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

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Military culture has always had a conservative attitude towards the development of new technological concepts.

In this regard, the transition to the sub-caliber AR-platform had a much greater role in shaping military change than anything until that time. This change is not surprising, considering the apparent features and performance out to 500 yards that using .223 ammunition offers.

If you are wondering whether you should use .223 or 5.56 ammo and what each is best for, keep reading. We will detail this information and also provide you with some of the best brands of ammo you can get on the market today. 

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

PRODUCTDETAILS
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Federal Fusion Ammo 223 Remington 62gr Bonded BT

  • 62-Grain Bonded Type Bullets for Optimum Performance
  • Good For Small to Mid-Sized Game Hunting
  • High Muzzle Energy. Good for Matches
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American Eagle Ammo .223 Remington 55GR FMJ-BT

  • Full Metal Jacket Boat Tail Bullets
  • Versatile Bullets Good for Overall Use With the AR
  • Safe For Use in Rifles Marked for 5.56 NATO
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Black Hills Ammunition 5.56x45mm Nato 77gr Tipped Matchking Ammo

  • Available in 50-round or 500-round options
  • Tipped MatchKing (TMK) Style
  • 77GR
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Federal Lake City Ammo 5.56x45mm NATO 77gr Open Tip Match

  • Weighs 77 grain
  • Best 5.56 Ammo for the money
  • Features reloadable brass cases
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Hornady - Superformance Match Ammo .223 Remington 75GR HPBT

  • Boat Tail Hollow Point Bullets Good for Hunting Big Game
  • Good BC Provides Increased Range and Reduced Wind Drift
  • Premium Quality Bullets Ideal for Long Range Shooting
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Federal Lake City Ammo 5.56x45mm NATO 62gr XM855 SS109 Penetrator

  • Lead Core With Partial Jacket
  • Affordable Price/Round (Buy in Bulk)
  • Re-loadable Brass Casing
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.223 vs. 5.56

Featuring chambers larger than SAAMI .223 Rem, AR-15s chambered for the NATO 5.56 mm round can safely shoot .223 Remington ammo, as well as 5.56. Actually, the case dimensions of .223 and 5.56 are the same. However, the 5.56 mm mil-spec ammo is loaded hotter, operating at higher chamber pressure and acting as “+P+” ammunition. This means the most common AR-15 chamber, the .223 Remington, is not fully appropriate for the 5.56×45 NATO round. It is smaller and slightly tighter.

Aside from the different chambering, AR-15s designed for .223 Remington may have problems with shooting heavier ammo. This is true for 77 grains (5 g) and above, which are commonly used in the Sport Rifle Competitions.

Another drawback to the .223 caliber refers to the rifling itself - the spiral grooves inside the barrel. AR-15 civilian rifles in .223 Remington are designed to stabilize frangible varmint bullets weighing 40-60 grains. But with the standard 1:12 or 1:9 twist rate of most barrels, they could not properly stabilize heavy military bullets.

The barrel twist with .223, then, is often best at 1:7 twist, often stamped 5.56 mm. While the non-adequate twist rate is often blamed for reduced accuracy, you probably will not even notice a difference up to 300 yards.

By the way, there are few hybrid chambers such as .223 Wylde and .223 Match chambers. These are preferred by serious competitive shooters. Providing more versatility with longer and heavier bullets, these hybrid chambers are designed to exploit the accuracy advantages of the .223 Remington chambering since it is better overall than what you can expect from a regular 5.56×45 chamber.

Anyway, the rule of thumb would be to use rifles with .223 Rem chamber to fire only .223 and use a 5.56 chamber to fire either 5.56 and .223. If you want competition-level accuracy, a .223 Wylde chamber will shoot both 5.56 and .223 as well.

For example, a friend of mine had to change the barrel of his M85 Mini Mauser rifle in .223 Remington because he was using 5.56 mm military surplus ammo. However, it was after he’d fired about 3,000 of those rounds. Yes, there’s a slight risk. Yes, it will also cause more wear and tear on your rifle. We don’t recommend it but it’s not extremely high-risk either.

