There are two major types of centerfire rifle cartridges available on the market today:

  • Those which are loaded with steel, and
  • Those which are loaded with brass

This seemingly simple variation has caused a never ending stream of argument, discussion, speculation, and questioning from new and seasoned shooters alike.  Complicating the conversation are other variables that typically get lumped into the argument without proper segmentation, such as:

  • The different coating options available on the steel-cased ammo (lacquer or polymer)
  • The different projectile loadings available (copper jacketed lead, the bi-metal coating that most Russian manufacturers use, etc)
  • The different propellant (gunpowder) burn rates

Our team decided to try something ambitious and daunting:  to provide the best resource and data available to answer these questions once and for all through objective experimentation and observation.

We realize this is a lofty and borderline arrogant goal.  We’ve done our best.  Please keep reading to see if you agree.

Here’s what we did:

  • We acquired four identical Bushmaster AR-15 rifles.  We chose the Bushmaster MOE Series AR-15 because it’s a widely available, affordable, and mass-market.  We didn’t want something too cheap and of lower quality or something too expensive and of high quality since our goal is to help the most number of people.
  • We acquired 10,000 rounds each of the following ammunition (new production):
  • We paired each ammunition type with a specific Bushmaster AR-15 and then fired all 10,000 rounds of it through that particular carbine (except for Tula; more on that below)
  • We systematically observed and tested various things, including (more details below):
    • At the start: accuracy, velocity, chamber and gas port pressures, chamber cast
    • After 2,000 rounds:  accuracy, velocity
    • After 4,000 rounds:  accuracy, velocity
    • After 5,000 rounds: throat erosion, chamber cast
    • After 6,000 rounds:  accuracy, velocity
    • After 8,000 rounds:  accuracy, velocity
    • After 10,000 rounds:  accuracy, velocity, chamber and gas port pressures, throat erosion, extractor wear, chamber cast, barrel wear
  • We logged every malfunction of every rifle-ammo combination
  • The rifles were cleaned according to a preset schedule and temperatures were monitored and kept within acceptable limits (more below)
  • We sectioned the barrels and otherwise made unique observations after the test was complete

If you’re interested in any of the following, you’ll find observations, data, and further details below:

What follows is a mind-numbing heap of charts, tables, graphs, images, and data to catalog the entire test, plus a careful analysis of everything we found.  We hope you’ll find it as fascinating as we did.  If you’re in a hurry and just want a brief overview, check out the summary video below.

Test Video Summary

View and share our 2 minute video summary.

Past Tests

A number of tests have been made public but none offer the depth of information shooters demand.

When considering an undertaking such as this, it’s a good idea to look at what had been done before. There have been a variety of tests conducted using the AR-15/M4/M16 platform over the last 55 years, and we studied as many as possible in order to determine the best course to take.

One of the more notable tests – certainly one of the most discussed – was the Army’s “M4 dust test” of 2007. Much of the public domain information about the test was lacking – were all rifles of new manufacture? Did all firearms use the same magazines? What qualified as a malfunction, and how was each type of malfunction defined? What were some of the details relating to how each rifle functioned, such as cyclic rate of fire? We sought to address each of these concerns in our test.

test of the MK18 10.5″ CQBR was conducted by Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane and presented at the 2003 NDIA conference. Although the public domain report is rather concise and also focuses on why the weapon itself was created, it contains a lot of useful data such as throat erosion and cyclic rate. The total number of malfunctions is given, but details on when and how each one occurred are not provided, perhaps due to time/length constraints. We borrowed a number of ideas and methodologies from this test, including limits on rate of fire and temperature.

A 2012 collaboration between Tulammo USA and Anderson Manufacturing compared the performance of Federal and Tula ammunition in Anderson Manufacturing carbines. Although malfunctions occurred during the testing, the number of malfunctions was not given.

The Ammunition

For the test, 10,000 rounds each of FederalBrown BearWolf, and Tula ammunition in caliber .223 Remington were used. Each brand of ammunition used a 55 grain full metal jacketed bullet with a lead core. The Federal 55gr .223 ammunition featured a solid copper jacket and a brass case, while the other three brands used a bimetal (steel and copper) jacket and a steel case. The Brown Bear ammo’s steel case was coated in a green “lacquer,” while the Tula and Wolf cases were coated with a gray polymer.

brass vs. steel cartridges piled up.
Brown Bear (left) and Wolf (right) were two of the ammunition brands used for the test.
It is a commonly held belief that the coatings exist to provide additional lubricity, or “slickness,” to the steel cases. In fact, their primary purpose is to inhibit rust. As the United States Army discovered with a test of steel cased ammunition in the 1960s, uncoated steel cased ammunition was prone to rusting. Due in no small part to the coatings, we had no problems with rust during the test.

The Rifles

Four brand new and identical Bushmaster MOE carbines, Bushmaster model BCWA3F MOE, were used. Each was produced in Ilion, New York at the same facility where Remington rifles are made.

A close shot of an AR-15 rifle's trigger.
Formerly located in Maine, Bushmaster rifles are now produced in New York.

Upper and lower receivers were of standard design and manufactured with 7075-T6 aluminum via the forging process. Receiver extension tubes were commercial pattern and had six adjustment points; receiver endplates were not staked. Buffers weighed 3.0 ounces and conformed to carbine dimensions. Fire control groups were semi-automatic and trigger pull weight varied between 8 and 10 lbs. Bolt carrier groups were machined for semi-automatic use only; gas keys were properly staked.

A stack of AR-15 carbines used in the brass vs. steel testing.
The reciprocating components were fairly standard AR-15 parts which proved to be up to the task.

Barrels were 16” in length, with all other exterior dimensions matching those of the military M4. Front sight bases were attached to the barrels with two taper pins driven from right to left. Barrel exteriors were parkerized after the attachment of the front sight bases.

Gas ports, located at the carbine position, were .058” in diameter. Chambers conformed to 5.56mm dimensions. The rate of twist was 1 turn in 9 inches, and both chambers and bores were chrome lined. Barrel nuts were torqued to inconsistent values: two had been torqued to approximately 5 ft/lbs, while the other two had been torqued within the appropriate range of 30-80 ft/lbs.

The use of Magpul MOE furniture enabled the attachment of sling mounting points and flashlight mounts from Impact Weapons Components designed for the MOE stocks and handguards. The sling mounting points and flashlight mounts remained attached to the firearms without issue throughout the entire test; however, flashlights of the correct diameter installed in the mounts in accordance with provided instructions did not stay in the mounts. Excessive tightening of the mounts’ tension screw did not fix the problem, and the flashlights were set aside for the duration of the testing.

Shooters line up to fire during the brass vs. steel test.
Numerous optics and accessories were used during the test.

Optics used during the high volume shooting portion of the test include the Aimpoint CompM3 in GDI mount as well as the EOTech 552 and XPS 2-0. Backup sights were Magpul MBUS. One MBUS sight cracked and fell off of the carbine to which it was attached due to heating and cooling cycles that negatively affected the polymer material.

Excessive upper receiver heat did cause thermal discoloration of and cosmetic damage to the EOTech sights. Also, one CR123 battery in the XPS 2-0 ruptured – possibly due to heat – but both EOTechs, as well as the Aimpoint, remained functional at the end of the test. The manufacture date of the 552 was April of 2005; prior to the test, its battery spring “grommets” were replaced with a newer design, which markedly improved battery life.

Charging handles used during the test include the standard AR-15 type, the BCM/Vltor Gunfighter, and the Rainier Arms/AXTS Raptor. The majority of rounds (over 20,000) were fired with the Raptor charging handles installed in various weapons. No functional issues were encountered with any charging handle used during the test, and no practical differences were noted between the aluminum and steel latches of the various charging handle types. Most shooters who used the Raptors commented that they appreciated the ambidextrous design during manipulations of the firearms, especially during clearing.

The use of these accessories had no functional impact on the weapons and their use should not be construed as true modifications. With one exception, the results of this test reflect the performance of the carbines in the condition in which they were removed from the box. That exception was the correction of improper torque values found in two of the four test carbines. It should be noted that the carbines were disassembled and reassembled numerous times over the course of the test to allow for the use of Cerrosafe casts of the chambers.

A man prepares to shoot a Bushmaster rifle as part of the test.
The Bushmaster carbines were patterned after the military’s M4 Carbine, with a few changes such as a semi-automatic fire control group, a slower rifling twist rate, a 1.5″ longer barrel, and a lighter bolt carrier.

Only one type of ammunition was fired through each carbine, and the different colors of Magpul MOE furniture made it easier to identify which was which. Throughout the testing, we successfully avoided any “cross-contamination” – in other words, each carbine fired only the ammunition it was supposed to.

The carbine firing the Federal brass cased ammunition, serial number ARA041079, had standard black handguards and stock, the Brown Bear-firing carbine (LBM23712) had olive drab (green) furniture, and the Wolf (LBM21236)and Tula (LBM23157) carbines had flat dark earth (tan) furniture. For simplicity’s sake, the weapons will be hereafter referred to as “the Wolf carbine” or “the Federal carbine,” etc.

AR-15 receivers used to determine if brass or steel is better.
The carbines were put to good use.

Initial Preparations

Visual Inspection

Each firearm was broken down and inspected to ensure that it was within acceptable standards; this initial visual inspection did not  reveal any deficiencies serious enough to be addressed prior to the beginning of the test. During the first range trip, however, serious accuracy issues were noted with two carbines – the Federal and Brown Bear weapons.

Both shot groups of over 5MOA, or over 5 inches at 100 yards, out of the box. It should be noted that ten shot groups were fired for all accuracy testing in this article, and the results are not directly comparable with three or five shot groups. Because these groups were much larger than they should have been with any factory new ammunition, the rifles were examined.

A target showing the size of a grouping.
All accuracy testing consisted of ten shot groups at 50 yards from a supported position with a US Optics scope at 17x magnification.

The upper receiver assemblies of the two problem carbines were completely disassembled in order to determine the cause of this issue. It was immediately apparent that the problem related to improper barrel nut torque values – the barrel nuts, which slide over a collar on the barrel and thread onto the front of the upper receiver, required less than 5 ft-lbs to break loose.

Proper torque values for this part are 30-80 ft-lbs. Once the components were properly reassembled, ten shot group sizes shrank to approximately 3.5 MOA, which is a realistic result to expect from standard carbines firing bulk ammunition.

Other Tests

Before high volume testing commenced, other tests and observations were conducted in order to gather as much data as possible about the performance of the firearms. These tests include but are not limited to chronograph (velocity) testing, Cerrosafe measurements of internal chamber and bore dimensions, chamber and gas port pressure testing, and high speed video of bolt velocities and cycle times.

These tests were also conducted periodically throughout the testing – accuracy and velocity every 2,000 rounds, Cerrosafe at 5,000 and 10,000 rounds. Most of the firing was conducted at a very fast pace, with up to ten magazines (300 rounds) being fired in a row. Rates of fire did slow at times, especially when accuracy testing was being conducted. However, the rates of fire were identical for the test rifles – if one was fired quickly, so were the others.

Although the shooting was fast and hectic, we did not exceed certain temperature and rate of fire limits – the barrels did not exceed 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Firing was periodically halted to identify the cause of a malfunction, conduct diagnostic tests, or replace parts.

