Ian Rants About Dumb Ammo Purchasing Decisions

Seriously guys, buying trash surplus ammo is false economy. Do the research, don’t get tempted by a 2c/round savings, and get ammunition that will actually run. You will have a way better time shooting, and your guns will thank you for it.


  1. I understand exactly what you mean, but the surplus ammo talk could go on for quite a while. It is not only machine guns that people would buy surplus ammo for. There are surplus bolt actions and other semi-auto actions as well.

    Not withstanding the current ammo shortages and price increases, WHEN surplus was at a proper savings compared to current commercial ammo, many people would take the chance. BUT, I have learned you need to pay particular attention to makers and known issues. I see some really stupidly expensive prices now on what used to be considered garbage. You hit a few examples like POF .303 and Turkish 8mm.

    I have found that there are some batches of British produced .303 from WWII that actually run a semi auto Bren gun, but will have 80% neck splits. I run it, because it was purchased years ago, at very reasonable prices. I clean the weapon based on corrosive ammo practices, which is a pain. This is due mainly to the fact the gun requires the thicker cases of military brass to avoid case separations, and that is with a gun that has proper headspace! It would probably be more appropriate for a bolt action, and I will keep some for that purpose as well.

    At this point, any surplus ammo produced prior to 1965 should probably be considered “collectable”, but when one has such a quantity of ammo, it is hard to resist the urge to try it out…

    The best surplus today seems to be any that starts around 1970-1973 and anything newer. I LOVE HXP 73 and newer, but the .303 is running dry. Plenty of 30.06 available. The Greeks, and others, appear to have stored it properly.

    Good luck. Stay safe! Always, safety glasses when shooting!

    • As you write towards the end: storage is key. I have fired 9×19 loaded before WW1 in 1914 according to the packaging in a Parabellum pistol and it worked just fine. So did the rest of the box fired by others. If ammunition is stored dry and at moderate temperatures without extreme highs and lows it will last a very long time. What detoriates the powders and primers is changing temperatures with a big delta, which makes the chemical compunds “work” and dissolve. At constant moderate temperature the compunds stay as they are. Presuming that the ammunition was of properly good quality in the first place.

      • The problem you run into with surplus is that you don’t know how it was really stored. I am in the process of researching a book on the K98k sniping rifles. On the mater of ammo S&B and PPU have provided me with information that their people DID tamper and sabotage not only rifle, but pistole ammo. So any old WW2 time frame should be very much in doubt. You must also really consider the state of the German industrial base at that time. Regular ammo quality was going down because of poor quality primers and powder.

        To a lesser extent the Brits had a problem with their powders that lead to short shelf life. Most of that was used during the war years, but some early 40’s used to show up. It would burn at very high temps and burn out the barrel quickly.
        We really do not know how surplus was stored. As PPU told me DO NOT shoot old WW2 ammo.

    • Cordite leaded. 303 will split necks.

      The cases were necked after they were loaded with cordite,

      Anealing or stress relieving of the neck and shoulder is therefore impossible.

      • Excellent explanation. Thank you. Amazed the stuff still fires 100%. We are talking ammo that is nearly 78 years old.

      • I was meaning more the cordite itself. There was an early problem that was never fully explained. I tend to believe that it was somewhat like a problem we had with a small lot of ball ’06. It was loaded with a batch of powder that was out of spec.

        The 303 that I know of never over pressured, just burned to hot. This was in the early years of the war and most was used then. How any survived to make in into the surplus market is a mystery.

        • I suspect that, like today, guys learned to watch out for the wrong manufacturer codes on ammo crates and leave the bad stuff on the dock. H.W. McBride touches on problems with certain British arsenals in his book. Invariably, some ambitious S-4 makes it his Lean Sigma project to redistribute the crap ammo off to some unsuspecting colony, where they hate it too, and warehouse it for 70 years because they can’t afford to just scrap it. Sound plausible?

          • Very plausible, in fact I think every service faced this to some extent. We also have to consider that in the ramp up to produce as much ammo as possible some ” questionable ” companies were used. I think if you can find the head stamp for several years you stand a better chance of getting safe ammo. I am very much against buying loose unboxed ammo. You have no way of knowing lot numbers, when or where it was manufactured. totally unsafe.

        • I am looking at 1943 date. I don’t really consider that early war…? Would you?

          Anyway, due to the now obsolete and nearly extinct .303, we tend to try whatever we can get our hands on here in the US. For some reason, the semi auto Brens here (maybe the only place?) display a more finicky disposition over a standard Full Auto Bren gun. The majority of us can not afford a full auto Bren or have access to one. So unless the full auto Brens will work with current production, commercial loads, I find it a requirement to run the military, heavier brassed case ammo.

  2. That Turkish 7.92 ran hot and cold. Being young and dumb, I ran a ton of it through my K98k and several Turkish Mausers, and some of the groups were fantastic, some left me with impression I was getting around 3500fps from some rounds. It was an exciting time.

  3. Unfortunately you don’t know how the surplus was stored. I learned about surplus ammo on some WW2 Canadian 45 ACP that a friend tried to shoot in a S&W 1917. The Smith came apart. In the real world anything from before the early 70’s should not be fired.The stabaliser in the powder degrades with time and high heat. So you really can be taking your life and body into and very dangerous arena by shooting old unknown ammo.

    • Even young military surplus can have corrosive primers. e.g. most russian (and related like from China, Ukraine etc) ammo, because corrosive primers are more reliable in cold weather and not all countries start crying about lead in primers.

      • Lead primers are typically non corrosive. Only old chlorate containing compositions (which may contain lead or not) are corrosive.

      • Lead styphnate (sensitized with tetrazine) is none corrosive and has excellent storage properties.

        The corrosive primers are generally sodium chlorate and antimony sulfide, with or without traces of mercury fulminate as a sensitizer.

        They give a residue that includes chloride, and can give persistent rusting, especially if the barrel is already pitted or has metal fouling.

        Anything with mercury fulminate in it needed pure copper or nickel plated primer cups, as it reacted with the zinc in brass

        There have been stable, non corrosive, non lead primer compounds suggested, for example elemental boron as the field, iron oxide as the oxidizer and tetrazine as sensitizer.

        I’m not aware of any large scale use of these (doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened- just I’m not aware if it has)

  4. Not surplus ammo but maybe somebody could reply.Back in Canada T have a remington 591 rifle and over 500 rounds of remington 5mm magnum ammo. I bought the cartriges in 1982 so they are at least 39 years old. They were well stored and are bright and uncorrouded. Do I have any liability as long as I tell a buyer the age of the ammo when I sell the rifle or should I just sell the cartriges on the collectors market

  5. I bought some soviet 7.62X54R made in 1939. I always wondered how it made it through WWII without being used. My guess is that the Finns captured it and stored it. Any way, it was fantastic ammo. Very accurate and 99.9% fired.

    I also bought a bunch of FN made 30-06 dated 1957. I bought it because it was dirt cheap. It is the most accurate 30-06 that I have ever fired.

    I mention this because not all old or surplus ammunition is bad. You have to know what to look for and try to get a sample to test before buying a large lot of it.

    I also bought some Czech made 7.62X25 that would go off about half the time. Fortunately the retailer paid to ship it back and refunded my money.

    • We had a similar problem with some Czech-made ammo dated 1949 and some ammo with Stars of David, all 7.92 Mauser. The ammo was 70 years old by then! Half of it refused to fire. Initially we blamed miss-fires on a short firing pin, but later concluded that the problem rested with the 70 year old ammo.
      On a similar note: during 1945, Royal Canadian Artillery office George Blackburn noted that half the Czech-made artillery shells fired at him – by Germans – were duds. George blamed this miserable malfunction rate on brave Czech munitions workers sabotaging war production.

      • Saboatge was totally a thing among the german occupied labour force. e.g. french workers are known to have mixed subpar concrete for the atlantic fortofications, which can now be seen in the crumbling of the bunkers today.

  6. Excellent advice: in the 1920s the Paraguayans bought their Model 1927 bolt rifles from Oviedo in Spain. The model was an exact duplicate of an earlier made German Mauser. In the Chaco War (1928-1935), these Model 1927s blew up with enough regularity that the entire model was thought to be defective because of something Oviedo had done. The Paraguayan troops grabbed the enemy’s Vz24s and Bolivian M1908s at every opportunity, leaving their M1927s with the enemy dead. Turns out, post-war trials traced the blown guns to – you guessed it, crappy Belgian surplus 8 x 57 ammo bought by Paraguay because – you guessed it – it was cheap! In fact, the trials blew up M1927s as well as state of the art German-built Argentinian and Bolivian Mausers as well. So bad ammo is an old story and is 100% avoidable!

