If You Shoot Cheap Russian Ammo… Trade in Your AR and Get a Kalashnikov

If You Shoot Cheap Russian Ammo… Trade in Your AR and Get a Kalashnikov

Seriously. I know it is cheap training ammo, but there are some serious issues with stockpiling it and making it your go to ammo. I have compiled a few links and evidence to support my claim that it is a terrible choice for your AR15.

Stockpiling it for the apocalypse is a super bad idea.

Let’s discuss why:

The quality is so poor that even under ideal conditions you are going to reducing your 1.5 MOA rifle to a 3-5 MOA weapon. If all you run through your AR15 is cheap Russian ammo, then you have eliminated some of the accuracy benefits of the AR15 platform.

Evidence here.

Furthermore the typical bi-metal jacket these rounds often have is just a cheap way to save money at the cost of your barrel life. The steel jacket is harder than a copper jacket. It resists molding to the rifling like a copper jacket does and this extra friction (and heat) decimates your bore.

Evidence here.

The steel jacket prevents the chosen load from fragmenting along the cannalure. That steel jacket / lead core just doesn’t have good terminal performance. It isn’t soft enough to allow good fragmentation.

Evidence here.

The steel case doesn’t fully seal the chamber and allows powder residue to flow out of the bore and into the chamber. This residue builds up (what is commonly mistaken as burnt lacquer) and will eventually precipitate a malfunction. This is even more true if you suddenly start shooting brass cased ammo again! The soft brass will seal itself against the chamber and get stuck on the carbon build up in the chamber.

Evidence here.

But its cheap!

Yes Russian ammo is cheap, but your AR15 is not. Even though the market is hitting bottom, I’m willing to bet your black rifle is one of the more expensive consumer products you own.

It was made to function well with a copper jacketed projectile in a brass case.

If all you shoot is Russian steel ammo… Then sell the AR and get an AK. Because that is what you have turned your AR into. Poor accuracy, poor terminal performance, and shortened barrel life.

Shooting “Bi-Metal” jacketed ammo is not the best choice. Not all Russian import ammo is junk as they have a wide variety of products, many without a bi-metal projectile, but do your research. It may save enough money to re-barrel your AR15, but do you really want to re-barrel your gun every 5000 rounds? Sounds like a pain in the butt to me.

So, if price drives your defensive ammo purchases, then you will likely enjoy the Kalashnikov platform more.

Written by lothaen


  1. Wayne Anderson · September 10, 2014

    Please don’t misinterpret this as an argument in favor of cheap Russian ammo, because it’s not. I had trouble with it the first time I shot it, and haven’t ever gone back. But I do want to address the math of your post.

    I know ammo prices vary, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you can buy American (or Danish, or whatever) ammo for 40 cents a round. Let’s say at the same time the Russian ammo is 30 cents a round in similar quantity. That’s a difference of 10 cents per shot. If you’re regularly buying a brand like Hornady, it might be more than that; but granted, it might be less.

    So let’s take your figure of 5000 rounds of crappy Russian ammo to “shoot out” your barrel. At these figures, you will have saved $500 over the more expensive ammo — quite a bit. I built my SPR with a match-quality stainless SPR barrel by White Oak, which I got for under $300. This is a 1/2 moa barrel and is said to be accurate to 600 meters (in short, it shoots better than I can!)

    If you really want to just practice, and you want to use cheap Russian ammo, maybe you should build another upper. There are barrels out there for under $100; I know where you can buy a Bushmaster (barrel w/barrel nut, delta ring & FSB) for under $150. This equates to: Build a cheap rifle to shoot the cheap ammo. But when you shoot your good rifle, all your points are completely valid – shoot good stuff from the good rifle.

    • lothaen · September 15, 2014

      You are absolutely right. There is a cost/benefit to running Russian ammo if you are able to change the barrel. I can do that at home, i have all the specific AR15 tools. Convenient. Is it convenient for others out there to do so?

