Surplus Ammunition

Surplus Ammunition – Don't Call it Left Over Bullets
By Peter Suciu.

Surplus Ammunition
.303 British 174gr. FMJ Surplus Ammo
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Manasquan, NJ –-(Ammoland.com)- The term “surplus” simply means an over supply; yet when used in conjunction with militaria or pretty much anything to do with the military, it often evokes used equipment or to some a substandard product.

This most certainly isn't the norm when discussing surplus ammunition, and in fact, a lot of military ammo could be considered far superior to the commercial grade ammo in the same calibers.

Bannermans Surplus Arms Catalog
Bannermans Surplus Arms Catalog

To understand surplus ammunition, at least from an American perspective, requires a basic understanding of the nature of surplus equipment. Following the American Civil War there was simply more equipment than the vastly reduced U.S. military forces could ever use. This in turn led to the original surplus market, which spawned mail order catalogs such as the famous Bannerman's catalog, where all sorts of used as well as un-issued equipment could be purchased. And while those prices may look like bargains by today's standards, these were hardly bargain basement prices.

“Surplus ammo surely came early, as modern cartridge firearms evolved very rapidly in the late 1800s,” says Chris Clinton, who previously ran the old surplus ammo business Cannon and Cartridge. “Each time a rifle or round became the new performance ‘champ,” many issue weapons and their cartridges were sold off as obsolete. Sometimes a round (as well as rifle) would pass down to second line troops before it entered the civilian market.”

One early example of this says Clinton was the 45-70 government, which was adopted by the U.S. in the early 1870s, and used until the 1890s. This was likely the first cartridge surplus “milsurp” on the U.S. market. As the U.S. Army and other military forces adopted new rifles and small arms, the old equipment was sold off, and with the adoption of the traditional bullet that we know today, the same thing happened with ammunition.

“Ammo was dumped as it was deemed obsolete,” says advanced gun collector Rob Summerhill of the SurplusRifle.com forum. “Old ammo was just no longer of use, and it was sold off.”

This process has been repeated with military rifles numerous times. The military would gear up for a conflict, fight the war, come home and sell of the surplus ordinance. But after World War II an interesting thing happened, captured German small arms were sold to the active shooters – and later collectors – market, along with the ammo.

“German ammo in the 1950s and the 1960s was extremely common,” says Summerhill, noting that oddly Japanese ammo was not. “The Japanese surplus ammo was dumped in the Pacific at the end of the war, and even today much of the Japanese ammo you'll find isn't original from the war.”

Surplus Polish 7.62x54R Ammunition
Surplus Polish 7.62x54R Ammunition Pic: AimSurplus.com

With the end of the Cold War in 1990, the surplus ammo market was flooded with previously difficult to find Soviet calibers, notably 7.62x54r and 7.62x39r.

While this ammo is still available the amounts are drying up says Summerhill.

“You aren't seeing the massive import of ammo like we saw from a few years ago. You could buy a wooden crate with two sealed metal cases filled with the 7.62 ammo for $40 or $50.”

This price is why shooters and collectors such as Doug Wozny love the surplus ammo.

“For me the biggest benefit to surplus ammunition was the ability to buy it in bulk. Rarely do you find case lots of commercial ammunition offered.” The other benefit says Wozny is that the ammo often fits like a glove with the firearms it was built for. “I like to see how the weapon-ammunition combination performs using the ammunition intended for the weapon.”

Surplus Ammo by Definition
Today surplus ammo comes in many shapes, sizes and calibers, but yet there remains a disagreement among shooters as to what is rightfully classified as “surplus.” Even those in the business have very distinct opinions – and some of it differs from the aforementioned American surplus.

International surplus ammo, say some experts can be identified from a number of key distinctive aspects.

“Generally it has these characteristics: it is foreign, it is military de-commissioned, it was produced many years ago – at least 10-25, sometimes much older – and it should come in air and water tight packaging, its markings are typically in a foreign language – unless British of course – and the markings should be in metric units. Finally its generally cheaper than new production ammo,” says Dustin of LuckyGunner.com. Despite the moniker of “surplus,” it isn't always readily available.

While the very nature of surplus was ammo that was simply dumped on the market, as collectors bought it up, shot it off and wanted more, surplus ammo has become less common.

