7.62 x 51 M118 Sniper

I have two 7.62 x 51 NATO rounds with the headstamp “NATO Mark LC 85” and “NATO mark LC 87”. They came out of boxes marked “Special Ball M118”. I was told these were special loads for snipers. True or False? What is “Special” about them. They appear to be normal ball loads.


M118 is the designation for match ammunition. The ones I have are earlier (1960s) and do not have the NATO mark.

The XM118 and M118 were replaced by the XM 852 and M852 with a 168 grain Sierra HP BT bullet.

Boxes of the later M118 were typically marked “7.62 MM NATO SPECIAL BALL M118

Check the COAL. You may find that they are slightly longer to accomodate the match bullets.


Ray–I have several M118 Match rounds ranging from 1965 to 1977 with headstamps like “LC 65 MATCH”. They all have the word “MATCH” as part of the headstamp.
Since the two I am asking about do not say “MATCH” and the boxes say “Special Ball”, I thought maybe they were not normal match loads.

The information I have on the M118 Match is 174 gr. GM POINTED FMJ; BOAT-TAIL Bullet. You mention a 168 gr. bullet. What years were they used? The weights of my two are 398.2 gr. for the 1985 and 401.8 for the 1987 round.
All my M118 with “MATCH” in the headstamp weigh 402.0 gr.


In the 1970s, match shooters were inclined to pull the bullets from M118 cartridges and replace them with commercial 168 grain Sierras. This practice was expressly forbidden by the rules but it was more or less overlooked. This ammunition came to be popularly called “Mexican Match.”

Always looking for improvements in match ammunition, the Army decided to make the “Mexican Match” ammo official and first introduced it in 1980 on a trial basis. It was produced in 1981 as 7.62mm Match XM852. Because of the HP bullets they were careful to mark the boxes “NOT FOR COMBAT USE.”

I’m not 100% certain but I believe the M118 dropped the “Match” headstamp in 1983 or there-a-bouts and the boxes were labeled with the “SPECIAL BALL” designation thereafter to identify them and differentiate them from the M852 Match and from the standard service issue. Today, the M118 is seldom used for matches but is still in the supply system AFAIK. It’s used mostly for training and by military snipers armed with the 7.62mm rifles. So, there is a sniper connection but the ammunition is officially “Match”.

The “official” weight of the M852 cartridges is listed at 383 grains but I’ve found that most of them weigh a little more, and not much different than any of the M118. Probably has more to do with the case than the bullet.

In my previous post I said that the M118 was replaced briefly by the M852. I don’t know why I typed the word “briefly”. I’ve edited it out.


Ray–So, were the M852 and M118 both produced in the early 1980’s in the same years or was only one type produced in a particular?


Good question. Short answer is - I don’t know. I suppose it would take a “headstamp hunter” to know which particular years the M118 and M852 were produced.

I only collect representative specemins of the “competition” cartridges such as NM, AMU, etc and even then I am interested primarily in the early stuff and not so much the current production.

BTW, the early M852 was further identified by a cannelure that ran around the case a short distance up from the base. I’m not sure if they are still so marked.



I have not shot any service matches in years so I asked one of my shooting friends about the current status of Match ammunition. He said that shooters are returning to the M118 because of problems with the 168 gr Sierra at long range (1000 yards). He said that the latest M852 that he has is dated LC 91. He is checking to see if he can update to the current year. I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.


The latest version of M118 is the M118LR. (LR = Long Range) M118LR is loaded with the 175gr Sierra MatchKing.


You’re right as usual. I failed to mention the bullet change for the M118. I’m trying to determine when it was made. Do you know?



Here’s a summary of the M118 and M852 rounds from my shooter friend. He pretty well covers the “Special Ball” aspect.

To the best of my knowledge the M118LR ammo is currently being manufactured at the Lake City Ammunition Plant. I know that they’re shipping fresh pallets of the stuff to our troops in Iraq and Afganistan as fast as it can be produced.

I can’t be of too much help with the chronology of all the 7.62 NATO match ammo as I’m taking this mostly from my memory, and like many old farts I suffer from CRS disease. Here’s what I can tell you -
The first arsenal loaded 7.62 NATO Match ammo was produced at the Frankford Arsenal by loading the 173 gr. match bullet from the M72 .30-'06 Match round into the 7.62x51 case. They named it the 7.62 International Match round. This was around 1956. It was later named the M118NM (National Match) and used for quite a few years until the MTU’s figured out that the accuracy problems attributed to this cartridge were due to the bullet. It was an old GI design manufactured on decades old equipment and was never made to true match bullet standards. The AMTU called on Sierra to design a new bullet that would cure the ills that they were experiencing with the 173 gr. design at the 600 yard line in Service Rifle competition. Sierra reworked their 168 gr. International Hollow Point bullet and came up with what is now the 168 gr. MatchKing bullet. This bullet was used by the AMTU to develop a 7.62 NATO load that would give them the accuracy that they required at 600 yards while functioning through the (nominal) 2.800" magazine of the M14 match rifle. They originally named this load the XM852 Match in 1980 and M852 Match in 1981. Remaining stocks of the M118NM ammo were redesignated M118SB (Special Ball) and used for marksmanship training purposes. It was also issued to Guard units for competition when stocks of M852 were low. It was then discovered that the M852 ammo had some problems when it was used at ranges where its bullet went trans sonic. It was reported that the 168 gr. bullets might tend to yaw at these velocities so the AMTU went back to Sierra, where a new bullet was designed that had a less steep boat tail angle. This seemed to do the trick. The new bullet became the 175 gr. MatchKing bullet, and the round was designated the M118LR (Long Range). Hence the confusion between the three different M118 (NM, SB, LR) designations. The transition to M118LR ammo took place in the mid-late 1990’s and this round is the one that’s still in production today. I hope that I didn’t get too long-winded and provide too much information.[/i]

Ray–Thank for friend for a REALLY great summery of the 7.62 x 51 Match cartridge.

The M118 and M852 are but one facet of 7.62 x 51 Match ammunition. Shortly after the establishement of the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) in 1956 they began production of their own ammunition. I have boxes of ammunition manufactured by both Remington and Winchester with their own unique bullets and headstamps that were made expressly for the AMU.

A collector looking for a “specialty” that is still wide open could do a lot worse than 7.62mm Match cartridges.



This just in from another shooter. It gets curiouser and curiouser.


M118 Special Ball is distinctly different than M118 and is not repackaged M118. You’ll find that SB has a crimped in primer and is loaded with ball powder where M118 was loaded with stick powder. SB was a combat round primarily used by snipers.

Ray–So when the guy I got these from said it was a “Sniper” round, maybe he knew what he was talking about. Any documention for this or just “hear-say”.


What we have here is NOT a failure to communicate. The problem we have is that all of the communications, including mine, are the recollections of old men. :) :)

I have been trying to make some sense of all of this. Taking what’s been posted, and several other comments from shooters that I haven’t posted, here’s what I come up with.

M852 was always a Match cartridge. It was intended to replace and legitimize the “Mexican Match” M118. It fell from favor when the bullet (168 grain SMK) failed to perform as expected at the extreme distance (1000 yards). Shooters and organizations who have existing stocks on hand use it for the shorter distances (200-600 yards). The last M852 was apparantly manufactured in 1996.

M118NM was always a Match cartridge. 173 grain FMJ bullet. It was replaced in 1981 with the M852. Remaining stocks of the M118NM were repackaged as M118SB (Special Ball). It was used for practice, training, by National Guard Units for competition when M852 was not obtainable, and by snipers during the 1st Gulf War. It was only used by snipers because the JAG determined (incorrectly) that the M852 violated the Hague Conventions.

M118LR is the current Match Standard, loaded with the 175 grain SMK. It is also used in Iraq and Afganistan as a sniper round and possibly for other combat situations since the JAG has since determined that the match bullet does not violate the Hague accords.

All of this is subject to change, of course, as new information comes in.


Will any of this be covered in Hackely, Woodin & Scranton Volume III?

Anyone know the current status of their progress?

One series of cartridges not mentioned so far are the four evaluated in 1980 ultimately leading to the M852. Dissatisfaction with the M118 led to the evaluation of four commercial bullets - Sierrra 168gr BTHP, Hornady 168gr BTHP, Nosler 168gr BTHP and Lapua 170gr D46 FMJ. A head to head agains the M118 demonstrated that the Sierra and Lapua bullets gave a signifcant improvement in accuracy. While the Lapua bullet offered a slight advantage over the Sierra, it was not deemed enough to overcome the increased cost of the Lapua bullet. Hence the new match cartridge, the XM852 later the M852, used the Sierra 168gr BTHP bullet and appears to have been adopted in 1981. Headstamp for the test catridges using the Sierra and Lapua bullets is LC 80 SP - I’ve not seen verified examples of the Hornady or Nosler cartridges (can anyone help me out here?). The SP cases have a knurl 0.5" from the base of the case compsred to 0.3" for the M852. Headstamp on the latter cartridge is either LC year NM or LC year MATCH. Reference Technical Report ARSCD-TR-81018 7.62mm Match cartridge accuracy improvement program JW Hettel, July 1981.

Earlier this evening I pulled a M118 and M118 special ball - I can’t see any difference in powder.

I believe that the M118 LR entered production in 1997.

