AR15.com Ammunition FAQ

Version 2.46   July 30, 2002

 by
Troy Tiscareno
and
Tatjana von E.

 

Q. What is the history behind the development of the .223/5.56mm round?

Q. What is the difference between 5.56�mm and .223 ammo?

Q. Which should I be looking for in an AR15, 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington chambers?

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 are the dimensional specifications for M855 and M193 casings?

Q. What is SS-109?  Is it the same as M855?

Q. Do I want SS-109 or M855 then?

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. I have my rifle zeroed with M855 ammo. Will any 62gr ammo shoot the same?

Q. Is all SS-109/M855 ammo marked with green bullet tips?

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?

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. 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. 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. Is this true?

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. Do M193 and M855 shoot to the same point of impact?

Q. Is military ammo the best choice for defensive use?

Q. Military ammo has flash retardant, right?

Q. Will Military Ammo wear my favorite National Match/Elite Sniper/
$5500 accurized AR rifle out faster?

Q. But what about specialty commercial rounds, like TAP, hollowpoints and softpoints?
Aren't they better than mil-spec ammo for defensive use?

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 if I want more punch? What should I move up to from 5.56mm?

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 or others?

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. Where can I get military ammo, like M193 and M855?

Q. What sort of velocity and ballistics should I expect from military ammo?

Q. Will M193/M855 penetrate a bulletproof vest?

Q. How do I make a good range report of some ammo I liked/hated?

Q. What brands of M193 are available?

Q. What brands of M855 are available?

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. 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. 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. 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. I'm buying ammo for long-term storage and I have found some surplus ammo cheap.
Should I buy that?

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. How do I store ammo properly?

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. 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. What is the best round for hunting deer-sized game?

Q. What is the best round for varmint hunting?

Q. Isn't against the Geneva Convention for the military to use hollowpoint or fragmenting ammo?

Q. What is the best round for match use?

Q. Is Wolf-brand (or other steel-cased) .223 ammo okay to shoot in my AR15?

Q. What about using Wolf in defensive roles?

Q. So what should I be paying for ammo?

Q. Are there any other factors that might cause me to avoid ammo?

Q. Will steel-jacketed bullets wear out my barrel?

Q. None of this answers my question. Now what?

 

 

 

 

 

Q. What is the history behind the development of the .223/5.56mm round?

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 full-auto detachable-magazine rifle (the M1 Garand had been designed with a detachable magazine, but the military decided they were a liability on their standard front-line infantry rifle and had the M1 redesigned). During this time, many nations were experimenting with smaller-caliber guns 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 their existing .30-06 Springfield round to create the 7.62�mm 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 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 escalation, 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�/font>51.  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�mm 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.

Q. What is the difference between 5.56�mm and .223 Remington ammo?

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 with a longer throat and should have no trouble firing hot 5.56 ammunition.  The big difference between the two chambers is in the chamber dimensions.  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, a smaller diameter bullet seat 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 AR manufacturers use the tighter ".223" (i.e., SAAMI-spec and often labeled ".223" or ".223 Remington") chamber, which tends to give you more accuracy but, in self-loading rifles, less reliability, especially with hot-loaded military ammo. Some 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 on the weapon, 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"

Armalite doesn't always mark their barrels.





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.


5.56 v. .223 Remington specification.

See also: Remington's description of the differences between .223 and 5.56mm.

Q. Which should I be looking for in an AR15, 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington chambers?

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.




Fact: The different manufacturer's chamber types are listed at length and in great detail at: The Maryland AR15 Shooters Site.

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.

Q. What is the circle-cross stamp on some of my ammo?

The circle-cross �/span> 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 US military specs.  US military specs (such as M193 and M855) have additional requirements, such as minimum velocities, that the NATO specs (like SS-109) don't have.

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.

Q. How can I tell if a round is SAAMI, US military, or 5.56 NATO mil-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?  JHP?  FMJBT?

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.  FMJ rounds are also sometimes referred to as "ball" (meaning "standard") ammunition by the military.  Generally these rounds are designed with penetration in mind, as the harder nose doesn't deform as readily and allows the round to pass through materials more effectively.

JSP is "Jacketed Soft Point" and is used to describe rounds that are encased in a metal jacket, again, usually copper, 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.

JHP is "Jacketed Hollow Point" and is used to describe rounds that are encased in a metal jacket, copper 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.




A JSP bullet.



A JHP bullet.




A HPBT bullet.

Q. What is "Ballistic Tip" ammo?

"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 softtip 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.







Polymer tips, left to right:
Hornady SST, Swift Scirocco and Nosler Ballistic Tip.

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):

 

M193: 55gr FMJBT Ball, plain tip.

This cartridge is intended for use against personnel and unarmored targets from 5.56�mm weapons with a 1-in-12-inch (1:12) or faster rifling twist rate (M16 family rifles and other compatible systems). It's ballistic coefficient is typically .243

M196: 55gr Tracer, short range, red-painted tip.

M855: 62gr FMJBT Ball, green-painted tip.

This cartridge is intended for use against personnel, unarmored and light armored targets from 5.56�mm weapons with a 1-in-10-inch (1:10) or faster rifling twist (Machine guns: M249 Minimi; Rifles: M16A2 and other compatible systems).  The M855 cartridge is based on the FN-designed SS-109 bullet, and has a gilding metal-jacketed, lead alloy core bullet with a steel penetrator.  The primer and case are waterproof.  It was adopted by NATO in 1980 as the standard small arms ammunition for NATO forces. It's ballistic coefficient is typically 304.

M856: 61gr Tracer, long range, orange-painted tip.

This cartridge uses the FN-designed L-110, 63.7 grain tracer bullet, which has no steel penetrator. (Note that while FM 23-14 lists this bullet weight for the M856, IMI lists the weight of the L-110 tracer bullet which tops the M856 round as 61.7 grains.  At least one AR15.com member reports 60.8-61.3 weights for a variety of M856 rounds that were pulled).  The long projectile requires a barrel with a 1:8 or faster rifling twist.

M995: 62gr FMJBT AP, black-painted tip.  This FN-designed bullet uses a hardened tungsten-carbide penetrator, and is only available on special-issue SAW belts.

M996: Actually, XM996, as it hasn't been adopted yet.  The tracer compliment to M995.

 


Left to Right: M193, M855, M856, Sierra MatchKing HPBT.


Component view of M995 Armor Piercing 5.56mm.

