Everything you ever wanted to know about .223 and
ammunition or double your money back.*
||Controversial subject matter.|
||New or updated material.|
History and Basic Design of .223 and 5.56 Ammunition.
|Q. What is the history behind the development of the .223/5.56mm round?|
|Q. What is the difference between 5.56×45mm and .223 ammo?|
|Q. Which should I be looking for in an AR15, a 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington chamber?|
|Q. What is the circle-cross stamp on some of my ammo?|
|Q. How can I tell if a round is SAAMI, U.S. military, or 5.56 NATO Mil-Spec?|
|Q. What is FMJ? JSP? JHP? FMJBT?|
|Q. What is "Ballistic Tip" ammo?|
|Q. What types of ammo has the US Military used in its M16s and M4s?|
|Q. What about Mk262 or Mk262 Mod1?|
|Q. What are the dimensional specifications for M855 and M193 casings?|
|Q. What is SS-109? Is it the same as M855?|
|Q. What type of ammo is current issue for US Military forces?|
|Q. Why did the US Military adopt M855 for the M16?|
|Q. So why don't all US military units carry M855?|
|Q. Is all SS-109/M855 ammo marked with green bullet tips?|
|Performance of .223 and 5.56 Ammunition.|
|Q. I have my rifle zeroed with M855 ammo. Will any 62gr ammo shoot the same?|
|Q. Do M193 and M855 shoot to the same point of impact?|
|Q. Ok, what is all this stuff about rifle twists and different ammo?|
|Q. OK, that's complex. Simple question: Can I fire M193 ammo in my 1:7 or 1:9 twist barrel?|
|Q. Can I fire M855/SS-109 in my 1:12 twist barrel?|
|Q. Will M193 be accurate in a 1:7 or 1:9 twist barrel?|
|Q. What twist rate do I want for my rifle?|
|Q. What about XM193 from Federal and Q3131a from Winchester? I have heard that some of these don't meet military specifications, particularly with respect to sealant on the necks and primers?|
|Q. Holy earache Batman! This Q3131A/Lake City XM193 is really loud and it launches a FIREBALL from my muzzle! Everyone at the range is looking at me now. What gives?|
|Q. Military ammo has flash retardant, right?|
|Q. What sort of velocity and ballistics should I expect from military ammo?|
|Q. Will Military Ammo wear my favorite National Match/Elite Sniper/$5500 accurized AR rifle out faster?|
|Q. What is Moly? What's it good for?|
|Q. Moly sounds hella-cool. I'm going to use it will all my rounds from now on!|
|Terminal Performance of .223 and 5.56 Ammunition.|
|Q. So which ammo is better, M193 or M855? And what is all this discussion about fragmentation? Are these dum-dum bullets?|
|Q. So, velocity is a critical
component for the wound profile.|
How fast must the bullet be traveling when it hits its target in order to fragment reliably?
|Q. At what range will M193 fragment? How about M855?|
|Q. So do both M193 and M855
fragment the same? |
How do their wound profiles compare to the FBI requirements?
|Q. Isn't 7.62 NATO much better for
long range penetration than 5.56 anyhow?|
Why would I want to use 5.56 when I could send 7.62 downrange instead?
|Q. Didn't tightening the twist rate from 1:14 to 1:12 reduce the wounding potential of M193?|
|Q. If I increase spin or barrel twist, won't that decrease wounding by making a round more stable in tissue?|
|Q. Does the 2,700 fps rule apply to all .223 and 5.56 ammo?|
|Q. That's really complicated. Simple question: Why is M193 better than M855?|
|Q. But doesn't M855 penetrate hard objects better than M193?|
|Q. I heard that M855 has had serious stopping problems in Afghanistan, and earlier in Somalia. Is this true?|
|Q. Is military ammo the best choice for defensive use?|
|Q. But what about specialty
commercial rounds, like TAP, hollowpoints and softpoints?|
Aren't they better than Mil-Spec ammo for defensive use?
|Q. Won't JSP and JHP rounds be
Don't I have to worry about FMJ rounds going through walls and hurting my family or others?
|Q. I'm concerned about roving packs of zombies driving automobiles after the end of the world as we know it. Since, as everyone knows, you have to make headshots to kill zombies, what ammo should I be using to defeat auto glass and sheet metal?|
|Q. So are heavier rounds dead for self-defense purposes?|
|Q. What about using Wolf in defensive roles?|
|Q. Will M193/M855 penetrate a bulletproof vest?|
|Q. My department is considering using 10" or 11.5" barrels for our ARs. They are so cool, and everyone knows that all the real go-fast, high-speed, low-drag operators use SBRs. Plus, Robert DeNiro uses one in "Heat." What's the best ammo to use to poke big holes in the bad guys with these?|
|.223 and 5.56 Ammunition Testing|
|Q. Is Gelatin testing accurate or what?|
|Q. Where can I find reviews of various types of ammo?|
|Q. Why should I test new-production ammo? It should work, shouldn't it?|
|Q. How do I make a professional looking/sounding range/ammo report of some ammo I liked/hated?|
|Q. What is "B & T Ammo Labs?"|
|Selection of .223 and 5.56 Ammunition.|
|Q. Do I want SS-109 or M855 then?|
|Q. What if I want more punch? What should I move up to from 5.56mm?|
|Q. Isn't 5.56 too dangerous to use indoors? Shouldn't I use a pistol or shotgun instead?|
|Q. What is "SHTF" ammo? What is TEOTWAWKI?|
|Q. What is the best M193 to get?|
|Q. But aren't all M193 rounds the same? It's a standard specification, right?|
|Q. What is with this goo and
the dings on my Lake City Rounds?|
What is this discoloration on the necks of my Q3131A? Did someone take a blowtorch to it?
|Q. What is the best M855 to get?|
|Q. Where can I get some M995 AP?|
|Q. Should I leave two tracers at the bottom of my magazine to tell me when I'm out of ammo?|
|Q. Isn't shooting tracers bad for my weapon?|
|Q. Can tracers cause fires?|
|Q. What is the best round for hunting deer-sized game?|
|Q. What is the best round for varmint hunting?|
|Q. What is the best round for match use?|
|Q. Will steel-jacketed bullets wear out my barrel?|
|Q. Is Wolf-brand (or other steel-cased) .223 ammo okay to shoot in my AR15?|
|Q. Are there any other factors that might cause me to avoid ammo?|
|Ammunition recommendations from the authors of the AR15.com Ammo-Oracle.|
|Q. What ammunition does Troy recommend for self-defense, plinking, training and match use?|
|Q. What ammunition does Derek F. recommend for self-defense, plinking, training and match use?|
|Q. What ammunition does Tatjana recommend for self-defense, plinking, training and match use?|
|Purchase and Storage of .223 and 5.56 Ammunition.|
|Q. Where can I get military ammo, like M193 and M855?|
|Q. What brands of M193 are available?|
|Q. What brands of M855 are available?|
|Q. Where did all the South African Battlepack Ammo go?|
|Q. I'm buying ammo for
long-term storage and I have found some surplus ammo cheap.|
Should I buy that?
|Q. So what should I be paying for ammo?|
|Q. How do I store ammo properly?|
|Q. Where can I buy ammo cans?|
|Q. What is a stripper clip?|
|Q. What is a bandoleer?|
|Q. Where can I buy stripper clips, guides, bandoleers and related items?|
|Q. What is "sealed" ammo? Why does it matter? How can I tell if my ammo is "sealed"?|
|Q. What common ammo is properly sealed? Is Wolf/SA/Lake City/M193 properly sealed?|
|Q. My wife just got one of those uber-cool vacuum food packers. I was thinking of sneaking into the kitchen and vacuum sealing all my ammo when she goes to watch the kids play soccer this weekend. What do you think?|
|Q. OK I'm hyperparanoid. Plus, vacuum packing is cool. Which vacuum packer should I use? How do I get started?|
|Q. Can I store ammo pre-loaded in magazines for an extended period of time? Won't the magazine springs wear out and cause feeding problems? Shouldn't I rotate my mags?|
|Q. Shouldn't I be loading my mags with a few less rounds? If I load them to capacity doesn't that cause reliability problems?|
|Q. Isn't against the Geneva Convention for the military to use hollowpoint or fragmenting ammo?|
|Q. Isn't M855 ammo Armor Piercing (AP) and illegal to possess for non-law enforcement? Isn't M855/SS-109 restricted to military/law enforcement use? Isn't SS-109 illegal in Illinois?|
|Q. I am never going to use handload/law enforcement only/specialized rounds for self defense because that fact will be used against me in a criminal/civil proceeding to show I am a evil man/woman and be used to imprison/bankrupt me.|
|Miscellaneous .223, 5.56 and Other Ammunition Questions.|
|Q. I chambered a round in my AR and then unloaded it later. The primer has a small dent in it, apparently from the firing pin. Should I be worried about this? Won't that cause a slam-fire? Should I switch to a Titanium firing pin?|
|Q. You people are a bunch of (Fackler worshippers/idiots/jello fans/armchair theorists/mindless fools). How in the world can you expect me to believe (insert Ammo-Oracle answer here)? You have all lost touch with the working man shooter with your lofty theories and ivory tower "science." I know for a fact that my super special homemade round will tear up badguys because it tears up potroast like there is no tomorrow. Why should I believe anything on here?|
|Q. None of this answers my question. Now what?|
History and Basic Design of .223 and 5.56
Studies of the fighting in WWII determined that most of the infantry fighting took place at distances under 200 yards, and those figures have not changed much in modern conflicts.(1) This was a revelation at the time and a controversial one, as ever since the development of smokeless powder, the long distance capabilities of military rifles had been stressed. It was common for rifles designed in the 1890s through the 1940s to have sights adjustable out to 1,000 or even 2,000 yards, and often not having an adjustment below 200 or 300 yards. Obviously, there was a discrepancy between the design of these rifles and how they were most often used.
Following WWII, the US military decided it needed a select-fire, detachable-magazine rifle. (The WWII-era M1 Garand had originally been designed with a detachable magazine, but at the time, the military decided they were a liability for a standard, front-line infantry rifle and had the M1 redesigned.) During this period during the late 40s and early 50s, many nations were experimenting with smaller-caliber rifles that were controllable in full-auto and allowed more rounds to be carried. The US military insisted on a 30 caliber rifle, though, and merely shortened the existing .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm) round to create the 7.62×51mm round, which Winchester released commercially as the .308 Winchester. The US also forced this round onto the newly-formed NATO, over protests that it was too much cartridge, would require rifles to be too heavy, and wouldn't be controllable on full auto. The first point is arguable, but the last two were certainly true. Still, the US military, having determined that the Belgium-designed FN FAL was a better rifle then the domestic M14 (a modified M1 Garand), chose the M14 anyway. Such is politics.
The M14 program was a political minefield and during the early 1960s, minor US involvement as "advisors" in the southeast Asian country called Vietnam was beginning to escalate. It didn't take long before the Vietnam expansion, coupled with manufacturing problems with some M14 contractors, resulted in too many soldiers and too few M14s. The military initially pulled WWII M1 Garands out of storage and pressed them back into service, but these long, heavy rifles were poorly suited to the jungle environment of Vietnam. During this time, Eugene Stoner of ArmaLite, the armament division of Fairchild Aircraft, had designed a rifle called the ArmaLite Model 10, or AR-10, which was chambered in the current NATO round of 7.62×51mm. Though the AR-10 was produced too late to enter the M14 competition, ArmaLite hoped to sell the AR-10 to foreign militaries.
Meanwhile, there was a faction of the US Military and the Congress which supported the idea of a lightweight, select-fire rifle firing a mid-power, small-caliber, high-velocity (SCHV) cartridge. After seeing the ArmaLite AR-10, they discussed their desire for a scaled-down model. ArmaLite engineers Jim Sullivan and Bob Fremont scaled down the AR-10 to fit the hot varmint cartridge of the day, the .222 Remington. During some preliminary military testing, it was decided that the .222 Rem wasn't quite powerful enough. Though the .222 Remington Magnum existed and had the power they were looking for, the severe shoulder angle would have prevented positive feeding in a semi-auto, and so it was decided that the best solution was to lengthen the .222 Rem case. The result was the 5.56×45mm cartridge, designed by G. A. Gustafson, which Remington released commercially as the .223 Remington. This cartridge has virtually identical ballistics as the .222 Mag and, over time, the wide availability of .223 guns and ammo has lead to the demise of the .222 and .222 Mag cartridges.
The AR15 was initially adopted by the Air Force, but the need for rifles for soldiers heading to Vietnam gave the "medium-power cartridge" supporters an opening and the AR15 rifle was hastily procured, initially as a one-time purchase. Continued problems with the M14 program lead to the official adoption of the AR15, which was given the US military designation "M16."
Fact: The national average engagement range for police 'snipers' has, for the past 20 years, been 78 yards. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) snipers are limited to engagement ranges of 200 yards. The longest recorded shot taken by a police marksman in the US is 97 yards. (There are some reports that indicate some longer shots, including one alleged 300 yard shot in 1982 by the U.S. Park Police in response to a bombing threat at the Washington Monument- but these are very rare and not confirmed). The FBI's uniform crime report indicates that the average engagement range in a handgun incident is between 7 and 10 feet.
For a more detailed history of the M1 Garand see: The Complete Guide to the M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine, by Bruce N. Canfield.
For a more detailed history of the M16, see: The Black Rifle: M16 Retrospective, by R. Blake Stevens.
In the 1950's, the US military adopted the metric system of measurement and uses metric measurements to describe ammo. However, the US commercial ammo market typically used the English "caliber" measurements when describing ammo. "Caliber" is a shorthand way of saying "hundredths (or thousandths) of an inch." For example, a fifty caliber projectile is approximately fifty one-hundredths (.50) of an inch and a 357 caliber projectile is approximately three-hundred and fifty-seven thousandths (.357) of an inch. Dimensionally, 5.56 and .223 ammo are identical, though military 5.56 ammo is typically loaded to higher pressures and velocities than commercial ammo and may, in guns with extremely tight "match" .223 chambers, be unsafe to fire.
The chambers for .223 and 5.56 weapons are not the same either. Though the AR15 design provides an extremely strong action, high pressure signs on the brass and primers, extraction failures and cycling problems may be seen when firing hot 5.56 ammo in .223-chambered rifles. Military M16s and AR15s from Colt, Bushmaster, FN, DPMS, and some others, have the M16-spec chamber and should have no trouble firing hot 5.56 ammunition.
Military M16s have slightly more headspace and have a longer throat area, compared to the SAAMI .223 chamber spec, which was originally designed for bolt-action rifles. Commercial SAAMI-specification .223 chambers have a much shorter throat or leade and less freebore than the military chamber. Shooting 5.56 Mil-Spec ammo in a SAAMI-specification chamber can increase pressure dramatically, up to an additional 15,000 psi or more.
The military chamber is often referred to as a "5.56 NATO" chamber, as that is what is usually stamped on military barrels. Some commercial AR manufacturers use the tighter ".223" (i.e., SAAMI-spec and often labeled ".223" or ".223 Remington") chamber, which provides for increased accuracy but, in self-loading rifles, less cycling reliability, especially with hot-loaded military ammo. A few AR manufacturers use an in-between chamber spec, such as the Wylde chamber. Many mis-mark their barrels too, which further complicates things. You can generally tell what sort of chamber you are dealing with by the markings, if any, on the barrel, but always check with the manufacturer to be sure.
Typical Colt Mil-Spec-type markings: C MP 5.56 NATO 1/7
Typical Bushmaster markings: B MP 5.56 NATO 1/9 HBAR
DPMS marks their barrels ".223", though they actually have 5.56 chambers.
Olympic Arms marks their barrels with "556", with some additionally marked "SS" or "SUM." This marking is used on all barrels, even older barrels that used .223 chambers and current target models that also use .223 chambers. Non-target barrels made since 2001 should have 5.56 chambers.
Armalite typically doesn't mark their barrels. A2 and A4 models had .223 chambers until mid-2001, and have used 5.56 chambers since. The (t) models use .223 match chambers.
Rock River Arms uses the Wylde chamber specs on most rifles, and does not mark their barrels.
Most other AR manufacturers' barrels are unmarked, and chamber dimensions are unknown.
Opinion: In general it is a bad idea to attempt to fire 5.56 rounds (e.g., M193, M855) in .223 chambers, particularly with older rifles.
Fact: SAAMI specifically warns against the use of 5.56mm ammo in .223 chambers. The .223 SAAMI specification was originally made with bolt rifles in mind.
For more see the SAAMI website ammo warning.
Fact: The different manufacturer's chamber types are listed at length and in great detail at: The Maryland AR15 Shooters Site.
