Hornady Steel Match Might Not Be So Good After All…

Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I ran a couple ammunition consistency testing articles. One of those articles was comparing two flavors of “match” ammo, one of which was Hornady Steel Match. Throughout the first 20 rounds of the ammo (the box holds fifty) I had no problems. Zero malfunctions. No issues. But when I went to go shoot round number 21, disaster . . .

Well, comparative disaster. I checked that the chamber had a round in it. I pulled the trigger. I heard the hammer drop And yet, no bang.

There are two possible reasons for a round not going bang. Well, three, but we’re assuming that live and properly manufactured ammo is being used. Either (A) the primer failed to ignite for some reason or (B) the primer lit, but didn’t immediately touch off the main charge. Either way, you now have an extremely dangerous situation on your hands — a round that could possibly go off at any minute.

Black powder shooters are uniquely aware of how terrifying a “hang fire” (as this type of malfunction is called) can be. Even though it may look like the gun isn’t going to fire, in reality that round can pop off at any time. Black powder shooters often experience this when they have an insufficient priming charge to immediately set off the main charge — the gun may not fire immediately, but some of the smoldering embers can find their way inside and touch off the powder at any minute.

So there I was, on the range with a live round in the chamber that refuses to go bang despite a nice love tap from the firing pin. A round that can blow at any second, as many an unfortunate soul has discovered in the past.

Luckily I was only on a practice range, and wasn’t in the middle of a competition. I know that in the heat of the moment I’d TAP-RACK-BANG that sucker out of there and keep rolling, but that leaves a possible mini pipe bomb behind waiting for some unsuspecting spectator to step on it and lose a foot. In short, it sucks.

In the end, it turned out to be a simple bad primer. One strike didn’t do the job, but the second tap finally set it off. And while that may not have been an issue if it happened only once, the problem was that it happened again. And again. And again.

My AR-15 is well maintained — pristine condition, even. Heck, its firing pin currently is practically brand new. And it has never, in hundreds of thousands of rounds, had a problem applying sufficient force to a primer. Never. And yet, with Hornady’s Steel Match ammo it did it five times in a box of fifty.

Even so, I wanted to rule out my gun as the culprit. So I bought a box of Hornady Steel Match in .308 for the McMillan CS5, and the second round out of the box had the exact same issue. It simply refused to go off. We’re talking about a brand new gun, one that set off my handloads and the McMillan-supplied .308 without a problem. And yet Hornady’s Steel Match refused to work the first time every time.

I’m seriously considering taking it off the board due to this issue. Heck, even Wolf doesn’t have that kind of a failure rate.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

43 Responses to Hornady Steel Match Might Not Be So Good After All…

  1. avatarWade says:

    how did you recock the AR and keep the round in the chamber?

    • avatarBLAMMO says:

      That’s what I’d like to know. How do you do it with any semi-auto?

      • avatarAM says:

        Pull back the charging handle only part of the way back.

        • avatarelnonio says:

          Which doesn’t exactly keep the round in the chamber now does it. The only other option, and I’m not sure it’s much better, involves:
          - remove mag;
          - break action open with rear pin
          -manually reset the trigger
          -close action

          If the round were to go off while resetting the trigger, I wonder just how far the bolt carrier will travel…

  2. avatarJim says:

    “hundreds of thousands of rounds” – really? I’d think that after that many rounds light primer strikes would be the least of your worries? When did you last change your hammer spring and hammer?

    Seems like an extra power hammer spring might solve any hard primer issue and would cost just a few bucks.

    • Last changed about 1,000 rounds ago, for a Geissele of some sort.

      • avatarAPBTFan says:

        Could be the Hornady stuff uses especially hard primers and a light match trigger doesn’t have the oomph to reliably ignite them. If I remember correctly Hornady imports the primed cases then goes from there.

      • avatarYoungHistorian says:

        “hundreds of thousands of rounds” sounds like quite an exaggeration there Leghorn, top tier MIL units dont even put hundreds of thousands rounds thru their rifles and they shoot almost constantly

  3. You used a fake video as the example if a hangfire? And never question a light primer strike or bad primer?

  4. avatarMotoJB says:

    I hope that video is fake…if not, he should have done us a favor and removed himself from the gene pool. What an idiot.

    • avatarjwm says:

      I believe it’s fake, I heard him rack and snap twice for one hangfire. I saw no evidence of muzzle flash and seriously, who looks down the barrel when the gun doesn’t go bang. /that’s cartoonish in it’s stupidity.

  5. avatarRonaldo Ignacio says:

    While the video is fake, the issue of hangfire being dangerous is still an issue.

    I was told by an ammo company that they use mil-spec hard primers to reduce the chance of slam-fire and to order a heaver hammer spring from Wolfe.

  6. avatarDrewN says:

    You should definitely use mil spec primers for semi auto’s, although it kind of limits you to ball powders. I’ll use softer primers sometimes for my M21, but it cycles quite a bit softer than a regular M-14 clone. I think you need to gather a few different AR’s (or at least 2) and put different hammers springs in each and try a side by side comparo.