What to Look For When Buying Ammo

If you’re looking for the best ammo for your AR-15, it’s important to know which characteristics stand out as your favorite. You should be able to distinguish great ammo from those that are considered ineffective by any standards. Here’s what you need to look for in your ammo:

Which Caliber Do You Use?

Keep in mind that the caliber is important. A .223 round will obviously be smaller than 5.56 NATO rounds. So you need to double-check which caliber your rifle is chambered to fire. Once you get clear verification, that’s when you are free to choose which ammo you want for your rifle.

What is Your Intended Purpose?

The type of ammo you choose will also depend on the application. If you plan on hunting with your AR-15, it would be ideal to find ammo that is considered “full metal jacket” rounds. FMJ rounds are designed to have a much greater impact and will easily shred through animal skin much easier compared to different types of ammo. 

Price Tag is Affordable

Regardless of whether you’re on a budget or you have money to throw around, you want ammo that will be affordable to you. As a rule, if you’re on a budget, you should consider investing in ammo that is the best quality and performance that is affordable to you. Don’t confuse this with sacrificing quality by saving a few bucks. 

“Good” is always a relative term. It depends so much on your use. Obviously clean ammo is always best. But according to your preference, there are many bullet types and designs in the market. For general target shooting/range training purposes with an AR-15, shooters prefer the full metal jackets (FMJ) or ball ammo. For ethically hunting varmint and other small game, the hollowpoint/softpoints (HP/SP) are a good choice.

We have prepared a selection of the best .223 ammo for the AR-15 in the next chapter.

Quick Take - The .223 and 5.56 Ammo for the AR-15  

Reviews of the Best Ammo for the AR-15 in .223 and 5.56

Below is a list of the five best AR-15 ammo. As you go through each one, be sure to note some of the unique features and characteristics. This way, you’ll be able to decide which type of ammo works best for you in terms of your personal needs.

Now, let’s begin by taking a look at the best .223 ammo for AR-15s:  

Pros

  • Insanely lightweight
  • Excellent for hunting purposes
  • It can easily rip through deer skin like butter
  • Shooting groups are consistently tight at 100 yards
  • Travels super-fast and can reach your target fairly quickly

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of new users were impressed with the results these rounds produced. One user, in particular, fired off a lot of rounds at targets situated from 100 to 200 yards out. He said the shooting groups were consistently tighter at both distances. Overall, these delivered kill shots much faster (if not instantly) than some other ammo rounds.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

These rounds are pretty light in weight and in turn, they travel quite fast. This allows you to shoot at targets and hit them quickly. These rounds are best if you are a sucker for fast velocity. And the velocity of these rounds obviously doesn’t disappoint. If you want ammo that will make almost any kill shot quick and easy, you’d be hard-pressed to find better ammo than this.

Federal’s family of Fusion ammunition belongs to an increasingly popular trend of bonded bullets. Fusion ammunition was built explicitly for deer hunting and use in modern sporting rifles with short barrels. This specialized 62-grain, boat-tail rifle bullet has a lead core electrochemically bonded to the copper jacket to exclude the possibility of jacket separation. This is to keep the highest possible weight to maximize lethality and blood trail.

The Fusion ammunition has non-corrosive boxer primers, allowing brass cases to be reloadable.

Although we know every barrel prefers a particular load, there is some criticism about the .223 Fusion's accuracy. Also, some users found the bullet disintegrated without leaving a blood trail, making it unsuitable for hunting.

Who Will Use This Most 

These rounds will definitely stand out as the type that will give you a good clean kill shot. So if you’re hunting deer or varmint and want a good kind of ammo that will make every shot count without making a mess, these will probably be worth checking out.

Bottom Line

The Federal .223 62-Grain Fusion Ammunition is the best you can find if you’re a .223 hunter in search of something to deliver superior performance like nothing else. Don’t be surprised if these wind up being your go-to rounds when you’re hunting for deer or big game in the years to come.

