The Best .223 and 5.56 Ammo for Your AR-15

| Last Updated: June 25, 2021

Are you struggling to decide on what ammo to use in your AR-15 rifle?

With so many brands, types, bullet styles, and other variables, it can be a challenge to choose an option that is ideal for feeding through your AR-15.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the best AR-15 ammo options on the market today.

Comparison of the Best AR-15 .223 and 5.56 Ammo 

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Reloadable brass casings
  • Proprietary propellants increase velocity
  • Copper/zinc alloy bullets shoot cleaner than traditional copper
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  • Extremely affordable to shoot
  • Bullet weight ideal for 1:9 twist barrels
  • Can be shot in both .223 and 5.56x45mm AR-15s
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  • Versatile round excels at multiple uses
  • Excellent option for self-defense purposes
  • Superior expansion increases stopping power
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Factors to Consider Before Buying AR-15 Ammo

There are a few important factors to think about and consider when choosing AR-15 ammo. Check out the list below to arm yourself with the knowledge to make an informed choice.

Bullet Types

Three of the most common types of bullets are soft point, hollow point, and full metal jacket. There are more types than those three, but having a better understanding of these three will help you out a lot. 

Soft Point (SP)

Soft point bullets are most commonly used for hunting purposes. They expand upon impact in a more controlled way which reduces damage to fur and meat. With a great ballistic coefficient and less drag than traditional hollow points, hunters can be incredibly accurate and precise with their shot placement on coyotes, groundhogs, and other varmints, and small game.

Hollow Point (HP)

Home and personal defense purposes generally call for the use of hollow point bullets. The expansion of hollow points helps to reduce over-penetration that could lead to unwanted damage beyond the target. This is especially good to have in home and personal defense situations which can occur near innocent bystanders.

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)

Often used in the most affordable types of ammunition, full metal jacket bullets feature a lead core encased in a shell of harder metal such as gilding metal. This so-called “jacket” allows for increased muzzle velocities when compared to bare lead. This is accomplished without leaving significant amounts of metal behind in the bore. FMJ ammo is great for plinking and target range use.

Photo credit: makeagif.com

Barrel Twist

Before starting your ammo selection process, you should always keep the twist rate of your barrel in mind. If you aren’t sure of your twist rate, just check your barrel. The twist rate will be stamped or engraved somewhere on the barrel. 

The twist rate of a barrel tells you how many inches it takes the barrel to spin the bullet one revolution. For example, a bullet fired from a barrel with a twist rate of 1:9 will spin one revolution every 9 inches in the barrel. The most common twist rates are 1:7, 1:8, and 1:9. A twist rate of 1:12 is less common but is still out there.

So what does all of this have to do with finding the best ammo for your AR-15?

Simple. Certain bullet weights perform best with specific twist rates. This has to do with how well a bullet is stabilized due to variables such as total grains of bullet weight, spin rate, and barrel length. Understanding the physics behind this isn’t important for those of you buying factory loads of ammo. Instead, it is most important to just know the ideal bullet weight for your specific barrel’s twist rate.

Here is a chart to help you out.

Twist Rate

Ideal Bullet Weight (grains)

Acceptable Bullet Weight Range (grains)

Bullet Weights to Avoid (grains)

1:7

62 or 77

55-90+

40-55

1:8

62 or 77

40-90

90+

1:9

55

45-77

77-90+

1:12

45

40-55

55-90+

The general rule of thumb is “the heavier the bullet, the faster the twist rate.” A faster twist rate is one with a smaller number on the right side of the colon. For example, a 1:7 twist rate is faster than a 1:9 twist rate.

Wallet Damage

Shooting sports can sometimes be expensive endeavors to participate in. Sometimes ammo prices are going to dictate which brand or type that you buy. The good news is that the vast majority of factory ammunition is of good quality. Sure, if you are getting ready for a big competition or planning to do some hunting, you’ll want to make sure you get the best loads for your AR-15 regardless of price. However, if you just want to throw some lead downrange, don’t be hesitant to grab a couple of boxes of whatever is cheapest. After all, shooting sub-MOA groups isn’t the end all be all of a fun day at the range.

What’s In Stock

Backordered. Unavailable. Out of Stock. If you’ve tried to buy ammo lately, you are almost assuredly used to seeing those terms. With increased demand and short supplies, just finding any box of .223 or 5.56 ammo can feel like winning the lottery these days. The main point here is that you won’t always have a plethora of choices when it comes to ammo. 

