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Surplus ammo shootout: filling in the empty slots with new components

Holt Bodinson

Fresh, new surplus ammo and components are now in abundance thanks to the work of Graf & Sons and Hornady. Just in time, too, as quality military surplus fodder is getting increasingly scarce. Graf & Sons have not only worked with Hornady to draw brass and make bullets for our old warhorses, but they have just begun importing the Prvi Partisan brand of ammunition from Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia).

Prvi Partisan, an ISO 9001/96 certified company with a 75-year-old history, is entering our market not only with many of the popular surplus calibers, but with commercial calibers ranging from the .22 Hornet to 9.3x62mm. Their product is excellent, and Graf's prices are terrific.

I recently rounded up a sampling of both the Graf/Hornady and the Prvi Partisan brands to see how they perform. Both brands feature non-corrosive Boxer primers, so cleaning is a snap, and for those of us who reload, it's a double gift of beautiful, reloadable brass.

There is one significant difference between the brands. Graf/Hornady loads softpoint bullets appropriate for hunting. Prvi Partisan loads FMJ mil-spec bullets fine for target shooting and plinking, but not particularly useful on game.

In terms of surplus calibers, the Graf/Hornady line now includes the 6.5x50 Jap, 6.5x52 Carcano, 7.5x55 Swiss, 7.65x53 Argentine, 7.7x58 Jap, 8x56R Hungarian Mannlicher, 7.62 Nagant, 9mm Steyr, and .455 Webley MKII. Graf & Sons also sells brass and bullets for these calibers.

Prvi Partisan ammunition available through Graf includes the 6.5x52 Carcano, 7.5x54 French, 7.5x55 Swiss, and 7.65x53 Argentine.

My initial test protocol was for the rifle calibers and the only caliber rifle I didn't have on hand was the 7.65x53 Argentine, so we'll have to leave that for later in addition to the handgun calibers. Considering the vast differences in the quality of the open sights on this mix of rifles (except for the 7.5x54 MAS with its 3.85X military scope) and the variation in battle zeros of the open sights, I decided to test the rifle and ammunition combinations at 50 yards and average two, three-shot groups. The chronograph used was my very reliable PACT Professional model.

Speaking about chronographing velocities, each box of Graf/Hornady ammunition sports a seal over the end flap that specifies the factory velocity and downrange trajectories. You'll notice in my data that I never reached the factory-specified velocities, firing either carbines or rifles. There are always a number of reasons for these discrepancies. Barrel length, bore dimensions and bore condition are the most obvious. Ambient temperature at the time of shooting is also an important factor.

The point is, you cannot pick up an ammunition catalog or box of amino, read the ballistic data, and be assured that your rifle will track the printed trajectory chart. Chronograph your hunting loads, run a trajectory program on your computer and shoot them in at the ranges you will encounter.

Comparative tests like these are fun to run, except for the rifle cleaning chore that follows, but that, too, gave me an opportunity to try out some new products. I've been intrigued by the new foaming solvents and had the Break-Free and Gunslick brands on hand.

Having six rifles to work with, I decided to soak three with the BreakFree and three with the Gunslick. The foam cleaners depend upon dwell time to get the job done. The longer your leave them in, the better they perform, so I gave each set of rifles three 4-hour sessions with the foam. Each new application was preceded by two Pro-Shot cotton patches to clean out the existing gunk. And gunk it was. Either black or blue, it appeared the foams were really getting the job done.

After the third 4-hour soaking, I dry patched the bores and peered down them with the help of a bright Surefire light. Shoot! They still showed signs of copper and powder fouling, I was a bit disappointed. The new foam cleaners, I thought, were the lazy man's nirvana--no brushing, no elbow grease, just squirt it in, set the barrel aside, and let the marvels of modern chemistry do the work. Doesn't work, at least it doesn't work on worn military barrels in a reasonable period of time with a reasonable expenditure of chemicals.

I then applied my latest Crown Prince of the cleaning solutions, Sinclair's TM. TM is a conventional solvent with unconventionally good chemistry. It clings to the bore, has a low evaporation rate, and can be left in the barrel for 24 hours if necessary. It, too, favors dwell time. In any case, I ran two patches with TM down the bores, and then gave the barrels 10 or so brushings with a Pro-Shot bronze brush followed by two dry patches to remove even more gunk, let the bores soak for 8 hours more with TM and finally got those old warhorses clean. Try Sinclair's TM. It's a remarkably effective new cleaner. Back to the shooting range. Here's what I found out.

6.5x50 Japanese

It was the discovery of a ballistic lifetime. Breaking down a clip of WWII Japanese ball, I discovered that the diameter of the original 138-grain FMJ, lead-core bullet was not .264" but .260". I then confirmed this by breaking down and measuring some 1960s Chinese military lead-core ball. It measured .260" as well. Circa 1960s Chinese 6.5x50 military ball? Yes, the Chinese were still loading it to feed all those Japanese Arisakas they captured.

Now there's a surplus treasure just waiting for us. Tens-of-thousands of Arisaka's hidden away in Chinese arsenals!