 

 

 

Fact: The specifications for the various rounds are:

M193: Defined by: Mil-C-9963F
55 grain bullet (q 2 grains) at a muzzle velocity of 3,165 (q 40 fps) from a 20" barrel @ 78 feet from the muzzle.  Accuracy: maximum of a two inch mean radius at 200 yards from ten 10 shot groups (~3 MOA).  "Statistically average" M193 ranges from 1.2 to 1.6 inches mean radius, which is equivalent to 1.8 to 2.4 MOA.  Velocity runs about 3,200 fps due to gas loss through the port.  Accuracy is typically around 2 to 2+ MOA from an M16A1 rifle at ranges of 100 to 300 yards.  M193 ammunition should have 1:12 twist or faster.  M193 is barely stabilized with 1:14 at ambient temperatures and will not stabilize at all when the air temperature drops below freezing.

M855: Defined in MIL-C-63989
NATO specifications for M855 Ball require a 61.7 grain (q 1.5 grains) with a hardened steel penetrator at a velocity of 3,000 fps (q 40 fps) from a 20" barrel @ 78 feet from the muzzle.  Typical velocity 15 feet from the M16A2's muzzle is 3,100 fps.  Accuracy: maximum of approximately four MOA over the 100 to 600 yard range.  Typical accuracy of average lots in an M16A2 is about 2+ MOA.  This round must also penetrate a nominal 10 gauge SAE 1010 or 1020 steel test plate at a range of at least 570 meters (623 yards).  The M193 round will penetrate this same plate reliably at 400 yards and about half the time at 500 yards.  The 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO rounds will penetrate it reliably out to 700 yards or more.  Because the steel penetrator increases the length and changes the weight distribution of the SS-109 bullet, it is suitable for use only in barrels with a twist of one turn in nine inches or faster.  1:10 twist will barely stabilize this round and not below zero degrees F.

Reloaders: Both M855 and M193 in the US generally use Olin Ball WC844 propellant.  Apparently H335 is roughly equivalent to WC844.

 

 


Cross sections of various rounds.

Q. What are the dimensional specifications for M855 and M193 casings?

 


M855 (Left) M193 (Right).

 

Q. What is SS-109?  Is it the same as M855?

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.


 


Diagram of M855 construction.

Q. Do I want SS-109 or M855 then?

For your AR15?  Probably M855.  As noted you never know for sure what your going to get with 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 SA80 rifles.

Opinion: Some British SS-109 reportedly causes some short cycling in Bushmasters and Colts and isn't likely a good choice for emergency or critical ammo.

Q. What type of ammo is current issue for US Military forces?

All front-line forces are armed with M16A2s and M4s and are issued M855.  Some Reserve and National Guard units, as well as most 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.

Q. Why did the US Military adopt M855 for the M16?

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�mm 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:

Fabrique Nationale (FN)

The Minimi from FN--precursor to the SAW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).

Q. So why don't all US military units carry M855?

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 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.

 

 




Fact:  Stabilization is a factor of caliber (bullet diameter), velocity, and bullet length, not bullet weight.

Q. I have my rifle zeroed with M855 ammo.  Will any 62gr ammo shoot the same?

No.

While M855 uses a 62gr bullet, it is a very long 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.

Q. Is all SS-109/M855 ammo marked with green bullet tips?

No.

Countries that previously issued 5.56mm rifles with a 1:12 barrel twist will mark their SS-109/M855 ammo with 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.

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.

Fact: "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. OK, what is all this stuff about rifle twists and different ammo?

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 first M16's had a twist rate of 1 complete twist every 14", or 1:14.  The next generation had a twist rate of 1 turn in 12".  The current A2s and up and the M4 carbines have a much faster twist rate, 1 turn in 7".  The reason for the 7" twist is mainly to stabilize the M856 tracer bullet, which is much longer than other rounds.  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-desireable 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.


The result of unstabilized bullets:
A 1 in 12" FNC firing M855 at 100 yards.
(Note the profiles cut out of the target).

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.

It can be shown by a mathematical treatment that this condition is fulfilled, if the gyroscopic stability factor (SG) exceeds unity.  This demand is called the gyroscopic stability condition.  A bullet can be made gyroscopically stable by sufficiently spinning it.

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.

Q. OK, that's complex.  Simple question: Can I fire M193 ammo in my 1:7 or 1:9 twist barrel?

Yes.

M193 is essentially a "universal" round; able to be stabilized by barrels with twists between 1:14 and 1:7.

Fact: The Scoop from the Army's Ammunition Information Notice (61-01) "INTERCHANGEABILITY OF 5.56MM BALL, TRACER AND BLANK AMMUNITION."

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.

Q. Can I fire M855/SS-109 in my 1:12 twist barrel?

Yes, but...

...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 AMMUNITION."

"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."

Q. Will M193 be accurate in a 1:7 or 1:9 twist barrel?

It may be marginally less accurate due to the fast twist rate, particularly in 1:7 twist barrels.  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 faster spin side.  Regardless, 1:9 twists seem to throw 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.

Q. What twist rate do I want for my rifle?

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 1:12, or even 1:14 twist would be best.  On the other hand, long range High Power shooters often select 1:8, 1:7.7, or 1:7 barrels to stabilize the long 77, 80 and even 90 grain bullets used for 1,000 yard competition.  The majority of shooters, though, typically shoot bullets of 50 to 72 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 75 grains in weight.  1:12 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 the heavier bullets that current research seems to be leaning towards (77 to 100 grain rounds). While it might be a speculative purchase, it seems that most rifles will need a 1:7 twist to support these rounds.

 

Opinions (Pro and Con):

1:9 is best.
Why?  Flexibility.  It doesn't seem to have any problems throwing M856 tracers around, unless it gets really cold, it wears better than 1:7 and it stabilizes more rounds than 1:12.  Additionally, 1:9 rifles, even mil-spec chrome chambered and barreled, can attain 1.0-2.0 MOA out to 300+ meters.

No, 1:7 and 1:8 are the best.
Why?  Accuracy.  For heavier and longer rounds during competition shooting, 1:8 and 1:7 twists are the best for heavy 77-80 grain rounds that I use to shoot competitively at 500-1000 meters.  Who needs to shoot tracers anyhow?

Q. So which ammo is better, M193 or M855?  And what is all this discussion about fragmentation?  Are these dumdum bullets?

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.

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:

  • Penetrate deep enough to get to major organs or blood vessels.

  • Punch holes in those structures.

  • Encourage profuse bleeding and/or CNS damage.

After a great deal of study, and the conclusion that 9mm rounds 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 block of gelatin struck by the SA 1986 M193 round.
(Notice the wound cavity near the left side, where the round entered the block
and the pair of dark fragments near the top in the center of the block).
(Source: Tatjana and Brouhaha)

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.