If there is a specific brand you prefer or want to get, you’ll sometimes have to be patient, check ammo sites daily, sign up for notifications, or just get plain old lucky. Whatever is in stock sometimes has to be good enough.

Review of the Best AR-15 Ammo

If you’ve made it this far (or just scrolled down to this section), congratulations. You’ve made it to the reviews of the best AR-15 ammo on the market right now. Keep scrolling to check out which types of ammo are leading the pack and landing bullseyes left and right.

Best Overall:
Hornady Superformance 5.56x45mm NATO 55 Grain Gilding Metal eXpanding Centerfire Rifle Ammunition

Pros

  • Expand up to 1.5x their original diameter
  • Retains upwards of 95% of original weight
  • Polymer tip makes mushroom shape inside animal
  • Hollow point boat tail bullets improve flight characteristics
  • Cannelures reduce drag and help increase ballistic coefficient

Cons

  • On the pricier side ($1.85 per cartridge)
  • Should only be shot from 5.56mm barrels

Review

With an impressive muzzle velocity of 3130 ft/second, Hornady Superformance 5.56x45mm NATO 55 Grain ammo doesn’t waste any time getting downrange. Clocking in around 200 ft/second faster than competitors, this ammo boasts a ballistic coefficient of 0.27. The copper/zinc alloy bullet construction fouls barrel less than copper bullets and delivers consistent pressure curves.

The polymer-tipped bullets retain 95% of their original weight and expand into a mushroom shape inside animals that is 1.5x the original bullet diameter. It is hard to beat this ammo if you are running a 5.56mm barrel on your AR-15.

Bottom Line

Designed to outpace competitors by 100 to 200 feet per second in muzzle velocity, Hornady’s Superformance 5.56x45mm ammo speeds downrange at over 3,000 feet per second with a ballistic coefficient of 0.270. Ideal for use with AR-15s chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, the bullets used in these cartridges retain 95% of their original weight and expand up to 1.5x the original bullet diameter.

Runner-up:
Wolf Performance .223 55gr FMJ

Pros

  • Non-corrosive powder
  • Impressive muzzle velocity of 3241 ft/sec
  • Low price is ideal for high volume shooters
  • Ideal bullet weight (55 gr) for common 1:9 twist barrels
  • Energy at muzzle (1283 ft-lb) is comparable to more expensive ammo

Cons

  • Cases are not reloadable
  • Does more wear and tear to barrels
  • Steel cases are not allowed at some ranges
  • Can be less reliable than brass cased ammo

Review

For some shooters, a good day at the range is only possible with high-volume shooting. If you are one of those shooters, Wolf Performance .223 55gr FMJ ammo is a strong option to consider. The steel cases aren’t reloadable, jams are more common, and barrel wear happens more quickly, but this stuff is very inexpensive.

If your main goal is to put as much lead downrange at 3241 ft/sec as possible during your range time, the negatives of this ammo tend to disappear to the background. With 55 grain full metal jacket bullets, this ammo from Wolf is ideal for use with 1:9 twist barrels which is one of the most common twist rates.

Bottom Line

If you are in the market for inexpensive ammo for a day at the range, don’t look further than Wolf Performance .223 55gr FMJ ammo. Coming in around $0.61 per round, you can shoot to your heart’s content without feeling it in your wallet. If you are ok dealing with a couple of drawbacks (they tend to be overblown), this ammo performs just fine if pinpoint accuracy isn’t your goal.

Best for the Money:
 Corbon MPR 69 Grain .223 Remington

Pros

  • Solid muzzle velocity of 3000 feet per second
  • Very high ballistic coefficient equals flat trajectory
  • Green acetal resin tip and boat tail design decreases drag
  • 69 grain bullets are ideal for 1:7 and 1:8 twist rate barrels
  • Performs well for self-defense, hunting, and long-range shooting

Cons

  • Less than ideal for use on small game
  • Fairly expensive; less of a concern for self-defense use

Review

If self-defense is one of the things you use your AR-15 for, finding an excellent self-defense cartridge is likely high on your list. If you aren’t sure which one to choose, Corbon MPR 69 Grain .223 Remington ammo is one of the best choices. Thanks to a green acetal resin tip and boat tail design, this flat shooting ammo has a very high ballistic coefficient.

Impressive penetration and stopping power make this a self-defense ammo option you can rely on. While it is on the pricey side, that isn’t as big of a concern for self-defense ammo. Spending a little more is worth the peace of mind that if needed this ammo will get the job done.

