Federal Syntech 45: Low-Recoil Magic Bullets


Not every development in the ammunition world involves a new hollow point with barbed wire and scorpion stingers attached, though that is normally the headline. Earlier this year at SHOT Show, Federal Ammunition announced a new bullet that is pretty much the opposite of that. And for the purposes of training or gun games, it should have your attention. I finally got my hands on some this week in .45 ACP and I was not disappointed.


The new line is called Syntech Action Pistol and is the official ammunition of USPSA. But the benefits to this round aren’t just for competition shooters. Anyone who is serious about training is going to reap some benefit from this development.

Small primers, if you are into that sort of thing.

Syntech is purely for training or matches and that is the lens from which we must examine it. Fortunately, for those purposes the benefits are many. To start with, the rounds are designed as the ultimate compromise in low recoil. Part of the reason I requested test round in .45 ACP is that .45 packs the most in my opinion, of the common calibers. The recoil on a .40 S&W is sharper and snappier, but the slow push of the .45 ACP actually packs more. That is an arguable opinion, but we can safely say either is greater than 9 mm., so .45 is a good place to test.

If you have ever shot a .45 ACP all day long, you know the training value curve. For a long training session, your hands give up long before your spirit with full power rounds. A lower recoiling round lets you get more practice in. It has other benefits as well. If you only have one pistol, and it happens to be in .45 ACP, training newer shooters can be a problem. .45 is a lot of recoil for smaller statured shooters as well as children. The new Syntech solves that issue, as the recoil is extremely manageable. This is the softest shooting factory round I have ever picked up and provides a perfect bridge between 9mm and full power .45 ACP.

For those who are into competitions, the benefit is obvious: You can shoot lower recoil bullets faster, as the gun doesn’t move as far off target under recoil. It is beneficial here to talk about the way Federal decided on the bullet weight and speed. USPSA has a thing called “power factor,” something they actually check at every big event. Power factor has two metrics, minor and major, that affect how your hits on target are scored. The power factor is calculated by a simple bit of math—bullet weight times velocity divided by 1000. The magic number for minor is 126 and 165 for major. Since it only makes sense to shoot bigger bullets to the higher or “major” power factor, that was the goal Federal set out for with this round.

Close-up of projectile

The Syntech .45 has a 220-grain bullet, moving at a velocity of 775 feet per second. That calculates out to a power factor of 170.5, right at the usual hand loaders goal of 170. Why 170.5 and not 165 even? To mitigate the minor differences from one gun to another, as well as provide a cushion against chronographs that may read differently. The USPSA does an excellent job of keeping the testing tools fair, but things do still happen. And 164.9 is still scored as minor scoring, rules are rules. I saw a former national champion lose at the “chronograph stage” one time, his .40 S&W loads making a 163. Needless to say, he wasn’t a happy camper.

This is a great off the shelf option for new shooters to the sport as well. I have been at this a while, and I just started reloading my own this year. Not everyone has the money or space for a press, or maybe the time to use it. If you are starting out in competition, in the past this has left you at the mercy of niche sporting-specific ammo companies. The price was higher, and you always had to wonder about quality control. The aforementioned champion with the underpowered rounds was using ammo from a sponsor, not his own press. I shall refrain from mentioning names because I’m feeling nice. But with the Syntech, you glean the benefit of both a mass-produced item on the price, as well as Federal’s exacting standards in QC. Even if you do reload your own, this still has a side benefit. It is worth picking up a box or two and testing them in your gun, in case. For fly-away matches, most of us ship our ammo to the destination. I personally have had it not show up, and had the match director leave it out in the rain. In either case, it is handy to have an off-the-shelf option to supplement your hand-built race rounds.

Syntech left, FMJ right

The bullet design itself has benefits for both competitors and general-purpose shooters. Specific to the competition nerds, the new bullets all feature a flat face. The benefit here is a higher push factor on steel, increasing your chances of knocking it over, which it must do to be scored. I had never considered this feature from flat bullets, but it is a logical factor if you think about it.

