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The Truth About Brass vs. Steel Ammo

Everywhere you look in the gun world, you can find a debate about something.  Glock vs 1911, .45 vs 9mm, etc. 

And like most things, people have their opinions…and then there are the facts, and a lot of the time there’s not a lot of crossover between the two

Well, today we’re going to set the record straight on something that’s been the cause of a lot of debate in our comments section on Facebook and elsewhere: Brass-cased vs. steel-cased ammo.

Brass vs Nickel, Predator Masters
We’re not going to touch nickle or aluminum cases here, but those have their ups and downs as well.

Some people say never use steel, some people would rather die than pay the more expensive brass ammo prices.  Each side has it’s arguments.

What’s the difference?  Why should you care? Does it even matter?  Which one should you be using?  Is one better than the other?

Let’s see if we can settle (or more likely just add to) the debate.

The Dilemma

First up, we have to talk about the reasons for the big debate.

Brass Seals Better, Runs Cleaner

Brass ammo is generally considered to be better than steel-cased ammo because it creates a better chamber seal than steel, and thus you have less blowback into the chamber and the receiver.  

Brass is better at this sealing action because it is more malleable than steel, so it expands to more snugly fit the walls of the chamber and thus you have less gas and unburned powder that passes back into your gun every time it’s fired.

Dirty .223 Brass
Dirty .223 Brass cases

Steel, though cheaper, is less malleable and creates a poorer seal and so generally runs dirtier across the board.

This creates more opportunity for malfunctions due to carbon buildup, and generally means a rifle shooting steel-cased ammo will be less reliable in the long run, although there are some exceptions I’ll get to in a minute.

Steel (Might) Extract Better

Of course, there’s also the issue of extraction.  Now, most of the Western weapons you’re probably most familiar with (AR-15 and AR-10s for example) use primarily straight-walled cartridges that extract with fairly light pressure.

Now, take for example some of the surplus FAL’s lying around (yes I know the FAL is Belgian), or AK’s rechambered for straight-walled cartridges.

These rifles can, if not properly tuned, rip the heads clean off of softer brass cases.  This is because, in general, the tolerances are not as tight on these guns and they extract with much more force than most brass-cased ammo is designed to tolerate.

This is especially prevalent in older FAL’s in .223/5.56x45mm, and Kalashnikov-patterned rifles like the AK-74 that are shooting intermediate cartridges like the 5.45x39mm, rather than say, AKM and SKS rifles firing the larger 7.62x39mm.  

Fal For You
FAL’s also get all the best jokes.

This is in part due to the extra meat the extractor has to yank on as a byproduct of what is simply a larger cartridge.  More material supporting the point of contact between the extractor and the case means a lower likelihood of a failure to extract due to torn brass.

In general, any rifle with a shorter and more violent extraction is going to have more issues than a rifle with a longer cycle time and less violent extraction.  So, a delayed blowback-operated weapon like a FAMAS is going to be more likely to rip brass than an AR-15 and may function better

That’s not to say that weapons like the FAMAS, AK-pattern guns, the FAL, and others won’t run well with brass.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

These rifles may run just fine and never have a single issue, and many of them will fire thousands of issue-free, brass-cased rounds down range and never chamber a single steel cartridge.

SKS vs AK47
SKS (top) with an AK47 (bottom)

This extra cartridge strength, especially in intermediate cartridges, is, however, one of the big selling points of steel.  

Yes, it’s dirty, but it’s also incredibly robust when it comes to that sort of thing, so AK’s and other guns that extract with a bit more force may actually perform more reliably with steel than brass, especially if you’re talking about older surplus guns that were imported as parts kits.

Now, is this a concern for a target shooter or someone who is going to slow-fire their way through one magazine a month?  Probably not, honestly.

Modern Yugo/Norinco guns may not have this issue, or may not have it nearly as bad as rifles that were manufactured by the beloved and most democratic Soviet Republic during its heyday, but its still better to test any rifles that you plan on using for serious business, be that combat or competition, with the ammo you intend to use first.

Steel may actually be more reliable in guns with these issues which is something to consider, especially if you notice lots of torn-up brass on the ground when you’re at the range or find yourself clearing lots of stuck cases with ripped cartridge rims.

An argument can be made that countries like Russia gravitated towards guns that have short, aggressive cycles because they were designed that way to make use of the cheaper steel ammo that the Commies our Eastern brethren produced en masse.

ivan gun meme
They…do things differently over there.