This is really a matter of the role for which you plan to use your AR. .223 Remington chambers will give you slightly better accuracy, which is important for a match or varmint rifle. Any loss of feeding and cycling reliability and the restriction against shooting military ammo isn't as important as the accuracy gains for a rifle used in these roles, because for these rifles, accuracy is everything. People who just want to plink or who plan to shoot military ammo (such as most of the cheap surplus ammo available), and especially those who may use their AR as a weapon, should choose 5.56 chambers.
Opinion: Unless you have a reason to seek out .223 Remington SAAMI spec chambers, 5.56 NATO is probably the best solution. 5.56 NATO chambers still can have outstanding accuracy and give you more flexibility in ammo selection.
circle-cross Å is the NATO
symbol. It indicates that the ammo was loaded in a NATO-approved
facility and meets the NATO specifications for that round. Note that
NATO specifications are not the same as US military specifications and
that many NATO-approved rounds do not meet
|Fact: There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, recent Lake City and Winchester M193 is loaded in cases marked with the NATO circle-cross. This is done simply to save money by having one production run of cases instead of two. M193 was never adopted by NATO; by the time NATO decided to standardize on 5.56mm, the SS-109/M855 ammo was available, and was adopted as the standard. M193 is still "Mil-Spec," it just isn't "NATO" spec.|
Generally if the round is an M193, M855, M196, M856, or SS-109 round it is Mil-Spec. This FAQ will help you determine the differences between these specs. Often Mil-Spec rounds sold commercially have similar model numbers, like XM-193. Another good clue (but not definitive evidence) is the presence of the NATO cross in a circle on the headstamp. Ammo that has a painted tip (Green for M855) is generally always military ammo.
Generally you don't have to worry unless you're using a .223-chambered rifle, but it's a good idea to check regardless. Of course, if you have a Mil-Spec chamber, you needn't bother.
NOTE: All bets are off if the ammo in question has been "remanufactured" or "reloaded." There's no way to know what you've got with reloads, other than the reputation of the reloader.
NATO stamp on a Lake City 5.56 round from www.ammoman.com.
|Q. What is FMJ? JSP?
FMJ is "Full Metal Jacket" and is used to describe rounds that are entirely encased (except for the bullet base, typically) in a metal jacket, usually copper alloy called gilding metal. FMJ rounds are also sometimes referred to as "ball" (meaning "standard") ammunition by the military. Generally these rounds are designed with little to no expansion in mind. They are comparatively inexpensive to produce, feed well, give good penetration in most materials. The jacketed nose prevents bullet expansion and typically leaves the bullet intact after striking flesh (the 5.56 round is a notable exception).
JSP is "Jacketed Soft Point" and is used to describe rounds that are encased in a metal jacket, again, usually gilding metal, but leave the soft lead core exposed at the tip of the bullet. The soft nose deforms upon striking dense mediums, and these rounds are generally designed to expand rapidly at the nose and mushroom, ensuring that the center of gravity stays in front, and causing the bullet to continue traveling forward through the target. The larger frontal surface area causes more tissue disruption compared to most non-expanding bullets.
JHP is "Jacketed Hollow Point" and is used to describe rounds that are encased in a metal jacket, gilding metal again, but have a small cavity in the nose along with a round opening in the jacket in the nose. JHP rounds are also designed for expansion but tend to have faster "mushrooming" effects because the hollow point is filled with high-pressure material when the bullet impacts, often peeling back the jacket and making a "mushroom" shaped projectile.
BT stands for "Boat Tail" and refers to the base of the bullet. A "Boat Tail" is a sloping end which narrows gently at the base of the bullet, so that the cross-section resembles the shape of a boat's hull. The boat tail shape reduces drag on a bullet, helping it to retain velocity and resist deflection from crosswinds, but causes the bullet to take longer to "settle" after leaving the barrel compared to a standard "flat-base" bullet. Boat tail bullets are usually selected for long-range shooting, while the flat-base bullet shape tends to be more accurate at short ranges. A "HPBT" bullet is a "Hollow Point Boat Tail" bullet.
A FMJ bullet.
|Q. What is "Ballistic Tip"
"Ballistic Tip" is actually a trademark of Nosler, who first started making plastic tipped bullets in 1985.
Though originally designed to prevent damage to the bullet nose when feeding (while the nose of a soft tip or hollow point might deform due during feeding to the soft lead content in the nose, a plastic tip bullet will maintain a consistent nose shape) today the primary advantage of a polymer tipped bullets is a high ballistic coefficient. The design also allows the center of gravity to be moved back, increasing in flight stability. This is the same design theory that gives hollow point match bullets better accuracy properties.
In terminal performance, ballistic tips are designed to work like wedges, mashed into the hollow point and inside the jacket on impact, initiating expansion theoretically, quickly and reliably.
|Q. What types of ammo has the
US Military used in its M16s and M4s?
The military has used the following ammo types in 5.56mm (excluding blanks and specialty rounds):
Left to Right: M193, M855, M856, Sierra MatchKing HPBT.
Fact: The specifications for the various rounds are:
Reloaders: Both M855 and M193 in the US generally use Olin Ball WC844 propellant. Apparently H335 is roughly equivalent to WC844.
SS-109 is Fabrique Nationale's (FN's) name for their 61.5 grain bullet with the steel penetrator in the nose and what they call rounds loaded with this bullet. (FN calls M193-type ammo "SS-92.") The US military's M855 round is loaded with the SS-109 bullet, though the US military has additional specifications that ammo must meet before it can be called M855. So, while all M855 is loaded with SS-109 bullets, all "SS-109 ammo" will not meet the M855 specs. For example, the British purposely underloaded some lots of their ammo in an effort to get their L85A1 (SA80) rifles to cycle properly. The ammo is still loaded with SS-109 bullets and labeled as SS-109, but it is nowhere near the M855 velocity specifications.
All front-line forces are armed with M16A2s and M4s and are issued M855 as standard-issue ammo. A few remaining Reserve and National Guard units, as well as some Air Force units, still carry M16A1s (you've probably seen them in the airports lately) and are issued M193 Ball (if they are issued any ammo at all) because of the difference in twist of the barrel.
Some special forces units, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, are using Mk262 and Mk262 Mod1 ammo. These are rounds loaded with heavy (up to 77 grain) JHP match bullets, in response to some issues with M855 terminal performance. This continues a recent trend towards heavier rounds (69 grains and over) for improved terminal ballistic performance.
Due to the poor performance of M855 ammunition, particularly in short-barreled carbines of 10.5-14.5" in length, Navy SEALs, and eventually other SOCOM units, began experimenting with using loads originally designed for marksmanship units for combat. It was soon discovered that while these loads were both very accurate and had excellent terminal ballistics even from short barrels, the loads weren't quite ideal for combat. The target bullets had no cannelure, and the bullets weren't crimped in place, which could allow bullet set-back during feeding and raise chamber pressures to dangerous levels. Further, most loads were of somewhat mild velocities, as the load was chosen with accuracy, not terminal ballistics, in mind.
Sierra was asked to produce a bullet cannelured version, but they intially refused.
Nosler did not have any problems putting a cannelure on their 77 gr bullet. Black Hills Ammunition was approached to make a slightly modified version of these loads for combat use. A cannelure was specified, the bullets were to be crimped, and the load was to be up to military chamber pressures, with maximum safe velocity being desired. The primers were to be crimped and sealed, and of course, overall length had allow for loading in standard magazines.
The Marines (in conjunction with a large Federal LE agency) did extensive testing of this large experimental batch of BH loaded Nosler 77 gr cannelured OTM's in the Fall of 2002. It offered outstanding terminal performance out to the maximum test distance of 300 yards. They then ordered 1.1 million rounds of cannelured 77 gr OTM's via the existing Mk262 SOCOM contract (which did not specify a manufacturer) administered through Crane. The cannelured 77 gr load was designated Mk262 Mod 1, and the orginal Mk262 was re-designated Mk262 Mod 0.
According to one observer: "At this point bureaucracy, nepostism, and capitalism converged. Sierra realized they were about to lose a VERY LARGE contract and suddenly they agreed to make the 77 gr SMK with a cannelure. Crane pushed for Sierra to get the contract over Nosler, although the Nosler offered better terminal performance. On the other hand, in all fairness, the Sierra bullet was slightly more accurate out of government test barrels than the Nosler--both shoot nearly the same out of real rifles, such as the by then type classified Mk12 SPR."
Therefore, while a few hundred-thousand rounds of 77 gr Nosler OTM was manufactured and used primarily for testing, the cannelured 77 gr SMK was used in the the multi-million round contract for the Mk262 Mod 1.
Recently, Sierra agreed to add a minimal crimp to their bullet, and this has since replaced the Nosler bullet in the current versions of Mk262 Mod1. As of April 2004, Mk 262 Mod1 has seen extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq, in carbines with barrels as short as 10.5", and has proven to be very effective at ranges that M855 is woefully inadequate from the same weapons. It is also commonly used in the Army's "Special Purpose Rifles" (SPRs), which are accurized 18"-barreled rifles used by soldiers with additional combat marksmanship training in a squad sharp-shooter role.
M855 and M856 are newer rounds developed in the late 1970s by Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium. FN was developing a new 5.56mm belt-fed machine gun they called the "Minimi" (Mini-Machinegun) for entry into the US military's Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) program. The SAW was to augment, and in many cases replace, the 7.62×51mm M60 made by Saco Defense (now part of the General Dynamics Armament Division). Because there was a lot of resistance to giving up larger, longer-range round of the M60, FN focused on making the SAW perform better at longer ranges than existing 5.56 platforms (i.e., the M16). They did this primarily by developing new bullets: the SS-109 "ball" round and the L-110 tracer.
The SS-109 bullet uses a "compound" core, with a lead base topped by a steel penetrator, all covered in a gilding-metal (copper alloy) jacket. The L-110 tracer bullet has a copper-plated steel jacket and like all tracer bullets, is hollowed out at the base and filled with tracing compound. Both bullets are much longer in length than the earlier 55gr bullets, especially the L-110 tracer, which was designed to trace out to 800m, verses 450m for the older M196 tracer round. Due to their increased length, these bullets require a faster rifling twist to be properly stabilized. The military settled on a twist rate of 1:7, which is a compromise between the 1:9 twist ideal for SS-109 bullets and the 1:6 twist ideal for L-110 tracers.
Remember, the goal of these new bullets was improving long range performance. For example, the SS-109 bullet was proven to have better penetration of the then-current-issue steel helmet at 600m than the M80 "ball" ammo fired by the M60. The M80 ammo was not able to penetrate both sides of the helmet at that distance; the SS-109 bullet could. The L-110 tracers provided a visible trace out to 800m, which was seen as the maximum effective range of the SAW. These improvements in long-range performance satisfied the military and the US ultimately adopted the Minimi as the M249 SAW. They also adopted the new FN bullets and the US specs for the loaded rounds are called M855 and M856.
About the time the SAW was adopted, the M16 "A2 revision" program was underway and it was decided to adopt the new SAW ammo (and its rifling twist) for the M16A2. As older M16A1 1:12 twist barrels were not able to stabilize the longer bullets, the new bullets had to be marked (in countries with older 1:12 rifles) in order to make sure that the new ammo wasn't used in the older rifles. M855 received green painted tips and M856 received orange. M193 is plain and M196 is red.
Take a look at:
Minimi from FN--precursor to the SAW.
The original ammo for the M16 was M193, with a 55gr copper-jacketed lead-core bullet. The rifling twist on the first M16s was 1 turn in 14 inches, or 1:14. This twist rate was selected simply because it was the twist rate commonly used in the .222 Remington-chambered varmint rifles that the .223 round was based on. During tests of the M16 in arctic regions, it was found that the slow 1:14 twist wasn't fast enough to stabilize the 55gr bullet in the denser air. To correct this problem, the twist was tightened to 1:12 and all future M16s and M16A1s came with 1:12 barrels.
The M855 round and particularly the M856 tracer round, are very long bullets and require a faster twist rate in order to be stabilized in air. Firing M855 from a 1:12-twist rifle would result in an understabilized bullet that would only fly straight for about 90 yards, then veer off as much as 30° in a random direction. In order to prevent soldiers from accidentally firing M855 in 1:12-twist rifles, M855/SS-109 was given a green-painted bullet tip. This allows M855/SS-109 to be differentiated from plain-tipped M193. M16A2s, A3s, A4s, M4s and M4A1s all have a 1:7 twist and can stabilize both M855 and M193.
Countries that previously issued 5.56mm rifles with a 1:12 barrel twist will mark their SS-109/M855 ammo with (usually) green bullet tips, to prevent the ammo from being accidentally fired in the older 1:12 rifles. Also, countries that regularly supply other countries with older 1:12 rifles usually mark their bullets for the same reason. Countries that didn't adopt 5.56mm rifles until the NATO SS-109 standard was adopted usually don't mark their ammo with green tips, as they don't have any old 1:12 rifles to be concerned with. Note that many other countries that now use 5.56 weapons were still using 7.62mm rifles until recently and never used any other ammunition than the SS-109/M855 and L-110/M856, so they don't mark their bullets with green or orange paint unless they intend to sell it to countries who require these markings (the US, Germany, and Belgium, primarily). They also typically refer to their rounds by the FN bullet name.
Performance of .223 and 5.56
While M855 uses a 62gr bullet, it is a longer bullet due to the steel penetrator in the front of the bullet core. Steel is less dense than lead, so more volume of steel is needed to end up with the same weight (mass). There is also a small air cavity in front of the penetrator, unlike a bullet with a solid lead core. Any non-M855/SS-109 62 grain ammo (such as Wolf and Federal's American Eagle 62gr FMJ offerings) will have a solid lead core, and the resulting bullet will be significantly shorter than an SS-109 bullet. That means you can expect trajectory and penetration performance to differ as well.
...but within 300 yards, they're generally close enough (for combat use) that rezeroing isn't necessary. Obviously, you wouldn't want to switch from one to the other for a match without rezeroing. Consider the graphs below with battle zeros for each round. (250m zero for M193, 300m zero for M855).
Fact: The Scoop from the Army's Ammunition Information Notice (61-01) "INTERCHANGEABILITY OF 5.56MM BALL, TRACER AND BLANK AMMUNITION."
Do not zero M16A2, M16A3 rifles or M4 and M4A1 carbines with M193 and then fire M855/M856 as performance will be affected.
Fact: Generally M193 is zeroed out to 250 meters for the flattest trajectory. Using that "battle zero" the round is never more than 4 inches from the point of aim until almost 300 meters.
By contrast M855 is usually "battle zeroed" to 300 meters. With this zero the M855 round is never more than 6 inches from the point of aim until 325 meters.
Comparing the bullet paths with these zeros out to 300 meters, we find that M855 is about 5 inches higher than M193 at 300 meters.
Rounds in flight spin for stability because of the rifling on the inside of the barrel. Depending on how much they spin, they are more or less stable in their flight and therefore more or less accurate. The earliest AR15s from the early 1960s had a twist rate of 1 complete twist every 14", or 1:14. This was increased to a twist rate of 1 turn in 12" for the M16, XM16E1, M16A1, and later rifles and carbines. The current M16A2s and up and the M4 carbines have a much faster twist rate, 1 turn in 7". The reason for the 1:7 twist is mainly to stabilize the M856 tracer bullet, which is much longer than other bullets. You will recall from above that the M856 was designed to provide 800 meters of trace out of the SAW.
While the slow 1 in 12" twist is adequate to stabilize the 55 grain M193, it will not stabilize the 62 grain M855. As a result, the newer M855 ammo will group 1-2 feet at 100 yards, with bullets flying through the air sideways, instead of shooting to about 2" at 100 yards, like military ammo should.
All this has some ramifications for ammunition selection depending on your rifle's rate of twist.
You can also overspin projectiles and cause overstability. This results in the not-so-desirable condition that keeps the nose of the round pointed high, as illustrated below:
You can also spin them so hard they fly apart. That's rare, but it happens if you are dealing with very tight twists and very high velocities. When fired at 3200 fps in a 1-in-7 twist rifle, a round is rotating at over 300,000 rpm when it leaves the muzzle. Light, thin-jacketed varmint bullets (i.e., 40gr Hornady TNT or Federal Blitz bullets) often can't take that much spin and will pull themselves apart.
Fact: Generally you want a gyroscopic stability factor (Sg) of 1.3 or greater in a given round, about the low end for normal shooting. You get this on the larger M855 round with a 1 in 9" twist. By comparison a 1 in 10" twist will keep that M855 round down to about 1.2- not enough if it starts to get cold. Really you want stability to be between 1.5 and 2.0- a 1 in 8" twist on a M855 round. In actuality a 9" twist is a bit better for accuracy as it doesn't spin up non-balanced bullets too fast causing them to wobble in flight. If you have match rounds, well balanced and tested, you don't really have to worry about overtwisting until you hit 5.0 or so.
Math and Physics:
A spin-stabilized projectile is said to be gyroscopically stable, if,
in the presence of a yaw angle, it responds to an external wind force with
the general motion of nutation and precession. In this case the
longitudinal axis of the bullet moves into a direction perpendicular to
the direction of the wind force.