A large dust storm in the Arizona desert that rolled in during the test.
Large dust storms were a regular occurrence during testing. This was the end of the second day of shooting.

Cleaning and Lubrication

A cleaning and lubrication schedule was followed – at 2,500 and 7,500 rounds, the bolt carrier group was wiped down with a paper towel, and at 5,000 rounds, a detailed cleaning was undertaken. A single drop of FireClean lubricant was applied to the cam pin hole of the bolt carrier group every 1,000 rounds, and six drops were used after each of the aforementioned cleaning intervals. Certain small parts were replaced as needed, and they will be discussed later in the article. After all initial tests were complete, the bulk of the shooting commenced.

Brass vs. Steel Results

Which Ammo Was Most Reliable?

The data which will probably be most interesting to everyone who reads this article is how often each rifle malfunctioned. To satisfy that particular thirst, here are the basic results:

  • Federal: 10,000 rounds, 0 malfunctions.
  • Brown Bear: 10,000 rounds, 9 malfunctions (5 stuck cases, 1 magazine-related failure to feed, 3 failures to fully cycle)
  • Wolf: 10,000 rounds, 15 malfunctions (stuck cases)
  • Tula: DNF (6,000 rounds in alternate carbine, 3 malfunctions)
A man firing a Bushmaster carbine using Federal ammunition successfully shot all 10,000 steel rounds without any malfunctions.
The Bushmaster carbine firing Federal ammunition fired all 10,000 rounds without any malfunctions.

The carbine firing Tula had a case stuck in the chamber after 189 rounds which proved exceptionally difficult to clear, even with the use of a steel cleaning rod after the rifle had cooled. Over the next three hundred rounds, 24 malfunctions – stuck cases and failures to fully cycle, or “short stroking” – were encountered. At this time, the Tula carbine was removed from the testing, as the problems were causing significant delays.

A decision was made to fire the remainder of the Tula ammunition through other carbines. Approximately 300 rounds were fired through an HK416 (no malfunctions), 1,000 through a Spike’s Tactical carbine (3 malfunctions), and 6,000 through a Spike’s Tactical midlength without any cleaning (3 malfunctions). All malfunctions with the other carbines were stuck cases or failures to eject.

After thousands of rounds without cleaning, the internal AR-15 components were... unclean.
After thousands of rounds without cleaning, the internal components were… unclean.

Of the remaining three ammunition brands, the first malfunction encountered was a magazine-related failure to feed at 2250 rounds with the Brown Bear carbine. For the Wolf carbine, the first malfunction occurred at 4850 rounds – a stuck case.

It should be noted that this testing was conducted in the Arizona desert during monsoon season and was frequently interrupted by dust storms which covered the carbines in fine sand as well as rainstorms which drenched them in water. These storms did not affect the previously set cleaning schedule. In addition, the rates of fire were quite high, and the carbines were sometimes fired until they were too hot to touch. These rates of fire were identical for all weapons and they continued to function very well despite the adverse conditions.

A man fires an AR-15 during with heavy raindrops falling.
In addition to dust storms, fairly heavy rain was also encountered during the monsoon season. No malfunctions were encountered during inclement conditions.

At the 5,000 round mark, the bolt carriers, upper receivers, and barrels were cleaned. After observation of high speed video showed inconsistent cycling, action springs ($3) were replaced, as were extractor springs ($6.99) and gas rings ($2.19).

The second half of the test started off with several malfunctions with the Brown Bear carbine – at 5,200 and 5,250 rounds, short stroking malfunctions were encountered. High speed video showed that the bolt was barely coming back far enough to pick up the next round, and occasionally not even far enough to eject the spent case. Additional lubrication did not prevent the second malfunction.

An AR-15 being used to fire Brown Bear ammunition.
Several malfunctions were encountered with the Brown Bear carbine shortly after the 5,000 round mark.

A detailed physical examination revealed previously unnoticed carbon buildup in the gas key and gas tube which had almost completely occluded those components. The other firearms were inspected, and none exhibited carbon buildup which was even remotely close to that of the Brown Bear carbine. Cleaning of these components in the field proved difficult to impossible, and it was decided to set them aside in order to examine the phenomenon.

The gas tube and bolt carrier of the Brown Bear rifle were replaced with identical components, after which firing resumed without incident. No malfunctions occurred until 7,500 rounds, when five stuck cases were encountered between 7,500 and 8,200 rounds. From 7,500 rounds on, a number of cases with distended and/or split necks were observed.

The last malfunction with Brown Bear was a cycling issue similar to the first two, which was the 9,551st round to be fired. A change in report and recoil indicated that the round was possibly undercharged, although the projectile did exit the bore.

Log books and ammo magazines showing how the brass versus steel test was conducted.
Nine malfunctions might sound like a lot, but out of 10,000 rounds fired, that’s only a .09% failure rate. Or, if you’re the optimistic type, a 99.91% success rate.

Two more stuck cases were encountered with the Wolf carbine at 5,800 and 5,850 rounds. No actions were taken, and the next stuck case was not encountered until the round count was over 9,000. From 9,200 to 10,000 rounds, twelve stuck cases were encountered. During this time, a Boresnake was used to superficially clean the bore and chamber; it did not appear to have any effect on the occurrence of malfunctions.

As stated previously, the carbine firing Federal ammo functioned flawlessly from the first round to the last. There is not much else to report in terms of reliability. It just worked.

The table below summarizes the reliability of each manufacturer’s ammunition as well as mean rounds between stoppages (MRBS).

A table indicating the reliability of each manufacturer's rounds.

Which Ammo was Dirtiest?

Of particular concern to some shooters is whether or not one type of ammo is dirtier than another. Imported ammunition is often maligned for being dirty and difficult to clean, and so the lower receivers of each firearm were not cleaned at all from the first shot to the last, in order to see which became the most filthy.

Special attention was also paid to how much effort was required to clean each rifle at the 5,000 round detailed cleaning portion of the test. Here, high-resolution photos of the lowers are available for your perusal.

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This photo allows you to zoom in and see the filthy lower receivers.

Interestingly, the dirtiest lower receiver was that of the Federal carbine. The upper receiver and bolt carrier group assembly of the Federal carbine also took significantly longer to clean than the Brown Bear and Wolf carbines – although it should be kept in mind that the Brown Bear carbine’s gas tube and gas key were so fouled with carbon after 5,000 rounds that it would no longer function reliably. Nearly the same level of buildup was found on the replacement key and tube after they had seen just short of 5000 rounds.

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Another close up view of the the AR-15 lower receivers used in the test.

How was Accuracy Affected?

Although end users of off-the-shelf carbines firing bulk ammo should never expect tack-driving accuracy, group sizes were checked every 2,000 rounds in order to monitor how each type of ammunition was faring. Again, these groups consisted of 10 shots at 50 yards from a supported position, using a US Optics scope at 17x magnification.

A Marine infantryman and marksmanship instructor prepares to test accuracy.
A Marine infantryman and marksmanship instructor prepares to test accuracy.

While the carbine firing Federal ammunition maintained acceptable accuracy up to and including the 10,000 round mark, the Brown Bear and Wolf carbines exhibited significant accuracy loss by the 6,000 round mark. It is quite possible that this first started occurring earlier than 6,000 rounds, because groups at 4,000 were well within standards of 5MOA or less, while some shots at 6,000 “keyholed,” or impacted the target sideways.

A target showing keyholing of ammunition.
Keyholing is not conducive to good accuracy or precision.

Even if we use accuracy as the only factor to determine serviceability, the Federal carbine was by far the best performer in this category. Its barrel was showing wear, but was serviceable right up to the end of the test. The Brown Bear and Wolf barrels would have required replacement at approximately 5,000 rounds, or halfway through the test.
To see accuracy results for each manufacturer at specific intervals of the testing, click through the slideshow below:

A chart indicating the accuracy of each manufacturer's ammunition.

Were There Velocity Changes?

In addition to accuracy data, we have chronograph data at 2,000 round intervals. Velocity loss is another sign of a barrel becoming worn out, or “shot out.” However, in this case, it was not an exceptionally reliable indicator of barrel failure, for the Wolf and Federal velocities were fairly close to one another all the way to 10k, while the Brown Bear velocity did decrease in a more significant manner towards the end of the test. A military standard for a barrel being unserviceable is a drop in velocity of 200fps or more.

A chart indicating decreased muzzle velocities as testing went on.

Data Analysis

While the above section is essentially a factual summary of the events which occurred during testing, the following is a logical explanation for the results of the test, based on our experiments/measurements/observations as well as the work of other individuals and organizations in the field.

Why Didn’t Tula Function Well in the Test Carbine?

One of the first questions one might have after reading the above treatise is, “What happened with Tula?”

After all,  it consists of a 55 grain bimetal jacketed lead core projectile loaded in a polymer coated steel case, and this description is by no means an outlier compared to the other ammunition in the test. In terms of velocity, Tula was also in line with the other products. Tula functioned very well in a Spike’s Tactical midlength, which saw 6,000 rounds of Tula without any cleaning and only had three malfunctions.

But in the Bushmaster carbine, Tula was a no-go. In terms of functional problems, there were two major issues with Tula: “short stroking” – a failure of the bolt to fully cycle to the rear – and extraction problems. Further research and experimentation indicated that there was likely one factor which contributed to both failure types.

A chart indicating Tula chamber pressures.

Chamber pressure measurements indicated that Tula had the second highest chamber pressure of any ammunition in the test when all barrels were new, and these results were verified in a separate test barrel which was used for all ammunition types. Federal was highest with a maximum average pressure of 52kpsi and Tula followed with 51kpsi. Wolf registered 47.5kpsi with Brown Bear close behind at 47kpsi.

A chart indicating chamber pressure in the firearm shooting Brown Bear ammo.
Brown Bear’s maximum average chamber pressure was lower than that of Tula, but it functioned better overall.


A chart showing the chamber pressures for the firearm shooting Federal.
Federal’s maximum average chamber pressure was the highest, and it also had a peak which occurred later than the other ammunition types.


A chart indicating Wolf's pressure curve was very similar to Brown Bear.
At the beginning of the test, Wolf’s pressure curve looked very much like Brown Bear’s.

What’s really important in this case, however, is not the maximum chamber pressure number, but powder burn rate and thus gas port pressure. Whether measured in clean, fouled, new, or worn out barrels, Tula exhibited gas port pressures that were 10-20% lower than all other ammunition types.

Basically, the powder burns too fast, and by the time the bullet has reached the barrel, the pressure drops.  The rise time of Tula, defined as the time in microseconds for pressure to rise from 25% to 75% of maximum chamber pressure, is 175ms. In comparison, Federal AE223, depending on temperature, has a rise time of 260-300ms.

A chart showing gas port pressure and rise for each of the manufacturers.

Couple this with the .058″ gas port used on the Bushmaster rifles – about the same as a Colt 6920 with a 16″ barrel, and just about the smallest gas port you’ll see on any 16″ carbine AR-15, and you’re bound to encounter problems. The Spike’s Tactical midlength did not have a small gas port relative to its longer gas system, and so it functioned without any short stroking issues.

