View Full Version : Ammunition: How do tracers work?

March 23, 2001, 14:55
It seems tracer rounds are for sale on every internet auction site. I was wondering just how they trace? I've read that some work, while others do not.

I saw some at Barley Pop's shoot a few weeks ago and thought they would be fun to shoot. What should I look for if I want a few to just have fun with? azski

March 23, 2001, 15:23
The problem with tracers is that they have a limited life span. I have some that are less than 10 years old that work about 50%.
As to how they work, I believe they have a phosphorus element, sealed by a thin metal plug, that is ignited by the powder charge.
They supposedly ignite after leaving the barrel. Most I have shot were several yards from the muzzle before trace became visible.
Those that I have used didn't create a streak, but made a large reddish orange ball, similar to a flare.

March 23, 2001, 15:52
Another couple of problems with tracers is that some of them tend to leave phosphorous in your barrel. This doesn't exactly help accuracy in the long run.

Also, in the tactical world, they were intended for fire direction for sustained-fire weapons and they aren't horribly handy in a semi-auto unless you're acting as a spotter for a rifle squad which knows to mass their fire on your tracers. Of course tracers also give everyone on the other side a pretty good idea where you are and your life expectancy tends to diminish somewhat. (This is a common problem which often results in a severe shortage of machine gun crews in combat.)

Personally, I don't want to fire tracers from MY rifles even in peacetime, because of the potential for barrel damage and because they can start fires, and I wouldn't be too quick to use them in a tactical situation either for the above reasons. But those are just my opinions.

Admittedly I'm also biased because way back in the old days, I had an FFL and sold plenty of nice things. I got a "great deal" on two cases or tracers, so I began selling them. After most had been sold, I got some complaints that they weren't tracing. I test-fired some, and they sure weren't. Upon closer inspection, I found that all I had were a bunch of FMJ rounds with paint on the tips. I'd been ripped off big time.

Of course being honest, I had to contact the buyers that I could locate and let them know and offer to buy them back. I've never been partial to tracers in a commercial setting since then.

March 23, 2001, 18:18
MCRGO Exec has summed up the negatives of tracers quite well. Many ranges will not allow their use for fear of fires. In highpowered rifles, the velocity often makes visibility difficult unless one is shooting at long ranges.

Although it has been many years since I've shot any, I've found tracers in lower velocity calibers more spectacular than the quicker ones. .223, '06, and .308 are quick. But .30 carbine and .45 tracers are slow and somewhat of a thrill.

When I was a kid, I used to pull '06 tracers and throw them in the fireplace on occasion. Very impressive!

I did a lot of stupid things when I was a kid, though.

March 23, 2001, 18:47
My father recently talked about tracers in combat in WWII, in an unfavorable manner. He mentioned an occasion in Belgium when he was pinned down by MG fire coming within two feet of his head as he was burrowed in a shallow hole. His particular complaint about the tracers was that at distance their trajectories were unpredictable, making them more dangerous as one could "drop" into his hole unlike a straight trajectory ball round. He then revealed that the fire was from a U.S. machinegunner having enemy identification difficulties.

Tom S
March 23, 2001, 20:13
On the other hand: When you want to really spoil somebody's day, just fire a bunch of tracers at him-it has a very impressive affect! As the WWII story above spells out!

I have about 1000 rounds loaded up for my FALs, just in case I "Intend" to start some fires. BTW(by the way):Tracers also work great at starting vehicles on fire, should you ever find that useful............

March 23, 2001, 21:13
Tracers that DON'T light immediately out of the muzzle are a plus for military uses. It limits the enemies' ability to determine their source.
I have never noted tracers to have a dramatically different trajectory than ball rounds as noted above (they are somewhat different due to their weight). But they do show exactly what happens to the other ball round's trajectories when barrels get real hot (read cyclic rate fire). Rounds start to yaw early and can go wildly off course, looping down range or arcing out. Tracers "illuminate" this fact.
Tracers are very useful for several tactical reasons. They can be used to direct other weapons to fire on a target. They can be used to help a gunner "zero in" on a target when firing longer bursts or firing "over" the sights. Some claim that a tracer or two almost at the bottom of a mag helps to indicate a soon-to-be empty weapon. To me, that's marginal in usefulness.
The biggest drawback of tracers, especially in belt fed weapons, is you can't NOT use them if you are using standard 4-1 ball-tracer mix. So if you are initiating a night ambush using an M249 or M240 with night vision mounted, you have to cope with the added scope "white out" or "streaking" besides muzzle flash. Plus, even if you can't see crap and are firing wildly (army calls it suppressive fire), your buddies are gonna fire right where the tracers go anyway cuz they can SEE the where the tracers are hitting even if they can't see sh#$ else either. Only option is to pick out all the tracers before hand.
About .10cents worth so I'll shut up for a while.

March 23, 2001, 21:51
I am not aware of any currently made tracer that will damage a barrel and if properly stored. original ammo will trace. I have some USgi 30-06 made in 1952 that still traces fine andsome 30 Carbine Trace made by the Dutch in 1960 that also is fine. Pulled bullets could be a different story.

March 24, 2001, 09:24
I have seen tracers used as "low" ammo indicators. Load 2-3 rounds ball, a tracer, then top off the magazine.... MichaelC...OUT

Badges!?.... We don't need no stinkin' badges!