Steel Case Ammo: Good or Bad?

Metal military surplus ammo cans stacked up

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.

tulammo steel case ammo
TulAmmo .223 Remington ammunition (steel case ammo) is used for sporting and hunting shooting through bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles and carbines.

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.

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.

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 decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (109)

  1. I agree with those stating having different stock for different use, just like the weapon itself. Expecting a cheap short production weapon to perform as well as a more expensive tried and true model is equally as irresponsible. Stock the brass for fight time, use the steel for playtime, keep the really cheap junk aside for potential trading. In tough times beggers can’t be choosers, and those times thankfully haven’t arrived just yet.

  2. I use what the manufacturer recommends, that being said I have a PTR 91 the owners manual states quality brass or steel case ammo. I use a mix of brass and steel ( not in the same magazine). I do want to try some heaver bullet weights for accuracy to see what happens.

  3. I’ve used Federal US Forged 9mm steel cased ammunition in two different pistols.

    It’s nothing but junk. Numerous misfires, jams and it’s also very dirty.

    I’m now trying to figure out how to safely get rid of that junk.

  4. Built a 7.62×39 AR and have been shooting only steel case Russian ammo. Aside from having to grind down and polish the feeding ramp no issues with the steel case ammo. Rifle does not like AR Stoner mags either. After about 150 rounds I cleaned the rifle expecting it to be dirty due to the corrosive type ammo. Was surprised to find it was not too dirty. Even tore down the BCG and it was relatively clean. Using iron sites on a 16” barrel. Within 200 yards I find this ammo to be accurate. Have not shot it further, yet. Will be keeping an eye on the BCG for excessive wear. Using a compensator and the rifle is LOUD.. Will be switching it out in the Future.

  5. You can store brass-cased ammo a lot longer and easier than steel-cased rounds which will show surface degradation on the casings (oxidation) in short order unless great care is taken to keep them sealed in a dry environment e.g. air tight ammo boxes with the addition of dessicant. The greater the humidity of your geographic location, the more you will have to keep this in mind. I never had to be very concerned about this when living in the Rockies at 9500′ elevation where the humidity level averaged 5-10%. Down here in the lowlands of the Southeast, my steel-cases exhibit oxidation in a few months time if not properly packaged.

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