An argument can also be made for steel ammo being produced en masse in these countries because it works better in guns with looser tolerances and more aggressive extraction cycles that tend to be favored there.

Then Again, Steel Might Not Extract Better

While steel is harder and thus less likely to get ripped into by an aggressive extractor, it’s is also sometimes more likely to get stuck because of its other physical properties.

First, we have the hardness and resistance of deformation that makes it less resistant to ripped rims and torn off heads.  This same hardness is what causes steel to run dirty (remember, it doesn’t expand as well and thus doesn’t seal as well) but it also means that it may expand unevenly in the chamber, leading to it getting stuck.

I’ve had steel cases get stuck so firmly that I had to run a steel cleaning rod down the barrel and gently tap it out with a mallet.  

This kind of malfunction can be a pain in the ass at the range, and a death sentence in a combat/self-defense situation, so it’s definitely something to take note of when choosing steel ammo for a defensive gun.

Steel Ammo is Lower in Overall Quality and Less Accurate (Or is It?)

There’s an abiding belief that steel ammo is inherently lower in overall quality than brass ammo, and this is one area we can definitively side one way or the other.  In this case, we’re siding with the truth and that is this: There is nothing about steel-cased ammo that says it’s of inherently lower quality than brass.

Now, that being said, it’s important to note that a lot, if not most, steel-cased ammo is produced to less-strict tolerances and with less consistency than brass ammo, but that’s because most steel-cased ammo is aimed at a cheaper market in general.

There’s nothing about steel-cased ammo that says this has to be the case however, Hornady proved that with their competition-ready Steel Match ammo that is produced with all the quality and attention to detail that any of their other premium offerings are made with.

hornday steel match
I’d take this ammo over a lot of cheap brass out there.

So, while steel ammo might be lower in quality than brass on average, that’s more a function of market trends and such that it is any difference in materials.  

It also means that if you want match-grade ammo and maximum reliability, it doesn’t mean you need to feed your steel-preferring gun brass, it just means you’ll want to pick up steel-cased rounds from higher-quality manufacturers.

These higher-quality rounds can be just as accurate as high-end brass rounds, provided you and your gun are both up to the task.

Steel is Cheaper (Usually)

This difference in average manufacturing quality leads to the next (perhaps the biggest) point of consideration.

One of the chief draws of steel-cased ammo, at least the stuff you’ll normally find on the shelves at big-box retailers and your local gun store is the price.

This is because, as we discussed above, most steel ammo isn’t manufactured to the same standard as brass-cased ammo.  This is the core of the steel vs brass ammo debate for a lot of people.

Some people think the overall lower quality of steel disqualifies if from serious use.  Others think the savings more than make up for the difference in quality.

money meme
A lot of us experience this when we walk by the ammo section of our local sporting goods store.

In general, I wouldn’t recommend hunting, competing, or defending hearth and home with any cheap ammo, be it brass or steel.

That said, if you’re just plinking at the range, go with what suits your budget.  Practice is important, and if you’re trying to save money, spend more time at the range, and literally get more bang for your buck, steel may be the way to go.

Brass Can Be Reloaded, Steel Can’t

Not safely, anyway.

Because it’s softer and more malleable, brass can reliably be reshaped to its original dimensions and reloaded.  We call this resizing the case because gun folk are simple and direct a lot of the time.

Resizing Brass Cases
Resizing Brass Cases

You can learn more about the reloading process here.

Practically, if you don’t intend to reload/handload your ammo anyway, this won’t be much of a concern for you, but for high-volume shooters and those who want to get the most bang for their buck (literally), this is something to consider.

Steel cases can’t really be resized as easily, and so once they expand they like to stay expanded, meaning you get only two, maybe three, safe uses out of the case before it has to be  thrown away or recycled.  Maybe see if you can find an art student looking to make a nice anti-war sculpture and sell them at a markup (although being art students, they probably don’t have any money).

Steel Needs Case Coatings

Steel is naturally less slick than brass, which can also contribute to the stuck case issue.  

Because of this, most if not all steel ammo comes with a coating to help extract easier and stay free of rust which can also cause extraction issues.  

Brass is naturally corrosion-resistant and again, slicker than steel, so you while you can find lots of brass ammo that is coated for more reliability, it isn’t strictly necessary most of the time.

Tarnished Brass Cases
Corrosion-resistant is notably not the same as corrosion-proof.