Respectful discussion, a long standing tradition at AR15.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fact: Read about the FBI shoot-out that spawned FBI ballistics testing in earnest.

 

 

 

 

Opinions (Pro and Con):
Fragmentation is an outstanding wounding mechanism.
Fragmentation causes significantly larger wound profiles with M193 and M855 (as well as lighter rounds like 50gr and 55gr JSP or JHP) than controlled expansion rounds do.  The size of these wounds make torso hits devastating and in non-torso hits can cause enough vascular damage to increase the rate of "bleed out."  The penetration of M193 and M855 in tissue is not compromised by the fragmentation either, as large portions of the round, particularly the nose, retain enough mass to penetrate out to 14.5" after fragmentation.  Because effective rounds need to do the most tissue damage possible, fragmentation is an ideal wounding mechanism and gives the small 5.56mm round more "bang for the buck" than even 7.62mm rounds that don't fragment.

Fragmentation is a weak and unreliable wounding mechanism; controlled expansion is where its at.
While fragmentation is effective in certain circumstances, it is unreliable at longer ranges.  A failure to fragment in a FMJ round like M193 or M855 means the round becomes a glorified .22LR.  For engagements outside of 200 meters, fragmentation is of limited utility because of lower velocities.  Controlled expansion, the same mechanism used in most hollowpoint handgun rounds, is far better understood, predictable and does not require high velocities for its effect.  Controlled expansion is a proven design with thousands of rounds performing well in a variety of circumstances from hunting to law enforcement.  Using rounds that utilize controlled expansion increased the effective range of the AR15 and makes it a better, more flexible defensive weapon.

 

 

 

 


An unfired mil-spec M193 1986 South African surplus bullet and the same bullet type after a ~3150fps encounter with ballistic gelatin.  About 98% of mass and over 150 fragments recovered.
(Source: Tatjana and Brouhaha)

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?

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.


M193 rounds after close encounters with ballistic gelatin
at various velocities. (Fackler)



Opinions (Pro and Con):
Fackler is a genius.
Dr. Fackler's work in simulated tissue (ballistic gelatin) has made it easy to understand why bullet designs work and why they fail.  His common sense approach to ballistics research is invaluable in helping us select defensive rounds based on their real performance.  Ballistic gelatin was developed to simulate the average of human tissue based on thousands of actual wounds, animal tests and battlefield surgeon observations (including by Dr. Fackler) and as a result is an effective medium to test round performance in.

Fackler is a fraud/misinterpreted.
Fackler works with ballistic gelatin.  I've never seen a block of gelatin commit a violent crime so I'm not very interested in shooting one.  What counts is the proven performance of rounds in actual shooting incidents.  Gelatin is not human tissue.  There are no bones, cavities or other organ like structures in gelatin.  Regardless, Fackler's work is overcited and used to support questionable theories about terminal performance.

Decide for yourself by reading some of Fackler's work:

Wounding Patterns of Military Rifle Bullets.

Stockton - The Facts.

Q. At what range will M193 fragment?  How about M855?

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:

Distance to 2700 fps

20" Barrel

16" Barrel

14.5" Barrel

11.5" Barrel

M193

190-200m

140-150m

95-100m

40-45m

M855

140-150m

90-95m

45-50m

12-15m

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 larger?:
Shorter barrels are critical to close quarters battle (CQB) and urban work.  Here ranges are shorter and getting that barrel around corners and inside houses is tough enough without it being too long.  All that velocity isn't necessary and I'm worried about overpenetration anyhow so it's a good thing to keep it under control.  If I really am worried about low velocities I'll just switch to controlled expansion rounds.

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 20":
I need a more flexible weapon that allows me to get out to 200 meters when I have to.  Additionally, fragmentation is critical to my philosophy about wound ballistics and I want as much of it as I can get.  This means at least 16" on my barrels and 20" is better.  16" is plenty short enough for interior and urban work and it gives me the advantage of not having to worry about using my rifle for long shots on deer or for longer defensive engagements.  Plus, if I had a true 14.5" barrel I'd just have to register it with the ATF as a short barreled weapon anyhow.  Why should I have 16" of overall length and only get the benefit of 14.5" of that?

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.


Here's an M193 FMJ round which has yawed
80 degrees after penetrating an orange (3.25 inches).
(Note the nose is facing away from the camera).

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.


Wound profile of M193.


Wound profile of M855.


Cross-section of 1986 South African M193 wound profile from inch 3 to inch 4.
Bullet has yawed and fragmentation has begun in earnest.
(Source: Tatjana and Brouhaha)


Cross-sections from inch 4 to inch 6. Notice the opening up of the wound profile,
the significant deposit of fragments and substantial tissue damage.


Cross-sections from inch 6 to inch 8. Note the closing of the wound profile
and the larger size of fragments.

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.


Representation of a M193 3100 fps torso strike 2.5" right of center mass (left).
Representation of a 3100 fps M193 torso strike 3.5" left and 2" below center mass (right)
Size adjusted to scale.  Critical areas (in green) and area of maximum fragmentation and
tissue disruption (in blue).

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.



Fact: The details of the FBI test protocol:
Test Event 1: Bare Gelatin

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.


The central and peripheral nervous systems.

Fact: The spinal cord is about the thickness of your pinky.  It probably doesn't make a good primary target.

Fact:
According to the FBI the average human torso is 9 inches front to back.

 

 

 

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. Does the 2,700 fps rule apply to all .223 and 5.56 ammo?

No.

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.

Some examples:

  • Czech-made Sellier & Bellot (S&B headstamp) ammo uses bullets with thicker jackets made of mild steel which have been copper-plated.  From the outside, they appear just like M193 bullets, but due to the jacket material and construction, they do not fragment.
  • Winchester 64gr Power Point ammo is loaded with a soft-point (SP) bullet with a thick copper jacket and no cannelure.  It was specifically designed for hunting medium (deer) sized game and was designed to expand, but not fragment.
  • M995 Armor Piercing ammo has a solid tungsten-carbide core.  Tungsten is denser than lead, but much harder, and it won't fragment.
  • Some time ago 7.62 NATO rounds manufactured in West Germany also had fragmenting properties.  NATO standards do not specify jacket material or jacket thickness.  The West German 7.62 round used copper-plated steel in the jacket, but their US counterparts used gilding metal alloy around .032 inches (.8mm) thick at the cannelure.  The West German jacket is only about .020 inches (.5mm) thick near the cannelure.  As a result of the differences, particularly the weaker jacket, the West German round yaws after 8cm or so in tissue before breaking in half at the cannelure. The nose, comprising just over half of the bullet's weight, generally remains intact, and the remaining mass of the lower half fragments.  The result in tissue is predictably devastating.

