Throwback Thursday—Shooting Steel Cased Ammo In Your AR-15

By CTD Blogger published on in Ammunition

You have no doubt noticed the large amount of inexpensive steel-cased ammunition available. It is hard to pass it up—prices for steel-cased ammo are cheaper than that of traditional brass-cased. Take it out to the range and it won’t be long before you hear the “tsk-tsk” of other shooters, commenting on how horrible it is to run steel-cased ammunition in an AR-15 style rifle.

But is steel-cased ammo really so bad? Is it safe to shoot steel-cased ammunition in your AR-15?

Busting Myths

Picture shows a steel-cased .223 Remington round.

Steel cased ammo may have gotten a bad rap, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Let’s own up to a few facts first. In general, discount steel-cased ammo is dirtier and smellier than MIL-SPEC Lake City manufactured 5.56 NATO ammunition. Further, it is not quite as accurate either, but many shooters won’t miss a half-MOA here or there.

Now, on to some myth busting. Modern production steel-cased ammo is not corrosive, even when Berdan primed and it will not destroy your extractor. The ferrous bi-metal jackets found on most steel-cased ammo will not damage the rifling of your AR and are perfectly safe to use on any rifle-rated backstop.

Dripping Wet

What do you need to do to run steel-cased ammunition in your AR-15 successfully? First, you will need to make sure your AR-15 is well lubricated. Dripping wet some might say—especially the bolt carrier group. You will need to clean your rifle more often when shooting steel-cased ammo; at least once every 500 rounds. However, you could get away with letting it go for up to 1,000 rounds. Because steel-cased ammunition results in more carbon build up, it’s important to use a high-quality solvent like M-Pro 7 along with a synthetic lubricant. Thoroughly clean your bolt, paying close attention to the bolt face and extractor. It is usually a good idea to remove the extractor to clean underneath as well. You will also need to clean the chamber with a good M16/AR-15 chamber brush.

Modern Coatings

Steel-cased ammo is generally loaded lighter than standard military loads, so it is important that the AR’s gas system runs well. Some AR rifles have smaller gas ports and will not cycle well with the reduced-power loads found in steel-cased ammunition. If this becomes a problem, switch to brass-cased ammo such as PPU. Using a lower-weight buffer or a lighter buffer spring may also be necessary when shooting steel-cased ammo.

Steel-cased ammunition is available with three different types of coatings. To help prevent rust and corrosion of the cartridge case, older steel-cased ammo is lacquer finished. Brown Bear still uses this coating. As heat begins to build, some AR-15 rifles start to have problems with lacquer-coated, steel-cased ammo. Switching to modern production steel-cased ammo with polymer coatings sometimes alleviates this problem. In other cases, it may be necessary to use zinc-coated steel cased ammo such as Silver Bear.

5.56mm v .223 Remington

The best way to avoid extraction problems due to stuck cases is to use an AR-15 with a 5.56mm chamber. Differences in headspacing between 5.56 and .223 chambers can cause steel-cased .223 or 5.56mm ammo to get stuck as the metal heats up. Even Wylde chambers and other .223/5.56-hybrid chambers have issues with stuck spent steel casings. Stick with a true 5.56mm chamber and, as mentioned, remember to scrub the chamber out every 500 to 1000 rounds to ensure reliability.

Steel-cased ammo may have gotten a bad rap, but there is really nothing wrong with it—so go for it! Some AR snobs may sneer at the mere thought of running steel-cased ammo through their precious rifles, but you know better now. Save money when plinking and try out steel-cased. Most AR-15 rifles run it just fine with no problems at all.

Do you run steel-cased ammunition in your AR-15? What have you found that works best? Share your tips and tricks with others in the comment section.

This article originally published on May 27, 2010.

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Comments (154)

  • Wolf Ammo In Ar 15

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    […] Throwback Thursday—Shooting Steel Cased Ammo In Your AR-15 – Nov 6, 2014. Has some told you it is not safe to shoot steel-case ammo out of your AR? Prove them wrong by reading this blog post. […]

    Reply

  • Kevin

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    I’m a gunsmith too – and I regularly shoot steelcased ammo out of my AR15 and AR47, and never have had a single issue. My personal and professional opinion is that is all bunk. I’ll even venture to say that there are UN friendly countries using M-16s and steel cased ammo as a standard practice.

    Reply

  • andy

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    A local gunsmith told me he knows first hand that you can blow up an AR by using steel case ammo.

    Reply

    • Jason Howard

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      Andy, could you explain please? I am a third generation gunsmith/arms dealer and have shot thousands of rounds of steel cased ammo in several different ar platforms without any problems contributed to ammo.. As long as your running well lubed and clean frequently you should be problem free. Maybe if you run round after round of lacquer coated cases without cleaning you may run into some issues with your gas tube, especially smaller dia.

      Reply

  • Robert J.

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    I purchased theAmerican Tactical Imports Omni Hybrid Maxx Black .223 / 5.56 NATO 16-Inch 30Rd 13-inch KeyMod Rail
    For my first time plinking with it I purchased two boxes of 20 rounds .223 one of american eagle brass and one of tulammo steel cased (not sure of the coating). After shooting these 40 rounds both in the standard mag from ATI and a P-mag the Brass american had one miss fire and the steel Tulammo had none and extracted every casing. This was all i shot was 20 brass and 20 steel so its not a huge point but it was my experience with a AR that has polymer upper and lower. Oh and i was dripping wet before i began shooting.

    Reply

  • Will

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    I have a dpms oracle 5.56 and steel coated is a no go. 3 shots in and it got stuck in the chamber and the round behind it got jammed into it.

    Reply

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