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.
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.
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.
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.