This article provides information about common ammunition for the AR-15. Both .223 and 5.56 are discussed. There difference in performance and type are discussed and examples are given.
I am not a gun smith, LEO, or expert marksman by any means. This information contained here is my own research, expierence, and opinion.
.223 & 5.56 Testing and Comparison from SKULLBOX on Vimeo.
Here is all you need to know about the ammunition. The AR-15 is typically chamber in 5.56 NATO. By definition, the 5.56 is a military round. The "civilian" version AR-15 ammo is the .223. They are nearly identical in size with some being slightly longer or shorter. The difference is the pressure these cartridges create when fired. The 5.56 is much greater than the .223. That being said, most AR-15 rifles are chambered in 5.56, but there may be some cheaper versions which are stamped .223. If your barrel is stamped 5.56, you can shoot 5.56 and .223 cartridges.
If your barrel is stamped .223, you can only shoot .223. Generally speaking, rifles using the 5.56 barrel are "mil-spec." I haven't been able to find many rifles out there are stamped .223.
Brass vs. steel cartridges
Standard ammunition is brass cased. Hence the shiny gold color. Brass is the standard round used by the U.S. military and every other law enforcement agency. However, mother Russia produces cartridges that use steel instead of brass. They are significantly cheaper, sometimes around half the price of high-end brass. Shooting steel is obviously the cheaper way to go, but you may run into the some issues using it. Brass and steel are both very different metals. The difference when fired in an AR-15 is that steel does not expand and contract like brass. Therefore, when shooting steel, the internal parts such as the bolt and ejector are forced to work harder. Over time, you will probably end up with shell casings that do not eject, break, or may completely break your ejector. There are ways to deal with this, but I will not cover them in this article.
The 5.56 and .223 ammunition is not cheap. Depending on the type of cartridges the price can range from .10 to over $1.00. You can always purchase this ammo at your local gun shop, Walmart, or shorting good store. Walmart usually has the best prices locally. They sell 100 round Federal ammunition boxes for $40. That works out to $.40\round. A 30-round clip filled with these will cost you $12.00 every time you send a full clip down range. Let's figure you fire 3-4 clips per trip to the range and you have effectively spent $36-48 per outing with your AR-15. YIKES! Some gun shows will sell this ammo in bulk (500-1000 rounds) which lowers the price per round. However, there are some sites online that sell the same ammo for much cheaper. Tack on shipping, and it's still cheaper, and comes directly to your doorstep. Some internet dealers will require you to fax or e-mail a photo ID with a birth date before processing your order.
Wolf Performance Ammunition, is a steel cased cartridge that is about the cheapest option for your AR-15. It is produced in Russia using dirty burning powder and a bullet which contains a large steel core. In bulk, this ammo can be purchased for about $.18/round. Shooting wolf ammo can vary depending on the quality of the rifle. I have fired nearly 500 rounds through my M&P 15 with no failures of any kind. I have heard that a solid break-in period with quality ammo will allow shooting Wolf with better results. I cannot comment on the truth to this.
The XM193 is mil-spec ammo produced by Federal using Lake City brass and a 55 grain bullet weight. The XM193 is some of the best ammo you can shoot with your AR-15. At bulk pricing from aimsurplus.com, it comes to about $.30/round. The only negative thing about this ammo is the flash signature from the muzzle when firing. This ammo is loaded VERY HOT. See an example of the flash by XM 193 ammo when fired. Make sure you have a good flash hider on your barrel if you want a low signature using these cartridges.
Like the XM193, the XM855 is loaded in 5.56. It differs slightly as the bullet is a little heavier at 62 grains. This will fail the magnet test as there is a slight amount of steel in the core of the bullet. The shape is also noticably different than the XM193 because it is designed as a "penetrator" round. This is signified by the green tip painted on each round. XM855 is very similar to the XM193 regarding recoil. However, it produces a slightly smaller flash signature from the muzzle. XM855 is a little more expensive, and can be hard to find cheap.
If shoot Wolf ammunition, you will need to clean your rifle more frequently. After 500 rounds or so you may start to notice a lack of smooth movement by the bolt and charging handle. You may be able to fix this by shooting some oil inside the reciever, but the longer you wait to clean it, the worse it gets and the harder it will be.
More AR-15 related content:
Ammunition: .223 vs. 5.56
AR-15 Upgrades: Choosing an optic
AR-15 Upgrades: Stock, Hand Guard, and Vertical Grip
AR-15 Upgrades: Uppers and Bolt Carrier Groups (BCG)
AR-15 Upgrades: Sights, Ejector Door, and Pins
AR-15 Upgrades: Triggers, Breaks, Supressors, Sling Adapter
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