'06 Target Marking Cartridges

A couple of questions regarding the Target Marking Cartridges.

  1. I have not seen any of the cartridges that were in good condition. The paint was very fragile and I can understand how it would be worn off in handling. Has anyone seen any cartridges that are in very good condition?

  2. I have green, red, and blue. What other colors are there?

  3. I have a couple that are tracers w/red tip painted over with marking colors. Are these common?


Ray–One of the reasons that you never see these with “good paint” is that it was NOT paint. It was Lithographic Ink. This was used in place of ink because it remains gooey and does not dry hard like paint for quite a long time. Also, standard practice was to wipe the ink off any rounds not fired before returning them to ammo storage, so it would be uncommon to find them with the ink still in place.

As for colors, I have seen orange, yellow, green, blue and red. There may be others, but only 4 colors were normally needed as the standard flight was 4 aircraft plus the tow target plane. These marking bullets may have been used by ground forces for training, but I have only seen them used in aircraft training.

I have a .50 Cal. BMG target marking round (at least that is what I think it is) with a yellow tip. It has seen a lot of handling and the tip is worn but it was different so I kept it.

My husband looked in Chris’s book and didn’t find any mention of this type of cartridge. Was this a tracer with just a different type of paint on the tip and was this only made during WW2? I have never seen any for sale so are they mistaken for tracers or some other type because the ink has dried



I confess that I don’t know a lot about these cartridges either. I believe there are forum members who actually used them and maybe they’ll give us the scoop.

What I do know is that they were used to train gunners, mostly during WWII. Just before firing, the cartridge tips were dipped in a pan of colored ink. A different color for each individual. When the bullet passed through the target it left a smudge of the ink. Instructers could tell which gunner had hit the target by observing the smudges.

( Many shooters today do the same thing when shooting at long distances, such as 1000 yards. One difference is that we use Magic Markers and each shot has a different color tip. We record the sequence of shots. When the target is examined we can see exactly where each shot hit.)

Since most of the marking cartridges were used up, they are not that common. Plus, the dried ink was very fragile and soon wore off. So, a cartridge with just a vestige of ink could be mistaken for a tracer, or an incendiary, etc.

I do have some that were definitely tracers. I pulled a few bullets to verify. The original red tips were covered by the ink so the only way to tell that they were tracers was by weight, and pulling the bullet.

I have one short linked belt of the cartridges and I assume they were used mostly in MGs although it doesn’t rule out their use by Riflemen as well.

I can’t explain why Chris would not mention them. Or HWS. I suppose because they did not have any official designation and were field mods only.

And that’s all I know about that.


There are several perfectly good reasons why Chris didn’t mention Target Markers: age and stupidity being two of the obvious ones. It was a simple omission though I’m not sure where I would have put them.

Like many of you, I had accumulated a whole bunch of these so-called “Target Markers” with different dates, manufacturers and colors. However, as Ron says, they were normally used with litho ink which was soft and easily removed. Most of those I had, possessed thick uneven paint coatings which looked very much like normal paint and not like dried litho ink. So I am very suspicious of most of them and suspect that a large number of them were simply “after-market” paint jobs which may have had no purpose beyond identifying a special batch for some long-dead shooter. We come along decades later and can’t find the color code in any military manual so we lump them into a category called “Target markers” while none of us can be sure that they were.

Chris P.


Like you, I have always been suspicious of some of those I have found. I’ve never found any that were in good enough condition to tell what they really looked liked when first “made”. And they could very well have been made by later-day shooters, similar to the modern ones that I described above.

What sorta made me re-think my dubiousness was when I found a short link belt full of them. All the same color and headstamp, every fifth round a tracer. That certainly fit the purpose that others have given to them.

I do seem to remember someone telling me that they actually fired marking cartridges when in the service. I didn’t pay much attention at the time so cannot recall now who it was, when, or any other details.

Ron seems to have a good handle on their use. Maybe he can fill in some of the missing details.


Gang–I have had limited experience with these “Target Markers”. My experience was with .50 BMG, not .30-06, but that makes no difference. The Lithographic Ink came in 1 gal paint cans. It is quite thick, not runny like most ink. We had a tray for each color, usually 4 different, that we poured about 3/4 inch of ink into. The belt of 100 rounds was rolled up and then set nose down in the ink. These were then put back in the can and immediatly taken to the flight line to be loaded aboard the planes. As, I said earlier, if any rounds came back (seldom happened), due usually to a gun jam, we wiped the ink off before returning them to ammo storage. I suspect that the main reason most of those in collectors hands show just bits of color are rounds that were just not carefully wiped clean. All that was required was to get MOST of the ink off as the next use would cover any small amounts remaining from the last use.

Of course these are not listed in Tech Manuals since they are not different loads. We made these up as needed that day and normally they were already linked 4 ball + 1 tracer when we received them from the bomb dump or ammo storage.


My military mind tells me that if those GIs were supposed to wipe the ink off any unfired cartridges, probably half of them were tossed back in the can untouched. I have a few cartridges where it’s obvious that the ink was never removed and the only places where it’s missing is the result of handling.