Pros

  • Easy to load in most magazines
  • Shooting groups are quite tight at 100 yards
  • Excellent for casual and competitive target shooting
  • Ballistics are hard to match compared to 5.56 ammo

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, these rounds were perfect for users who were casual target shooters. But a good number of them were also competitive shooters, as well. The shooting groups were pretty tight across various distances and consistently stayed that way through well over 100 to 200 rounds. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

These rounds were literally made for target shooting at the range. In fact, these might be one of a handful of ammo rounds for the 5.56 NATO caliber that most shooters prefer for target shooting or plinking. They will leave nice tight shooting groups and rip through paper targets like nothing else. So if hitting bullseyes is your number one goal, you’ll need a certain kind of ammo to get the job done almost each and every time.

One of the most popular makers of ammunition, Black Hills is known in the gun community for their high-quality ammo. In fact, it’s generally considered comparable to the best handloads.

They produce a 5.56x45 mm, 77-gr tipped MatchKing (TMK) bullet reaching 2,700 to 2,750 fps at the muzzle. This unconventional hollowpoint cartridge uses the hollow cavity to put the majority of its weight towards the bullet's rear. That makes it more stable in flight and increases accuracy.

The accuracy of MatchKing bullets has been acclaimed worldwide in many competitions. The military also adopted a Black Hills round with an open-tipped match (OTM) under the designation the MK 262 Mod 1. Utilizing a ballistic tip, this ammo has incredible terminal performance and operates equally well with long-range targets and CQB scenarios with short-barreled rifles.

The Black Hills ammunition is exceptionally accurate but it is also expensive. The best application would be in law enforcement and home defense.

Who Will Use This Most 

While we won’t write these off as useless for hunters, these rounds are definitely a go-to for those who compete in shooting contests with AR-15s. If you want ammo that caters to the larger caliber and will provide excellent accuracy and hit power, these just might be the rounds you’ll want to invest your hard-earned money in. 

Bottom Line

The Black Hills Ammunition is a 5.56 NATO shooter's best friend when it comes to accuracy. But it will definitely give you an edge over your competition. So if you want to stay consistently accurate over the course of a competition or a range session, these rounds should be what you need.

Pros

  • Super-light in weight
  • Available in various counts
  • Great for most applications
  • Consistently tight shooting groups
  • Fits most magazines perfectly with no jamming issues

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

These rounds were a hit with new users. One of the things users have pointed out was how accurate these bad boys were at various distances. One user was even quite impressed when he made a trip to the range to test these out. He expected the shooting groups to be tight, but he didn’t expect them to be a lot closer to each other. Velocity-wise, they travel quite fast at various distances. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The American Eagle brand rounds are known for producing consistent results, especially for those who hold a high standard to accuracy. So, if tight shooting groups are a high priority on your list, this ammo might be what you’ll want to have for consistently accurate and precise shooting. It’s a must-have if you’re hunting or using your AR-15 in competitive shooting applications.

This low-priced .223 ammunition comes from Federal’s daughter brand, American Eagle. It is produced at the Lake City Army ammunition plant to NATO specifications for 5.56x45 mm.

This American Eagle round is loaded with 55-grain FMJ bullets. It reaches a muzzle velocity of 3,240 fps. That’s great for practice with the same-power loads you will actually hunt with or use in competition.

This affordable load from Federal American Eagle is designed specifically for target shooting, training and practice, and features boxer-primed, non-corrosive reloadable brass cases.

On the other side, while it is economical ammo, you can expect groups ranging from three to five inches at 100 yards from an average AR. There are also problems with dirty combustion and sporadically failing to fire.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will certainly be the best .223 round for almost any purpose ranging from hunting to competition shooting. If you’re a sucker for accurate shooting, you’ll feel like quite the sharpshooter if you choose to invest in ammo like this. For consistently precise accuracy, these rounds should do the trick.

Bottom Line

The American Eagle Tactical .223 Ammo Rounds are built to do some serious damage. Even better, they can hit pretty accurately and go exactly where you want them to go. If you want super-precise kill shots or bullseye shots, you’d be insane to pass up the opportunity to give these rounds a closer look. 

