Letter Re: Soft Nose Loads for Battle Rifles

I’ve only been reading your blog for a short time, but I find it both interesting and informative.

Having been a hunter for the last 56 of my 64 years, I do wonder why anyone who plans on getting out of Dodge and heading for the woods would want a battle rifle with ball ammo when we won’t be bound by anything like the Hague Convention as to the ammo we use. Seems to me, that soft points would be a better choice and if the SHTF. My M1A will be traveling with me and will be loaded with hunting ammo.

My personal choice, if I could only carry one firearm, would be a 12 gauge shotgun with rifle sights. With slugs, it’s good to over 100 yards for big game and men, with 00 or 000 [buckshot shells] it’s great for self defense and you don’t have to be all that good a shot, and #6 shot works well for smaller game. I came very close to using mine this year on elk because my grandkids scammed my .308 and 30-06 for their elk hunt and I don’t have anything else that’s legal for hunting.

Forting up in our home [in the city] also seems like sure death if those who mean us harm are intent on doing so and have a pint of gasoline and a match, so hitting the road for a less urban environment sounds like the best thing to plan for.

At any rate, I like your site and it has been added to my favorites. – Don J.

JWR Replies: I was an M1A owner for more than 25 years, before recently switching to L1A1 (inch pattern FAL) rifles. I switched only because the cost of spare magazines and spare parts for M1As was becoming prohibitive. (An original USGI M14 parts set (everything except a receiver) now costs in excess of $1,200, and I just recently saw one advertised for $1,500!)

You are correct that in most defensive shooting situations, there will be no need to penetrate armor, and the mushrooming effect of soft nose ammo will be preferable. However, I recommend the use of soft nose ammo for .308 battle rifles only for handloaders. Let me explain my rationale: Military 7.62 NATO brass is not identical to civilian .308 Winchester brass. It has a thicker case head, and is hence more robust. Military ammunition is also loaded with less sensitive “hard ” primers, that differ from civilian primers. Also, some civilian .308 loads exceed the military pressure specifications for 7.62 NATO. The following is a quote from the M1A manual PDF available at the Springfield Armory web site:

“The M1A is designed and built to specifications to shoot standard factory military 7.62 NATO ammunition. The specifications for standard military ammunition include harder primers to withstand the slight indentation from the firing pin when the bolt chambers a cartridge. This slight indentation is normal. The use of civilian ammunition with more sensitive primers or hand loads with commercial primers and/or improperly seated primers increase the risk of primer detonation when the bolt slams forward. This unexpected “slam fire” can occur even if the trigger is not being pulled and if the safety is on. Use of military specification ammunition will help avoid this.”

The most cost effective approach to providing soft nose ammo for 7.62mm NATO battle rifle is to use a collet-type reloading press bullet puller, and pull the FMJ projectiles from standard 150 grain 7.62 NATO ball ammo. Then re-seat 150 grain spire point (“spitzer”) civilian soft nose .308 bullets, such my old favorite, the Sierra 150 grain spitzer boat-tail. Repeat, repeat x 1000. This is time consuming, but it will give you appropriate soft nose loads with safe pressure an safe primers for your M1A, and it will save you about 30% on the cost of commercially-loaded ammo. Technically, this is still “handloading”, so it will void your warranty, but you’ll have safe and cost-effective loads that will mushroom on impact.