Steel coatings come in two flavors, polymer, which is more modern and generally more expensive, and the cheaper lacquer.

Lacquer coatings like what you’ll find on cheaper Brown Bear steel-cased ammo are commonly believed to be less reliable than polymer coatings because of the idea that the lacquer likes to “melt” and create extra gunk in the chamber.

That doesn’t seem to match up with reality, however, at least not in the frankly exhaustive testing our friends at Lucky Gunner did, comparing brass ammo versus a number of common steel alternatives.

In their testing, they found that lacquer-coated Brown Bear ammo malfunctioned about half as often as polymer-coated Wolf ammo in an AR-15 platform.

I highly recommend checking out their full results, especially if you appreciate a science-based approach to ballistics and firearms in general.

Reliability During 223 Torture Test

Copyright: LuckyGunner.com


Now, it’s also worth noting that out of 10,000 rounds, even the worst performing of the three rounds that they finished testing only had fifteen stoppages (Tula was partially discounted because of issues, either inherent or acquired, with the rifle they were testing it with).

Fifteen sounds like a lot, but in reality that comes out to a 99.85% success rate, which is pretty good, especially for steel-cased ammo in the lightly extracting AR-15 platform.

But is it good enough?

Choosing Between Brass and Steel

Taking all of this information into account, and weighing all the pros and cons of steel vs brass ammo, which one should you be choosing to run in your rifle?

Well, the answer is actually the same as almost every other big “should I do A or B” question in the gun world, and that is: it depends.

Should you pick 9mm or .45 for self-defense? It depends.

What’s more important to you, rounds in the mag, or their effect on the target?  What about recoil?

Should you carry a striker-fired gun like Glock or something hammer-fired like a 1911?  It depends.

TLR-7 on Glock 19
This might be the best gun for you.  It might be the worst.  Only you can say.

Do you want an external safety?  Do you absolutely not want an external safety?  What about a second-strike capability?  

So, should you be shooting brass-cased ammo or steel-cased ammo?  It depends.

Do you have an old Soviet gun you found buried in a rice paddy?  It may work better with steel ammo.

Do you have a modern AR-15 that is as soft-shooting as a .22?  It may work better with brass.

Are you going to be reloading?  You’ll probably want brass again.

Are you an occasional visitor to the range looking to save some money?  You might find steel to be the best option for you.

As with most things, this conversation comes down to choice, and I’m not making choice for anybody.  You have to sit down and weigh all these pros and cons and come up with an answer for yourself.

simple buzz lightyear meme
Well, not that simple, but hopefully you have an idea of how to choose now.

Ideally, you’ll want to do some testing on your own and find out what your rifle works best with.  If there’s any question and the rifle is going to be used for defensive purposes, I’d recommend a 500 round test minimum to find out what your gun prefers.

If you’re not planning on using the rifle in life-or-death situations, it’s less imperative, but still recommended that you test it with a few varieties of both types if you can.  

Personally, I gravitate towards brass because I know it’s going to function in my AR’s and I can reload it, but I also have a bit more of an ammo budget because I roll my own and avoid buying factory loads when I can help it.

Parting Shots

To wrap things up, here’s what you need to remember:

  • Brass is generally cleaner to run than steel because it expands better and creates a better seal, resulting in less fouling of the chamber and receiver.
  • Steel is more robust than brass and may extract better in some guns (AKs, FALs, other short cycle guns firing intermediate cartridges) because it’s less likely to get ripped up by an aggressive extractor/more violent extraction cycle.
  • Brass can be reloaded, steel can’t unless you want to turn your gun into a grenade.
  • Steel cases may be more likely to get stuck in the chamber, particularly in lightly-extracting guns like the AR-15.
  • Steel cases are usually coated for better performance, and the differences between coatings are relatively minor.
  • Steel-cased ammo is not necessarily less reliable or accurate than brass.
  • Only you can decide what’s best for your gun and your particular circumstances.
  • Test all ammo used in a defensive firearm extensively, and test range ammo as well if you can.

Hopefully, this information will help you better decide which ammo to run in your gun.  Just remember, there are upsides and downsides to each, so don’t discount those who say brass is better and don’t make fun of those who take the steel route.

Wherever you fall on this debate, it’s important that you come to your conclusions on your own, and with all the facts.  I’ve given you all the relevant facts (as far as I can see) so it’s on you to make your choices based on your needs.