“There are always two sides to every coin. In this case, supply and demand is what controls how easy it is to obtain.”

Dustin says that on the supply side surplus ammo is generally slow and stable over the long-term, but very sporadic in the short-term.

“Unlike new production ammo that rolls off the assembly line in a steady stream to the market, foreign surplus ammunition generally becomes available in large chunks and is imported into the United States by the container load. If you aggregate this across the entire United States it results in a relatively steady flow of product, but it can certainly result in some wild swings in availability on a per caliber basis. Feast or famine, as they say.”

On the demand side of the coin, says Dustin, the picture more resembles the broader ammo marketplace.

“Shooter's propensity to pull the trigger and the resulting need to re-supply, when aggregated across the entire United States is also pretty constant. The obvious exception to this has been the recent ammunition shortage. While the market has largely normalized by now, there were certainly periods in the last 24 months when surplus ammunition, like all ammunition, was very hard to come by.”

Taiwan 30-06 FMJ Corrosive Ammunition
Taiwan 30-06 FMJ Corrosive Ammunition

Surplus Ammo Safe to Shoot?
The other notable concern about surplus ammo isn't just whether the supply will dry up, but rather whether the ammo is generally safe to shoot. Most shooters and collectors say the bigger danger is the potential damage it can do to a rare firearm.

Carcano Surplus Ammunition
Carcano Surplus Ammunition

“There is no surplus ammunition that I would consider dangerous today,” says Summerhill. He does note that old Carcano ammo from World War II was considered dangerous, but the problem wasn't the rifle, but rather the conditions used to make the rounds. “That ammo was made under slave labor in North Africa, and it was forced labor. So there was sabotage going on, and as a result shooters after the war experienced bad ammo. “

The results could include gases that could come back into the shooters face. He notes there has been some issues with 303 British coming out of Afghanistan that includes worrisome problems such as “hang fire.” A similar problem has been encountered with some Yugoslavian ammo, including hang fire and failure to fire, but he says that keeping the ammo in a warm space “seems to bring the ginger back to the primer.”

However, Summerhills says that much of the Cold War ammo is very good, notably the supplies coming from Romania. If anything, he adds the problem isn't the reliability or the safety but the contents of the bullets.

“My main concern besides safety is the corrosive primers,” says Wozny. “I know that the ‘older,' as in 1940s, 1950s and 1960s stuff is most likely corrosive but some surplus ammunition even made in the 1980s and 1990s – such as the French made – are corrosive. You can't always trust the distributor to know, so you need to do some research.”

This is a real concern, as a lot of the surplus ammo hitting the market these days includes salt-based primers or those with corrosive chemicals high in mercury.(IE: Berdan Mercury Primers) For those in a dry climate, as well as those who clean the bore with ammonia based Windex right after use and normal gun car within 24 to 48 hours this shouldn't be much of a problem however.

As such the worry isn't really justified.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” says Summerhill. “If you keep the gun clean the ammo isn't a problem. But issues like this can result in a bias against surplus ammo that just isn't warranted.”

Surplus Ammunition Calibers
Surplus Ammunition Calibers

Common Surplus Calibers
While the aforementioned German ammo from World War II was common following the war, the “vintage” stuff has really started to dry up. Other World War II ammo was also far from rare in the “good old days,” says Wozny.

“In the 1960s and 1970s it was .45ACP and .30-06. I can tell you what ammunition wasn't heavily surplussed, it was the 8mm variety.”

How the times have changed. Today the most commonly encountered calibers say the experts are those Soviet 7.62×54 and 7.62×39. That ammo, while a bit more expensive today than say a decade ago, is far from uncommon. Even when the price of ammo skyrocketed in late 2008 and 2009, the Communist Bloc ammo remained easy enough to obtain – albeit at inflated prices that the market could bear.

Some ammo that has all but vanished from the surplus market includes the British .303, and today shooters of the Enfield style rifles can expect to pay $1 or more a round – not exactly what you'd think would be the price for surplus ammo. As expected this has driven the price of the most common Lee Enfield rifles down, although the serious collector examples still fetch a high price. Other ammo that could rightfully be deemed “uncommon” or even “rare,” and is thus hard to find are the Italian 6.5 Carcano and the 7.35 Carcano. Likewise, Argentine ammo has also dried up, with reloads being the future for shooters of those vintage firearms.

