Best AR-15 Ammo for the Range & Home Defense [2017]

Not sure the best ammo to feed your AR for the range and home defense?

We’ll go over caliber, barrel twist, bullet type, and price range to find your perfect fit.

Bunch of 5.56 Ammo
Bunch of 5.56 Ammo

*UPDATED 2017*: New .223 and self-defense options.

Ready to begin?

AR-15 Calibers: 5.56 vs .223

Your average AR-15 comes in two popular calibers, the 5.56x45mm NATO and the .223 Remington.

You can double-check what it is by looking at your model specs or physically on your barrel, which should be stamped with the caliber and barrel twist rate.

AR-15 Barrel Caliber & Twist
AR-15 Barrel Caliber & Twist

The two cartridges are physically identical but the 5.56 may be loaded to higher pressures than .223 ammunition.

The .223  is a civilian round and has SAAMI specs (organization that sets standards for pressure and dimensions) while the 5.56 is a military round that has their own specifications that might require higher pressure for higher velocity.

Therefore, it’s best to follow the advice:

  • 5.56 chamber: OK to fire both 5.56 and .223
  • .223 chamber: OK to fire only .223

Your barrel or rifle probably won’t instantly blow up from shooting a 5.56 in a .223, but why risk it?

Combine that with the variance in the machining of the barrel and ammo production standards, it’s best to use the proper ammunition.

AR-15 Barrel Twist

Your barrel stamp should indicate the barrel twist after the caliber.

You should see a ratio from 1:7 all the way up to 1:12 and it means that the barrel will spin the bullet one revolution every X inches.  Most barrels will be from 1:7 to 1:9 twist, with the most popular being 1:9.

Take a look at the chart below to see the ideal twist rate for your barrel.

Ideal Bullet Weight vs Twist, Shooters Log
Ideal Bullet Weight vs Twist, Shooters Log

The heaver grain bullets are usually reserved for the military and their tracer rounds.

With normal cartridges, you’re most likely to see 55 grain and 62 grain bullets.  These are fine to shoot in 1:7 to 1:9 barrels and you probably won’t even notice a difference up to 300 yards.

Bullet Types

You’ll see two big families of bullet types, the full metal jackets (FMJ) and the hollowpoint/softpoints (HP/SP).

The FMJ’s are great for plinking while HP/SP are more for home defense or long range applications.

Other confusing acronyms you might see include (BT) which means boat-tail and indicate the back of the bullet has a more aerodynamic shape than simply cutting off straight.  The middle one below is a FMJ-BT.


Lastly, if you’re looking at military 5.56 rounds, you’ll see M193 and M855.  The 55 grain M193 is the standard FMJ (sometimes referred to as “ball” ammo) of the military while the 62 grain M855 is the “green tip” penetrator round that has a steel rod inside (light gray).

M855 Cutaway,
M855 Cutaway,

Things to keep in mind for 193 vs 855:

  • Pricing is similar
  • M855 is better at penetration (duh?)
  • Some ranges do not allow steel core ammo
  • M193 is better at soft targets under 100 yards
  • More info about the differences

Range Plinking AR-15 Ammo Recommendations

Finally, the recommendations!  We recommend buying from Lucky Gunner because:

  • We’ve been customers for over 6 years
  • Active stock management so you don’t end up getting a back-order email days later
  • Easy to figure out shipping costs without registering
  • 110% guarantee your order will ship the next day

Best AR-15 5.56 Ball Ammo

Now we combine the good stuff we learned above and stick to 55/62 grain bullets that are close to military specifications.  These are the rounds that we’ve shot tons of and never had a problem.

Our suggestions are also all brass cased so you can keep them if you think you might ever start to reload your own ammo in the future.


Best AR-15 Green Tip 5.56 Ammo

X-TAC Green Tip 5.56
X-TAC Green Tip 5.56

Best AR-15 .223 Ammo

If your barrel is .223 or if you want to shoot some slightly lighter loads in your 5.56 barrel.

PMC .223 Bronze
PMC .223 Bronze

Best .223 Plinking Ammo

We don’t readily use these next suggestions in our AR’s, but if you’re really trying to save money, you can opt for Russian steel or coated steel cartridges.

Start off with a small batch first since some AR-15’s don’t like steel cased ammo.  They offer pretty good savings but are dirtier shooting and less accurate…but probably great for the range.

Also keep in mind that you can’t save these to reload later, and you need to shoot at a range that allows both steel casings and bi-metal bullets.

Self-Defense AR-15 Ammo

For self-defense you want the bullet to put all its energy into the bad guy by breaking apart.

That means FMJ and the penetrator rounds are usually not the best choice.

I recommend going with specific use self-defense ammo that are hollow/soft point and are used by law enforcement.  Both are great but I give the edge to Federal since I love their pistol defensive ammo.

Federal LE Tactical 55 gr SP
Federal LE Tactical 55 gr SP
Gold Dot 223 55 gr SP
Gold Dot 223 55 gr SP


So there you have it, our recommendations for the best AR-15 ammo in both .223 and 5.56.

Let us know what you went with and how it runs in your AR.

Want more AR-15 guides…check the all out here.


  1. Eric
    Thanks for straight forward topics, information and additional links to AR platforms. Well written and understandable for those of us in ‘learning phase’ before purchase mode. Hopefully, we, as citizens, will legally still have federal or state permission to buy this weapon.

