Carbine (and especially the full auto, M2 version) during the Korean War was particularly virulent, provides some interesting anecdotal reporting regarding the .30 Carbine lacking power, being inaccurate, and performing sluggishly in extreme cold; a factor which can greatly influence the performance of most cartridges, but to which ‘handgun' cartridges are particularly susceptible. However, if you read these accounts carefully, there is a certain level of contradiction...
"There is practically no data bearing on the accuracy of the carbine at ranges in excess of 50 yards... Where carbine fire had proved killing effect, approximately 95 percent of the time the target was dropped at less than 50 yards... witnesses who said that they had fired at an enemy soldier under conditions where there was no doubt that the bullet had struck him in a vital part of the body, and that he had kept on coming... But the main reason my men lost confidence in the carbine was because they would put a bullet right in a [descriptor removed] chest at 25 yards range, and he wouldn't stop. This happened to me. The bullet struck home; the man simply winced and kept on coming. There were about half a dozen of my men made this same complaint; some of them swore they had fired three or four times, hit the man each time, and still not stopped him..." - (Battlefield Analysis Of Infantry Weapons: Korean War, p. 51)
Interestingly, we hear precisely the same types of anecdotal evidence about our current military cartridges/weapons (the 9mm and 5.56) coming out of Afghanistan. Here is a section from an article entitled "In Time of War: The Israeli Answer To Terrorism" by noted, long-time firearm's instructor/author Massad Ayoob:
"...Recent events in Afghanistan have shown the relative impotence of 9mm ball compared to the same style of .45 caliber ammunition that has been in historical evidence since before WWI. GIs in Afghanistan report that Al-Qaeda fighters are absorbing multiple 9mm ball rounds from the issue Berettas before going down, but tend to drop to one or two solid hits with .45 ball fired from the old 1911 style guns still in use by Delta Force.
The medium-caliber handgun cartridge such as the 9mm (.355" bullet diameter) or the .38 Special (.357" bullet diameter) requires an expanding bullet to best do its job of stopping human assault, while the .45 (.452" bullet diameter) has a long history of shutting off attacks with ball type ammo..." - see backwoodshome.com/articles2/ayoob81.html
There are further rumors that many of the troops feel that while the M4 Carbine is adequate for urban combat, convoy duties, patrols, and ranges out to roughly 300 yards, the range and knockdown power of the M14 rifle, utilizing the .308 or 7.62 round, would be preferable in the mountains. (Which, by the way, is the type of terrain much of the Korean War was fought through.) If any of this sounds familiar, you'll note my emphasis on the word carbine. In other words, even though many of our troops are now armed with the carbine version of the M16 rifle, as with troops who carried the M1 Carbine, it has not proven a true replacement for a full-sized battle rifle; even though the 5.56 cartridge is often pronounced more ballistically efficient than the .30 Carbine.
Bear in mind, in the context being discussed, both historically and as it applies to the Aguila .30 Carbine ammunition, the point of reference is full metal jacket, or ‘ball,' ammunition. ‘Ball' ammo was designed to feed reliably, penetrate, and be durable; i.e., it won't deform when stored, carried, or while being fed from a magazine or clip the way soft point and some hollow point ammunition will. ‘Ball' ammunition does not rely on a combination of velocity, bullet design, materials, and target composition to expand as intended; it simply doesn't expand. As Lt. Colonel John George states regarding the .30 carbine in his WWII memoir entitled Shots Fired In Anger (1981):
"The cartridge was powerful enough to penetrate several thicknesses of helmet, and to perforate the plates of the Japanese bullet proof vests... It was flat shooting enough to have practical accuracy at more than two hundred yards..." (p. 394)
In other words, ‘ball ammo' was made to punch holes; not expand or fragment.
