Tracer ammunition utilizes a bullet that contains a small amount of phosphorus or magnesium in its base. When the round is fired, this material burns brightly, making the projectile's path visible to the naked eye.
These rounds are most often used to mark battlefield targets, with a fire team leader firing an entire magazine of tracers at a particular target and the rest of the fire team or another unit, offshore Naval Gunfire, close air support, Artillery, etc. firing in that direction.
During World War I, the British military introduced a tracer version of the 303 Enfield cartridge in 1915 and the United States followed with a 30-06 tracer in 1917. US tracers were originally identified by utilizing a blackened cartridge case; this means of identification was later supplanted by painting the tip of the bullets red or orange.
Eventually, this protocol would be adopted by other nations and tracers have been used in nearly every conceivable military long arm as well as a few handgun chamberings over the past 100 years by every military force on earth.
Tracer ammunition was developed to mark targets for spotters working with artillery, gunships or mortar units. Soldiers would fire on the target with tracer rounds in their small arms and the spotter would direct fire on where the tracers were impacting.
They can also be used to ignite a flammable target. Tracers were used with great effectiveness in the First World War against German Zeppelins as the rounds could ignite the gasses inside the dirigible.
Because of their visibility, tracer rounds can provide a visual cue for a Soldier or Marine to change an empty magazine during a firefight. When used in rifles or machine guns, tracers are typically loaded as every fourth or fifth round. Soldiers and Marines typically placed tracers as the first several rounds in their magazines. These rounds would in turn be the last rounds fired and would alert the shooter that his weapon was almost empty, and it was time to change the magazine.
Outside of a military application, tracers can be used in long range handgun and machinegun training exercises. They are excellent for impressive shooting demonstrations at nighttime, particularly when fired from an aircraft.
Lastly, tracer rounds can play an important role in outdoor shooting range development. The visible path of the bullet in flight and more importantly its impact is often used for testing shooting ranges to see if there are potential hazards and vulnerabilities with regard to ricochet.
Disadvantages of Tracer Ammo
There are a few disadvantages to using tracer ammo. Due to its flammable nature, tracer ammunition is capable of causing wildfires and is outlawed in certain states for this reason.
On the Federal level, certain types of rifle caliber tracer rounds are restricted by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) due to their armor-piercing nature based on the velocities of the cartridges in question or the composition of the bullet's core. Some military tracers are branded specifically as "Incendiary Tracers" which also carry these restrictions.
From a tactical perspective, tracer ammunition can give away the shooter's position to the enemy and can potentially overwhelm certain types of military-grade night vision equipment. There was a popular saying during the Vietnam War, "Tracers work both ways", which emphasized revealing the shooter's position to the enemy.
Speaking to the night vision, scenario: This problem mostly occurs with bright tracers which burn upon leaving the muzzle as opposed to subdued tracers which ignite after 100 yards or dim tracers that were actually developed for use with night vision.
The projectile loaded in tracer ammo often has different aerodynamics and weight when compared to ball ammunition. For this reason, tracer rounds will have a different point of impact (POI) than conventional ammunition fired at the same distance. This is due to the weight of a tracer bullet actually decreasing during flight, as the material in its base burns and vaporizes. Advances in tracer ammunition design have diminished this problem, but it cannot be completely eliminated.
Most shooters may not notice this, but a dedicated target shooter will see the shift in POI immediately.
Tracer ammunition is generally not used in most hunting applications outside of some varmint shooting.
Southern Ballistic Research (SBR) Ammunition offers a variety of LaserMatch tracer rounds for use in handguns and pistol caliber carbines and machineguns. These range from 380 ACP through 45 ACP and include subsonic loads in 9mm. They provide the shooter with immediate feedback through trajectory visualization - you actually see the rounds impact the target - thereby allowing rapid correction of shooting errors.
LaserMatch tracers do not use a "glow in the dark" element that have limited applications for day-light use, but use a proprietary formula based off of traditional military tracer compounds.
These rounds are also available in a TOTAL LEAD FREE Cartridge, using Lead-Free primers, powder, and tracer components. Additionally, SBR LaserMatch is the only manufacturer offering FRANGIBLE, Lead-Free tracer ammunition.
SBR LaserMatch tracer cartridges are available in two trace ranges to fit your training needs.
SBR LaserMatch tracer cartridges are non-corrosive and will not harm the barrel or firearm. They are visible at the muzzle and can be seen in full daylight and produce a
Bright Visible Trace. ERVT (Extended Range Visible Tracer) produces a RED Trace, while the SRVT (Short Range Visible Tracer) produces a GREEN Trace.
DIM-IR tracers are also available and require night vision or IR goggles or sighting devices to observe the "trace".