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Old May 7, 2008, 09:31 AM   #1
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Is "dirty ammo" a valid term?

This message belongs in an Ammo page, but also belongs here in reloading . . .

I have read countless messages referring to "dirty ammo" and "clean-burning ammo".

I know some "dirtiness" comes from bullet lube; some comes from incompletely burned powder.

Is "dirty" ammo really dirty?

What makes ammo "dirty" or "clean-burning"?

I think a good answer to this question would be of great help to many here, including me.
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Old May 7, 2008, 10:00 AM   #2
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I think there are three things at work here, with regards to "clean" or "dirty."

First is the bullet choice. If you are shooting swaged or cast lead bullets, like many reloaders use (much cheaper), you will have more flying lead particles, dust, etc. If you are shooting on an indoor range, you'll notice the difference depending on the ventilation system installed in the range. I know that when I was younger (mid to late 80s) we had a 50-foot indoor range at our club and there was NO ventilation. It just didn't occur to anyone at that point, I guess. Most of the shooting on that range was PPC, typically .38 special wadcutter loads with full, soft lead bullets. LOTS of shooting.

Jacketed bullets, or better yet, TMJ or completely jacketed bullets are supposed to reduce flying lead particles and I'm sure they do a good job of that. Jacketed bullets are more expensive.

The next thing at work would be the powder used in the ammo, and how the round is put together with regards to unburnt powder. Most all handgun rounds are going to show incomplete powder burning, but some moreso than others. As reloaders, we do have a little bit of control in this area depending on our powder choice and how stiff a load we put together.

Lastly, and relatively new to the scene are the new priming compounds offered in some of the new factory loaded "cleaner" ammo. As reloaders, we know very little about this and as best I can tell, we aren't offered these new cleaner primers. At least I've never seen them offered.

For my buck, I don't shoot at indoor ranges. I'm not saying that I refuse, just that I don't care to. For many reasons that aren't necessarily relevant to the topic, I'd just much rather shoot outdoors. So clean or unclean ammo isn't much of a concern to me. I can tell you that using different loads and different powders certainly do make a difference in how dirty my handguns are after a range day, but it doesn't affect my choice whatsoever, because I'm going to clean my guns whether they are a "little" dirty or a lot.

Hope this helps a little bit.
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Old May 7, 2008, 10:43 AM   #3
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With repsect to the part of "clean" that has to do with powder residue (rather than lead, lube or unburned powder granules), I think it is more a matter of asthetics than function EXCEPT for ammo intended for auto-loading guns. Ammo that leaves a lot of residue tends to make semiautos cycle slower and sometimes they can ge so dirty that they fail to cycle (feed), especially with light target ammo. This is true of both gas operated guns and recoil operated guns, including pistols, shotguns and maybe rifles (although really light loads in gas-operated rifles are usually not possible).

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Old May 7, 2008, 03:01 PM   #4
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Oh yeah. When I shoot Unique powder loads through my nickel 1911, the last inch of the slide gets grimy after 10rds.
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Old May 7, 2008, 11:17 PM   #5
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Load up 20 or so .223 with ADI benchmark1 & shoot - when you clean it there will be some carbon on your patch

Fire a the same number of Wolf or Highland (here in NZ) - patch after patch will be black, the gas block will be crusted with filth, the inside of your fore end will be full of crud

Yes there is dirty ammo!
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Old May 8, 2008, 04:29 AM   #6
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Long answer..........with a moral..........

I have a Ruger Red Label that has been converted to 45/70. It's regulated with 300 grain bullets at around 1600-1700 FPS. This duplicates Remington factory loads with the 300 grain bullet.

We've tried a number of different powders with the 300 grain bullet. Settled on 3031. Shoots well and fills the case to where there is no chance of a double charge.

When we shoot the Rem. factory loads there is a PILE of residue in the bore and the action gets to be a mess in a hurry. The smith that built it ( I picked the load that I wanted it regulated with not him. ) commented on how dirty the amunition was while he was regulating it. We've noted the same thing with our reloads.

As best we can tell the 300 grain bullet does not provide enough resistence with the load we are using to burn the powder completely. Same problem with the Remington factory stuff.

We tried using some 405 grain slugs in front of the 3031 to see if the heavier bullet would produce different results. They did not shoot as tight even though the spread between the barrels was still plenty good for hunting.

What we did find though is that with the heavier slugs the residue decreased significantly. In fact as we uped the charge they burned cleaner and cleaner.

Did all this during the summer.

When hunting season rolled around went to the range a few days before and shot off about 10 rounds of the 300 grain stuff to be sure that sights were still right. Whiped out the bore and put her in the case. Had decided that the 300 grain was still the best for hunting.

Second weekend of hunting season. I'm still hunting along the edge of a swamp looking for hogs. Hear a couple up ahead coming my way. I get ready. They finally come out into the open at about 15 yards. One offers a perfect side shot. Lined it up and pulled the trigger. CLICK!

For a moment I just froze. Why had the gun not gone off? Lined up the hog again and pulled the trigger a second time. The second barrel went off but as I was shook up by the misfire I misfired and the hog scurried off a ways.

Relaoded as the hogs made a crazy march through the palmettos. They did not know what to make of the noise or where it came from. In about 30 seconds another one comes running by. Pull the trigger and CLICK!

Hog keeps coming. Pull the trigger again and the second barrel fires. Hog ends up going home to the grill.

Question though is WHY, twice, the first barrel did not fire?

Both of the unfired rounds showed impacted primers. We spent a couple of hours inspecting brass. Checking primer seating depth. All sorts of stuff. When we put them back in the gun and pulled the trigger they went off the second time. Primed a few empty cases and ran them through the rifle. They all went off.

Finally decide that there must have been something I did wrong in the wood to make the gun not fire. And here is what we found.

Both initially and when I reloaded after the first shot, I had not SNAPED the action shut. In the first instance I can't say why I had not but in the second I was trying not to make aditional noise to let the hogs know where I was.

Figured out that the action had enough residue from those 'Dirty" 300 grain loads to where a few bits of it had kept the action from closing the last couple of thousanths. It was closed enough to go CLICK on the top barrel but not closed enough to go bang. The bottom barrel worked fine.


First off remember that O/Us and doubles are ment to be snaped shut. That was my error.

But also be aware that dirty amunition can, if you're not a clean freak, make the critical difference in imperfect situations that will keep your gun from going BANG.
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