Test Run: Hornady Steel Match

two boxes of Hornady Steel Match ammunition

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.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit in the value category for me. CTD’s price on SteelMatch .223 (before shipping) is the same price I pay for name brand brass .223 locally. Add in that I prefer to reload when I can and it really doesn’t have a valid use case.

  4. Oh have I had some heartburn from steel cased ammo! Tried some 9mm in my Star Model B would barely function. Had numerous fte’s in my AR and numerous hard lock ups where I had to use a rod to punch the case from the chamber. M1A didn’t function well with it either with many fte’s. One thing I did find is if I mix load the magazine with steel case and brass the rifles seemed to function better with almost no eject problems. Hope this helps!

  5. I never heard so much whining against a perfectly good product, for its price point. A well known gun writer/champion shooter published a book on the ar15. In the book he told of a 3 day tactical class he attended. Said class required 500 rounds of blammo. He chose steel cased to save a hundred bucks and the Russian stuff performed flawlessly. SteelMatch is not blammo. It is hunting/target ammo. I love it for coyote hunting on snow. It’s great because it’s mighty accurate and you don’t care if you lose your cases. Yes, I handload. Yes, I produce ammo slightly more accurate than SteelMatch. I also can accumulate a lot more steel cased ammo for “Armageddon” and most of it has sealed cases for long, long storage. My $.02.

  6. I’ve used the 52 grain and 75 grain .223 Hornady Steel Match in both bolt action rifles and AR’s.
    Extremely accurate, reasonably affordable and all four of my .223/5.56 rifles digested this ammo with no issues.
    I am not necessarily a proponent of steel cased ammo in that Wolf or any other steel cased ammo will be purchased to save a few pennies but Hornady has a reputation to stand by and I think it would be ludicrous for Hornady to put a product on the market
    That is a fail from the start. Yes brass has a purpose but I can’t argue with a
    .25 inch group at 100 yards, 52 grain HPBT, with a 7 mph cross wind.
    The .308 Steel Case rocks too, at least up to 400 yrds which is the limits of the range I use.

  7. I have a Smith & Wesson M&P Sport that I bought used. Over the last three years or so, I’ve run between 10 and 12 thousand…yes, THOUSAND steel-cased TULA rounds through it. Not only is it still accurate, it runs like a deer. Inexpensive ammo DOES fall off at longer distances, but I’ve found TULA 62 works pretty darn well out to 500 meters. And yes, I compete with steel ammo…do pretty well, most of the time. 😉

  8. I’ve fired about 700 rounds of steel. 600 in my Del’Ton E316 and another hundred in my Howa M1500. I did have 2 or 3 fail to chamber/ejects on the DelTon, but no issues at all with the Howa.

    I rapid fired about 60 of them in the Howa (if you can rapid fire a bolt action.) and found that I had no issues at all.

    I’ve read that problems may occur, but I also wonder how much of that is maintenance? I’ve seen a couple people have issues with brass and found that they don’t clean their rifles after every visit to the range.

    I guess I just have to say, the jury is still out.

  9. Nope, not going to do it again. It beats up the part of the upper on the ar15 the deflects the brass. Steel quickly quickly damages/dents and strips of the anodization.
    I shot 2 boxes of this stuff and permanently dented mine. So the savings are not worth a) non reloadable cases b) damage to my upper c) extra wear on my ejector to to the steel not springing back d)stuck case due to the steel not springing back

  10. I was a proponent of steel case ammunition until I incurred a catastrophic stuck case (i.e. it took a gunsmith to get it out). He explained that steel will not “spring back” after firing, as brass does, and therefore the steel case may adhere to the wall of the chamber. This is especially true if you have a tightly spec’d chamber.

    I was shooting a BM XM15. On the other hand, my son with his Colt and my daughter with her DPMS kit AR had no problems at all with the same batch of steel case. I attribute this to looser chamber tolerances.

    The steel case Hornady may use better quality materials not subject to this problem, and non semi automatic firearms may not be as susceptible, either.