As the spin rate decreases more slowly than the velocity, the gyroscopic stability factor, at least close to the muzzle, continuously increases. Thus, if a bullet is gyroscopically stable at the muzzle, it will be gyroscopically stable for the rest of its flight.
M193 is essentially a "universal" round; able to be stabilized by barrels with twists between 1:14 and 1:7. Point of impact will change slightly compared to an M855 zero, so rezeroing is recommended.
|Fact: The Scoop from the Army's Ammunition Information
Notice (61-01) "INTERCHANGEABILITY OF 5.56MM BALL, TRACER AND BLANK
It is acceptable to use M193 and M196 ammunition in training in M16A2, M16A3 rifles and M4 and M4A1 carbines (16 percent range reduction). Substituting between types of ammunition during firing is not recommended.
...it won't be stabilized properly and after 90-95 yards, it will typically veer off in a random direction. You often won't hit paper at 100 yards. Though it won't hurt your rifle to fire this ammo, it is not recommended. Military manuals warn that it should only be fired in 1:12 twist barrels in a "combat emergency."
|Fact: The Scoop from the Army's Ammunition Information
Notice (61-01) "INTERCHANGEABILITY OF 5.56MM BALL, TRACER AND BLANK
"Cartridges M855 and M856 ammunition are extremely inaccurate when fired in the M16 and M16A1. The M16 and M16A1, with their 1:12 twist, do not impart enough spin on the heavier M855/M856 projectile to stabilize it in flight causing erratic performance and resulting inaccuracy.
Therefore, while safe to fire in M16 and M16A1 they should only be used in an combat emergency and then only for close ranges 91.4 meters (100 yards) or less."
It may be marginally less accurate due to the fast twist rate, particularly in 1:7 twist barrels. Unless you're trying to use these rounds for benchrest shooting, though, it shouldn't be enough to matter.
A bullet's flight is disrupted slightly as it leaves the barrel and after traveling some distance, will "settle down" into an even spiral, similar to a thrown football. The faster a bullet is spinning, the longer it takes to settle down. The most accurate twist rate for any length of bullet will be just a bit faster than what is required to stabilize it for its entire flight path (1.3 SG). But note that bullet quality plays a much bigger part in this equation. A uniform bullet will spin true; a non-uniform bullet will wobble and be inaccurate. As a general matter when shooting M193 or M855 (as opposed to match ammo) its better to err on the side of a faster twist rate. Regardless, both 1:9 and 1:7 twists seem to shoot M193 and M855 very well.
Fact: M855/SS-109 often has worse "wobble problems" because of the complex construction of the bullet. It's hard to seat the steel penetrator in the M855/SS-109 round exactly in center of the projectile. Most plants have good quality control for these rounds and spin them up in a balance test before sending them out the door but M193 and other simple cored rounds are usually more uniformly balanced.
Probably 1:9, but it depends on what kind of bullets you intend to shoot.
Special purpose rifles often have uncommon twist rates. For example, if you are building a varmint rifle and want to shoot the short 35 grain, 40 grain, and 50 grain bullets, a twist would be best. On the other hand, long range High Power shooters often select 1:8, 1:7.7, 1:7, or 1:6.5-twist barrels to stabilize the long 77, 80 and even 90 grain bullets used for 1,000 yard competition. Additionally, new testing of heavier rounds (68-77 grains) seems to show that they perform very well in simulated tissue and may be a better defensive choice than 55 grain or 62 grain rounds. The majority of shooters, though, typically shoot bullets of 50 to 69 grains in weight (note that the 62gr SS-109/M855 bullet is as long as a 71 grain lead core bullet) and should select 1:9 twist barrels. At typical .223 velocities, a 1:9 twist will stabilize bullet lengths equivalent to lead-core bullets of 40 to 73 grains in weight.
twist rifles cannot stabilize SS-109/M855 bullets and 1:7 twist rifles are slightly less accurate with lighter bullets and will often blow apart the thin jackets of lightweight varmint bullets. The 1:7 twist is used by the military to stabilize the super-long L-110/M856 tracer bullet out to 800 yards, but unless your plans include shooting a significant amount of M856, the 1:9 twist rate is better suited for general use.
There is, of course, an exception: if you want to use loads utilizing the heavier, 75-77 grain match bullets currently used by Spec-Ops troops and other selected shooters, you'll want a 1:7 twist barrel. Although military loadings using these bullets are expensive and hard to get, some persistent folks have managed to obtain a supply, and will need the proper barrel twist to use them. Anyone who foresees a need to shoot this ammo should consider a 1:7 twist barrel.
Opinions (Pro and Con):
No, 1:7 and 1:8
are the best.
Most manufacturers who market "Mil-Spec" M193 like ammo are either taking "factory seconds" that would otherwise go to the military and packaging them for civilian sale or reducing the second inspection of rounds before distribution. Ammo destined for the government is tested in lot batches and the entire lot is rejected if the batches fail spec tests. Generally, this ammo is still excellent for both plinking and defensive use. XM193 and Q3131a in particular are exceptional rounds for all around civilian use and still show very reliable function in AR15s.
Some AR15ers have noticed, however, that sealant or other small details are sometimes lacking for some lots of these rounds. Sealant in particular is not a critical component to average civilian sales and therefore if sealant problems develop in M193 rounds destined for military contracts (and therefore out-of-spec rounds) they are usually sold as civilian versions of M193 (e.g. XM193). It should be pointed out that this is no reason whatsoever to avoid these rounds.
If you are really concerned about sealant or intend to use the rounds for long-term storage or quasi-military use where they are likely to see harsh and moist conditions do some testing on random samples of your lot for sealant. See also the testing done below in the Ammo Oracle.
NATO stamp on a Lake City 5.56 round from www.ammoman.com.
|Q. Holy earache
Batman! This Q3131A/Lake City XM193 is really loud and it launches a
FIREBALL from my muzzle! Everyone at the range is looking at me
now. What gives?
Q3131A and XM193 are Mil-Spec M193. They mean business. They are loaded hotter than most commercial loads and you're likely to notice that as soon as you fire them--especially out of a 16" post-ban barrel without a flash hider, you are going to get quite a bit of blast and a fireball. Some M193 may have flash retardant, but it's just no match for a short barrel without a hider. Prepare yourself for surgery on your ears if you have one of those short barrels and a muzzle brake. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting!
A wee bit of muzzle blast.
Well, not exactly. This had a lot of us fooled too.
Back in the early Vietnam period M193 called for flash retardant components to be included in the round. Despite this no current specification any of us are aware of calls for flash retardant in M855 or other military small arms rounds. After some references from former procurement officers and contractors it's pretty clear that current standards don't call for it. It's a toss up if there is any flash retardant in your rounds. Surplus M193 might contain retardant, but fresh M193 probably does not. The best way to find out is to test it.
Opinion: According to one ballistic researcher of note:
"It seems that Picatinny Arsenal feels that flash suppressant might eventually cause a build up-in the gas tubes of M16 type weapons and cause the weapons to malfunction."
He goes on to note sardonically:
"...of course this will not happen since all the soldiers will be dead before this theoretical fouling problem occurs..."
|Q. What sort of velocity and ballistics
should I expect from military ammo?
M193 should give you around 3200-3250 fps from the muzzle of a 20" weapon and around 3150 from a 16" weapon.
M855 should give you around 3050-3100 from a 20" weapon and around 2950-3000 from a 16" weapon.
Here's some Q3131A (M193) ballistic data, of course your mileage may vary:
Altitude 1480 feet 70 degrees 50% humidity. 55gr FMJBT Average cD over velocities: .267
Buyer Beware: Velocities are measured from many different "standard" distances. "Muzzle velocities" are almost never actual velocities at the muzzle, but rather velocities at 10, 15 or even 78 feet. Often this can lead to confusion and to the frequent accusation that commercial ammunition's velocity claims on the box are overstated.
It's also always a good idea to look at the conditions any velocity test was performed under. A 30 degree F difference in temperature can result in a 50fps difference at 100 meters. 1000 feet of elevation can result in 30-40fps of velocity difference.
All shooting will cause wear. Each round you fire wears the barrel a little more and therefore will have some impact (however slight) on accuracy. This said, most barrels have a lifetime of around 10,000-15,000 rounds without much impact on groups. Your mileage, obviously, will vary. You can expect it to be a bit higher with chromed weapons, lower without.
Match rifles often have tighter twists (and therefore more friction or wear) than non-match rifles. Match rifles generally don't have chromed barrels or chambers. Your chamber, if its a match chamber, is likely to be the larger issue. Tolerances in match chambers are tighter and more sensitive to wear. Old M16's use to show throat wear after as few as 2,500 rounds.
All of this contributes to make wear a larger issue in match rifles than in non-match rifles.
Obviously, higher velocity rounds will cause more heat and more wear on your weapon. 40 and 45 grain "varmint" rounds are particularly brutal to barrels because of their extremely high velocities (up to 3600 and 3700 fps in some cases). By the same token, Mil-Spec rounds probably cause slightly more wear than lower velocity, lower pressure commercial rounds. Certainly, if you are worried about wear you will want to avoid steel/nickel jacketed ammo, particularly in non-chromed barrels. Such bullets were intended to be used in chrome-lined military rifles and may cause accelerated wear in non-lined barrels.
Remember that in addition to wear from use, cleaning, and particularly over-cleaning, causes quite a bit of wear. The wear in some obsessively cleaned rifles will exceed any wear from firing.
Also, sometimes what appears to be barrel wear-related inaccuracy in chrome lined barrels can be cleared up by cleaning out the copper build-up "fouling" in the bore with a good copper solvent.
Opinion: It all comes down to personal experience and preference. The highest tiers of competition replace their barrels multiple times in a shooting season. "Serious" competitors might expect a barrel replacement each year. How serious are you? How often can you afford to change out barrels? If you're THAT serious you'd stick with the same match ammo in that weapon that you use to compete and keep the round count very low. If not, then perhaps a few thousand rounds of surplus ammo in a year won't matter much.
Opinion: Bushmaster indicates: Mil spec. SS109 ammo will not measurably increase barrel wear under semi-auto fire and our mil. spec. (chrome lined) barrel will outlast any sporting rifle barrel - period. More barrels are ruined from over cleaning - or careless cleaning - than are ever "shot out". Chrome lined barrels really only need to be detail cleaned when the groups start to suffer. Otherwise, a little powder solvent (or "Break Free" with CLP), and a few passes with a brush, clean the chamber well, dry everything off and apply a very light coat of "Break Free" or "Rem-Oil" and put it away. We have had barrels here go 20,000 rounds and still be within mil. spec. when treated this way.
One FAQ author has a chrome lined Bushmaster that has seen 30,000+ rounds without a change on the upper that still shoots ~1.5 MOA at 100 meters.
The term “Moly” refers to Molybdenum Disulphide. This is an extremely fine powder which acts as an inert lubricant between the bullet and the bore. It is coated onto bullets to reduce the friction incurred on the bullet as it passes down the bore. The reduced friction is said to prolong barrel life, increase velocity and the ballistic coefficient, and increase accuracy. The moly coating does not build up in the barrel, as each successive shot removes any excess material from the previous round.
If you are worried about barrel break-in on new rifles, do not use moly to begin with. The extra friction from an uncoated bullet is necessary for proper break-in.
Slow down there chief, Moly isn't sliced bread or anything.
The biggest downside is that Moly is hygroscopic – meaning it is capable of absorbing water from the air. This water is then trapped between the moly coating and the barrel, which is definitely not a good thing. A quick fix to this problem is to run an oiled patch through the barrel after each shooting session. The oil will block moisture from being absorbed.
Moly is also extremely messy, and it likes to stick to everything. It is also easily rubbed off of bullets, leaving a slippery film on whatever it touches. With practice and experience, however, this can be minimized.
The biggest threat to barrel life is not
addressed by the use of moly coated bullets: Throat erosion. Throat
erosion is not caused by the friction of the bullet, rather the high
pressure and high temperature gases that are present in every shot.
It is not very often that a rifle barrel wears out it’s rifling before it
suffers from extensive throat erosion.
Terminal Performance of .223 and 5.56
Now you've done it.
This is quite a point of debate and you can easily start a flame war just by asking. But, in our view, and though it depends on the specific circumstances, in almost every case, the strengths of M193 are a lot more important than those of M855.
Let's be clear. Neither M193 or M855 are match quality rounds. They certainly can get you near 1 MOA (minute-of-angle) accuracy closer up and 1.5-2.0 MOA farther out (200-300 meters) if your rifle does the job and you're helping it along. But since you're asking about military spec ammo and not match ammo, we assume you don't need hyper accuracy. For anything out to 300 meters both of these rounds are pretty accurate anyhow. If you need to reach out farther, well, you should maybe consider heavier match quality rounds or move up to 7.62×51mm.
M193 and M855 are military rounds designed to be inexpensive to produce and effective against personnel. Framing the debate between the two, we assume the main criterion is: how effective are they against live targets as a self-defense ammo? That being said it's important to understand how they work against personnel. That means we first need to talk about wound ballistics.
Despite what the media, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger may suggest, the only certain way to incapacitate an attacker is to cause significant damage to the Central Nervous System, or cause enough loss of blood to shut down the attacker's higher (and potentially lower) brain functions. There are certainly psychological factors that might stop an attacker ("I've been shot!"), but depending on these is probably not a good idea, and discounts the possibility that the attacker's state of mind is altered chemically or emotionally to a point where being shot won't seem like that interesting a distraction. That means you want to:
After a great deal of study, and the conclusion that their then-current 9mm duty loads were a failure for their purposes, the FBI set up a comprehensive set of ballistics testing protocols. These represent a very good model to judge a rounds performance by. The FBI protocols use 12 inches as a penetration minimum in calibrated ballistic gelatin and looked for consistent 12"-18" penetration as an ideal. As a general matter, major vessels and organs can be reliably damaged with 6 inches of penetration. Ideally, then, you want a wound profile that penetrates at least 12" and does most of its damage between 4" and 12" of penetration. Of course, its always more effective to leave entry and exit holes to encourage bleeding. Shot placement is always important as well. No round will do you any good in the wall next to the attacker.
Unlike most FMJ rounds, M193 and M855's primary wounding mechanism is fragmentation. This is a good thing because without fragmentation these rounds otherwise would act like a ice pick and cause very little damage because of their small size. At the proper velocity, both M855 and M193 strike flesh and immediately begin to yaw (tumble). Contrary to rumor and popular media belief, this is not unique to these rounds. All FMJ bullets with tapered noses will tumble in flesh with enough velocity, because their center of gravity is aft of their length center--causing them to want to travel "tail first" in denser mediums (like water and tissue).
If the rounds are moving fast enough when they yaw to about 90 degrees of their original trajectory the stress on the bullet from traveling sideways through a dense medium (tissue) will overcome the structural integrity of the bullet and it will start to break up.
If the velocity is high enough this breaking up is pretty dramatic and causes equally dramatic wounds. This is because the fragments travel rapidly through the temporarily crushed tissue and tear it. Most tissue is very elastic and will stretch quite far before returning to its normal shape (this is called the temporary crush cavity) but the addition of quickly moving fragments makes permanent the cavity that might otherwise have returned after the impact and therefore creates a much larger wound.
The most significant difference between M193 and M855 is that inside 100 meters or so M193 will yaw more quickly and fragment more substantially than M855. M193 also tends to be more accurate under 100 meters or so. M855, by virtue of its greater length, tends to catch up with M193 speed of yaw and degree of fragmentation outside of 100-150 meters or so. Unless you live in an area that is very open, flat, and not populated, the chances are far greater that you'll need effective close-range performance a lot more than the increased long distance performance that M855 is designed for. Remember also that even in large infantry engagements, the average range of engagement is less than 200 yards; 50 yards in jungle conflicts like Vietnam.
How do you plan to have to use these rounds in a self defense situation? How far will an engagement be? Likely, if you are in a "lone actor" situation you won't want to press an engagement if it is at ranges of over 150 yards. Ideally, that's an "escape and evasion" mission, not a good target opportunity. This probably means you're going to be dealing with engagements inside 150 or even 100 yards. That's probably where "escape and evasion" turns into "engage the enemy." Of course, your mileage may vary.
Opinions (Pro and
Fragmentation is a
weak and unreliable wounding mechanism; controlled expansion is where its
Testing by combat surgeon Col. Martin L. Fackler, MD (USA Medical Corps, retired), determined that M193 and M855 bullets need to strike flesh at 2,700 feet per second in order to reliably fragment. Between 2,500 fps and 2,700 fps, the bullet may or may not fragment and below 2,500 fps, no significant fragmentation is likely to occur. If there isn't enough velocity to cause fragmentation, the result is a deep, 22 caliber hole, except an area where the yawing occurred, where the diameter of the hole grows briefly to the length of the bullet.