According to ORDNANCE FIELD SERVICE TECHNICAL BULLETIN NO. 23-7-1, CARBINE, CAL. .30, M1, March 17, 1942:
"CARTRIDGE, CAL. .30, M1. -- a. This cartridge (Figure 22) can be identified by its characteristic shape and size, which differ considerably from all other cal. .30 cartridges. The nose of the bullet is round and the cartridge case is cylindrical throughout. The complete assembly is 1.68 inches in length and weighs approximately 195 grains.
b. The average velocity of the bullet at 53 feet from the muzzle is 1900 feet per second; The approximate maximum range 2000 yards; and the maximum chamber pressure 40,000 pounds per square inch.
c. The limit of accuracy at 100 yards is a mean radius of 1.5 inches and at 400 yards, 4 inches." (p. 59)
As Wahl stipulates: "For want of a better means, cartridges are commonly compared on the basis of their exterior ballistics; of course, there are numerous factors (mostly variable) involved in killing power besides bullet weight, velocity, and energy, for which ballistics tables give figures. However, if you consult such data, you will find that the .30 Carbine is more nearly comparable in ballistic performance to the .357 Magnum, a rather potent handgun cartridge, than to any other caliber..." (p. 77)
In a nutshell, what this means is that the .30 Carbine was and is, essentially, comparable in power/performance to a handgun cartridge, fired from a small, light rifle; the greater sight radius of the carbine providing troops a greater potential for accuracy than with a standard sidearm at moderate ranges. ‘Gun-writer' Mike Venturino came to this same conclusion in an article entitled "The U.S. .30 Carbine" appearing in the December 2008 issue of Handloader (see review link below): "...Therefore in practical effect, if not on purpose, the U.S. government/Winchester collaboration resulted in a .30-caliber magnum handgun cartridge that happened to initially be chambered in a carbine..." (p. 49)
That being the case, why would we tout the performance of handgun cartridges such as the 9mm, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum, with all the ‘tweaking' and utilization of hollowpoint and/or soft point bullets, then condemn the .30 Carbine as ineffective based on the ball ammunition used by the military; especially when the only ‘adjustment' the cartridge requires is a change of bullet type, not even a change in powder charge or bullet weight? (If you don't believe my experience, which jibes nicely with Venturino's, you'll note that Remington lists both their 110 gr. Metal Case [FMJ - ball] and their 110 JSP factory ammunition with exactly the same specs.) In addition, why would (or should) we expect a ‘handgun' cartridge to perform at ranges typically reserved for rifle ballistics?
Think of it this way... If you practice with the more economical 110 grain .30 Carbine ball ammunition, the very type of ammunition being reviewed, but use 110 grain jacketed soft points (JSP) for ‘serious' work (e.g., self-defense or hunting), you are using the rough equivalent of .357 Magnum hollow/soft points; with the range (say 100 - 125 yards maximum) advantages a carbine provides over a handgun. While this will never be the sheer brute force of .308 or .30-06, it was never intended to be and you don't confront the same penetration issues; a significant factor if thinking in terms of self-defense. Remember, civilians are not limited by the same prohibitions which often inhibit the military.
Unfortunately, .30 Carbine JSP ammunition is a topic for a different review...
A Standard For Evaluation?
In .30 Carbine, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) standards call for a velocity of 1,965 f.p.s. at 15 feet from the muzzle of a 20" barrel with a 110 grain bullet. The trouble is that this is +/- 90 f.p.s.; giving a theoretical range of 1,875 - 2,055 f.p.s. That's a pretty significant variation. While it may be useful in addressing differences between manufacturers and does, in fact, encompass the range of listed velocities from several modern producers, I certainly wouldn't like to see that much inconsistency within a box of ammo from a single company.
Exacerbating the problem with SAAMI standards is the fact that a 20" test barrel was used. Problem: M1 Carbines, the weapon the cartridge was designed for, have an 18" barrel. According to SAAMI, there is an approximate change in velocity of 5 f.p.s. for every 1" change in barrel length with cartridges having a muzzle velocity of up to 2,000 f.p.s. That means, given the 2" difference between test barrel and an actual M1 Carbine barrel, a reduction of about 10 f.p.s.; giving an average velocity of 1,955 f.p.s. with a range of 1,865 - 2,045. Interestingly, this 1,955 f.p.s. average precisely matches Venturino's claimed chronographed results with the Lake City military surplus loads he used to establish a standard for evaluating his handloads in the above cited article (p. 54).