And be sure to check out our Ammo & Reloading section for our favorite picks for each caliber

So, what ammo do you run in your guns?  Are you a brass-only kind of person, or do you shoot steel and enjoy the additional savings?  Let me hear from you in the comments below, and be sure to let me know if I left out anything important.  

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67 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    In the case of an AR-15, the "Brass Seals Better, Runs Cleaner" concept is kind of irrelevant, considering it uses gas vented directly from the barrel and into the BCG to operate the weapon's action...literally spraying everything down with nice layer of soot.

    ARs are just nasty critters that shit where they eat...

    September 13, 2021 8:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aaron Snider

    One thing that you did not mention that I'm curious about is the wear inside the chamber steel against steel rubbing or brass against still rubbing during the injection and extraction.

    August 26, 2021 9:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rocco DiGregorio

    Awesome information. Thank you so much for posting this. I just bought some steel ammo for the first time. I recently bought a 1943 Mosin Nagant 91/30 that shoots 7.62x54R and found some in bulk for a good price. Haven't shot any yet, stay tuned!!

    April 29, 2021 12:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jesenia Rivera

    Thanks for the information. You broke it down pretty well for me (a beginner). I purchased my first handgun, a 9mm Springfield 1911 and was debating what type of ammo to start with. I was leaning toward 124gr fmj brass.

    April 3, 2021 5:45 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rob Cypress

    Thanks for the article. It supports my experiences with brass and steel in my ARs. I've never really had an issue with brass ammo and I personally have had great success with Brown Bear... but not so much with Wolf. I can't get through more than a magazine or two before I have a case stuck which makes the range visit a little frustrating and a lot less fun.

    March 30, 2021 6:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    James J Hites

    I have an original Yugoslavia sks, I have only been shooting tula and wolf in it, last year it started not ejecting the shells, I have cleaned it over and over, still not working, the casing is getting stuck in the chamber. I have to smack the bolt with a mallet to get it to eject. I think it's from the coating on the casing. What can I do????

    February 11, 2021 8:36 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kevin Scarton

    So, if I’m a new gun owner and would like to practice with my AR 15 .300 blackout, that I plan to use to hunt and for home defense, would it be safe to say that I can run steel cartridges for practice and have brass for the other? But would have to clean more often after using the steel?

    January 31, 2021 11:15 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Yes you can, it might need cleaning slightly more often but not majorly so.

      January 31, 2021 2:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    All is cool, article is great, but you did not touch on the issue of: Does steel cased ammo put more unnecessary wear on a firearm than brass would? or has that been discussed elsewhere?

    January 11, 2021 5:33 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ray Maddalone

      I wanted their take on it too for 9mm. Lucky Gunner did an exhaustive study on AR15s so look there
      Bottom line there was there was more wear with steel but the savings more than paid for a cost of a new barrel. This was after a lot of rounds fired under trying situations.

      May 1, 2021 8:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Anthony Alcalde

    Just came across this article of yours it quite education in my onpion. Never own a firearm. So why not learn it from every point of it. Grains and different types of metals are better or bad.
    The things I notice alot of dealer kind of have the same point of view. When asked about learning and doing my own bullets and building my own arms from the base.
    There reply is there isn't enough grains or takes a long time to learn to do it correctly and it is dangerous.
    Building own arms. You better to buy it from the box(from them) as your first. Then building your own, it come out expensive p, it mite not fire correctly.
    Excuses for not learning a hobby that can become self independent ammo and fire arm gunsmith.
    Ya, you buy a box of ammo or buy ar-15 from the box load it up and go target rang shooting.
    I like your article because it goes expanding the different of A or B.
    Thank you. Anthony Alcalde.

    December 11, 2020 6:41 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I was told but not sure if it's true that steel cases are harder on extractors/ejectors and cause more extractor/ejector wear than brass. You did not mention this, so I am asking: true or false?

    November 23, 2020 11:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ken E Anderson

    Generally brass in mini-14 and 9mm pistol

    October 1, 2020 11:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Charlie C

    What ever is cheapest mainly tulammo, wolf and red army standard in all of the ARs. aluminum in the 9mm pistols or the three above only for the range I would never trust my life to this ammo so definitely brass for defense rounds. Only thing I hate about the steel ammo is the clean up you have to scrub scrub scrub to clean your firearms.

