.223 Remington and its nearly identical twin brother, the 5.56x45mm NATO, need very little introduction. They represent one of the most common calibers in the U.S., and being the NATO standard, they are in use in various platforms around the world. The data to list the number of world-wide .223 users is surprisingly difficult to find, but anyone who recalls the 2012 ammunition crisis, can attest to the serious shortages of .223 ammunition on the market. Yes, there was a time when almost all ammunition was selling out instantly, and anything even vaguely associated with the AR-pattern rifle was nowhere to be had. Let’s take a look at the reasons for the popularity of the AR-rifle platform, and find the best .223 ammo for practical use applications.
223 Ammo Quick Answer Box:
• What’s the difference between .223 and 5.56 ammo? The .223 and 5.56 cartridge share the same casing, the difference between the two cartridges is pressure. The 5.56 NATO round is loaded to a higher pressure than the consumer .223 cartridge. A rifle chambered in 5.56 has a longer chamber to accommodate the pressure of the 5.56 NATO round.
• What are the benefits of an AR-15 rifle chambered in .223 Wylde? The .223 Wylde shares the same chamber angling as the 5.56, allowing it to easily handle higher pressure 5.56 NATO cartridges. .223 Wylde provides the high accuracy benefits of the .223 Rem cartridge, while giving shooters flexibility with ammunition options.
• Should I shoot steel cased .223 ammo in my AR-15? Modern steel case ammo is non-corrosive, so shooting bi-metal jackets in an AR-15, in normal shooting conditions, won’t have any short-term negative effects on your rifling. However, testing has shown that shooting steel cased ammo for extended periods of time, at high rates of fire, can cause your barrel rifling to wear at an accelerated rate.
.223 Ammo History
Stoner’s AR History
Ironically, the AR-15 rifle, which was the brainchild of Eugene Stoner, came as the result of scaling down the AR-10 rifle. That’s correct folks, the AR-10, an oft sought after and highly prized variant of the AR-pattern rifle, actually came first. The AR-15 was a smaller caliber version of the AR-10 and was designed to meet engineering requirements put out by the U.S. Continental Army Command in 1957. The requirements stated the need for a .22 caliber bullet which would remain supersonic at 500 yards, could be fired from a very lightweight rifle and had a 20 round capacity magazine. The .223 Remington was eventually born and the rest is history. Since it was tailor-made for the eventual M-16 and all derivatives down the line, it has been indelibly linked ever since.
Bullet types and weights
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)
The FMJ is the most common type of ammunition because of the relative ease of manufacturing and significantly lower materials cost than other types of bullets. By looking at popular ammo type listings, we can easily see that FMJ rounds are the top 10 selling cartridges. Well, except for the .22 LRN but that is pretty much used for the same purpose. It is the least expensive cartridge to manufacture and acquire and is ideally best suited for target practice. The standard weights of FMJ target ammo in .223/5.56 are 55 and 62 grain, which are significant.
The lighter grain bullets are best suited in conjunction with higher rates of barrel twist like 1:8 and 1:9. The lowest common twist rate is 1:7, which also happens to be the M4 and M16-A2/A4 standard, and is most commonly used in conjunction with the heavier 62gr. M855 ‘green tip’ cartridge.
Hollow Points (HP)
The hollow point bullet is synonymous with personal and home defense scenarios. Unless you are planning on buying bulk steel-cased Russian ammo, these rounds are at the upper end of the price sheet. The unique manufacturing process for hollow point bullets is more involved, which translates directly to the price, and to the availability on the market since demand is lower than that of FMJs.
Typically, HP ammo is found with bullet weights similar to the popular offerings for FMJ bullets. Since there isn’t much mass removed to make the concave opening on a hollow point bullet, the bullet remains small and light, displaying similar energy and ballistics to the FMJ.
Soft Points (SP)
Best suited as a hunting cartridge, SPs are still quite a popular choice for AR-15 owners. They offer expansion qualities much better than that of an FMJ, but more controlled than a hollow point (since the goal is to harvest meat or fur not obliterate it). The beauty of the soft point bullet, is that it is not subject to the drag found in HP ammo, caused by a cavity in the middle of a bullet. The ballistic coefficient of SP ammo is excellent, particularly in the form of a boat tail.
