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 (144)

  • Nick

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    Hello,

    I am new to shooting. I am not as much concerned with saving money on the ammo as I am with easing collection of spent casings(by way of magnets). I would like to believe a quality ferrous casing exists without the issues of excessive barrel wear and improper powder burn rate(neither of which are related to the casing material).

    Any thoughts?

    Reply

  • IAC

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    I too read the Lucky Gunner report stating that the main problem with steel case ammo is more the bullet than the case.
    Too many rounds will leave your barrel a smooth bore.
    IOWs, your savings will go into a new barrel !

    Reply

  • Educated shooter

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    Have none of you people read lucky gunners 10k round test with m193 and steel cased ammo? At 10k rounds the rifling was almost gone in the barrels that had Wolf shot through it. The jackets on these bullets are not copper and are more abrasive. It really is as simple as that. Now one might argue that you could buy another barrel and then some after 10k rounds of steel cased ammo with your savings. To each his own. Educate yourselves.

    Reply

  • Tom

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    I have a Delton AR 5.56 that eats up steelcased Tulammo. I shoot the 62gr HP and get very decent accuracy. Have shot 500 rounds so far and had absolutely no FTF, FTE, or magazine problems. The gun does get a little dirtier but I clean it and lube it and continue to march.

    Reply

  • IAC.

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    Also, Google ‘education zone #18′ !
    NOT a good idea to mix brass and steel ammo in one sitting !
    Apparently firing Wolf? steel ammo, which doesn’t expand as much as brass, and therefore allows gas and carbon blowback over the shell case; will cause the more expanding brass shells to get stuck in the chamber from the accumulated carbon build up !

    Reply

  • mrpski

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    my american made AR not so much-my Russian and Romanian AK’s eat it all day long. i think the Eastern European countries have compensated quite nicely for poor quality control

    Reply

    • Michael

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      @ mrpski

      Part failure rate is ~15,000 round cycle, Barrel Failure rate is ~90,000 rounds plus/minus 6%.

      Reply

  • EJ

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    My experience with steel cased ammo has varied depending on brand of Rifle.

    No problems whatever when using steel cased with a Bushmaster stamped .223 or 5.56mm.

    Problems arose within a Armalite stamped 5.56mm when using steel stuff. Problems feeding and ejecting when using metal magazines, but when using the Magpul P30 polymer magazine the feeding problem got much better, but still having some extraction malfunctions when ejecting live unfired rounds while clearing chamber. The polymer mags seem to feed much better. Try it.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ EJ.

      I suspect because one is Mil-Spec. (Bushmaster) and the other is Mil-Std (ArmaLite)…

      Reply

    • steve

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      Try getting an extra power hammer spring and or an enhanced firing pin. That will solve the problems with failed to fire rounds

      Reply

  • Paul

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    My MP 15 Sport shoots steel case just fine. I use whatever is cheapest. I notice it gets a liiiitttle bit dirty quicker so I lube it more.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Paul.

      The Soviet’s used a DRY Lubricant that was developed in the 1930’s, and was us at the Stalingrad Campaign. German’s used it too, once they fund out that their White Mineral Oil (water based) was Vastly Inferior to the Soviet Dry Lubrication. It’s called Russian Standard TY38.1011315-90 (Oil-RzH), it’s rated to MINUS 70F. Try a Lubrication Specialized Company. Kalashnikov-USA, probably carries it or something similar…

      Reply

  • wsandman

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    This issue I have with steel cased .223 ammo is FTE’s. My S&W MP15 simply does not like steel cased ammo.

    Reply

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