    • avatarmatt says:

      Mil-spec primers? I reload and never recall seeing “mil-spec” primers for sale.

      • avatarDrewN says:

        Never heard of CCI 34′s and 41′s?
        http://www.cci-ammunition.com/products/primers/primers.aspx?id=30

        (They actually call them “Military Rifle Primers”, but I automatically type mil-spec, even though I have no idea if there is an actual spec or what it is)

        • avatarmatt says:

          Ya learn something new every day. Interestingly enough the application page also indicates those are magnum primers as well.

      • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        As Drew indicates, CCI’s 34 & 41′s are “military spec sensitivity.”

        Rifles with floating firing pins should have harder primer cups to prevent slam-fires. eg, the Garand and M1A/M14 – you never want to let a bolt slam home on a round you manually inserted into the chamber. Always let the bolt strip the round from the magazine, and use hard(er) primers.

  7. avatarPeter says:

    I had that problem also with a timney trigger. Switched over to a milspec trigger and everything goes bang now. Hard primers and light triggers dont play well together.

  8. avatarMatt Gregg says:

    You must have a good job to be able to feed that AR “hundreds of thousands of rounds”. The cheapest ammo I can find for 5.56 is wolf at around $4.20 a box(20 rounds). Just 100,000 rounds of that ammo would be over $21,000. Assuming you meant at least 200,000 rounds that would be over $40k in ammo on the low end. How many barrels have you gone through on that AR?

  9. avatarHal says:

    While I disagree with Nick on a great many things, I wouldn’t be suprised if there was an issue with this stuff. I bought 500 rounds of pricey TAP 45 for my Glock 21 and HK 45. The result? Once a round is chambered it won’t come out unless one applies an absurd amount of force back on the slide. I originally thought it was an issue with my new HK 45. Called them up and the rep immediately said “let me guess… Hornady?” Apparently they made a ton of 45 way too long which causes the problem. Hornady acknowledged the problem but I am on my third run around for a refund.

  10. avatarJason says:

    Pipe bomb? What? Hasn’t this been covered before — a cartridge not in a chamber will not explode. There was even a recent article on TTAG about this in regards to ammunition in house fires. Nick, are you just being dramatic? Otherwise you are promulgating urban myth.

  11. avatarPascal says:

    How about giving Hornady a ring and see what they say. Had an issue with Federal and they payed to have the remainder of the box mailed to them and then they shipped me 4 new boxes for free with an apology letter and explaination.

  12. avatarGreg in Allston says:

    Nick, come on man; “but that leaves a possible mini pipe bomb behind waiting for some unsuspecting spectator to step on it and lose a foot.” That’s a little hyperbolic and misleading don’t you think? Granted, I wouldn’t want to step on a 5.56 hang fire at the moment it went off with my bare foot, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it with a sneaker on. It’s just physics. On the other hand, and I’d have to do a bit of research before I’d test it out myself, on myself, but if one was shod with a steel shank work boot I’d think that one could smother a hang fire from an M2 Ball round with no ill effect.

  13. avatarkb says:

    I don’t have much experience with Hornady Steel Match ammo.

    FWIW, I have fired 100 rounds of it in .223 out of my T/C Encore with no misfires of any kind. Accuracy was acceptable, and the price was definitely right.

    Too bad you are having issues with it. I would suggest trying a box with a different batch number before jumping to any conclusions.

  14. avatarCory says:

    Never had any issues with it in the hundred rounds I’ve tried (20 round boxes)…but I also have a box of 50, which I’ve yet to pull from… I’m running a Timney 3lb trigger in there.

  15. avatarRIGHT! says:

    The primers could be seated too deep

  16. avatarBill says:

    You are being waaaay dramatic. I’ve shot about 800 rounds of the Hornady Steel match .223 out of a Ruger SR-556 with nothing but praise from myself. I’ve used both the 55grain and 75grain. Not one single issue. In fact the only issue I’ve had with the SR was one steel cased Wolf ammo that resulted in failure to extract.

  17. avatarAnotherMatt says:

    The hammer spring on your match trigger is too light to ignite harder berdan primers. It’s not a problem with the ammo, it’s a problem with your rifle.

    Install a heavier spring or swap in a milspec trigger and your problems will disappear. This is the same reason S&W ships a heavier spring with their 5.45×39 uppers.

  18. avatarDustin says:

    I just bought a box of the same ammo same issue. I put 15 rounds in my rifle and 6 fired successfully, I talked to hornady and they suggested a firearm problem but I thought the same thing as soon as this happened and loaded a mag full of superformance ammo and shot every one without fail. They send me s packing slip for ups and they are going to test the ammo and send me s new batch.

  19. avatarJay says:

    I bought 400 rounds of the 55gr hp steel match. Attempted to shoot it through 2 of my heavy barrel varmint rifles. Out of 43 rounds we had 8 misfires total from both rifles. Rifles are sub moa with quality ammo, this ammo with 4 shot groups was approx 2 1/2 in one and 2in in the other. Worse shooting ammo that cheapo wolf out of my rifles. A DEFINATE do not buy for me again.