The infamous ‘green tip’ bullet which all vets will recall with mixed emotions. A fervor for some, despise from others, (particularly the purists who stand fast that all service rifles should start with something that says “.30”). Either way, love it or not, it is recognized by all AR shooters for one reason or another. It was demonized by a recent tenant of the White House for being “armor piercing” and broadcast that it should be banned from citizen ownership as “common sense.”
I hate to break it to the uninformed writer of that sentiment, but there is nothing new under the sun about the “armor piercing” magic of the M855. The Soviets were involved in this “armor piercing” business way back in the day with their 7.62X54R cartridge. It was fired from the magnificent (or at least functional and durable as hell) Mosin-Nagant, a rifle that was a major player in several wars. The original Soviet cartridges for the Mosin were corrosive-primed and fired a 148gr. bullet which had a steel core. Rather than using the soft lead core common to most bullets, the steel core acts like a spike that is capable of penetrating thin steel and bi-metal armor. Even when it was introduced, the M855 was nothing new, it was just an old concept reused in a newer application.
Let’s get down to brass tacks and look at some of the different kinds of .223 ammo from the leading brands, broken down by the best-specified uses.
Best Target Shooting / Match .223 Ammunition
When accuracy and target placement counts, the MOA performance of these cartridges is near the top. Load your magazines with this ammo for a competition, and the only person you’ll be competing aga is yourself.
Hornady Superperformance 5.56 55 Gr GMX
Born to scream, Hornady’s Superformance is designed to propel around 100 to 200fps faster than its peers, which is well over 3,000fps for a 55gr 5.56.
The GMX line is a design which employs a one-piece copper alloy rather than copper plating bonded to a lead core. The bullet is then topped off with a polymer cap which aids its ballistic coefficient of .270.
Federal Gold Medal Match 69 Gr
Ideally suited for barrels with a lower rate of twist like the 1:7 and 1:8, the heavy 69gr Federal Gold Match is tailored for the AR geek who actually likes reading about ballistic co-efficiency. It’s a great choice for guys like me, who thinks his adoring wife and kids want to hear about it when they’re stuck with me in the minivan on the way to the range. For example:
The Sierra MatchKing is a boat-tail design, which is synonymous with excellent aerodynamics yielding a ballistic coefficient of 0.301 at a muzzle velocity of 2,950fps. The heavier weight resists the effects of wind better than lighter bullets, and also creates a longer, sleeker bullet in the process.
Best .223 Ammo for Training
Are you planning to engage a silhouette at 25 meters? Are you ready to get dirty and train like you fight? You don’t need to shell out the dough on the higher priced stuff. Go with the stuff that goes ‘bang’ every time you pull the trigger and doesn’t say ‘match’ anywhere on it.
Wolf Gold .223 55 Gr
Wolf is an established budget Russian ammo brand, which shoots about as clean as a Mig flies. But it does shoot reliably and their Gold line is a step or two up from its steel cased stablemates. The .223 Wolf Gold line is actually manufactured in Taiwan, in the same factory that makes ammo for the Taiwanese military. The 55gr FMJ performs as accurately as every other 55gr FMJ in .223, and offers a reloadable brass case.
PMC Bronze .223 55 Gr
Another budget-friendly ammunition, bulk PMC Bronze is a step up from the budget-priced competition offering a 55gr FMJ boat tail bullet, which leaves the tube at 3,200fps and 1,250 ft/lbs, so right on par with other 55gr .223 slugs.
Home Defense Ammunition
Expect the unexpected, and train like your life depends on it. No matter the situation, these home defense ammo selections will have your six.
Federal LE Tactical TRU .223 55 Gr SP
Well suited for any of the myriad M4 clones on the market, the TRU 55gr soft point is made specifically for semi-automatics. Read: AR-15s. The soft point offers the advantages of both worlds in terms of penetration and weight retention, ideally suited for patrol weapons, and good expansion close to that of a hollow point.
Hornady 223 55 Gr SP
Hornady sells a nearly identical soft point as the Federal TRU, weighing in at 55gr and offering the same quality as their higher end products that you have come to expect.
The Adaptable Cartridge
The .223 has proven to be an adaptable, reliable, and versatile caliber with loads ranging from lightning fast varmint rounds, to antelope and deer rounds, to heavy boat-tails for precision marksmanship and tactical sharpshooting. It is cheap, plentiful, and very useful to have around. You can sleep easy with an AR-15 loaded with dedicated tactical ammo standing watch, and the landowner is confident he can dispatch all form of varmints with a healthy dose of .223 Remington.