A round-nosed bullet impacts steel with a very small surface area then begins to give up energy both to pushing the steel and collapsing into itself. If you ever have seen a hit on steel from a slow-motion capture, you know what I am talking about. A flat bullet hits with more surface area, transferring more energy to the target as it impacts. Not that I see this being a problem with .45 to start with, but it is certainly a factor in the .9 and .40 loadings. It is awesome to have a lesser recoiling round, that still offers reliable knock over power on steel.

Jacket, cut away with a razor knife

The jacketing benefits of the bullet work for everyone. If you watch my videos, you notice that I almost always use static steel targets. Mostly because I am far too lazy to pick the steel back up between training runs. Steel is a great training benefit, and I highly recommend it. But it does come at a cost. We always wear eye protection, because you do get splash-back on occasion. And eventually, if you do it enough, a piece of jacketing is going to make you bleed. From either worn out steel, a bad angle or shooting too close, you will get bit. When I taught thousands of hours per year in the Army, I would often find jacket pieces when I was shaving. Almost without fail, a sharp piece of copper is what actually hits you. With the polymer jacket, that risk is greatly reduced. Shards of polymer lack the mass to fly far, and the lead generally flattens out to disk and falls at the target.

All in all, I could not be happier with the Syntech .45. It makes my XD(M) in 45 recoil like a 9mm, and keeps my face clean and pretty like you all expect. I was skeptical about the use, but I have found my new training round of choice, and as soon as I find some in .40, my new USPSA round of choice to boot.

***Shop GunsAmerica for Syntech ammo***

About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Douglas Darby September 17, 2020, 3:07 pm

    I want to get this for my SA loaded .45 but cant find it right now I guess it will require a change to 16 lb recoil spring

  • Farm-Force June 1, 2020, 8:36 am

    I love the new Federal Syntec ammo as it is the cleanest shooting pistol ammo I have ever used and no copper fouling in the barrel either. Fun factor when i show up at the range and people as, I tell them I started shooting little lipsticks 🙂

  • Timm Heisey December 9, 2018, 8:38 pm

    Nice shooting. Good review

  • archangel October 1, 2018, 9:38 pm

    Martin B: Jim Cirillo, states that in many early gunfights with armed robbers, his round nosed .38 Special bullets would simply bounce of the skulls of the offenders, keeping them in the fight.


  • Old Outdoors Guy October 1, 2018, 6:59 pm

    @ Martin Bl – This is the second time in as many days that I have read encounters with “bad guys” and it was mentioned that the “bullets would simply bounce off their skulls”. I have been shooting for over 65 years and I have not ever heard of anyone I shoot with having anything like that occur! Of course, we don’t go hunting “bad guys” but the only animal I know that will bounce a bullet off its skull is a hog. And that is only if the shot is low angle to the front of the skull.

    I can’t seem to wrap my brain around the theory that defensive shots at perps are failing because of the slugs bouncing off their skull bones! Yeah, I can see maybe a freak accident with wind and angle of impact and maybe the perp just smeared himself with camo grease that a bullet will not penetrate more than the skin covering on a human skull. There are so many other places to hit where there is little or no skull to stop a slug from its “intended duty”, from the front you have massive cavities, the eye sockets, and the mouth opening which offer little of any solid material with which to “bounce” a slug off in another direction. So it hits a few teeth, so it takes out an eye, it still has a lot of energy stored up and will travel until that energy is exhausted or the slug hits a mass through which it cannot penetrate.

    Can someone fill this old shooter in on the basics of bullet energy vs. bone density in plain ol’ country boy terms?? I would sure like to be educated on how a .22 can drill a clean hole through a man’s skull and kill him dead but a 9mm or, in this case, a .38 Special would bounce off the bone and ricochet off in another direction??

