Old Tracers, safe to shoot?


April 19, 2012, 08:17 PM
If this is the wrong forum I apologize. I had a friend literally drop off a crate of various ammo/reloading supplies from a neighbor that passed away. In it were some old 38 special tracers. I have no clue how old they are. The only 38 I own is a snub nose Airweight so shooting these could be fun or very bad. Here is a pic of the tracers.

And a few other from the crate.



I got a lot of useful items out of it. But also a lot of shotgun shells and oddball calibers that I will pull down and recast the lead for firearms I own.

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T Bran
April 19, 2012, 08:31 PM
Wow nice score I just went through the same thing with a box that sat in an old shed for 20+ years. Had to toss lots of stuff but the dies were salvaged and seem to clean up ok. I now have enough .38 special and .44 mag brass to last a lifetime.
The old Rock Chucker press took some work but it was worth it.

April 19, 2012, 08:35 PM
I'd shoot them.

Wish I'd get a care package.

April 19, 2012, 09:57 PM
As long as they are shot in the correct caliber firearm they were designed for then tracers would be OK. I would be mindful of what you shoot them into however. I have had them start small fires when used in dry conditions and into flammable materials covering the berm. I am no expert but they appear to be non corrosive (early 50's perhaps??). That would be the other thing to worry about if using them in a higher priced firearm.

April 20, 2012, 07:28 AM
I would check and see if they have some collector value first. I dont recall ever seeing .38 tracers before.

April 20, 2012, 09:02 AM
I am aware of the fire hazard. They are banned at all the ranges I belong to so I'm not sure where I would shoot them. And last thing I want to do is start a forrest fire. There was one, right by one of the ranges I go to, last week. Unless they were worth $100 a box I will be shooting them when I find a spot. It's ammo after all and it was designed to be shot.

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April 20, 2012, 09:25 AM
That is a great score. Look at all that stuff!

April 20, 2012, 10:47 AM
The only place I have ever felt safe about shooting tracers was into the bank of an old sand pit. That said thats a great find. You got some good luck

April 20, 2012, 11:18 AM
I wouldn't be nervous about them being safe to shoot. But I too would first investigate a possible collector value, as I've never heard of, nor seen them in 38 spcl. before. Regarding all the other stuff that is from the early days, just package it up and ship it all to me for proper disposal.

On a serious note, that is one very nice find!

April 20, 2012, 11:21 AM
Back in 68 I was given a snub nose S&W 38 in a shoulder holster rig then the armorer gave me 18 rounds of this 38 tracer stuff and said "here use this if you get shot down to signal the chopper's or scare the SOB's if they get to close" ..... Ya right....I'm lucky I never had to use them for real....

Years later I got some 38 tracers in trade. Looked like a roman candle balls going down range. After shooting it I thought after the gooks got done cracking up they would have shot my dumb A _ _ full of holes for sure...

I pulled the bullets out of the 38 cases and loaded them in my 357 and boy do they zip along now......Really cool. AND they will start a fire to take care.

By the way the boxed stuff is collectable to may be you want to sell it.

April 20, 2012, 12:44 PM
.38 Spl Tracer was issued to air crews for use in signaling if they were shot down.

It is selling for $2.00 a round on the ammo collector sites I looked at.
A full box might well bring $100 - $150 if you find an ammo collector looking for it..

Might want to offer up a box on Gunbroker.com or Auctionarms.com and see what it brings before shooting it all.


April 20, 2012, 03:14 PM
Well that is in the correct range for not shooting all of it. I can't believe people collect ammo. But people feel the same way about my multiple VWs.

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Old Grumpy
April 20, 2012, 04:15 PM
8mmman said, "Years later I got some 38 tracers in trade. Looked like a roman candle balls going down range. After shooting it I thought after the gooks got done cracking up they would have shot my dumb A _ _ full of holes for sure..."

That was always the problem with tracers, they lead the bad guys right back to you. :)

April 20, 2012, 04:25 PM
Ya there great for marking a target at both end, the problem was I was at one end!