    June 30, 2020 1:01 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I purchased some steel cased 38 Special (Russian made Wolf ammo) for my S&W revolver,. I figured extraction issues (like those experience in semi-auto handguns) would not be an issue if this ammo was used in a revolver. My limited experience (with this particular ammo) showed that loading the cartridges into the chambers was business as usual, but once fired, the spent cartridges were difficult to remove from the chambers. The steel case must expand just enough to cause friction against the walls of the chambers making extraction more difficult. Any ideas on how to mitigate this from happening going forward? Perhaps coat the cases or chambers with silicone lubricant?

    June 15, 2020 9:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Enjoyed the discussion. I've shot a mix of both Steel and brass ammo in my budget AR. Both have worked fine and I've never had any kind of stoppage. I've got a couple hundred rounds of Federal Brass that I keep around, but mostly these days I shoot steel at the range. Just makes sense from a $$ standpoint. I don't shoot that many rounds, and tend to clean my AR regularly so any kind of excessive dirt doesn't become an issue.

    May 31, 2020 6:32 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bob Peterson

    Excellent article. I like the "Just the facts Ma'am" format! Just bought a 300 blackout AR pistol and am struggling with the cost of ammo. This was very helpful. Thanks.

    May 19, 2020 3:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    So I just got a Glock 48 (9mm) and I put a compensator on it immediately, I’m using nickel plated brass gold dot hollow points mostly, however I was just gifted 200 rounds of lacquer coated steel Lugers rounds After my gold dots run out, should I expect the gun to jam if I were to use the steel?

    March 19, 2020 9:26 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Randy Jones

    I have a stainless PT92. It's a decent gun, shoots accurately enough and is rock solid as far as eating every brand I have fed it. I happened upon some steel ammo made right here in the US of A by a major brand (W) and headed to the range thinkin I'd saved some money. After one magazine my pattern was 50% larger and you could feel the difference between some of the rounds. I started to field strip the gun and the RSO said don't bother, you are shooting "X" aren't you? He named the brand. Said those steel cases do that all the time. I went to my bag and broke out a big box store brand of brass and the gun felt consistent between shots and the group dropped in size. I will not use steel ammo in anything I shoot anymore. I do agree it has to do with how well the case expands and seals the chamber. That changes pressures to some degree and that effects performance.

    December 19, 2019 5:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I realize this has been kicked around for decades but wanted your input. Is it safe to shoot soft primer brass ammo made in the good old USA out of a SKS rifle with the oem stock firing pin or should an alternate firing pin such as Murray's be installed? Thanks in advance.

    December 9, 2019 1:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    When I use stripper clips in loading up 30rd mags the steel casings don't load well. Whereas the brass casings slip in without any problems. Shooting bears out the fact that that the steels against steel is not as smooth as the brass.

    November 12, 2019 8:12 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Chrome lined chambers/barrels eat anything ;)

    August 11, 2019 11:44 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Heres how I look at it if you value your guns as you should use brass especially in newer handguns steel bullets are fine for guns of lesser value such as Highpoint thats my opinion Be Safe & God Bless

    August 2, 2019 12:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    "(Tula was partially discounted because of issues, either inherent or acquired, with the rifle they were testing it with)."

    Read the source article again, Matt. There was no problem with the rifle they were testing, other than it wasn't designed to run shit ammo. The powder used by Tula burned too quickly and caused problems with the bushmaster's small gas port. That doesn't mean there's anything WRONG with the rifle, ALL FOUR RIFLES had small gas ports. The malfunction only occurred with that ammo. Look at the chart titled "GAS PORT PRESSURE". Notice anything strange about the Tula hmm? Yes, it ran better in a different weapon with a larger port. No, that doesn't mean the rifle is faulty.

    June 23, 2019 1:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Travis- Gun Newbie

    But what about for the common pistol calibers? Since operating pressures are generally lower, does above article apply but it a less degree? Main question, does it hurt the pistols? Thank You

    April 11, 2019 5:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Steel case in pistols wears extractors and barrels, like in rifles. Barrels are worn to a lesser degree but extractors are worn about the same. A lot of pistols are really picky about brass Vs. steel mostly due to extraction and the fact that steel case ammo is normally much lower quality and has a wider range of pressure while also hovering around the bottom range of pressure. This can cause short stroking and stove pipes.

      If you want to shoot steel in a pistol, try it out and see if your gun runs it well. Personally, I normally stick to brass for pistols since 9mm is fairly cheap and fiddling with getting a pistol to like low tier ammo isn't as simple as just changing the gas settings on a rifle.

      April 12, 2019 5:03 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Larry gies

        How about a study on the silver bear, (zinc coated) ammo that is available?

        July 27, 2020 5:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tee Kay

    I shoot steel case in 6.5 Grendel because of the $.50 per round price difference. I also meticulously clean my gun after each use. In 223 Rem, I can get brass super cheap so I don't bother with steel anymore, but I never had any major issues with 75gr Tula.

    March 22, 2019 6:29 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I have seen different colors of steel casings. These have been primarily a grey color and an orange color. Is there a difference?

    February 3, 2019 1:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Had my first experience shooting steel and this past weekend. It was 115gr 9mm Winchester range ammo in a 150 round cardboard box purchased at the deathbringer to American retail, Walmart. It was cheap but only marginally less than brass. It sucked. Shooting the remainder and never buying it again. Had no extraction problems or accuracy problems, but the cases were relatively...rough...like not smooth or slippery, and they kept jamming in my Glock style P-mags, shooting through my 9mm carbine. Every mag had at least one jam. Terrible. I would have chalked it up to a combination of the ammo and the p-mags, but it even jammed feeding from the magazine in my Springfield xd which hasn't ever jammed (ever) using brass ammo. It seemed to me this particular steel case ammo had either no or faulty coating on it. I can afford an extra buck and a half per 50 rounds for brass.

    December 27, 2018 7:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I have a mini30 and it will not eat steel case ammo. Have run it on three diff manufactures. The problem seems to be with light strikes on primers. Have had no such problem with any of the brass ammo. I wish I could use the cheaper steel, but ho well so it goes.

    October 13, 2018 5:33 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      not the ammo problem, if your gun only run on one kind of ammo, just throw it away

      November 26, 2018 2:00 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I sent a Sig back because it wanted only a few different kinds of ammo. No sir, it needs to eat whatever I feed it, period or it isn't reliable and doesn't get a place in the collection.

        April 9, 2019 7:43 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          That narrows the playing field considerably, that’s for sure!

          April 25, 2019 4:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bravo Tango

    None of the ranges I go to allow steel cased ammo. Plus, coated or not, I don't like the idea of steel grinding across steel in any of my weapons. Made a living out of repairing industrial machinery and most of the repairs were because of parts failure due to just that.

    October 3, 2018 10:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I’m sure others have mentioned this as well: I’ve heard steel is harder on the extractor than brass in either a piston or di AR. I have an LWRC DI and the manual cautions against steel cased ammo. I also own a POF P308 SPR, and they make a big deal out of their chamber design assisting in dislodging the casing and assisting the extractor, and brag a bit about steel being ok to run.
    I’m nobody that would know if this is a fear tactic/marketing ploy or established truth. Does anyone here know for sure one way or the other?

    August 22, 2018 6:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Steel is harder on the extractor than brass, but not to an unreasonable amount. Kind of like with barrels, it will have a shortened life but that life is still quite long.

      As to those exact manufactures and their claims, I don't know. There could be truth behind it or it could be pure marketing.

      August 23, 2018 1:18 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ray Abagnale


    August 18, 2018 8:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I use steel in my Galil I have had issues with the Galil ripping the brass case in half. I tend to stick with brass in the ARs but haven’t had any issues when I run steel. I’ve heard that steel is hard on the AR extractor but that is only what I’ve heard because I haven’t had an issue. Does anybody know if this is true. I also use steel on occasion in my FN 509 9mm and haven’t had any failures so far after approx 500rnds.

    April 8, 2018 8:49 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Get Freight

      The wear on extractor and other parts was also my concern. Have not had issues yet on seen unusual wear. But I do not have a significant round count with steel yet. Only about 2,000 rnds I bought in the dark days of ammo shortages.

      Anyone out there have any data or other info on still being harder on the rifle or pistol?

      April 14, 2018 11:13 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Well I have been told all 1911 ran steel
        case in wwll. Wanted the copper for the bullet.

        August 28, 2018 5:13 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great information. Thanks!

    April 6, 2018 3:31 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I Have Used Brown Bear 9mm Steel in Both a Glock 17, a Glock 43, and a Walther PPS M2. failure to cycle and failure extract on all 3 pistols on the same day at the range. Walther failed after 6 rounds. The Glock 43 failed after rounds 23. The Glock 17 made it through 46 rounds before it choked on the steel casings. I have put over a 5,000 brass rounds though my Glock 17 and over 1,200 rounds through my Glock 43 and never a problem. My brother purchased a Walther PPS M2 and 500 Rounds of Brown Bear Steel Cased Ammo to " Break in" his new pistol after 6 Rounds He Started Using My Brass Rounds. My 43 got further with the steel. I thought a Glock 17 could "eat" anything. Since then many hundreds more brass rounds though all 3 pistols and NO problems. I don't know what my brother with do with the rest of that steel ammo but I won't fire it.