    I see it as a freak accident which occurs when a round hits a thick portion of the skull and there is enough bone thickness/density and an angle of impact so shallow as to cause the slug to “skip” off the skull much like a stone skipping off the surface of a lake. If this were a common occurrence, why don’t more of us hear about these accidents or “otherwise happenings” when a person’s life is spared by a bullet ricocheting off their skull and leaving nothing more than a divot in the skin??

    • Skypilot October 2, 2018, 1:05 pm

      Greetings OOG,

      Back in the mid-80’s I was a LEO for the city of Pomona, Ca. We got a call of a shooting at a biker bar one night. We arrived to find a biker standing in the parking lot with one hand to his forehead and the other to the back of his head. He’d gotten into a fight with another biker and kicked the man out of the bar.
      That man left and got a .380 ACP pistol and returned. When he found the winner of the first fight standing in the parking lot, he drew and fired one round. The bullet struck the man high on the forehead, travelled under the scalp and exited the skin at the upper back of the skull. Seeing his ‘victim’ fail to drop dead, he turned tail and split.
      So, it CAN happen, though it is very rare.
      Around the same time period, we had a 15 year-old Vietnamese girl killed by her gang member ex-boyfriend with one round of .25ACP in the middle of the forehead.
      Like every shooting incident, shot placement is crucial no matter what the caliber.
      Just my two cents worth.

  • Leonard October 1, 2018, 12:42 pm

    All well and good, but I would like to see the .45 ACP in 185 gr. SWC. I am very particular about what I shoot from by Gold Cup and I can use ordinary paper targets.
    I also have a standard .45 Auto that I shoot normal loads through and enjoy regular ammo, but I might as well try this load as well for that gun.

  • Bob October 1, 2018, 11:53 am

    This is good ammo….9mm, 40S&W, & .45 ACP…..and I have gone through many rounds at the range. HOWEVER…In my opinion these TPJ/Total Polymer Jacket ammo are VERY overpriced. There should be no reason that TPJ ammo should cost more than FMJ/Full Metal Jacket due to cost of materials. TPJ ammo should be well below the average price for FMJ.
    In addition….there should be .380 ACP as well.
    Currently .380 ACP is priced higher than 9mm and this to me simply should not be.
    Ammo cost is usually the biggest expense a shooter faces and ammo mfg’s need to understand that if prices were lower (fair..?) then we would shoot more and buy more ammo.

  • Marcelino October 1, 2018, 9:05 am

    I’ve been in a range where the shooter next to my lane was shooting 9mm Federal Syntech and it smelled awful. Never got the chance to ask him about the effect it had on the inside of the barrel.

  • Richard Mellin October 1, 2018, 8:10 am

    What type of gun powder and how many grains ?

    • Marcelino October 1, 2018, 9:06 am

      220 gr.

  • Rod October 1, 2018, 7:54 am

    So the bullet manufacturers are following the lead that us hand loaders have been doing for years. Podwer coated lead…. Good job guys!

    • Sanders October 3, 2018, 11:26 am

      I was thinking that, as well. But the author makes good points about the fact that not everyone is a reloader and can enjoy the benefit of powdercoated lead. Now they can.

  • Martin B September 30, 2018, 4:33 pm

    Jim Cirillo, in his accounts of the New York City Stakeout Squad of which he was a founding member, states that in many early gunfights with armed robbers, his round nosed .38 Special bullets would simply bounce of the skulls of the offenders, keeping them in the fight. After he switched to flat nosed semi wadcutters, his bullets had a tendency to dig in and end the fight. He later switched to .45 Auto, but his favourite weapon was the .30 Carbine. Due to the high numbers of darker hued villains succumbing to the Squad’s tactics of hiding in shops until the robbers showed up and then blasting them with lead, the politicians at One Police Plaza took fright, and disbanded the Squad. But during its tenure, robbers mostly either took a holiday or robbed in other nearby cities. It was certainly an education into the value of various tactics and weaponry. I think Cirillo would have approved of this round.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend