A Case for Steel Cased Ammo

By CTD Rob published on in Ammunition, Firearms

Choosing the right ammunition for your combat rifle can be a daunting task. There are endless options when it comes to ammo, all of which can leave buyers confused and frustrated. With the rising cost of quality ammo, we field tons of questions about the use of steel cased ammunition. In light of this, I’m going to attempt to clear up some of the pitfalls that new shooters encounter when shelling out their hard-earned dollars for steel ammo. Some of you more advanced shooters may find this information somewhat basic, but read on anyway, you may learn something you didn’t know.

cartridge

Diagram of a Typical Cartridge

Before we get started, let’s get some nomenclature out of the way. The casing of a cartridge is what ejects out of the side of an automatic firearm. When we say cartridge, we are usually talking about the entire thing. When someone talks about the bullet, it is usually just the projectile itself. Look at the cartridge diagram if I am not doing a good job explaining this. Even though some of this stuff may seem a bit nit-picky; trust me, self-proclaimed gun experts who spend all day behind a counter tend to be a little snobby if you don’t know the lingo. Heck, some of them are snobby anyway. Just tell those types to chill out and try to enjoy the art of shooting; nobody was born an expert.

In the past, manufacturers tried to produce casings from all sorts of materials. Some early rifles used paper, some modern cartridges use polymer, but so far, shooters really purchase only brass and steel cased ammunition. When you pull the trigger, the firing pin hits the primer of the cartridge, igniting the powder in the casing. The case then expands as gas from the burning powder tries to escape the chamber. Instead of just exploding in your face, the gas pushes the projectile out of the casing and down the barrel. All this happens so quickly that it is over by the time you hear the bang. Depending on your firearm, how much the casing expands when the powder ignites is somewhat important. If the casing does not expand far enough, fouling from the burning powder can collect on the inside of your chamber, causing it to gum up. This is a problem when using steel cased ammunition in tighter tolerance automatic weapons, such as the AR-15. Steel doesn’t expand as much as brass, so more powder blows around your chamber, causing it to get filthy before you know it. Furthermore, ammo manufacturers usually coat the steel casings in lacquer or polymer, which when cooled, acts like glue on the inside of your chamber. This can cause a failure to extract as well as torn casings and broken extractors.

Steel Cased Ammo

Steel Cased Ammo

Most of the steel cased ammunition sold in the U.S. is from Russia. American and Asian factories tend to adhere to a higher quality standard than their Russian counterparts, so the steel cased ammunition you shoot can be of varying quality. I’ve seen some rounds without enough powder fail to eject, as well as accuracy issues from poorly seated projectiles. I guess the Soviet Union was more worried about quantity rather than quality during the cold war.

Steel cased ammunition does have a few good things going for it though; it’s cheap and readily available. Aside from having to clean your AR-15 after 500 to 1,000 rounds, which you should do anyway, there really is nothing wrong with using Russian steel cased ammunition at the range. If you are using a well-maintained weapon, you really won’t have a problem using it. I’ve gone through thousands of rounds of cheap steel cased ammo in my AR and never had a major issue. Steel cased also works well in Russian AKs and SKSs too, which have loose tolerances when compared to AR platform guns. Furthermore, bolt guns do not care if the case is steel or brass, so feel free to chew up a ton of steel case ammo in your Mosin, Mauser, or Springfield.

As long as you keep your equipment clean, steel cased ammunition is a nice alternative. While I wouldn’t bet my life on it, cheap ammo has a place in this world of overpriced brass.

 

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Comments (28)

  • Aleksey

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    Two things: first the polymer/lacquer coating does not melt. Both types of coating are known as thermoset polymers. Meaning that once hardened they do not melt, they burn without softening. The real cause is the burnt powder residue deposited between the casing and chamber due to steel cases being worse at sealing the chamber from the combustion gases plus dirty/rusty/rough chambers in surplus firearms. Western origin cartridges like the .223 tend to have straight bodies with no taper which combined with the above makes extraction problems worse.
    Second, Asian manufacturers’ ammo does not universally have better quality control. Good example would be Chinese surplus ammo. A lot of it is junk. South Korean ammo on the other hand is generally gtg. And please give me a break with “low-quality Russian ammo”. I shoot a lot and for cost reasons tend to stick with Tula, Wolf, etc. Yes underloads and duds happen more often. But it is 1 in a 1000 for “quality” stuff vs 8 in a 1000 for new Russian ammo. No big deal and I get to practice more. Unless you have a top shelf custom rig, regularly shooting out to 600 yards, steel is the way to go. Most of us mortals are stuck with the run-of-the-mill 100 yards.

    Reply

  • mark

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    all ive ever fired through my saiga 7.62×39 is steel cased tulammo,so far no problems,i also run it through my 3 45s,my citadel,stoeger and springfield armory with no problems,ive had more problems with cheap brass like white box and remington and the aluminum cased blazer,they are all equally dirty ammo,thats why they make cleaning kits,like most hard working americans i cant afford the top shelf ammo and steel case suits all my shooting needs

    Reply

  • Meg Piwowar

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    I have to express my admiration for your kind-heartedness in support of all those that need assistance with this particular topic. Your special commitment to passing the message all over turned out to be incredibly practical and have truly allowed women just like me to reach their dreams. Your entire valuable useful information can mean this much a person like me and additionally to my office colleagues. With thanks; from all of us.

    Reply

  • Spencer

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    I’ve fired well over 1,000 rounds of steel cased ammo without a single jam in an AK. I did have a problem with some Tula 9mm ammo with 2 misfires (primer was struck but didn’t ignite powder) out of about 250 rounds.

    Reply

  • Tim

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    My general rule of thumb is shoot steel out of any Russian or East European gun and its fine because thats what it was supposed to shoot in the first place. American guns I use brass.

    Reply

  • Matt

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    belive it or not(i wonuldn’t have till i triesd it…) i have been getting 1″ groups at 100 yards from Wolf,not a single failure….bushmaster xm15

    Reply

  • Kent

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    One more thing on this subject. The idea that steel casings will somehow destroy your gun is laughable. Do you really think the steel in the casing is harder than the steel your gun is made of? Sorry. That is just plain dumb.

    Reply

  • Kent

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    I have fired 1000s of rounds of steel cased .308 out of my Springfield M1a. Let me take a second to count the problems I have had. Hmmmm….totals up to exactly zero! I wouldnt hunt with it. Accuracy sucks but for an afternoon of trigger therapy at the range it is perfect.

    Reply

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