Performance of Pre-1950 Vintage Cartridges

Hello, I’m new here. I’m not an ammo collector, but rather a gun collector since the 1960s. My grandmother gave me my first piece, a 20GA Remington Rolling Block with a 2-1/2” chamber that had belonged to her father. I joined this group to get help identifying the odd lots of who-knows-what cartridges that come my way as part of gun trades. (As an aside, when Grandma was a kid in Buffalo before WW-1, her dad hunted ducks in a marsh on the edge of town. He got there on the streetcar, never bothered with a gun case, and it occurred to NOBODY that this might be a problem. How times have changed!)

That said, have any of you ever wondered how the pre-1950 cartridges in your collections would perform if you shot them? I actually shoot the guns in my collection. Maybe I can provide a little insight.

  1. Corrosive-primed black powder ammo has an indefinite shelf life. Circa 1975, when the stuff was just “crusty old ammo”, I shot up several hundred rounds of Frankford Arsenal 1890 45-70-505 Ball. Around the same time, I shot up a loose batch of UMC .22LR with copper cases (I’m guessing it was made before WW-1.) It all went off, shot accurately, and no problems with case cracks, splits or head separations.

  2. U.S.G.I. ammo is the gold standard. I’ve shot probably 100,000+ rounds of surplus ammo over the years, with never a problem. Other than the 45-70 mentioned above, the oldest was FA18 .45 Cal. M1911 Ball. I bought a M1911 pistol from the widow of a WW-1 veteran. It had spent 60 years in his sock drawer, loaded, and she didn’t know how to unload it. Had to soak the magazine in mineral spirits to dissolve the fossilized grease so I could empty the mag. Cartridges had turned black. I still have one. The other 6 all went off.

  3. U.S. sporting ammo used to be nearly as good. The older stuff with corrosive primers has better long-term reliability than later “Kleanbore”, “Staynless”, etc. I think quality has suffered lately, due to the rush to satisfy panic buyers.

  4. Foreign G.I. ammo seems more variable. From my notes:

–7.62mm x 54R Ball, shot in a Soviet Mosin-Nagant M91/30 rifle in the 1980s. VPT33 headstamp, brass cases. Ammo looked like it had been under water, the boxes were like papier-mache. Out of 10 rounds fired, only 4 performed normally. Of the others, one went pop and the bullet landed about 25 yards out. Two hang-fires, click-pause-pause-bang and click-pause- BOOM. One complete dud. One detonated, KA-F##KING-BOOM. One case split, and the gas came back through the action (safety glasses saved my eye.)

–British .303 Ball, shot in an Australian No. 1 Mk. 3 (SMLE) rifle in the 1980s. Many different lots, all brass cased. All of it went off, no problems. Arabic-marked Mk. 7, unknown manufacturer, accuracy was OK. WW-2 British-manufactured Mk. 7, accuracy was OK, some lots were better than others. WRA43 Mk. 7z made for Lend-Lease was significantly more accurate than either.

–German 7.92mm Ball, shot in a Danzig Arsenal Gewehr-98 rifle in the 1980s/90s. Lacquered steel cases, mixed WW-2 era headstamps, apparently machine-gun belt takeoffs. It came loose-packed in a plastic bag. Fired about 100 rounds, accuracy was OK, no problems whatsoever, and put the rest away. Found it again 10 years later. Of 5 rounds fired, two cracked at the case shoulder, probably due to corrosion.

–French 8mm Lebel Balle-N, tested in a Berthier M1907/15 rifle I bought in 2012. Brass cased, 1948 headstamp. It looked clean, but the primers were dead. None of it went off.

–German-manufactured 8mm x 56R M1930 Ball, shot in a Hungarian 1930s-reworked Steyr M1895 that I bought in 2008. Brass cased, 1938 headstamp, came on Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 clips in the original cardboard boxes, So far, all of it has gone off, no problems, accuracy on a par with British or German G.I. ammo. It’s very powerful – shooting at an armor-plate SWAT silhouette at 300 yards, I hit one of the carriage bolts holding it to the stand and blew the bolt head clean off.


Not me, but there are some on the forum who view shooters as evil. Cartridges are made for collecting !

;-) ;-)

I have actually come across one or two cartridge collectors (especially from the socialist utopia of the UK and Europe) who support strict European gun laws.

I am not referring to anyone on this forum, but a few that I have met at British militaria shows.


Except for the 45-70 which I have not fired, I have received similar results to what you posted.


I think Ray was referring to the fact that shooters sometimes shoot up vintage ammo for shooting, not that shooters / gun-owners are viewed as bad per-se (as they are oft viewed in Europe as you point out).

Matt - Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. Of course, there is a reverse side to that coin also. By shooting up some of the vintage cartridges, it makes the few remaining worth that much more. That’s a good thing if you already have yours, but not so good if you are still looking.


Sorry, guys, I had no evil intent when I shot up the FA90 45-70. This was about 1975. The guy who owned it (and helped me shoot it) was 50 years old then, and he inherited it from his grandfather. I imagine Gramps bought it from Francis Bannerman before WW-1 for about a penny a round. As I said, to us it was just crusty old ammo.


Please accept my apology for my use of the word “evil”. It was not intended to be taken literally and was more tongue-in-cheek. Notice my two winking smiley faces at the end of my post.

There are collectors who frown on shooting old ammunition. That is their opinion and they have every right to it. There are also collectors who see the other side of the coin that I mentioned. That is their opinion also. Where you or I fit into the game of cartridge collecting is as valid as any other. Somehow, we all seem to get along in spite of our differences.


Ray, no problem. I feel much the same about people who want to turn a collectible old gun into a crappy deer rifle. Back in the days when Sears had barrels full of surplus Enfields and Mausers for $10.00 each, that was pretty common. Fortunately, prices have risen enough that it doesn’t happen much any more.

When I was last in the USA I shot off a box of 1943 .30 Carbine made by Peters Cartridge Co.

All of the ammunition looked like it could have been made much more recently than 1943. All rounds functioned flawlessly.

It can be a bit of a buzz to fire off a few contemporary rounds in a historic rifle. The Martini and Snider enthusiasts over here do it from time to time. I have fired WW1 era .303 ammo in my SMLE, I did it on 11/11 at 11oclock, well, two minutes after actually.

I can see it as an appreciation, like the wine collectors who crack open a bottle of a rare vintage to sample it.

Atleast with people firing off vintage cartridges, the ones in collections will be more valued some day down the road…

I would imagine it would give you a bit of a thrill… Just as long as it doesn’t get too addicting. Lol.

Welcome to the forum. My interests are mostly in vintage lever gun cartridges and I have tested a number of original rounds, mostly .30 WCF, .30 W.C.F. Short range and Miniature, .32 Long Colt, .38 Special, .44-40 & .45 Colt, the last three being black powder. Most of those I tested had mercuric priming which I needed to replace in order to test the original cartridges since the primers had long since died.

The results have been enlightening. As it has turned out, at least in the cartridges I tested, some being 100+ years old, there was no loss in their ballistic strength nor accuracy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I use vintage ammunition to hunt big game. I do this to test old bullet design. I really like the old Remington Mushroom Cor-Lokt. The oldest was a 50/70 cartridge from the 1880’s used to HARVEST a bison. I don’t shoot antique ammo to knock holes in paper and or break up dirt clods.