Best AR-15 Ammo [2018]: Range & Home Defense

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 2018*: New .223, self-defense options, and more online stores.

Can’t wait?  Here’s the best AR-15 ammo:

  1. American Eagle XM193
  2. American Eagle XM855
  3. PMC Bronze .223
  4. Wolf Gold .223
  5. Federal Gold Medal
  6. Federal LE Hi-Shok
  7. Speer Gold Dot Duty

Ready to see why we chose these and the best places to find them for cheap?

Table of Contents

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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 (an 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 Wylde chamber: OK to fire both 5.56 and .223
  • .223 Rem chamber: OK to fire only .223

Please note that .223 Rem and .223 Wylde are not the same things. One (Wylde) is perfectly safe to fire either 5.56 or .223, however, a .223 Rem chamber is not safe to fire 5.56 NATO.

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 of 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 heavier 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.  FMJ is also sometimes called Ball ammo.

Don’t you love multiple names for things…

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 an 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 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 M193 vs M855:

  • Pricing is similar
  • M855 is better at penetration (duh?)
  • Some ranges do not allow steel core ammo like the M855
  • M193 is better at soft targets under 100 yards
  • More info about the differences
  • Most of the time you’ll see XM instead of just M…that means it didn’t quite meet military specifications but still meets commercial specs.  Learn more here.

Where to Buy

We’ve selected a couple of our favorite online places to buy ammo.  We’ve been buying from them ever since we got started and they have great live inventory, appropriate shipping charges, and quick service.

And since prices and inventory fluctuates, we recommend looking at all the vendors to see the price differences.  Sometimes one will be running free shipping deals!

Finally…the recommendations!

Best AR-15 5.56 FMJ (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.

American Eagle XM193

Our Editor’s Pick is currently American Eagle XM193 since it’s never failed to go *boom* and the price is almost always one of the lowest.

Editor's XM193 Pick
American Eagle XM193 55 gr

American Eagle XM193 55 gr

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (185)

Your Rating?

PMC X-TAC XP193

Our second choice is PMC which also has never failed but is often a cent or two more than American Eagle.

American Eagle XM855

Our favorite green tip ammo suggestion is going to sound about the same…what can I say, it works and the price is right.

Editor's XM855 Pick
American Eagle XM855 62 gr (90 Rounds)

American Eagle XM855 62 gr (90 Rounds)

PMC X-TAC XM855

And PMC’s X-TAC XM855 variant is also GTG.

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 Bronze

My personal favorite is PMC Bronze since it’s affordable and the brass is great for reloading.  Plus…it’s on the low end of recoil so I love it for competition.

Editor's .223 Pick
PMC Bronze .223 55 gr

PMC Bronze .223 55 gr

Wolf Gold

If you aren’t looking to reload and want the best bang for the buck…all my buddies and I love Wolf Gold.  Buy it cheap (1000 round boxes) and stack it deep!  Wolf Gold is made in Taiwan and not Russia like other Wolf ammo.

Best Bang-for-the-Buck
Wolf Gold .223 55 gr

Wolf Gold .223 55 gr

And finally…if you’re going for pure accuracy…

Tula & Wolf Polyformance

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 is hollow/soft point and is used by law enforcement.

Hornady Critical Defense 55gr

Both Speer and Hornady are great but I give the edge to Hornady since I love their pistol defensive ammo.

Hornady Critical Defense 55gr FTX .223

Hornady Critical Defense 55gr FTX .223

Prices accurate at time of writing

Speer Gold Dot Duty 55 gr

Another go-to brand for self-defense rounds…Gold Dot.

Speer Gold Dot Duty .223 55 gr

Speer Gold Dot Duty .223 55 gr

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

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Will M
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Will M

accurate 5.56 is Hornadys Frontier 55g HP. Inexpensive too. Shoots (for me) 1 moa and better.

DrRJP
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DrRJP

I buy Fiocchi’s 50 grain V-Max for SD (and range training) that sells for under $20 for a box of 50. They also have a hotter 55 grain V-Max but I like the less recoil with the former. FYI: Hornaday makes their V-Max bullets. Fiocchi has clean, accurate ammo.

My second choice are the new Hornaday Black 75gr. Interlock SBR rounds that actually work quite well in a carbine even though they were designed for 11.5″ barrels.

Matthew Collins
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All good choices, I also like Fiocchi quite a bit, especially for shotgun ammo. I’ll have to shoot more of the AR stuff, thanks for the tip!

Bill O' Right
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Bill O' Right

oooo good. Cheap ammo… 😛 when do we get one of these for AR10?

David, PPT Editor
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Jeff
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Jeff

I’ve experienced very respectable accuracy with “Geco” (50 rd. box) of both .223 & 5,56, “Hornady – Black” (20 rd. box) of .223 & 5,56 and “Lapua” .223 in the 50 rd. box. Plus they all make excellent brass for reloading my own. Best results are with my own “worked up” reloads.

Bravo Tango
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Bravo Tango

Warning!!! This is my 2 cents. I’m not claiming to be an expert, just going with my experience. After dozens of hours on the internet and several sessions on the range, I have found that the best milspec ammo that I can find, for my 16″, 1:7 twist barreled rifle, is Sellier & Bellot M855/SS109 ammo. It gives me the best groups at 100 yards, almost always sub-MOA, and I have no problems hitting a human sized torso target, somewhat center mass, every time out to 500 yards. I’ve never had a single issue with them. I tried several others,… Read more »