    April 4, 2018 6:17 pm
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      Thanks I’ll stick to the Sellier n Bellot that I got at show for 20 cents each been threw about 700 w no issues n seems really clean-I’ll suck it up n quit wining:-)

      April 4, 2018 8:07 pm
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      Brown Bear works great in my Taurus pt99..

      September 9, 2018 4:51 am
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    A minor nit pick here: you CAN reload steel cases. IF - and only if - those cases are Boxer primed. Steel cases are no harder on reloading dies than brass cases, though steel rifle cases tend to split sooner than brass cases.

    Once, Berdan primers for 7.62x39 and for 7.62x54R (along with just about any other European "large rifle" cartridge) were available, and yes, you CAN reload Berdan cases. But only if you can get the primers. They have dried up due to the Russian actions in the Ukraine and various sanctions on players in that region.

    But saying "you can't reload steel cases" is just plain false.

    April 4, 2018 2:14 pm
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    As a avid reloader of all the calibers (rifle, pistol & revolver) that I shoot I stick with quality brass cases. like Lapua, Norma, Hornady and Starline brass. Many times I have found brass cased ammunition with quality brass for the same price, or even lower, than buying the brass cases alone. The only cartridge I don't reload is the 9mm. They're cheap enough right now when one buys in bulk to negate any cost benefit to reloading. Plenty of good quality / accurate 9mm out there these days.

    April 3, 2018 8:15 pm
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    I understand the difference of ak vs ar but I’m going broke trying to practice hand gun Xdm 9 and would love to save but hate dirty or the thought of harm or unnecessary wear on it any thoughts?

    April 3, 2018 7:05 pm
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      Watch for the right sales and buy in bulk. I haven't paid more than $0.17cpr for new 9mm brass/aluminum case ammo in a very long time. Keep an eye on our Pew Pew Tactical Deals page - we post any good sales we find there for people.

      April 4, 2018 4:06 am
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      Matthew Collins

      As far as actual wear, running steel 9mm probably isn't going to cause that much extra wear on the gun, just make sure you clean it frequently. Modern polymer-framed striker-fired guns like the xdm 9 in particular will run even if they're very dirty so you should be alright with steel. I certainly shot a lot of steel in my college days when money was tight. If you're that worried about it, clean it every time you go to the range or every 100 rounds (whichever comes first) and you'll probably never notice the difference.

      I totally understand wanting to put as little strain on a working gun as possible though, so definitely check out our deals section like David said and keep an eye out for cheap brass or aluminum. Aluminum is typically cheaper than brass, but cleaner than steel so you get a good middle-ground there. Can't reload it though.

      April 4, 2018 1:27 pm
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      You've probably tried it by now but the only jams I've ever had in my XD 9 are feeding failure using steel ammo. Where I live I can get 150 rounds of Blazer ammo for about $27.00 when regularly on sale and 150 rounds of steel for $25. Really not much of a savings.

      December 27, 2018 7:25 pm
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    The only steel cased ammo I have used in my SIG M400 is Hornady Steel Match. Comparing apples to apples, Hornady match grade in brass and in steel cases (at least red, brass, apples to green, steel, apples), the only difference at all that I have noted is that the brass ejects about 80-100 degrees to the bore and the steel about 170-190 degrees. I have had no failures with either using the same magazines and see no difference in accuracy or fouling (I always clean my rifle after every range session). Because of the huge difference in price, the steel case is my usual everyday range ammo. If I were hunting, I would not be using match grade nor steel cased ammo, likewise if I were competing I would prefer the brass cases - superstition maybe?

    April 3, 2018 5:46 pm
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      Matthew Collins

      I always kiss the last cartridge I load into my mags for good luck...a holdover from something my father and grandfather used to do. I think every shooter has their superstitions.

      April 4, 2018 1:30 pm
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    Logic would dictate that steel is going to be more wear and tear on the gun, although that's going to be very difficult to quantify in the long term. I'd rather spend the extra money, get brass, and play it safe.