Opinions (Pro and
Fackler is a
Decide for yourself by reading some of Fackler's work:
Assuming true M193 or M855 ammo, velocity is the key. Velocity is dependent on barrel length and environmental conditions.
As barrel length increases, the bullet is propelled faster by the expanding gasses in the barrel, imparting more velocity on the bullet, resulting in a longer range before a fired bullet drops below 2700 fps. A shorter barrel imparts less velocity, and therefore the bullet has less range.
Temperature, altitude and humidity are other factors. As temperature or altitude increases, air becomes less dense and bullets travel faster. Contrary to common conceptions, as humidity increases air also becomes less dense and helps bullets retain velocity.
It is important, then, to keep in mind that any statistics given can only be approximate and can be affected by a wide range of factors. But as a baseline, these numbers are what you could expect for 75° F, 25% humidity, at sea level, from various barrel lengths:
As you can see, barrel length and ammo selection make a major impact on fragmentation range.
Opinions (Pro and Con):
14.5" and 11.5" barrels are
great, why waste all that weight and effort lugging around something
I wouldn't be seen with anything
shorter than a 16" and I'd try to hide my face if friends saw me without a
|Q. So do both
M193 and M855 fragment the same? How do their wound profiles compare
to the FBI requirements?
The same? Not exactly.
They certainly behave in a similar way when they encounter tissue at the right velocities, but they aren't exactly the same.
Generally M193 yaws a bit quicker and fragments a bit more completely inside of 100 meters or so.
Of course, M193 also has higher initial velocities generally as well as a smaller, weaker bullet so its fragmentation is often more dramatic than in M855 at close ranges. Still, both do a lot of tissue damage over 2700 fps.
As you can see, the wound cavity left by M193 is impressive. The wound profile starts opening up somewhere inside of 3". It is full blown fragmentation between 4" and 7". A torso shot has a very high probability of doing very serious damage to organs, certainly punching a large hole in lungs and/or heart tissue. M193 does seem to have a bit better penetration than M855 as well. Typically the nose of the bullet ends up penetrating to 13-14.5", traveling backwards through tissue.
Superimposing the 5"-6" depth wound cross-section on the human torso, adjusting for size, reveals the probable effectiveness of the round.
Clearly both strikes would result in serious damage to heart/lung tissue. The margin of error given by the large width and height of the M193 wound cavity is significant and may turn 2-3 MOA strikes which would be "near misses" in non-fragmenting or smaller wound cavity rounds into "hits." It's this massive cavity that makes many of us think fragmentation is the best wounding mechanism to try and take advantage of.
Remember that the only thing that will cause "instant" incapacitation is damage to the central nervous system. If you miss the CNS, you have to cause enough blood loss to debilitate the threat. That makes the goal to do as much vascular damage as possible.
Both M855 and M193 clearly meet FBI standards for penetration both in clothed and non-clothed strikes.
Despite this, there is growing concern over M855's performance based on recent field experience and testing. Partially because of the complex construction of M855/SS109 rounds their terminal performance often varies from lot to lot. As much as 6 and 7" of penetration have been observed before bullet yaw with some M855. While FBI standards do not specify fragmentation or yaw distance when evaluating rounds, given the importance of fragmentation in 5.56 bullets we are inclined to discourage use of M855 as a defensive round in light of the terminal performance and yaw consistency problems it continues to demonstrate.
details of the FBI test protocol:
The gelatin block is
bare and shot at a range of ten feet measured from the muzzle to the front
of the block. This test event correlates FBI results with those
being obtained by other researchers, few of whom shoot into anything other
than bare gelatin. It is common to obtain the greatest bullet
expansion in this test. Rounds which do not meet the standards
against bare gelatin tend to be unreliable in the more practical test
events that follow.
Test Event 2: Heavy Clothing
The gelatin block is
covered with four layers of clothing: One layer of cotton T-Shirt material
(48 threads per inch); one layer of cotton shirt material (80 threads per
inch); a 10 ounce down comforter in cambric shell cover (232 threads per
inch); and one layer of 13 ounce cotton denim (50 threads per inch).
This simulates typical cold weather wear. The block is shot at ten
feet, measured from the muzzle to the front of the block.
Test Event 3: Steel
Two pieces of 20
gauge, hot rolled steel with a galvanized finish are set three inches
apart. The steel is in six-inch squares. The gelatin block is
covered with light clothing and placed 18 inches behind the rear most
piece of steel. The shot is made at a distance of I0 feet measured
from the muzzle to the front of the first piece of steel. Light
clothing is one layer of cotton T-shirt material and one layer of cotton
shirt material and is used in all subsequent test events. The steel
is the heaviest gauge steel commonly found in automobile doors. This
test simulates the weakest part of a car door. In all car doors,
there is an area, or areas, where the heaviest obstacle is nothing more
than two pieces of 20 gauge steel.
Test Event 4: Wallboard
Two pieces of
half-inch standard gypsum board are set 3.5 inches apart. The pieces
are six inches square. The gelatin block is covered with light
clothing and set 18 inches behind the rear most piece of gypsum. The
shot is made ten feet, measured from the muzzle to the front surface of
the first piece of gypsum. This test event simulates a typical
interior building wall.
Test Event 5: Plywood
One piece of
three-quarter inch AA fir plywood is used. The piece is six inches
square. The gelatin block is covered with light clothing and set 18
inches behind the rear surface of the plywood. The shot is made at
ten feet, measured from the muzzle to the front surface of the
plywood. This test event simulates the resistance of typical wooden
doors or construction timbers.
Test Event 6: Automobile Glass
One piece of A.S.I.
one-quarter inch laminated automobile safety glass measuring 15 x 18
inches is set at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal. The line
of bore of the weapon is offset 15 degrees to the side, resulting in a
compound angle of impact for the bullet upon the glass. The gelatin
block is covered with light clothing and set 18 inches behind the
glass. The shot is made at ten feet, measured from the muzzle to the
center of the glass pane. This test event with its two angles
simulates a shot taken at the driver of a car from the left front quarter
of the vehicle and not directly in front of it.
Test Event 7: Heavy Clothing at 20 yards
This event repeats
test event 2 but at the range of 20 yards, measured from the muzzle to the
front of the gelatin. This test event assesses the effects of
increased range and consequently decreased velocity.
Test Event 8: Automobile Glass at 20 yards
This event repeats test event 6 but at a range of 20 yards, measured from the muzzle to the front of the glass and without the 15 degree offset. This shot is made from straight in front of the glass, simulating a shot at the driver of a car bearing down on the shooter.
In addition to the above described series of test events, each cartridge is tested for velocity and accuracy. Twenty rounds are fired through a test barrel and twenty rounds are fired through the service weapon used in the penetration tests.
Two ten-shot groups are fired from the test barrel and two ten-shot groups from the service weapon used, at 25 yards. They are measured from center to center of the two most widely spaced holes, averaged and reported.
Fact: The average human only needs to lose about 20% of blood volume (only 1 liter) to induce shock and lose consciousness. 50% (2.5 liters) almost always causes death. Severe damage to a major vessel can cause as much as 1.5 liters a minute in hemorrhaging.
spinal cord is about the thickness of your pinky. It probably
doesn't make a good primary target.
Physiologically, a determined adversary can be stopped reliably and immediately only by a shot that disrupts the brain or upper spinal cord. Failing a hit to the central nervous system, massive bleeding from holes in the heart or major blood vessels of the torso causing circulatory collapse is the only other way to force incapacitation upon an adversary and this takes time. For example, there is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support full, voluntary action for 10-15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed. (Urey W. Patrick, FBI Firearms Training Institute).
|Q. Isn't 7.62 NATO
much better for long range penetration than 5.56 anyhow? Why would I
want to use 5.56 when I could send 7.62 downrange
Well, yes and no. For some penetration mediums like mild steel, M855 is actually superior. Consider a recent research report:
Read the entire article, 7.62 mm Versus 5.56 mm - Does NATO Really Need Two Standard Rifle Calibers? by Major Vern T. Miyagi.
Fact: Data on hundreds of shootings collected by the Army Wound Data and Munitions Effectiveness Team and data from civilian shootings with 7.62×39mm ammunition, like from the AK-47, bear out the less than stellar lethality of the round.
Fact: The 7.62×51 AP round penetrates 15mm of armor plate at 300m. It also penetrates 120mm Plexiglas helicopter protection, is highly effective on brick and concrete walls, and causes no significant barrel wear.
...though unfortunately this is widely believed. When the M16 was first used in Vietnam, it was assumed that the smaller 5.56mm round would make much smaller wounds than the 7.62mm M80 round fired from the M14. Everyone was surprised to learn that M16 wounds were often much more severe. In order to explain this discrepancy, it was theorized that the slow barrel twist made the bullet less stable in flesh and caused it to tumble, resulting in the large wounds. In fact, the slow twist only made the bullet less stable in air. Any pointed, lead core bullet has the center of gravity aft of the center of the projectile and will, after a certain distance of penetration, rotate (yaw) 180° and continue base-first. This is where the appearance of "tumbling" came from.
The actual cause of the larger-than-expected wounds was not a result of this yawing of the bullet, but of the velocity of the bullet coupled with the bullet's construction. M193 bullets have a groove or knurl around the middle, called a cannelure. This allows the mouth of the case to be crimped on to the bullet, preventing the bullet from being pushed back into the case during handling and feeding. The cannelure also weakens the integrity of the bullet jacket.
When the bullet struck flesh at a high-enough velocity, the bullet's thin jacket, weakened by the cannelure, could not survive the pressure of moving sideways through the dense flesh. Instead, the bullet would only rotate about 90°, at which point the stresses were too much for the bullet jacket and the bullet would fragment. The results were a wound that was far out of proportion to the size of the bullet. Yet, the twist rate of the barrel and therefore the rotation speed of the bullet, is not a factor in the fragmenting equation.
M855 ammo works exactly the same way, though due to its heavier bullet, it has less muzzle velocity. Less muzzle velocity translates to a shorter range in which the bullet retains enough velocity to fragment, compared to M193.
Fact: Flesh is as much as 1000 times denser than air and will cause a bullet to lose stability almost instantly. For M193 and M855 ammo, this typically occurs after 3-5 inches of flesh penetration, though this can vary. In order to spin the bullet fast enough to be stable in flesh, the barrel twist would have to be on the order of 1 twist every 0.012 inches, which would look like the barrel had been threaded instead of rifled.
The importance of rate of twist in wounding is a frequent subject of what we politely call "ballistic myth." Any projectile that has a "center of pressure" forward of the center of gravity will tend to tumble. You can illustrate this to yourself by trying to balance a pencil on your fingertip. Spin, given to the projectile by barrel twist, puts a projectile into a state described as "gyroscopically stable." The projectile might be momentarily disturbed but will return to nose-forward flight quickly. To describe how stable a given projectile is we use the gyroscopic stability factor (Sg). Generally you want a factor of 1.3 or greater for rifle rounds. 1.5-2.0 is a generally accepted value for 5.56 rounds.
For M193 the following variables apply:
axial moment of inertia (A) = 11.82 gm/mm2
Using the gyroscopic stability formula: Sg = A2 p2 / (4 B Ma) and assuming sea level we use an air density of 1.2250 kg/m^3 and discover that this this projectile will need on the order of 236,000 rpm for good stability (Sg > 1.3).
At 3200 fps M193 is typically spun up to more like 256,000 (1:9" twist) to 330,000 rpm (1:7") so that Sg approaches 1.9 or 2.0. 1:12" rifles will spin rounds at around 192,000 rpm and 1:14" rifles around 165,000 rpm. You can see why 1:14" rifles might have had trouble stabilizing M193 rounds.
Clever math types will see that density of the medium traversed (air in this case) has a dramatic effect on the spin required to maintain the Sg (density being in the first term's divisor). This is why cold conditions tend to dip "barely stable" rounds below the stability threshold. Without doing too much calculus it will be seen that an increase of three orders of magnitude (1000) in this variable will be a dramatic one for spin requirements. To balance things spin must be increased to compensate.
Through human flesh (which varies from 980 - 1100 kg/m^3 or about 1000 times the density of air) something on the order of 95,000,000 - 100,000,000 rpm is required to stabilize a projectile at speed. Given these differences it will be seen that the difference between a 1:12 or 1:14" twist when it hits flesh and a projectile launched from a 1:9 or 1:7" weapon is so small as to be beyond measuring. But the game isn't over yet.
Gyroscopic stability of 2.0 or so is sufficient for a M193 projectile to recover from an upset quickly, return to nose-forward flight and not be over stabilized. To prevent the upset in the first place, particularly when a sudden and very extreme change in density (and therefore drag and pressure applied to the center of pressure) requires FAR more stability. To grant enough stability force to prevent the upset of a M193 projectile encountering a sudden 1000 fold increase in density a factor of as much as 10 to 50 times (speaking VERY conservatively) the required gyroscopic stability for a steady state flight through a medium of that density would be required. In other words, unless the projectile is spinning at nearly a BILLION rpm it is going to be upset by such a transition. Even at this rpm it is like to be upset somewhat.
In summary, and to take the most extreme case, a M193 projectile spinning at 350,000 rpm (from a 1:7" rifle) is going to upset in flesh (yaw) exactly as fast as one spinning at 150,000 rpm (from a 1:14" rifle). Claiming that twist rate has any impact on the speed of yaw and therefore terminal performance is just not in line with the laws of physics. Anyone making such a claim should either be carefully avoided or introduced gently to basic gyroscopic stability concepts. Often a calming substance like warm milk or Thorazine helps in the transition of such a subject.
Velocity is only one factor, however important. Bullet construction is another. M193 and M855 fragment because the bullets have thin copper (actually "gilding metal," which is a copper alloy of roughly 90% copper and 10% zinc) jackets that are further weakened by a cannelure. It cannot be assumed that all bullets will fragment, or will fragment at the same velocity.
Many people wrongly assume that any ammo loaded with a 55gr FMJ bullet is the same as M193 ammo. This is false. Unless the ammo meets M193 specs, including both muzzle velocity and bullet construction, it can not be counted on to perform like M193.
The same applies to 62gr ammo. Not all 62gr ammo is M855/SS-109.
Counter Opinion: Fackler's 2700fps rule for M193 is more like 2600fps.
Though the dramatic fragmentation seen over 2700 fps in M193 and M855 is clearly an effective wounding mechanism, the lesser fragmentation seen at 2600 - 2650 fps in M193 is still impressive. Wound channels from rounds at 2650 fps are certainly not as devastating as 2700+ fps but they are still larger than from controlled expansion rounds. Really, we should not be discounting the performance of M193 until its under 2600 fps. This should extend M193 fragmentation standards out to slightly over 200 meters from a 20" barrel and 150-175 meters from a 16" barrel.
In a nutshell: Advantages of M193 over M855:
Though it isn't a bad idea to keep a couple of magazines worth of M855 in case you need to make a long-range (300+ yards) shot against a "hard" target (a vehicle or other equipment), most folks are better served with M193 for general use.
Counter Opinion: Many optics (like some of the full size ACOGs) are calibrated to the ballistics of the 62gr M855 round, not the 55gr M193 rounds. Granted this is only a slight difference inside of 300 meters, but it will compromise the zero at longer ranges.
It depends. At close ranges (up to 40-50 yards), M193 will penetrate thicker steel than M855, due to its increased velocity. Beyond 100 yards, M855's bullet construction starts paying off and it will penetrate better than M193. M855 also loses velocity more slowly than M193, with a cross-over point between 200 and 300 yards, beyond which M855 will have more velocity than M193.
Fact: Some penetration stats for M193 and 7.62 (M80):
Thickness of material for positive protection against caliber ammo listed.
Concrete (5,000 psi), 5.56: .5 inch, 7.62 and 30 cal, 7 inches.
Wet sand, 5.56: 25 inches, 7.62 and .30, 36 inches.
Packed or tamped earth, 5.56: 32 inches, 7.62 and .30: 48 inches.
It's possible, yes.
Though early M855 experiments showed the round fragments well in the lab, more recent testing has been showing inconsistent fragmentation. Partially because of the complex construction of the round, M855 has widely-variable yaw performance, often not yawing at all through 7-8" or even 10" of tissue. Testing has shown large batch-to-batch differences in yaw performance even from the same manufacturer, and given the number of plants manufacturing SS-109-type bullets, fragmentation performance is very difficult to predict. This is complicated by the low velocity implicit in using M855 out of the short barreled M4 platform.
Interesting, few of these reports seem to be coming from troops 20" or SAW platforms. It would seem that the additional velocity from the longer barrel provides adequate usable fragmentation range for M855 in the majority of cases. From shorter barrels, such as the M4's 14.5" barrel, M855's fragmentation range varies from as much as 90m to as little as 10m, which frequently isn't enough range.
