Berdan Primers Explaned

Berdan primers are commonly thought of as “non-U.S.” ammunition because they have seen the most use in countries around the world while the U.S. leans heavily toward Boxer-primed ammunition.

Ironically, Berdan primers were actually created by an American named Hiram Berdan. In contrast, Boxer primers were created by a European.  Why the use seems to be inverted isn’t absolutely clear. 

Berdan vs Boxer

The biggest issue that Berdan-primed ammunition faces in the U.S. is the reloading issue. Berdan primers are difficult, time-consuming and require special tools to be able to reload easily. Boxer primers are relatively simple in comparison and are the preferred choice at shooting ranges, sporting events and with law-enforcement and the military.

The Berdan primer has the anvil as part of the primer pocket of the cartridge while the Boxer has the anvil built right into the primer cup. This makes Berdan primers very easy to manufacture because they are basically a tiny empty cylinder that can be punched out of various metals with the priming compounds placed inside after. These also offer a lot of variety in size so they could be made for very specific uses. The Berdan-primed cartridge case will have two or three tiny flash holes around the anvil where the Boxer only has one. Berdan primers can also be hard to come by in the U.S. and must be specially ordered most of the time adding to the difficulty when reloading.

Performance

Berdan-primed ammunition is still very common around the world and works just as well as Boxer-primed. The accuracy of the round and the velocity of the bullet is very comparable no matter what the primer. This is more dependent on the powder. 

Aluminum-cased cartridges are often Berdan-primed because they aren’t intended to be reloaded and it also shaves a little off the cost making them a very affordable single use round. These are a great low-cost choice for hunting, practicing or simply shooting on your property. If you’re not worried at all about reloading your brass, this is a good choice and if you shoot a lot, it can save you some money over time.

Some older types of Berdan primer cases had some issues with corrosion over time but this isn’t the case with modern cases. If you end up with a bunch of very old bulk ammunition and are skeptical about it, give it a good look over and see if anything seems corroded or simply doesn’t look right. A quick visit to your local gunsmith can confirm this as well.

When buying Berdan-primed ammunition the use is one of the most important things you need to consider. If you plan on spending a lot of time at a shooting range, check with them first to see if they allow it. If they don’t, the reason will usually be related to the reloading issue. Indoor ranges really prefer Boxer-primed with a brass casing but this can vary depending on where you live and what the range operator’s opinions are.

Written by Sam Jacobs