A pressure graph for Tula.
The peak pressure and overall curve of Tula ammunition at the gas port were low and flat…
Wolf ammunition's pressure curve.
…while ammunition such as Wolf had higher peak gas port pressures as well as more distinct peaks.

This explains the short stroking issues, for an insufficient gas port pressure for a given gas system length and port diameter would logically cause insufficient bolt velocity – but what about the failures to extract?

Part of the answer to this question is the nature of the case material itself. When heated, steel does not expand and contract the same way that brass does – in fact, brass expands 1.5 times as much as steel. The shape of the .223/5.56 case was designed with brass as the case material; this plus the fact that steel doesn’t expand – and more importantly, contract – like brass means that extraction will be naturally more difficult.

Beyond these differences, though, is it possible that extraction of Tula – and possibly other ammo – could be made easier by adjusting the pressure curve? A clever test conducted by the US Army’s TACOM and presented at NDIA in 2003 may have the answer. Titled “Understanding Extractor Lift in the M16 Family of Weapons,” the test concluded that the extractor lifts off the rim of the case during initial rearward travel, but that residual chamber pressure holds the case against the bolt face until the extractor returns to the case rim.

In other words, if there are pressure curve issues, case extraction – made slightly more difficult by the steel case – becomes questionable, as the extractor may not return to place in time to pull the case out of the chamber. While a drop in Tula’s chamber pressure at the appropriate time is not observed, it is possible that the location of the gauge is not ideal for reading pressures against the bolt face.

We know from the rise time and gas port data that the powder does burn too fast for the system, so it is quite likely that this is a contributing factor to the rate of extraction failures.

A man firing a Bushmaster AR-15.
Tula ammunition is not ideal for AR-15s with small or military spec gas ports.

To be sure, the short stroking failures are a result of low gas port pressure, which is due to a powder burn rate not perfectly matched to that which would be ideal for the AR-15 platform. If you aren’t sure if this ammunition will cycle in your AR-15, buy a few boxes and shoot one round at a time from an otherwise empty magazine. If the bolt does not consistently lock back to the rear, chances are that you will encounter problems with this rifle/ammunition combination.

What Effect Did Coatings Have On Steel Cased Ammo Performance?

A common belief is that the lacquer coating of certain steel cased ammunition will “melt” in the chamber of a hot rifle and cause subsequent rounds to fail to extract. At one point, we might have believed that.

But in this test, we saw three times as many failures to extract  with the polymer coated Wolf brand ammo (15 extraction failures) than with the lacquer coated Brown Bear ammo (5 extraction failures). Although the polymer coated Tula ammunition was fired in different rifles, the rate of extraction failures in those rifles was lower than that of Wolf.

A man fires an AR-15 with laquer coated casings.
There will be a very small number of stuck cases experienced when shooting steel cased ammunition, but we didn’t see a correlation between lacquer coatings and stuck cases.

If anything would make that lacquer coating “melt,” it would be the treatment these rifles received during the test. We shot them until they were too hot to hold – hot enough that a chambered round would cook off in ten to fifteen seconds. We also tried leaving rounds chambered before temperatures reached that point. None of this harsh treatment caused extraction problems.

We found no evidence to back up the claim that lacquer coatings melt in the chamber and cause extraction failures.

Why Did The Barrels Wear The Way They Did?

Certainly one of the most visually striking parts of this article is the inclusion of post-test barrel cutaways. The barrels were cut axially with an angle grinder and then longitudinally by the wire EDM process. This lets us see exactly how the barrels wore throughout the test – and there were significant differences.

The first answer to this question is, “Because we shot them until they got hot, and then we kept shooting them.”

A saw cuts into the barrel of an AR-15 during the steel vs. brass test.
Due to the position of the front taper pin and the effects of extreme heat over time, the front sight base of the Brown Bear carbine had to be cut off before the barrel could be removed from the upper receiver and sectioned.

The rate of fire definitely contributed to rapid barrel wear. Still, there were other factors which played a major role.

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These tight images of the barrel cutaways offer insight into barrel wear.

As indicated by accuracy testing, the steel cased/bimetal jacketed ammunition caused accelerated wear to the inside of their respective bores. While the barrel of the Federal carbine had plenty of life left, even after 10,000 rounds at extremely high rates of fire, the Wolf and Brown Bear barrels were subjected to the same rates of fire and were completely “shot out” by 6,000 rounds.

At the end of the test, the chrome lining of the Wolf and Brown Bear barrels was almost gone from the throat forward, and the barrels had effectively become smoothbores, with the rifling near the muzzles acting only as a mild suggestion on the projectiles. A throat erosion gauge could be dropped into the bore from the muzzle end with absolutely no resistance.

A throat erosion gauge.
This is a throat erosion gauge. It’s not supposed to fit inside the muzzle.

The bottom line is that for both Brown Bear and Wolf, the lands had been completely ground down to the diameter of the grooves. What’s still visible is the differences in material, for the grooves have some chrome lining left. Longitudinal scratches are visible inside the bore, and it is believed that they were caused by the projectiles meandering their way down the bore in a casual manner before exiting and tumbling in a fairly random direction.

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A detailed look at gas port erosion for each of the ammunition manufacturers tested.

However, the gas port of the Federal carbine was far more eroded towards the muzzle than the Wolf or Brown Bear barrels. I believe that this is due to the excessive throat erosion and barrel wear of these two barrels – the Federal barrel maintained a good seal between itself and the bullet up to 10,000 rounds, while the Wolf and Brown Bear barrels let a significant amount of gases past the projectile, reducing the flame-cutting effect on the gas port as time went on.

A chart indicating Brown Bear exhibited secondary pressure spikes and ignition delays at 10,000 rounds.
Brown Bear exhibited secondary pressure spikes and ignition delays at 10,000 rounds.


A pressure curve showing a downward pressure curve with Wolf ammunition.
At 10,000 rounds, Wolf’s pressure curves were about as ugly as they could be and still result in a functioning weapon.


A curved graph showing the decline of gas port pressure for Federal.
Federal ammunition at 10,000 rounds exhibited minor secondary pressure spikes, but the initial rise was not vastly different than the initial testing.

The steel cases themselves don’t have any effect on the condition of the bore. The difference lies with the projectile – the soft copper jacket of the Federal ammunition simply doesn’t cause the same amount of wear as the bimetal (copper and steel) jacket of the Russian ammunition.

A graph detailing troat erosion in LuckyGunner's brass vs. steel test.
For this measurement, throat erosion was measured in thousandths of an inch from a specific point forward of the case mouth. At 10,000 rounds, the Wolf and Brown Bear throats had eroded to a point which could not be easily measured. The diameter of the entire bore had become enlarged.

Firing continued for the Wolf and Brown Bear carbines after their barrels had been shot out in order to collect other data and finish the test. However, Tula firing was halted at 6,000 rounds from the backup Spike’s Tactical midlength.

The data from this weapon cannot be directly compared to the others, due to differences in construction (the barrel had a midlength gas port, was manufactured via the hammer forging process, and featured “extra thick” chrome lining) and methodology (it was fired with only reliability testing in mind and saw even higher rates of fire as well as environmental abuse such as mud, water, and dirt testing). Still, general conclusions can be drawn, even if direct comparisons cannot.

The barrel of the Spike’s Tactical midlength shot acceptable groups at 4,000 and 5,000 rounds, after it saw seventeen magazines of 30 rounds dumped through it several times, but by 6,000 rounds, it too was keyholing. The changes in barrel construction did not appear to offer a massive advantage in terms of barrel life, while changes in ammo – to copper jackets only – did. Performance indicators for the Federal barrel show that it would likely have remained serviceable for at least another three to five thousand rounds when it was sectioned after 10,000.

An important factor to consider is that in the real world, barrels are wear items. They will eventually become unserviceable if shot enough. If you plan on shooting a lot, don’t get too attached to your barrel – think of it as a thing that does a job for a certain period of time at a certain cost. When that time is up, change the barrel. The AR-15 is a modular platform, and barrel changes are quite simple.

Think of it this way – if a barrel A costs 50-100% more than barrel B but only delivers the same level of accuracy for 0-50% more time, isn’t it a more financially sensible decision to shoot through more examples of barrel B?

The high speed video below offers a comparison of each firearm’s cyclic rate as testing continued.

Did The Steel Cases Break or Wear Down The Extractors?

Different wear patterns were evident on the extractors after 10,000 rounds had been fired. Given that most of the extraction failures with the steel cased ammunition brands occurred during the last half of the test, it is possible that a replacement of the extractors at the halfway point or later would have reduced the number of failures to extract. These wear patterns were not easily visible with the naked eye, only becoming obvious with the aid of macro photography.

Interactive photo - mouse wheel or image controls to zoom or hold & drag


The image above lets you zoom in to see the extractors in great detail.

If you regularly shoot steel cased ammunition, it might be a good idea to replace your extractor along with your barrel, or at 5000 rounds, whichever comes first. Replacement extractors are not very expensive. Changing the extractor spring at the same time would require no additional work – just set aside the old extractor and spring assembly and install the new one after popping the new spring into place in the new extractor.

Average OEM extractor springs should be replaced beginning at 2,500 rounds and no later than 5,000. Better extractor springs will not require such frequent replacement with any ammunition – the Colt “Gold” extractor springs used in each rifle starting at 5,000 rounds were still providing reliable extraction at the 10,000 round mark, and would not have required replacement after 5,000 rounds.

Which Ammo To Buy

If Federal Brass Cased Ammo Performed So Great, Why Bother Buying Steel Cased Ammo?

The performance of the carbine firing Federal ammunition in this test was undoubtedly impressive. The firing of approximately 412 pounds of ammunition with very minimal maintenance in austere conditions without a single malfunction – not to mention remaining serviceable and combat accurate from the first shot to the last – could hardly be improved upon. To many who read this report, this is all the justification they need to purchase this type of ammo.

A man firing an AR-15 with Federal ammunition.
It is hard to argue with a functionally flawless performance.

To others, the increased cost of brass cased ammunition isn’t worth it – after all, the Wolf and Brown Bear ammo had very few malfunctions, all things considered. Plus, let’s be honest – in all likelihood, most people will never shoot 10,000 rounds through their AR-15. As a company we would be excited if they did, but the use these rifles saw was far beyond what is likely to be encountered in the real world. So, for many consumers, this test will be justification that buying steel cased ammunition is a sensible decision. In many cases, it is.

A photo showing two men firing steel ammunition.
Imported steel cased ammunition is a lot better than it is sometimes given credit for, especially considering the reduced price.

Although ammunition prices are volatile, the prices of brass and steel remain similar to one another – that is, brass is generally more expensive. We created a chart comparing the cost over time of each type, including ammunition and spare parts replacement costs.

The difference in price between brass and steel cased (more specifically, copper jacketed and bimetal jacketed) ammunition means that you’ll have plenty of savings with which to buy new barrels – even if you shoot so fast that you replace them every 4,000 rounds. For this chart, brass ammunition was calculated at $130 per thousand higher than steel and replacement barrels at $250 apiece.

A chart detailing the cost of shooting brass vs. steel ammunition over 10,000 rounds.

The final decision is up to you, but now that you know some facts, you can make a better-informed decision.

Leave a Comment Below

  • Frank Tait

    Great analysis of the brass case vs Steel Case Ammo debate. Also nice to see validation of no malfunctions with brass cases no cleaning for 5,000 rounds ;-).

