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.

FMJ vs FMJBT
FMJ vs FMJBT

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, Bearingarms.com
M855 Cutaway, Bearingarms.com

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.

PMC X-TAC M193
PMC X-TAC M193

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

Conclusion

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.

Leave a Reply

28 Comments on "Best AR-15 Ammo for the Range & Home Defense [2017]"

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RiverManPaul
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IMO, a 223 (or 5.56) for home defense is silly. One needs only to turn to the pump shotgun for home defense. A shotgun is not only a defensive weapon but it also qualifies as an offensive weapon. I have many shotguns stationed around the house and all of them are 870 pumps except for one and it is a Beretta 1301. My favorite of those is the youth 870 20 gauge. It has a shorter butt stock and is lighter than a 12 gauge (I’m 6’1″ and 225 lbs). For shear fire power, the Beretta can put an S-load… Read more »
Ethan
Guest

Just a clarification:
The 55 gr. M193 was the standard round of the U.S. military during the Vietnam Conflict, and was changed to the 62 gr. M855. I believe the M855A1 is now the latest standard.

Charlie
Guest

Winchester PXD1 .223 for self defense, awesome Ammo.

Hornady 75gr TAP 5.56 is also a devasting round.

SnW-Wolverine
Guest

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!

Beaver4Badgers
Guest
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… Read more »
RiverManPaul
Guest
IMO, a 223 (or 5.56) for home defense is silly. One needs only to turn to the pump shotgun for home defense. A shotgun is not only a defensive weapon but it also qualifies as an offensive weapon. I have many shotguns stationed around the house and all of them are 870 pumps except for one and it is a Beretta 1301. My favorite of those is the youth 870 20 gauge. It has a shorter butt stock and is lighter than a 12 gauge (I’m 6’1″ and 225 lbs). For shear fire power, the Beretta can put an S-load… Read more »
Steve
Guest

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

Thumper
Guest
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… Read more »
Americas Rifle Owner
Guest

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!

RiverManPaul
Guest

No…shotgun all the way

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