Military surplus and military overrun bullets may be a terrific bargain if all you want is some cheap practice ammunition. Military bullets suitable for practice are of the full metal jacketed variety. They feature a solid lead alloy core with a copper, bronze or soft steel jacket and are referred to as “ball” ammunition. These bullets are made to military specifications and will produce reasonably good accuracy for preliminary sighting in and practice. The full metal jacket prevents nose expansion and is not good for hunting.
Occasionally shooters have tried to make hunting ammunition out of FMJ bullets by filing the points off of the spitzer (pointed) military bullets, exposing the lead cores. This is a dangerous practice since the bullet already has the lead core exposed at the base. Opening the point often results in the core being blown right through the jacket leaving the jacket stuck in the barrel. When the next shot hits the jacket, the barrel is bulged and ruined. Don’t try to modify FMJ bullets! Because of bullet-to-bullet weight variation, military ammunition will never produce fine accuracy.
In a worst-case scenario, such a “bargain” could turn out to be tracer, incendiary, explosive or armor piercing bullets. Most military ammunition is identified by the color of the lacquer on the tip and in the case of the tracer, by exposed burning material at the base of the bullet. There are various books on military ammunition that will tell you how to interpret these colored-lacquer codes on a country-by-country basis.
Surplus armor piercing ammunition has been used for years as cheap practice fodder, mainly in military rifles. Philip Sharpe in his book The Complete Guide to Handloading responded to the question of whether this did any harm to rifle barrels by conducting an experiment wherein he took a “gilt-edged” match rifle barrel, targeted it with match target ammunition, then fired a few rounds of armor piercing then targeted it again with the same match ammunition, carefully cleaning between groups.
His finding was that after the AP rounds, the match group had opened considerably and in spite of further cleaning did not repeat its former performance. This was with the AP ammunition of WWII, not the so called “light armor” piercing, steel-core ammunition sold today which has a far softer steel center. Would I put this newer kind through the barrel of a fine match rifle I owned? I don’t think so, at least not until someone else tests it in his match barrel first. Would I use it in a $150 AK or SKS? Sure.
Match ammunition is full-metal jacketed and of a reduced-base “boattail” design. This type of bullet has good aerodynamic qualities producing a flat trajectory which is very desirable for hitting targets at long range. Often these match bullets have a small hollow point to shift the center of gravity slightly back and improve stabilization.
Match bullets often have very thin jackets and are “soft swaged” to keep these jackets smooth, flawless and of the exact same thickness. Great care is taken to ensure that these bullets are of the exact same weight and diameter. Since this type of bullet is used for punching paper targets or knocking down metal silhouettes, expansion is not needed. Even though these bullets have hollow points they are not intended to expand on game and they do not. They are very prone to ricochet and are not suitable for hunting.