Hornady Frontier 5.56 Ammo Review: Great Value or Hot Rounds?
Hornady Frontier Ammunition is an ammo line with a rich history of accuracy, reliability, and consistency. However, some shooters wonder if their new Frontier 5.56 ammo is a good choice for loading into their favorite semi-autos like the Ruger Mini-14, Sig Sauer MCX, or any run-of-the-mill AR-15 carbine.
Hornady Frontier is sold at a competitive price point, but does this mean it’s the best choice for you and your beloved rifle?
In this ammo review, we will take a look at Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo and help you decide if taking the plunge on a 500-round box of Hornady Frontier ammunition is a good investment for all your shooting needs.
If you’re ready to buy, feel free to check out this Hornady Frontier ammo; otherwise, keep reading!
Rereleased in 2018, the Hornady Frontier line of ammo was developed to compete with brands like Federal American Eagle, Winchester USA, and Remington UMC to provide shooters with low-cost ammo to feed their semi-automatic rifles.
However, the Hornady Frontier brand of ammo is much older than it looks, as it was the company’s first brand of loaded ammunition and was initially released in 1964. Since its founding in 1949, Hornady Bullets has established itself firmly in the shooting community, providing high-quality Hornady bullets to handloaders and hunters.
Frontier Ammo was the brainchild of Joyce Hornady, the founder of the company. At the time, Joyce Hornady theorized that shooters would appreciate factory cartridges loaded with Hornady bullets. It was a gamble, as Hornady faced tough competition from Federal, Winchester, and Remington. However, it was a bet that they won.
The Frontier brand slowly grew and added more cartridges to its arsenal, including 243 Win, 22-250 Rem, 38 Special, 9mm Luger, and 7mm Remington Magnum. However, as the company grew into an ammunition manufacturer, newer brands of ammo were released, like Precision Hunter, Hornady Match, Superformance, Custom, Black, Varmint Express, LEVERevolution, and Critical Defense.
These newer brands of ammo all but made the original Frontier line obsolete. So, in 2009, the Hornady Frontier ammo was discontinued except for specific Cowboy Action shooting calibers until 2018, when it was resurrected.
One thing Hornady came to understand was that their ammo filled niche sections of the market. Business was good, but they did not have a brand of ammo that filled the needs of everyday shooters who just wanted to do some plinking or target shooting and not spend a ton of money on ammo.
Hornady wanted a piece of the action in the low-cost/high-volume part of the market, and the Frontier line was selected to fill this role.
Hornady partnered with the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant to utilize their excess production for Frontier Ammunition. Hornady was also able to source military-grade rifle propellants for their new production loads through Lake City, allowing them to manufacture their Frontier cartridges with the same gunpowder used by the U.S. military, loaded in mil-spec brass cases, and topped with Hornady bullets.
The Lake City ammo plant is capable of producing millions of rounds per day, allowing Hornady to offer American shooters excellent rifle ammo at an affordable price point. Hornady Frontier is currently available in 223 Remington, 5.56x45mm NATO, 6.5 Grendel, and 300 Blackout.
If you’ve read any of my other Hornady reviews, you’ll probably remember that I’m a big fan of the company. Hornady bullets always fly true for my handloads, and their ammo has always been reliable and accurate for me.
However, there is an elephant in the room that we need to discuss because Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo got off to a bit of a rocky start.
If you dig a little on the interwebs, you’ll rather easily find stories of shooters reporting that Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo damaging their rifles. If you dig into it a bit deeper, you’ll note that most of these reports happened around 2018 when Frontier ammo was re-launched.
This definitely sullied the brand’s reputation a bit, as Hornady ammo has always been reliable and safe, in my experience. After 2018, these reports seem to have all but disappeared, leaving us to believe that Hornady had resolved whatever manufacturing issues allowed these over-charged rounds to make it off the factory floor.
From the rounds I’ve run through my AR-15, I’ve not had any issues or concerns about over-charged rounds. They’ve functioned flawlessly, just like I’ve come to expect from Hornady Ammunition. I like how Hornady offers multiple packaging sizes for their Frontier ammo to fit any budget or stockpiling needs.
Furthermore, their heavier 68gr and 75gr match-grade bullets are great for long-range shooting and competition. However, these won’t cost you as much as traditional match ammo, so it’s a great option for some long-distance plinking or if you simply don’t have time (or reloading components) to prepare for a match.
In summary, although the Hornady Frontier brand got off to a rocky start in 2018, the company seems to have rectified any production issues and is now putting out safe, reliable ammo for the everyday shooter. I’d have no problem heading to the range with a couple of boxes anytime.
Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo is best used for plinking and target shooting with your AR-15 carbine or other rifles/handguns chambered in 5.56. These rounds will work fine for varmint hunting, although you might have better results when shooting Hornady V-MAX ammo for this purpose.
It can be used for self-defense if necessary, but it isn’t the best option. However, Hornady Frontier 5.56 is also a good option for 3-gun or other competitive rifle shooting events when using the 68-grain or 75-grain BTHP (boat tail hollow point) match loads.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the best self-defense ammo, as the full metal jacket loads offer little in terms of fragmentation or expansion.
Also, there have been some reports on internet forums about over-charged rounds damaging firearms. However, these reports seem to be localized during the initial launch of the 5.56 NATO Frontier line, and it appears Hornady Ammunition has fixed this problem.
Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo is also not safe to use in your bolt-action rifles chambered in 223 Remington due to 5.56 NATO ammo having higher chamber pressures. You can read more about that in this article: 223 vs. 5.56.
As much as we love ammo, we understand that no manufacturer is perfect. Here are some of the pros and cons of Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo you should be aware of.
- American-made ammo
- Great for reloading
- Early lots had a few over-charged rounds that damaged some rifles
- Not ideal for self-defense
The 223 Remington was released in 1962 and replaced the 308 Winchester as the frontline cartridge for the U.S. Military in 1964. The original 223 Rem mil-spec ammo was named M193, which fired a 55gr full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3,260 FPS with a muzzle energy of 1,294 foot-pounds.
The new 223 Remington cartridge had sufficient long-range capability out to 500 yards while maintaining accuracy. The 223 Rem was released to the civilian market one year before adoption by the U.S. Army, and varmint hunters enjoyed the new cartridge’s low recoil, extreme accuracy, and lower pressure.
The 223 Remington M193 cartridge served the U.S. Army all the way through Vietnam; however, in 1980, FN Herstal changed the game.
In 1980, the Belgian firearms and ammo manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal submitted their designs for the SS109 5.56x45mm cartridge to NATO for approval. The SS109 fires a 62-grain FMJ bullet with a mild steel penetrator tip at 3,110 fps and has a muzzle energy of 1,325 ft-lbs.
The U.S. Military designation for the 5.56mm NATO SS109 is the M855.
The new 5.56mm NATO cartridge had identical external dimensions to the 223 Remington; however, the NATO cartridge can handle a higher maximum pressure than the 223 Rem. It accomplished this by having a slightly longer throat in the chamber, allowing for more freebore space. This additional space allows for higher-pressure rounds to be utilized and slightly increases reliability. However, it also decreases accuracy slightly as the bullet has more “jump” before it gets to the barrel rifling.
This is why you should never fire 5.56 NATO ammo in a rifle chambered for 223 Remington, as the 223 Rem rifle is not rated to take the increased pressure of the 5.56 round.
Military surplus 5.56 NATO ammo is extremely plentiful and inexpensive, making it a great option for plinking with your AR-15, provided it’s chambered for 5.56 NATO. Hornady Frontier ammo has several different varieties of 5.56. Let’s take a look at each of them in the next section.
Loaded with the classic M193 55-grain FMJ bullet, these rounds are prepared to mil-spec levels and are your “bread and butter” load for the 5.56 NATO Frontier line. They have low recoil, are more than accurate enough for plinking and target shooting, and provide a day of fun at the range without breaking the bank.
With 3,240 fps of muzzle velocity, the M193 round was the staple load used by the U.S. armed forces in Vietnam and can be used for self-defense in a pinch. However, for home defense, I’d be a little concerned about over-penetration. So, make sure you know what’s behind your target if you need to employ these rounds to defend your family or home.
If you need a low-recoil match grade round, then this is what you should be loading into your AR-15 mags before you hit your next 3-gun competition. Loaded with a Hornady 55-grain match-grade boat-tail hollow point bullet, these projectiles fly true and are also a great option for target shooting.
These projectiles have a slightly higher ballistic coefficient than the M193 load we discussed previously. A higher ballistic coefficient will help fight against wind drift and ensure that an errant crosswind won’t throw off your shot at range.
This is Hornady’s clone of the M855 62-grain full metal jacket load currently used by the American armed forces as well as NATO. However, the Hornady load does not have a mild steel core penetrator and has a traditional lead core instead. This means these rounds are safe to use on indoor shooting ranges.
Loaded to a muzzle velocity of 3,060 fps and with 1,289 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. These rounds are great for plinking if you have a higher twist rate (1:7 recommended) AR-15 or other 5.56 rifle.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs and shoot long-range, then this load might be a great addition to your ammo cans. The Hornady 68-grain hollow point match bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 0.355 and is more than accurate enough for a 3-gun competition or any type of long-range shooting you want to do.
Rounding out the Hornady Frontier 5.56 line of ammo is the heaviest bullet of them all, the 75 gr HP match. If you want to maximize your long-range potential, then this is the round for you. If you need a match bullet but don’t have time to reload your own, then grab a few boxes of these and hit the range. You won’t be sorry!
Below you’ll find the ballistic tables for the ammunition reviews above. This ballistics data was taken from Hornady’s website, and they collected their data using a 20-inch test barrel. Your performance might vary slightly if your handgun or rifle uses a different barrel length.
Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo is a great choice if you’re looking for some reliable, low-cost ammo that’s amazing for plinking, target shooting, or stockpiling for any potential SHTF situation. It may not be the most glamorous or technologically advanced Hornady load ever invented, but it goes ‘bang’ every time you pull the trigger, and that’s what I want any time I hit the range.
If you’re looking for some Hornady ammo, make sure you check out what we have in stock to always keep your ammo cans and mags full.
I've taken the liberty to gather and answer a few of the commonly asked questions about Hornady Frontier 5.56 ammo, below.
Yes, the Frontier line of ammo was released in 1964 and was Hornady’s first entry into the market of loaded ammunition.
Yes, Hornady Frontier ammo uses high-quality Hornady brass cases that are Boxer-primed and reloadable. Their 5.56 ammo has crimped primer pockets, so this crimp will need to be removed before a new primer is seated.
Hornady Frontier 5.56 NATO ammo has an average muzzle velocity between 2,910-3,240 fps, depending on bullet weight and barrel length.
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