• Home |
  • The Best 5.56 Ammo for Home Defense Chosen by Experts

The Best 5.56 Ammo for Home Defense

The Best 5.56 Ammo for Home Defense

If you’re looking for the best 5.56 NATO ammo on the market, then you’ve come to the right place! With so many different varieties of 5.56 ammo available from multiple retailers, it can be hard to know what’s best for home defense.

In this article, we share our top 5 picks for the best 5.56 NATO home defense ammo based on our testing.

If you simply cannot wait, the best 5.56 ammo for home defense is Black Hills 62 gr Dual Purpose.

Now, let’s get to our top 5 picks for the best types of ammo for your 5.56 rifle.

5 Best 5.56 Loads for Personal Defense

Best Overall

Black Hills 62 gr Dual Purpose

Best For Short Barrel AR-15s

Hornady Black 62 gr

Best For Varmint Defense

Federal Champion 55 gr JSP

Best Mil-Spec

American Eagle XM193 55 gr FMJBT

Hardest Hitting

Speer Gold Dot 75 gr JSP

Testing Procedure: How I Tested 5.56 Ammo to Find The Best Home Defense Round

Sure, hunting, target practice, and even plinking are necessary pastimes for the gun enthusiast. However, the home defense scenario is unique. You likely won’t find another purpose for your rifle more important than protecting your family. So, not every 5.56 ammo is best for home defense, but don't worry, we’ll tell you why.

You must consider many factors before choosing your go-to home defense rounds. Perhaps you’re already thinking about overpenetration and stopping power, but there’s even more to consider. So, let’s give you some things we like to test for with 5.56 home defense ammo.

Expansion Control

For those unfamiliar, expansion affects wound size and, therefore, stopping power. In a home defense scenario, we have two main goals; put the intruder down quickly and without hurting anyone else.

The more your projectile expands in its target, the less damage behind it and the larger the wound size. Two key factors of expansion are muzzle velocity and bullet design (you can find this information on your ammo box or the manufacturer’s website).


Of course, we need to consider penetration. The shape of the projectile, velocity, material, and weight affect penetration. Effective ammunition puts the threat down without causing unnecessary damage to the home or its inhabitants.

FMJ rounds are better for long-range target practice, but we won’t need our projectile to travel more than a few yards in this scenario.

If all you have is FMJ ammo, we suggest knowing your target and what’s behind it because it will check our penetration boxes, but it may travel a little further than you’re comfortable with.

Your Rifle

We also need to consider your rifle—well, not just your rifle, but how it impacts the 5.56 ammo you choose.

Most off-the-shelf 5.56 rifles, like the AR-15s we used in our tests, the Ruger American Ranch, Sig Sauer MDX, and the Mini-14, all have a twist rate of 1:7-1:8. This means your 5.56 round will rotate one time for every X inches of barrel length.

How does this play into home defense? Well, your twist rate can destabilize your round, affecting the accuracy. While this probably isn’t a big deal in close quarters, it’s a good idea to consider your projectile’s weight (55gr, 62gr, 70gr, etc.).

Weight and Twist Rate

Another consideration we’d like to point out is the casing material. Although it may not seem like an important factor in home defense ammo, the casing’s material can affect quality and function.

Steel casings are often cheaper but can lead to barrel corrosion, and they jam more often than brass casings. Brass is easier on your barrel and more reliable. Of course, if you don’t reload your rounds and clean your rifle regularly, you can minimize the drawbacks of steel 5.56 ammo and save some money.

Reliability & Availability

Lastly, not all rounds are created the same. Your Black Hills rounds are individually inspected before ever leaving the facility. Hornady, however, caught a bad rap for a massive recall on the Frontier rounds when they were first released (the issue was resolved, and we have nothing negative to report today). But it’s a good idea to look at the quality and recalls before deciding on your rounds.

Next, we have to consider which rounds are more likely to be in stock and whether they’re suitable for home defense.

Of course, you’re likely to find the M193 or M855 in stock anywhere, but the rounds are often unpredictable, and you won’t see the expansion we need for home defense. It’s great ammo to stockpile for an apocalyptic scenario but not so great for everyday home defense.

With all these considerations in mind, I headed to the range to test the performance of various rounds in my AR-15 rifles.

The best way to test expansion and penetration is with ballistic gel so you can clearly visualize it. To test accuracy and reliability, I shot a paper target, aiming to get as tight of groups as fast as possible without any malfunctions. I fired the rifle both freehand and assisted.

Our Top 5.56mm Defense Ammo Picks

Black Hills Dual Performance 62 Grain TSX - Best 5.56 Ammo For Home Defense Overall


  • Bullet Style: Solid Copper Hollow Point (SCHP)
  • Bullet Weight: 62 Grain
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3000 FPS
  • Muzzle Energy: 1239 FT LBS



Match-grade quality Not the best choice for long-range shots
Meets expansion requirements  
Readily available  

Why I Chose It

Most gun owners can agree that Black Hills is always a top choice. They deliver match-grade accuracy and consistency at a price point that everyone can afford.

I chose the Black Hills Dual Performance hollow point because I was looking for something that would expand quickly upon contact, reducing the likelihood of over-penetration. This was a crucial factor for me because, while using a rifle for home defense has its advantages, it also comes with the significant concern of the bullet going beyond the intended target, unlike with a handgun or shotgun.

