Episode 006 – Rethinking Steel Cased Ammo


Welcome to episode 6!  The big 006.  It’s like a secret agent or something.

The other weekend I was doing some plinking with some friends, and the question of steel cased ammo came up.  Do I shoot it?  Is it bad for my gun?  And I gave my usual, mostly-hype-free answer, which is:

Shooting steel cased ammo is generally fine.

But there’s a key word there.  Generally.

But, being the nerd that I am, I needed to do more research.  I need evidence, not just rumors and theories from the gun shop or the internet.

So I researched away, and came up with 6 typed pages of notes.  Way too much for one podcast – unless I was ok with it being two hours long.  But, just for you, I’ve shortened it way down to just the actionable part – the need to know.

I’ll probably re-attack this subject in the future, so that I can make use of all the great evidence and data that I found.  I know some of you will be interested in the specifics.  But for now, it’s just the conclusions.

So here are some of the conclusions I reached – in brief.  If you want my full thoughts, listen to the episode.


Yes, it’s lower quality.  But no, it won’t ruin/blow up your gun any more than brass cased ammo.  As far as accuracy goes, it may work just as well, or you may see a loss of accuracy.  It depends on the ammo, it depends on the gun.


All ammo wears out your gun.  20k rounds of any ammo, steel or brass cased, will wear out your gun.  There’s no evidence that the steel casing wears your gun out any faster.

However, the bimetal bullets do wear your barrel faster.  See, the low-cost ammo manufacturers like Tula, Brown Bear, and Wolf use a bimetal jacketed bullet.  It does wear your barrel faster than a copper-jacketed bullet.  However, when you factor in the cost savings vs increased wear, you will almost surely come out ahead and be able to buy multiple new barrels for the amount you’ll save shooting the cheap stuff.

What about extractor wear?  First, the extractor is a cheap part to replace, so even if you do wear it out, you can get like 10 new extractors for amount you’ll save on a case or two of Wolf.  Second, the steel used in the extractor is so hard, and the steel used in the cases is so soft, that it’s doubtful it wears much faster.  Plus, the steel cases are coated, adding an additional layer of “give” and padding your extractor even more.

And no, any new production ammo is not corrosive.  If it’s old, military surplus, or was made when the Communists were in power, you may need to do some research just to be sure.

However, I wouldn’t put steel cased through that family heirloom that grandpappy brought back from the war – steel cased does cause more wear, and you want to keep that thing in its original condition.


Who cares?  Your gun is going to get dirty if you shoot it.  So smile!  That extra buildup in your gun just means that you got to shoot more, since the ammo was so affordable.

Ok, it’s a little more complicated than that.

You may have to clean more often.  You may have to clean parts that you normally wouldn’t – like the gas key and gas tube of an AR-15.  And you will definitely have to clean the chamber more often.  And no, not because the lacquer/polymer coating is leaving a residue in your chamber.

What?  The guy at the range told me the lacquer/polymer coating melts in my chamber!  Nah, not really.  What’s happening is that you’re getting increased gas blowback around the casing – basically, steel doesn’t expand to fill the chamber as well as brass, so you get some carbon blowing back around the outside of the steel cartridge case.  That gums up the chamber.

So when you start to have cycling problems – specifically failures to extract – it’s time to clean the chamber.  And just to be safe, I give the chamber a quick brushing every time I might switch to brass cased (and better-expanding) ammo, and at the end of every range session.  Because I might switch to brass next time I go shooting and forget to clean, leading to my better-expanding brass cases getting stuck.


It all comes down to your gun.  Test it.  Test it from a full magazine.  Test it from a 1-round magazine, just to ensure that there’s sufficient gas pressure to lock the bolt back when the mag goes empty.

Steel cased ammo, due to the above factors, is probably going to result in less reliability.  That’s ok, you shouldn’t be using it for anything that your life depends on anyways.