      • Wayne Anderson · September 15, 2014

        It’s easy enough. I have the tools. Besides my SPR, I’ve built a low-cost carbine, and I’m working on a better one with nitrided barrel, BCG, and gas system. After that comes a .308 sniper rifle. Also helping my wife and son build rifles of their own!

        I’m sometimes amazed at the idea some have that you have to buy complete rifles or even uppers. The AR is the ultimate modular rifle, and so easy to build.

        Your blog and reviews are very useful and a great help. Thank you!

  2. Dirk · December 6, 2014

    Funny how people think that all cheap Russian ammo is steelcase. While Russian steel averages $0.10/rnd less than American brass, Russian brass, such as Wolf Gold, is still $0.05/rnd less than American brass (which of course makes it only $0.05/rnd more than Russian steel) and is not a bad round at all for ballistics or for barrel wear. But another thing to note for calculating cost/benefit with both Russian and American brass is that if you collect your casings and resell/reload them (market or equipment permitting) you can alleviate the costs compared to Russian steel even further. Replacing the barrel and other worn upper components every 5000 rounds becomes a far less economical proposal when the savings per round is only $0.03-0.04/rnd instead of $0.10/rnd (assuming Wolf Gold with the casings resold).

  3. A. D. · December 11, 2014

    I can see arguments for both sides of this equation. I use a mix of both types of ammunition, and it largely depends on application as to which will be used, and in which weapon. For training, however, the steel cased ammo does work, and you really can actually save money.

    I can confidently say, that Dirk’s assessment of steel cased ammo turning your AR into 3-5 MOA weapon is a tad overstated. Personally, I can, and have, consistently banged 18″ gongs, with a 16″ barreled AR carbine, using steel cased Wolf, at 600 yards. Switching to brass cased Federal XM193, my hit rates didn’t change. I can say, that against paper at those distances, the Federal will produce tighter, more consistent groups. However, consistently hitting a 3 MOA circle at 600 yards does suggest a “slight” overstatement of the accuracy loss. At least in my experience. It is less accurate, but, not quite as horrid as has been reported here. Besides, if I’m looking for groups at that distance, I have other ammo available for that purpose. I’m training with Wolf.

    Wolf Gold is very likely not coming from Russia. As I understand it, Wolf is an American import company, not Russian. The Russians have not been a large producer of brass cased ammunition nationally, and sources I’ve spoken suggest that the Wolf Gold is probably out of either Southeast Asia, or the Balkans. Not that it matters. Besides, the Wolf Gold is decent ammunition. It’s just very likely, not Russian.

    Now, as for the cost savings metrics…
    If we assume the 5,000 round mark is correct, and the testing you quote does show continuous use of Wolf, and the like, that it’s about accurate. At $0.10/round saved, that’s $500 during the life of your barrel. Easily enough to replace the barrel. And even the bolt, if you chose; though several studies are showing these components do NOT receive the extra wear, it’s the bore. Yes, you could gather the brass, and deal with selling or loading it. But, that adds additional costs/time requirements (also worth something), and assumes you have the time or interest to try and chase it/load it/sell it. Odds are, if you are training with Wolf, you are doing so because that’s not of interest to you, and embracing the cost savings, and focusing on training/improving your skills. Or, simply, shooting for the fun of shooting.

    “Your AR is not cheap”, neither is an AK any longer. If you have not priced them lately, even a WASR-10 is in the $500 range, something more approaching even “cheap” AR quality is in the $700-$800s. You can occasionally find a deal in the mid-4’s. But, that’s becoming less common. Someone shopping, even remotely carefully these days is snapping up the parts for an AR for right around the same price point. Hell, even with a Bravo Company upper, you can complete an AR for around $600. I just did it. Will the AK barrel out last the AR barrel in that upper. Yep. Does it make any difference. Nope. The ammo cost is similar, and I can still shoot the same quantity of ammo, and have still saved money (and trained on the same platform), even after I’ve shot my 5,000 rounds, and replaced my barrel. If you want an AR, shoot the AR. Especially if you are using one for other applications (and probably using more appropriate ammunition in) The intangible benefits or training/playing/and working on one platform are immeasurable.

