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Today’s .303 Surplus, rimmed for the extractor’s pleasure!

By Luke Dixon

If you’re the type with a penchant for surplus ammunition you’ll no doubt have been sucked into the ‘Feast or Famine’ that is feeding your military calibre rifles.

 

It doesn’t seem that long ago that there were swathes of 8mm Mauser floating about, you had your pick of flavours: Turkish, Serbian, Yugoslavian, Romanian and more. Looking for 8mm Mauser surplus now is akin to being last inline at the tuck shop, a tedious process with only crumbs to satisfy you.

 

If you enjoy slinging .303 British, there used to be a steady supply, but up until a couple of years ago even that was starting to dry up. Luckily however, Gun City has now secured a fresh supply of surplus ammunition that offers a few more benefits than much of what came before it. 

 

Samples of different production years.

 

Previous surplus ammo for the .303 came in a few different varieties; most common were the New Zealand domestically produced rounds from the Colonial Ammunition Company (“CAC”) which was generally well liked. Since then we have had British-made Radway Green, Canadian Dominion, Iraqi (Click....Bang), Pakistani Ordnance Factory, and a few others.

  

As was the practice in most militaries throughout the early to mid-20th century, small-arms ammunition was produced with long-lasting primers. While this has given us shootable ammunition from over half a century ago, the process of producing those primers meant they released corrosive salts when discharged.

 

“Gun City has now secured a fresh supply of surplus ammunition that offers a few more benefits...

 

Cleaning your rifle is an absolute must when shooting this ammunition. I personally use a Ballistol and water mix, but there are many effective methods. The old rule was if you are unsure whether your .303 ammo is corrosive look at the primer – copper colour = corrosive, brass = non-corrosive. Not all military surplus is corrosive, but a large majority is, the golden rule is treat all surplus ammo as if it were. 

 

HXP AMMUNITION

Pyrkal of Athens, otherwise known as “Greek Powder & Cartridge Company”, was established in 1874 and started exporting military rifle ammunition in 1908. There are five different headstamps used by Pyrkal: EPK, GPC, PC, PCH, and the most common you’ll find, HXP.

 

From here on I will refer to this surplus ammunition as HXP. During World War II Pyrkal was occupied and utilized by the Germans. Ultimately the factory was ravaged during the German retreat; fortunately, the factory was re-established with financial assistance from the Greek government. 

 

HXP ammunition is loaded with a ball-type powder.

 

With the support of the US, Olin Industries (Winchester) provided powder production facilities and new top-quality manufacturing equipment. Pyrkal was appointed as a member of the US Offshore Procurement Program, which meant supplying the US Military with rounds made to very stringent specifications. The ammunition produced was also used domestically in weapons supplied by the US.

 

Prior to this however, the Greeks had been using Lee Enfield No.4s and other arms in .303 British. Interest in retaining those weapons meant producing .303 on the new Winchester tooling. The British, a few decades later, took advantage of Pyrkal’s high quality ammunition by purchasing batches of .303 for the Cadet Corps. HXP ammunition came from the factory in a variety of packaging types, and .30-06 M2 Ball was often supplied in sealed tins, or “Spam Cans”, which require the key provided to pull a tab of sheet metal, thereby splitting the can open.

 

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Inside you’d find two bandoliers each containing 12 Garand en-block clips for a total of 192 rounds. M2 ball was also available in pre-loaded M1903 Springfield clips or loose in your standard ammo tin. Some .303 ammo was also provided in the same way, with or without charger clips in either container.

 

Occasionally you’ll find the other variations which included cardboard boxes too. Now declared surplus by various governments, HXP ammunition has become popular all over the world with civilian shooters. In the US, HXP .30-06 M2 Ball has been the staple of the Civilian Marksmanship Program for many years and is very well regarded for use in the M1 Garand. A search online for opinion of the HXP .303 will net you a barrage of complementary posts covering its accuracy and consistency. Suffice to say, the shooters of the world seem to love HXP. 

 

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU BUY

The .303 British ammunition produced by HXP is known as Mk VIIz standard.

 

The official stats are as follows: 

  • 174gr Spitzer Full Metal Jacket Flat Base Projectile
  • 41gr of Olin Ball Powder
  • Annealed Brass Case 
  • Non-Corrosive Boxer Primed
  • 2440fps Muzzle Velocity

 

The ammunition currently being sold is produced as above however the rounds are advertised as potentially displaying tarnish, corrosion, pitting and/or discolouration. But before you throw your hands up in the air, it’s not as bad as it sounds, the story does have a happy ending.

