Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Is Powder the Weakest Link?

Most of my long term readers will remember that a few years ago I became the recipient of several thousand rounds of various re-loaded ammo, mostly .38 special but there were several other calibers as well. What I couldn't use I gave away to other shooters and hand loaders from my gun club but I have been using up the .38 special as much as possible.

Most of .38 stuff was loaded with a light Bullseye charge and a wadcutter bullet with various primers, the lions share of which were old Winchester Small Pistol No. 2's I believe.

Ya I know I have .223 ammo pictured I couldn't find the .38 pic I took I am not sure where it went on this computer.

Most of the three thousand or so rounds of .38 had a re-load date on them although a few only had powder type and weight. The earliest date I saw was 1982 and the latest was 1989 so most of it was at least 25 years old. None of this ammo was stored in what could even remotely be called a sustainable manner. Most of it was either repacked into the original cardboard containers or placed in plastic boxes similar to what is pictured above. Everything was then stacked on shelves in a very damp basement and left to collect dust.

So for the last two years or so I have been making it a point to shoot up a box of these .38 reloads along with some .357, .45acp and .308 every time I visited the range. I finally managed to shoot up the last box the other day.

The final tally was close to 4000 various rounds of which as I mentioned about 3000 of which was .38 special. Out of those numbers I had six failures, five of which were the .38's. Four of the failures were powder failures while two were primer failures.

Not bad for ammo that was basically left unprotected for two and a half decades or more. No primer sealant was used on any of the rounds I inspected either so it was straight cup insertion. I also did not notice any increase in powder pressure but honestly at those low charge levels it more than likely wouldn't have been much anyway.

Three of the powder failures resulted in a bullet lodged into the muzzle of the weapon I was shooting. That could prove to be a major problem especially in a semi-auto but luckily all three times it happened I was using my single shot handy rifle. I found a sturdy car radio antenna with the little ball on the end worked perfectly for removing the stuck bullet without risking damage to the barrel. In each case it really didn't travel far enough up the tube to present much of a problem to extract. The first time it happened I was a bit concerned and it stopped my shooting for the day but after that I took the antenna with me just in case.

Since the wadcutters were lead of course I did notice that whatever lube they had on them had begun to deteriorate to the point that it did create a slight leading problem in the barrel but that was to be expected I think. Not sure what the shelf life on lube is.

All in all I found this test to be interesting because I expected a much higher failure rate due to age and the overall storage conditions of the ammo. Honestly I more than likely wouldn't have messed with shooting most of it had it been anything other than .38 special but since I was shooting it out of firearms chambered for .357 I figured there was minimal risk of over pressure or damage. I didn't expect to see so many powder malfunctions versus primer malfunctions as I figured the primers would go first since they would have been less protected.

Live and Learn I guess.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din"

    I'd have pulled those bullets and killed the primers with WD40, then punched them out. Aren't you nervous about shooting other people's reloads? I don't do that unless I know the guy like a brother. Especially having one snag in the barrel and then following it up with another round could have ruined your day. I'm not being critical, you probably just have a bigger set than I do.

    1. Harry - Well they did come from my Father in Law. To be honest he was more meticulous than I am when it came to reloading. He was one of those guys that did it for accuracy where as in reality I do it more for expense and greater accuracy is a nice side effect.

      That being said I didn't shoot anything that wasn't recorded with proper weights and grains either. I also felt safe because I was using a single shot .357 rifle mostly so I figured the .38 rounds were well under any possible danger levels.

      I also wanted to see how well this ammo would work after 25 years.

  2. I'm quite impressed with the failure rate. As you mentioned, the storage conditions and sheer age would have made me leery.

    1. Oh and thanks for posting something not related to the shutdown or Obamacare.

    2. Matt - Well I really didn't see anything that hadn't already been covered there and it is a little too early to catch things about them others might miss.

      I just hope the government stays shut down :)


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