  • Anonymous

    Superb! Thanks, again, Andrew, for all of the hard, hot, dusty work.

    • Andrew Tuohy

      You’re welcome, and thank you for the wonderful dinner and support, MJM.

  • Larry Overmann

    Very informative…and I even understood it! Thanks for the comparisons as I tend to sgoot much more steel than the brass mainly for the cost factor. I can see why having a rifle that is modular is better in ways than a ‘solid’ rifle might be if you plan on doing the shooting on this type of scale.
    Thanks for being so thorough.

  • John Robert Hanna

    This is a terrific find. Good on ya for doing all this leg work for us. A wonderful read and data to use in the future. Many thanks.

  • John D Farquhar
  • Sergey Vorobyev

    Хорошая работа!
    Очень информативно, поразительные результаты!
    Тест патрон, по 10 000 выстрелов:
    Federal 55gr – Brass-Cased – Copper Jacket.
    Wolf 55gr FMJ – Steel-Cased with Polymer Coating – Bi-Metal Jacket (steel and copper).
    Tula 55gr FMJ – Steel-Cased with Polymer Coating – Bi-Metal Jacket (steel and copper).
    Brown Bear 55gr FMJ – Steel-Cased with Lacquer Coating – Bi-Metal Jacket (steel and copper).

    • Sergey Vorobyev

      Применение биметаллических пуль оправдано! практически и экономически :), даже при замене выбрасывателя и ствола после износа (Там у них :) ).

    • Dan Osborn

      Very good point. I think. Not sure really, can’t read Russian.

    • Cory Ginn

      Dan Osborn Here is my best translation. The use of bi-metal bullets justified! :) practically and economically, even by replacing the ejector shaft and after wear

    • Chris Richard

      Google translate is too hard for some people

  • Sean Yunt

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but the fact that steel cases were used was just a characteristic of different products more than a root cause for performance.

    It appears that different propellents and bullet construction had far more to due with wear than the case material. Feeding and failure to extract are valid concerns.

    Imagine if just 1 in 10,000 federal rounds had a malfunction, the stats would be infinitely different :)

    • Michael Z. Williamson

      The brass obturates better and then relaxes back toward loaded dimensionality, making extraction easier. It was most certainly a factor in that aspect of the test.

    • Matt Newcomb

      I might be wrong as well, but i thought steel cased ammo (or Wolf, for example) was more designed for foreign guns over American guns because foreign guns (like an AK or SKS) are loose tolerance weapons. American guns and German guns (from what I’ve been told) are more finicky about the ammo they use.

    • Trent Maynard

      Chamber tolerances do play a part. I have a tight tolerance dpms ar10 that runs great but does not like steel case but my buddy has a sig ar10 with larger chamber tolerance and seems to have no issue running steel…. However on the topic of ak vs ar, you need to look at the overall case taper. The difference there also plays a part in function with particular ammunition

    • Ben B. Rodríguez

      Yes, the case material likely has nothing to do with the barrel wear. The bullet jacket might have something to do with the wear, but I would be more on the powder.

      What would be an awesome comparison is the Hornady steel match loads.

    • Hua Zhong

      Now the test is done and the Federal has 0 malfunction. That’s the fact. A lot of imaginations and hearsay were there and imagination and hearsay is just what this test tries to eliminate. Isn’t it? Firing a bullet out of a barrel is a complicated procedure, we all know it. But this test shows a good integrated result combining all the factor and tells you which one has the best reliability. I think for that purpose, this test is well done. For casual shooters, steel case may still make sense. For critical tasks where you don’t want to have a single malfunction, the choice is obvious.

    • Joel Mashack

      Matt Newcomb The AK and SKS were designed with cases that have a much different taper and the cartridges they use were designed to be made of coated steel from the very start. The 5.56/.223 were designed around brass.

    • Clayton Pauze

      Heat is the enemy of steel. The rapid firing schedule probably (IMO) contributed the most to the wear. Rapid firing with an already smoking hot barrel will wear it out faster than the occasional fire-cool-fire schedule most people shoot. Everybody’s heard of a certain “filthy” rifle going 30,000+ rounds and still being serviceable. That’s because they were not trying to melt the barrel. Notwithstanding, an excellent article – but I don’t think most people have to worry about turning their AR’s into smoothbores shooting steel ammo (I actually like Brown Bear as plinking ammo).

  • Dylan Martin

    Great info. Cleared up many questions on my end.

  • 8541 Tactical

    Very nice article. Shared for all of our readers.

  • Paul Lowe

    It would be interesting to see one more test with steel cased with lead/copper bullet (maybe Hornaday’s ammo) to see how that performed in the same test.

    • Sean Yunt

      Ideally the identical bullets, primers and charge – but that’s asking a lot, esp. given the massive quantities in this test.

    • Paul Lowe

      I was thinking of the Hornaday Steel Match, if any can be found. Hornaday 55gr match bullets in a steel case. It would be interesting to find out if these are Wolf or Tula cases loaded by Hornaday with the rest being Hornaday components and if there would be any significant difference in the amount of erosion.

    • Joshua Berry

      Hornady Match steel is still very expensive when purchasing 10,000 rounds of it.

    • Alan Simon

      I have been shooting Hornday Steel Match 55gr HP in my CMMG with 1 in 9 twist and can benchrest dime sized groups at 100 yards all day with it. After a couple hundred rounds, far cleaner than any other ammo I’ve used. Not one extraction problem with it either.

    • Mike Branham

      Paul is looking at running this test on a “smaller” scale… Maybe a box of each, and then only if someone is willing to donate the ammo.

    • Paul Lowe

      Mike, are you calling me a tight-wad? I was still thinking of the full 10,000 round test with barrel sectioning and all, but with someone else buying all the ammo. ‘Cuz I’m to cheap to do it myself.

    • Hua Zhong

      Paul Lowe I think the bore erosion will be similar to Federal then. As stated in the article, the bore erosion is mainly because of the bimetal jacket.

    • Bobby Wilson

      Paul Lowe some how I believe even with your idea the case is made in the damaging factors of steel cases to ejector and the lack of expansion / retraction in steel compared to brass. the part that shocked me was how the lower receiver was cleaner with the steel cases. I have a thought on this; the steel case over all cycled slower than brass there fore allowing more propellant burn time.

  • Aaron Henley

    Fantastic job guys!

  • Robert Boik

    I quit shooting steel casings after the first jammings. I’ve shot brass ever since without any problems. Now I have a case of steel I can’t use.

    • Rob Yang

      Sell it, I bet you would get your money back and then some considering the current market.

    • Steven Carinci

      The reason steel is giving you stuck cases is that you have a 223 chamber instead of a 5.56 chamber. Get your chamber reamed and shoot cheap steel without issue.

    • Anonymous

      you dummy the bushmaster is 5.56

  • Tom Schmidt

    Thank You. Very well thought out, planned and executed. Perhaps to deepen the database, another could be run in the 75gr range. The only steel cased ammo I have shot has been Hornady Steel Cased Match 75gr. After 200 rounds in my ASA M4gery it has cycled just as flawless as any other brass cased ammo I’ve shot to date. I’ve not shot any other steel cased ammo and based on my experience and your write up…..I will only use the Hornady in steel cased ammo if I can help it.

  • Joshua Berry

    Great test, what barrel was used on the Spikes middy?

    • George Taylor

      Sounds like an FN CHF.

  • Kyle Pellegrino

    Wasted all that ammo to tell us something we already know…

    • Patrick Hargrove

      Says the guy who DOESN’T have 2k rounds of steel case inbound for a class…at a shipped cost of $5.30 a box. Reading that only made me realize I’m getting a new barrel after I shoot those 2k rounds in 3 days. Figure the round count on my gun is about 2500-3000 now with about 1000 of those being wolf.

    • George Taylor

      They were cooking the living SHIT out of those barrels. That made a HUGE difference! I have a training rifle I have shot many cases of Brown Bear out of and it still grooups well at 200 yards. I clean the gas key well with Shooters Choice and use a foaming bore cleaner occasionally that also gets the gas tube and have no problems. I am monitoring the throat erosion carefully. That barrel is close to 15K rounds of mixed ammo. 4K of that at least is Brown and Silver Bear (Same Bi-Metal projectile)

    • George Taylor

      As long as your barrel is grouping acceptably at around 200M, there is no reason to replace it on a whim. Buy a spare barrel but save it till you need it.

    • Andrew Tuohy

      The rates of fire used in this test were identical to the 2003 CQBR testing, as stated in the article.

    • George Taylor

      True, but this still constitutes a destructive test in that if you are getting it hot enough to cook-off rounds, the steel on the inside of the barrel was being severly weakened and becoming soft. Not hot enough to slump the barrel or create a hazardous condition but hot enough to make the rifling very soft and malleable. Andrew, I would lkie to see you do a similar test where you use the wolf or brown bear but simulate a more normal firing schedule of aroudn 500 rounds per day like at a typical carbine class. I would like to see what that looks like at 10K vis a vi the one shot out over two days.

  • Ethan Perks

    My only experience with steel 223 was Seller &Bellot. And only a fraction of what you used. Never had a problem. Based on your findings, I would use only quality brass cased ammo if my life was on the line. I’ld save the steel for practice..

  • Charlie Walker

    Very informative… Thanks.

  • Ray Sadesky

    Wow – great article. I’ve always shyed away from the wolf because it fouls the action, but this confirms it. FANTASTIC! I did a quck read, but this will require some re-reading and analysis. Thanx again!

    • Joel Mashack

      The article said the Wolf didn’t foul the action as much as the Federal.

  • George Zee

    Awesome article and test data!

  • Chris Smith

    The only times I’ve ever seen someone with a stuck case in an AR, they were shooting steel-cased Russian made ammo. I don’t really know how many rounds were fired by the gun’s owner, but it probably paralleled my own rounds fired, as the guy was in a lane next to mine, so it was probably not more than 100 rounds at a session. I’ve refused to shoot the steel stuff for that reason, and by now I have something like 2,000 rounds down the barrel. Not all of it has been federal, but it has all been brass cased and copper jacketed.The last 500 rounds or so have been M855 Lake City ball. No problems, but it does seem to be “dirty.”

  • Clint Notestine

    I had stuck steel case problems with an Upper I built but after swapping the gas block I had zero problems. Ive always shot steel case out of my.223 and 7.62 Ar’s with no other problems and very little cleaning issues. They smell bad but other than that Tula, wolf, and the bear brands have done me good.

  • Steven Blalock

    Great article! But do the test with an Ak and you would get 10,000 rounds easy with no malfunctions no matter if your using the absolute cheapest dirtiest ammo you can find or the expensive stuff, you can stop em no matter how hard you try they just work

    • Andrew Tuohy

      I have had numerous problems with steel cased ammunition in AKMs and Vz58s.

  • Liberty and Justice For All

    Absolutely incredible test. Thanks. I’m about half way through the 500 round tin of Tula that I bought maybe 6 months ago. I discovered that it wouldn’t run in my LMT 10.5″ upper, even with a carbine buffer. When I had my first stuck case in my M4, I started questioning whether I want any more. I’m not sure that I want to be the guy in the carbine class who needs to take breaks to knock stuck cases out of the chamber, even if it is cheaper.

