One of my biggest gun accomplishments in 2011 was falling back in love with my AR. As some of our readers might remember, I received my AR as a gift in the summer of 2009 (thanks Mom!). After dumping about two mags worth of ammo down the barrel, I realized that I now had a really fancy gun that didn’t do anything I used a gun for. I feel that .223 REM is a little light for hunting deer and hogs in my area. That isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but I prefer something with a little more mass. I don’t shoot competitively. Even if I did, the 20-inch barrel is a bit much to swing around in the shooting bay. So I found myself with a super cool looking gun that I didn’t really need…

Once I started writing for TTAG, I realized that I would need a good testing rig for optics as well as the plethora of AR accessories out there. And suddenly, my gun became a lot more interesting. After I installed a trigger from Timney, I realized that I had a pretty legitimate contender on my hands. At that point, I went looking for some factory ammo that would really perform. In doing so, I collected some data that I wanted to share with our loyal readers.

Important to note is that I have the Armalite M15A4 SPR. This has a 20-inch barrel with a 1 in 9 inch twist. Obviously, every gun is different so your mileage might vary. I took to the range to test four kinds of ammo. All tests were done at an indoor range at 100 yards. I cleaned the bore with a boresnake between five shot strings and let the barrel cool completely.

First up was the 55 gr PMC Bronze. When I’m not testing scopes and want to shoot cheap, I turn to PMC. I picked up some at my local gun store the other day for $6.80/20 round box. That works out to about $0.35/round. You can find it online for less, but shipping might eat up any savings over local. Average shot radius was .7 inches across five shots. I have fired hundreds of rounds of this particular round and have yet to have any issues with quality.

Next up was the 55 gr. FMJ from Black Hills. At about $0.46/round, it is certainly a bit pricier than the PMC Bronze ammo. The vertical stringing you see here is very likely shooter induced. I seem to remember this not going well. Taking the best three shows an average shot radius of .215 inches. Across the five shots, average shot radius was just a touch over an inch. Yikes, I’ll need to go back to the range to collect some better data! Luckily, I used the Black Hills 55 gr. FMJ ammo in my Timney. Results are here.

Third to the table is the 60 gr VMax from Black Hills. At $0.66/round, you are starting to approach regular ammo prices. Save for that one little guy that eeked out there to the right, this is ragged hole territory. Average shot radius of the five shot group is .326 inches. When I finally line up a varmint hunt, this is going to be my load of choice. But for scope tests and such, the 55 gr. FMJ is quite a bit more practical.

Most disappointing was the 77 gr. Sierra MatchKing Hollow Point from Black Hills. With an average shot radius over five shots of .916 inches, it is certainly minute of vital zone at 100 yards. I didn’t really have high expectations as Armalite only recommends 52-69 gr. ammo out of their 1:9 barrels. I would really like to see what this could do out of a faster twist barrel like that 18 inch Noveski with the 1:7 that Nick is always raving about. If I were building a .223 REM gun for hunting deer in my neck of the woods, I would be building it around that 77 gr. bullet and Noveski would be getting a call from me.

I hope this helps those that are searching for an accurate round. I can highly recommend the Black Hills ammunition. In hundreds of rounds, I have yet to have a FTF, FTE, or any other acronym suggesting failure. If you have a 20-inch barrel with a 1:9 twist, give some serious consideration to any of the 55 grain or 60 grain bullets out there. Anything beyond that and you’ll start to see some degradation in accuracy. If you have any other ammunition that you have had good luck with, please let me know. I’ll try to get it tested out ASAP.

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8 Responses to Gear Review: .223 ammo for 20″ uppers

  1. The 77gr SMK/Amax/Nosler ammo does not stabilize rotation properly out of a 1/9 barrel. I’m really surprised that out of this barrel the groups that you got with it are as good as they are. I’ve even seen experiments go so terribly awry that it goes into a tumble and you end up seeing 5-6″ groups with inch long torn looking spots shooting this kind of ammo from a barrel that slow. Out of my 16″ fluted YHM 1/7 using 77gr smk or hornady 75 gr HPBT I get 10 rounds in barely more than one ragged hole.