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.


A M193 round with cannelure indicated.


A West German 7.62 round (left) and the
American counterpart (right).

Q. That's really complicated.  Simple question: Why is M193 better than M855?

In a nutshell: Advantages of M193 over M855:

  • It costs less, so you can buy more.
  • It's compatible with any rifling twist.
  • It's generally more widely available.
  • It has a slightly flatter trajectory with the appropriate battle zero.
  • It appears to have better terminal ballistics than 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.


Counter Opinion: Keeping two kinds of ammo is rather foolish.  It just leaves the opportunity open for confusion during a crisis, when it's most important to keep things simple.

Q. But doesn't M855 penetrate hard objects better than M193?

It depends.  At close ranges (up to 200 yards), M193 will penetrate more steel than M855, due to its increased velocity.  Beyond 200 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 at about 200-300 yards, beyond which M855 will have more velocity than M193.


Fact:
Some penetration stats for M193 and 7.62:

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.

Q. I heard that M855 has had serious stopping problems in Afghanistan. Is this true?

Yes.

Though early M855 experiments showed the round fragments well in the lab, out of M4s M855 has been showing inconsistent fragmentation and occasional serious stoppage issues. Partially because of the complex construction of the round, from batch to batch M855 has variable yaw performance, often not yawing at all through 7-8 or even 10" of tissue. This is complicated by the low velocity implicit in using M855 out of the short barrelled M4 platform.

Interesting, none of these reports seem to be coming from troops 20" or SAW platforms.


 

 

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.

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?

Well, yes and no.  For some penetration mediums like mild steel, M855 is actually superior. Consider a recent research report:

The SS-109 can penetrate the 3.45mm standard NATO steel plate to 640 meters, while the 7.62mm ball can only penetrate it to 620 meters.  The U. S. steel helmet penetration results are even more impressive as the SS-109 can penetrate it up to 1,300 meters, while the 7.62mm ball cannot penetrate it beyond 800 meters.

The current production 7.62�mm NATO ball cartridge has remained unchanged since its adoption by NATO in 1953.  As typified by the U. S. M80 ball and the Belgian M77 ball, this cartridge propels a 147-grain cupronickel-jacketed lead bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps (848 mps).  Total cartridge length and weight are 2.80 inches and 386 grains, respectively. Utilizing a standard 22-inch barrel with a rifling twist of one turn in twelve inches (M14 rifle), the maximum effective range of the 7.62�mm ball cartridge is listed as 620 meters (682 yards).  The U. S. M80 and the Belgian M77 ball projectiles can penetrate the standard NATO 3.45 mm (.14 inch) thick steel plate up to a range of 620 meters and can penetrate one side of the U. S. steel helmet up to a range of 800 meters (880 yards).  In barrier and fortification penetration tests, the 147 grain ball projectile can consistently penetrate two test building blocks.

The new SS-109 cartridge propels a heavier 62-grain semi-armor piercing projectile at an initial velocity of 3,050 fps (924 mps).  The improved projectile contains a 10-grain .182 caliber hardened steel penetrator that ensures penetration at longer ranges.

The new projectile can penetrate the standard NATO 3.45mm steel plate up to a range of 640 meters (704 yards) and one side of the U. S. steel helmet up to a range of 1,300 meters (1430 yards).  In tests of barrier and fortification penetration however, the steel penetrator of the SS-109 could not pierce any of the test building blocks.

The primary advantages of the intermediate power 5.56�mm NATO cartridge are summarized as follows: (1) the penetration and power of the SS-109 version are superior to the 7.62mm NATO and more than adequate for the 300-meter average combat range documented in actual battle (ORO studies): (2) the lower recoil generated by the 5.56mm cartridge allows more control during full automatic fire and therefore provides greater firepower to the individual soldier; (3) the lesser weight of the 5.56mm ammunition allows the individual soldier to carry more ammunition and other equipment; (4) the smaller size of the 5.56mm ammunition allows the use of smaller, lighter and more compact rifles and squad automatic weapons and; (5) the lethality of the 5.56mm projectile is greater than the 7.62mm projectile at normal combat ranges, due to the tendency of the lighter projectile to tumble or shatter on impact.  In summary, the 5.56mm NATO provides greater firepower and effectiveness than the larger and heavier 7.62mm NATO. 5.56-mm NATO ammunition weight only 47% as much as 7.62 mm NATO ammunition.

However:

These comparisons however, do not consider the fact that the SS-109 uses a semi-armor piercing, steel-cored projectile, while the 7.62mm ball uses a relatively soft antipersonnel, lead-cored projectile.  A semi-armor piercing 7.62mm caliber projectile, using second generation technology as the SS-109, would easily outperform the smaller SS-109 projectile in penetration tests at all ranges.  With respect to barrier and fortification penetration tests, the 7.62mm ball projectile can consistently penetrate two test building blocks, while the SS-109 semi-armor piercing projectile cannot penetrate a single block.

 

 

 

 

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�mm ammunition, like from the AK-47, bear out the less than stellar lethality of the round.



 

Fact: The 7.62� 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.

Q. Didn't tightening the twist rate from 1:14 to 1:12 reduce the wounding potential of M193?

No...

...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 1:14 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 400 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 0.024 inches, which would look like the barrel had been threaded instead of rifled.

Q. Do M193 and M855 shoot to the same point of impact?

No...

...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).


Even out to 300 meters there is a mere 4.5 inch difference between the paths of the rounds.


The big differences in bullet path are past 400 meters.


 

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.



M855 (left) and M193 (right).

Q. Is military ammo the best choice for defensive use?

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, Winchester's 64 grain PowerPoint (in the Super-X line) is a top performer.  It has the advantage of being less sensitive to velocity by relying on bullet expansion rather than fragmentation and is more consistent over a longer range of velocities.  It would also be a better choice for use in AR-type pistols and short-barreled rifles, where the short barrels impart much lower velocities on the bullets.  The downsides of this round are: questionable stability in 1:12-twist rifles, a smaller wound channel compared to a fragmenting bullet, and a cost of 3 to 4 times as much as M193.

 

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 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. Military ammo has flash retardant, right?

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. Will Military Ammo wear my favorite National Match/Elite Sniper/$5500 accurized AR rifle out faster?

Not Really.

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, milspec 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.

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.

