Last Updated :: 4/5/2011 11:02:48 AM EDT
COMBLOC AMMO FAQ
This FAQ is written to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding what I will label "ComBloc" ammo - ammunition made by current or former communist countries (mostly Russia), all of which share several similarities. The most commonly encountered of these is "Wolf", so you can also think of this as the "Wolf FAQ". Some of the discussion is unique on AR-15's which tends to be a little more selective in what will run in the relatively long, straight-walled chamber. Most other information is generic.
What is Wolf ammo?
First of all keep in mind that Wolf is an importer of ammunition, not a manufacturer. Wolf contracts with several different ammunition makers to make ammo, which is then sold under the Wolf brand. .22LR ammo, for example, is actually made in Germany. Some of the most well-known ammunition manufacturers in Russia include Tula, Barnaul, Ulyanovsk and Klimovsk. Academy Sporting Goods stores, for example, sell Barnaul and Prvi Partizan manufactured ammo under the "Monarch" label.
So which ammo plant makes which ammo exactly?
IMPORTANT UPDATE April 2011: Bryan from AIM says that WOLF is not using Tula or Ulyanovsk for any of their ammunition anymore. I will update the list below to reflect that change as more information becomes available.
Barnaul Manufactured Ammunition
.223 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
.223 Soft Point SILVER BEAR
.223 WOLF Performance Ammunition (WPA)
.30-06 Soft Point SILVER BEAR
.30-06 FMJ SILVER BEAR
7.62x39 FMJ SILVER BEAR
7.62x39 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
7.62x39 Soft Point SILVER BEAR
7.62x54 Soft Point SILVER BEAR
7.62x54 FMJ SILVER BEAR
.308 Soft Point SILVER BEAR
.308 FMJ SILVER BEAR
5.45x39 FMJ SILVER BEAR
.223 Hollow Point BROWN BEAR
.223 Soft Point BROWN BEAR
7.62x39 Hollow Point BROWN BEAR
7.62x39 FMJ BROWN BEAR
7.62x39 Soft Point BROWN BEAR
7.62x54 FMJ BROWN BEAR
7.62x54Soft Point BROWN BEAR
.410 Shot SILVER BEAR
.223 Hollow Point GOLDEN BEAR
.223 Soft Point GOLDEN BEAR
7.62x39 FMJ GOLDEN BEAR
7.62x39 Hollow Point GOLDEN BEAR
7.62x39 Soft Point GOLDEN BEAR
Monarch blue box (changed to a red box in 2009) ammunition sold by Academy sporting goods stores.
Ulyanovsk Manufactured Ammunition
.223 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
.223 Mil-Spec SILVER BEAR
7.62 Effect (nipple) SILVER BEAR
.40 S&W SILVER BEAR
. 40 S&W 180 gr. FMJ SILVER BEAR
. 40 S&W 180 gr HP SILVER BEAR
. 45 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
. 45 FMJ SILVER BEAR
. 45 Mil-Spec SILVER BEAR
7.6239 Mil-Spec BROWN BEAR
WOLF "Mil-Spec" ammo
WOLF Military Classic.
Novosibirsk Manufactured Ammunition
9x19 FMJ SILVER BEAR
9x19 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
9x19 115 gr. HP SILVER BEAR
9x17 FMJ SILVER BEAR
9x17 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
9x18 FMJ SILVER BEAR
9x18 Hollow Point SILVER BEAR
9x19 FMJ BROWN BEAR
9x19 Hollow Point BROWN BEAR
9x19 115 gr. HP BROWN BEAR
9x17 FMJ BROWN BEAR
9x17 Hollow Point BROWN BEAR
9x18 FMJ BROWN BEAR
9x18 Hollow Point BROWN BEAR
Wolf 7.62 X 54R made by LVE
Tula Cartridge Works
Wolf black box
Thanks to member Yasenovo for compiling a majority of this list.
Another excellent resource can be found at www.ak-47.us, and it includes some info on Chinese ammo as well.
What makes Combloc ammo different from other ammo I'm used to?
In one simple word: STEEL. These countries built up their ammunition infrastructure around the use of steel. Cases, jackets, cores in any combination. Steel is cheaper than brass cases and copper gilding metal jackets. In the West, we've typically not cared about the incremental cost associated with these components. I'm sure there are other advantages/disadvantages than what I just touched on - feel free to send me links that have more information on this matter. I should note that some US made ammo also includes steel jackets. Current production M80 ball made by Winchester is actually made prevalently with steel jackets.
Will the steel components hurt my rifle?
The answer - unless someone can specifically show me something to the contrary - is "probably not" or even an outright "no." For a better explanation, let's examine the individual components used:
Cases: The most common item made is steel is usually the case. The steel is a mild steel, not hardened steel, and much softer than the hardened steel of the chamber. It's even less of an issue when the chamber is chrome lined. One frequent culprit is supposed to be that steel cases wear out the extractor faster. There's no specific evidence for this, but even if it's true - an extractor is exceedingly cheap, and the cost is more than offset by the savings of shooting steel ammo.
