Steel Casings Explained

Steel-cased cartridges are an issue of hot debate.  Some might compare it to the 9mm versus .45 (or .40) argument.  The thing is, it’s great and versatile ammo - but it does have a bad reputation among some sportsman. Not many problems occur today with steel ammo, unless you’re pumping thousands of rounds of it through your weapon each day and using cheap surplus military ammo from a foreign country.

Steel casings have long been manufactured outside of the U.S. with the Wolf and Bear being the biggest suppliers. This same cost effectiveness makes them popular among target shooters and sportsman all over the world.

Steel Cartridge CasesToday, steel cased ammo can be found in a variety of calibers.  The most common ones are 7.62x39mm and 9mm, however many other calibers are being made with steel cases.  This is primarily due to the cost effectiveness of steel versus brass.  Hornady has recently begun manufacturing steel cased ammo and it seems to be doing well.

Steel Casing Myths Exposed

Steel casings have the most misinformation than any other cartridge component out there. People will say they rust, jam, corrode your firearms, misfire and all sorts of things. This just isn’t true at all. Today’s steel casings are coated with a polymer making them very smooth and corrosion & rust resistant.

You can still find older style lacquered rounds and these do have some issues on occasion but they are relatively hard to find anymore as the excellent polymer type are on the way to fully replacing them.  These rounds are still useable and just require good cleaning habits at the end of the shooting session.

Enthusiasts who just like to experiment with different ammo for fun can still find plenty of lacquered types from companies like Brown Bear if they want to try them out or get them cheap.  Overall you will be hard pressed to see a noticeable difference between steel-cased ammo and brass-cased.

Steel-cased Cartridge Pros

Cheap- Compared to brass, you’ll pay less for steel-cased ammo almost every time. This can add up if you spend lots of time on the range.

Versatile- Steel-cased cartridges can be coated in lacquer or polymer. These materials are very resistant to rust and offer more corrosion resistance than steel alone.

Easy Clean Up- Don’t like crawling around or stooping constantly to pick up your spent casings? A telescoping magnet or something equivalent will snatch them all up for you quickly. Your back will thank you.

Steel-cased Cartridge Cons

Manufacturer Differences – The biggie here is that what you get from one company can be very different than the same caliber from another.  This is usually due to different primers and the coating of the case, not something that will cause an issue.  However, some studies have shown significant differences in the powder charge of the ammo from brand to brand.  In some cases it was to the point that one brand would cycle a semi-auto rifle, while a different one would not.

Shooting Range Issues- Many ranges don’t allow steel-cased rounds at all. This isn’t a safety issue but instead a cost issue. Ranges make a little money back by recycling brass rounds and/or reloading them to sell to customers later on. Steel-cased ammo isn’t worth as much as brass and if Berdan-primed, typically won’t be reloaded.

Steel casings are perfectly fine to use on a regular basis and can save you a great deal of money over the long term. There are some people out there who feel strongly against steel, but try it out for yourself if you want and form your own opinion on it.