Shooting steel ammo in your AR-15
Being a gun manufacturer and re-seller, you have no idea how often I get the question “can I shoot steel-cased (ie. Wolf) ammunition in my AR-15? Believe it or not, the answer is YES, but with a caveat.
There are tons of made-up and illogical reasons that people don’t shoot steel out of their ARs, almost none of them should be a concern if you follow some simple guidelines for feeding your gun.
I’ve had people tell me that it’s because of a mysterious lacquer build-up on the steel rounds that somehow rubs off in the chamber and causes other cases to get stuck. Get cleaning kit and a chamber brush, clean your AR bore and chamber, now, go fire 500 rounds of steel-cased ammo through it. Any get stuck? No? Shock. It’s not some super-sticky compound on the outside of the cases.
Now, after having done that, fire a few brass-cased rounds without cleaning the chamber. Did one get stuck or did either the case rim or extractor break? Now you’re on to something.
Steel does not expand as much as brass and will allow more “dirt” to blow back into the chamber and create a goey carbon build-up. Because the steel doesn’t expand fully, it doesn’t get pressed into the carbon gook.
Brass is a softer metal and will (by design) expand more. If the chamber is clean, this is not an issue. Brass expansion is why all of the “dirt” goes forward in the barrel, some goes up the gas port and the rest goes out the muzzle. This expansion is also why after firing a ton of steel that you end up with a stuck casing or broken extractor (come by the shop, we’ll sell you a new extractor or fix your bolt). The steel let a ton of carbon blow back past the case and into the chamber. Once it builds up, a brass-cased round expands into the gook and gets “glued” into the barrel. Getting the case out is easy, just use a bore rod or a cleaning rod and start from the muzzle and tap the casing out.
A smaller, but important point is that the Armalite Rifle (AR) platform was designed for American ammunition which is always brass-cased. The ejector, extractor, chamber and bore we’re all spec’d for brass. Using steel means possibly accepting sub-par performance from your black rifle. First, because the steel case doesn’t expand fully into the chamber, some of the gas pressure is lost to blow-back into the receiver. This could lead to inconsistent or low muzzle velocities. If you’re not a hunter or match shooter, this may not matter. Secondly, the extractor is steel and the case is steel. Should their be a stubbornly-stuck steel case… the extractor may lose and break.
So the rules are simple:
– You can use steel-cased ammo in your AR if you only feed it steel or completely (and I mean thoroughly) clean the chamber with solvent, a chamber brush and lots of scrubbing
– You can use steel-case ammo if you don’t follow it with brass-cased ammo without the cleaning mention in the previous point
– You can use steel-cased ammo if consistent performance is not a focus for you
– You can use steel-cased ammo if you are comfortable replacing the occasional extractor ($2 part)
I tell our customers that they can use any ammo they like, but we only warranty the rifle for brass-cased ammo – because that’s how Armalite designed it and the military spec’d it.