  2. I feel that .223 REM is a little light for hunting deer

    I agree. In some states it’s illegal to hunt deer and other “big game” with a .223, and hunting deer with a semiautomatic rifle somehow seems unfair to me (only my personal opinion) and is also illegal in some jurisdictions. A bolt action .243 would seem to be as light as I would want to go for deer hunting, and for shots of 100 yds or so, I’d prefer the classic .30-30. Both cartridges would be humane and effective, and a bolt- or lever-action would be ethical and legal but still permit a rapid follow-up shot if necessary.

    I’ve never hunted pigs (they weren’t on the radar when I was hunting), so I wouldn’t know what works best. Were I to shoot pigs, I’d like to use a WW2-vintage battle rifle, like a Mauser K98k or a MN 91/30. Even though feral pigs are a pest, I’d still like to shoot them ethically, and the fast killing power of the 8mm Mauser and the 7.62x54R rounds are obvious. Both rounds are available in soft points, too.

    • Agree.
      I still think .30-06 is a good big game cartridge for the lower 48. I do like .243 for medium game and varmints. .223 rem was a military upgrade from the .222 rem magnum which was a groundhog round.

      • I still think .30-06 is a good big game cartridge

        Good? Oh hell yeah! It might be the best all-around cartridge ever invented.

        • I thought the same as those above untill this year. I’ve killed two does here in Alabama with my AR this year, I figure they would weigh about the same as the does in Texas and I was highly impressed with the performance. The Winchester 64 grain Power Point works unbelievably well, Federal also loads the Nosler 60 grain Partition in their “Fusion” line, and I believe CorBon loads the Barnes TXS in thier line.

          It’s all about the bullet. I believe that most judgements about the 223/5.56 NATO are based on milspec FMJ loads which have a long history of mediocre performance on the battlefeild. Load controlled expansion bullets in a 223 and you get an altogether different animal.

          Having killed 7 deer with cast bullets from 44 Magnum, 357 Maximum, 38-55 and 45-70 I can assure you that the 223 is just as deadly as any of these, and just as deadly as any 30-30 ever wanted to be.

          As a medium game hunting round, the 223 offers plenty of juice to any who are willing to wait for the right shot and willing pass on an iffy one (shouldn’t we do that anyway?) As well, carrying an AR afield with a five round mag is little different from carrying a Browning BAR, Remington Model 8, 742, 7400, 750 Woodsman, a Winchester Model 100 or an SKS for that matter (yes I’ve done that too) The significant advantage of an autoloader is not “fast follow up shots” but rather “silent follow up shots” as the noise of the first shot covers the noise of the action. We’ve all heard tell of a missed shot (and hits too) where the animal stood still or even continued grazing untill the sound of a rifles bolt being worked made the animal run (I even know of instances of animals standing still after hearing this, but more rarely) How is it that a clean, follow up shot is not “sporting?” Follow that thinking to its logical extreeme and we’d all be hunting with single shots… muzzleloaders for the purists.

          As to hogs, many times what one has opportunity at is a sow with piglets. An autoloader gives plenty of oppurtunity for multiple shots. The AR with Barnes Bullets excells in this role, and since hog hunting is primarily a pest/varmint elimination game, the more piglets shot, the better.

          Do some reading at the outdoors forums at http://www.ar15.com Stop judging the AR/223 on what you’ve heard or think might be true and take it afield and give it an honest wringing out. Afterall, many use it as a home defense rifle, and it is better to find out your’s and its true capabilities before your life is on the line, what better way than in your hands when hunting.

  3. Give me a 75 grain swift scirocco II over 25.2 grains of AA2520 in a Lake City case. Launch it out of a 20 inch barrel inside 150 yards (200 if you have a steady rest for shot placement)
    and I can kill anything worth the time to marinade!

    A 20 inch AR is a lot more gun than people think

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