From Dr. Roberts:
"Combat operations the past few months have again highlighted terminal performance deficiencies with 5.56x45mm 62 gr. M855 FMJ. These problems have primarily been manifested as inadequate incapacitation of enemy forces despite their being hit multiple times by M855 bullets. These failures appear to be associated with the bullets exiting the body of the enemy soldier without yawing or fragmenting. This failure to yaw and fragment can be caused by reduced impact velocities as when fired from short barrel weapons or when the range increases. It can also occur when the bullets pass through only minimal tissue, such as a limb or the chest of a thin, malnourished individual, as the bullet may exit the body before it has a chance to yaw and fragment. In addition, bullets of the SS109/M855 type are manufactured by many countries in numerous production plants. Although all SS109/M855 types must be 62 gr. FMJ bullets constructed with a steel penetrator in the nose, the composition, thickness, and relative weights of the jackets, penetrators, and cores are quite variable, as are the types and position of the cannelures. Because of the significant differences in construction between bullets within the SS109/M855 category, terminal performance is quite variable—with differences noted in yaw, fragmentation, and penetration depths. Luke Haag’s papers in the AFTE Journal (33(1):11-28, Winter 2001) describe this problem."
Opinion: It seems that several projects are in the works to review the use of M855 by the U.S. Military, and even replace the round in light of these terminal performance issues.
M193 is probably the best choice for an all-around ammo selection, given its low price, wide availability, and the ability to be stabilized from any 5.56 rifle. For military-type operations, M193 should comprise the bulk of your 5.56mm ammo. However, other types of ammo may be better for a specific application, such as home defense or police work, or when using a 5.56mm gun with a very short barrel or when velocity is likely to be low.
For police-type work where a
soft-point is desired,
*Note: Winchester offers a crimped version of this load in their LEO-only Ranger line. Stock number RA223T2. This load was selected as the standard duty load by the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
Opinion: This question really comes down to how much ammo you want to purchase (cost) and how much faith you have in fragmentation (or which side of the fragmentation/controlled expansion argument you come down on). There are strong arguments on either side. The determining factor for you may be small. If you expect engagements inside your home, or under 50 meters, M193 and M855 will perform wonderfully for you. As ranges go out past 150 meters you may prefer heavier hollowpoint or softpoint rounds.
The authors tend to prefer M193 over specialty rounds (with the exception of 77 grain Nosler NATO loadings for special home defense applications) and M855 because we believe it produces larger wound cavities and is more effective at likely defensive ranges (inside 150 meters), as well as easier and cheaper to buy in bulk-- making it cheaper to train with the ammo you use defensively. This is key, because no ammo is going to be effective if you cannot place shots on target.
|Q. But what about specialty commercial rounds, like
TAP, hollowpoints, and softpoints? Aren't they better than Mil-Spec
ammo for defensive use?
It really depends what you are looking for. In general Soft Point, Jacketed Soft Point and Jacketed HollowPoint rounds use controlled expansion as a wounding mechanism, rather than fragmentation. The yawing effect of FMJ bullets is frustrated by JSP and JHP rounds because the nose flattens down on impact (like a mushroom) and moves the center of gravity forward on the bullet. As a result, the bullet doesn't yaw, but instead gets its stability from the transfer of the center of gravity. Generally these rounds continue forward in tissue nose-first instead of trying to turn tail-first.
Some very light JSP or JHP rounds will still fragment because their jackets are so thin and their velocity is much higher (up to 3800 fps in 40gr rounds), but this does not necessarily make their wounding capacity more dramatic than M193 or M855 primarily because their penetration depth is much lower.
Hollow-point and ballistic-tip bullets are designed as varmint rounds, to expand quickly, making large, shallow wounds with relatively little penetration. These types of wounds aren't likely to take an attacker out of the fight immediately, especially if you have to shoot through an arm or from the side. Most experts agree that at least 12 inches of penetration is required to reliably reach the vital organs, and most varmint bullets won't penetrate more than 5 to 6 inches. Although some police departments use the Hornady TAP ("Tactical Application Police") round, which is merely a hotter-loaded V-Max varmint round, the primary motivation for adopting this ammo is preventing over-penetration of both bad guys and of interior walls. It should be noted that many of these concerns are proving unfounded as testing on interior penetration is increasingly showing that 5.56 rounds are less of a overpenetration risk than even the 9mm handgun ammo that many departments deploy in submachineguns for interior raids.
The advantage of heavier (64, 69 and 69+ grain) JHP and JSP is that they will exhibit controlled expansion at slower velocities (and therefore have better wounding potential) than FMJ rounds at distance. This really starts to kick in after around 200 meters or so if you are dealing with a 20" barrel. After that distance, most rounds are below the 2500-2700 fragmentation threshold, and though FMJ rounds will tumble, it's not clear that this will be as effective as a good controlled expansion round.
Lighter JSP and JHP rounds probably aren't as effective after passing through a soft medium, like an arm. In these cases FMJ will usually retain more penetration ability than the light JSP and JHP rounds.
If you plan on using specialty rounds make sure to stick with heavier round. Some specialty rounds that have seen good results in gel, including penetration and fragmentation criteria, include:
64 gr Winchester PowerPoint
In particular 70+ grain rounds often maintain their fragmentation properties far beyond the fragmentation range of M855 and M193.
Opinion: Specialty Rounds are the best choice for defensive
When the autopsy was performed, the forensic pathologist was amazed at the degree of internal devastation caused by the .223 round. There was a two-inch void of tissue in the chest, with a literal "snowstorm" of bullet fragments and secondary bone fragments throughout the upper left chest area. The round struck the subject 11 inches below the top of his head and inflicted the following wounds: Penetrated the top of the left lung, left carotid and subclavian arteries. The collar bone and first rib were broken. Cavity measured 5x6 centimeters.
What is significant about this "instant
one-shot stop" was that the round did not strike the subject at the most
effective or optimum angle and did not involve any direct contact with the
heart or central nervous system. .223 for
|Q. Won't JSP and JHP rounds be safer indoors? Don't
I have to worry about FMJ rounds going through walls and hurting my family
You always have to worry about it, of course, but even FMJ 5.56 rounds will have less wound potential after penetrating a wall than even 9mm handgun rounds. Generally after passing through an interior wall or two, 5.56 bullets will have lost enough velocity that resulting wound damage would be greatly diminished. It should be noted, however, that all of the above bullets are still potentially deadly to those on the other side of a wall, so plan accordingly. Interior walls are concealment, NOT cover.
Fact: Evidence increasingly shows that 5.56 FMJ rounds like M193 and M855 are not the over-penetration risk they have often been though of as. In interior wall tests, 5.56 rounds have less wounding potential after wall strikes than any common 9mm or above handgun ammunition and/or 00 Buck shotgun loads.
|Q. I'm concerned about roving packs of zombies driving
automobiles after the end of the world as we know it. Since, as
everyone knows, you have to make headshots to kill zombies, what ammo
should I be using to defeat zombies in automobiles?
Without commenting on the wisdom of engaging roving packs of zombies without adult supervision, the best performing rounds, in terms of penetration of 6mm laminated front windscreen auto glass and other automobile structures, are probably the Federal Tactical 55 and 62 grain bonded JSP (LE223T1 and LE223T3).
Be aware, however, that these rounds, topped with Speer's Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet, are designed for penetration and generally do NOT fragment in CQB circumstances.
Unfortunately, Federal Tactical ammo is LEO-only, and while the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet is available in hunting loads and as a reloading component in the 55gr weight, the 62gr version appears to be available only in the Federal Tactical line. TBBC bullets are also extremely expensive, as they are a high-end, low-volume-production item.
|Q. So are heavier rounds dead for self-defense purposes?
Not really, no.
In fact, some more recent work suggests that some heavier, lower velocity rounds are superior in terms of wound ballistics. Current tests of newer, magazine sized 75, 77, 87 and even 100 grain rounds show faster yaw in ballistic gel and much more dramatic fragmentation than M855. Some 75gr open-tip (i.e., JHP) match bullets have performed very well in law enforcement use over the past 5 years or so. Additionally, 77gr open tip match bullets seem to be performing very well for the US military in combat operations since September 11th. Also showing great promise is the 87 gr P.R.L. match round.
Some of these heavier bullets, probably because of their length, maintain their fragmentation down to below 2100 fps and as a result have a much longer range of fragmentation, out to as far as 300 yards.
The flip side is that these heavier bullets will require at least 1 in 7" twists for proper stability, are more expensive than 55 gr. FMJ, and some types aren't widely available as of this writing.
Some of the heavier bullets can offer superior performance, but at an increased cost. In the meantime M193 is probably still your best bet for bulk defensive ammo. Do take note: this does not mean that all heavy rounds are good terminal performers. Bullet construction is far more important than pure weight or velocity.
Perhaps most promising, however, is the 77 grain Nosler NATO loading from Black Hills. (Not to be confused with the 77 grain Sierra Match King which has a longer neck). This particular round has a very short neck, high fragmentation and wonderful muzzle velocity.
Fact: Black Hills loaded 77 gr. MatchKing bullets have already seen extensive combat use by US military special operations units over the past several months. Additionally, there are reports that the Hornady 75 gr. TAP has been successfully used by certain U.S. military units for the past few years.
Opinion: Some reputable testers have described the Black Hills 100 gr. round as the "most impressive performing .223 round we have ever tested." Unfortunately, despite excellent close-range performance, this experimental bullet was dropped due to concerns of over-pressure loads and "rainbow-like" trajectories at ranges beyond 100m.
Fact: From a 16" barrel the 77 grain round tested above was still at 2400-2450 fps at 200 meters--and still fragmenting. The 100 grain round was still fragmenting at 2100fps at 200 meters from a 16" barrel.
|Q. What about using Wolf in defensive roles?
Probably not the best idea.
Wolf is generally underpowered for a Mil-Spec 5.56mm round and velocity, so critical to wound profile in FMJ rounds, suffers as a result. Additionally, the gilding-metal jacket used on Wolf bullets is thicker and therefore more resistant to fragmentation.
In our gel tests, fragmentation of 55 grain FMJBT Wolf and wound volume were both lacking, and we wouldn't recommend it for defensive purposes, particularly not where at least M193 is available at a reasonable cost.
|Q. Will M193/M855
penetrate a bulletproof vest?
Bulletproof vest standards in the United States are set and administered by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research and development branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The NIJ does a variety of studies including everything from testing stun guns and facial recognition technology to proposing the best communication equipment for law enforcement agencies. NIJ standards for Bulletproof vests and gear are defined in the new "Ballistic Resistance of Personal Body Armor," NIJ Standard-0101.04.
Generally speaking Type III-A armor is the about all that one can expect to encounter concealed. If you don't see armor, you know it's not type III or IV as Types III and IV are both so bulky as to have to be deployed as tactical vest type armors. Types III and IV require the use of "rifle plates" to stop rifle rounds. In general Type III armor employs a steel rifle plate over the chest. Type IV armor uses ceramic plates.
M193 and M855 at anything greater than 2200 fps will generally defeat all body armor up to and including Type IIIA. How much damage those rounds will do AFTER penetration is guesswork. In shorter barrels (14.5" and below) that damage is likely to be limited and wound profiles in such instances will resemble .22LR hits. With higher velocities it's still hard to imagine explosive fragmentation at anything but point blank range but M193 and M855 will certainly defeat all soft armor.
It is worth noting that Type IV armor is only required to withstand ONE hit in the specification. Many ceramic armor plates are designed to shatter on the impact of a round and lose their ballistic protection as a result.
(As a data point, one test on Chinese steel core 7.62×39mm ammo against a sheet of auto glass, in front of two pieces of sheet metal, two pieces of level IIA body armor, heavy denim, penetrated all barriers and then into the gelatin four inches).
Fact: NIJ's first standard, 0101.00, Ballistic Resistance of Police Body Armor, was published in March 1972.
A revised standard, STD-0101.01 was
NIJ Standard-0101.04 establishes six formal armor classification types, as well as a seventh special type, as follows:
Type I (.22 LR; .380 ACP). This armor protects against .22 long rifle lead round nose (LR LRN) bullets, with nominal masses of 2.6 g (40 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 320 m/s (1050 ft/s) or less and against .380 ACP full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN), with nominal masses of 6.2 g (95 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less.
Type II-A (9mm; .40 S&W).
This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN)
bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124gr), impacting at a minimum
velocity of 332 m/s (1090 ft/s) or less and
Type II (9mm; .357 Magnum).
This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN)
bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124gr), impacting at a minimum
velocity of 358 m/s (1175 ft/s) or less and
Type III-A (High Velocity 9mm; .44 Magnum). This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FJM RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less and .44 Magnum jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullets, with nominal masses of 15.6 g (240 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against most handgun threats, as well as the Type I, II-A and II threats.
Type III (Rifles). This armor protects against 7.62mm full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullets (U.S. military designation M80), with nominal masses of 9.6 g (148 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 838 m/s (2750 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against Type I through III-A threats.
Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle).
This armor protects against .30 caliber armor piercing (AP) bullets (US
military designation M2 AP), with nominal masses of 10.8 g (166 gr),
impacting at a minimum velocity of
Fact: Take a look at the very extensive history of body armor and the testing methods at the NIJ's official standard publication site.
Q. My department is considering using 10" or 11.5" barrels for our ARs. They are so cool, and everyone knows that all the real go-fast, high-speed, low-drag operators use SBRs. Plus, Robert DeNiro uses one in "Heat." What's the best ammo to use to poke big holes in the bad guys with these?
We dislike this question. We dislike it because of its premise. The premise is that 10" or 11.5" barrels are good choices for law enforcement or defensive use. We strongly disagree with this premise. Some of us actually dislike even 14.5" barrels, in fact.
The primary wounding mechanism for .223 and 5.56 ammunition is fragmentation. The primary factor in fragmentation is velocity. The primary velocity booster is barrel length. 11.5" barrels barely bring milspec (NATO) 55 grain FMJ to 2700 fps (the critical fragmentation threshold for many FMJ .223 rounds). Accordingly, any distance at all drops the rounds below fragmentation velocity. 10" barrels are unlikely to ever get rounds above fragmentation velocity at all.
If you are saddled with a department mandated SBR we recommend the following:
1. A marathon letter writing campaign citing the Ammo Oracle often persuading the powers that be to see reason and potentially save lives by giving you REAL weapons, not toys.
2. Use heavier rounds known to fragment at lower velocities and do more tissue damage such as:
68 grain Hornady Match OTM
Obviously, you should probably have a 1:7" twist.
Under no circumstances should you take comfort in the assurances your armorer gives you that the latest soft point or hollow point law enforcement specialty round will solve the problem. Most likely it will not. Soft point and hollow point rounds lack penetration even at high velocity. Because they are not prone to yawing or fragmentation lower velocities will not increase penetration as with many fragmenting rounds.
.223 and 5.56 Ammunition Testing
|Q. Is Gelatin testing accurate or what?
Many scholarly studies have shown that, for the most part, properly chilled ballistic gelatin simulates average penetration in tissue. Obviously, softer tissue (lungs, abdomen) will have more penetration while denser tissue (muscle) will exhibit less. For the most part, however, gelatin testing is a good indicator of how a round will perform on average in tissue. Built into the expectations for a successful gel test are margins for performance. 12" of penetration as an expectation (the FBI standard) is intended to cover the vast majority of shooting situations. While every ballistic encounter is unique, rounds that perform consistently well in properly prepared and calibrated gelatin can be expected to perform similarly well in actual tissue.
Often we see makers, backyard experts and others shooting things like a rib roast, a slab of beef or other strange food items (our favorite is fruit) and attempting to compare these results to results in human tissue. We also see people comparing deer results with results they expect in humans. "I killed a dozen deer with it... it must be a man stopper."
This is, unfortunately, folly. Deer, to begin with, have SUBSTANTIALLY different anatomies than humans (surprise surprise). The distance in tissue to vital organs is different, bone density is different, the location and strength of CNS structures is different, as is the vascular system. Further, because the CNS structures of deer are somewhat more primitive and less intricate than those of humans, they are far less fragile in some places, far more fragile in others. What works in deer may or may not work in humans. The same goes for hogs, varmints, pigs, dogs, zombies (headshots only please), and aliens (particularly grey skins- go for the big eyes, not center mass).
Likewise shooting a side of beef isn't good for much but making hamburger.
Why gel? Gel can be made consistent. We can compare apples to apples with gel and see that one round performs in it better than another. It is transparent and so we can measure ACTUAL wound cavities rather than just a gaping exit hole. Fragments are left behind in gel much as in tissue so we can measure fragmentation, and finally, properly calibrated gel has been linked by at least six studies to performance in human tissue. This bears repeating because many people choose to ignore this. Performance in properly calibrated gel simulates very closely performance in human tissue in test after test.
The trick with gel is asking "was the gel properly prepared and shot?"
