First i'll introduce the settings, it's the same one as for my previous question (about currency).

It's happening in post-apocalyptic SE Europe (Balkans specifically), about 60-80 years from now. Strange genetic disease wiped out large portion of humanity in a matter of a few years. The rest of humanity killed and pillaged each other until our numbers were indeed few. The surviving humans have a genetic disorder which makes pregnancy harder.

Nature is, for an unknown reason to people, thriving, mutating, being more hostile to people. Wild plants are growing slightly faster, predators are bigger, stronger, smarter and more dangerous. Beside that there are the "wild ones", feral humans that live like animals. All this has made trade and traveling quite hard, but not impossible.

Cities are overgrown, forests are bigger.

People are living in smaller independent settlements (100-400 people), scattered, fortified. Bandits and roamers are common. Settlements are somewhat self sustaining, but still need to trade between each other, because resources they have access to are different. There is one specific settlement in the area, based around the old University, which harbors and preserves "old" technology and knowledge, and uses that knowledge as a commodity, fixing and making technological stuff for other settlements in exchange for food, protection, and so on.. There is no unified government or force, and all attempts do do such have failed.

Technology is somewhat preserved, but only partially. For example, people know what solar panels are, or that somehow electricity can be produced from a windmill, but only a very few people actually know how it works and the science behind it.

For the QUESTION - How would those people produce ammo for firearms? Ive done the research, and in this setting, without working and organized industry, chemistry behind production would be a problem.

After that much years passed, old reserves of ammo are almost depleted, and whats not depleted is getting bad, even the stuff safely stored. People need to make new ammunition.

Casings are not that much of a problem, nor is the propellant, all that can be made by mentioned limited technology, or even DIY...

The biggest problem is the primer. Production of that (on any scale, home or industry), requires advanced chemistry, materials and so on, and for these people simply not available. If i am wrong, and this is way simpler then it looks to me, please do say.

For examples sake, lets say that someone in the University settlement has above the average knowledge of chemistry (average bachelor student level, but far from Walter White level), so he knows what goes inside it from theoretical angle. And the surrounding is an overgrown hostile ruins of a city that used to have half a million people, so various things are possible to be scavenged.

If it comes that this is not possible on any level, or really really hard, I was thinking that what would happen is to technologically downgrade firearms, onto the technology level in the past that is able to function in this settings, and make production possible? Perhaps pre 1st World War rifles or something like it?

Any insight or ideas are helpful! Cheers

  • $\begingroup$ Hunters, at least in the 60s were known to produce their own ammo from powder and lead and cartridges. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2018 at 21:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ and enthusiasts still do. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Mar 11, 2018 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but its easy now, when u can order all parts, and just put it together. What about when u dont have resources? $\endgroup$
    – Bora
    Mar 11, 2018 at 13:26

4 Answers 4


My primer of choice would be Mercury Fulminate, which was used for the first Percussion Caps. You wouldn't necessarily have to have them be an external primer - Including the percussion cap in the base of a cartridge is effectively the same method as a modern centerfire (And if I have my history right, there were guns around the 1850s that were exactly that).

These would have to be manufactured by your University - From what I've been able to gather, it's a process that involves some fun chemicals.

While centerfire rounds would be possible, I expect they would be less common. A percussion cap has some nice advantages in a mixed-tech world:

  • They can be made by one location (Such as your University or an associated place) and traded out without having to make or sell the other parts of the cartridge. Powder, bullets, and casings can be made far more easily than caps, so someone would just have to be able to make caps, and the consumers can do everything else
  • They can be included as part of a centerfire round as mentioned above, or as an external primer.
  • Weapons designed to use percussion caps as an external primer are very similar to flintlock weapons. Flintlocks are good for those that want to be truly independent, and the similarities in weapons would allow a gunsmith to make whatever the customer needed. And if the customer wanted to change the weapon from one to the other, it's not difficult.
  • Percussion caps, like many primers, can be used with a variety of powders. "Black" powder, if I have my information correct, can be made easier than "Smokeless" powder. It does foul the guns quicker, but a slower-firing weapon such as a converted flintlock won't have that issue. If you want an automatic weapon, you'd still be able to use the percussion caps as part of the casing, with more advanced powder being made by the locations that have the resources to dedicate to it.
  • Percussion caps can work with many styles of weapons, from fairly advanced weapons that use centerfire caps, to revolvers that place the caps behind the weapon's casing, to breechloading weapons, to muzzleloaders that don't even use casings.

So now I've gone on about percussion caps, but that wasn't exactly what you were asking.

Making Mercury Fulminate requires three things: Mercury, Nitric Acid, and Ethanol. How do we get them?

Well, Mercury can be mined, and has been used since very, very early times. One of the primary sources of Mercury for a very long time was Idrija, which sits right with your Balkans location.

OK, so now we have Mercury. That was easy. What's next? Nitric Acid. How do we get it? The simplest method (Dating to the late 1700s) is the Birkeland-Eyde Process - This does require electricity, and a bunch of it, but you've already mentioned that electricity exists.

To make Mercury fulminate, you dissolve Mercury in Nitric Acid, and then add.. Ethanol. Ethanol can be made by yeast.

So we have everything we need to make Mercury Fulminate, and can put them in percussion caps. How those percussion caps are used depends a lot on who is using them and how well they can maintain their technology. More remote locations might use flintlocks (Although they might have issues with rain, where percussion caps might have an easier time). All of this is capable of being done without significant amounts of technology, although it's significantly easier the more tech you have available.

  • $\begingroup$ Whoa man, great answer! Thank you! This does answer some of my questions. Only, tell me if you know, in this settings, as i mentioned lots of time has passed, 60-80 years in the future, there is no mining, where could people salvage mercury from? $\endgroup$
    – Bora
    Mar 11, 2018 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ No mining at all won't get you far. Metal will end up being garbage fairly quickly. But that's beside the point. Mercury is used in thermometers, float valves, some scientific stuff, and flourescent lighting. It will be hard to come by in quantity. There are other fulminates - Silver works, but is extremely volatile - too much and it will explode under it's own weight. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Mar 11, 2018 at 15:23

Ditch the primer completely:

The world you describe will be one where getting any sort of resource will be a lot more dangerous then our own & on top of it you have a very limited number of people to put in the required work to get said resources, treating all the man hours needed to gather said resources just to have them thrown away whenever a bullet is fired is wasteful, that may not be important in our modern "single use then toss it" world but in a post apocalyptic one where stepping outside your secure compound\town means risking death it would be wise to avoid wasting anything.

To fire a gun all you really need is a bullet & a source of high pressure to move it along the barrel, everything more is extra and isn't mandatory:

Casing - musketeers would pack gunpowder & the musket ball separately - you could also use a paper casing like they did back in the days to avoid wasting that harder to make brass.

Primer - the real answer to your question, don't have one, even if you are using a Firearm all you need is a spark to set the gunpowder\smokeless powder off, that can be a matchlock, electric spark or even a lit slow burning fuse, the main point is that whatever you chose is a part of the gun rather then an expendable bullet that's used once then discarded.

Gun powder\smokeless powder - You don't even really need to use this, compressed air was used in the past to hunting big game & for war, for long term survival not requiring to keep gathering the materials to make gunpowder might allow a smallish group of survivors to use their limited amount of manpower better

The self contained cartridge makes life simpler if you have the resources to spend for it as it allows for a faster rate of fire but judging from your OP it seems nature is your main enemy, and you don't need suppressive fire when fighting a bear, even if there are some groups in your world that have the ability to create modern ammo they would be better off spending there time & resources elsewhere & stick to older designs in the firearm department.

TL;DR - use air rifles or old style rifles/guns that don't require a unique primer & save your resources.

  • $\begingroup$ how older are u thinking? $\endgroup$
    – Bora
    Mar 11, 2018 at 17:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ matchlock, wheellock, flintlock - basically anything where there is no need for a complex primer & you can reuse the striker part of the gun to fire multiple bullets without having to recreate the primer each time $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Mar 11, 2018 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Also I would personally really like an air rifle in that sort of world, a strong air gun can take down a deer & even a bear and ammo for it is much easier to make, they are also lower maintenance $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Mar 11, 2018 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ The Girandoni air rifle was an amazing weapon, even if ended up not helping much on the battlefield (mainly due to poor training and bad logistics). Lewis and Clark certainly used it extensively on their exploration of North America. For a rapid-fire rifle invented in 1779, it was amazing, and definitely worth looking into. $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2018 at 15:41

Better Living Through Electricity

I had occasion to be considering this in a non-standard Traveller campaign I was running a year or so ago. If basic electrical equipment and knowledge are available then something along the lines of a battery powered glow plug could be used to ignite your propellant. (I am thinking about the type of glow plugs used in model vehicles, not the full-sized types used in diesel engines.) Imagine a cartridge with a thin paper base (the cylinder wall of the cartridge could be either cardboard or metal). When fired, the hammer would drive the ignition point of the glow plug through the paper base and into the propellant (instead of driving a firing pin into the primer).

I have not personally experimented with whether this would work or calculated the power (battery) requirements if it would. However, this would be an alternative for any communities that have access to basic electricity and the plentiful supply of salvaged glow plugs and lack the expertise to undertake the dangerous business of messing around with manufacturing primary explosives. This could be an alternative used in one or more communities that are not trading with the manufacturers of mercury fulminate primers as described in Andon's excellent answer.


Considering how limited these peoples' access to immobile reasources, I'm gonna assume that you want a weapon that does a lot with very little.

I suggest a weapon that reuses its ammunition. Take any projectile weapon, and modify it so that you can use the ammo again.

An arrow that is easily lost in the bush? Nah, attaching a small rope or string to that arrow to make it much easily to retrieve? Why not.

A bullet that deforms afterhitting the target, so you can't use it again? Nah, launcher a (heavier) stone at lower speeds so that it still does damage AND you can retrieve it after the battle? Nice.

Also, since(I'm assuming) things like chemical propellants, high quality metals, and anything else that requires lots of infastructure is not very availible, looks to weapons humans throughout history have used where infastructure was not something you could rely on.


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