  2. I really enjoyed reading, and learning from this article, I am a bit curious, Why is the NO Barrett recommendations? I recently purchased the REC7,…. I couldn’t have made a better choice. I realize it is a very close brother to the Daniel d, gun, and Hopefully as reliable. Thanks for your Newbee insight..

    1. Hi Dan, I just haven’t had a chance yet to use any of their rifles…but I’ve heard great stuff with the REC7. Let me know how it keeps running!

    1. Hi Alex, great question. There’s more options for .223 defense ammo and just in case I have readers that have a .223 chamber instead of the more highly pressured 5.56.

  3. Hi…Im Retired Military….and just recently purchased a Colt Expanse 2000 with the Forward Assist and dustcover……also just got in some Winchester White Box 5.56 in 55 grain……and after reading a ton of blogs…notes…comments….have finally convinced myself that the 5.56 in 55 grain is a Good Choice of ammunition…..both for range and personal protection……..and hoping that you agree with me…….I just don’t care that the Winchester White Box I purchased …has TARGET on the front of the box.. 🙁 kinda negates the opinion its a good self defense round…….I appreciate anyone taking the time to answer..Kind Regards….Hans Fischer

  4. Yeah… so I clicked on the link to the PMC X-Tax ammo at luckygunner….. It said something about a bad link/script… So I deleted everything from the web address except “” and now it says….

    “You have been blocked due to suspected unscrupulous activity. If this is a mistake, please contact the webmaster.”

    I tried a different browser and it says the same thing. So they blocked my IP address for following you link and I can not order from them or even visit their website.

    Just thought you should know. You have prevented me from being able to shop at luckygunner with your link that caused nothing but problems.

    1. I’ve had the same issue with and who obviously use the same database. I had placed several large orders with bulkammo without issues over several years and was happy with their service. Logged in to place another purchase early last year and bang! Got welcomed with the message:

      “Your IP has been blocked temporarily due to suspected unscrupulous activity. If this is a mistake, please contact the webmaster.”

      Contacting them I got a single reply to call and place my order over the phone… not to correct the issue. After reading your comment figured its been a year (and well over $1k in ammo from other sites) and as soon as I provided my login info I get this message again.

      I’ve emailed them, again. Perhaps someone gives a crap now and would like to take an order for a couple 1000 rounds of range ammo in various calibers as well as an order for 500 rounds of 9mm and 38 defensive ammo.

      If not… plenty of other sites out there to take my order!

  5. One of the Great Mysteries of Life is why manufacturers make primarily 1:7 twist barrels and shooters continue to buy them. My non-scientific estimate is that 80% of the ammo available for sale to civilians is 55 grain, which shoots optimally through a 1:12 twist barrel. The M855 is a non-starter for home defense. The 75, 77, and 80 grain bullets that shoot well in a 1:7 barrel are too darn expensive, even if you load them yourself. All the affordable ammo runs best in 1:12 barrels yet everyone wants a milspec 1:7 barrel optimized for heavy [and expensive] bullets. I don’t get it.

  6. I don’t know why the stigma of the AR-15 in .223 or 5.56 NATO as a home defense gun ever came to be. If you want to get in a battle, throwing rounds out to 300 yards to protect your home, go ahead. My idea of a self defense, home defense carbine is a CZ 9mm Scorpion. AR-15’s are long range, flat shooting rifles and I enjoy shooting them, but when I am going to defend myself or my home, I don’t think I’ll be shooting beyond 50 yards. And that’s only if I pursue someone, which is stupid and illegal. Once the threat to your life has past, it’s up to the police to follow through. Giving advice to people to buy an AR-15 platform rifle for home defense doesn’t make much sense. 9mm and 40 S&W or 45 would be better choices than a .223 or 5.56. I’ll stand by my CZ Scorpion with a blinding light on it and a Mepro sight as a gun needed to protect myself and my family and leave the .223 for shooting Coyotes.

    1. What if it was more then one threat and they come in with bigger weapons than your 9mm or your 45? You’d wish you had that AR then wouldn’t you!

    2. Actually an ar15 is better suited for home defense. With a red dot, it is incredibly fast and accurate. It’s easier to fire a shouldered weapon accurately under stress. The round hits harder than any pistol round. You have higher capacity than any shot gun or pistol. Most .223s penetrate less than 9mm or 00 buck. The only downside is can think of is the noise. Ar15s are my first go to

      1. If someone enters my house or multiple people with ar15,ar10,m1,m4 etc.
        I will grab 12 guage or .40 .. The time it takes someone to shoulder a ar, etc I’ll have 2 rounds in each person . I know my house better than some skumbag. Shoot a AR gun in a house with other family members inside is crazy. The 30 rounds you spent on one person , lol
        You might kill your family and the skumbag gets away.
        People you need to think for yourself. Be careful and safe and stay trained
        A once shot gun beside your bed can get you killed. Shoot as often as you can. You should know your gun inside & out .

  7. The Federal .223 64 gr Hi-Shok Law Enforcement is out of stock and i have never seen it in stock anywhere.

    The Hornady TAP Personal Defense Ammunition 223 Remington 55 Grain Polymer Tip Point Box of 20 is discontinued!

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