Jackets: Most Wolf .223 has been made with copper/gilding metal jackets, just like US ammo. Some 7.62x39 ammo also had all-copper jackets, and were sold in the usual black box but with a yellow band in one corner advertising it as copper-jacketed. Barring these exceptions, jackets are MILD steel with a thick copper plating. For this reason alone - if the only qualifying test is to use a magnet - virtually all combloc ammo will "fail". While Wolf .223 has been an exception, the latest production material is steel jacketed also: "None of our ammunition is steel cored, it is illegal to have any steel cored ammunition imported, and we have all our ammunition imported. All our ammunition has lead cores, and does not spark! Probably the only reason they think this is from a magnet test which shows the magnet sticks to the bullet, not because of a steel core like assumed, but because the jacket is a copper/steel mix, (one layer of copper on top of one layer of steel), which is why it's called a bi-metal jacket. If the magnet didn't stick to some calibers it's only because the jacket was all copper instead of bi-metal. We are phasing out the all copper jackets and having only bi-metal because it's more cost efficient."
Steel jackets usually mean poor terminal performance. They will not fragment and behave like a true FMJ. Even SP bullets usually do not perform as well as SP bullets made with traditional gilding metal. There are some exceptions to this. The 7.62x39 HP made by Ulyanovsk (Wolf Military Classic), the Silver Bear 62gr HP, and the Winchester M80 ball make with a steel jacket all seem to fragment and produce good terminal performance. For more information about Russian caliber terminal performance, please refer to this post.
Cores: Most ComBloc ammo is lead core, just like any other US ammo. There are some exceptions to this rule. The most common is surplus 7.62x54R, which contains a MILD steel core. These mild steel cores do not make the ammo AP. There is also some old Chinese and East German (and probably others) 7.62x39 ammo that has steel cores. There is no steel core .223 ammo that I'm aware of. If you have some older 7.62x39, you'll have to do some research to find out if it's steel core. A good reference site to check on 7.62x54R is here, while info on 7.62x39 can be found here. Other common calibers with steel cores are M855 (5.56) and 7N6 (5.45x39). Neither make the ammo AP, but the steel cores are supposed to provide enhanced penetration of hard targets.
So why won't my range allow me to shoot this ammo?
Questions have repeatedly surfaced about the use of ammo containing steel on ranges which don't allow it after subjecting your ammo to the infamous "magnet test". Most range owners are not interested in accurately knowing what the ammo really contains; either they chose to remain ignorant, or do so on purpose in order to sell you more expensive ammunition. Even though this guide will be informative to you, don't be surprised if any explanation will fall on deaf ears of the range owner. The reason given by the range is usually that since it attracts a magnet, it has steel in it. The only place that can come from is the bullet core, and that obviously means armor piercing, which will hurt the backstop. As was discussed in the previous section, you can count on at least the case to contain steel. That fact alone would make the "magnet" test useless. Even if the jacket material and/or core were to contain steel, they would be of the "mild" steel variety and extremely unlikely to damage the backstop.
There's very little you can do at this point in time - either change the ammo you shoot, or change which range you go to.
Why do steel cases look like they're coated?
All steel cased ammo needs a coating of some kind or another to prevent the case from rusting. The most common of these is the green "lacquer" coating, and is still found on a large variety of ComBloc ammo. Other common variations include the new "polymer" coating seen on Wolf and Wolf Military classic, the zinc plating on Silver Bear, the brass plating on Golden Bear, and copper washed cases, frequently seen on Chinese manufactured 7.62x39. They all serve the same function.
Here are some samples of current 7.62x39 ammo, complements of Shrike37:
Green lacquer - Isn't that what gums up the chamber when it gets hot and melts?
Surprising, isn't it?
First of all, the coating probably isn't lacquer at all. True lacquer doesn't have very good heat resistance, and would cause havoc in super-hot rifle chambers. As a matter of fact, you can heat a fired lacquer-coated case with a blow torch, and the lacquer won't melt. Unfortunately, this piece of common (and incorrect!) knowledge continues to be very pervasive. Wolf was so plagued by these rumors that they developed the new light gray polymer coating prevalent on most of their current ammo.
Sounds like there are no drawback to using this ammo then...
Well, not so fast...
There are problems with this ammo, or there wouldn't be a need to write an FAQ. People do report more issues with this ammo than with higher quality US made ammo. To get a feel for what issues have been reported with this ammo, read the ammunition review and reference. Most common ammunition types are represented, and clicking on each review's link will let you read the collected comments people have left about problems encountered in ARs. Let's look at some of the most common ones, like:
This is the most common issue with AR-15's, and has been written off to the "lacquer gumming up the chamber." As we discussed in previous sections, that's not really true though, although there is something causing cases to stick more so than with brass. The best explanation for this phenomenon has been put forth in detail by Arfcom's own Old_Painless on his excellent website The Box 'o Truth. The article "Shooting Wolf steel-cased ammo in an AR15" describes the issue: The mild steel cases aren't as "springy" as brass cases, and fail to seal to the chamber as tightly. This in turn allows hot combustion gases containing lots of carbon to deposit on the chamber walls. If that buildup becomes excessive, or you shoot a brass cased round which DOES fully expand, you will probably end up with a stuck case. There are many variables which may cause this phenomena, such as how polished the chamber is on the rifle, and what kind of chamber (.223 SAAMI, 5.56, Wylde, etc.). I have shot an entire case (1000 rounds) of Barnaul through an AR15 in one weekend without cleaning, and no stuck cases, while others have problems fairly quickly. Most cases can be tapped out fairly easily with a wooden dowel or cleaning rod.
