Is Cheap Steel Case Ammo Worth Getting?
When it comes to practice ammo, what divides some opinions is the topic of steel-case ammo. It’s usually only available for a few calibers – most common being 9mm and .223 – and there is really only one reason it’s popular.
Because it’s cheap.
However, there are a few drawbacks, namely that it’s usually a bit on the dirty side and doesn’t cycle well in all firearms. Some people swear by it, and others think you should go ahead and spend on quality because it gets results – like buying a decent leather gun belt instead of opting for something cheaper which might kind of work.
Steel Bullets Can Translate Into Savings
Everyone knows why steel bullets are popular as practice rounds – it’s because they are real cheap. They also happen to be offered in more or less the two most popular rounds, namely 9mm Para and .223/5.56mm NATO. Since everyone and their brother these days has a 9mm handgun and an AR-15, these are the guns that way more people own, shoot and in case of 9mm, carry.
After all, the compact single stack 9mm is the default carry gun du jour. A huge swathe of people who carry everyday carry precisely this type of gun.
Thing about 9mm ammo and also .223 ammo is that it’s cheap compared to other calibers as it is. However, steel ammo goes for even cheaper. Thus, a person can shoot an already cheap round to shoot for even less.
A typical box of 9mm hardball goes for about $15, though it can be a bit more or less depending on where you shop for rounds and if you’re not buying in bulk. However, steel bullets will usually go for a few fewer dollars per box less than brass, despite there being some pretty cheap brass out there. The amount will vary depending; it might be a discount of $1 to $2 per box compared to the cheapest brass rounds, it may be more than that.
When it comes to .223 or 5.56 NATO, that adds up pretty quick as those rounds typically come in boxes of 20. Granted, the guy who shoots .300 Winchester Magnum isn’t going to have a lick of sympathy for the guy who whines about rounds for his AR.
Not. One. Bit.
Is Steel Case Ammo Bad For A Gun?
Seems like steel ammo is a great idea, but a good deal of shooters have found out that the deep discount is there for a reason. This isn’t to say that steel ammo is bad for or with all firearms, but that there are some drawbacks compared to brass.
First is the nature of steel vs brass. Steel is a hard metal, and works very well for most applications like knives, gun parts, steel inserts for gun belts, etc. However, brass is preferred for ammunition for a number of reasons. For one, it is far less susceptible to rust though almost all steel ammo has a rust-proof coating. Secondly, and this is actually the important part, brass is a softer metal and produces far less friction.
The added friction can make cycling a little more difficult. Contrary to popular belief, the lacquer coating doesn’t actually make extracting a shell more difficult; it’s actually the friction of the steel shell. After all, it’s a hard metal rubbing on another hard metal.
Steel also doesn’t shrink the same way brass does in the chamber after firing.
As a result, a steel case will “stick” a bit more as the case doesn’t shrink after firing and produces more friction, that means it doesn’t cycle as well as brass.
This much is not debatable. What IS, however, is to what degree steel ammo doesn’t cycle as well as brass and that comes down to an economy of scale. Guns are machines, and while the mechanism is the same the example is not. If you own, say, a Beretta 92 and so does the guy down the street, you both have the same gun…but both will have their individual quirks and peculiarities known to the owner. It’s sort of like cars; some people find Shell gas works better in theirs, whereas that guy they know with the same make and model swears by Exxon.
As a result, some people will find their gun runs steel with no hiccups at all. Some people find more failures to feed/extract with theirs. Some people refuse to run steel rounds at all and spend more on ammo because they want the best performance possible and are willing to pay to get it.
So Should I Bother With Steel Case Ammo?
Actually, so long as your gun doesn’t have an issue with it and your range doesn’t ban it (some don’t allow use of steel case ammo) it’s actually a good idea, especially if you do a LOT of shooting…but who doesn’t want to do more shooting practice?
The savings can add up pretty quick. Let’s say you shoot 2,000 rounds per year. If you can save $3 per 50 round lot…that’s $120 in annual savings.
That said, there are a couple things to be aware of. First, steel rounds are cheap and dirty, requiring more frequent cleaning, so make sure you give your gun a good cleaning and lubricating after a trip to the range…which you should be doing anyway!
Also, if you use steel case ammo on a regular basis, have a good close look at the extractor and the feed ramp when you strip your gun for cleaning. For those running steel ammo in an AR, have a look at the bolt, and any other parts that come in contact with the round. Look for any accelerated wear, as use of this ammunition wears a bit harder than brass.
As long as you take reasonable care of your pistol or rifle, steel ammo shouldn’t be a problem if it digests it well.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.