Pros

  • Affordable for most budgets
  • Excellent for most applications
  • Easy to load in most magazines
  • Really tight shooting groups right out of the gate
  • Perfect for those who tend to reload their rounds

Cons

  • Some primers won’t seat without major manipulation
  • It may be difficult to reload at first, but with practice, it gets easier
  • Pockets may not be deep enough for reloading if you’re reusing some rounds

What Recent Buyers Report

A majority of new users were AR-15 owners who tend to reload their rounds manually. They managed to use these rounds to their advantage both during and after use. The rounds were quite accurate and travel at quite a fast rate. Once discarded, most of them were in good enough condition to be reloaded manually with a reloading press. One user said that most of the rounds he has used have been easy to reload time and time again.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This might be one of the few ammo rounds that come in a box all loaded and ready to go. Even better, these are actually designed to be reloaded manually. So, not only are they affordable from the start, but they are designed to save you a whole lot of money after the fact. In other words, you don’t have to buy another box of ammo after going through the box itself. If you know how to reload your ammo manually, this will definitely be a saving grace for you financially. 

The Lake City ammunition plant manufactures this 5.56x45 mm 77-grain Open Tip Match ammo. The intention is for it resemble the renowned military MK262 SPR cartridge. Using the heavy 77-grain open-tip bullet with a boat tail for a more aerodynamic profile, this cartridge has a muzzle velocity of 2,762 feet per second and provides muzzle energy of 1,293 ft. lbs. These projectiles have thicker jackets and feature a flatter trajectory and less wind drift than lighter bullets.

However, this ammo is not Federal Premium series, and by shooter experience, this heavier 77-grain Open Tip Match ammunition suffers from some inconsistency. Its best use would be for long-range target practice and casual plinking.

Who Will Use This Most 

These will be useful to shooters who have the skill in knowing how to manually hand load AR-15 rounds. Regardless of whether you’re using these for target shooting or hunting, if you have a nice brass catcher on-hand to bag these rounds, you can easily reload these in a matter of seconds. Either way you slice it, these bullets will be affordable for you both initially and in the long run.

Bottom Line

The Federal Lake City Ammo 5.56 Open Tip Match rounds are a godsend for the budget shopper, especially when they would rather save money reloading their rounds rather than spend more on additional boxes. If you want rounds that are easy to reload and perfect for multiple amounts of reuse, these might be what the doctor ordered. 

The Hornady Superformance ammunition is renowned for the manufacturer's innovative powder blend. They claim it provides every Superformance caliber with up to an additional 200 fps. This .223 Remington round reaches a muzzle velocity of 2,930 feet per second. It has the added benefits of increased range, flatter trajectory, and reduced wind drift.

The Superformance Match .223 cartridge is topped off with 75-Gr Boattail Hollow Point Match bullets enveloped with a new AMP (Advanced Manufacturing Process) bullet jackets, enabling a best-in-class ballistic coefficient.

While shooters have not recorded any misfires or increased soiling, the accuracy is quite humble. It’s at the level of surplus and much cheaper ammo brands.

Pros

  • Really lightweight
  • Ridiculously fast velocity
  • Fits in magazines nice and smooth
  • Great for hunting and target shooting
  • It allows for clean kill shots in hunting applications

Cons

  • Shooting groups may be inconsistent at times
  • Accuracy might be a little suspect compared to a lighter weight version of itself
  • Some rounds may be improperly sealed

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were pretty happy with these rounds. The managed to load these in their favorite 5.56 NATO magazines without any issues with feeding or reliability. Velocity-wise, they travel quite fast to their intended location. For the most part, their shooting groups were pretty tight after firirin 100 rounds. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

These rounds are larger than .223 rounds. Granted, they are lightweight and travel insane distances quite fast. In fact, they just might be one of the best of the best when it comes to 5.56 NATO rounds. These rounds are able to handle just about any application. So whether you use them for hunting, target practice, or tactical situations, these rounds are reliable and deliver stopping power like nothing else on the market.

This 5.56x45 mm NATO military surplus ammunition is manufactured at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant and sold under the Federal American Eagle brand. It bears a brass case headstamped with the Federal symbol. The bullet reaches a muzzle velocity of about 3,100 fps from a 24-inch barrel and is among the best ammo for self-defense and all-around AR15/M16/M4 ammo.