    Thank you for taking the time to write the article, Dirk. I do appreciate that you have.

    I would caution you not to mix training, and duty ammunition into one big pot. I believe most of what you wrote is reasonably correct (with the reported lack of cost savings, and the assertion I should save my brass and sell it, being the only two areas I disagree). I would NEVER suggest that someone stockpile Wolf as a duty round. However, from a training, general shooting, or improving a rifleman’s skill (that is what this blog is supposed to be about, no?); Wolf/steel cased ammo is a viable choice for those applications. You are still money ahead, even after you’ve replaced your barrel. (Which, by the way, is a wear component, even in the eyes of the military). I understand you reluctance to use it; but, the numbers don’t lie. The blanket assertion that it’s not useful for any application, is false.

    Thank you for your time,
    A. D.

    • A. D. · December 11, 2014

      Forgive my believing that Dirk wrote the original article. In any event, thank you for writing, and for allowing good discussion on an interesting topic.

      A. D.

  4. Magickaldood · March 7, 2016

    I know I am late to the party but I think I have something to offer.

    I have a PSA 20″ 1:7 and I used to shoot M193 ball exclusively. M193 is by far my favorite ammo for 5.56 firearms as it is very flat shooting and relatively consistent. M193 also comes in Lake City brass which is fantastic as it is great for hand loading.

    That said there is a huge price discrepancy. I expect my PSA to run ~15,000 rounds before the major components need to be refit. I can buy M193 ball at ~$0.34 per round but I can buy Wolf Military Classic at ~$0.22 per round. That is a difference of $0.12 per round, or $1800 over the life time of the rifle. I purchased this rifle as a kit and assembled it myself, at the total cost of $700. I could buy 2.5 rifles to shoot Wolf within the lifetime of one M193 rifle.

    My other note is that I can regularly shoot 2 MOA with either ammo out to 300 yards. And that is all I expect of an AR-15 in 5.56. If I needed to shoot farther I would go to a higher B.C. caliber and if I wanted to shoot more accurately I would use a more precise platform.

  5. NotSure · March 24, 2016

    I agree with the central point, use an AK or SKS if you want to run steel. One of those rifles will last longer than you will. ARs were designed to have our manufacturing and transport infrastructure behind them, AKs were made to perform regardless of conditions. I prefer no malfunctions when I am on the range so I always run decent brass through my AR and Russian surplus through my AK.
    But I never have understood why folk say AKs, SKSs, and 7.62×39 rifles in general are inaccurate. I have access to a 12″ silhouette at a little less than 200 meters. Standing, off hand, my AK holds as tight a group as my AR, especially on a windy day. I know this from the fact I paint the steel after measuring each group. 5.56 55grn would drift if the wind was above 10mph. 7.62×39 did not hardly drift at all in a 30mph crosswind. Groups with the AR are almost 4 inches; groups with the AK are almost 5 inches. If I sandbag rest and go prone I can tighten that up by a couple inches on both rifles. I know this does not win me any contests, but it shows they are close enough to dead on that either will strike the target with efficiency. I am also very skeptical of the claim that the bi-metal jackets do not fragment well. In my 25 years of shooting AKs and SKSs I have found copper and lead fragments in nearly every target I have inspected, from stuffed animals to steel cans. (by the way, stuffed animals are fun targets but leave one hell of a mess…bring a couple trash bags…) Plastic bottles seem to retain the most. I have been able to hear the fragments spinning in a pop bottle after a hit and found most of the bullet and jacket in a water-filled jug.
    As for cost savings, used brass sells for 3 cents per or more. If you have access to the tools you can save a little more over time reloading, and have far more accurate ammo than factory steel or brass cased. I may be mistaken, but I did not see this mentioned anywhere above.

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