The 7.62x39mm cartridge was invented by the Russians and adopted as the M-43 cartridge in 1943. The cartridge was developed in response to..
From the J.A.Freeman AK47 / AK74 Website
AK rifle ammo identification
The 7.62x39mm cartridge was invented by the Russians and adopted as the M-43 cartridge in 1943. The cartridge was developed in response to getting there ass’s kicked by the Germans with their new Mkb-42 assault rifle that fired the 7.92x33mm cartridge from it’s 30rd mag. Latter in 1944 the German developed the Stg-44 which used stamped sheet metal receiver and 30rd mag. The Stg stands for Sturmgewher which translates to Assault Rifle. The first rifle the Russians designed to fire the new cartridge was the SKS-45 adopted in 1945. The 10 shot fixed mag of the SKS just didn’t cut it and the AK-47 that used a 30rd mag was adopted in 1947.
The Chinese leader Chairman Mao Tse-dong formed very close ties to the Russians in the early 1950′s. This resulted in lots of aid from the Russians. Some of the aid was the boxing up of the machinery of whole factories to produce the SKS and AK-47 rifles. The Russians supplied the machinery and technicians to set the factories up. The SKS,AK-47,and the 7.62x39mm cartridge were adopted by the Chinese in 1956. This resulted in both rifles and the cartridge being called the type-56 for year of adoption. Chinese steel core ammo was banned by the BATF in a letter to FFL dealers and importers in Febuary,1994. All Chinese ammo was imported till May of 1994 when Pres. Clinton sent a letter to the BATF outlawing imports of Chinese ammo and guns.
The first 7.62x39mm ammo imported to the USA was military surplus. It was packed in 2 sealed metal tins per wooden case. The ammo for the SKS rifle was packed in 550 rounds per tin,1100 rounds per wooden case. It was on 10rd stripper clips with 2 or 3 stripper clips per 20rd or 30rd paper wrapped bundle. Some were tied with string and some not.
All ammo packed in the paper wrapped bundles has steel core bullets.
The Chinese surplus ammo was also packed in 20 round paper wrapped bundles tied with string in tins of 700 or 720. Wooden cases of 1400 or 1440.
Here is a pic of the headstamps of Chinese ammo. The top number is the number of the factory that produced the ammo. The bottom number is the year of production.
Here is a pic of the earliest and latest dated Chinese ammo imported to the US.
How to tell if your ammo has steel core bullets
The cartridge in the center has a steel core bullet. The others on either side have lead core bullets except the one on the right that is a experimental round that has plastic beads in the nose and a lead core.
You can’t use a magnet to check if your ammo has steel core bullets!
All Chinese ammo uses bullets made with copper plated steel jackets, So using a magnet is useless because it will be sticking to the steel bullet jacket and not the steel core. The only way to tell if your ammo is steel core is to pull a bullet. Steel core bullets are over 1″ long, have a boat tail, and have black sealer on them. In the pic the steel core bullet is on the left and the lead core on the right.
Only Chinese factories 31, 71, 311 and 351 made lead core ball. (maybe 61 also, but not sure)
Any other Chinese factory code will be steel core.
Lead core ball from 31 ALWAYS has a green case mouth seal.
Lead core ball from 71 ALWAYS has a knurled crimping groove on the projectile.
Lead core ball from 311 and 351 is harder to tell, but generally the rounds have NO case mouth seal or primer seal and date from 1991-1994
The earliest known lead core from 31 is 1990 dated.
The earliest known lead core from 71 is 1988 dated.
Commercial Packaged Ammo
All the commercial ammo was packed in the same style wooden crates as the surplus ammo. The first commercial ammo I saw was the green box Norinco that was packed 20rds per box,600rds per tin, and 2 tins per wooden case of 1200rds. Afterwards all the ammo was packed 60-20rd boxes per wooden case and all the boxes were wrapped in one large clear plastic bag.
Chinese 223 Remington ammo mfg. by Norinco was imported in 20 rd yellow boxes with a Styrofoam insert. It was brass cased, boxer primed, with a 55 grain fmj bullet. The headstamp is a C at 10 o’clock, a J at 2 o’clock, and a single digit for year of mfg. at 6 o’clock.