When looking at test information focus on several factors:
1. Was the gelatin calibrated right before testing? Calibration is accomplished by firing a .177 cal BB into the gel and measuring penetration. Proper penetration indicates that the gel is of a known density and can be used to measure penetration accurately.
2. Was the gel prepared properly? Proper gel preparation is important to gel testing and professional experimenters will always note that the gel was prepared according to particular specifications.
3. Was the gel stored properly. Proper gel storage is also important and professional experimenters should note how their gel was stored prior to shooting.
It should work fine and it usually will, but any company can (and has) put out bad batches of ammo. Plus, some rifles are marginal and you may find that some ammo isn't reliable in your rifle. Always test your ammo before committing it to storage or duty use.
Fact: Testing and reporting results is a great way to contribute to the community. Good range reports help us all spot good and bad ammo.
|Q. How do I make a professional looking/sounding range/ammo report
of some ammo I liked/hated?
The best range reports will
Results: Velocity, size of groups, range of the target. (You'd be surprised how many people report 1" groups and then fail to report that they were shooting at 25 yards). Groups should be at least 5 rounds, preferably 10. If you are using a chronograph, velocity should at least include a list of all the rounds timed and if you have the time, average, high, low and standard deviation.
Try to use the standard chronograph distance: 15 feet from the muzzle. This makes it very easy to compare your results to military and other tests which use 15 feet as a standard. Technically, M855 is measured from 78 feet according to the spec (no, we have no clue why) but it's easy to adjust 15 foot figures to 78 feet and 15 feet is probably much safer for your chrono screens.
Other observations: Excessive flash, slow primers, reliability, any failures or malfunctions.
All these details will permit other shooters to assess the ammunition you tested.
Opinion: A good example range report (courtesy of AR15.com's own t38tallon):
Here are the results of my testing
of Lake City XM193
|Q. What is B & T Ammo Labs?
B & T Ammo Labs is AR15.com's home grown ammo lab. It does gelatin and performance testing primarily on rifle ammo. It was formed originally by AR15.com's Derek F. and Tatjana out of an increasing need for terminal performance information on newer and heavier rifle rounds in .223 to determine the ideal self-defense loading to replace M193.
Now B & T Ammo Labs serves as a clearing house for ammo testing information, terminal performance review and a forum for reader ammo testing contributions. It is dedicated to brining terminal performance information and ammunition and other equipment reviews to the AR15.com community.
B & T Ammo Labs is happy to take reader submissions. Mail them for more info at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit: B & T Ammo Labs.
Selection of .223 and 5.56
| Q. Do I want
SS-109 or M855 then?
Between the two? Probably M855. As noted you never know for sure what your going to get with loads that are only marked SS-109. M855 shouldn't cause you any problems and is generally well liked by AR15 shooters. Don't worry if ammo is labeled as SS-109/M855. That should be M855 spec.
|Note: M855 is
effectively a implementation of the SS-109 interoperability standard (so
all NATO members can shoot each other's ammo). The US, however,
requires stricter standards in M855 and as a result, M855 manufacturers
generally load their rounds to hit at least 3000 fps at 78 feet from the
muzzle. The SS-109 specification had a lower 2985 fps requirement
and British SS-109 rounds are slower still (2700-2800) to deal with the
Opinion: Some British SS-109 reportedly is underloaded (in order to permit proper operation in the L-85 Bullpup also called the SA-80 rifle) and therefore causes some short cycling in Bushmasters and Colts and isn't likely a good choice for emergency or critical use ammo.
|Q. What if I want more punch? What should I move up to from
If you are looking for more effective terminal performance you probably have to move up to 7.62 NATO or a 12ga shotgun. In 12ga, the Choke #00 "Precision Bonded" Buckshot appears to be among the best performers. Brenneke slugs are a good choice when penetration through intermediate barriers is required. Moving up to a 16-18" rifle chambered for 7.62 NATO might be a good alternative--as long as ammunition is carefully selected for optimal performance. In 7.62 NATO, the bullets with the best terminal performance include plastic tip bullets such as the 150 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip and 155 gr Hornady AMAX (they have dramatic fragmentation and usually maintain 13-15" of penetration in gel testing), as well as the 165 gr Sierra GameKing softpoint. Obviously, any of these combinations will be better for defeating barriers--particularly windscreen autoglass--than 5.56 mm, and accordingly should be more carefully deployed with an eye towards indoor overpenetration.
Virtually any kind of ammo, with the exception of light bird shot, will easily penetrate typical wall construction (two layers of wall-board separated by 3 to 4 inches of space). Testing has shown, however, that after penetrating a typical interior wall, a 5.56mm projectile will have less wounding potential than most common handgun or buckshot loads. This is true because the low mass of the bullet sheds velocity quickly, and velocity is its key wounding component. This doesn't mean that 5.56mm ammo isn't still potentially deadly, but that the severity of an injury is likely to be less from a 5.56mm bullet than from a 9mm, .40, .45, or #00 buckshot round. What is important is not the degree to which these rounds penetrate, but their "ex post lethality" or their lethality AFTER encountering wallboard or other cover/concealment.
The difference is so significant that the FBI and other ballistic experts recommend that law enforcement transition to handguns to "dig suspects out" of cover because of the superior penetration and wounding ability of handgun rounds over 5.56 or .223.
This, along with the increasing number of lawsuits from "friendly fire" submachine gun victims and 5.56mm's ability to penetrate ballistic vests, are some of the reasons that many SWAT teams are transitioning away from the 9mm MP5 and selecting 5.56mm carbines instead.
This is understandable given the longer barrel length and therefore higher velocity and consequently higher penetration of handgun rounds in submachine guns.
If our experience on the forums are accurate, most shot gunners and submachine gun fans receive this news poorly. It does seem counterintuitive since 5.56mm is a "high powered round." All we can say to this is that the FBI FTU fired hundreds of rounds through carefully constructed wall sections and then into gel. Ignore these results at your own peril.
Fact: Interestingly enough, in FBI Firearms Training Unit tests show that submachinegun and handgun rounds penetrated more on average than .223/5.56mm rounds in typical interior construction and tissue.
Opinion: Generally high velocity rifle rounds fragment so readily that over-penetration in an urban (indoor) setting is LESS dangerous than with handgun or submachinegun rounds like 9mm, 10mm, .40S&W, etc. 5.56 FMJ rounds will do more penetrating than JHP and JSP rounds but still are generally safer for interior use- insofar as bystanders are concerned.
"SHTF" is an acronym for the "Shit Hits The Fan," meaning a natural disaster, a catastrophic breakdown in civil service, a military takeover, a New World Order, or an invasion by brain eating zombies that makes life an exercise in "every man for himself." (Also known as "The End Of The World As We Know It" or TEOTWAWKI--easily characterized as akin to a third NSYNC and Britney Spears tour.) Of course, depending on your view of the goodness (or lack thereof) of man, you may or may not consider a SHTF scenario likely. It is worth noting, however, that the New York blackout, the LA riots, earthquakes, and other fairly recent breakdowns in social fabric have all made the prepared feel pretty good about having a little SHTF ammo around. It all depends on your tin-foil hat quotient™.
Regardless of your politics, SHTF ammo is a good term to use to refer to ammo stored away (perhaps underground), "just in case." Criteria for good SHTF selections are obviously: Storage/durability, cost, defensive performance as an antipersonnel round, reliability, reliability, and reliability. This is ammo that--quite simply--just has to go bang every single time without fail.
As a general matter, new manufacture (i.e., less than 3 years old when you buy it) military-spec ammo is probably the best for SHTF use. The bullets and primers are sealed, they may have flash reducing powder formulas, they are loaded a bit hotter than commercial ammo, designed for storage under military (read: non-ideal) conditions, non-corrosive, cheap ($0.10 - $0.14 a round if you buy in quantity), and have good antipersonnel properties.
SHTF sort of supposes that you will be a lone actor, that engagements will be inside of 150 yards, and that you'll be in an urban or suburban environment. Of course, we tend to like M193 for these purposes. M193 has the added benefit of working in a wide variety of weapons and rifling twists, making it a good trade commodity, and flexible in whatever 5.56 weapon you're likely to get your hands on.
Opinion: Don't buy anything from late 1999.
Some purists might tell you that anything of late 1999 manufacture is likely to suffer from quality control issue because of the rush of many manufacturers to meet Y2K demand.
should probably avoid surplus ammo since there is no telling how it has
been stored over the last many years.
Opinions (Pro and
5.56 is best for
Clearly you want to find new production ammo. Again, surplus is great stuff for practice and fun but for "serious" ammo you will want to find ammo that's less than 36 months old.
In the M193 class it's pretty generally agreed that the best manufactured ammo is from the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant located in Independence, Missouri. 2000 manufacture Lake City (LC'00) and 2001 Lake City (LC'01) is outstanding ammo. It's assembled at the Lake City plant and boxed up by Federal. It is accurate for M193, is loaded quite hot and has great velocity as a result and it seems flawlessly reliable. Lake City ammo also has a reputation for storability and reliability. Several AR15.com members have tested 15 year old Lake City and it often turns out to perform better than newly manufactured commercial ammunition. It's very much the gold standard of M193.
Winchester Q3131 and Winchester Q3131A are considered close seconds, perhaps indistinguishable seconds to Lake City M193. Both are Mil-Spec M193 but many AR15.com members have reported that LC is loaded a bit hotter.
Q3131 is the U.S.-manufactured Winchester M193, but since 2000 (and coinciding with the transition at the Lake City plant which left it shut down), Winchester's M193/Q3131 ammo has all gone to the military. Due to the demand during the Y2K scare, Winchester had subcontracted some of its civilian M193 production to IMI. Winchester has continued this contract, and the IMI-produced ammo is labeled Q3131A by Winchester.
Q3131A also is somewhat famous for its shining new cases. Lake City kept their production costs down by not polishing their brass before shipping. Since the military was their primary customer why bother making the rounds "pretty?" LC often has spots and other material on their cases (not that this seems to impact its stellar performance at all). Q3131A is much prettier looking, though still not as sparkling clean as commercial ammo that's been tumbled clean. XM193 also comes in boxes with plastic spacers. Many people find these annoying.
As you can see, the complaints about the two types of ammo are so trivial as to be almost not worth considering.
The Lake City Shutdown
Some of this ammunition may have been Olin-produced loaded ammunition of 2000 vintage that was never packaged and shipped. It was just stored in those great big bins awaiting the orders that never came. Some may have been new ammunition loaded from leftover Olin-produced components. Still more may have production run startup and stop overruns.
In December, Alliant completed acquisition of Blout's Sporting Equipment Group, including Federal Cartridge. Now Alliant was both operating the plant and selling XM193.
Then the Army steps in and halts deliveries. The word is that it is over liability issues.
All the headstamps on the Federal XM193 ammunition mean is that the cases are stamped LC01 and were intended for use in 2001 ammunition production. Cases intended for 2001 production can be manufactured in prior years and stored. You should not consider that the XM193 headstamps have any meaning at all other than to identify the cases as having originally been intended for production of 2001 Lake City ammunition.
Opinion: Some lots of 1999 Winchester Q3131 (but not Q3131A) had quality control problems. As a result many AR15.com members avoid Q3131 entirely and prefer Q3131A.
Opinion: Some lots of LC'00/LC'01 aren't properly sealed. Currently it appears that Lot 7 and some of Lot 6 is not properly sealed around the case necking.
|Q. But aren't
all M193 rounds the same? It's a standard specification,
Yes and no.
While several parameters are set out for bullet size shape and construction, there is still room for differences. The shape of the boat tail, the thickness of jackets and the type of cannelure all vary with manufacturers.
Types of powder, materials and manufacturing process will all contribute to the differing characteristics of one load or another. Additionally, variations between lots from the same manufacturer might depend on what materials were available at the time of manufacture or what the humidity in the plant was during manufacture.
The best way to decide on the type of M193 (or any ammo for that matter) you prefer is to make an educated guess based on feedback of AR15.com members and other sources before shooting some in the weapon of your choice to see how it performs.
Lake City '00 (left) and 1986 South African (right).
Lake City '00 (left) and 1986 South African (right).
Note the difference in Cannelure and boat tail shape.
|Q. What is with
this goo and the dings on my Lake City Rounds? What is this
discoloration on the necks of my Q3131A? Did someone take a
blowtorch to it?
Lake City doesn't bother to polish ammo after it's loaded. Occasionally you'll see dings or excess sealant on the casings of Lake City ammunition, particularly the Federal XM193 that Lake City has produced of late. Sometimes the ammo looks downright beat up. It's generally not anything to be concerned about and shouldn't impact performance. Still, most distributors will offer to take the ammo back if it's in that condition. Check to see if your vendor has a return or satisfaction guaranteed policy if you're really worried about pretty ammo. You can also send it to the AR15.com staff "Ugly Lake City Disposal Facility" and we will be happy to render each and every round safe. J
Just about all necked rounds use a heat process called "annealing" to shape the neck of the casing. Producers of military ammo don't bother to spend the extra time and effort in production to polish the brass after annealing, unlike most commercial ammo. The result is that discoloration that makes it look like someone took a blowtorch to the ammo. Don't worry, it won't impact the performance in any way.
Of course, you probably do not want to use ammo that is more severely damaged. Avoid ammo with significant deformities on or above the neck.
Some dinged up looking Lake City XM193.
|Q. What is the best M855 to
The name most often tossed around as the best M855 is IMI. Israeli Military Industries are the same people who make Q3131A and their M855 is apparently just as reliable. Additionally, you can find it newly manufactured. Lake City and Winchester both produce M855, but it is almost never available anymore, and certainly not as new-production. The only exception is that Winchester makes M855 available to police departments. Occasionally, small quantities of this gets traded back to ammo dealers, and become available for civilian sales.
Unless you are in the military, you probably can't. This ammo is a fairly new item that is rare even in the military, as it is considered a "special issue" item. It is illegal for licensed dealers to sell AP ammo (except M2) to civilians and no components are available for reloading.
It will probably be many years before any M995 ammo is "demil'ed" (demilitarized, meaning disassembled) and components released. That's assuming AP bullets are still legal to possess as components at that time.
Be careful of scams. One of the authors has personally seen vendors selling Bosnian SS-109 ammo, which uses black tips instead of the more common green, as "armor piercing", implying that it is M995. It isn't. Another vendor was selling stripper clips (10 rounds) of US-made M855 with black-painted tips (likely painted by the vendor himself) for $5/clip. This vendor also heavily implies that this is M995, though I don't believe either vendor is familiar with that designation. Be very careful before spending your hard-earned cash...
Fact: The 5.56 AP round penetrates 12mm armor plate of 300 HB at 100 meters.
|Q. Should I leave two
tracers at the bottom of my magazine to tell me when I'm out of
Do you also want to tell your enemy both where you are and that you are out of ammo?
While technically tracer rounds are only supposed to "light up" a few dozen yards from the shooter, in actual use, many tracer rounds ignite right out of the barrel. This, combined with muzzle flash, is a positional dead giveaway.
Tracers are best left for machinegunners, or for squad/platoon leaders to use as marking rounds to direct the rest of the squad/platoon to a target.
shooting tracers bad for my weapon?
Well, actually they can cause problems if you use them excessively. Consider this from FM 23-9:
M196 tracers use strontium nitrate, strontium peroxide, barium peroxide, lead peroxide, magnesium powder, calcium resinate, and PVC for their tracer compound. The ignition primer is barium peroxide, magnesium, antimony trisulfide, and graphite. M196 tracer composition doesn't have much of a shelf life and it gets spotty after enough years. M856 tracers are much more impressive.
When fired, small fragments of tracer composition are likely to be dislodged and left behind in the barrel, sometimes lit, sometimes not. As tracer composition burns slowly (compared to powder) and hot (2000 degrees F) you really don't want it in the barrel in any great quantity for long.
Apparently the compounds can leave traces of ammonia, though not necessarily enough to be a problem.
Given this, it's probably a bad idea to have tracers in the last slots of your magazine also. "Tracer goo" could sit there awhile if you shoot your last mag and take your weapon home before cleaning.
|Q. Can tracers
Be very careful of any underbrush or vegetation, especially in dry weather. Tracers are banned in California and a few other states due to the extreme fire hazard they pose when used, and it is not at all uncommon for infantry soldiers to inadvertently start fires when using tracers in training.
Remember: Only you can prevent forest fires.
Many people consider the
There are lots of options and opinions, but popular choices are the Hornady V-Max and the Sierra BlitzKing, both "ballistic tip" designs. The combination of extreme accuracy and quick expansion makes them an excellent choice. Others include the Nosler Ballistic Tip and the Speer TNT. Generally a very light (40 - 50 grain) round with high velocity (3300+ fps) make the best varmint rounds.
For larger, tougher varmints, such as coyotes, the 60gr V-Max is an excellent choice.
Fact: FMJ rounds like M855 and M193 as well as heavier JSP and JHP penetrate too much to be as effective in varmint hunting. There isn't enough tissue in Thumper for them to yaw. Lighter, weaker bullets are a much better choice.