View malfunctions as a training opportunity.  They’re not a bad thing, they’re a chance for you to hone your skills at clearing malfunctions.  Unless of course it really matters, but you shouldn’t be using steel cased ammo when it really matters anyways.  I’ll do a show on this later, but for now, concentrate on getting your gun up and running again as quickly (and safely) as possible – without taking your brain out of the fight.


And just in case you wanted to know more, here are some of the sources I referenced during the show.  Enjoy!

1.  Youtube video of Saltyshellback measuring the Rockwell Hardness of brass and steel casings.

2.  AR-15.com Commie ammo FAQ

3. Box of Truth on brittle brass, steel, and polymer/lacquer coatings

4. Accuracy test of Wolf ammo, and some good info on bimetal jacket bullets.

5.  A lab technician looks at bimetal jacket thickness under a microscope.

6.  Military Arms Channel on steel cased ammo.

7. The Luckygunner study of steel vs brass cased ammo in a 10,000 round torture test.


Episode 005 – Rifle Zero Distances


A lot of people zero at 25 yards because, well, that’s how long the zero range is.  That’s definitely how the Air Force does it.  That’s how we did it in the police academy.  That’s how I did it, before I knew better.  But is that the best distance for an effective, usable zero?

As with a lot of things, the answer is “it depends.”  It depends on a lot of stuff, but primarily on the distance – or distances – you expect to be doing the majority of your shooting.  And it’s important to understand that when you optimize for one particular distance, you may be giving up some capability at other distances.

Yes, picking the wrong zero, and not understanding your zero, can lead to missing an all-important shot.  Choose wisely.

So in this episode, we’ll compare the usability of a 25, 36, 50, and 100 yard zero.  What path does the bullet take?  What are the hold-overs and hold-unders at various ranges?  And, we’ll discuss weird zeros that I’ve heard of – namely, ultra short 7 or 10 yard zeros.

Hopefully you can use the info in this podcast to pick the best zero distance for your rifle – as an educated shooter – instead of the way  many people do… by saying “eh, that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Also, here’s the Travis Haley YouTube clip I mentioned in the podcast.


Episode 004 – Beyond Safety, Part 2


Alright, as promised, here’s the second part of the safety brief!  If you haven’t listened to the first part, I recommend listening to Episode 003 here first.

We finish up by talking about some safety best practices, including when and how to make a weapon safe.  Next up is mechanical safeties – the why, the when, and the how of using them with a few popular firearm models like M4/AR-15, the AK, the M9 Beretta, the 1911-style, and the classic cross-bolt style safety.

The final topic deals with what parts of the safety rules change when you go from a training range to the real world – whether that’s on a mission, on patrol, or as an armed citizen.  Here’s a clue – they stay mostly the same, but the definition of a “safe direction” becomes a lot more of a gray area without a nice dirt berm to aim into.

Episode 003 – Beyond the 4 Firearms Safety Rules


Welcome to episode 3 of The Tactical Podcast!  In this episode, we’re talking about safety, because how could you start something called “The Tactical Podcast” without a safety briefing?

Kidding, kidding.  Sorta.

We’re going to go BEYOND the four firearms safety rules, and do a deep dive into the “why” behind each of them.  But we are going to start out by going over them, and why I choose to teach this specific set of safety rules, as opposed to those taught by the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or other organizations.  To anyone who’s a fan of Jeff Cooper, these may look somewhat familiar.  Here they are:

  • Treat every weapon as if it is loaded
  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times
  • Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to fire
  • Be sure of your target, and what is in front, to the sides, and beyond it

In this episode, I go over these four rules, why they’re important, and why I use these when teaching anyone on a shooting range.  I even get a bit too far down in the weeds answering the following question:

Is up a safe direction?

Even if you’re an experienced shooter, you still take new people to the range, right?  So you give safety briefings.  I think you’ll still get something out of this episode, because I go into answering the “why” quite a bit.

And if you’re new to shooting, the four safety rules are absolutely essential – to your safety and the safety of those around you.