    April 3, 2018 5:05 pm
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    Sam Rhodes

    I believe most of the cheap steel is also steel jacketed bullet with a very thin copper plate to prevent rusting. wears the bore much faster. I remember seeing 10,000 round tests in ARs that left the barrels smoothbore almost all the way to the muzzle. I use the steel case Hornady with their own bullets but little of the cheaper stuff..

    April 3, 2018 4:47 pm
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      Matthew Collins

      Yeah, the bi-metal and steel jacketed bullets are a large part of the reason why many ranges don't allow steel-cased ammo. You can get lead or copper bullets without any steel in the actual projectile, but you're right that it's definitely something to be careful of.

      April 4, 2018 1:32 pm
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        That's ONLY for indoor ranges the won't allow steel cased or bi-metal ammo because of the traps and un burned powder in indoor ranges. But most outdoor ranges allow steel no problem they just don't allow tracer or AP ammo. My family owns a Range in NV and AZ and all outdoor private, state and public outdoor ranges ALL allow steel cased ammo. You need to make yourself clearer.

        May 20, 2021 2:18 am
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    Art out West

    Cheap steel ammo for my commie guns (AK,SKS,Mosin, and CZ82). Brass cases for everything else, though I may run a few steel through my AR and Glock every now and then. I'm not opposed to running brass through my commie guns. I'm just cheap.

    March 31, 2018 1:40 pm
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      Matthew Collins

      This is about what it ends up being for me.

      April 2, 2018 8:41 am
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    Interesting; unfortunately, the 'range' dictates the ammo; "NO STEEL or AL CASED AMMO'; so I don't have a choice...

    March 31, 2018 7:48 am
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      Matthew Collins

      A lot of ranges reload or sell fired brass to be reloaded, which they can't do with steel or aluminum. Its one of the ways they can make money back, and I try not to begrudge them the extra money if it means my favorite place to shoot gets to stay open. Also, a lot of steel surplus ammo, particularly Russian surplus, will have a bimetal bullet, meaning usually a steel core that can damage steel targets and such.

      April 2, 2018 8:40 am
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        Bimetal doesn't mean steel core. A centerfire bullet has a brass (generally) jacket a few thousandths of an inch thick. Bimetal bullets have a brass layer over steel layer and then a lead core. The jacket is typically about the same 6-10 thousandths thick (I may be a little high in my estimate), but you'll have a 2-3 thousandths of an inch of brass with 3-6 thousandths of an inch of steel under it. It makes the jacket overall a little more brittle and it can cause sparking on steel or rocks. Which is typically why it is banned is because of the chance of a fire hazard, not because of damaging targets. The penetration/damage to a hard target is generally less with bimetal bullets largely because they tend to be loaded 5-10% lower power than all brass (another cost savings measure), so you've got 50-150fps lower velocity.

        April 3, 2018 4:31 am
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          Do more research. Won't go into all the details, but You're partially right, on several things, partially wrong. on several.

          April 3, 2018 4:33 pm
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      Indoor right? Go to an outdoor range. All indoor ranges do not allow bi metal bullets NOT because of the steel case. Steel will damage their traps and set of UN-burned powder its why a lot of indoor ranges don't allow even rifle calibers.

      May 20, 2021 2:22 am
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    Joe L

    Great write up on steel vs brass! In my experience, the steel case isn't inherently what makes the round inaccurate, but the projectile in the cartridge could be the cause. The vast majority of the steel cased ammo I have seen and used is military surplus, which is far from match grade. The looser tolerances in the manufacturing process can result in unbalance bullets, which translates to less accurate rounds.(Same applies to some foreign surplus brass ammo as well) Steel ammo from reputable sources seems to have practically the same accuracy as the brass counterparts from the same manufacturers(Such as the Hornady Steel Match you listed above). I tried the Winchester steel cased last year (because it was on sale for $20/150 rounds) and it seemed to be just as accurate as white box.

    March 30, 2018 11:39 am
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      That's because Winchester ammo sucks across the board. When I got a delivery of their .223 77gr match ammo in, I'm glad I tested it. First 3 boxes, every round was jammed into the case. Sorry, but I sent that 3rd world shit back where it belonged and got my money back. We don't sell Winchester now...

      March 31, 2018 10:28 am
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      Matthew Collins

      Joe, I'd agree with this. The steel casing has very little impact on accuracy except when you look at velocity lost through improper expansion. A lot of steel-cased ammo will outperform more expensive brass.

      April 2, 2018 8:38 am