 

The ammunition is from stocks that were held by the Greeks, and while the ammunition works well, the environment they were stored in was not ideal, so Gun City has put some of the worst rounds through a tumbler. I have had ZERO failures to fire, and some pretty decent accuracy that I will get into later. You might want to inspect each round, but to be fair you could probably just grab a pack and fire away no problem.

 

These are 174gr FMJ projectiles. Note the black sealant (see text).

 

The vast majority of the rounds are fine, but I think it better to spend a little time looking them over. I’m a surplus ammo enthusiast so I may be a little on the pedantic side, but so far this is the method I have used:

 

First: Check each cartridge for correct projectile seating, there is the odd one where the projectile has receded back into the case.Second: Lightly shake each cartridge to confirm that the powder is not stuck together within the case. I have opened the odd round to find clumped powder, so far about 1 out of 150 rounds. Third: Any with a strong ‘rust-red’ tinge, I give a quick polish. 

 

“Every shot with the HXP had reliable ignition, no hang-fires or high-pressure marks on the primers.

 

Ferg from Gun City has expressed to me that if anyone purchases any rounds where the projectile has receded inside the case they should bring the affected rounds into their local Gun City store. They will be happy to exchange them.When you first open your pack of HXP ammo you’ll find a variety of years of manufacture. So far, going through my collection of .303, I have found years 1969, 1973, 1975 and 1976.

 

There does not appear to be any discernible difference between the different years. Interestingly enough a few odd individual rounds have snuck through as well, I have found several World War II vintage rounds from Canada, UK and South Africa. The projectiles are standard in profile with a flat base and a lead core, however they do differ from their World War II counterparts.

 

Standard Mk.VII .303 military projectiles have a full copper jacket containing a lead core in the base and an aluminium section at the tip, making the bullet base heavy but stable in flight. Upon impact that weight imbalance creates a violent yawing effect, but HXP has instead opted for a solid lead core with copper jacket.

 

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The projectiles also have a black sealant for better seating, although neither the cases nor my rifle’s chamber/barrel show any remnants of the sealant once fired. One of the big selling points of the HXP ammunition is the brass. The cases are easily reloadable and for this reason alone they have been incredibly popular. The boxer type primers are large rifle size. The primer pockets are good and the case walls are adequate for a number of reloads. 

 

SHOOTING

A blazing January sun at my back, a gentle breeze caressing the grass - the perfect time I thought. Carefully I slid six rounds into my Eddystone P14 and settled in to fire several strings at 100 yards. This rifle shoots high and tends to group around 2-3 inches at 100 yards with run-of-the-mill hunting ammo. The first group came in at 2.2-inches. Pleased, I fired three more.

 

The next group came in just under 3-inches. Every group of the six I fired was in that ball park, for context though you must appreciate that I am using a 103 year-old rifle with iron sights. One of these days I will invest in a chronograph, but fortunately one of my friends Dave does in fact have one. I sent Dave a sample of 10 rounds all dated 1976; the results were an average of 2454fps, extreme spread of 72fps.

 

Typical groups shot with Luke’s P14 at 100 yards. Not bad accuracy from an early 20th-century military rifle with iron sights.

 

The standard deviation of 29fps falls just inside the maximum of 32fps for military acceptance in most western countries. Every shot with the HXP had reliable ignition, no hang-fires or high-pressure marks on the primers. The rounds load and eject as per any other quality cartridge. The recoil compared with other .303 rounds is about the same as 180gr Federal Power-Shok, but only slightly more than say 150gr Sellier & Bellot.

 

CONCLUSION

It should surprise no-one that surplus ammo is not the same as your off-the-shelf standard hunting or target ammo in terms of accuracy or polish. But that’s not to say that the rounds are not worth your time. The accuracy is acceptable, it’s not just making a bang for the hell of it.

 

You get the chance to fire what the rifles were designed to use, and for plinking and some competition these rounds are great value. Accuracy of course is going to be very subjective from rifle to rifle. Most rifles chambered for .303 are going to be Lee Enfields, P-14s and/or Martini Henrys with a few exceptions.

 

“ Personally I like to own the military ammo designed for my military rifle, they go together hand in hand.

 

Remember that for those rifles to have been given military acceptance in many cases a 4-inch group at 100 yards was all that was needed. Personally I like to own the military ammo designed for my military rifle, they go together hand in hand. In Europe and the USA most .303s are fed PPU 174gr FMJ made to Mk VIIz standards, but all we seem to get here is hunting ammo for the most part.

 

With the recent law changes I suspect we will see more interest in the older service rifles. Perhaps then, maybe we’ll have an importer brave enough to bring the PPU service line in. For now at least, Gun City has got you covered with surplus .303 and for that I’m grateful.

 

So if that Enfield of yours is looking a little hungry, get in quick while stocks last.

 

Luke

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