  11. I’ll wait for a few more folks to try it. All my centerfire guns are as old or older than I am except two and I’m pretty set on my shotgun ammo, and my SD gun has to be as reliable as I can make it. THIS is not the time to experiment!

    1. I can say that almost all my rifles from my Russian SKS (produced in 1972) and my M-38, M-91/30, M-44, M-77 (Zastava Chambered .308 NATO M51) some bolt action Savage 270 have all fired steel cased ammo without any problems. My SKS has fired over 800 rnds with no problems. Just doing standard maintenance and cleaning, keeps the rifle in top firing condition. I tried steel cased ammo as an economy means because hand loading the ammo was not cost effective. I was just at the range yesterday and used WPA Polyformance123 gr HP and did a 100 rnds introducing some young kids to shooting. Economy and no noticeable change in accuracy even out to 300 yards is good enough for me to keep purchasing steel cased ammo.

  12. Well Mr. Campbell, My comment to you is SHAME on you for not taking the time to reload! Most of us out here in the void don’t have the money to waste on steel cased ammunition unless we can buy it at bargain basement prices and Hornady does not exactly give away their ammo. Also, back when I fired National Match, i learned an important lesson and that was although we got National Match Lake City ammo free from the Army, the best shooters still pulled the bullets and powder and reloaded the shells because attention to detail provided better hits.
    I buy brass cased ammo because I not only get factory target ammo, but the brass for reloading. Although you’ve written many good articles in the past, i’d have to say that with this one you have shot yourself in the foot. Just saying.

    1. A large number of reloaders do so for economy rather than accuracy. Your time has value whether you specifically consider it or not, and money vs time is simply an economic choice that each individual makes for themselves.

      I reload pistol ammunition because I can do so at a volume that makes it worth my time. The same is not true of centerfire rifle ammunition, so unless I’m specifically pursuing accuracy it makes more sense to buy value-priced ammunition and spend my time elsewhere.

    2. If 50 rounds for $20 is too rich for your blood, maybe the shooting sports aren’t for you?

    3. Matt, firstly I find your comment to be rude and condescending! Fifty rounds for $20 is 40 cents/round. I would not ever pay that price when reloads can be so much cheaper and better…especially if you cast lead alloy bullets!!!!!!

    4. Jim,

      I’m like you, I use stuff until I can’t use it for that anymore and then I find a new use for it. I call this the ultimate in recycling…reusing! If you have good brass that would make a better load you would never consider steel cases! They are inferior in terms of cost if you already have good brass. For those folks who a 2.5″ group is acceptable and have more money than sense, I’m sure certain calibers of these rounds work well, especially in the AKs..

      Best regards,

    5. “They are inferior in terms of cost if you already have good brass”

      This is loaded ammo. The time you spend reloading your brass has value.

      ” For those folks who a 2.5″ group is acceptable”

      Is that what you got when you used this ammo?

      “have more money than sense”

      This is some of the cheapest USA made ammo you can buy.

      I doubt facts will change your feelings-based opinions, but I challenge that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    6. I have to say, I have shot steel cased Wolf polyformance 124 gr HP and even the much hated Tulammo in 7.62×39 mm HP/SP and have killed hogs, deer and elk. I dropped all with 1 shot. 2.5 inches accuracy at 100 yards? Works for me every time, every hunt for me. Best all around inexpensive utilitarian center fire cartridge ever invented, Steel 7.62×39. Period. I also have a 270 Win and a 7mm, I leave them at home in the safe unless I am shooting over 300 yards, which I never do for any recent hunt. I shot +1000 rounds of said ammo in multiple AK’s at the range every year, no FTF or FTE. Keep your gun clean after every use and take advantage of utilizing cheaper ammo. Reload all day long if you like, the ammo works if you keep your guns clean and it knocks down all at distance pretty much all you need it to. If I was shooting 400 + yards, then buy or load ammo designed for that.

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