This ammo came packed 60- 20 round boxes per 1200 round wooden case. Having shot and reloaded the cases several times I can say that it is pretty good ammo.
Chinese military surplus ammo was imported in 7.62x25mm,9x18mm Makarov, 7.62x39mm, and 7.62x54R mm. Commercial packaged ammo was imported in 7.62x25mm, 9x18mm Makarov, 9x19mm, 45acp, 5.56x45mm / 223 Remington, 30 Carbine, 7.62x39mm, 7.62x51mm / 308 Winchester, and 7.62x54R. The Chinese 30 Carbine ammo was pretty interesting as it had the same headstamp as US military ammunition made at the Lake City Ammunition Plant in 1952. That is “L C 52″.
Small quantities of Russian ammo was imported from other countries but was in small amounts intended for the cartridge collector market or mislabeled as to country of mfg. Until the fall of the Soviet Union all arms and ammo were banned from import to the US by law. A large amount of Russian steel core 7.62x39mm ammo was imported in late 1993/early 1994 but due to the BATF re-classifying 7.62x39mm steel core ammo as armor piercing ammo in February 1994. The import or sale of 7.62x39mm ammo with steel core bullets by FFL holders was banned to anyone one but military, law enforcement, or other govt. agencies. So very little of it made it into the hands of shooters or collectors. As you can see in the picture below it came in unmarked 20rd boxes.
The re-classifying of steel core ammo put a stop to the import of Russian 7.62x39mm ammo till 1995 when a large amount of ammo was imported from Germany. In Germany stocks of former East German steel core ammo from Russia, Romania, and East Germany had the bullets pulled and lead core bullets seated in the cases so it could be imported to the USA. This ammo even though new bullets were used the cases still had the corrosive primers in them. So make sure to clean your rifle thoroughly. The banning of steel core ammo in February 1994 and the banning of all Chinese ammo imports in April 1994 resulted in the price of a case of 7.62x39mm going up to over 3 times the price it was before the 1994 ammo import bans. The import of the large quantity of the re-bulleted German ammo resulted in the price dropping from over $300 per case to a little under $200 a couple months after it was first imported. In 1997 imports of new production Russian 7.62x39mm ammo with lead core bullets started coming into the US and case prices started dropping. The first was packed in plain white boxes with black printing. In this pic the box is unfolded so all the printing can be seen but it is the standard style 20rd box that all 7.62x39mm Russian ammo comes in.
The first Russian ammo for AK rifles imported in shooting quantities was imported by Intrac Arms International LLC and was 5.45x39mm. It was imported in 1997 along with the first AK rifles imported chambered for the 5.45x39mm cartridge the Romanian CUR-2. This ammo had lacquered steel cases loaded with a 70 grain lead core fmj bullet. The headstamp is a 3 over 96 denoting mfg. by Ulyanovsk in 1996. It was packed in 30rd paper wrapped bundles with paper separators in each bundle and the bundle was stapled on both ends. There were 36-30 round bundles per sealed tin of 1080 rounds. Two tins per wooden case of 2160 rounds. Each case came with a tool to open the tins in a cut out in the inside of one side of the wooden case’s wall.
This ammo has corrosive primers which can be noted by the color of the primer. Notice they are gunmetal grey and not the gold color of non corrosive primers in current imported Russian ammo.
USSR / Russia Mfg. codes 5.45×39, 7.62×39 and 7.62x54r
3 = Ulyanovsk
7 = Amursk (Vympel)
17 = Barnaul
60 = Frunze
270 = Voroshilovgrad
539 = Tula
711 = Klimovsk
188 = Novosibirsk
Along with the numbers there are also letters and symbols used on Russian commercial ammo. The pic below the headstamps of Ulyanovsk ammo has the two arrows in the circle like on the box. The Barnaul uses the square with the letters in it like on the box. The unmarked box on the right is Klimovsk and the top symbol is used on the headstamps of cartridges mfg. by them.
Tula Cartridge Works produced ammo at first with a TCW headstamp which later became the WOLF brand of ammo. Early imports of Tula ammo came in white boxes with black printing. Early imports of Wolf ammo had TCW headstamps even though they were packed in Wolf brand boxes. Now all the Wolf brand ammo has a WOLF headstamp.
