Steel Case Ammo: Good or Bad?

By CTD Blogger published on in Ammunition, General

Steel case ammo is available in a wide variety of calibers these days, and has become quite popular, for good reason. Let’s talk about the good and the bad of using steel case ammo. Since I am generally optimistic, I will start with the good.

By Joe Kautz

The Good

Price: Steel ammo is significantly cheaper than comparable brass case ammo—sometimes costing as little as half the price. Who wouldn’t want to shoot twice as much for the same cost?

Metal military surplus ammo cans stacked up

The military style 30- and 50-caliber ammo cans or the sealed spam cans of ammo make good long-term storage options.

Long Term Storage: Many calibers are available in sealed spam cans making it ideal for stashing away for the next family get together or zombie apocalypse.

The Bad

Extraction Issues: In some firearms, steel case can extract harder or sometimes not at all. This is caused by a combination of factors. Steel is harder than brass so it doesn’t have the elasticity that brass does. When a cartridge is fired, the resulting pressure makes the case expand to the internal dimension of the chamber. The case must contract slightly to allow for easy extraction. Steel does not contract as easily as brass, so if a chamber has any roughness or tool marks in it from the manufacturing process, the friction caused by the case not contracting enough, and the rough chamber can cause poor extraction.

On the other hand, studies have shown that over 10,000 rounds of .223 failed to show a measurable difference between steel and brass on the wear and tear of the chamber and barrel.

Note: When I say rough, I don’t necessarily mean visibly rough to the naked eye. This might be remedied by polishing the chamber.

Steel will be harder on parts such as extractors and barrels over time. It’s just a fact that if you rub a harder metal against the same surface as a softer metal, the harder metal will wear that surface more quickly. Studies have shown that it literally takes thousands of rounds for the additional wear to become apparent so the cost savings offset this.
Some shooters’ note that steel case ammo can be dirtier than brass ammo. This is due to the powder, not the case though. The solution is simple; clean your gun.

Some ranges don’t allow steel case ammo. This is generally due to the heavy concentration of steel in the jacket. It warm , dry areas such as California, it can be a fire hazard. The same can be true of brass case ammo. The range has the issue with the bullet not case. Check before you go.

There you have it. Steel case ammo is cheaper to shoot and generally works well in most firearms but does have some down sides. I suggest trying a box or two before buying a large quantity. That way you won’t get stuck with a bunch of ammo that you can’t use if it doesn’t work in your particular gun.

Steel certainly has its place and like the article said, over time the cost savings of the ammunition will equal or outweigh the extra wear and tear. After all, saving 30 to 50 percent on your ammo over the course of thousands of rounds will certainly outweigh the cost of a new barrel, perhaps even the gun in some cases.

What’s your experience with steel case ammunition? Tell us whether you are in the love it or hate it camp (and why) in the comment section.

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Comments (95)

  • 45 Steel Case Ammo – Hunt Sodak

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    […] Steel Case Ammo: Good or Bad? – Jan 4, 2016. Steel case ammo is available in a wide variety of calibers these days, and has become quite popular, for good reason. Let's talk about the good and the bad of using steel case ammo. Since I am generally optimistic, I will start with the good. By Joe Kautz. […]

    Reply

  • Deplorable Robert

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    Want to thank you for the ballistics and such in your reply, but I am Deplorable Robert, not old gringo. And I do handload the .357 Sig, although I haven’t check my loads on a meter. I may purchase a cheap one but my 115 grains are. Fast when I load to Max powder charge.
    Still considering a 10mm. Or .45 ACP or Glocks 45 GAB cartridge. Be safe my friend.

    Reply

  • Vincent LaqVallee

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    OldGringo, according to my ballistics file, the max power from manufactured ammo for the .357 Sig is 660 ft. lbs., with a 125 gr bullet raveling at 1,542 fps. The norm for the 357 SIG is between 390-500 ft. lbs. Whereas, the .45 ACP max is for a 45 ACP +P is 616 with a 185 gr bullet traveling at 1225 fps, and for a 96 gr bullet travelling at 1,900 fps delivering 660 ft. lbs. The average for the 45 ACP is between 390-460. In addition, the 45 Super (which is really just a 45 ACP +P +P) maxes out at 694 ft. lbs. with a 185 gr bullet traveling at 1,300 fps, and at 771 ft. lbs. with a 68 gr bullet traveling at 2,260 fps! The 45 Super averages between 590-650 for normal grain bullets (between 185-230).

    Of course, the .45 LC is a lot more powerful since it is a much bigger cartridge. But for all these statistics, I would out a lot more weight on the cartridges with the heavier grain bullets for stopping power when either hunting or for self-defense.

    As a comparison, the .357 Mag is quite amazing since it varies in power from around 350 ft. lbs. all the way up to 907 ft. lbs., and those give a real kick! I also have a .357 Mag Ruger blued 6.5″ Blackhawk, so for practice I shoot the lower powered ammo (and less money too), and for kicks I pull out the high power ammo! But my 45 Ruger Colt kick a lot more when I fire the real big loads than my .357 Mag.

    In general, revolver loads will almost always be more powerful than semi-auto loads since the cartridges are much bigger, and hence a lot more powder. The 45 ACP is unique in that it can be hot in both revolvers and semi-auto guns. I have been keeping my eye out for a 45 Semi-auto handgun that can handle the 45 Super ammo, or be altered so it can.

    Vincent (01-25-2018)

    Reply

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