Wolf .30 Carbine Ammunition Range Test
By Frank Iannamico

The U.S. .30 carbine has quite a history dating back to its initial introduction by Winchester in 1941. The M1 and M2 carbines served three generations of U.S. troops; during World War II, Korea and even as late as the Vietnam War.

Although the carbine’s handiness and light weight made it popular with soldiers and Marines alike, it was often criticized for its lack of stopping power. While probably true for long range engagements, the ballistics of the .30 carbine round will do the job at close ranges, especially when multiple hits are made from a select-fire M2 version. World War II combat hero and Medal of Honor winner, the late Audie Murphy, often stated that the M1 carbine was one of his favorite weapons. That is quite an endorsement from “one who was there.” Close range engagements were what the carbine was originally intended for, replacing the handgun and basically allowing rear echelon personnel to better defend themselves from attacks.

Winchester had also developed a new cartridge to be used in their new “light rifle.” The cartridge was designated as, Cartridge, Carbine, Caliber .30 M1. The early characteristics of the original cartridge were:
  • Bullet weight: 110 grains.
  • Charge weight: 14.5 grains of IMR 4227
  • Primer: Winchester No. 116
  • Pressure: 31,000 PSI
  • Muzzle velocity: 1,860 feet per second.

The .30 Carbine cartridge was approved as Standard on 30 September 1941. The Ordnance Department awarded contracts to the Western Cartridge Company, Winchester Repeating Arms, Remington Arms Company, Lake City Ordnance Plant and the Kings Mills Ordnance Plant. While corrosive primers were used in World War II for .30 caliber M2 and .45ACP caliber U.S. service cartridges, the .30 caliber carbine rounds all utilized non-corrosive primers. The wise decision to use non-corrosive primers greatly extended the service life of the carbine’s barrel.

The original configuration of the .30 caliber carbine cartridge was changed early in 1942. The original .30 caliber 110-grain projectile had a cup style base, which tests had shown was unstable during firing, and would often leave a ring of gilding metal in the forward end of the chamber. A new flat base 110-grain projectile was designed to eliminate the problem. The type of powder used was also changed. The original DuPont powder proved to be too bulky for the small case. To achieve a higher projectile velocity, a new DuPont powder was introduced. The new powder increased the carbine’s muzzle velocity to 1,970 feet per second and raised the chamber pressure to 40,000 PSI.

The new (1942) specifications for the improved carbine cartridge were;
  • Bullet weight; 110 grains
  • Charge: DuPont 4809 or Hercules 3950.8B (alternate)
  • Primer: commercial non-corrosive
  • Pressure: 40,000 PSI
  • Muzzle velocity: 1,970 feet per second

In September of 1944, the nomenclature of the .30 carbine round was changed to Cartridge, Ball, Carbine, Caliber .30 M1. The change, adding the word “ball,” was to avoid confusion with the newly adopted tracer and grenade launching cartridges developed for the carbine. While most World War II carbine ammunition had brass cases there were large amounts of steel cased carbine ammo made during the constant brass shortages experienced during the war. (Brass was considered a critical material, mainly for use in artillery shells.)

While the combat effectiveness discussions of the M1 carbine will go on forever, the point is moot, as the carbine hasn’t seen combat (other than possibly in a few third world countries) for a long time. The main purpose of the U.S. carbine today is to provide entertainment to collectors and shooters.

One of the problems modern shooters have faced with the carbine has always been a steady supply of ammunition. The availability of surplus U.S. and foreign cartridges has always been inconsistent. Although most of the major U.S. ammunition companies manufacture .30 carbine ammunition, it has always been quite expensive, a definite deterrent for selectfire M2 carbine owners. Genuine U.S. GI surplus is sometimes available from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). While excellent ammo, it too is somewhat expensive.

Surplus foreign ammunition requires special attention. Carbine ammunition for military use has not been produced by any major nation for years. Surplus lots have often been stored under less than ideal conditions. A few years ago pristine appearing condition carbine ammunition showed up on the surplus market bearing LC headstamps. While manufacture by U.S. government contractor Lake City comes to mind, it wasn’t. An investigation revealed that the cases were Berdan primed and the ammunition was actually manufactured in China. Worst of all, it proved to be quite corrosive. Due to design of its gas system, the U.S. carbine is one weapon that you don’t want to fire corrosive ammunition in.

During the periods of carbine ammunition shortages, many were forced into reloading their own .30 carbine rounds. While it could be done fairly inexpensively, the tapered design of the case made reloading a labor intensive affair. While carbide dies are available, the cases still require a coating of reloading lubricant, but worse, the cases needed constant trimming. The carbine headspaces on the mouth of the case, making overall case length critical. One other problem with reloading is picking up the spent cases after firing. One usually paid more attention to where the cases were going than the projectiles and, of course, you had to find every spent case.