Dave S

Dave S


It’s always been my understanding that the 168 SMK finally selected for the XM852 was developed by USAMU for 300 meter shooting by modifying the older International match bullet. If true that AMU was involved, that may explain why the SMK was selected.

For those interested, the boxes for the pre-XM852 were labeled 20 CARTRIDGES 7.62 MM, PXR-6308 LOT LC-80F300S111 1980 NATIONAL MATCH BULLET 168 GRAINS VELOCITY 2550 FPS.

I have heard other shooters say that the powder in the M118 and M118SP is the same. I believe that the powder may have been changed more than once over the life of the M118 depending on who had the contract to operate the LC plant at the time. Just a SWAG though.

BTW, where could a poor collector get some of those test cartridges?


The lot numbers for the acceptances were
LC80J 300-S-119 (Sierrra bullet)
LC80J 300-S-120 (Hornady bullet)
LC80J 300-S-121 (Nosler bullet)
LC80J 300-S-121 (Lapua bullet)

I’ll try to post a picture of the Lapua box - if anyone has examples othe others they wish to trade, please contact me by PM

The pre-XM852 box you describe comes from a lot delivered to Camp Perry in July 1980 for the National Matches.

Dave S

I have been trying to get a handle on the origin of LC 7.62MM NATO SPECIAL BALL M118 ammunition and a possible relationship to XM852/M852. An '88 M118(SB) SPECIAL BALL round (lot LC-88B137-031) yielded the following: COAL 2.810", “LC 87” with NATO cross marked casing which looks identical to an “LC 87” M80 casing with NATO cross, annular crimped primer with red sealer, 174.5 gr. tar sealed FMJBT GM bullet, and 43.9gr. of a ball powder which appears to be WC 846 (same powder used in '87 M80 Ball). Different lots of M118SB were reported to be loaded with either WC 846 ball powder or IMR 4895 rifle powder.
Col. W. Hays Parks (USMC/JAG Corp) reported in '85 that the military had tried to “spin” the tips of the M852’s Sierra 168gr OTM closed (below), but the rounds showed very inconsistent accuracy. This is exactly the performance that most people who used M118SB have reported, especially the earlier lots. By '88, M118SB accuracy was reported to be much better, but still not up the level of M852. Other people who cut their teeth on M118SB in training and in the 1st Gulf War have said that selected lots of M118SB shot very well. Several USMC & US Army shooters have stated that M118 SPECIAL BALL was their primary tactical round prior to the development of the Sierra MatchKing based M118 Long Range (LR) 175gr OTM cartridge. I can’t find an XM118 SPECIAL BALL box to get an approximate date of introduction from the lot number. M118 SPECIAL BALL looks like it just popped up around the same time M852 did or shortly thereafter. M118 SPECIAL BALL may be the result of the “closed tip” MatchKing ammunition Col. Parks referred to.


SNIPER USE OF OPEN TIP AMMUNITION (Col. W. Hays Parks (USMC/JAG Corp), 23 Sept 1985)

Because of concern over the potential mis-characterization of the M852 as a “hollow point” bullet that might violate the purpose and intent of the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets, some M852 MatchKing bullets were modified to close the aperture. The “closed tip” MatchKing did not measure up to the accuracy of the “open tip” MatchKing.

Other match grade bullets were tested. While some could approach the accuracy standards of the MatchKing in some lots, quality control was uneven, leading to erratic results. No other match grade bullet consistently could meet the accuracy of the open-tip bullet.

  1. Conclusion.

The purpose of the 7.62mm “open-tip” MatchKing bullet is to provide maximum accuracy at very long range. Like most 5.56mm and 7.62mm military ball bullets, it may fragment upon striking its target, although the probability of its fragmentation is not as great as some military ball bullets currently in use by some nations. Bullet fragmentation is not a design characteristic, however, nor a purpose for use of the MatchKing by United State Army snipers. Wounds caused by MatchKing ammunition are similar to those caused by a fully jacketed military ball bullet, which is legal under the law of war, when compared at the same ranges and under the same conditions. The military necessity for its use-- its ability to offer maximum accuracy at very long ranges–is complemented by the high degree of discriminate fire it offers in the hands of a trained sniper. It not only meets, but exceeds, the law of war obligations of the United States for use in combat.

This opinion has been coordinated with the Department of State, Army General Counsel, and the Offices of the Judge Advocates General of the Navy and Air Force, who concur with its contents and conclusions.

An opinion that reaches the same conclusion has been issued simultaneously for the Navy and Marine Corps by The Judge Advocate General of the Navy.
Authored by W. Hays Parks, Colonel, USMC,
Chief of the JAG’s International Law Branch

LC 87 M80 headstamp on left-LC 87 M118SB on right (click to enlarge)
i9.photobucket.com/albums/a72/le … 18SB88.jpg