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 the fragmentation is less dramatic.

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 (RA223T2).
68 gr Black Hills "Heavy" Match (BTHP).
69 gr Match King loadings.
75 gr Hornady Match (BTHP)
75 gr TAP (BTHP)
77 gr Black Hills Sierra Match King (BTHP)

In particular 70+ grain rounds often maintain their fragmentation properties far beyond the fragmentation range of M855 and M193.

 




50gr .223 Remington JSP in gelatin
Note the less dramatic fragmentation effects.


Counter Opinion: Specialty Rounds are the best choice for defensive use.
Specialty rounds have been gaining popularity among police and tactical teams and appear to perform very well.  Consider the results of this shooting with Federal 55-grain HP:

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 CQB.

 

 

 



75 grain TAP in gel. Note that lighter TAP (40 and 60 grain) use the AMAX round and perform poorly.

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 automobies?

Without commenting on the wisdom of engaging roving packs of zombies without adult supervision, the best performing rounds, in terms of penetration, in 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 the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet, are designed for penetration and generally do NOT fragment in CQB circumstances.



Federal Tactical JSP.

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, 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 U.S. military in combat operations since September 11th. Also showing great promise is the 87 gr P.R.L. match round.


77grain Match King Open Tip in calibrated ballistic gelatin. Note the long neck prior to tumbling, however.


100 grain Black Hills in calibrated ballistic gelatin. Note the amazingly short neck before
tumbling (1 inch) and the dramatic fragmentation along with almost 13" of penetration.

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.

 

 

 

Fact: Black Hills loaded 77 gr Match King bullets have already seen extensive combat use by U.S. 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 new Black Hills 100 gr round as the "most impressive performing .223 round we have ever tested."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 if I want more punch? What should I move up to from 5.56mm?

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 the plastic tip bullets such as the 150 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip and 155 gr Hornady AMAX, as well as the 165 gr Sierra Game King-- they have dramatic fragmentation and usually maintain 13-15" of penetration in gel testing. Obviously, both 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.



5.56 LC'00 (left) and 7.62 NATO Hirt (Right)

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 or others?

You always have to worry about it, of course, but even FMJ 5.56 rounds will penetrate less than 9mm handgun rounds.  Generally after passing through an interior wall or two they don't have enough energy or retained mass to pass through an exterior wall as well.



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 do less penetrating after wall strikes than 9mm handgun ammunition and other handgun rounds.

Q. Isn't 5.56 too dangerous to use indoors?  Shouldn't I use a pistol or shotgun instead?

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.  This, along with the ability to penetrate ballistic vests, is the reason that many SWAT teams are transitioning away from the 9mm MP5, selecting 5.56mm carbines instead.




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 safe for interior use- insofar as bystanders are concerned.

Q. What is "SHTF" ammo?  What is "TEOTWAWKI?"

"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�span style="FONT-FAMILY: Tahoma">.

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.


 

 

 

Opinion: You should probably avoid surplus ammo since there is no telling how it has been stored over the last many years.




Opinions (Pro and Con):
5.56 is not good SHTF ammo.
5.56 doesn't penetrate enough, it doesn't defeat light cover and the lack of fragmentation at range of FMJ rounds means that 7.62 is a better choice.


5.56 is best for SHTF.
5.56 is light, more of it can be carried, light recoil means faster shot recovery for follow-ups and it performs just fine inside of 200 meters.  Since SHTF engagements aren't likely to exceed that there is no reason to use 7.62.

Q. Where can I get US Military ammo, like M193 and M855?

Due to an Executive Order signed by President Clinton, the US military can no longer "surplus" ammunition, except via the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), and the CMP does not sell 5.56/.223 ammo.  US military ammo (most notably from the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant) used to be widely available, but has become quite scarce and the prices quite high, in the last few years.  Though some military ammo components are "saved" by contractors disassembling the ammo and selling the components, most expired or out-of-spec lots of ammo are burned.  Billions of rounds of ammo, paid for by US tax dollars, are burned yearly.

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.

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

Range
Velocity
Energy
Momentum
Drop
Bullet Path
Time of Flight
(Yards)
(Ft/Sec)
(Ft/Lbs)
(Lb-Sec)
(inches)
(inches)
(Seconds)
0
3250.0
1289.70
0.79
0
-1.50
0.000000
25
3161.2
1220.20
0.77
-0.1
-0.79
0.023399
50
3074.2
1154.00
0.75
-0.43
-0.29
0.047458
75
2988.9
1090.80
0.73
-0.98
-0.02
0.072201
100
2905.4
1030.70
0.71
-1.77
0.00
0.097652
125
2823.4
973.30
0.69
-2.83
-0.23
0.123839
150
2742.9
918.70
0.67
-4.15
-0.74
0.150790
175
2663.9
866.50
0.65
-5.76
-1.54
0.178536
200
2586.3
816.80
0.63
-7.68
-2.64
0.207109
225
2510.1
769.30
0.61
-9.93
-4.06
0.236545
250
2435.0
724.00
0.59
-12.52
-5.83
0.266882
275
2361.3
680.80
0.58
-15.47
-7.97
0.298160
300
2288.8
639.70
0.56
-18.82
-10.50
0.330422
325
2217.6
600.50
0.54
-22.58
-13.44
0.363712
350
2147.5
563.10
0.52
-26.78
-16.82
0.398081
375
2078.8
527.60
0.51
-31.45
-20.68
0.433578
400
2011.3
494.00
0.49
-36.63
-25.03
0.470258
425
1945.2
462.00
0.48
-42.34
-29.93
0.508177
450
1880.4
431.70
0.46
-48.63
-35.40
0.547394
475
1817.0
403.10
0.44
-55.53
-41.48
0.587972
500
1755.1
376.10
0.43
-63.09
-48.22
0.629972


And for a 16" barrel:

