“Surplus Ammunition – A Great Bargain or a Great Risk?”

“Surplus Ammunition – A Great Bargain or a Great Risk?”


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Note: As always, we do not endorse nor recommend any specific manufacturer brand of new ammunition nor name surplus ammunition manufacturers or companies that sell such surplus since (a) it would be a major conflict of interest against our research, due-diligence and findings, and (b) we wish to maintain “objective” when reporting on issues that are posted in LinkedIn since it is truly an “open” business subscriber website.


“Surplus Ammunition – A Great Bargain or a Great Risk?”

Over the decades, there has always been (and always will be) surplus ammunition.

Mass-produced by so many countries, there are quantities of ammunition that stagger the imagination, but then again, there are many militaries that exist and many conflicts that end up in wars of all sizes.

Further, many countries have “not” adopted a universal caliber, so there are dozens upon dozens of different calibers and types. Even the National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and many of the United States allies have not agreed on a specific group of ammunition calibers to embrace. The same applies to almost all countries throughout the world.

From brass cases to steel cases;

From non-corrosive to corrosive ammunition;

The actual bullet type and grain (weight) comes in numerous production styles; and

From 1949 (and even earlier) to the present, it is available, by the case and by massive lots on pallets stored in wooden or metal containers

Let us not forget “commercial grade” new manufacture brands, which are all new, or maybe a year old at the most.

Some ammunition, in the commercial sector, has a waiting time of more than a year to acquire.

Obviously military and law enforcement have first priority on production runs, but there is always a surplus left over at some time or another.

New production ammunition is not cheap by any means. There may be some good “small” deals, but all-and-all it is expensive.

With .22 ammunition, and I mean ammunition that is of good enough quality to cycle through a semi-automatic rifle or pistol, is hard to come by. Using anything that is questionable is a “risk” without question.

We mention .22 ammunition because it is still running scarce and it is not truly included not addressed in this article.

We are addressing “Center Fire” ammunition (which uses a primer), and it typically a larger caliber.

Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun commercial manufactured ammunition is made to strict specifications so as it is consistent in its performance.

Performance includes, but is not limited to:


 Ignition protocol (from the point the primer is hit, which ignites the powder that launches the bullet out of the firearm)

 How clean the ammunition post-firing effects are on the firearm

 How well it cycles through firearms, whether they be rifle, pistol or shotgun, but especially noting semi-automatic rifles and pistols that utilize ammunition that will not jam, or be under-charged to where it will not allow the complete cycling of a new round into the chamber, etc.

Surplus Ammunition:

Surplus Ammunition (SA) was made, in most cases, under the same type of conditions that present ammunition was made, especially military grade ammunition.

It comes in various calibers and bullet styles;

It can be corrosive and non-corrosive;

It can be relatively new, or it can be extremely old;

It will come in, including, but not limited to lead-sealed cans, wooden crates, lose-packed, metal ammunition boxes, plastic tubs, paper boxes and so-on; and

The problem with ANY surplus ammunition leads to the following questions that must be answered (and then considered) regardless how good of a deal you may be able to get:

  1. When was it produced? This question is critical since it may be over 48 years or older. As an example, there is still Vietnam War surplus ammunition that we have seen that is truly ancient. Examination of a number of the rounds shows oxidation, external dings and damage, mold, and highly questionable primers and primer/bullet seals (which were designed to keep out moisture)
  2. Where it was stored? This leads to environmental conditions that could degrade the ammunition over time, especially moisture and cold.  If there is such visible wear (and even if there isn’t), if it is old, and I do mean OLD, there is a major question to the condition and quality of the power inside the shell, as well as the condition of the primer. If it has been stored in a damp location for decades, the possibilities of degradation of both the powder AND/OR primer is a strong possibility. This can cause, but not be limited to hang-fires, mis-fires, partial-fires, explosions of the entire round from brass or steel case rupturing, delayed firing, reduced gas output resulting in the bullet not making it out of the gun barrel (which is a serious/dangerous situation) where the shooter may not even realize this has happened and then proceeds to fire the firearm again (which can result in a ruptured barrel and/or physical injury)The number of failed rounds to useable rounds would have made the great deal not such a good deal, and in fact it would have been more profitable to by commercially new produced ammunition
  3. There is the question of accuracy, which with older ammunition, especially loose packed (bulk) rounds, will vary
  4. Then there is the cost. Again, the price may be good, but if the failure rate is high you are spending money on duds and/or dangerous rounds
  5. Finally, if the ammunition is in bulk (not packaged), or is in containers that are un-marked (no identification or date), this opens the door to numerous misrepresentations and frauds. Examples would include, but not be limited to:
    • rejected ammunition that ends up being sold to the public;
    • reloaded ammunition; ammunition that has been rejected due to failure rates that is re-packaged or sold as bulk;
    • where the casing stamp identification has been obscured or is missing making it “no-name” brand ammunition; and
    • where the ammunition has been re-cleaned to appear new, or in good condition

There are hundreds of websites and advertisements for surplus ammunition. The problem is that a picture does not always represent what you are going to receive. We are not even addressing misrepresentation of boxed-ammunition when it fact what you get is not the same thing.