As you can see from the pic below the Russians have remained with the same design 20rd box but the graphics have improved over the years. A plain unprinted box imported in 1997,1998 printed box,1999 graphics,1999 colored box,2001,and 2004 boxes on the right with photo quality graphics.
Currently there is rifle ammo being imported from 4 Russian ammo factories Ulyanovsk, Vympel, Barnaul, and Tula. The Klimovsk factory stopped producing ammo as the last imported was in 2002. Some factories produce ammo under their brand and other brands. Ulyanovsk produces ammo in the blue and white boxes under their name and also the Sapsan brand of ammo.
Barnaul produces ammo under the Barnaul, Monarch, and RAM brands. The RAM stands for Russian Ammunition Manufacturing.
Tula produces only the Wolf brand of ammo and Vympel only produces Golden Tiger brand ammo.
The Bear brands of Russian Ammo
Currently there are 3 types of “Bear” rifle ammo imported the Silver Bear, Brown Bear, and Golden Bear. The different colors in the name of the “Bear” ammo denote the type of finish applied to the steel cases.
Silver = zinc plated
Brown = brown lacquer
Golden = brass plated
The Bear ammo is imported with soft point, hollow point, or full metal jacket bullets. The Silver Bear ammo was imported with two types of fmj bullets. The first type of Bear ammo imported was the Silver Bear in 2000 that was made by Klimovsk with a standard fmj bullet. Later the “match” Silver Bear ammo was imported made by Ulyanovsk with a fmj bullet with a nipple on the tip.
The next type ammo imported was the Brown Bear in 2001 and the Golden Bear in 2004. The Silver Bear and Brown Bear ammo imported before 2004 could be mfg. by Barnaul, Ulyanovsk, or Klimovsk. Ordering a case of Bear ammo was a toss up as to which company made the ammo You had to look on the box once you got it to see which company made it except the Match Silver Bear which has only been made by Ulyanovsk. For details on what cartridges and bullet types are available go to the importers website at
Bear ammo website
The Russian ammunition manufacturers websites:
After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 the country was separated into two Germanys. The eastern half was controlled by Russia and the western half by the USA, Britain, and France. The eastern half was called the Soviet zone of occupation till 1949 a government organized by the Soviets named the country Deutschland Democratic Republic. The DDR was controlled by the Soviets so the DDR army adopted Soviet military arms and tactics. Due to political and economic forces the Soviet govt. collapsed in 1989 as did the governments of most of the eastern European countries controlled by the Soviets. East and West Germany were reunited into one government in 1991. With West Germany having been a North Atlantic Treaty Origination=NATO member since 1955 all DDR military equipment was incompatible with NATO equipment so was sold off as military surplus.
The First 7.62×39 ammo imported.
In 1992 Century Arms imported 15 million rounds of DDR 7.62x39mm M43 ammo which has steel core bullets. This ammo was not in boxes but sold loose in 1000 rd lots. It had headstamps of DDR ammo factory codes of 04 and 05. The two digit dates of the headstamps were in the 1960′s to 1980′s. This ammo had a grey lacquer finish on the cases and was corrosive primed.
Later Century Arms imported some DDR ammo in boxes.
Besides the M43 ammo blanks and practice ammo was imported. The practice ammo was sold by Century Arms in 1000 rd lots that came packed loose, in 20rd boxes, or in 10rd blister packs. The bullet was a copper plated steel jacket that had a plastic core that weighted 63 grains. It works well in AK rifles but is iffy functioning in SKS rifles. In the pic blanks, plastic core in the blister pack and box.
After the 1994 reclassification of steel core 7.62x39mm by the BATF as armor piercing ammo millions of rounds of M43 ammo was remanufactured in the former DDR. This ammo was of DDR and Hungarian mfg. denoted by the 04,05,and 22 factory codes of the headstamps. The M43 bullets were pulled a new mfg. lead core bullets were seated in the cases. It was imported in late 1994 and 1995. While legal to import with the lead core bullets all this ammo still had the corrosive primers in it. It was packed in white 20rd boxes with black printing and sold in 1000 rd cases. It was the first ammo to come in after the ban on Chinese guns and ammo that made the price of 7.62x39mm ammo rise to over $300 per case. All ammo from East Germany is corrosive primed. So make sure to clean your rifle as soon as possible after firing it.