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.
Steel Case Ammo: 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?
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.
Steel Case Ammo: The Bad
Extraction Issues: In some firearms, steel case can be harder to extract — or it doesn’t extract 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.)
Durability: 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.
Range restrictions: Some ranges don’t allow steel case ammo. This is generally due to the heavy concentration of steel in the jacket. In warm, dry areas such as California, it can be a fire hazard. The same can be said 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 downsides. 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 as I 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.