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  1. Rifle Primers in Pistol Loads --- Reliability The summer 2020 primer shortage came on fast. Small pistol primers seemed to disappear from store shelves at a time when I had only a few months’ supply sitting on my shelf. While small pistol primers were unavailable, several local stores still had plenty of small rifle primers and sometimes pretty cheap. A survey of the web indicated that small rifle primers could be a viable substitute for small pistol primers, so I gave them a try. All of the articles I found indicated no appreciable difference between small rifle and small pistol primers regards their ballistic performance and thus no known safety issue. The question remained --- how reliably will a pistol ignite a small rifle primer? You would expect that this reliability will depend very much upon the specific kind of rifle primer, and just as much upon the pistol, especially the striker or hammer spring. I had access to six kinds of small rifle primers and tested them in four different 9 mm pistols. In all cases I used a mild load, 147 gr coated bullet over 3.2 gr of TiteGroup, that is nowhere near maximum (assuming a small pistol primer). I tested from 10 to 30 rounds per primer/pistol permutation. The main goal was to identify the obvious no-go primers, and not necessarily to test exhaustively the more reliable primers. The pistols tested were: VP9, stock striker spring Walther PPS M2, stock striker spring Glock 34, stock spring (G34 OEM) Glock 34, reduced power, 4.5 lbs striker spring (G34 tuned) Here are the results, showing the percentage of successful ignition. CCI small rifle MAGNUM 450 VP9 75% PPS 60% G34 OEM 80% G34 tuned 35% Remington small rifle match 7 ½ VP9 85% PPS 75% G34 OEM 85% G34 tuned 30% Sellier and Bellot 4.4 SR Fired less than 35% of the time in all pistols tested and only about 50% in a Ruger PC9. That is awful, obviously, and not useful even for training purposes. On top of that, these primers were a huge pain the butt to seat, frequently jamming the primer feed mechanism. (What can you do with nearly 1000 unreliable primers?) Now for some good news: Federal small rifle GM205M. 100% in all four pistols CCI small rifle standard 400. VP9 100% PPS 100% G34 OEM 100% G34 tuned 95% Winchester small rifle WSR. 100% in all four pistols. SUMMARY. The major US brands of standard small rifle primers tested here (Federal, CCI and Winchester, the last three listed above) appear to be a viable alternative to the usual, preferred small pistol primers in circumstances where the latter are unavailable (like right now, for example). There were no special issues seating these primers in random brands of 9 mm brass, and there was no evidence of excessive pressure or any other odd ballistic property. CAUTION. The small number of test rounds expended here (10 – 30 rounds) is enough to identify the unsuitable primer types, the first three listed above. However, this limited testing can not make an airtight case for any serious use of the three good primers. If the intent was to load ammo for a match, say, then it would be advisable to test fire a much larger sample, 200 rounds, in order to insure that they will ignite at an acceptable rate, I’d say about 99%. One light strike in a match would not be a catastrophe, but three or four might be. Here’s the caution: a true failure rate of 5% could have slipped through the limited testing reported here and shown instead as 100%. But statistics aside, the success of a given primer and pistol will vary significantly from one pistol to the next depending upon the striker spring, how deeply the primer is seated, and probably more. If you find that your stash of small pistol primers is looking a little sparse, then you might take these results as a starting point toward a small rifle alternative.
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