Entire books have been
written to attempt to answer this question, so I'll be very general.
Accuracy most relies on the quality of the barrel and the bullets, with
the bullets having the largest impact. Bullets loaded with Sierra's
MatchKing line, such as Federal Gold Medal Match, have the largest
following, with Hornady's A-Max bullets also very popular. Bullet
weights vary depending on what ranges a match will be shot at. For
ranges of less than 600 yards, the 69gr MatchKing or Amax are the most
common choices and will fit in and feed from a magazine normally.
For 1,000 yard competition, 77gr and 80gr MatchKings are typical (both
require a 1:8 or tighter barrel twist). These bullets must be loaded
too long to fit into the magazine and must be fed one-at-a time by
hand. However, they have taken top honors at
One of the reasons match bullets are more accurate than FMJ bullets is because the bases of FMJ bullets are open, with exposed lead. This is because the lead core is inserted into the jacket nose-first, leaving the lead exposed at the base. Match bullets are made by inserting the core into the jacket base-first, allowing a uniform bullet base and leaving a hollow point at the nose. Note that match hollow-point bullets were not designed to expand and usually don't, so they should not be used for hunting.
If you can find it, GP90 (for a military round) or Ruag (SW) Match ammo (also from Switzerland) is amazingly accurate, by some accounts more so than the Federal Gold Medal or the MatchKing rounds.
Cross section of the
Sierra MatchKing JHPBT round.
Try visiting: Sierra
Steel-jacketed bullets are always plated with a layer of copper to help protect the bore of the gun. There should be minimal extra wear in a rifle with a chrome-plated bore, but many people are of the opinion that steel-jacketed bullets should be avoided in non-chromed barrels.
Well, if you didn't start a flame war with the M193 v. M855 question, you have now.
Many former Eastern-Bloc countries use steel ammo casings in place of brass, as the cost of steel is much less. The steel casings would quickly rust if left untreated, so one of four methods is used to treat the steel cases: "copper-washing," lacquer, "nickel" (really zinc) plating, or most recently, polymer coating. Copper-washed ammo is a blotchy bronze color, and usually the entire loaded round is coated, leaving the bullet and case the same bronzy color. Copper-washed ammo is usually only found in the East-Bloc calibers.
Until recently, lacquered cases were the type most commonly found. The outside of the steel case is covered in a grey or green heat-resistant lacquer to inhibit rust. There have been some problems with the lacquer, though, as it tended to leave drips and runs on the cases, which can make extraction more difficult. Until recently, most Russian and Czech-made ammo used this method.
Recently, the Barnaul plant began offering zinc-plated ammo under the name Silver Bear. Aside from some problems with incorrectly-sized cases, this ammo seems to work well, but the zinc process is more expensive, and as a result, the price of the loaded ammo is a little higher.
Most recently (near the beginning of 2004), Wolf announced that their new ammo would be polymer coated. The polymer process leaves smoother cases than the lacquer, but is much less expensive than the zinc plating. To date, no problems have been encountered as a result of the polymer coating, making the new process an overall success.
There have been problems with steel-cased ammo. Through 2002, Wolf ammo came with a thick red sealant around the primer and on the neck of the bullet. This sealant was the cause of many problems, as it would build up and become sticky under high heat, leading to severe extraction problems as cases would literally be "glued" into the chamber. It would also gum up the firing pin channel and bolt face, causing further problems. Wolf wisely dropped the sealant on their .223 ammo in 2003, and reports of problems have dropped off considerably.
There is still some understandable apprehension with using steel-cased ammo in .223. Unlike the Soviet-designed cases, the 5.56 cartridge has very little taper to the case and its length to diameter ratio is very large. The result of this is that 5.56 ammo has more friction during cartridge extraction and comparatively less extractor surface area. This usually isn't a problem with brass cases, but with steel cases, especially lacquer-coated case, stoppages are more frequent. This is likely to due with the difference in expansion/retraction properties between brass and steel.
These problems aren't limited to .223 either, as some guns, such as the HK USP line of pistols, is notorious for having feeding and extraction problems with steel-cased ammo.
Still, the Russian ammo manufacturers have been steadily improving their products, and many have found that problems experienced with older ammo aren't present in the current offerings. Plus, the competition from this bargain ammo helps keep the cost of all .223/5.56 loads reasonable, which is good for all shooters.
the best thing since sliced bread:
Yes. Some ammo is
loaded with copper-plated steel-jacketed bullets instead of the more
common (in the
If you are unsure about your bullets, you can use the same test many gun ranges use: the magnet test. A strong pull on the magnet usually indicates a steel jacket, while a lighter pull indicates a steel core with a gilding-metal jacket.
Sellier & Bellot (S&B) and all Russian-made ammo, with the exception of some Wolf-brand loadings, use steel-jacketed bullets.
Opinion: Sellier & Bellot has increasingly been causing "Kabooms" (kB!s)--causing rifles to explode because of weak casings and poor quality control. You may wish to avoid this ammo.
Ammunition recommendations from the authors of the AR15.com
Self-defense ammo: Self-defense/home-defense ammo should be selected to match your individual situation. For example, you might compromise penetration a bit if you live in an apartment and have little control over what happens on the other side of an interior wall.
Special needs aside, I would recommend using the load that will give you the best terminal ballistics available out of your rifle. You probably don't need thousands of rounds of this ammo, but at least 80-90 rounds (four 20-round mags or three 30-round mags full) is a good idea. You must consider the barrel length and twist rate of your "go-to" rifle as well.
As I have 1:7 barrels available and have access to Black Hill's "Mk262 Mod1" loads (77gr Nosler or Sierra), that is my first choice. I can also handload these bullets for practice, allowing me to have some training with this load at a lower cost. An excellent alternative would be either Mk262 Mod0 or the nearly identical Hornady TAP load, both featuring Hornady's 75gr OTM bullet.
For 1:9-twist rifles that have at least 14.5" of barrel, the best performing loads use either Hornady's 68gr OTM or Sierra's 69gr OTM bullet. Loads are available from Hornady and Federal respectively, as well as from Black Hills. I prefer the superior terminal ballistics of the Hornady bullet over the slightly better accuracy that's often found in the Sierra bullet.
For an older 1:12-twist rifle, M193-class ammo is the way to go. And if you can't afford or obtain one of the more expensive loads above, M193 will serve you well in any barrel twist.
Plinking ammo: Plinking is supposed to be fun, and give you time behind the trigger. As such, any ammo that works reliably in my rifles is fine for plinking, and the cheaper, the better. My rifles don't have a problem with Wolf ammo, so I use that sometimes, but I often use my own reloads or inexpensive surplus ammo.
Training ammo: Real training is ideally done with your carry ammo, but for most folks, myself included, this would be prohibitively expensive. Thus, I generally use M193-class ammo for training, since it at least is a hot load that gives realistic recoil and muzzle blast. I try to use surplus ammo with Berdan-primed brass on ranges where I won't be able to retrieve the cases. It's a reloader thing...
Storage ammo: By definition, this is duty ammo that you're buying now, in the event that it won't be available in the future, for whatever reason. This ammo should be top-quality ammo (and if it isn't, replace it with better ammo as you can), and it should be ammo that gives good terminal ballistic performance. While I have a supply of my preferred "heavy match" duty ammo, I also have M193 and M855 ammo stored. You should always test your storage ammo in your rifles first, then store them in ammo cans and LEAVE THEM SHUT. Keep the cans cool, and it will out-last you.
Match ammo: I load my own, primarily using Hornady 68 and 75gr bullets, since I also use these for my training ammo. Match loads are typically only loaded to 90-95% of max pressures, as maximum loads tend to suffer in the accuracy department. If I didn't load my own ammo, I would shoot Black Hills loads.
Self-defense ammo: It all depends on the rifle I pick up. With a 1/7 twist rifle, I’m a fan of the Nosler 77gr., which I handload myself as close to NATO pressures as possible. With a 1/9 twist rifle, the 68gr Hornady gets my nod, which I also handload. With either of these rounds, I expect to be able to defend myself out to a distance of approximately 200 yards and no farther. Anything beyond that distance and I’d rather retreat/evade. I have no idea what kind of weapon I will be facing, and I’d rather not take the chance of engaging a scoped rifle with iron sights at long range. I try to cycle through this ammo as quickly as possible, so long term storage is not a concern for me with my defensive ammo.
Plinking ammo: I’ll shoot just about anything…as long as it is relatively accurate, goes boom each time and cycles reliably. I’ll use this ammo for hitting reactive targets out to 300yds such as fruits, steel plates and propane tanks. Basically, if it goes “clang” or explodes, I consider it plinking.
Training ammo: I alternate between Q3131A and XM193. I don’t really have a preference as far as accuracy/reliability are concerned, however Q3131A is easy to find locally, thus it is the slight favorite. For training ammo, I want the utmost in reliability and accuracy while still keeping M193 spec. This is probably the most common ammo that I will find in a SHTF situation, so it is what I train to use.
Storage ammo: When it comes to storage, I'm more
packrat than human. I currently have in
Match ammo: I don’t do much match shooting, but when it comes to absolute accuracy, I usually go with the Sierra 77gr MatchKing in the Federal Gold Medal Match loading. With this round, I am able to get sub-MOA groups out to 300yds using a 16” M4 barrel.
Self Defense: My self-defense ammo selection is driven by several requirements.
1. My rifle (16" Bushmaster 1:9) is my primary self-defense weapon.
My pistol is used to fight my way to my rifle.
Given my requirements above. For self-defense I have moved from the 69 grain Sierra Match King to the 77 grain Nosler NATO loading from Black Hills. These rounds meet all my needs particularly in terminal performance. They are expensive but I think them worth it. I have two rifles in which the 77 grain Nosler works well out to at least 150 meters, both of which, ironically, are 1:9. I intend to switch my home defense weapon to a 1:7 barrel as soon as I can get my hands on one. That will make me even more sure of my 77 grain loadings.
Plinking ammo: I usually use plinking as an excuse to burn off old M193 stores. Q3131a and XM193 figure prominently in my plinking use. I don't shoot Wolf.
Training ammo: I don't distinguish much between plinking and training. Accordingly, I tend to use NATO loadings for training. Usually this is a mix of M193 and Nosler 77 grain. "Train like you fight," is an important concept for me so I take it to heart and use the ammo I am mostly likely to have to fight with when I go to the range or when I'm just plinking. M193's cost (or lack thereof) makes this work well.
Storage ammo: My circumstances are somewhat unique so I store more than 5000 rounds of XM193 or Q3131a (though I prefer XM193) at any given time. As soon as I get close to coming under the 5000 mark (rare) I buy more M193. I cycle out the old ammo with the new so at any given time my storage ammo is as recent as it can be. One exception is the emergency "bug out" pack I keep of 1000 rounds. I don't ever break into that unless I have another prepared pack to replace it with before I open the first.
I don't store Nosler 77 grain since it pretty much sits out ready to go all the time. My M193 stores are on strippers, in 7 pocket bandoleers stacked in ammo cans. I use the dry ice method to purge air from my cans and then use a moisture absorbing pack to finish them up before I seal them.
Match ammo: I am a big fan of Swiss GP90 for military or service rifle match ammo. It has the disadvantage of being a horrible terminal performer though so I don't keep much of it around. For more serious match ammo I am partial to 69 grain Sierra Match King and 77 grain Sierra Match King.
Purchase and Storage of .223 and 5.56
Due to an Executive Order signed by
President Clinton, the
Small quantities of loaded ammo are occasionally available, usually at gun shows. This is either old stock from before the ban, police trade-ins, or stolen military ammo. The military has programs where it gives police departments surplus weapons and ammo and these departments sometimes trade this ammo to their ammo distributor for cash or other ammo. The distributors then make the exchanged military ammo available to the civilian market. Quantities are usually small and prices high.
Despite this, military specification ammo (Mil-Spec) is available to the public and can be obtained from a variety of sources.
Opinions: AR15.com members have had success with the following dealers, among others:
Discount Distributors, (AKA ammoman.com) home of Eric the Ammoman. Unsurpassed customer service.
Cole Distributing, importers of Aguila ammo.
Wideners, reloading supplies, importers of IMI ammo and components.
Botach Tactical, current distributor for IMI ammo.
Sportsman's Guide, everything under the sun.
Aim Surplus, surplus ammo importers.
Southern Ammo, surplus ammo importers.
Kiesler's Wholesale, surplus ammo importers.
Winchester M193 was formerly
available commercially in
Another good source is
Israeli Military Industries (IMI), the sole supplier of ammo to the
Israeli Defense Force (IDF). IMI makes M193 and they also supply
their M193 as a subcontractor for
Other M193 is commonly available as surplus from various importers, though that ammo is obviously not new-production. A recent example is the 1980's South African "battle-pack" ammo that was available from a number of sources. This ammo comes in 30-round boxes, packed 10 to vinyl sleeve. It is hot-loaded ammo that appears to be M193 spec.
Fact: Take a look at Lake City.
Fact: More about Lake City.
Fact: Take a look at IMI.
IMI M855 is available from
several sources and other foreign surplus ammo is available from time to
time. Recent brands have been
The British L-85A (SA80).
South African surplus M193 was packaged in green, brown, or clear vinyl, environment proof pouches ("Battlepacks") with clever handles and was imported into the US for a little over 5 years. As of the summer of 2003, the supply has run out.
It used to sell for about $30-$35 per pack (300 rounds packed into 10 boxes of 30 each). It is excellent plinking ammo with M193 specs, but being a minimum of 17 years old stored under unknown conditions, it does NOT make good defensive ammo because you just cannot be sure it would go "bang" when it needed to.
Generally, it was VERY reliable. Q3131A or XM193 are probably the best cheap M193-spec plinking ammo alternatives and they can also be good defensive ammo since they are relatively new production (or brand new) and most likely stored under good conditions.
While it is certainly recommended that you have plenty of ammo on hand, if you are in a situation where you may be putting your life on the line, you should be using new-production ammo. Although properly-stored ammo will last for decades with little degradation, there's no way to tell how surplus ammo was stored. Often, the reason the ammo was surplussed in the first place was because it was left exposed to harsh conditions and can no longer be trusted for military use. Other surplus ammo is ammo that didn't meet required specifications and was sold off to reduce financial loss. In neither case should you bet your life on this ammo. Buy new-production ammo, test some of it in your rifles and then store it properly.
So what should I be paying for ammo?
Of course that's a question the answer to which might change weekly. Some good baselines (including shipping costs) as of this writing (May, 2002) might include:
Premium (new) M193: $180/1000 rounds ($0.18/round)
Surplus M193: $70.00/600 rounds ($0.13/round)
Premium (new) M855/SS-109: $230/1000 rounds ($0.23/round)
This is probably a good set of "standard prices" to work from. Obviously you should adjust your expectations based on the type of ammo you're buying.
Please realize that these prices are for reference only.
|Q. I chambered a round in my AR and then
unloaded it later. The primer has a small dent in it, apparently
from the firing pin. Should I be worried about this? Won't
that cause a slam-fire? Should I switch to a Titanium firing
A gas-operated semiautomatic operates on gas bled from the barrel. This gas is channeled to the bolt operator, which blows the bolt open and ejects the spent shell casing. A heavy spring then returns to bolt carrier to the closed and locked position on the next round. In the case of weapons with free floated firing pins (SKS, AR-15, etc.), the inertia of the firing pin carries it forward and it strikes the primer as the bolt closes. (The "slam"). Generally this will dimple the primer and leave a small indent. This isn't anything to worry about as primers for centerfire .223 and 5.56mm are pretty "hard" and aren't likely to be set off by this impact.
Early M-16s had a problem with slamfiring because of the firing pin design. Eventually Colt redesigned the pin to be lighter and therefore carry less energy into the primer.
Slam-fires are pretty rare in modern ARs provided they are well maintained but they can be caused by a broken or protruding firing pin, foreign matter on the bolt face that is carried into the primer, foreign matter in the firing pin assembly that prevents it from retracting sufficiently, overly soft or poorly seated primers, or other malfunctions.
As for titanium firing pins, they are probably not worth the headache. Indeed they are lighter and may reduce the already small chance of slamfires, but titanium also does not handle impacts well and can be brittle. A broken or cracked titanium firing pin is a lot more likely to cause a slamfire than a regular pin.
It should be noted, however, that repeated chambering of the same round increases the likelyhood of a slamfire, or of a hangfire (slow to ignite) or misfire (failure to ignite) due to damage to the round's primer. If you chamber and clear your rifle on a regular basis, make sure you change out the top round so that you don't rechamber the same round more than once or twice.
Finally, always point your rifle in a safe direction when chambering live ammo. As with any machine, there is always the possibility that something will go wrong and the round will fire. If you are chambering your home-defense gun, ride the charging handle and use the forward assist to lock the bolt forward, always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
Consider: Armalite's warning on titanium pins.