Wolf ammunition is well known to high-volume shooters. The company’s switch from painted lacquer cases to the polymer coating a few years ago was a huge improvement. When I first learned of Wolf’s new .30 carbine ammunition, I did the most logical thing I could think of and got on the Internet and visited several carbine-oriented websites. All of the reviews I read there were positive. However, most of those enthusiasts were shooting semiautomatic M1 carbines and not finicky select-fire M2 models. I also visited the Wolf Ammunition websiteand found the following information;

“Wolf unveils the next generation ammunition with POLYFORMANCE™ an advanced technology polymer coating. All Wolf ammunition is backed by a 100% PERFORMANCE GUARANTEE.”

This advanced technology polymer coating offers:
  • Superior Reliability: The application of the polymer creates a precision uniform coating around the casing. It produces a bullet with persistent, uncompromising, stable dimensions thus leading to smooth reliable extractions.
  • Better Functioning: The superior lubricity improvement eases wear in gun chambers and alleviates excessive operational and maintenance issues associated with rapid firing. The development of this polymer represents a break-through in the field of tribology, and incorporates the most recent chemistry in terms of lubricity improving molecules.

WOLF Performance Ammunition is the only ammunition company that provides a 100% Performance Guarantee. If you are not fully satisfied WOLF will refund your money on the unused portion of the ammunition, including any freight charges.”

Pretty much convinced, I then decided to find out first hand. The Wolf .30 carbine ammo looked good, was fairly inexpensive and I would not be tempted to police up the non-reloadable spent cases. The steel cases are also environmentally friendly: after a short period they rust and eventually disappear. Sold on the concept, I placed my order.

Upon delivery of two one-thousand round cases to my door, the first order of business was to disassemble a few cartridges for a closer examination. The overall length was within U.S. GI specifications at 1.655-inches. The propellant was a ball-type powder. The charge weighed 12.5-grains and was pretty consistent between the ten rounds I pulled apart. The full metal-jacketed projectile was lead with a gilded metal jacket. Average projectile weight was 109.6 grains. The case was made of polymer coated mild steel with an overall length of 1.288-inches. A silver Berdan-type primer provided ignition.

I decided to take along several carbines for the test to insure that the ammunition was (or was not) suitable for different weapons. The semiautomatic M1 carbines were all U.S. GI of varying manufacturers and a select-fire Winchester M2.

I used a PACT Mark IV chronograph to measure the velocity of the projectiles. To keep the muzzle blast from affecting the readings, the skyscreens were placed ten feet in front of the muzzle. The day of the test was quite humid and the ambient temperature was in the mid 80 degree Fahrenheit range.

I loaded up a few magazines and fired three strings of five rounds each. The highest reading was 1,823.1 feet per second with a low of 1,752.8 feet per second. The average of the fifteen rounds fired, according to the chronograph, was 1,789.1 feet per second.

The next step was to use the cyclic rate feature of the PACT Mark IV chronograph to measure the cyclic rate of the M2. U.S. GI thirty round magazines were used for this part of the test. A total of one hundred and twenty rounds were fired. The cyclic rate was fairly consistent with an average rate of 720 rounds per minute. Each of the four magazines was fired in one continuous thirty round burst. There were no stoppages.

Firing at paper targets from a sandbag rest produced average groups of 3.50-inches at a distance of 100 yards. I considered this quite reasonable when considering the age (both mine and the carbines) and the untold number rounds that had been previously fired through the test weapons.

Several magazines were test fired through each of five different carbines with no malfunctions. The original intent was to fire an entire 1,000 round case of the ammunition for the test. After the successful performance of 450 rounds we decided to end the test, due to the heat, humidity and boredom. Boredom? Yes, while firing the M2 full-auto was fun, firing at paper targets with the semiautomatic M1s got old pretty quickly.

The conclusion I reached with Wolf .30 carbine ammo was thumbs-up. The ammo is reasonably priced, it functioned flawlessly in several of my M1 carbines and most importantly in my M2. Best of all as a former ammunition reloader, I don’t have to, nor am I tempted to, pick up the spent casings.

The legacy of the old U.S. carbine is that today, over sixty-years after the M1 carbine was first introduced, companies are still manufacturing ammunition for them. Keep in mind that there have only been a handful of other firearms chambered to fire the unique .30 carbine round. I would bet that most of the ammunition sold today is traveling down range via the barrels of old M1 carbines.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N5 (February 2006)
and was posted online on March 15, 2013


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