Having the Chinese ball on hand was valuable as it gave me a ballistic baseline. Shooting a Type 38 Arisaka carbine with a good bore, I recorded a group average of 1 1/4" at 2,133 fps with the Chinese 137-grain ball. The Graf/Hornady box indicates a factory velocity of 2,225 fps for their 140-grain PSP. The carbine gave me 1,859 fps with 1 1/2" groups. I just happened to have some old Norma 6.5 Jap ammo on hand, loaded with their 139-grain SPBT. It averaged 2,221 fps with a 1 1/2" group average. With Norma selling for $36 a box and Graf for $20, I know which brand I'll be shooting.

6.5x52 Carcano

Graf/Hornady is loaded with a 160-grain RNSP bullet measuring .267", which is the correct diameter for the Carcano barrel. The box lists a velocity of 2,250 fps. Out of my Model 38 short rifle in good condition, I got 2,030 fps and 1 1/4" groups.

The Prvi Partisan Carcano load utilizes a 139-grain FMJBT bullet measuring .264" in diameter. Bad choice in bullet diameters! It delivered 3 1/4" to 4 1/2" groups at 2,329 fps. Norma makes the same mistake and loads a 156-grain bullet with a diameter of 0.264".

The Graf/Hornady ammunition is the way to go in the Carcano at $20 a box. If you intend on handloading the Carcano, follow the explicit directions in Hornady's 6th Edition manual to the letter. Finally, don't forget to buy up Carcano clips whenever you can. Otherwise, you'll be shooting a single shot.

7.5x54 French

Graf/Hornady does not currently offer this caliber. Shooting a 1949/56 scoped MAS, I got 3/4" groups at 2,514 fps with the Prvi Partisan 139-grain FMJ load. French military ball produced 1" at 2,562 fps. Selling for $14 a box, you can't beat the Prvi Partisan label for accuracy or price and, compared to military ball, it's non-corrosive and Boxer primed.

7. 5x55 Swiss

Having Swiss military ball, Graf/Hornady and Prvi Partisan on hand made this test particularly interesting. All testing was done with a well used, but not abused, Swiss K-31.

Graf/Hornady is loaded with a 165-grain BTSP at a listed velocity of 2,730 fps. It generated little 5/8" groups at 2,630 fps.

Prvi Partisan ammunition features a 174-grain FMJBT bullet and it rivaled the Graf/Hornady load by producing tiny 5/8" groups at 2,325 fps.

Finally came Swiss ball that is loaded with a 174-grain FMJBT. Swiss ball is the highest quality military ammunition I have ever handled. It didn't disappoint me either, producing 1" groups at 2,558 fps. Unfortunately, the brass is Berdan primed and not worth the effort to reload, given the excellent Boxer primed brass now available from Graf/Hornady and Prvi Partisan.

The choice here is a toss up between the Graf/Hornady BTSP and the Prvi Partisan FMJ bullets. Both loads are equally accurate. Graf/Hornady sells for $20 a box. Prvi Partisan for $14 a box.

The real champ is the Swiss K-31. It's made like a Swiss watch with a light trigger and a set of sights that can be adjusted for 100 yards. If you don't own and shoot one, you're really overlooking one of the true gems in the surplus market.

7. 7x58 Japanese

Prvi Partisan doesn't load this number, but Graf/Hornady and Norma do. The test was conducted with a standard Type 99 Arisaka in excellent condition.

Graf/Hornady loads a 150-grain SP with a listed velocity of 2,650 fps. The chrome-lined barrel of the Arisaka liked it, producing 1 1/4" groups and 2,529 fps.

The Arisaka liked some recent Norma fodder, loaded with a 180-grain SP, even more, generating 1/2" grouping at 2,366 fps.

Again, with Norma retailing for $36 a box and Graf/Hornady for only $20 a box, it's a no brainer where to invest your hard-earned cash.

8x56R Hungarian

Graf/Hornady loads this caliber. Prvi Partisan does not, but I did have some 1938 Austrian military ball on hand to give us a basis for comparison. Sharing a Mannlicher magazine system with the Carcano, the Austrian M95 Stutzen also needs clips to function as a repeater, so pick-up some Austrian surplus ball just for the heavy-duty steel clips it comes packed in.

The 8x56R requires a .330" bullet and Hornady makes a very accurate 205-grain SP loaded in the Graf/Hornady line. With a factory rating of 2,410 fps, the Graf/Hornady load produced 1 3/4'' groups and 2,275 out of the Stutzen's 19 1/2" barrel.

The 1938 Austrian ball, loaded with a 207-grain FMJ bullet, went into 1 1/2" at 2,406 fps.

It would seem that the Graf/Hornady load is just a bit on the light side when it comes to velocity, but it features great Boxer primed brass, softpoint bullets, and sells for $21 a box. Supplies of the fine Austrian ball have just about dried up.

With reasonably priced Graf/Hornady and Prvi Partisan ammunition and components now readily available as well as tested reloading data from Hornady, there's no reason not to put that old warhorse back on duty. I think you'll be surprised how well the milsurps perform when fed fresh fodder.


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COPYRIGHT 2005 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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