Steel ammo--is being cheap okay?

Steel ammo--is being cheap okay?

Welcome back to the 7th installment of my blog, in which I don’t claim to be an expert, in fact the very opposite. I’m a new user to the AR platform and want to share my findings and experiences as I go through and build rifles as well as being the Operations Manager at Tyrant Designs.


First off I wanted to apologize for no blog post last week, I was out with the flu, but was happy to see a bunch of emails from fans inquiring about by next post (and by fans, I mean my boss, and by inquiring, he meant “requiring”) So I told him no sweat, I got this, and lets post it Thursday instead of Friday because we do what we want! So here it goes.


I was cruising around some AR 15 forums while my fiance watched the Oscars this past Sunday, when I came across a very common post which seems to deeply divide people. Basically all the posts go something like this “I found a really good deal on some steel cased ammo by bla bla bla and I was wondering what people’s experiences are shooting steel cased ammo.” And then comes the divide, half the people say they shoot thousands of steel rounds with no malfunctions and the other half says it’s dirty and will damage your gun. But who do we believe and is it worth taking the risk?


Through much research of other people shooting thousands of rounds and through my own research shooting both (steel and brass) I’ve come to a few conclusions.


Blue steel, for all you Zoolander fans out there

blue steel ammo

1. The number 1 benefit and the only really good thing I could say about steel ammo is it’s a lot cheaper than brass cased ammo. I found most steel cased ammo on wikiarms for almost .20 a round which was half the price of most of the brass.


2. Supposedly people run into some extraction issues when shooting steel. Since steel is harder than brass it doesn’t expand very much in comparison. Sometimes the friction of the casing can cause it to jam. BUT I read studies where guys put 10,000 rounds of steel through their rifle and had less than a few malfunctions.


3. Steel has also been known to be harder on barrels over time. BUT other studies have shown it takes multiple thousands of rounds for that to become noticeable.


Have we solved anything? Absolutely not. Just wanted to give a quick side to both stories. In my opinion shooting steel cased ammo at the range can be a cost effective method to shooting more ammo BUT if it came down to home defense, I would want to make sure I have the highest quality most reliable ammo out there, and I don’t think that steel cased falls in this category.

2 Responses

David Purcell
David Purcell

March 02, 2017

OK newbie:

The only way steel cased ammo could “hurt” a barrel is by causing excessive wear in the “chamber”. After all, the bullet that travels down the barrel (under tremendous pressure) is NOT made of steel. And furthermore, any decent barrel would me made of a high enough grade of steel (or have both chamber & barrel hard chromed inside), that maybe after 5000 – 10,000 rounds you might get more wear than brass.

In my opinion, the key thing is – with brass cased ammo – you can reload it, if you so desire. (Or even collect enough and sell it to reloaders…)

If you have a barrel that is a step up from Mil Spec, and you want to do a lot of inexpensive range or outdoor shooting with steel cased ammo – then spray some very light lube on your ammo – wipe it down, give the barrel a squirt in the chamber and shoot the hell out of it.

My only other thoughts are that the hardness of steel casings, in and of itself, provides the potential for jamming, whereas brass is much more forgiving. Or, buy an extra Mil Spec barrel, and use that for shooting steel cased ammo. You can buy a new Mil Spec barrel for 70 to 90 bucks – hello………………..

James Rea
James Rea

March 02, 2017

I will say this. I have been shooting the M16/AR-15 platform since 1978. In the military, all we used was M193 ammo (5.56 55 gr. BTHP or FMJ). In my personally owned ARs, all I ever use is good quality brass-cased ammo. It is important for me to be able to depend on my ARs and for them to run reliably as well as last a good long time. I have helped a few people dislodge stuck steel casing from the chambers in their ARs. I have also witnessed an AR not function well with steel-cased ammo. This ammo was causing short-stroking and failure to extract within one 30-round magazine’s worth of ammo. I made a believer out of a few guys whom I have helped. They no longer use steel-cased ammo in their ARs. I even tried Tula .30 Carbine in my M1 Carbine one time. It would not even cycle the bolt. In lieu of all of this, I will say that my AK will eat steel-cased ammo all day long. That is what it is made to shoot. AR-15s were NEVER designed to shoot steel-cased ammo. The metallurgy of the bolt and chamber and the tolerances to which it is made were to accommodate brass-cased ammo.

If someone chooses to shoot steel-cased ammo in their ARs, I will not stop them, but I will tell them of the issues that can happen. They can make their own decision. After all, it is their AR that is going to be abused and not mine. I think it is important that they know what can happen. In addition, not all ARs will handle steel-cased ammo very well. It all depends on who made the barrel, barrel lining/treatment, which chamber it has, which gas system it has, and how the gas port is sized. The way I see it, brass-cased ammo will work in every AR. Steel-cased ammo will not.

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