April 20, 2012, 04:25 PM
You can check to see if the tracer is still good. Tracers ignite from the powder burning. Simply pull one of the bullets, push it in to the dirt outside in a safe location and poor the powder from the cartridge on top of it. Take a match and set the powder on fire. The powder will burn quickly lighting the tracer on fire. This will also be good check to make sure the powder hasn’t gotten wet or oil soaked.

April 20, 2012, 04:36 PM
Or, you could just try shooting a few.

Some trace elements wouldn't light without the pressure and heat of firing getting through the base seal anyway.


April 20, 2012, 05:08 PM
The box on top in the picture had a few of them that were shot. So I plan on shooting them to see if they work. I was more happy with the 200 SPP pistol primers, the lead bullets and bunch of Sierra .308 bullets then the tracers. They are just a cool bonus, even if they don't work.

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April 20, 2012, 09:08 PM
I don't know the shelf life on tracers. A rule of thumb for gunpowder is 20 years for double based and 45 years for single based. Powder older than that is past its shelf life, unless it has been inspected and the amount of stabilizer left in the powder is verified to be at 20% or more.

You know, considering those are collectable, I would not shoot any.

April 21, 2012, 03:22 AM
.38 Special tracers used to be seen regularly at gun shows, but dried up about 20 years ago. They're good collectibles. I certainly wouldn't shoot any from full boxes. Full boxes are sought by collectors.
Be very careful where you shoot them, as tracers easily cause fires. It is illegal to fire tracers on federal land (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish & Wildlife Service, etc.). I believe most states ban their firing on state land too.
The only legal place to fire them is on a military reservation that has been approved for use with tracers. Even then, fires get caused.
In 1975, at Camp Bullis, Texas, we set fire to dry grass sticking above the few inches of SNOW that lay on the ground, firing the M60 machine gun with every fifth round as a tracer. Weird to watch a fire creep along the top of snow.
I've always wanted a few .38 Special tracers for signalling. I have three rounds of .38 Special "Firefly" aerial flares made in the early 1980s by Karlyn Mfg. Co. of Seattle. I carry them for my .38 snubnose when I explore the desert. Years ago, I found a single Karlyn .38 aerial flare in a box of assorted ammo at a gun show, so I sacrified it to testing.
It rose to about 200 feet with a bright trace. I fired it from my backyard at precisely midnight, Dec. 31/Jan. 1 so it wouldn't raise alarm.
I have one .38 Special tracer in my collection. I'd never fire it, as they're hard to find today.
While hunting, a .38 snubnose would be a good noisemaker to signal the classic "3 Shots = Distress" if you need help. A few of your .38 tracers would be good to carry for this too, but you'd have to be very careful in a heavily forested area or you'd start a forest fire.

That old Remington .22 ammo is a bit of a collectible too. And if that's a full brick of 500 rounds of Winchester .22 ammo, that might bring collector interest. You see a lot of individual boxes, but full bricks are not so easily found.

When I began reloading in 1970, that's what CCI primers looked like! I think I still have a few boxes of those old primers around. If they were stored indoors in low humidity and fairly constant temperature, they'll still work fine.
Last fall, I fired some .45 Long Colt ammo I reloaded back in 1976! Worked fine.

What's that round tin under the CCI primers? Musket caps or lead pellets?

I wouldn't be in a hurry to use your haul. Ammo and reloading bullets can bring collector interest, especially if they're still sealed or full boxes.

April 21, 2012, 07:38 AM
also a lot of shotgun shells and oddball calibers

PLEASE do NOT pull down 'oddballs'...

You may be destroying a fortune in collector ammo...

April 21, 2012, 02:38 PM
Someone had asked what was in the tin. Some form of rimfire ammo.


Pulled down a lot of it so far. There were a lot of dummy rounds. After looking at the auctions I'm just going to shoot most of it. There is no movement on any of them. Ammo that just sits in a box is worthless to me.

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April 21, 2012, 02:49 PM
6mm Flobert ammo.

Spitzkugeln = Pointed Bullet


April 22, 2012, 05:42 PM
Looks like the "CB" caps I used to buy back in the 60's. You can shoot them in a .22 bolt action or revolver. Great for squirrels.

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