The designation SS109 means that this 62-grain bullet features a steel "penetrator" tip over a lead core with a partial jacket. These green-painted bullets have better penetration than the 55 grains. Just remember that some ranges prohibit steel core ammunition, so you have to check the rules before shooting this ammo.

This Federal Lake City Ammunition follows the “Green Tip” ammo or M855 specification using a non-corrosive coating in boxer-primed, reloadable brass cases. However, the designation XM855 means this ammunition did not pass inspection to meet tight military specifications. In other words, you may get ammo rejected for dented cases - sometimes on the shoulder, some on the case mouth, or for some other aesthetic reasons. They’re still functional but not perfect.

Who Will Use This Most 

These rounds are designed for various applications. So it doesn’t matter how you use your AR-15 rifle, if it’s chambered to shoot 5.56 NATO rounds, you can bet that these puppies will be the rounds you go with for fast velocity and heavy hits. There may be no other 5.56 rounds that can duplicate this kind of performance.

Bottom Line

The Federal Lake City Ammo is definitely the best choice for you if you’re looking for what might be the best general-purpose ammo for 5.56 NATO chambered rifles. These are guaranteed to give you smooth, quick shooting without any jamming or reliability issues. 

PMC is a South Korean ammunition company and Korean Army ammo supplier. The .223 PMC Bronze ammunition is 55-grain full metal jacket bullets conforming to mil-spec. It features muzzle energy of 1,250 ft-lbs and a blistering 2,900 fps of muzzle velocity.

These all-copper-jacketed boat-tail bullets deliver flat trajectories and mid-range accuracy perfect for target applications. The PMC ammunition is loaded in new brass, reloadable cases with boxer primers. The non-corrosive cartridges have crimped military primers that should be removed before a new primer can be inserted during reloading.

However, the low price comes with issues such as reliability and accuracy which can vary from batch to batch.

The South Korean ammo manufacturer, Poongsan Corporation offers their 5.56 NATO X-TAC line ammunition on the commercial market. It is produced to the highest industry and military specifications. The cartridge is topped with 55-grain full metal jacket bullets, resulting in a high muzzle velocity of about 3,270 fps.

This economical ammo is loaded in reloadable brass cases with boxer-type primers. Since the PMC ammo has crimped military primers like most of the others, reloaders may need a special tool to accomplish this operation.

The PMC 5.56x45 mm NATO 55-gr FMJ ammunition is made up to mil-spec M193 round. The manufacturer does make a point to remind shooters - as we have already done - that this is not intended for use in commercial or bolt-action rifles chambered for .223 Remington caliber.

While X-TAC ammo is perfect for everyday plinking, some users have made complaints on too-visible signatures while firing in twilight or low-light conditions.

Why Shoot 5.56 in Your AR-15

ArmaLite started its rifle experiments using the commercial .222 Remington cartridge. At one point they considered a more powerful .222 Remington Magnum.

Meanwhile, Remington designed the .222 Special. But to prevent confusion - there were so many .222 rounds designations, they renamed .222 Special Cartridge to .223 Remington in 1959. The .223 Remington (actually a 0.224-inch diameter bullet), the newest and improved version, was an incredible achievement in the firearms world.

Nevertheless, modifications continue to be made with the derivative form, which was adopted as the 5.56×45 mm NATO in 1963. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) standardized the Remington .223 cartridge in 1962. However, 5.56 mm NATO has never passed through that process. You could almost consider it the world's most popular wildcat round.

Despite the initial use of the .223 ammunition and the lack of SAAMI standardization, 5.56 rounds made to mil-spec is more popular because of its universality.

Conclusion

To choose the best ammo for your black rifle, you'll need to decide what the upgrading would be used for recreational shooting, hunting, competition, or home defense. If you are a hunter or dedicated marksmen, the answer is pretty clear - only the best ammunition you can afford is what you need. However, if you are a high-volume shooter, then you should take advantage of the great military surplus ammo bargains.

On the other hand, many AR-15 owners are concerned about shooting 5.56 in a .223 chamber since it is highly inadvisable. The difference in pressure can be anywhere from 1% to 10%. In most cases, it may not make a difference. 

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