Range
Velocity
Energy
Momentum
Drop
Bullet Path
Time of Flight
(Yards)
(Ft/Sec)
(Ft/Lbs)
(LB-Sec)
(inches)
(inches)
(Seconds)
0
3100.0
1173.4
0.76
0.00
-1.50
0.00000
25
3014.2
1109.4
0.74
-0.12
-0.75
0.02454
50
2930.2
1048.4
0.72
-0.47
-0.24
0.04977
75
2847.7
990.2
0.70
-1.08
0.01
0.07574
100
2766.8
934.7
0.68
-1.95
0.00
0.10246
125
2687.4
881.8
0.66
-3.11
-0.30
0.12996
150
2609.4
831.4
0.64
-4.57
-0.89
0.15828
175
2532.7
783.3
0.62
-6.35
-1.81
0.18746
200
2457.3
737.3
0.60
-8.47
-3.06
0.21752
225
2383.2
693.5
0.58
-10.94
-4.68
0.24851
250
2310.3
651.8
0.56
-13.80
-6.67
0.28048
275
2238.7
612.0
0.55
-17.07
-9.08
0.31345
300
2168.3
574.1
0.53
-20.77
-11.91
0.34749
325
2099.2
538.1
0.51
-24.93
-15.21
0.38265
350
2031.3
503.8
0.50
-29.58
-19.00
0.41897
375
1964.8
471.4
0.48
-34.77
-23.32
0.45651
400
1899.6
440.6
0.46
-40.51
-28.20
0.49533
425
1835.8
411.5
0.45
-46.86
-33.69
0.53550
450
1773.5
384.0
0.43
-53.85
-39.82
0.57707
475
1712.7
358.2
0.42
-61.53
-46.63
0.62010
500
1653.6
333.9
0.40
-69.95
-54.19
0.66467

 

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.

Q. Will M193/M855 penetrate a bulletproof vest?

That depends.

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�mm 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).


Left: Type IIIA body Armor, Right: A Type III trauma plate struck with two rounds of:
M193 (upper right) M855 (Lower Right) 7.62 NATO (Left).


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 published in
December 1978.  In March 1985, NIJ amended the standard, issuing STD-0101.02 to take into account armors' susceptibility to angle shots and multi-shot assaults.  STD-0101.03 was released in 1987. Ballistic Resistance of Personal Body Armor, NIJ Standard-0101.04 was published in 2000 and is the first revision in 13 years.

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
.40 S&W caliber full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullets, with nominal masses of 11.7 g (180 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less.  It also provides protection against Type I threats.

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
.357 Magnum jacketed soft point (JSP) bullets, with nominal masses of 10.2 g (158 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less.  It also provides protection against Type I and Type IIA threats.

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
869 m/s (2850 ft/s) or less.  It also provides at least single-hit protection against the Type I through III threats.

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. How do I make a good range report of some ammo I liked/hated?

The best range reports will list:

Conditions: Temperature, humidity, wind, altitude. (These are very important)
Type of Ammo: Manufacturer, weight, bullet type (M193/M855 hollow point, boat tail, full metal jacket, etc.), year of manufacture, lot number (lot number is important).

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
(Lot-1) ammo.


Firearm-Bushmaster M4, 14.5" barrel, (1-9")
Brass Headstamp-00, 01
Temperature-62-65 deg F
Altitude Above SL-100'
Number of shots in test-10
Target Distance-100Y
Sights-Open from bench rest
Velocity Measured with a Chrony @ 10' from muzzle.
High Velocity-3087 fps
Low Velocity-3030 fps
Average Velocity-3053 fps (10 shots)
Accuracy-Good, at approx 2"

Q. What brands of M193 are available?

Lake City and Winchester are the primary suppliers of M193 to the US military. 

Winchester M193 is available commercially in Winchester's budget military line.  The model number is Q3131 and it comes in a white box marked USA.

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 Winchester, under Winchester's model Q3131A.  IMI is approved to supply the US military with ammo and it is often used when troops are in the region, to save shipping costs.

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 is 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.

Q. What brands of M855 are available?

Again, Lake City and Winchester are the primary suppliers of M855.  Winchester does not sell M855 commercially, though they do make it available to police departments.

IMI M855 is available from several sources and other foreign surplus ammo is available from time to time.  Recent brands have been Santa Barbara from Spain, Sellier & Bellot from the Czech Republic and Radway Green SS-109 from England.  It should be noted, though that the Radway Green ammo is underloaded specifically to function in their horrible L-85A (SA80) bullpup rifle and may not cycle in other rifles.




The British L-85A (SA80).

Q. What is the best M193 to get?

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 Plant.  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.  Unfortunately, it's not being manufactured for civilians anymore.  If you can find some recent manufacture for a decent price it would be wise to pick it up.


Lake City XM193.

Winchester Q3131A and Winchester Q3131 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.  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 Story
(courtesy of Dave_G):
Alliant Techsystems assumed control of operations at Lake City AAP on April 3, 2000.  There was a lot of stuff laying around in the warehouses, components, loaded ammunition and what have you, that had been produced under Olin's operations.  Alliant wanted to get rid of all Olin materials, so they approached Federal.  About September, several ammunition distributors were approached by Federal and offered the XM193 5.56mm ammunition, produced in 2001.  Millions of rounds were sold, packaged in generic white boxes with the Federal logo on them.

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, right?

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.


AR15.com user Greenhorn found this round shipped in a new box.
The damage on the neck of the case probably makes this dangerous to fire.


Some dinged up looking Lake City XM193.

 




A lovely box of Q3131A 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?

Yep.

Q3131A and LC 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 has 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.
Q. What is the best M855 to get?

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.

 

Q. Where can I get some M995 AP?

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.


Some M995 "Black Tip."

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 ammo?

This depends.

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 suppoed to "light up" a few dozen yards from the shooter, practically almost all tracer rounds ignite right out of the barrel. This, combined with muzzle flash, is a positional dead giveaway.

Q. Isn't shooting tracers bad for my weapon?

Well, actually they can cause problems if you use them excessively.  Consider this from FM 23-9:

Soldiers should avoid long-term use of 100-percent tracer rounds. This could cause deposits of incendiary material/chemical compounds that could cause damage to the barrel. Therefore, when tracer rounds are fired, they are mixed with ball ammunition in a ratio no greater than one-to-one with a preferred ratio of three or four ball rounds to one tracer round.

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.

 

 

 


Smokey Bear isn't around anywhere, is he?
(M196 tracers in action).

Q. Can tracers cause fires?

You bet.

Be very careful of any underbrush or vegetation, especially in dry weather. Remember: Only you can prevent forest fires.

 
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?

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.


Firing pin redesigns.
Colt eventually adopted the No. 2 design.


Dimpled primer from an AR15 chambering.

Consider: Armalite's warning on titanium pins.

Q. I'm buying ammo for long-term storage and I have found some surplus ammo cheap.  Should I buy that?

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.




Fact:
Most surplus ammunition is from the late 1980s (Reagan era) or early 1990s and is on the surplus market because it has exceeded the recommended shelf-life of the manufacturer.  While often this ammo shoots wonderfully for recreational use, military applications are much less tolerant of failures than recreational uses.  A pair of failure to fire rounds at the range is not a big deal.  In the field it can easily be a life or death difference.