Bottom Line

Choosing self-defense ammo carries a different weight than choosing a target or hunting ammo. It has the potential to be the difference between life and death. Corbon’s MPR 69 Grain .223 Remington ammo makes for an excellent self-defense ammo choice. Deep penetration and impressive expansion are two hallmarks of good self-defense ammo and this offering from Corbon has both of those things in spades.

4. Federal American Eagle XM193 Ammunition

Pros

  • Impressive muzzle velocity of 3165 ft/sec
  • Reloadable brass and dependable primers
  • Military-grade cartridges made in the USA
  • Reliability and consistency ideal for high-volume shooting
  • Full metal jacket boat tail bullets leave minimal metal behind

Cons

  • Only for use with 5.56x45mm AR-15 barrels

Review

Federal’s American Eagle XM193 is widely regarded as some of the most reliable 5.56x45mm ammo on the market today. This makes it ideal for high-volume shooting scenarios such as plinking or target shooting. Primers that meet military specifications help to increase dependability and full metal jacket boat tail bullets improve muzzle velocity while leaving a minimal amount of metal behind for less barrel fouling.

The XM193 cartridges have a muzzle velocity of 3165 feet per second, a ballistic coefficient of 0.269, and 1223 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Combine all of those things with reloadable brass and you have an excellent option for a day on the range with your 5.56x45mm AR-15.

Bottom Line

If you do a lot of high-volume shooting, such as plinking or target shooting, Federal’s American Eagle XM193 should be high on your list of ammo to use. This 5.56x45mm ammunition offers shooters reliability, accuracy, and dependability. Utilizing full metal jacket boat tail bullets, this ammo has a muzzle velocity of 3165 ft/sec and features reloadable brass and military spec primers.

5. Federal Premium Gold Medal Sierra Matchking

Pros

  • Strict standards of production ensure consistency
  • Match grade quality and performance from the factory
  • Extremely flat shooting with a 0.301 ballistic coefficient
  • Tight manufacturing tolerances allow for small shot groupings
  • Bullet weight of 69 grains pairs well with 1:7 or 1:8 twist rate barrels

Cons

  • Can be tough to find due to popularity
  • On the more expensive side; best reserved for competitions

Review

This Gold Medal Sierra Matchking ammo from Federal Premium is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the previous entry on this list. Designed and manufactured with very tight tolerances and strict quality standards, this ammo provides consistent downrange results.

Ideal for use with 1:7 or 1:8 twist rate barrels, this ammo pushes the 69 grain bullets at a muzzle velocity of 2,950 ft/sec and a ballistic coefficient of 0.301. Completely worthy of being called match grade ammo, this offering from Federal Premium is very capable of very small groupings.

Bottom Line

Best reserved for use in shooting competitions due to price and availability, there is no denying that Federal Premium’s Gold Medal Sierra Matchking ammo is some of the best ammo for AR-15 rifles chambered in .223 Remington on the market today. With a ballistic coefficient of 0.301 and a muzzle velocity of 2950 ft/sec, this ammo is built with strict quality standards to deliver tight groups downrange.

6. Browning BXV Predator and Varmint 50 Grain Polymer Tip

Pros

  • Exits muzzle at 3400 feet per second
  • Polymer tipped bullets flatten trajectory
  • Dispatches predators and varmints quickly
  • Designed to expand immediately on impact
  • Nickel plated casings provide smooth feeding

Cons

  • Limited versatility; best reserved for hunting
  • May not perform well in 1:7 twist rate barrels

Review

Target shooting and competitions aren’t the only uses for AR-15 rifles. Predator and varmint hunting are also done with AR-15s chambered in .223 and this ammo from Browning is an excellent choice for exactly that. Browning’s BXV Predator and Varmint ammo fire 50 grain polymer tipped bullets downrange at an impressive 3400 feet per second.

With a ballistic coefficient of 0.242, this ammo has a flat trajectory and maintains velocity downrange. The polymer-tipped bullets are designed to quickly transfer energy to the target. In other words, it dispatches predators and varmints fast. If you have a 1:7 twist rate barrel, you may want to consider other options.

Bottom Line

If you are a predator or varmint hunter and use a .223 AR-15, look no further. Browning BXV Predator and Varmint is an optimal choice for your hunting needs. The 50 grain polymer-tipped bullets have a flat trajectory and carry plenty of velocity downrange. With a design that encourages rapid expansion on target, this clean shooting ammo will dispatch your target quickly. Keep in mind that accuracy may suffer from 1:7 twist rate barrels.

