M1 Garand shooters generally know that the potential higher pressure of commercial .30-06 hunting ammunition makes it unwise to fire in the Garand. The three resources for safe Garand chow are military surplus ammo, commercial ammo loaded specifically for the Garand, or handloading. Let’s see how they stack up in availability and cost.
Military surplus ammo used to be a basement bargain thing, but times have changed as the supply dwindled. The same can be said for milsurp firearms as well. As examples, I acquired my Director of Civilian Marksmanship M1 Garand in 1986 for $162, and bought Russian M91 Mosin-Nagant rifles at wholesale for $35 each when they hit the market about 1994—at that price I was giving the Russian rifles away to family and friends as curiosities. Ammunition for both was dirt cheap, the going price depending upon bulk, but was generally several rounds for a dollar.
M2 Ball is milspec ammunition, a 150-grain, full-metal jacket bullet loaded to a specific pressure suitable for the M1 Garand’s gas system (in reality, it’s the other way ‘round, as John Garand designed his rifle to fire the already extant M2 Ball). All of America’s armed forces utilized it in a variety of other rifles and machine guns, and M2 Ball was still being manufactured into the 1970s. In my locale today, milsurp M2 Ball ammunition for the Garand retails from a dollar to $1.25 per round, and it’s priced even higher at gun shows where some sellers apparently believe the brass cases are actually made of gold. The ammunition is typically Greek-manufactured (HXP headstamp) packaged in 20-round brown cardboard boxes, or of some other foreign manufacture, though some Lake City (LC headstamp) occasionally turns up.
At present, the Civilian Marksmanship Program is a less-expensive resource for milsurp Lake City M2 Ball, but the caveat is that you must be qualified to purchase from CMP. Qualifying isn’t difficult: be a United States citizen and prove you are a member of a CMP-affiliated club, then you can buy an ammo can of 400 rounds for $392 (plus $12.95 shipping), which totals $1.10 per round. Clearly, however, the long-term trend is that milsurp M2 Ball will one day be collector stuff too expensive to shoot, following in the footsteps of milsurp 6mm US Navy, .30 US Army and .30-03 US.
Given the popularity of the M1 Garand and the evaporation of milsurp ammunition over the years, more commercial manufacturers are now offering new-made M2 Ball reproductions. Those makers include, Federal, Prvi Partizan, Selleir & Bellot and Winchester. I found prices running from 52 cents to more than $1.60 per round online, and keep in mind the added shipping cost escalates the per-round cost. In addition, Hornady loads its excellent M1 Garand Vintage Match with a 168-grain bullet; this is competition ammo retailing at over $2 per round. Though suitable for the M1 Garand, it is not M2 Ball.
For handloaders, once the brass is in-hand (be careful, as some foreign-made .30-06 brass is Berdan primed), reloading costs about 70 cents per round at current prices for bullets, powder and primers. Data for loading M2 Ball is simple. The go-to resource is the U.S. Army’s technical manual TM 43-0001-27, which lists M2 Ball as a 150-grain FMJ bullet, 50 grains of IMR 4895 and an overall cartridge length of 3.34 inches. Use a Large Rifle primer, of course, and be certain to seat it to the bottom of a clean primer pocket to preclude a slam fire cause by a protruding primer. Apply a tight crimp for the Garand’s semi-automatic action. It’s wise to start with a lesser charge of powder—say 45 grains—as the Army lot tested powders and in my research apparently didn’t actually reach a full 50 grains of IMR 4895. Instead, loads were typically about 48 grains. The TM stipulates a muzzle velocity of 2740 f.p.s., but that’s measured 78 feet from the muzzle, so handloaders’ chronographs set closer to the muzzle may show a slightly higher velocity.
Milsurp M2 Ball can’t last forever and, like everything else, the cost of ammunition and reloading components has gone up. But some careful shopping around and snapping up a good deal when you find it can keep your Garand from becoming another safe queen.