Q. Where can I buy ammo cans?

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.

Q. What is a stripper clip?

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�.



Stripper clips.

Fact: Proper use of stripper clips for loading magazines.

Q. What is a bandoleer?

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.

 


A standard 7 pocket bandoleer.

Q. Where can I buy stripper clips, guides, bandoleers and related items?

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

Q. How do I store ammo properly?

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:


Loaded bandoleer ready to go.
3 clips in each pocket for 210 rounds per bandoleer.

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.

 

 

Opinion: Need desiccant? Try:
Desiccant City

Dehumidify



Stripper clips in a 7 pocket bandoleer
(close up)


Four (4) seven pocket bandoleers in a .50 cal ammo can.

Q. What is "Sealed" ammo? Why does it matter? How can I tell if my ammo is "Sealed"?

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 important for ammo intended for serious use and/or storage.

Pictured below are the results of immersion experiments done by AR15.com member Brouhaha 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:


After 24 hours of submersion the powder
inside the round remains dry in this particular round.


After only 48 hours of submersion in shallow water,
however, moisture has seaped inside the casing
and probably ruined the powder.

 



Sealant on the base (left) and the primer (right) of a LC'00 round. Sealant is usually a reddish or purple color.

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 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.


LC Lot 1 (left) and LC Lot 7 (Right)
Notice the absence of dark sealant on the
LC Lot 7 round.

Q. What common ammo is properly sealed? Is Wolf/SA/Lake City/M193 properly sealed?

After the results from early experiments and with this question in mind Brouhaha 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):


Type

Time

Lake City: Lot 1
Lake City: Lot 7
South African '86
Wolf 55gr FMJBT
24 Hours
 
No leakage.
No neck sealant.
Significant leakage.
No leakage.
Some leakage.
Some rust.
48 Hours
 
No leakage.
No neck sealant.
Leakage. Water in case.
No leakage.
No leakage.
Some rust.
72
Hours
No leakage.

No neck sealant.
Leakage. Water in case.

No leakage.
No leakage.
Rust. Pliers needed for extraction.



Notes: I wouldn't want to drink the water that the Wolf was in. Dark brown after 12 hours. Yuck. Clearly, the rounds don't get along with water. Lot 7 is definately not sealed. None of the Lot 7 rounds fared well after 48 hours, only one held up through 24 hours.

Conclusions: LC Lot 7 is clearly not sealed. This isn't a good thing if you're planning on storing the 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?


Probably overkill, unless your hyperparanoid.

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.

 



Sealant on the base (left) and the primer (right) of a LC'01 round. Sealant is usually a reddish or purple color.

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 started?

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:

The only packer worth its salt is the Tilia FoodSaver Pro. I bought it from a local gourmet food store for around $350.00. I've probably spent 5 times that amount on bags though. You really need to use the manufacturer's bags to obtain a good vacuum seal (they have tiny ridges impregnated in the plastic to allow the air to be sucked out). Normally, I pack several boxes of ammo in one bag, but for my "bug out bag" I wanted to individually pack each box. You need to leave a few inches around the perimeter to allow the sealer to effectively seal the edges.


Vacuum sealed bandoleers and cases. (Note the white desiccant packs).

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: AR15.com user Skibane notes that BrownCor and U-Line both apparently sell vacuum bags at a fraction of the cost of the original food saver types.

 

 

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;

No and;

Probably not.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Magazines ready for storage in a .50 ammo can.

Fact: Everything you ever wanted to know about magazines but were afraid to ask you can find in the: AR15 Magazine FAQ or in the Magazine Forum.

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?

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. Where can I find reviews of various types of ammo?

Besides the AR15.com Ammunition forum, which will often have information on the ammo types currently available from distributors, check here:

http://www.aaconsult.com/ammoreview

 

Q. Why should I test new-production ammo?  It should work, shouldn't it?

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. What is the best round for hunting deer-sized game?

Many people consider the Winchester 64 grain Power Point (from the Super-X line) and the moly-coated Power Point Plus (from the Supreme line) rounds to be the best deer rounds available.  Predictable expansion across a wider-range of velocities is why most states mandate soft-point bullets for hunting and that certainly applies here.  While military FMJ will certainly and quickly kill a deer within fragmentation range, it also tends to tear up a lot of meat and skin and leaves fragments all over the place which makes it undesirable for hunters.  And it would be cruel to shoot a deer with FMJ outside the fragmentation range, as you would only wound the deer and it would likely suffer a long, painful death.

 

Fact: Details on the Winchester Power Point and Power Point Plus.

Q. What is the best round for varmint hunting?

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.



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.

Q. Isn't against the Geneva Convention for the Military to use hollowpoint or fragmenting ammo?

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�/font>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 counterterrorist 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 (Black Talon at the time) for their H&K MK 23 pistols.

 

 

Fact: The actual text read:
The Undersigned, Plenipotentiaries of the Powers represented at the International Peace Conference at The Hague, duly authorized to that effect by their Governments,
Inspired by the sentiments which found expression in the Declaration of St. Petersburg of the 29th November (11th December), 1868, Declare as follows: "The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions.  The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them.  It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power.

Fact: Plenipotentiary (n) circa 1656: a person and especially a diplomatic agent invested with full power to transact business.

Consider:
The Hague Peace Conference of 1899.

The Hague Convention of 1907.

Q. What is the best round for match use?

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 Camp Perry, outclassing other Service Rifles.

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


Swiss GP90.

Q. Is Wolf-brand (or other steel-cased) .223 ammo okay to shoot in my AR15?

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 two methods is used to treat the steel cases: lacquer or "copper-washing."  Most cases are coated with a protective lacquer, usually green or gray in color, which is the cheapest solution.  Copper-washed ammo is a blotchy bronze color and usually the entire loaded round is coated.  Copper-washed ammo is usually only found in the East-Bloc calibers.  The lacquered cases generally work without problems in most calibers, but 5.56/.223 is often an exception.  Unlike the Soviet-designed cases, the 5.56 cartridge has very little taper to the cases 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 when lacquer is factored in, stoppages often occur.

Often the lacquer on the cases is not evenly applied and visible drips and runs can be seen.  When the chamber of the gun heats up from firing, the lacquer will often melt and coat the surface of the chamber, in effect gluing the case into the chamber.  In some cases, the extractor will be able to remove the case (though wear on the extractor is increased), while in others, the extractor will slip off the case or pull through the rim.  When this happens, not only does it cause a stoppage, but the case often has to be removed by inserting a cleaning rod down the bore and pounding out the case.  Then the lacquer must be scrubbed out of the chamber, which is not an easy process.