Top Brands in the Ammo Space

There is seemingly no shortage of ammo brands available on the market today. Check out a few of the top brands in the ammo space below.

Federal

Started in 1922, Federal has built a reputation for creating and manufacturing some of the best factory ammo shooters can buy. Their precise manufacturing and quality control measures make their ammo reliable and consistent. Federal is also an industry leader in innovation and they are regularly inventing and designing new ammunition. Shooting Federal ammo is a great way to get the most out of your AR-15.

Hornady

Hornaday was founded in 1949 following World War II by Joyce Hornday. The company began as a bullet manufacturer selling to reloaders. While they continue to sell a full range of bullets and reloading gear, Hornady also features an extensive line of factory-loaded ammunition for rifles, rimfire rifles, handguns, and shotguns as well as an array of muzzleloading projectiles. No matter what you use your AR-15 for, whether it be hunting, competition, target shooting, self-defense, or something else, Hornady is sure to have an excellent ammo option for that use.

Browning

Ammo might not be your first thought when you hear the name Browning, but with an impressive variety of advanced cartridges available, the company is quickly becoming one of the top brands in the ammo space. Hunting ammunition is where Browning makes their hay, but their sport shooting and self-defense rounds also stand out from the competition. The company has been building firearms since 1878 and their long history in the hunting world allows them to make hunting ammo superior to the competition.

Price Points of AR-15 Ammo (per 20-rd box)

With the current instability in the ammunition market, it can be a challenge to know when you are getting a good price. That is even more difficult with sporadic options in stock. Let’s try to make some sense of it below. The price points in this section are based on 20 round boxes of ammo. Bulk ammo prices can differ, but understand the following price points should help you make solid bulk ammo choices as well.

$15 and Below

This price range isn’t going to get you match-grade ammo. This is where you will find steel-cased ammo and less reliable ammo. If you are just looking for some affordable ammo to do some plinking or target shooting, then grab whatever you can find in this price range. It isn’t going to win you any sharpshooting competitions and your rifle might need some extra cleaning afterward, but it is easy on the wallet which is ideal for high-volume shooters.

$15 to $28

Ammo found in this price range is usually a really solid value. It will provide solid accuracy along with reliable performance and will utilize reloadable brass casings. The fact that this price range represents such a good value means that it can be hard to find in stock. Ideal ammo for a range of uses, including hunting and sport shooting, can be found at this price point.

$28 and Above

Best reserved for long-distance shooting, self-defense, and competition shooting, ammo at this price point usually has the performance and consistency to back up the price. Stricter manufacturing standards and quality control measures increase the price, but also boost performance to near custom match load levels.

It can be a little disheartening to know each pull of the trigger is costing nearly two dollars, but when the shot really counts this price point is well worth it.

Photo credit: pewpewtactical.com

Conclusion

With so many options and just as many “out of stock” notifications, buying AR-15 ammo for .223 and 5.56x45mm rifles can be a challenge. One of the best tools to fight that challenge is knowledge. Knowing how to read an ammo box to understand how it will perform in your rifle is vital. Use what you’ve learned in this article to hunt down the best ammo you can find and you’ll be using it to hunt predators (and nail bullseyes) before you know it.

People Also Ask

No single article can ever cover all the information on a single topic. If this article left you craving more knowledge, keep scrolling to see some questions about AR-15 ammo that you might still have. Whether you are new to shooting sports or a seasoned pro, there is no such thing as too much knowledge.

What Grain .223 Ammo is Best For AR-15?

The answer to this question largely depends on your definition of best. Generally, the twist rate of your barrel will dictate which grain (a measure of bullet weight) is best for your AR-15. That being said, a bullet with a weight of 55 grains will perform well in all barrels no matter the twist rate. So if versatility is your definition of best, look for 55 grain ammo. Otherwise, check out the table in the Barrel Twist section of this article for twist rate-specific recommendations.

Is There a Subsonic .223 That Cycles in an AR-15?

No. Although some manufacturers of subsonic ammo will claim that it can cycle in an AR-15, it is generally accepted that this isn’t possible without a modified rifle. Subsonic ammo uses lower amounts of powder and simply does not generate enough pressure to cycle the rifle in both .223 and 5.56x45mm variations.

Josh Lewis the managing editor at Gun Mann and when he isn't writing about guns he is more than likely tinkering with them. He also enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors. As a lifelong gun owner he knows his stuff!

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