Original, military specifications almost match this arithmetic; with the average velocity of the bullet expected to be 1,900 feet per second at fifty-three feet from the muzzle. Though pretty much the same as SAAMI's extrapolated 1,955 f.p.s. at 15 feet; there's a plus or minus factor inherent to such a correlation. However, I feel pretty comfortable in accepting the standard average velocity to be 1,955 f.p.s. for ball ammunition once used by the military; making it a relevant and useful standard average for our testing purposes.
An acceptable, standard range is much more problematic. If we were to stick with SAAMI's plus/minus of 90 f.p.s., we'd end up with a range of 1,865 - 2,045 f.p.s. While that may sound reasonable, in terms of both reliable weapons function and potential accuracy, that's a pretty extreme spread from a single manufacturer. In this case, we might be better off looking toward the standard deviation (SD); i.e., how close each shot in a string is to the ‘average' velocity. Stated simply, the lower the standard deviation, the ‘better' or more consistent the ammunition. While I may strive for and expect a relatively low standard deviation from my handloads, I simply don't have that much faith in factory ammo; particularly ‘budget' (non-match) lines. Therefore, an SD between 10 and 20 is what I hope for in factory loads; with anything below 10 making me ecstatic as that is about as good as it's gonna get in production ammunition.
Factory Specs for Aguila?
It has been a bit problematic for me when trying to find factory specs for Aguila .30 Carbine. The Centurion Ordnance, Inc. website has been "under construction while undergoing updates" for awhile. I tried the Spanish version of the Aguila website, but the ‘details' page is unavailable in the translated incarnation. I have yet to see a hardcopy, paper catalog (though I've been promised a look should a local shop eventually get one of their own).
I have found a couple of sources which list it as follows:
110 gr. FMJ; 1,990 f.p.s.
That places it within the industry specifications just noted; which is what most online retailers state - i.e., "within SAAMI and military specifications." Fine. Terrific. Swell. But, what does it really do?
I set up a Chrony F1 (chronograph) and measured a distance 15 feet from the muzzle in accordance with SAAMI; a distance sufficient to mitigate the muzzle blast's potential to influence the chronograph results in this caliber. As quality GI model carbines are getting scarce (not to mention hideously expensive), all testing was done offhand with an IAI M888 Carbine. (For those not familiar with this model, it is an M1 Carbine made to GI specifications. If you got a good one, you're a happy camper. If not, well... You can read up on them here - m1carbinesinc.com/carbine_iai.html) The elevation was 5,500 ft., on a clear day with temperatures hovering right at 70 degrees F and relative humidity between 35% and 40%.
Bearing in mind that I am not a ‘gun writer' with access to manufacturer's in terms of obtaining ‘donated' ammunition for testing, the sample size is, of necessity, a bit small. Be that as it may, 10 rounds from two different boxes/lots of Aguila .30 Carbine 110 FMJ to establish the following results:
Mean Velocity = 1,954.86 f.p.s.
High = 1,995 f.p.s.; Low = 1,927 f.p.s. - ES (Extreme Spread) = 68 f.p.s.
Standard Deviation (SD) = 29.44
These results put the Aguila DEAD ON the anticipated average standard velocity as adapted from SAAMI specs, as well as the standard military. As I said, I hope for an SD between 10 and 20 in a factory load. The SD of 29.44 is right on the edge of acceptability, but not egregious when considering that this is ‘value' or ‘budget' ammunition.
I had no Failures to Feed (FTF) or Failures to Eject (FTE). However...
On the day of testing, the Sellier & Bellot was the only .30 Carbine ammo which consistently (read that always) ejected the cases to the right and rear (approximately 5 - 6 ft. at 5 o'clock) in a very nice, small group. The PMC .30 Carbine's had a very annoying tendency to eject straight up, with the occasional flare of unburned powder, and then come straight back down to hit the carbine's handguard. The Aguila sorta/kinda ended up ‘in between.' While it would eject to the side, it did have a tendency to eject slightly forward (about 2:30) occasionally; usually in conjunction with a flash of unburnt powder much like the PMC. Given the high velocity measured at 1,995 f.p.s. for the Aguila, that would be fairly consistent to what I attributed the problem with the PMC ‘straight-up' ejections; i.e., to the cases simply coming out too fast for the ejector to properly handle.
