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Steel Vs. Brass Ammo: How To Choose

The brass vs steel ammo debate is nothing new, and both metals have compelling arguments for what makes them a suitable choice. There are specific areas where steel core or steel case ammo accels, and others where brass bullets take the cake.

The abbreviated version of the brass vs steel ammo debate boils down to this:

brass bullets are generally preferred for being more reliable and reloadable while steel case ammo is significantly more affordable.

If that doesn’t settle the matter for you, check out the chart below for a quick overview of the advantages and drawbacks of brass vs steel ammo:

Steel Vs Brass Ammo graphic 1 (1)

For those of you who need some additional “ammunition” for either side’s argument, here’s a breakdown of some FAQ’s about each casing type:

Things to Consider Before Choosing Team “Steel Case Ammo All Day!”:

Before you declare your allegiance to steel for its financial curb appeal, there are a few finer points to be aware of that accompany that low price tag.

Is Steel Case Ammo Bad For Your Gun?

Depends on the gun.

Soviet-made rifles--like the AK-47 or SKS--were actually created with steel ammunition in mind. These and other Eastern European rifles employ a powerful extraction, which brass can’t always stand up to. When brass casings are used in firearms like this, there’s a chance the intense pressure will simply rip the head off of the cartridge.

The average long rifle, however, does not exert enough force to pulverize a brass cartridge like these high-powered pieces. In your typical gun, steel cased ammo has far more potential for carbon buildup, which can lead to malfunctions.

Thus--as long as the firearm is designed to receive it--steel case ammo can be a robust and cost-saving choice for your next shooting excursion.

Steel Vs Brass Ammo graphic 2 (1)

What Is The Price Difference Between Steel Vs Brass Ammo?

The cost ratio between brass vs steel ammo is one of the biggest decision-makers for many shooters.

After all, except for that bag of jerky you grab at the checkout counter at every restock trip, bullets are one of the only “consumed” products involved with firearms.

And you want to be putting a hole in targets, not your wallet.

Steel ammunition is significantly cheaper than brass. If you were to purchase .223 ammo, for example, you will generally save about $100 per thousand rounds by choosing steel over brass.

That being said, steel is known to accelerate the wear-out rate of the barrel and extractor. Many argue that this need to replace firearm parts more frequently than necessary with brass bullets outweighs the initial cost savings at checkout.

This counter-cost, however, mostly applies to competitive shooters and/or those with high-end or rare firearms. The average gun owner is unlikely to shoot enough rounds to actually experience this price disparity.

The good news, then, is that most shooters can "have their cake and eat it too." You can reap all the savings benefits of steel case ammo without breaking the bank with some casual pew pew time using a steel-cartridge friendly platform (like FAL, FAMAS, or any of the foreign rifle platforms listed above).

Considerations for Team “Brass Bullets Or Bust!”

Despite its high price tag, brass continues to be one of the most popular bullet casing metals on the market.

Are Brass Bullets More Reliable Than Steel Cased Ammo?

A jam at the range is annoying. A malfunction during a firefight can be catastrophic.

The last thing you want is for your ammunition to bum out just when it matters most. When it comes to performance reliability, brass casing has a far superior reputation to steel case ammo.

Steel case ammo holds its shape a lot better than brass, but for the purposes of smooth firing mechanics, “better” actually means worse. Since steel is a far less flexible metal than brass, it does not expand to fill the chamber space when fired as brass bullets do.

Manufacturers can’t achieve the same complete seal with steel as they do with brass bullets, resulting in more gases escaping during firing, and a build-up of carbon in the chamber. This is what experienced gun owners mean when they talk about brass having a “cleaner” burn than steel case ammo.

Steel Vs Brass Ammo graphic 3

So, Is Brass Ammo Worth The Price Difference?

Though steel rounds likely won’t unceremoniously rip your barrel to shreds in one go, they will exert more stress on your firearm than brass. This stress may require you to replace parts sooner than expected.

In an effort to avoid frequent parts replacement, take advantage of the fact that they can be reloaded, and have peace-of-mind for defense scenarios, many shooters decide that brass bullets are worth the additional cost.

If you have no intention of reloading rounds and are only using a gun for occasional plinking in the backwoods, steel may be a perfectly cost-efficient fit for you.

Or Consider Becoming A Fair Weather Fan...

The good news is that in the “steel vs brass ammo” face-off, there are no rules saying you can’t have both.

Use brass for where reliability is paramount (e.g. in your home defense firearms or any you take to indoor ranges) and get all the “cheap thrills” of steel with your aggressive extraction rifles.

Whatever you choose, have fun and stay safe out there.

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