  7. A hidden problem with surplus ammo is it becomes more dangerous the longer you store it.
    Old powder off gasses and the nitric acid weakens the brass.
    Shelf life for Double based is 20 years.
    Shelf life for Single based is 45 years.
    After that the stabilizers are pretty well used up.
    You shouldn’t load more than one round at a time in a gun you don’t mind blowing up, while wearing eye protection. You should inspect the primer and case to make sure the primer isn’t flattened out and the case isn’t split.

  8. The problem with East Bloc ammo isn’t the steel case, it’s the (copper washed) steel jacketed bullets that destroy your barrel.

    • “Destroy” your barrel is a tremendous exaggeration. Wear your barrel out at a slightly increased rate is much more accurate. 8,000 vs 10,000 rounds isn’t much of a difference for all but the most dedicated of competitive shooters, I’d think.

  9. In 1889 Germany for its entire military ammunition switched to steel jackets, first cupronickel clad, but nearly all gilding clad. This includes most lots of 7.62 NATO. Cladding is done in a rolling mill and is very different from washing.
    Never heard that German ammunition would be barrel destroying.
    People overlook that jacket steel is very different from barrel steel, roughly comparable to the steel used for automobile bodies.
    I am not aware of any published study comparing the effect of gilding jackets and cupronickel jackets versus gilding clad steel jackets on rifle (not machine gun) barrels. If any body knows a study, I would love to hear about it.

  10. There are no “bad” or “good” surpluses.
    Beforehand, without firing, you can roughly understand what to expect if the manufacturer, the type of ammunition and the year of manufacture are known.

    You can use the express method by disassembling the cartridge and burning the powder track for a while.

    You can pour the gunpowder into your fist and hold it there for a minute. If the powder is decomposed, a yellow nitric oxide stain will remain on the palm of your hand.

    But, in any case, without live shooting, you will never guess what has got to you.

  11. I like to shoot my Soviet M1895 revolver. There is new production 7.62x38R but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to buy USSR spam cans. The one I have now is 1970’s production. Shoots 100%.

  12. I’m a largely manual-operated shooter. What makes me worry is storage. I’m no chemist but I won’t trust my eyesight to powder that for all I know sat baking in a warehouse at 170 degrees since Algeria and Syria were French.

  13. My only experience with surplus ammo was a can of Malaysian.7.62 Nato. It was dated 1981 and while the exterior of the can was brush painted and beat up the interior was still like new as were the waxed cardboard boxes and cartridges. It shot reliably in a modern Savage. 308 rifle but grouped inconsistently.

  14. Glad you had comments about the Turkish ammo! Tried some 8mm in my MG42, not knowing about the over pressure issues and damn near blew off the barrel change latch.

  15. Though understandably difficult to consider when judging whether to buy. You should think of the parameters it was manufactured to / in e.g. under ‘interesting’ wartime conditions when a long life not really a consideration (exacerbated by long and often less than ideal storage since), by an underdeveloped producer keen to establish a local supply (for a variety of reasons), or just old – nowadays we are spoiled as to the stability (and consistency) of propellants etc. Which even in comparatively recent times was ‘less good’ and even now sometimes less than we would like – notably some ‘economy’ shortcuts. So if it appears too good to be true, then it often is !

  16. I think the “spam can” type of storage we see from the former Warsaw Pact nations is a lot more stable than the “falling apart cardboard cartons” type. That’s based on nothing but anecdotal experience. I’ve got some Pakistani / POF .303 that I’ve never fired and it looks dubious.

  17. https://youtu.be/PfhKLuPiXFc?t=377

    Steel cans from the USSR are not perfect.
    I have not once found rusty cartridges. Although, the cartridges themselves worked fine.
    If these cartridges did not have rotted primers…

    IMHO If it is not possible to disassemble the cartridge and check the offal, it is better to put it aside. Regardless of what is written on it.

  18. Made a mistake on my note yesterday: Both sides in the Gran Chaco War used 7.65 x 53mm ammo (not 8×57 as I said) and the bad stuff that blew up in the Paraguayan M1927 (and all of the test rifles) came from Belgium and was 7.65x53mm caliber. Sorry to mislead. Acquiring ammo, particularly these days, falls into the a saying I heard from an old Army veteran: “You can get good, fast or cheap: pick two”

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