History of Surplus Ammunition
When governments have ammunition that becomes obsolete, due to age, changes in weapons systems or a myriad of other reasons, many times they will sell this ammunition as surplus to other militaries or civilians. In years past, United States military surplus ammunition was regularly sold to the public, but as military need for ammunition increases, the available ammo decreases and the surplus market dries up. The United States is not the only military that sells surplus ammunition. Russia, Germany and former Warsaw Pact countries have sold large amounts of surplus ammunition as well.
The buyer of surplus ammunition, whether something that was resold by a government as surplus, or was the result of production overruns, can rest assured that it is quality ammo, built to stringent specifications. The only major issue related to surplus ammo is that many primers were made of a corrosive compound that when fired deposited a residue of potassium chloride salt in the bore. If this was left in a firearm for an extended length of time it would eventually damage the firearm. Most of the ammunition that used this compound was made earlier in the 20th century, however, some ammo manufactured as late as the 1980’s can be found to have this compound.
Ammunition made in the 1940’s and 50’s is still easily found, .30 carbine and .45 ACP are among the most common calibers from this era. .30-06, 8mm Mauser and 7.62x54R are also very prominent in the surplus market as governments are clearing out ammo storage facilities to make room for ammunition for newer firearms. 7.62x39mm and 5.56mm can be found on occasion, but are not quite as common.
With military ammo being subject to rough handling and a broad range of environmental conditions, some ammo is packed in metal cans for long term storage. This adds great value to the shooter who may be wishing to stock up on ammo if the firearm they own is chambered in a rare or obsolete caliber. When considering calibers, it is also important to note that 5.56mm ammo is not designed to function in rifles with a .223 caliber chamber; the pressures are much too high and can cause severe damage to the firearm. Also, 7.62mm NATO and .308 Winchester have different case dimensions and these can cause increased pressures as well.
Collectors of militaria are known to place great value on the ammo boxes and accessories; they are used in displays, both personal and in museums. Shooters of surplus ammo find that in many cases the surplus ammo will shoot just as well or better than commercial ammunition. The only real downside is that a large portion of surplus ammo is not easily reloaded as the cases use the Berdan priming design that makes reloading much more difficult.
Overall, surplus ammunition is a great value for the money and it will help keep many fine old firearms shooting for years to come.
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