One major benefit is that the 62 gr Dual Purpose round is perfect for short-barreled rifles that measure 16” or less. This ammo isn’t great for long-range shots, but that’s just more appealing for home defense.

To put it simply, the Black Hills Dual Performance checks all the boxes for the best all-around home defense 5.56 round.

Hornady Black 62 Grain - Best For Short Barrel 5.56 AR-15s


  • Bullet Style: Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)
  • Bullet Weight: 62 Grain
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3060 FPS
  • Muzzle Energy: 1289 FT LBS



Works with short and long-barrel rifles A bit pricey compared to other options
Reduced risk of over-penetration  
A true home defense round  
Works well with many commonly used off-the-shelf rifles  

Why I Chose It

Hornady is another top-rated home defense round, but the Hornady Black 62gr stands above many others. One of the many great things about the Hornady Black FMJ is that it is a versatile round that works well in both long and short-barreled rifles.

It should be noted that Hornady Black FMJs are NOT penetrator rounds with a mild steel core like SS109 (aka Green Tip) NATO mil-spec ammo. Instead, Hornady went with a soft lead core to promote tumbling and cavitation to minimize over-penetration.

In my hands, Hornady Black ammo was extremely accurate and reliable in every rifle I fired it in. I didn’t experience any malfunctions while at the range, and the bullet struck the target where I was aiming.

With supreme accuracy and superior bullet design, the Hornady Black 62 gr FMJ makes for an extremely potent home defense ammo. For more options, check out our Hornady 5.56 ammo page for the best deals!

Federal Champion 55 gr JSP - Best For Varmint Defense


  • Bullet Style: Jacketed Soft Point (JSP)
  • Bullet Weight: 55 Grain
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3000 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1099 ft-lbs



Rapid expansion soft-point bullet Less than ideal for long-range shots
Reduced risk of over-penetration  

Why I Chose It

After feeding it through my firearms, I found that Federal Champion 55 grain jacketed soft point ammo makes an excellent choice for dispatching four-legged and two-legged varmints.

Utilizing the classic soft point design that mushrooms when it impacts soft tissue, this ammo has excellent terminal ballistics while minimizing over-penetration.

Typically, soft point bullets don’t function well in semi-auto firearms. However, this JSP fed very reliably in my AR, thanks to the protective jacket.

The only downside to traditional JSP ammo is that it’s not as aerodynamic as a 77 grain Sierra Matchking or Barnes OTM (open-tip match) bullet. But, at close range, this won’t matter as much because those bullets are designed for long-range shooting, not home defense.

Unless you live in a multi-million dollar mansion with 200+ meter long hallways, Federal Champion 55 grain will be more than accurate enough for home defense.

American Eagle XM193 55 gr FMJBT - Best Mil-Spec 5.56 Ammo


  • Bullet Style: Full metal jacket (FMJ)
  • Bullet Weight: 55 Grain
  • Casing Type: Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3165 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1223 ft-lbs



Mil-Spec ammo Risk for over-penetration
Enough velocity to cause cavitation  

Why I Chose It

If you want a true-to-form mil-spec copy of the military’s M193 ammo, then you need to grab some American Eagle XM193 55 gr FMJBT.

Developed around the original 223 Remington ammunition for the M16, the 55 grain full metal jacket boat tail (FMJBT) travels so fast that it destabilizes or cavitates when it encounters soft tissue. This cavitation often leads to the bullet breaking into multiple pieces, which causes additional damage.

It may not be the fanciest hollow point design, but these 55gr FMJ bullets will get the job done. I also found them to be plenty accurate at close ranges commonly associated with home and personal defense.

The only downside is that there is the potential for over-penetration.

However, if you need budget-friendly ammo for target shooting, plinking, and home defense, Federal American Eagle XM193 ammo simply cannot be beaten.

Speer Gold Dot 75 gr JSP - Hardest Hitting 5.56 Ammo For Home Defense


  • Bullet Style: Jacketed Soft Point (JSP)
  • Bullet Weight: 75 Grain
  • Casing Type: Nickel-Plated Brass
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2775 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1282 ft-lbs



Immediate expansion Can be hard to find
Heavy bullet weigh  
Extremely reliable  

Why I Chose It

If you’re looking for the biggest, badest, hardest-hitting round on the market, then reach for the familiar gold box of Speer Gold Dot 75 gr JSP ammo.

Trusted by law enforcement for decades, Speer Gold Dot soft points are designed to expand the moment they counter tissue. This limits over-penetration while causing extreme amounts of damage inside the bad guy.

Firing a massive 75 grain bullet, these Gold Dot rounds hit hard and are sure to stop any would-be home invader or attacker.

Speer took it up a notch when they loaded these rounds in nickel-plated brass cases to minimize malfunctions and ensure your self-defense carbine feeds smoothly when you need it the most.

I’m sure you’re wondering why this isn’t the best AR-15 ammo on the market? Well, it pretty much is, but the problem is that it’s incredibly hard to find and a little pricey. However, if you can find a box or two of this, make sure you snatch it up because I promise you won’t be disappointed! I sure wasn’t after running a couple of boxes through my guns.

Chris Dwulet
Written by
Chris Dwulet

Cartridge Recommendations