  • Jeff Moss

    I think the test might have been flawed. The steel ammo probably heated up the barrel well past what an ordinary shooter would do. You could have dramatically altered the results if you did a cool down every 180 rounds. Similarly you might have been able to “shoot out” the barrel with the federal by firing at twice the rate you went. But i don’t know anybody who shoots 2500 rounds in one sitting to the point they cook off. Weren’t you concerned about safety?

    I’d also be curious to see how Melonite performs.

    • Andrew Tuohy

      The rates of fire used in this test were identical to the 2003 CQBR testing, as stated in the article.

    • Jeff Moss

      It says in that powerpoint:

      300 round firing cycle
      2-4 round short bursts
      4-6 round medium bursts
      Barrel temperature kept below 1000 degrees F
      Weapons cooled after each 300 round cycle
      Weapons cleaned/gaged every 600 rounds

      That doesn’t sound like the same test to me.

    • Jeff Moss

      Andrew Tuohy Nevermind, I see here: “Although the shooting was fast and hectic, we did not exceed certain temperature and rate of fire limits – the barrels did not exceed 750 degrees Fahrenheit.”

      Looks good. I believe it now.

    • Jeff Moss

      Andrew Tuohy One interesting addition would have been a barrel temperature graph at each 300 mark, so that some conclusion could have been made whether it was the added heat or just the hardness of the jacket that was causing the increased wear.

  • Dan Carrier

    This test was a great read and a very important and of great value to gun owners. Thanks for your work !!!

  • Joe Masotti

    Thanks for the hard work, guys. That was real addition to the knowledge base.

  • Tim Chandler

    Nicely done, Andrew.

    • Andrew Tuohy

      Thanks… JW777?

  • Rich Metzger

    I didn’t notice a direct mention of chamber-wear with the steel cases, but, the FTE’s would suggest that the chambers remained factory-tight. I suppose the coatings prevented steel-on-steel contact/wear. Nice to know. I also didn’t see mention of bolt-length contraction, which would increase headspace… The reason I mention that is that the differences in wear on the extractors. While that wouldn’t be a bullet-composition issue, or even a case-composition issue, the differences in burn rates and pressure spike timings might have made a difference. Was headspace measured?

  • Gary Jeter

    Outstanding work. Thank you!

  • Terence Rybak

    I have seen one round of Wolf 223 in an AR15 that stuck halfway in the chamber and had to be taken to Williams Gunsmithing to have it removed, it was stuck so well.

  • Martti Putkonen

    Wow and I thought you were just a warehouse selling stuff. I learned so much. I can only imagine the man hours if took to put this together I too would have been interested in testing of Hornady steel. (Maybe.308 bolt action).
    Thank you.

  • Vernon Prewitt

    I just want to know can steel cased ammo be reloaded or not.

    • Paul Lowe

      I have reloaded a 200 cases just to see how it did. first reload went off with no problems. the second time many of the necks split. those that did not split worked as normal. I did not try a third loading. I figured one time was enough and that was all the testing I would do.

    • Vernon Prewitt

      thanks paul.

  • Stephen Keeney

    Outstanding test. Well documented and practically concluded. Thanks for the time and expense to bring this info to bear.

  • Patti McDowell

    Excellent article. Thank you for doing it. Answered a lot of questions and settled an argument, too.

  • David Cole

    I believe part of the issue with the barrel wear can be explained in this article.

  • Alan Butterworth

    Excellent data Andrew, it looks like the L.G. Lab works as hard and are as Dedicated as the Great Folks in the Supply side. Lucky Gunner has really raised the Bar for Shooting sports suppliers everywhere.

  • Ricardo Pacetti

    That had to be an expensive test. Great article though, very informative.

    • Scott Parkinson

      Very interesting!

  • Richard Ervin

    Gentlemen, I salute you. That article is outstanding and the research goes far beyond the initial question asked. The data can (and should!) be used for a number of different things. One of the first things that can be seen is the fact that the Stoner design, with direct gas impingement on the bolt carrier group is just as solid as a gas piston design. I knew this from my own experience, as I have used these rifles a lot, in challenging conditions. All you have to do is clean it now and then. You don’t need a gas piston system. Also, your photos of the barrel wear are very telling. This is good work!

  • David King

    excellent article…thanks for taking the time and expending the effort. I have issues with the Wolf ammo and cases sticking but seems the steel case/coating isn’t necessarily the issue. This says I need to look further….thanks again.

    • Jerry Morris

      Most likely caused by your bolt carrier group and or buffer. I have found that a semi-auto (light weight) bcg and or light weight buffer cause the failures in most rifles. The fast cycle time for light weight bcg/light buffer do not allow the steel cases to cool and contract before extraction.

  • Lance Geist

    Excellent report! Very interesting :)

  • Michael Murray

    Excellent, you have covered everything I can think of and have given clear choices. THANK YOU.

  • Kakie Walters Franz

    I can not help but wonder what results would look like in piston guns. Barrel wear should not change but with cleaner receivers and bolt groups, heat related issues should have moderated…I think….

  • Lin Old

    It was nice to see the Federal American made brass ammo did so well.
    I have to say in the last 5 years, I’ve made the conscious effort to by American products, even when they cost more. My ammunition is no different. It’s hard to swallow the price difference at times, but it’s worth it. When purchasing american manufactured products, it feels good knowing that a percentage of that money is going back into our country. I have to say though, that seeing prices get to the 50 cent to a dollar range is truly disappointing. I think ammo re-loaders are going to benefit the most because if the ammo stays the same price it is today, that’s going to be the most cost efficient way to buy an American made round.

  • SharonAnne Stinson

    One thing ignored is that the brass cases are reloadable. The steel cases are not. Even if you do not reload you can sell the brass as reloadable. The steel cases are only worth whatever you can get for recycle value.

  • Yai Hernlund

    Had an awesome time at this event minus the haboob. Thanks, Andrew for letting us be a part of the Epic Torture Test!

  • Nicola Tognon

    great test, many compliments. I use tula ammo, and I’ll go on with them. I’m shooting only for pleasure, and the economic saving is worth the reduced reliability.

  • Sue Freshour Ayes

    Wow. Great job!!! I have always been a fan of federal ammo. .223 or 5.56 shoots great in both my ar’s!!!uppppss time to go and buy some more!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Great article. Can you do the same test using AKs in 7.62×39?

  • Aric Mickelson

    Nice article gentlemen. I appreciate the raw data you gave to support your conclusions. Well done

  • Darrin Fort

    Thank You for taking the time to do this test. It will be a great asset for in the future.

  • Justin Haser

    For what its worth I’ve fired about 2000 rounds of brownbear .223 through a S&W M&P 15 without any cases getting stuck nor keyholing. The rifle was not cleaned during the 2000. Russian ammo is famous being really dirty..It is like bulk .22.

  • Sam Summey

    This report needs to be made into a booklet and sold. Best info I have ever seen and should be available in every gunshop in the country.

  • Justin Regan

    I have one caveat about this this test. Bushmasters are bottom of the barrel AR’s, I don’t even think the newer models after their acquisition even use chrome-lined barrels (?). Do you feel that this test would have gone very differently had the weapon been a BCM, DD, Colt, Noveske, etc? I have a strong feeling it may have.

    Thanks for doing this regardless though!

    • Sam Summey

      I think the point of the test was to establish that the steel jacketed copper washed/plated bullets wear the barrel three times faster than copper jacketed bullets and that the difference in expansion of brass and steel cause the steel cases to stick when the gun is run hot. Chrome or no chrome makes some difference in wear because the chrome is harder that the steel bullets and may aleviate the sticking issues. Most manufacturers chrome the bores according to mil. spec.

  • David Humphreys

    Extremely interesting. Information well delivered by people who know.

  • Chris Francis

    I wonder how a melonited barrel would hold up? Maybe also polygonal rifling vs land and groove? I dunno…Thanks for the test guys!

    • Josh Wester

      fancy seeing you here!! good review

  • Jon Jay Haul

    Glad I ahvent shot steel cased rounds out of my AR. I stick to the military rounds that are brass cased.

  • Frank Steele

    Awesome, thanks for taking the time to educate and inform us.

  • Robert Carter Miller

    Excellent Article!!!

  • Michael Le

    Nice test and write up. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I am still going to shoot mostly steel/bi-metal rounds due to the fact that I save about $750 per 5000 rounds. $750 is the price of about 5 barrels.

  • Jack Faenza

    Great article! Looks like a fun job to do as well! Thanks!

  • Ben B. Rodríguez

    I love seeing science applied to guns. What would make a good test is to compare the Hornady steel cased match rounds to the russian steel cased stuff.

  • Anonymous

    I will take that crap tula off your hands and dispose of it properly. Thanks for the break down.

  • Criss Morgan

    Finally…a real endurance test that means something It is honestly presented with no aqpparent brand name bias.

  • Dutch Duchnowski

    Great article about brass and metal cartridges.

  • Ron Johnson

    Outstanding test. To refer to it as ‘Thorough’ doesn’t do justice. I feel that EVERY question I’ve ever had regarding the subject was answered. Great job!

  • Mike Callahan

    This is not only a great test and analysis, but a great service to all of those who love and shoot these rifles. I would also suggest that it creates questions around the longevity/functionality/long term accuracy of AK’s and SKS’s. Their barrels are not as easily replaced as an AR. One that’s seen a lot of shooting, while the action may cycle reliably with mud and blood, may have unacceptable accuracy, even in an adversarial action. Just an additional thought as one considers platforms and rifle/cartridge/ammo systems. And, at least in a serious situation, I think that’s the way one ought to look at it. Wonderful work and it should be much more widely publicized. Thanks so much.

  • Nick Bosco

    This mirrors my personal experience. I have had multiple instances of badly stuck Wolf and Tula cases, and the Tula has been too underpowered to run reliably in some of my ARs. Never had a problem with Federal, Lake City, Winchester, Remington or PMC.

    The steel cased stuff is ok for plinking, especially given the savings. But for ammo I need to depend on, I’ll stick with brass cased.

  • Anthony James Clark

    Tons of respect and thanks for running these tests and providing such a comprehensive review of the info uncovered. I shoot an ak-47, but the idea is still the same. I am showing this to everyone i know.

    • Tammy Brockett

      That was a good read…makes me want to get a rifle

  • Jim Watson

    I guess that clears up the prospects for regular use of steel jacketed bullets. We are usually told that it is mild steel, softer than the barrel and won’t hurt a thing. Wrong. Not to mention functionality of a long skinny cartridge made of a material less resilient than brass.

    I’d like to see a steel jacket durability test with the new generation of nitrided barrels; supposedly more durable even than chrome lined.

    • David Malone

      Dwight Pilkilton this is a really good read.

  • Steve McInnis

    Came to new and different conclusions as to what I would chose to shoot in my AR15 about half a dozen times before reading the entire results. My personal final conclusion is this. The number of rounds that I will fire in the lifetime of owning my gun will not have any great significance in money spent on ammo. Therefore, with consideration of the number of opportunities I get to go fire 50-100 rounds of ammunition, whether it be shooting prarie dogs or targets, why would I take any higher risks of spending any of my time picking a casing out of my gun? I’ll enjoy recounting the event while cleaning my gun after each and every outing and shooting the more expensive, most dependable, Federal ammunition. Enjoyed this article! Thanks for the info.