For AK's, this is a non-issue, as the chamber is much looser and more tapered, which in turn reduces extraction forces.
No secret here. Chronograph results show Wolf running quite a bit slower than other commercial loadings. Depending on your rifle's components, it may not be powerful enough to reliably cycle the action, commonly known as "short stroking". You should always keep some quality ammo and magazines on hand when trying out a new rifle to eliminate ammunition as the cause of failures. It is also possible that eventually the slight wear on bearing surfaces will smooth out enough to not cause problems with Wolf ammo after several hundred rounds.
Wolf seems to be the slowest of the bunch. Silver Bear, on the other hand, is quite a bit more zippy. Please refer to this link.
This ammo, by most reports, has more carbon residue than some ammo. This is a somewhat subjective criteria though, as is the smell of burnt powder (described by some to resemble cat urine). It is probably a good idea to thoroughly clean your rifle's chamber with a USGI chamber brush after an extensive session of shooting this kind of ammo. If the ammo has red primer sealant, you can also expect a generous amount of that crud to end up in your lower after shooting a bunch of it.
You should probably not use this ammo if you're planning on busting varmints at 500 yards. Accuracy can range anywhere from "not too bad" to "really crappy," and may be lot dependent. I was sighting in a new EOTech at the range at 25 yards. This sight had already been adjusted at home using a laser bore sighter, so it was close. The first few shots seemed to indicate that I was realy close. To make a long story short - I spent almost the next two hours "chasing the zero" with three shot groups that seemed to move around all over the place. Disheartened, I assumed that the EOTech might be bad. Switching over to Q3131A showed the problem to be the horrible accuracy of the Wolf ammo instead. Keep in mind that this was at only 25 yards. I have previously shot Wolf ammo at 300 yards at steel silhouettes and had a very good hit rate, which leads me to believe that it may be lot dependent. Using it for blasting ammo is fine, but you might want to check your particular lot for its accuracy potential before relying on it.
Arfcom user Molon has since posted what I consider to be the definitive thread about the accuracy of Wolf ammo. Anyone claiming that they're shooting under superb groups with this stuff is just plain out delusional. Read all about it here.
Specific reports of problems
Older Silver Bear used to have a lot of red case neck sealant, which caused a lot of problems with stuck cases for many people. As of last year, Barnaul has dropped the case neck sealant and this type of malfunction seems to have resolved.
62gr Wolf Black box - A higher incidence of failures is associated with this particular combination, but has not been root-caused.
That's a lot of useful information, but doesn't answer my question: Should *I* use Wolf in *MY* rifle?
The answer to this one is: Maybe. Sorry, but that's the way it is. You have to try it out in YOUR rifle to know for sure. Keep in mind that Wolf ammo made by Tula is of the lowest quality of this type of ammo, and Barnaul tends to be better. It is my subjective opinion that your rifle should be able to handle this type of ammo.
That being said, I have not heard of ComBloc ammo causing actual damage to a rifle, such as the dreaded "Kaboom". It may be underpowered, cause stuck cases, etc., but you shouldn't have to worry about your rifle getting blown up.
Is this ammo corrosive?
.223 : Probably not - I've never heard of corrosive .223 from the Combloc ammo manifacturers.
7.62x39 : If it's new production, then I would say NOT corrosive. Surplus ammo tends to be older and usually has corrosive primers. Pretty much anything from the 70s or earlier is bound to be corrosive. The shiny Yugo brass cased surplus is corrosive.
7.62x54R : Pretty much the same story as 7.62x39. The older surplus is sure to be corrosive, while new boxed ammo is most likely not
5.45x39 : See 7.62x54R. The Bulgarian and Russian 7N6 surplus commonly found is corrosive. Boxed 5.45 of newer production isn't.
It usually comes down to primer age. Corrosive primers fell out of favor by the 1980s, so you can use that as a rough guideline as to whether or not ammo is corrosive.
Can it be reloaded?
If it is boxer primed, you can actually reload those cases. Head over to the reloading forum and search around. Several people have had no problems reloading the cases, and being able to pick up empties with a magnet may be a big advantage.
Can I use ComBloc ammo for hunting?
I would recommend against it. To work properly, the ammo should expand, but retain most of its weight. Very little, if any, proper testing has been done of ComBloc soft point (SP) ammo. Just because the bullet used is a SP doesn't mean that it will perform properly. If you're going to hunt, use a GOOD SP that reliably expands. In AR15's, there are several good choices such as the Barnes TSX, Nosler partition, Winchester 64gr PP, or the Sierra GameKing. For AK-47's, there is the Winchester 123gr SP that ought to perform well.
5/12/2008 Initial release