Whenever you see a notice “Sales Final – No Refunds or Exchanges”, walk away. This is a major warning when it comes to surplus ammunition sales.

Granted, companies don’t want to deal with customers that could “switch” specific items and claim it was defective, or swap out parts on firearms and want to return what they initially ordered (where they swapped the parts out of), but when it comes to surplus ammunition, that is a different story.

Law enforcement and the Military take a very strict, dim view of the origin of surplus ammunition and have many conditions which, in most cases, cannot be met by those who have large quantities of surplus ammunition for sale. Further, law enforcement, nationally, will NOT use reloaded ammunition, nor military surplus due to liability and safety issues. Their contacts are with manufacturers of new ammunition. In the case of the military, it is exactly the same thing.

Surplus ammunition is really for shooting enthusiasts who are using it for target practice or just plain plinking. Some use it for varmint hunting. But those who are hunting larger game, or even serious varminting will never use surplus ammunition for the reasons mentioned.

Just from a “liability” point of view, instructors will usually make it a point that ammunition supplied is “factory new”, or the ammunition brought by the student or person taking classes brings “factory new” ammunition – not reloads or surplus ammunition.

Many of our staffing are professional instructors, committed 4-H trainers, NRA instructors, specialty discipline instructors and so-on. Our policy addressing surplus ammunition is simple. We just don’t take the chance. We have seen enough serious injuries and damaged or destroyed firearms. It just is not worth the risks.

We have always recommend that when considering the purchase of ANY surplus ammunition, to acquire a sample (small quantity) and check it out thoroughly. That means not just the exterior, but the INTERIOR.

It means picking random samples and pulling the bullets (checking the enamel seal or other water-proofing seal around the bullet and case neck, as well as the primer and the primer ring where the same seal should be) and looking at the powder.

We have removed bullets from the shell and attempted to pour the powder out only to find it in one, solid mass inside. That is a result of “moisture” over time.

Is it safe to use?

We would think not.

Let there be NO misunderstanding that we are not “anti-surplus ammunition” by any means, but there is a common sense “due diligence” that is truly required when considering the purchase of a case or two of such ammunition.

There is so much due-diligence that has to be performed to be truly sure that what you are buying is represented correctly and that it is safe.

That is not an easy task.

The advertisements are not always clear about the questions that need to be answered, and warranties on surplus ammunition is pretty much non-existent. It is not unusual to see a simple warning on surplus ammunition being sold:

“AS IS”, or No warranties, no guarantees – AS IS.

This is a warning to YOU to walk away from “any” purchase of surplus ammunition.

We, in law enforcement, or military or specific government agencies don’t have to address these issues to the degree civilians must do. This is a no-brainer since heavy restrictions and conditions apply in almost every aspect to ammunition purchased for “departmental”, “military” or “law enforcement” use.

With civilian ammunition purchases, especially addressing “surplus ammunition” purchases, in the end, ANY injury, ANY accident that would occur with a firearm is subject to negative news coverage and is fueling the anti-firearm sentiments.

From our perspective, surplus ammunition, unless truly represented, identified and validated as consistently safe (whether it be one round or cases), is a risk not only to yourself and those who use it, but it is a liability to those who view “any” accident or injury as a reason to demand more restrictions and legislation against firearms “in general”.

In summary, we see the position we take as a “Proactive” One.

We are sure that many sellers out there are going to be exceptionally disappointed with us and our “logic”; however there are those out there that have “no problem” providing evidence of their surplus ammunition being safe and of good quality. Those would totally agree with our representation in this article.

For our staffing and executive management, especially those who are involved directly or indirectly with government services, law enforcement or the military, only use factory new ammunition that is specified for a specific use. Period.

For personal protection, off the clock, I would NEVER depend upon any type of surplus ammunition. I would not bet my family, children or myself on something that may or may not work.

Surplus ammunition “does” have a place in the shooting industry; however there are unscrupulous sellers of garbage and defective surplus ammunition that they KNOW will fail or is a risk to the buyer.

We’ve seen the law suits from those who have knowingly sold defective surplus ammunition. Is it a matter of making a profit more important than the safety of the customer?

The juries (which DO have firearm owners in them) felt otherwise and ruled against the Sellers of such defective surplus ammunition.

Money has always been a motivator for frauds and making bad sales.

Juries don’t like that.

The news media LOVES it.

But the person who was injured, or their son, or daughter, or wife, or friend is the ultimate victim – that is the ultimate goal of this article is to be “Proactive” so as to use best efforts not to buy something that could be dangerous in the end, and perhaps make sellers think twice about making a profit over safety (and end up in a lawsuit or worse).

There is no place for those who truly and willfully sell defective, inferior or potentially dangerous surplus ammunition in the firearm marketplace.

If they don’t know where it came from, or what “real” condition it is in, it should NOT be sold.

Would you buy an unmarked bottle of insulin from someone on a street corner that you need for yourself (let alone a family member) because it is “cheaper” than the “new” pharmaceutical manufacturer brand that you HAVE a prescription for?

Just give some “common sense” thought before you purchase surplus ammunition because it is such a “great bargain”.

It has the potential to be major nightmare.

Always a pleasure,

Research Solutions, Inc.



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