  • Sean Hohensee

    Amazing article. Has helped me alot in my self argument on whether to buy steel cased ammo for target shooting. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this!

  • John Shirley

    Excellent article. Useful data, obvious hard work, well written. Thanks.

  • Garry Logan

    I appreciated the thoroughness and accuracy exhibited with this article. You went far beyond all means of measurements in comparison to what I’ve viewed from other information websites. Thank you for clearing up misconceptions as well as making clear a lot of questions which I could not find answers to anywhere else!

  • Anonymous

    Very good review, wish you had more varieties of guns and ammo in the test but I know that will considerably increase the budget required.

    I shoot both steel and copper but lately because of crazy prices I been shooting Russian(wolf, tula, bear, tiger) metal-cased ammo. Been through about 1000+ rounds on my Palmetto and DanielD and so far everything is A-OK, it smells like pee after couple hundred rounds but goes bang every time for me, plus at 22 cents a round what else can you say? Thanks Russia! Hehe

  • Mark Richard

    very informative, thanks!

  • Anonymous

    I understand everyone wanting to maintain the American version of 223 for the obvious reasons, however, I am looking at switching my upper over to a 7.62 but probably a 5.45 for the cost savings. I believe the surface area (for friction purposes) and taper of the casing in the 223 has MUCH to due with FTE or stuck casings. Shot out of a gun with a chamber designed for steel, I would venture to say the steel cased ammo will come closer to Federal performance, minus barrel wear.

  • Jase Gorton

    this test was well done. but ar15s probably wouldn’t handle steel cased ammunition for long periods anyways. I know some guys that do use steel case ammo in american guns, but american guns are not designed to handle it. russian guns are designed to handle the lacquered steel ammo. and the copper coated steel jacketed bullets that go with em. soviet weapons have overbuilt parts, are hard chrome lined, and typically are hammer forged, thus will outlast most u.s. barrels. while I’m glad this test shows that steel cased ammo isn’t horrible. they fail to mention these wear and tear issues would not be seen in combloc weaponry. I will say tula is meh, but bear ammo is great. wolf sucks, it will get the job done, but expect some dud primers every once and a while.

  • Richard Highsmith

    Great article, I would note that the cost comparison doesn’t take into account the cost savings that can be achieved if you reload the brass cased ammo with a good small base resizing die. Although cheap, steel cased ammo is all waste (technically you can reload, but it really isn’t worth it for steel cases). I’ve all but abandoned steel cased ammo after I started reloading.

  • Frederic Testa


  • Jose Perez Correa

    Good article

  • Gerald Dietz

    Excellent article…

  • Rick Harner

    Must read for any AR15 owner.

  • Adrian Freeman

    Great study guys. Very, very interesting.

  • Derrick Timeisluck

    Good work, very informative.

  • Rusty Alward

    I guess this why DPMS voids you warrante if you use steel ammo.

  • Steve Martin

    I scanned the article but will save it for a more detailed review. This seems to say what I believe that I already knew. Steel cased ammo is often covered with laquer probably for several purposes. The laquer can build up on the inside of the chamber and the weapon gets dirtier and faster. This impacts on the interior components as well. Not sure if this implies more carbon build-up as well but it dirties the gun. Brass casings are of softer material as opposed to steel and they are also reloadable. I was once at a range I belonged to and watched some guy run a lot of Wolf ammo through his M-16 on full auto and that bothered me. I wondered why a person would use garbage ammo through a $10-12,000 rifle. To each his own I guess.

    • killerasteroid

      Because he has more money than brains……..OR because after spending that much cash on a rifle, he has limited funds remaining and can only afford to buy steel ammo….

  • Grumpee Dasmurph

    I absolutely love articles like this. I’ll read abnd re-read. If I had power ball money I would simply perform tests like this all day long.

    One thing though I think it would have been better to take 12 carbines, and do 3 samples of each ammo. It’s possible flawed parts appeared in one carbine, but if you see redundant patterns appearing then certainly a pattern exists. Like I said one failure might be a flawed part, not ammo induced.

    This is certainly a very excellent read!

  • William Gagnon

    I have been given some.223 brass. It will go to the reloader someday. So reading these stats has given me the convincing I needed to save my brass Thanks for your dedication!

  • Alan Cookson

    This seems to be in a large degree an example of poor quality propellants and possibly too hard of jacket material. The steel case may react differently with quality components. For the casual weekend shooter who may shoot a couple of boxes and go home to clean their firearm, with the cost and difficulty of obtaining food for your AR, I don’t see that it matters. However, for the professional I would most certainly want the absolutely most reliable product for the worst possible conditions in my weapon.

  • Beeswax Nun

    Excellent article with some good methodologies. I wish some attention were given to a couple of other factors like fps profiles and case measurements. I’ve seen wide variations in case dimensions and OAL which could, over time, have a direct or indirect hand in some malfunctions I suspect. I also wonder how PPU 5.56 would have stacked up in this test–it’s sorta in a mid-ground between the steel and brass used here but I’ve found to be of very high quality–and generally is more accurate out of my carbines than the federal. Great job folks! : )

  • George Cortez

    Well Done article.

  • Tony Fracasso

    Very good test.

  • Jim Lucier

    For all my shooting buds.

  • Michael Caldwell

    Thank you for testing this. The info was great

  • John Paulson

    Good information!

    • Mary Catherine

      I would have died if I had not know this :)

    • Wain Perkins

      your a riot john…lmao

    • John Paulson

      Wain Perkins

  • Joshua Winne

    Very well done. Thank you

  • John Copeland

    Very nice analysis. True torture test!

  • Larry Smith

    Very good article! Answered all my questions about steel ammo!

  • Amos Moses

    Great read!

  • Joe Leigh

    Great test that took a lot of effort. I think one thing was missed in your conclusion. Brass cases can be reloaded were as steel cannot. Reloading helps reduce the cost of shooting and in these days it’s no small factor on how many times I go out shooting.

  • Joel Mashack

    I bet I know why the Tulammo.223 has faster-than-ideal powder in it. They are probably using the same powder as their 7.62×39 ammo to cut costs. The ideal powder for 7.62×39 is just a little too fast for reliable operation with 55gr bullets in.223 from my handloading experience.

  • Ewa Faraon Lewandowska

    your mistake is using an AR and NOT THE AWESOME AK SYSTEM.

  • Greg Antilla

    You save enough money shooting steel cased ammo that you can buy a new barrel. So in other words, you didn’t really save any money at all because now you have to buy a new barrel for your gun. Brass – shoot 5,000 rounds. Steel – shoot 5,000 rounds and buy a new barrel. That makes them even. However, if the world goes to shit (which by all means it’s certainly going there fast), where are you going to buy your new barrel and misc replacement parts from? Also, the malfunctions with steel were “few and far between”, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Again, in a situation where you may be defending yourself, why would you take the chance? Thanks, I’ll stick to the ammo that doesn’t rape my gun and potentially cost me my life.

  • John Heenan

    I use an LWRC M6 series rifle. My extractor chews up the Wolf steel casings taking a bite out of the “lip” in the casing causing the round to not extract…… I will never use steel casings again.

  • Robert Wheeler

    Great article! I have shot lots of steel cased thru sks’s and ak’s and will continue to. The only gun that I have shot anywhere near this amount of ammo is my beretta al391 shotgun….about 7k rounds over the past 10 years. I have never replaced a part in it yet, but this article has got me thinking about it. Thanks.

  • Randall Burkhart

    I keep a stock of steel cased ammo due to it’s price, My S&W M&P15 functions fine with it, I do not shoot it a lot, but know I can if I would need to….The Federal ammo in test is dirty…..If you have an AR that will not reliably function with steel cased ammo? get another AR….

  • Mark Cather

    Well that settles it for me. I’ll buy American made brass over cheap Russian steel. I take care of my guns.

  • Frank Moore

    Very useful test, “and expensive with todays ammo cost” makes one consider using steel case ammo in ak series. Would also wonder how a piston are would have handled the tula ammo. Been running tula through my LMT cqbpiston with no problems.

    • Clayton Stocker

      On an unrelated note, always has good articles and torture tests.

    • Keith Williams

      I also have been shooting tula through a bravo company with a mid length gas tube, the gun was brand new and I fired over 500 rounds through it in two days, I had two cases get stuck but it wasn’t extremely difficult to clear.

  • Michael Kris Alaniz

    Is that Michelle Viscusi?

  • Shem Okane

    great read

    • Shem Okane

      Ben Cruickshank

  • Kevin Goff

    Very good scientific study! I think however a good addition to this test would be to pit chrome lined barrels vs Melonited barrels in piston operated rifles of the same brand. Maybe also test different rifling types. I believe the piston system would solve a lot of the short stroking problems and FTE problems due to the varying chamber pressures. Very little relative pressure is needed to push the op rod (of lesser mass than a BCG) to cycle the gun. I also don’t think you would loose any pressure due to clogged gas tubes.

  • John Daut

    I would like to see a similar test on say a model 70 Winchester or 700 Remington bolt action. Maybe on a 9mm pistol too.

  • Jason Vollmer

    This is a great article. Thanks for doing this.
    It would be interesting to see it repeated with an AK or SKS (since I have a ton of 7.62 Tula sitting here).

  • Eugene Easterling

    Very good vid! It answered most of my questions! :)

  • Matt Willoughby

    So, is the barrel wearing out from shooting 10k rounds in succession, the barrel getting hot and continuing to push rounds through them? OR would you see this same wear from the weekend shooter that goes out and shoots 2000rds a year and has had the same rifle/barrel for the last 6 years?

    • Matt Willoughby

      Or does the weekend shooter see much less wear on their barrel due to the heating up and cooling down, instead of constant cycling to 10k rounds?

  • Matt Willoughby

    So based on this data, which should we be shooting now? (Brass or Steel Cased) and which type of ammo should we be saving/prepping for a SHTF situation? (Brass or Steel Cased)

  • Katrina Armanda Nadeau

    My money. my weapons . I will keep policing my brass, it was an educational read and well written, thanks

  • Stephen Schedra

    I suppose that the steel ammo would be OK for plinking, but as far as tactical use or competition, you need to know that your weapon will fire from first to last without any hitches. A jam at the wrong time can kill your competitive scores and get you literally killed under fire. This was a great project and certainly has valuable data that can be used to inform, educate and modify our shooting habits.

    • Mick Wood

      Especially with the keyholing. It’s fine to see the test results on paper at 50 yards; another thing entirely to have a 150 yd. head shot to make. Keyholing will not get the job done!

  • Jamie Leech

    Now I will still have a back up stockpile available in 7.62 x 39 when i run out of the good stuff but will stick with the good stuff for my AR

    • Scott C Sheltz

      I’ll stick with brass

  • James Autry

    Great info, didn’t know the projectile on the steal case ammo was a copper/steel alloy

  • Joshua Kennedy

    you can send all that lovely brass to me…hell most of it was probably even annealed before it left the rifle :P. great article for sure

  • Jerry Morris

    This is a very well done evaluation of this subject! My take on this is, for the overall cost savings of the steel case/bi-metal loads, even factoring in the replacement of worn parts(barrels etc.) it makes sense to be able to shoot many more rounds for practice and hopefully becoming much more proficient with our weapons. I shoot both brass and steel, but only load brass for defense(unless the shtf, then will use any I have to).