As noted in my other review of .30 Carbine ammunition, given the above discourse on the purpose of the carbine, I did not feel any particular pressure to ‘shoot for distance.' It's probably a good thing in that I do not currently have access to an ‘official' range. I won't go into the reasons; suffice to say I've been ‘invited,' but there are ‘issues' I find run somewhat against the grain of my sense of aesthetic. With BLM cracking down as regards shooting on ‘their' land (don't get me started on that), I'm forced to find my shooting opportunities on Forest Service lands. While our USFS guys and gals in the region are pretty good eggs about this kind of stuff, it is a bit difficult to find an open stretch of country that isn't shooting toward a road, in the direction of ‘human activity,' isn't congested with trees/bushes/limbs, and is over a few yards in length.
I did manage to pace off a good 60 yard range (call it an honest 50 yard-plus distance), with a slight downhill slant. I had no rest, manufactured or impromptu; so a human silhouette ("B-27") target was attached to the remainder of a deadfall trunk. All rounds expended were grouped sufficiently to stay quite well inside the "9" ring shooting off hand, rapid fire, without a sling. Just to see what would I happen, I loaded a magazine with an ad hoc mix of various brands of .30 Carbine. While there were no FTF or FTE, you could detect a difference; being able to tell which brand had just been in the chamber by the ejection, smoke (Aguila does seem to have an ‘unique' smell), flash, etc.
In short, the Aguila functions acceptably and has plenty reasonable, practical accuracy.
An Issue For Reloaders?
For autoloading firearms, I do around 5 or 6 loads and then deposit said case in the brass bucket. To be honest, I haven't loaded enough of the Aguila brass to speak to potential longevity. However, I've noticed that the ones I have reloaded seem to be a bit more ‘chewed up' by the extractor than other brass; but not horribly or universally so. I suspect that those I'm perceiving as a bit more ‘chewed' are those which measured a bit ‘hot' through the chronograph.
In the end, I'd say the brass is at least as good as Remington and probably on par with PMC; though neither would be quite the equal of Winchester. The primer pockets are not anywhere near as ‘tight' as the Sellier & Bellot. In other words, it's good, workable brass.
I've seen more and more Aguila ammunition cropping up locally; but, it is rare for the .30 Carbine to be sitting on the shelf. Frankly, .30 Carbine has become increasingly difficult to obtain. Even DCM (ODCMP/CMP) currently lists the Aguila as "Sold Out as of 9-22-09" and notes a 6 - 12 month wait for orders that were already "in house" at that time. Depending on the source, I've seen a 50 round box go for as little as $19 and as high as $28. There are places which have advertised bulk quantities, at various sticker shock prices; but, every one I've clicked on has been "out of stock."
If pushed to it, I'd have to say that Aguila would not be my first choice in .30 Carbine ammo. On the flip side, neither would it be my last choice. In point of fact, if given a choice and assuming the price was ‘equal,' I'd choose it over the PMC. Aguila vs. Remington? That'd be a bit of a toss-up; but, all things being ‘equal,' I'd probably give the nod to the Aguila. I'd choose the PMC - any time - over the Russian, steel cased brands. But, I'd choose either the Winchester or Sellier & Bellot over all of the above.
Get the idea?
Gone are the days when one can be overly ‘picky' as regards .30 Carbine ammunition. Also gone are the days when .30 Carbine was an ‘affordable' caliber to shoot. (Jacketed Soft Point factory loads in .30 Carbine are now being flogged for at or above $1 a round!!! Were you looking for an incentive to take up reloading?) As a result, the emphasis can't always be on "What's the best?" in this caliber. "Good enough" must be seen as sufficient.
Given the context, the Aguila .30 Carbine, 110 gr. FMJ is just that - good enough.
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