To be sure, some people report no problems using lacquered ammo and enjoy the fact that it is available at very low cost.  Nevertheless, enough people have problems with it sooner or later that it may be advisable to avoid lacquered 5.56 ammo altogether.

 


Opinions (Pro and Con):

Wolf stinks:
Literally.  It smells like ammonia for some reason whenever I shoot the stuff.  Additionally, it gums up my AR quite a bit and the steel casings get stuck if I heat my chamber up too much.  Even if you've never had a problem with the stuff, why take the chance?  Furthermore, there is stuff just as cheap out there, like South African surplus ammo, that doesn't have that vile coating or smell so bad.  Oh, and it leaves red flecks of primer sealant all over everything.

Wolf is the best thing since sliced bread:
It's cheap and fun ammo for plinking around. It works fine in my AR, I've never even had a slight problem.  More than that it's cheaper than dirt and I have never had any cleaning problems with it, certainly no stuck casings.  All that negative stuff is just an urban myth. I don't notice any smell either.  Don't like yer Wolf?  Send it to me; I'll dispose of it for you.


Coated, steel cased Wolf ammo.


Left to right, South African 1986 M193, LC'00, Wolf .223 55gr. Note the thickness of the Wolf's jacket.

Q. What about using Wolf in defensive roles?

Probably not the best idea.

Wolf is generally underpowered for a milspec 5.56mm round and velocity, so critical to wound profile in FMJ rounds, suffers as a result. Additionally, the copper jacket on wolf 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 similar cost.


Wolf 55 grain FMJBT from a 1:9 Bushmaster 16" after striking gel @ 2855 fps.
Fragmentation and wound volume are minimal.

 

 

 

 


Unfired Wolf and a Wolf FMBTJ round after a close encounter with ballistic gelatin at 2885 fps. The round was fired from a 16" barrel at a mere 16 feet and still did not exhibit substantial fragmentation.

Q. 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. Are there any other factors that might cause me to avoid ammo?

Yes.  Some ammo is loaded with copper-plated steel-jacketed bullets instead of the more common (in the US) copper- (actually gilding metal, a copper/zinc alloy) jacketed bullets.  Many gun ranges do not allow bullets with steel content to be fired, as it can damage backstops and can spark when hitting rocks or cement, causing fires.  Also, never shoot steel-jacketed bullets at steel targets.  There have been several injuries reported due to ricochets caused by firing steel-jacketed bullets at close-in metal targets.  Beyond 100 yards, there should be no danger to the shooter, but care should be taken that no one else is within a 100 yard radius of the targets.

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.


Kaboom! A victim of bad reloads.

Q. Will steel-jacketed bullets wear out my barrel?

Steel-jacketed bullets are always plated with a layer of copper to help protect the bore of the gun.  There should be no 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.

 

Q. None of this answers my question. Now what?

Try posting in the AR15.com ammunition Forum.  Generally you'll find your answers there in 24 hours or less.

 

Did you find this FAQ helpful? Why not consider becoming an AR15.com member?

Since 07/30/2002

black rifle enthusiasts have been getting smarter than you by reading the AR15.com Ammo FAQ.


Credits:
Troy, Tatjana, Brouhaha, Dave G, Dr. Gary Roberts and Tactical Forums, ilikelegs,
RBAD, Ammoman, Dr. Martin Fackler, Dr. Hans Ferdinand,
Col. Albert Saben, Armalite,
The Maryland AR15 Shooters Site, Firearms Tactical, "G.",
and
Special Agent "Bob Smith"
are graciously thanked for their contributions to this FAQ.

Forward corrections or other errata to: Troy Tiscareno or Tatjana von E.

Version History:

v2.46 - Updates that didn't take the first time around, last minute additions.
1. Added 72 hour pictures for water experiment in "Q. What common ammo is properly sealed? Is Wolf/SA/Lake City/M193 properly sealed?"
2. Corrected typos (thanks to AR15.com member: pdxshooter).
3. Adjusted section "Q. What is the history behind the development of the .223/5.56mm round?" to reflect reports of longer law enforcement shootings.
4. Adjusted section "Q. So which ammo is better, M193 or M855?  And what is all this discussion about fragmentation?  Are these dumdum bullets?" to reflect more current research findings.
5. Adjusted section "Q. But what about specialty commercial rounds, like TAP, hollowpoints, and softpoints?  Aren't they better than mil-spec ammo for defensive use?" to reflect more current research findings, added photos.
6. Thought about numbering sections, decided that was far too much work, elected to drink a margarita instead.
7. After drinking "one" margarita, added section: "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?"
8. Added hit counter.

v2.45
1. Added section: "Q. I heard that M855 has had serious stopping problems in Afghanistan. Is this true?"
2. Added section: "Q. What about using Wolf in defensive roles?"
3. Added super-secret easter egg. (Can you find it? No cheating!)
4. Added section:"Q. What common ammo is properly sealed? Is Wolf/SA/Lake City/M193 properly sealed?" including pictures, experimental results.

v2.4
1. Pages are now "sorta" printer friendly if you print in landscape mode with left and right margins set to .5".
2. Added section: "Q. Military ammo has flash retardant, right?" Adjusted erroneous references throughout to M193 always containing flash retardant.
3. Added ballistic coefficients to section: "Q. What types of ammo has the US Military used in its M16s and M4s?"
4. Added 77 grain and 100 grain gel shots and some text to section: "Q. So are heavier rounds dead for self-defense purposes?"
5. Added the results of Brouhaha's water experiment with unsealed ammo plus pics and caution about LC Lot 6 and 7 potentially being unsealed in: "Q. What is "Sealed" ammo? Why does it matter? How can I tell if my ammo is "Sealed"?"
6. Did a major "code cleanup," recompressed some of the images and reduced the file size by 15% in the process.
7. Added section: "Q. Will Military Ammo wear my favorite National Match/Elite Sniper/$5500 accurized AR rifle out faster?"
8. Added "New" icons to updated sections.
9. Added section: "Q. What is "Ballistic Tip" ammo?"
10.
Added this version history.

Planned additions for the next version:
A. More water experiments for sealed v. unsealed M193.
B. New section: "Q. Exactly which LC lots are sealed and which aren't?"
C. Calibrated gel testing results for some more 5.56 and maybe 7.62 rounds.
D. More detailed 7.62 v. 5.56 comparison of wounding for: "Q. What if I want more punch? What should I move up to from 5.56mm?"
E. Even more printer friendly pages.