  • Jerry Morris

    Oh and thanks to The Lucky Gunner for taking the time and expense to run such a complete test of this subject!!!

  • Christopher Hyde

    Interesting results. I will still be shooting steel case ammo. I only shoot about 80-100 rounds at one time and then thoroughly clean and lubricate my rifles. I have never had the problems in the test.

  • Jerry Varnado

    Very helpful that was great info.

  • Chae U Hong

    Thanks for and easy tonread world test and all your hard work keep it coming guy how about a buckshot test

  • Dave Brooks

    Very good article,I have a m4 colt run 20 rds of Tul after about 20 brass rds and the gun miss fired had to clean before it would fire again don’t know why ( gun was new) any ideas why with so few rds fired?

  • Nick DiFilippantonio

    Very good read!! Tough job you guys had

  • Robin Martin

    VERY helpful and written sp the novice can

  • Keith Williams

    I have been shooting tula through a bravo company with a mid length gas tube, the gun was brand new and I fired over 500 rounds through it in two days, I had two cases get stuck but it wasn’t extremely difficult to clear. Mind you the two that stuck were after rapid rates of fire and when the shell went in it may have expanded slightly then as the bore cooled is when it stuck. I think the info is great and I must say for the savings on steel cased and availability of brass cased ammo being what it is it might be worth considering shooting what you can get and changing the barrel as needed.

  • John Edwards

    Very good work.

    • Cody Scholz

      So Tula ammo is a no no unless you have a high end upper

    • John Edwards

      Well yes, They did say that they put those guns through more than a normal user would. I did find it interesting about the steel casings and the coatings.

    • Cody Scholz

      I just wish my truck bed had 40k rounds of 223 in it

    • John Edwards

      That makes two of us!

    • Stuart Collins

      Cody Scholz It depends on how you look at it. 5000 rounds of steel ammo is 2 whole ar15 uppers cheaper than 5000 rounds of brass. You will not go through 3 uppers in 5000 rounds of steel based on this testing, you would only need 1. I would say steel for practice in your beaters and brass for your safe baby.

  • John Johnson

    At the cost of at least $3 per 20 rounds box less for the steel case over the federal, in 10,000 rounds that’s $1500 in savings. I can take my upper off, throw it in the trash, pin on a brand new one, and still have enough money left over to by 3000 more rounds of steel case. I get it, and I would never shoot steel case through my high end AR’s, but my $650 kit built M4 is getting a steady diet of the hard stuff. I love this article, and hope that tons mall ninjas read it, and choose to never shoot steel case through there tacticool crap rifles again. It’ll just mean more of it is available for those of us that have a little sense.

  • Bernard Val

    Fantastic article, well written and detailed, this should get the Article of the Year Award in regard to modern platforms and ammo…saved as a fav and will refer back to this for a long time. Thanks for taking the time and MONEY to do all of this work…boy, Im sure glad I didnt have to fire 40000 rounds…{sarcasm) ;)

  • Bryan Rattleff

    When looking at the gas port erosion I noticed on the barrels that ran Federal and Brown Bear the rifling passes through the middle of the gas port. Would that not be a factor in how much erosion occurs.

  • William L. Finucan

    …is there a comparison test using the AK platform with the same ammo and tests?

  • Maurice Moe Colontonio

    Great article, thanks for the hard work. I could do without that annoying “quick links” box!

  • Balin Wire

    I am liking my AK more and more, it will digest any old rotten steel surplus ammo I can feed it for 25 cents a round and never fail.

    • John Hampton

      use to get it 10 yrs ago for 89.00 / 1000 rounds.

  • Martin Antz

    Saying this is a great article is an understatement. Gives the reader ALL the information they should ever want/need to determine what type of casing/coating combo they should use. Now i feel much better about buying/using steel cased ammo (Tula). I would, however, use brass cases if i were in a war/gunfight and required near 100% accuracy no matter how many rounds were put through. But as the article shows, the savings on the ammo justifies, imo, replacing the barrel.

  • Patrick Feldman

    Just backs up.the argument that steel is not a good choice to shoot through your ar

  • Kevin Lord

    For you people that didnt read the whole article, the article validates the use of steel case as being worth it. Now if you have a $500-$1000 AR15 malfunctions are more likely. If you have a mid to high end AR15 the malfunctions are less likely. To eliminate the excessive carbon build on the bolt carrier, trigger assembly and chamber and don’t want to spend the whole night cleaning then get yourself a gas piston AR15. POF 415/308 would be my recommendation. I’m biased. I have a POF P415 16″

  • Jason Shepherd

    Wow I don’t think I will ever buy tula again thanks very helpful federal is all this guy will use ever again

  • Roger Williams

    I thank you. this work stands equal to any work by Julian Hatcher. as a shooter and professional gunsmith I say, this is awesome test and report.

  • Tonya Pinkerton

    Thank you, it has always been a concern.

  • LeRoy Latham

    Excellent info

  • Lath Ian Hinton

    Dang!! I am smart now.

  • Mike Cummins

    Excellent article. Very well written.

  • K Twelve Dynamics

    great write-up! thank you for taking the time (and the funds) to do this and keeping your customers educated. shared this for all our fans to read!

  • Chris Periatt

    Excellent article. Many departments are forced to use steel cased ammo, because of the shortage of brass cased .223. This article will open some eyes on the continued usage of steel cased ammo.

  • Joe Eccles

    Awsome work folks. Very much appreciated. Thank you.

  • Mark Lynn

    Very good, detailed article. One thing you didn’t mention though, who is the lady at 2:49 in the video?

  • Cody Reneau

    Very good article.

  • Jackson Andrew Lewis

    I think you just got a bad carbine and/or a bad batch if ammo for tje steel case otherwise good write up and good info.

  • Justin Amadeus Pascual

    Very informative. And maybe the Bushmaster rifles are pretty decent for the price after all

  • Dennis De Mara

    Great article…say yes to brass balls and yes to steal ovaries.

  • Kevin Wenzel

    Buy a Stag arms barrel has lifetime warranty.

    • Anonymous

      “Warrantee does not cover normal wear.”

    • Kevin Wenzel

      Read the Barrel warranty on the link you provided. It’s covered for normal wear.

    • Louis Marin

      Not covered for ordinary wear

    • Joshua Meyer

      Big green box at the bottom.
      ** INFINITE SHOT GUARANTEE: The barrel of a rifle manufactured by us will be replaced at the discretion of Stag Arms if the bore is worn out through normal wear.**

  • Pedee James Ewing

    solid article

  • Rich Rogers

    Now try this test with an AK…………

    • Tim Smith III

      from what I understand, brass is re-loadable and steel is not. But in case of some action, we will fire what we have and whatever our enemy dropped…

    • Jeff Wyman

      The issue is that an AK in 5.56/.223 will still have the same barrel wear issues as an AR, even if it has more reliable cycling/extraction when being fed steel-cased ammo.

      AKs in 7.62×39 I think will have a better overall barrel life than a 5.56/.223 rifle, because the 7.62×39 cartridge operates at a fairly low-pressure. One of the reasons why 7.62×39 AKs seem to last forever all around the world.

    • Jeff Wyman

      Just thought that I would add some personal experience here.. I do have a Saiga .223 that has had probably 5,000+ rounds through it at this point, nearly all steel-cased, bimetal Russian .223. Whatever brass case/FMJ that has been shot through it is mostly XM193.

      While the rifle still shoots with acceptable accuracy for me, the throat is visibly worn, with some chipping/cracking of the initial rifling leade.

      The rest of the barrel looks practically new, with no noticeable rifling wear throughout its length, no wear of the crown/muzzle, and chrome lining is still intact everywhere except for the first few millimeters of the throat..

      It will still shoot around 3MOA and never fails to fire or cycle, so I suspect it will live many thousands more rounds. However I will probably avoid steel-case, bimetal rounds through any barrel that I want to live for a long time at this point.

      If I do build a truck gun AR, I will shoot the crap out of the barrel with cheap Russian ammo..

    • Jaime Yema

      AR’s are choosy when it comes to ammo while AK’s accepts everything you feed on it… never fail me since i used it for a couple of years… very reliable and i still like the AK’s…

    • Scott Powell

      Did you read every word? An AK has a cold hammer forged barrel which the Bushmaster does not. The Spikes or a PSA will have a CHF barrel from FN, big difference. I have a SAS-M5 Bulgarian AK in 556 that will eat anything. I could change an extractor blind folded. But, I wouldn’t have to.

  • Mick Wood

    Very interesting article; very detailed. Photo #22 at the end is good evidence of keyholing; don’t expect any kind of accuracy with that going on!

  • William Scott Cartwright

    Good Info

  • Bob Ruff

    The A K is still a better weapon.

  • Jason Evers

    All I need to know

  • Ron G. Martin II

    Very good job. Thanks for the info.

  • Jason Schnapp

    Im calling BS. Price steel vs brass. Then see if three AR’s with the left over $ after buying 10k rounds, makes due better than the one. Also look at the lowers. Seems to me the federal lower is not machined the same as the others. HMMM maybe because it wasnt the same crap DPMS rifle??? Next time do us all a favor and test something real like the nibx coated vs standard BCG.

  • Craig Steven Parker

    Very long article,but well worth the read. Excellent as far as giving knowledge goes.

  • Northeast Ohio Gun Owners

    Not sure I’ll be shooting steel cased from my AR .223/5.56 anytime soon again, but I will still shoot it out of my 7.62×39 AR pistol.

  • Brian Imel

    Brilliant. Thank you for all the work you put into this research. This is extremely beneficial info.

  • Mike Baber

    The “AK is better” argument gets thrown out the window when you consider what’ll happen once you’ve shot out the barrel. Any novice shooter with the right tools can swap an AR barrel. Can the same be said of the AK? Not to mention the fact that the majority of AK’s being produced in the US today have non-chrome lined barrels that will wear even faster. I’ll stick with my AR, and if I feel the need for a more reliable weapon, I’ll use my more accurate weapon to get one.

  • Mike Baber

    Great article btw, thanks for the good info.

  • Charlie Rich

    So after all this you came up with, “Don’t shoot anything in your AR but brass but your AK will shoot anything you put in it.

    • Jeff Hyatt

      I did not get that as the message at all

    • John Thomas

      Did you read the article or just look at the pretty pictures?

      • Uncle Tom

        I guess you were parolled early.

