Steel cased/jacketed ammo vs. brass-cased/copper-jacketed

Lucky Gunner just posted an extremely informative study. I have been very impressed with one of the brands they used, American Eagle (the target above was fired at 50 yards from a 20″ AR).

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4 Responses to Steel cased/jacketed ammo vs. brass-cased/copper-jacketed

  1. herddog505 says:

    Wow. That’s a very extensive and informative study. Thanks for linking it.

    I add that it also seems to be a good argument against those who criticize the AR-15 as inherently unreliable because it “sh*ts where it eats” due to the direct impingement gas system.

  2. HSR47 says:

    One thing I’m slightly disappointed with is that this basically amounted to “Decent brass cased plinking ammo vs three brands of cheap imported steel-cased plinking ammo.”

    Personally, I would have liked to see high-end steel cased ammo, Hornady’s for example, included in the test.

    Also, their chart comparing the cost of brass vs cheap steel isn’t necessarily accurate; Before this crazyness, I could buy Federal .223/5.56 at a local police supply store for about 350 per 1000 rounds; I could often find cheaper brass-cased ammo (like PMC) for ~330 at gun shows (often meaning I could talk the guy down a bit when buying several cases at once with cash). Generally, steel cased goes for 5/20 at Walmart (250 per 1000 rounds, generally TULA, but I haven’t seen any in over a year; all other prices I quote are as of the weekend IMMEDIATELY after Sandy Hook) and 140/500 (280 per 1000, generally Wolf) at gun shows.

    So, from what I can tell of their charts, they’re estimating 250/1000 for steel, and 400/1000 for brass. So their price are unrealistic on both ends (too high for brass, too low for steel).

    Also, they make it fairly clear that steel cased ammo reduces barrel life to under 5000 rounds, while the barrel on the carbine shooting Federal was still shooting acceptably after 10k rounds. They’re also estimating a mid-range barrel price; If you’re using something more expensive (like the Noveske Afghan in the upper I ordered), you’ll need to add another 100 bucks per barrel.

    Realistically, we’re talking about barrel wear that’s accelerated at least threefold, so for the prices I quote, that would mean:

    1750 for brass ammo
    1400 for steel ammo

    Then there’s 250-350 for a barrel, plus whatever it costs to get it installed and headspaced (I can probably bolt a barrel on, but I don’t have the tools or experience to ensure proper headspacing).

    So, by my calculation, it’s a wash at best.

    Given that the majority of the barrel wear seemed to be caused by the presence of steel in the bullet jackets, it would have been valuable to see the test include high-end steel-cased ammo that doesn’t use a bi-metal jacket, like Hornady’s steel match.

    For me, the only reason to use steel-cased ammo is for shooting lost-brass competitions; given what I’ve seen with this test, I don’t think I’ll *ever* use the cheap imported steel cased ammo anymore. Thus, the question of whether or not that should extend to more expensive domestic products.

    • HSR47 says:

      That’s also not even taking ancillary part replacement into account (bolts wear faster when you switch them between multiple barrels, etc.), nor is it taking the value of the brass (for reloading) into account.

      Figure on buying 2.5k of new brass ammo, and reloading it 2-4 times, and you’ll be ahead of steel on cost of ammo alone, before you even consider the reduced comparative wear.

  3. Andy says:

    You’re also missing something that I was told when I first considered reloading: “Reloading is cheap if your personal time is cheap as well.” In other words you’d have to ask yourself some questions:
    ‘What am I looking for out of my ammo?’
    ‘How much do I shoot in a given time period?’
    ‘Do I have enough free time to work up loads?’
    ‘If I have the time to work up loads, do I have the time to produce enough of my loads to offset the costs?’

    So if:
    A: You’re a busy person and just go out to plink every month with a few hundred rounds (or more often or with more per trip to the range), buy cheap steel ammo. The cost of a barrel is cheaper than the drain on your time.
    B: You’re retired, shoot about 100 rounds a year, and/or are looking for range, accuracy and/or reliability and find golf boring, handload. The impact of reloading a few hundred rounds a year is nothing compared to the money you save on ammo.

    Otherwise, you’ll find that you wasted your money.

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