Interestingly, in addition to the more common Communist ammo, surplus rounds are coming from countries that were essentially neutral in the World Wars as well as throughout the Cold War.

“The Swiss stuff is really flooding the market,” says Summerhill. “The Swiss have changed their small arms, and with it have flooded the market with ammo. The same thing is happening with the Swedes and we're seeing a lot of the surplus ammo coming in from up there.”

United Nations Monument to Gun Control
United Nations Monument to Gun Control

IANSA & UN Would Ban Surplus Ammunition Sales
The other equation with surplus ammo is that it has red tape that can “gum up the works” because this involves international and global markets. Thus the normal “supply and demand” equation is still true, but government regulations can actually create a problem with supply, which only further increases the demand. The Soviet era ammo that was once impossible to find, and then became plentiful could again dry up as some anti-gun / anti-freedom groups look to block its entry into the United States.

“Ironically, the BATF along with the Hillary Clinton State Department, is trying to end the importation of ammuntion and arms,” says Summerhill, noting that while the government can claim to have made no attempts to regulate firearms, a backdoor gun ban is possible if the government tightens control on surplus ammo. “They're trying to block the importation of ammo. There are no laws to stop the importation, but they're trying to increase regulation, which would still block the ammo from coming in. That's what we're seeing now. It is going to be interesting to see what surplus ammo is allowed in the country.”

Likewise says Summerhill, “the countries that have the ammo might not want to deal with the hassles of bringing it in here, even if the market conditions suggest it is favorable for them to do so. But others don't see this as the end, or even the beginning of the end”

Clinton says there will never be an “end” of surplus ammo. “Maybe not but will there be an end to the SALE of surplus ammo? Could be, as the UN and others press nations to keep the surplus ammunition off the world market.”

The issue here is whether a treaty could ever be finalized and whether all the nations would even comply with such a restrictive treaty. For one thing ammunition is still big business for many nations, and if there are large stockpiles it still makes sense to sell the ammo rather than let it continue to age and go bad. There are even suggestions that the treaty would only obstruct ammunition that is generally not suitable to sporting use, and most surplus ammo still is useful for sport shooting.

“I don't fear the UN treaty as much as some in the hobby,” says Clinton. “I see such a deal so complicated as to be just not workable worldwide.”

Surplus Ammo's Future Outlook
The final truth is that there remains a lot of surplus ammo in the United States already. Prices will go up and down with the supply. But as we've seen, numerous conditions, including fear of bans will no doubt influence and affect the price of ammo in both the short term and the long term.

This happened last year, but as with other inflated prices – notably the cost of gasoline – the “stabilized” price that is the new “normal” is still higher than the pre-inflated prices. Likewise, with a return to “normal” prices, the supply has seemingly increased – an irony in supply and demand economics. The fact is that as the supply increases, the prices do fall.

“Lately, most surplus military ammo has been relatively easy to find since the ‘Obama panic' buying has ceased,” says Gunboard.com member Jeremy. “The prices have dropped slightly too. I don't expect the market to ever return to the days when surplus ammo was cheap however.”

Resources:

Want to see your company listed here? Email [email protected]
  • www.LuckyGunner.com
  • www.AimSurplus.com
  • www.WrigleyAmmo.com

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    Ron
    Guest
    Ron

    I have ammo I’m trying to identify markings on cartridge s. 8. 39 p163 any help would be great

    jason k
    Guest
    jason k

    im looking for wolrd war bullets shot pennys anything hystoric nothing found at shooting ranges im talking bullets found or surplus ammo boxes make for the wars but not used anything close or similar contact me willing to pay good $$$$$

    norman
    Guest
    norman

    Looking for 7.35 carcano ammo .

    Carlos Weber
    Guest
    Carlos Weber

    I have a few boxes of original 18 round boxes of the Italian 7.35 ammo ON THE 6 ROUND EN-BLOCK CLIPS IN THEIR ORIGINAL MARKED BOXES. Getting $30.00 per box. Had 1200 rounds. Now down to 8 or 10 boxes and have no idea where to find any more. [email protected]

    anthony
    Guest
    anthony

    you can make it with .35 rem brass and lee bullet molds and dies you can make 6.5 the same way, you have to
    neck size it with 7.35 first then 6.5

    Dan
    Guest
    Dan

    where can I find military surplus 6.5 carcano ammo for sale?

