JeffD asks:

I picked up two boxes of Winchester 9mm bulk at my local Wally World and found five of these red primers.

Any ideas?

I’ve got one possible explanation, and it’s all about how bringing our troops home is keeping ammo prices down…

What you’re seeing on the back of that round is (most likely) primer sealant.

When primers are press fit into cases during the ammunition manufacturing process they usually form a tight enough seal for civilian use, keeping out most of the moisture and protecting the powder and primer components from corroding. But if you’re out in the elements (say, crossing rivers or in a monsoon) some moisture can leak into the cartridge and ruin the powder (and subsequently your day).

That’s where primer sealant comes in. Primer sealant is typically a laquer-like compound that is applied over the primer to form a watertight seal and make the cartridge almost completely impervious to the elements. It’s an extra step in the process though, so for normal civilian sales they typically don’t bother. Military contracts, on the other hand, quite like primer sealant on their ammunition. And considering the environments in which the ammunition is going to be used it makes sense.

So how did that sealed primer get into your ammo supply? Well, it probably has to do with our decreasing involvement in the middle east.

When the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were heating up, the military started placing orders for massive quantities of ammunition. In response the major manufacturers ramped up production to meet the demand of the military, and made those components according to the military specification (sealed primers, etc).

With the draw-down of U.S. forces, what we’re seeing is that ammo manufacturers produced more components in anticipation of more military contracts, but those contracts never came. So the components that they were expecting to sell to our boys in green were just sitting around the warehouse collecting dust.

Instead of waiting for the next conflict to heat up, what these manufacturers are doing is using the components they already created in anticipation of military contracts and using them to make civilian ammunition, a market that has been expanding recently and is always hungry for more ammo. And the fact that the components were already on hand means that they can keep the prices down on the civilian stuff.

My guess is that what you have here is a couple of primed cases that were destined for military contracts and re-purposed for civilian ammunition, loaded with the rest of the lot and sent out to Wally World.

Or there’s a guy at WalMart with a red marker who likes messing with people.

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24 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Primer Sealant? What’s Up with That?

    • They did on all their 9mm as well, until recently, when the last couple cases I bought had some boxes without primer sealant.

      S&B is the best deal on ammo around. Really inexpensive, and good quality stuff.

  1. Huh. So is it a good idea to dab a little bit of nail polish or something over the primers of the ammo you carry?

    Or is that crazy talk?

    • It makes sense if you expect to be out in the wet and wild weather, but otherwise it’s probably a waste of time.

      It all depends on where you expect to use your ammo and what level of reliability you need.

    • You want to be careful with what you dab on your rounds. If you goop it on and create enough thickness, then it may decrease the reliability of the ammunition as the firing pin may not come into contact with the primer as well. I did some research on this a few years ago and tried quite a few rounds as my friends and I used to dive in very remote swamps and rivers and I routinely carried a Glock 19 during the dive.

      I actually used a tiny dab of clear lacquer over the primer pocket from Home Depot after trial and error. Lacquer actually dries thinner and gets into the cracks just a bit better than nail polish. I also used tree pruning tar to seal the case mouth when seating a projectile as well. Just be careful with sealing the bullet and reduce your loads accordingly as it does increase pressure somewhat. With the above methods, I’ve had 100% reliability with rounds down to 160ft on more than ten dives.

    • You can get specifically formulated primer sealer from several manufacturers, like Markron to use one example. Brownells also carries it if I recall correctly.

      Better to use something specifically formulated for sealing primers than paw around at home depot.

      As to using it, I tend to on shot shells to be used anywhere near potential moisture (ducks, etc) along with a dab of hot glue on the crimp. I doubt it’s especially needed on self defense ammo unless you plan on hiding in a lake beside your local ATM, but there’s no real reason not to, either. If you’re going to, make sure you coat the bullet seal as well.

  2. Back in the days when I was issued a Garand, the .30-06 rounds usually had an additional bit of sealant where the bullet entered the case mouth, since the Army didn’t want to rely on the friction fit or the crimp to seal the powder from moisture.

  3. I’ve seen plenty of commercial ammo since 2003 with WCC and the year with the NATO cross (as well as the LC stuff). It was all 55gr FMJ from Walmart, Basspro, and whatever LE supply we went through. I can’t recall seeing any with primer sealant though.

  4. I’ve found Winchester brass with NATO headstamps on it from time to time in my value packs going back about a decade. The rounds were definitely not loaded to NATO-spec pressure, figured it was just Winchester using up military components. For awhile back in 2006-7 you could buy Winchester white box and actually find Sellier & Ballot, boxes were marked “Made in Czech Republic” instead of USA, showing they were outsourcing ammunition for some reason during that time frame.

  5. I haven’t had an issue with it yet. I see no reason to change considering they worked after 10+ dives at up to 160ft with the average over 100ft. Plus I’m cheap 😀

    Sorry. Meant to follow up to MrLion.

  6. “…civilian ammunition, a market that has been expanding recently and is always hungry for more ammo…”

    “…civilian ammunition, a market that has been expanding recently…”

    “…a market that has been expanding recently…”

    Cue the Brady Bunch cease and desist letter in 3, 2, 1…

  7. Red Primer Club: I have a box of Remington Ultimate Home Defense (230 Grain Brass Jacketed Hollow Point Bullet) in .45 ACP, which Remington’s site states: “Premium nickel-plated cases resist corrosion and cycle dependably through extended storage.”

    Guess a lil bit o’ primer helps through “extended storage”?

  8. Lack of waterproof sealant around the primer and case mouth is the main problem with relying on most factory ammo for self protection. Summer in the Deep South subjects carry ammo to heat and high humidity, then air conditioning and low humidity. Rinse and repeat multiple times per day.

  9. I just did a count on a 100 round value pack of Winchester 9mm I picked up at wally world.

    31 NATO headstamps 3 with primer sealant

  10. I used to see a lot of military type ammo with primer sealant for sale on the civilian market maybe in the 1970s and early 1980s.

  11. If you reload take note that military ammo will also have the primers crimped in place and this crimp must be REMOVED PRIOR to reloading. Just an FYI.

  12. Thanks for the information about the primers. Being a relatively new shooter I didn’t realize that the round symbol meant NATO.

  13. When l reload my own ammo l use fingernail polish to do the same thing cheaper thenwhat they sell and works great regards Chuck from Miami

  14. Yup looks like the NATO stuff. I’ve never sealed my primers.. Yes its a good idea if your planning on humping it threw a swamp, or a shallow river and you get your ruck wet. – Have to be careful what you put that NATO 9mm in it is pretty much +P ammunition.. not designed to go threw some civilian sidearms. Could adversely affect the function and service life of the pistol using the stuff.. With that said, some of the military pistols designed to take the higher loads may not cycle properly and need the +P stuff. Make sure you read what the manufacturer suggests for ammunition .. Be safe..

    • The Israelis make some +P 9mm but NATO spec is the same as what you would buy anyway. The lacquer around the primer is to keep moisture out and used to be on all civilian ammo too but was probably discontinued decades ago to save money. The bullets are also sealed to keep moisture out. A properly sealed and stored bullet will be good for just about forever. In 87 I fired .50 call rounds packed in 1939! Almost 50 years old and except for being really smoky from the powder they used at the time they fire great.

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