  • Jimmy Persinger

    Did they add in what it costs for the Average Shooter to pay to have the Barrels installed as a lot of people do not know how,also increased cleaning supply costs as you have to clean your barrel every 500 rounds with the cheap ammo,wear and tear on other components such as the extractor replacement as if you read the entire artical you will also se you will be replacing those also much sooner than with a quality ammo plus the start of the loss of accuracy at say what 4,000 rounds,Personaly id rather pay a few dollars more for good accurate ammo,thats not destroying my barrel like a run away frieght train at 6,000 rounds ,rather than at 15,000 rounds or more with a good quality round,Who wants to be constantly clean your rifle at 500 rounds or less as this story points out because your firearm is malfunctioning because Tula,Brown Bear and Wolf are sub par to Federal or any other quality ammo,much less extractor issues from rapid erosion from this ammo and wearing out a good quality barrel you buy for accuracy rather than the cheapest junk barrel you can find because after 5-6,000 rounds no matter what kind of barrel it is it will be worn out,Id rather buy a good quality barrel that will give me good accuracy longer than a junk cheap barrel,with cheap ammo that your accurace will be starting to fail at $4,000 rounds,What you all should have done was include a stainless steel AR-15 Barrel in this test so those of us who like to plink could see the effects on the stainless steel barrel with Federal V.S. Brown Bear,Tula,silver bear etc ammo,That way we can see if we can put a stainless barrel on our firearms for when we go out and shoot for fun with the cheap ammo how much of it we can burn thru before it ruins one of those..

  • Leo Bricker

    Very interesting. I wish there had been an option for a 5th test, a gas piston gun, to get a good comparison of the difference in cleanliness, or lack thereof, between the two systems.

  • Tim Carleton

    This would be a great test for a 7.5″ ar pistol

  • Richard Morris

    I have two A1 style AR15’s and every time I tried to use the Russian ammo, I had to take a brass rod and hammer to remove the stuck case. Of the 500 rounds I purchased, I sold 490 to someone else to use. I think I’ll stick with my brass reloads that only cost me around .18 cents each to make. And, I have over 10,000 rounds through each one and the accuracy is still right on!

  • John Gates

    Good tech to know about … helps choose whats gonna work best

  • Joshua Gonzales

    I’m glad someone did it. I’m impressed as expected to see dramatic wear to the extractor with steel casings.

  • Randal Pick

    very analytical approach and vast amount of data presented! very nice job!a

  • Robert Travis Howard

    Now if we could get as thorough of a test for semi-auto pistols and steel cased ammo vs. brass.

  • Rob Mayville

    Derek Kirby

  • Landry Jones

    What about shooting steel cased ammo through a stainless steel bolt action barrel? I am wondering if the wear is worse in the case of a bolt vs AR. Thanks

  • Josey Thistle Boucher

    I just bought a FAMAE SG 542-1 and to get a second barrel ship to Canada would be a pain in the butt! THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE!

  • Paul Letellier

    Its the kind of information I find very helpful, Thank you.

  • Louis Marin

    You can buy a new barrel with the price difference saved after 4000 rounds of steel case, but buy American made brass anyway

  • Jeffrey Stewart

    Well done. My bush doesn’t like Tula- jambs whereas brass cycles smoothly.


  • Christian Reyes

    Great info great article

  • Richard Weis

    Forest Legare

  • Vincent Mastroianni

    Thanks for your research, I was wondering about this very subject and am happy to have read this article.

  • Eddie Henley

    Fantastic test

  • Ron Lindquester

    Great read.

  • John Dodson

    Very very informative. I read an article by a metaloligist who preformed hardness tests on brass and steel casings. In his conclusion, he found that some brass casings were actually harder than the steel since steel casings are not hardened steel. He did not give brand names on the ammo tested.
    Yours was a gruesome test, telling me my ar should perform well past 10, 000 rounds even shooting steel under normal conditions.

  • Sea Jay Cecil

    Mary and lightningvery enlightening

  • Richard Barrett

    I’ve been shooting since my dad but a Rugar Bearcat in my hands at 4. I’m 51 now and I just got my first AR 2 weeks ago. This answered several questions and has some really good info. Thank you guys

  • John Thomas

    Useful unbiased money saving excellent facts backed with true research.

  • Ronald Sanchez

    This is the most comprehensive study I have ever seen on the subject. GREAT WORK!

  • Maxwell Erik Funk

    I dont know that the erosion was caused by the bi-metal projectile, i think it was the timing of the peak pressure and thus really attributable to the burn rate and quality of the propellant. wolf copper plating is advertised at 0.005″ which is significantly thicker then the distance from the top of a land to the bottom of the groove.

    if you did the same test with solid brass projectiles (i.e. lehigh defense controlled chaos) i think you would see more accelerated wear since the brass is harder then any of the copper on other projectiles, be they plated or jacketed.

    I really think you should take a look at the ruskie propellants, not the projectile… you could do another test where you pull the wolf projectiles and load them in federal loaded cases and really see as well.

  • William Farrow

    Thanks for all this INFORMATION very helpful and great that you guys took the time.

  • William Farrow

    William Farrow Armed Security Patrol Officer

  • Carlos De Leon

    One of the most informative article ive ever tead in regards to owning an AR15.

  • Leon Ciesla

    Great testing, a few of us were just talking about this the other day and this answers many of the questions brought up.

  • BJ Nez

    Excellent Excellent Read!!!

  • BJ Nez

    Excellent read for some of us that shoot steel cased ammo. All my questions have been answered.

  • Eric James Bennett

    Sure answered all of my questions….

  • Dan

    Great write up

  • Brian Lineberry

    fantastically documented study…thanks

  • Mike_in_Wasilla

    I volunteer to help with the next study.

  • disqus_eAb5jt4hDN

    Thank you so much for all the effort you expended on this study. It was extremely informative and will allow us to make the appropriate decision on which ammo to use based on our use case. I was considering the purchase of a steel case round for my range practice ammo and this helped me decide for it. Thanks gain, please keep up the good work.

  • John

    Well done thanks

  • Ron

    Your research was well designed, executed and results well defined. If all reviews on firearm related equipment was as well handled as this report was the firearms community would be much better informed. THANK YOU !!

  • curiousOne

    wow. awesome write up! you guys said what i’ve been telling people for years but in a way that is so much more articulate, technical, and with hard data to back it up, versus me with my language difficulties and my casual observations with my own guns over many years of shooting.

    although i knew alot of this stuff already, its still something to see it presented in pressure graphs, accuracy tests, and high res photos of sectioned barrels.

    i had suspicions for years that bimetal or steel jacketed surplus (particularly soviet 7.62x54r ‘lps’ surplus) is much harder on rifle bores than copper or lead bullets and causes barrels to wear out prematurely, now thanks to your test, i have proof that it is true.

  • Whiskey Thief

    This helps explain why my Bushmaster AR with the stock barrel has problems with Tula ammo. I get 2-3 magazines in and I will get one stuck so hard in the chamber that it takes a metal rod and a hammer to get it out. The brass / steel case doesn’t seem to be the problem nearly as much as the other factors such as the burn rate and the composition of the bullet. Looks like I need to shoot through the rest of my 500+ rounds of Tula (with a hammer near by) and then get better ammo.

  • 673rem

    That was an excellent and highly informative test. I have a lot of both ammo types in my inventory, and 2 AR type rifles, a BushmsterM4A3 and a Remington R-15. I think a steady diet of the brass cased/copper jacket bullet will be the norm going forward. Use the steel cased for trade or emergency use.

  • Sgt. Stedenko

    Nice article.
    In the cost comparison, you could have included the value of the brass for reloading purposes vs the scrap value of the polymer coated steel.

  • Mjolnirknight

    Awesome article, guys. Excellent approach and scientific method. As an engineer, it was a fascinating read.

  • lhecker51

    Very objective. It goes without saying that one can reload bringing the cost down to that of steel case and have much better performance and accuracy than factory brass case loads even when reloading for high volume.

    • fartsandwich

      That upfront cost and time you spend reloading ammo is not ‘free’.

      Eventually, after thousands upon thousands of rounds, you might start to save a few pennies per round vs buying new steel.

      That being said, I won’t put steel in my firearms, but let’s not pretend like reloading is a huge savings. With prices as low as they are, its hard to save significant money, especially after factoring in the hours you will spend doing it.

      • lhecker51

        That is why I only reload high dollar cartridges such as 500 S&W and others. The money I saved reloading them paid for my equipment very quickly. I plan on reloading 458 SOCOM as well.

        I fully agree that my time costs money. The only reason I reload 5.56 is because I will not run steel case in my AR by choice. The only way I will be reloading is if we have a panic run on ammo and the price shoots up. I do however run nothing but steel case in my AK due to the cheap cost.

        Regarding process, I have optimized brass prep and am not as picky as they are not critical enough for the ammo’s purpose. This makes prep go much faster. For range ammo, I can rip through them rather quickly by running them through a drill press with a trimmer and chamfer tool. Cutting the crimp out only need be done once. Reloading 5.56 saves very little, but I tend to be very picky when it comes to ammo for competition that I can dial in regarding powder, weight, bullet seating, etc.

        I do reload pistol due to the simplicity of process and I can control my loads for competition power factor and still save significantly over factory loads, my labor included.

  • Yes

    Hey guys. The federal lower was the dirtiest bc it actually fired all of the rounds, Duh?

    • Griff

      So did the Wolf and the Brown Bear. Tula was the only one that didn’t fire all 10,000

  • pierre

    Since you have no more use for the AR-15’s, I’ll take one or two off your hands for ya…no charge to you…

  • tophat1234

    I like that we can see inside the barrels etc. I wish you tested out Hornady as well since they are soo expensive.

  • tophat1234

    IT may jsut be me. But i will not be buying ammo from Russia or Korea etc. Ill stay in th U.S

  • Mickey Mouse

    Good article. I’ll never shoot my AR that much.I built a simple Anderson Carbine. Due to the way this country has gone I wanted to build me a CAR15 just in case TSHTF. I used to love to shoot my Bushmaster back 17 years ago but I traded it off in 1998 and hadn’t had one since. Kept saying I’d build another and never did. Man has the ammo prices shot up on the 5.56/.223 since then hahaha. Anyway. I still have a bunch of the reloading dies/bullets left from then. I’m gonna have to get some of the Wolf just to keep on hand till I reload about 1000 rds. Thanks for the informative article.

  • jimthelawyer

    Nice work!

  • bob AZ

    Excellent article, you neglected to mention the fun of shooting 40,000 rounds. that’s more than two lifetimes for most of us. your scientific perspective, data, charts, makes it easy for the layman to view and understand the results.
    I shoot both brass reloads and new steel cased ammo. barrels are inexpensive these days, so I say, stock up on ammo, bbls and extractors.
    however, be good to your gun, clean/lube as necessary, and it will always shoot well.

  • pkg

    I’m curious about the rapid deterioration in accuracy between 4000 rounds and 6000 rounds with the steel cased ammo. At 4000 all ammo looks pretty close after cleaning and at 6000 the two steel cased test fell apart dramatically. Was that just both hitting the limit for the barrels or what?

  • Bo


  • oldbill

    If I live long enough, I will convert all of my AR-15’s to 300 AAC. My complaint about steel cases is extraction issues. I have tried polishing the cases for hours with heavy duty (red) polishing compound. It does not help. I have two medium quality AR-15s and neither will fire more than ten rounds before the first extraction failure. I have the same problem in a Mini-14 and a Mossburg bolt action. It’s the ammunition. I have never had a failure to extract brass ammunition in any of the rifles. I did have a lot of brass extraction problems in 1969 in Da Nang, when they took my M-14 away and gave me an M-16. I will finish shooting the steel case ammunition for target practice and reload Lake City fired brass from now on. By the time barrel replacement is taken into consideration, the steel case ammunition is not worth the on-going problems.