  20. avatarHowie says:

    After a second trip to the range with my Sig .40, I almost swear by Steel Match ammo. People hate on this ammo so much and I don’t know why. I had a fail to eject and 1 jam out of 100+ rounds of the Winny FMJ I used today and a jam out of 1 mag with Hornaday Zombie Max, which is the same as Critical Defense. I’ve had constant issues with ZM and CD. Ran through 40 rounds of Steel Match with out a single problem and far better accuracy. The only thing I used that comes close was nickle plate Remington Ultimate Defense that’s over twice the price. I call shenanigans, as many of you have, on this commentary.

  21. avatarJC says:

    I ran 90 rounds (wish I could find more) of the 55gr variety (lot # 3122056) through my homebuilt CAR (Geissele High Speed Match trigger, ancient Olympic Arms hard chrome bolt carrier assembly). Zero malfunctions. It shoots < 2" at 100 yards out of a free floated 16" Model 1 light contour barrel with a 1-4x Millett DMS scope (on 4x of course). That's better than the PMC Bronze or the Federal XM193 was doing. Admittedly 100 rounds is a small sample but I'd be happy to test more… got any?

  22. avatarShawn says:

    I have two Ruger Mini 14′s (do not own an AR) that i shoot, and hunt with regularly.
    They have factory springs and firing pins, and a mild trigger job that I performed myself.
    In the past two years I have ran 400 rounds of the Hornady Steel Match through them (300 of the 55 gr. only 100 rounds of the 75 gr.).
    I have never experienced a failure to function with any ammo that I have used in these rifles, including the Steel Match.
    I have been very satisfied with this ammo, both of my Mini’s will print less than 2 MOA using it, and the point of impact is identical to the polymer tipped v-max loads.
    I prefer to use the Steel Match for hunting because I don’t have to worry about collecting the brass.
    The ballistic performance of the bullet itself is not the best compared to the v-max, the jacket always separates from the core, but they always fragment and are fine for dropping small Florida deer in their tracks out to 235 yards (my longest take to date).
    I have to say it, maybe the problem is your rifle?

  23. avatarJeff says:

    I have also experienced this issue with Steel Match in my brand new Savage model 10 FCP in .308. I have the accutrigger on the lightest setting. Once I realized what was happening, I have been just recocking and firing the ones that dont fire right away. It happens about 15% of the time.

    I do get good groups, so the bullet is good in that round.

  24. Sighting in my AR with Steel Match, and had and a 25% failure rate, with some needing to be hit three times. I have never had an issue with it before, and I’m sure it is the berdan primers. Some of the cases had pretty good dents in them without the bang. So this will be my last time trying to shoot these.

  25. avatarParker says:

    I want to start by saying i have always loved steel match ammo because it is affordable and highly accurate. i went to the range today and not one of the 50 .308 rounds fired on the first strike if i re cocked the rifle the round would then fire on the second strike. the rifle fired all other ammo (Remington, federal, black hills) without a hitch. when i got home i noticed the primers on the faulty ammo were slightly recessed into the case, perhaps this was resulting in light primer strikes. i had just replaced a broken firing pin on this particular precision rifle so my first thot was that the firing pin was improperly installed and did not protrude from the bolt far enough, which pissed me the hell off because i just had it installed. its comforting to know it is not my rifle and other people have had this problem with this particular ammunition.

  26. avatarDane says:

    This is an older blog but I purchased my AR-15 in .223 2 months ago and have run 200-250 rounds of the Hornady Steel Match thru my gun and have had zero problems. In fact, counting the HSM, I have tested 7 different brands of ammo, 3 being steel the others brass, and hands down the Hornady shoots the best groups. Like I said maybe this is an issue that has since been resolved.

  27. avatarJC says:

    I bought two boxes of 55gr Steel Match when it first came out. It ran 100% in my homebuilt AR with a Geissele High Speed Match trigger so I wanted more but it was sold out everywhere and didn’t become available again until recently. I bought four cases (2,000 rounds) of Lot # 3140453 and fired 100 rounds as a test before the USPSA Multigun Nationals. It also ran 100% and was giving me sub-moa accuracy so I took it to Nationals where last week it continued to run 100% for another ~ 300 rounds. Zero problems and it did a nice job on the 400 yard steel. Unless you are rich or a sponsored shooter you can’t beat this stuff for a lost brass match. I should add that although I have always used the Geissele trigger I have used a variety of uppers, BCAs and firing pins including the JP low mass system.

  28. avatarDusty says:

    My experience has been the exact opposite with this ammo. It’s my favorite ammo because nothing else I’ve tried has been nearly this accurate and reliable, especially considering how wonderfully cheap the cartridge is. Stinks that it didn’t work out for you, but I’ll definitely continue to use and recommend this ammo. Hornady hit it out of the park with this stuff.

  29. avatarDarnok says:

    I’ve been using the 308 steel match in a Browning bolt action for several years now. It’s the right price, the most accurate for value round I’ve found in Australia. But…… About half of each box don’t fit into the magazine. Same problem with a remington 700 magazine. The projectiles aren’t seated consistently. Btw does anybody know the shelf life of steel cased ammo? How does it compare to brass?

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