Light Up the Sky: Reloading and Shooting .308 Tracers

Since I was a boy I’ve been drawn to fire and fireworks. To me, the 4th of July wasn’t just a day of celebrating, it was an entire week of improvisational pyrotechnical “experiences”. Fast forward from 1985 to 2017, and I’m still just as excited about fire and destruction. So when friend Jim Findlay recently asked me if I wanted to split an online order of 1000 .308 pulled military tracer bullets I said “absolutely”! I soon discovered that tracers were REALLY fun to shoot at night. Imagine if you could “see” the trajectory of your .308 bullet at 1250 yards range: that’s what it’s like shooting tracers! They are sure to bring a smile to your face, and the faces of onlookers.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. Tracers are not legal in all areas, tracers burn at extreme temperatures and start fires (you’ll notice the deep snow when I’m shooting here). Don’t ever under any conditions shoot at rocks (bullets can come back at you if angle is not correct, professional driver, closed course, …). This is a demonstration only and I’m not advocating that anyone attempt to re-create this ammunition or duplicate the shooting in this write-up and video. There! Now the that the lawyers are satisfied, let’s get on with things!

Tracers in Action

It all started with that bulk purchase: Jim and I split up the package of 1000 bullets, and I thought to myself: what am I going to load these for? I could load some .308, or some 30-06, lots of possibilities.


The kid inside me smiled and anticipated the fun that would unfold.

Duplicating M62 Military Tracers (roughly)

It’s a bit ironic that my quest here was to “rebuild” ammunition from pulled bullets that would end up pretty much the same as the ammo before the bullets were pulled- but building the ammunition is a lot of the fun, right?

From Wikipedia: The M62 .308 tracer is an orange-tipped 7.62×51mm NATO tracer consisting of a 142 gr bullet with 46 grains of WC 846 powder. The tracer compound contains composition R 284 which is 17% polyvinyl chloride, 28% magnesium powder, and 55% strontium nitrate. (This is the same composition used on the M196.)



Tracer images from

I can only presume that the orange tip 143 grain bullets I bought in bulk where from M62 Military .308 ammunition, but I’m not totally sure on that, and it doesn’t really matter per se. Here’s a close-up of the 143 grain pulled bullets used here, note the closure cup seen inside the recess at the base of the bullet:


And here’s the collection of components and tools (press not pictured) that I used for this sub-zero loading session:


From the bullet bin clockwise in this photo:

  1. .308 143 grain tracer bullets (may be listed online as 142 as noted above) – ordered from
  2. Hodgdon Varget powder (my default for .308) – 40 grains charge weight (45 listed as max)
  3. Motor oil- used to “wet the die” for extreme cold reloading for the first case
  4. Fully prepped military 7.62x51mm cases: sized, de-primed, primer crimps swaged, trimmed, case mouths chamfered
  5. L.E. Wilson case gauge for .308 Winchester
  6. CCI BR-2 benchrest large rifle primers

And here’s the press setup I used on the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP 5-station progressive:


Station utilization:

  • Station 1: RCBS small-base .308 sizer/de-primer
  • Station 2: empty
  • Station 3: RCBS uniflow powder measure
  • Station 4: empty
  • Station 5: Hornady .308 seater die with micrometer stem

One thing I’ve learned is that you need to pay *close* attention to the sizer die setup on a progressive press when loading difficult-to-size bottleneck cartridges like military .308. The reason is, there’s a degree of flex in the sub-plate (and shellplate correspondingly) which means the sizer die will likely need to be screwed in more than on a single-stage or turret press to get equivalent sizing action. Pictured here is the .308 case gauge from L.E. Wilson that I consider mandatory (for any cartridge you are reloading – these are specific to each cartridge spec) in order to ensure proper feeding/chambering/functioning in your firearm. With this gauge you can also check case length to see instantly if trimming is needed.


These .308 tracers functioned great with a 100% light-up rate. The reduced load shot great, with minimal recoil. It’s really interesting to see how the trajectory for these “slow” .308 rounds changes beyond 1000 yards- it’s pretty dramatic how the drop increases at those distances! I’ll note that these tracer bullets seem to stay lit all the way to ~1200 yards, the range I was shooting at. Pretty amazing. At about 15-18 cents a bullet, these are a lot of fun for not a lot of money!

Important Notes

  • Please see the “don’t try this at home” disclaimer at the top of this post!
  • Bullet length and case capacity: Since these bullets are longer than “standard” 143 grain bullets (the tracer compound is less dense and takes up more room) charge weight from standard load data needs to be *reduced* for equivalent/safe pressures.
  • Bullet pull marks: In some cases you can see pull marks on these bullets. For maximum accuracy, these marks would be removed/reduced with some sand paper or emery cloth.
  • Bullet cannelure consistency: I noticed that these bullets did not have a very consistent cannelure distance (from the base of the bullet). Not a big deal unless a crimp was applied (I did not crimp these loads).


I’m really happy with how these tracers performed, and am looking forward to more “experiments”. As noted in the video, I’m going to see if I can get these to work in 7.62x39mm, and shoot them in the AK and SKS if they work out. Stay tuned for more tracer action here on Ultimate Reloader!



3 thoughts on “Light Up the Sky: Reloading and Shooting .308 Tracers”

    1. Better take a firetruck with you for those shooting sessions.

      I beleve the DNR in this state dont want em around(tracers) anmd I bet your local gun club range also.

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