    Terry Ferrington
    Guest
    Terry Ferrington

    I’m looking for a round or two of …
    8x53rmm for a japanese murata type 22 rifle the first repeating bolt action repeater rifle the Japanese had.
    Or maybe information on some where I can have it made.

    Dennis dodd
    Guest
    Dennis dodd

    I have an unopened spam can m1grand 30cal clips and bandalaros circa 1942 I believe.

    TEX
    Guest
    TEX

    @Dennis,that can of Spam you have would still be good to eat to this day. Did you know that ?

    Dan Frontczak
    Guest
    Dan Frontczak

    Do you still have this item?

    Clark Kent
    Guest
    Clark Kent

    The quislings ARE the Democratic party…….

    Janek
    Guest
    Janek

    Time to stock up! The quislings in the Democrat Party want to put an end to bargains like this.

    jamie
    Guest
    jamie

    I use surplus Mosin Nagant Ammo it can be very very old and still function flawlessly. I have never had any issues.

    Bob Shell
    Guest
    Bob Shell

    Keep in mind that a lot of the surplus ammo is getting old and unreliable. I use & deal with it a lot & some is pretty good while other is a bust. Part of it depends on how it was stored. I recently shot 2 lots of 7.35. one shot well and was consistent & the other did not go off. I pull the bullets and reload in newer cases.

    Robert Granite
    Guest
    Robert Granite

    I wish to purchase a few pieces of 30.06 World War I surplus brass.
    I do not wish live ammo, just a few brass shells. They must be military
    proofed, as used in WWI. They are to be used for photographic purposes
    for a magazine article on WWI Trench Art.

    Please let me know if you can assist me.

    Thank you,
    Bob

    Arthur Tandy
    Guest
    Arthur Tandy

    I am looking for surplus 8MM Mauser Ammo,

    joey cornett
    Guest
    joey cornett

    I would like to request your catalogs joey cornett p.o.box 1706 viper ky 41775

    Jimbo
    Guest
    Jimbo

    I have a brick of Olin .22 LR in multiple white unmarked boxes of 50. 500 rounds total. I think it is Navy surplus as Ilive near Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Not sure what it is worth, but a gun dealer I know says he wouldn’t fire it-not because it would be bad, but because it is collectable. Anyone know anything about it?

    Joe Gray
    Guest
    Joe Gray

    I have 22 LR for sale. Multiple Boxes

    randy owens
    Guest
    randy owens

    I want to purchase 7.62X54R ammo. I cannot find a place on your web page to do so. Can you help me?

    Doug Gibson
    Guest
    Doug Gibson

    I came across a few boxes of original Italian made 7.35 ammo , in original boxes .. Willing to part with all I have (not sure how many rounds @ this time) Easiest way to contact me is to msg me on Facebook.. I’m from Sweeny Texas , as there are loads of folks with the same name on there .. THANKS & HAPPY SHOOTING !

    Larry
    Guest
    Larry

    im in need same 7.35 Ammo call me at 850-843-1887 or Email me at [email protected] im in florida

    lamont wray
    Guest

    looking for 30-06 surplus ammo for my 1903 remingtonton

    mickey c. ross
    Guest

    I’m looking for 22 LR ammo

    Bob
    Guest
    Bob

    I am looking for 7.62×45.

    Gary
    Guest
    Gary

    I would like to buy some Brithis 303 ammo( Non Corrosive) at $15.00 per 20 round also.

    Ron Berry
    Guest
    Ron Berry

    Looking for .308 and .223 rounds. Do gunwork and repairs. Needed for test firing.

    tim
    Guest
    tim

    I got some 303 british ammo

    i think its hot shot brand soft point ammo

    i can sell it for 15.00 per boxs

    plus shiping

    Bill Ford
    Guest
    Bill Ford

    can you help me get some 303 ammo?

    daskro
    Guest
    daskro

    Informative article, but it would have been nice to see more information about Century Arms and their dominant market position when it comes to imported surplus ammunition and arms.