The three primary killers of ammo are heat, moisture, and chemicals. Excessive heat will break down both the powder and the primer compound over time, causing erratic ignition and velocities. Moisture will corrode the casings and can also affect the powder and primer if the round isn't properly sealed. Likewise, oil, powder and copper solvent, cleaners and other gun-related chemicals can penetrate and damage ammo that isn't sealed properly. Very cold temperatures won't really effect ammo but temperature changes that can cause condensation are a big no-no.
The best method of long-term storage is to use surplus military ammo cans. These are tough, airtight and come in a variety of sizes and have the virtue of being designed, surprise, to hold ammo. A small desiccant pack can be added to remove any excess moisture from the can. Once sealed, the can should remain closed (or the desiccant pack replaced) until the ammo is needed. The sealed ammo can should be stored in a cool, dry place that is not subject to wide swings in temperature over short periods of time (which can cause condensation). Ammo stored this way will last several (4 or more) decades.
Some of the real "gurus" will tell you to pack your ammo on stripper clips in bandoleers and in ammo cans with desiccant. If you need to deploy the ammo quickly it is dry, packed and ready to be carried on the go. The best method seems to be using 7 pocket bandoleers in a .50 ammo can as shown below:
Despite the fact they are designed for only two, you can easily remove the cardboard and put 3 stripper clips in each pocket with no ill effects (they don't rattle and seem to come out in a hurry just fine too) and get 4 bandoleers or 840 rounds in a .50 cal ammo box this way. Be aware that each of these cans will weigh about 28 pounds.
Packing instead in .30 cal cans will let you store 2 bandoleers in each can for 420 rounds per can.
There are dozens of sources for USGI ammo cans online and via mail order, but the best place to get them is usually at gun shows, because their size and weight make them expensive to ship.
Opinion: Cheaper Than Dirt usually has 30- and 50-caliber cans available and is generally good to do business with.
A stripper clip is small metal clip that holds several rounds together, usually by the groove on the case head. USGI M16 stripper clips are made from a parkerized steel clip with a brass tensioning insert. The insert has tabs on the ends that are bent to retain the rounds. Each clip will hold 10 rounds of 5.56 ammo. By installing a stripper clip guide (often called a "spoon" because of its shape) on the top rear of a magazine, a loaded stripper clip can be inserted and the rounds pushed (or "stripped") off of the clip and into the magazine. Magazines can be loaded very quickly this way and there is no need to count the number of rounds used. In addition, stripper clips cover the primer of the rounds, preventing accidental ignition during storage and handling. Though these stripper clips were intended as one-time-use only, they can be reused many times if care is taken to bend the brass tabs only 45° instead of 90°.
A bandoleer is typically a piece of fabric fashioned into several pouches or pockets and designed to hold spare ammunition or magazines. The original M16 bandoleers had 7 pockets, each designed to hold either 2 stripper clips of ammo or a 20-round magazine. Newer bandoleers have 4 pockets, each holding 3 stripper clips and having a pull-string sewed two-thirds of the way down the bandoleer. This string can be pulled out to open up the bottom of the pockets, allowing the longer 30-round magazines to be stored. Inside each pocket is a cardboard sleeve designed to keep the ammo from rattling around and to make it easier to remove the loaded stripper clips from the pockets. Also included is a stripper clip guide (spoon), which is usually stored in one of the end pockets, and a safety pin. The safety pin can be used to adjust the length or configuration of the bandoleer's carrying strap, or can be used to pin the stripper guide to the outside of the bandoleer or some other convenient place.
Military ammo is often issued in bandoleers for field/combat use.
These are often found at gun shows and many mail order and online vendors also carry them. However, most folks, including the author, consider the best source to be Chuck Rupe at Wu's Surplus. Chuck provides top-quality surplus at bargain prices. He's a one-man shop, so it sometimes takes a few days to get an email response, but he has thousands of satisfied customers.
Go visit: Wu's Surplus
Various military specifications require that sealant be applied to the binding surfaces of ammunition particularly where the case meets the bullet and the primer is secured in the case. This is intended to keep out foreign debris and, most particularly, moisture. The intended result is to make ammo more resistant to high moisture environments and prevent moisture rich environments from diminishing combat effectiveness. It is pretty clear that sealant is preferable for ammo intended for serious use and/or storage.
Pictured below are the results of immersion experiments done by AR15.com member Derek F. on unsealed LC 01 Lot 7 rounds. All of the rounds were submerged for a period of time inside a plastic 2L bottle filled with filtered water:
Opinion: Some Lake City Lot 7 and Lot 6 ammo is reportedly not sealed around the case neck. It DOES however, appear to have sealant on the primer. This is potentially misleading since you have to actually pull the rounds to see if the round is properly sealed around the case neck. It might be a good idea to avoid these lots of Lake City for duty use until it can be determined if this is a problem or not. If your picking out serious storage ammo it is probably a good idea to pull a few random rounds and inspect for sealant.
After the results from early experiments and with this question in mind Derek F. subjected several 5.56mm rounds to shallow (1 foot) submersion in filtered water over 72 hours. The worst leaking round of a given time period is shown for each round type. (Click the thumbnails for a closeup):
Conclusions: LC Lot 7 is clearly not sealed. This isn't a good thing if you're planning on diving with this ammo. Wolf is also vulnerable to moisture and might rust the bullet into the casing causing a potentially dangerous situation. LC Lot 1 is properly sealed, and will endure 3 days of submersion. South African '86 endured submersion quite well.
|Q. My wife just got one of those uber-cool vacuum food
packers. I was thinking of sneaking into the kitchen and vacuum
sealing all my ammo when she goes to watch the kids play soccer this
weekend. What do you think?
Most good M193 ammo is sealed in any event. (You can sometimes see the sealant around the primer).
It might be a good idea if you plan on storing the ammo in a very moist environment and don't trust the seal on your ammo can, but those vacuum food packing machines are very expensive- you'll probably spend more on the special bags anyhow, and ammo cans are awfully cheap. It's much easier to just buy another ammo can--they are airtight as long as the seal is intact, drop some desiccant in and you'll be ready to go.
Trust us, your wife is about to lose it over all the ammo you're hoarding in the basement already. Spare yourself her wrath and pack it out of the way somewhere in nice orderly stacks of ammo cans instead of using her new toy.
Opinion: It's probably a good idea to inspect the seal on your ammo can. Look for cracks, damage or signs of dry or brittle rubber. Clean off any debris carefully before closing your cans. If you are especially paranoid or planning on multi-decade storage you might want to treat the seal with some rubber preservative.
|Q. Ok. I'm hyperparanoid. Plus, vacuum packing
is cool. Which vacuum packer should I use? How do I get
When sealing up small insects gets boring your attention might naturally turn to your ammo stash. If you really must, one AR15.com user (RBAD) had the best results with the Tilia FoodSaver Pro. He had several suggestions for us:
It's probably not a good idea to seal loose ammo or ammo on stripper clips, or in magazines. The sharp edges are likely to wear through a vacuum bag if the package is moved around or if many such packages are stacked together. Instead you should seal anything that has pronounced edges or points only after you've wrapped it in something first. If that isn't paranoid enough for you consider putting a small desiccant package in each vacuum sealed container. Also remember that vacuum packed ammo is still vulnerable to heat or quick temperature changes.
After all that trouble you're probably going to wish you had just used an ammo can in the first place.
RBAD will almost certainly be dust long before this ammo he sealed up goes bad.
Opinion: It's possible that over-vacuuming ammo might cause it some damage. Although it seems unlikely, it's possible that damage to the primer or the primer seal may result from subjecting ammo to extended periods of strong vacuums. If this concerns you then you may wish to vacuum out most of the air--but not create a overly-strong vacuum.
|Q. Can I store
ammo pre-loaded in magazines for an extended period of time? Won't
the magazine springs wear out and cause feeding problems? Shouldn't
I rotate my mags?
Shouldn't be a problem;
What wears out springs are cycles of compression and expansion and also over-compression. So, every time you "rotate" your mags, you are causing additional wear by cycling the spring. Loading and unloading magazines will cause more problems than loading and storing them for good. For best results USGI magazines are probably the best bet because many aftermarket magazines use cheap springs.
One AR15.com member reportedly discovered a fully loaded 20 round USGI mag that was loaded in the Vietnam era. 20 some years later it not only functioned fine but continues to do so. Others have reported 1911 mags and Luger mags loaded up since World War II that continued to function perfectly when first fired after 40 years.
When you're ready to pack them away, you can fit 28 loaded USGI 20 round mags in a .50 cal ammo can if you lay them down sideways 4 to a layer. You can also fit 14 USGI 30 rounders this way, with a lot of slack space left over.
.30 cans will hold 14 USGI 20 rounders laid flat without a hitch.
|Q. Shouldn't I be loading my mags with a
few less rounds? If I load them to capacity doesn't that cause
There are three stories about how this got started:
1. If a 20 round magazine was disassembled and reassembled with the spring connected to the follower backwards, it wouldn't feed reliably when fully loaded due to the spring binding in the mag. Downloading the magazine to 18 became a habit in some circles "just in case," though eventually this problem was discovered, and solders were instructed never to separate the follower from the spring, which virtually eliminated this problem.
2. Many magazines can be loaded without obviously excessive force to 21 rounds, and because ammo was issued loose in boxes during the early Vietnam era, this happened frequently. The result was often that the first round wouldn't chamber because it was held too tightly in the magazine. This is not a good thing in a firefight, so early in the history of the M16 it became habit to teach shooters to load 18 in a 20 rounder just to be safe. Again, the root cause was eventually addressed, and ammo began to be issued on stripper clips, which eliminated the need to count individual rounds when loading mags.
3. Some tactical squads download their back-up magazines by one round to make a tactical reload (which is done with a round chambered and the bolt forward) easier. This is because of the reduced upward pressure on the rounds.
#3 is probably the only real reason to consider downloading your magazines, though it is generally not necessary.
Fact: It's probably better to just keep track of how you load your mags. Remember that in an AR15 magazine loaded with an even number of rounds, the top round will always be on the right when the bullets are pointed away from you.
|Q. Isn't against the Geneva Convention for
the Military to use hollowpoint or fragmenting
You probably mean the Hague Peace Conference held in July 1899. That was when "bullets that expand or flatten easily in the human body" were first proscribed. The United States was never a signatory to the Hague Peace Conference which meant that not only could the United States use those rounds but also that if the US entered a conflict all the other parties could use them too.
The United States did, however, sign the Hague Convention 1907, Article 23(e) which forbade: "...arms, projectiles, or material (sic) calculated to cause unnecessary suffering." As a result, US snipers used M-118 ammo, a "Match" version of M-80 ball. (7.62×51mm 173-grain solid-tipped boat tail).
In late 1985, the Judge Advocate General wrote an opinion which affirmed that expanding ammo was legal for the US to use in operations "not involving the engagement of the armed forces of another State" (like counter terrorist operations, for example).
In 1990, another opinion permitted the use of the Sierra MatchKing hollowpoint round by US snipers, reasoning that it was not designed to expand or fragment and that the hollowpoint design was a result of the requirements for manufacturing super-accurate bullets.
Then in 1993 Special Operations Command was given the go-ahead by the Judge Advocate General to equip their forces with JHP rounds (Winchester "Black Talon" at the time) for their H&K MK 23 pistols.
Fact: The actual text
|Q. But isn't M855 ammo Armor
Piercing (AP) and illegal to possess for non-law enforcement? Isn't
M855/SS-109 restricted to military/law enforcement use? Isn't SS-109
illegal in Illinois?
No... no... and not as of July 26, 2002.
Some states may regulate it, but Illinois doesn't. We're not sure how that rumor got started. This comes up quite often because less than ethical suppliers try to use the marketing punch of "armor piercing" to sell more of their ammo. Since M855/SS-109 is more expensive than M193, some dealers go to great lengths to pawn it off. It is true that M855 was designed to increase penetration at longer ranges (500-600 meters) primarily to deal with the SAW issues, but don't mistake this "enhanced long-range penetration" design for "armor piercing." M855 is officially considered "ball," or standard ammunition by the military.
"Armor piercing ammunition" is defined in federal law [18 U.S.C.
921(17)(B)] as "a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a
handgun and which is constructed" of various metals harder than lead, or
"a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended
for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent
of the total weight of the projectile." SS-109 bullets used in M855
have a steel tip under the jacket, but they have a lead core.
As if this were not enough BATF has specifically exempted M855/SS-109 along with .30-06 M2 AP.
Straight from the horse's mouth (ATF):
NOTE: THE FOLLOWING CARTRIDGES HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE DEFINITION OF ARMOR PIERCING AMMUNITION:
5.56MM (.223) SS-109 and M855 Ammunition, Identified by a green coating on the projectile tip.
US .30-06 M2 AP, Identified by a black coating on the projectile tip.
|Q. I am never going to use handload/law enforcement
only/specialized rounds for self defense because that fact will be used
against me in a criminal/civil proceeding to show I am a evil man/woman
and be used to imprison/bankrupt me.
We think this is hooey.
AR15.com member "Austrian" (also an attorney) has been running down this potential myth for years. No one he has asked has been able to produce a citation to any court case or other proceeding which used loading data or choice of bullet to augment a criminal or civil judgment or sentence.
If you have ANY citations that would support this belief please forward them to Austrian via email.
Miscellaneous .223, 5.56 and Other Ammunition
Q. You people are a bunch of (Fackler worshippers/idiots/jello fans/armchair theorists/mindless fools). How in the world can you expect me to believe (insert Ammo-Oracle answer here)? You have all lost touch with the working man shooter with your lofty theories and ivory tower "science." I know for a fact that my super special homemade round will tear up badguys because it tears up potroast like there is no tomorrow. Why should I believe anything on here?
We have a standing rule here at the Ammo Oracle. We have spent hundreds of collective hours bringing together the most up to date knowledge, theory and practical evidence about ballistics we could. If you disagree with a given entry here try to remember that we generally don't put anything on here unless there have been more than a dozen shots, tests, or confirmed incidents to support it.
Most of the theory and or testing you find here has been repeated over and over by the likes of the FBI Firearms Training Unit. Much of this work has been validated PERSONALLY by the Ammunition mods (just in case the FBI got it wrong). If you find an error in anything we have written you need only point it out and provide evidence to support the fact that we made a mistake and we will not only change it, but we will give you credit.
We are only ever, have only ever been, interested in discovering what rounds work best for self defense and how these rounds interact with our rifles and two-legged monsters. We have no interests in any particular brand, company, manufacturer, etc. We hold no shares, gain no benefit from the sale of one round or another. Because ballistics are often counter-intuitive, marketing professionals (and more than a few marketing novices) are apt to take advantage of the widespread ignorance of the public when selling their wares. When assessing the claims of others be sure to ask the same questions of their interests.
Be this as it may, we are constantly amazed at how many people think they are the first person to come up with the idea of making a bullet out of (tungsten, aluminum, uranium, birdshot, RDX or water) and grow upset with us when we point out they aren't as clever as they thought they were. We are often accused of being inflexible or unwilling to accept change. Nothing could be father from the truth. We would LOVE to be presented with a magic bullet that penetrates only the barriers that bad guys hide behind, damages only sinful tissue and turns instantly inert when striking innocents. To date the offerings have been slim, but we are still looking.
By the same token we are highly unlikely to take a random "I heard from my friend, who is a (SEAL, Ranger, Delta guy, snake eater, FBI agent) that..." submission very seriously or be impressed by how many pork roasts or milk jugs filled with banana cream you can explode with this "cool new round." Science takes time, but this is why it is an excellent predictor.
In the end, we can only lead the horses to water, we cannot make them drink.
How thirsty are you?
Try posting in the AR15.com Ammunition Forum. Generally you'll find your answers there in 24 hours or less.
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Dr. Martin Fackler, Dr. Hans Ferdinand, Col. Albert Saben, Armalite, The Maryland AR15 Shooters Site, Firearms Tactical, "G.", "The Austrian,"
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are graciously thanked for their contributions to this FAQ.
contained herein is Copyright Ammo-Oracle (2002, 2003, 2004) unless otherwise
All original authors/artists are credited where possible. Direct attributation requests as well as corrections or other errata to:
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v3.3 - Minor update. 12/25/2004
1. This year for Christmas you get: Q. If I increase spin or barrel twist, won't that decrease wounding by making a round more stable in tissue?
v3.2 - Minor update. 12/08/2004
1. Added: "Q. My
department is considering using 10" or 11.5" barrels for our ARs. They are
so cool, and everyone knows that all the real go-fast, high-speed,
low-drag operators use SBRs. What's the best ammo to use to poke big holes
in the bad guys with short barrels?" since I'm so very tired of
answering this question on the forums.
v3.1 - Minor updates. 4/17/2004
v2.46 - Updates that didn't take the first time
around, last minute additions.