Test Run: Hornady Steel Match

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, General, Range Reports

Economy and accuracy are good reasons for handloading. Therefore, I am an enthusiastic handloader. However, today I seldom have the time to handload. In personal shooting versus working to shoot in reviews and test programs, my ratio of handloads was once nearly 100%, but the percentage has fallen considerably during the past few years.

two boxes of Hornady Steel Match ammunition

The author found Hornady’s Steel Match loads reliable and accurate.

My handloads were based on Hornady Bullets and Hodgdon powder in most cases. When looking over the field of practice ammunition, there are many types to choose from. Among the most attractive are those that are offered with once-fired brass in remanufactured lines. Another line is steel-cased ammunition. I think steel-cased ammunition has been controversial in many circles, and for good reasons.

Just the same, steel-cased loads are viable and most of all affordable. I was very interested to see Hornady offering a Steel Match line. These are not rebranded loads but rather steel-cased cartridge cases loaded by Hornady with Hornady projectiles. That means a lot. This makes the loads viable for hunting provided they are accurate enough for this pursuit, and the powder technology addresses one of the primary concerns with steel cased ammunition—powder fouling.

Steel is much less expensive than brass, which is the appeal, but even mild steel doesn’t have the expansion on firing that brass does. This leaves the possibility of powder blow by. Foreign powder technology isn’t as advanced as our own. Often steel-cased ammunition produces more powder fouling because of this. Also, perhaps, because steel doesn’t give as much as brass to seal the chamber.

SKS and AR-15 rifles

The SKS rifle (above) and the AR-15 (lower) will be more affordable to fire with Hornady Steel Match versus brass-cased loads.

A friend has another opinion and he is a user of prodigious amounts of steel-cased ammunition. Having figured what his time is worth, he does not reload but purchases case loads of steel-cased ammunition. His opinion is that it really isn’t that much dirtier. Since steel cased loads are inexpensive, we may fire two to three times more ammunition at each range session. This means, of course, the gun is going to be dirtier he says. Another concern is reliability. Steel-cased ammunition may be harder on the extractor and more likely to be left in the chamber than brass cartridge cases.

It was almost a no brainer that the AK-47 rifle would fire steel-cased ammunition without a problem. The first test involved Hornady Steel Match and the AK-47 rifle with the 123-grain SST loading. Results were excellent. Firing 50 cartridges as quickly as possible through the Romanian AK, the loads never missed a beat, and the rifle gave good practical accuracy. Setting down on the benchrest, I fired for accuracy at 50 yards. At this range, the rifle exhibited good accuracy, with several groups of 2-2.5inches for 3 shots. With the average, fairly tight, AK-47 rifle, it is good for 4.0-4.5 inches at 100 yards—this is a good showing. With the SST bullet the 7.62x39mm is capable of taking deer at moderate range. This is also a respectable hog gun.

Bolt carrier from an AR-15

Guns get dirty if fired. Hornady Steel Match did not seem any dirtier than brass-cased loads.

Moving to the .223, I broke out the Colt M4 with a Redfield Battlezone scope and a Spikes Tactical rifle with TruGlo scope. The 55-grain Steel Match runs well over 3,000 fps from the carbine’s 16-inch barrel. Each rifle fired 40 rounds without any problem. Two, five-shot groups were fired at 100 yards to evaluate accuracy. The Colt exhibited a 1.1-inch average, the Spikes Tactical, 1.2 inches—more than accurate enough for any chore. Powder residue was modest, in line with brass-cased loads.

Next, I fired the 75-grain Steel Match. Hornady’s 75-grain BTHP bullet is respected for accuracy. Young Matthew Judge took his first buck with this bullet, and it is a fine overall performer. Function was perfect again with this load. This time I fired only the Colt for accuracy. Holding an inch for five shots is about my limit with the Colt factory trigger. Two five-shot groups averaged just that, an inch with this loading.

Hornady Steel Match is affordable to downright cheap, but a good performer. Hornady has given us affordable accuracy with a well-designed bullet.

There are a lot of shooters with a less than favorable opinion of steel-cased ammunition and some ardent supporters. Where do stand on steel-cased ammunition and experiences do you have to back up your opinions? Share your answers in the comment section.

Tags: , , ,

Trackback from your site.

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  • Steve S


    Use wikiarms.com type in the caliber and all will be revealed.


  • Steve S


    Hornady Steel Match is not cheaper then brass cases ammo. Using an ammo search engine new manufacture brass Wolf gold and PMC at started at 31 cents a round where Hornady Steel Match started at 34 cents a round. Also not many retailers carry the Hornady. I’ll stick with brass cased ammo.


    • Matt




  • Fred


    I can’t reload as cheap as I can buy steel case.
    The trick for me has been to buy the slightly higher end steel (such as the Wolf Military Classic)

    I have seen no malfunctions with that ammo and I shot a LOT.
    AND it has been consistently more accurate than the entry level brass.

    ARs are orginally designed for the superior properties of brass cases. But the majority of modern ARs are quite tolerant of steel. At 2/3rds the price its a no brainer.

    Not too worried abut 3 dollar extractors either, as a) I had extractors last forever on steel case ammo and b) even if they didnt they are like 2 dollars about what you save on a single box of steel ammo over the cheapest brass.


Leave a comment

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

%d bloggers like this: