About four months ago, I was standing in a ‘local’ gun shop and overheard a conversation between another customer and the owner. The shop had several full cases of PMC .223 Remington 55 grain FMJ in stock and the customer was being a touch recalcitrant when it came to being convinced that it was “good” ammunition; particularly for his older AR-15A1. The problem? He’d never heard of it. My problem? Not only had I heard of it, I’d shot a lot of it twenty-plus years ago when practicing for 100-yard High Power matches. Given that the PMC was just about the only .223 Remington available in town and was the only brand available in case lots (that was the last case the shop owner sold, he broke up all his remaining allotment to sell by the individual box), I was somewhat taken aback by how tough it was to convince this guy it’d work.
Recommend this product?
Since I had just finished building a ‘parts’ gun for a guy I know (it was quite a project convincing him what pieces to get among the few that were available…) and it needed to be function tested – you understand? – I thought I’d get a couple boxes and give it a go…
What Is A “PMC?”
PMC is a brand of ammunition made in the Republic of (South) Korea, with their U.S. Sales Office based in Houston, Texas and has been around for closing on half a century. The company’s “Bronze Line” of ammunition is considered to be their “value line;” i.e., can we say “affordable?” Take careful note of the following from PMC’s website:
“… PMC has joined forces with Poongsan Corporation of Korea to expand its markets in the Global ammunition arena. The intention is "Be the Best in the World”… Poongsan, who is known today to be one of the top producers of quality military ammunition, has supplied PMC products since its origin. Now with the combined capacity of its Angang and Dongrae plants, the supply of hard to get PMC products should be more readily available… PMC will go into 2007 with its most popular items in pistol and revolver ammunition concentrating on its core market of target, plinking, home defense and law enforcement. The selection of rifle specifications will be limited this year due to the decision to convert the production of its civilian rifle facility to military contracts…”
The significance of this is two-fold. First, based on my own searches for suppliers of ammunition this year, PMC has regularly been available; at least if it wasn’t on the shelf at that moment, it didn’t seem to take long for the vendor to acquire it. In fact, locally, it was virtually the only ammunition available in quantity. Second, you will note their change of emphasis a couple years ago to ‘military’ contracts; with conversion of the civilian rifle factory to military contracts. At this very moment, I have a box of Winchester 5.56mm 55 gr. FMJ (Q3131A1) sitting in front of me. This is Winchester’s USA (“white box”) brand – with a notation on the back which states “Made in R.O. Korea.”
I’ll let you draw your own inferences.
.223 Is Not 5.56
The history of the .223/5.56 cartridge starts in 1964 with Remington’s introduction of the cartridge to the civilian market; primarily due to acceptance of the 5.56 round by the military. Let’s keep it simple and say there are numerous twists and turns – literally – which have transpired since then. Changes in powder, bullet weight, rifling twists, carbine-length gas systems, mid-length gas systems, gas piston conversions, and, perhaps, the most confusing of all…
What’s the difference between .223 and 5.56 or are they the same cartridge?
The simple answer is: “No. They are not the same cartridge.” In an even more simplistic sense, one could state that the .223 is the civilian version of the 5.56 NATO military cartridge. The trouble is, that is precisely where the trouble and confusion begins. Without spending considerable time going through the technicalities involved, the average shooter only needs to recognize the following:
1.) While virtually identical visually, there are case tolerance differences between the two cartridges.
2.) The reason for these tolerance differences stems from the fact that 5.56 NATO generates higher pressures than the .223 Remington cartridge.
3.) There are differences in the chambers of specific weapons which accommodate the differences in the cartridges. For instance, a rifle chambered for 5.56 NATO will work well with either the .223 or the 5.56. However, a rifle chambered for .223 will only work safely with .223 since the chamber is ‘smaller’ and, therefore, will create dangerously high pressures with the higher pressured 5.56 NATO cartridge.
I call your attention to the fact that Winchester markets both .223 Remington and 5.56mm (NATO) cartridges in their USA (“white box”) brand; with the difference in performance specs hinting at the differences between the two cartridges. If you’re interested in a few more technical details, Winchester has the following “News & Press Release” from 2001 on their website - winchester.com/lawenforcement/news/newsview.aspx?storyid=11
In short, don’t ever let someone convince you that the .223 and the 5.56 are the ‘same’ cartridge; I don’t care how much experience/expertise they claim or what Tech Manual they point to. In fact, a considerable number will come out of the woodwork, claiming to have spent “X” number of years in the military and their AR-15/M-16 fires either just fine. All well and good, but... First, the military does not issue .223 Remington; they issue 5.56 NATO. Second, military issued weapons are chambered in 5.56 NATO. However, not all of the AR-15 variations now available on the civilian market are so chambered; various chambers include .223, 5.56 NATO, and, now, the .223 Wylde. Third, not all models, model years, metallurgy, and manufacturer’s specs are created equal. Neither is the use/abuse any given weapon has endured.
Agree or disagree, that’s the way I see it and what credible sources have demonstrated based on my research. I’m not here to “debate” it and I’m not going to “argue” about anyone’s personal experience with their weapon(s). If the weapon says it is chambered in .223, that’s precisely what I feed it. Now that I’ve said my piece on the topic, what you choose to believe and do is your problem.
Problems With A ‘Standard’
Since 55 grain, Full Metal Jacket (FMJ – ‘ball’) .223 Remington is used in everything from pistols to squad automatic weapons, performance standards or, more accurately, performance expectations vary widely. There are, however, a couple truisms that can be universally accepted. First, ‘ball’ ammo was designed to feed reliably, penetrate, and be durable; i.e., it won’t deform when stored, carried, or while being fed from a magazine or clip the way soft point and some hollow point ammunition will. ‘Ball’ ammunition does not rely on a combination of velocity, bullet design, materials, and target composition to expand as intended; it simply doesn’t expand.
Second, many is the debate that can be had regarding things such as cavitation, fragmentation, stability/instability, velocity vs. bullet weight and how it impacts energy, et al.; but, the fact remains that you are firing a .22-caliber, 55 grain bullet out the barrel. Those two factoids alone have meaning insofar as effective range; not to mention penetration/deflection, particularly as range increases. They also play heavily in the potential for accuracy depending on the weapon and the shooter on the trigger. While the .223 Remington is a ballistically efficient cartridge, that does not, by definition, translate into ‘stopping’ or ‘knock-down’ or ‘killing’ power. Such effectiveness will depend greatly on weapon, range, target, point of impact, and myriad factors having little to do with the inherent capabilities (or lack thereof) in the cartridge. Suffice to say that there are good, documented, and predictable reasons why the military is currently issuing M14 (.308/7.62 caliber) rifles to unit designated marksmen in Iraq and Afghanistan and why debates still rage concerning volume of fire vs. accuracy when it comes to the true definition of firepower.
Be that as it may, in .223 Remington, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) standards call for a velocity of 3,215 f.p.s. at 15 feet from the muzzle of a 24” barrel with a 1:12 twist, utilizing a 55 grain bullet. The trouble with using this as a ‘standard for evaluation’ is multifold. Where to begin…?
1.) The 3,215 f.p.s. velocity comes with a plus/minus of 90 f.p.s. which translates into a range of 3,125 – 3,305 f.p.s. While such a range may be useful for creating a certain standardization among numerous manufacturers, it is an inconsistency that I’d find somewhat intolerable from a single manufacturer; especially given the fact that, when combined with criteria such as gas system and barrel length (which will impact pressures and velocity), rounds at the lower end of this range may not operate a given weapon.
2.) Barrel length is going to be greatly dependent on intended application and will, therefore, vary greatly. While 24” and even 26” barrels may be common on target and even some varmint rifles, they certainly don’t constitute the majority of .223 barrel lengths on the market. A full-sized AR-15 rifle comes standard with a 20” barrel. A Ruger Mini-14 in .223 comes with an 18.5” barrel and their new SR-556 (AR-15 type) rifle comes with a 16 1/8” barrel. Of course, there are the increasingly popular carbine versions of the AR-15; with the two most popular barrel lengths being 16” plus flash suppressor and 14.5” of rifled barrel with a ‘pinned’ flash suppressor to meet the legal minimum 16” barrel ‘length.’
Since SAAMI states that there is a potential and approximate velocity change of 30 f.p.s. for every 1” change in barrel length for cartridges which range between 3,001 – 3,500 f.p.s., you can see the problem. If we reduce the barrel length from 24” to the standard 20” barrel length for the AR-15 rifle, the SAAMI nominal velocity drops by 120 f.p.s. If we drop the barrel length to the carbine barrel length of 16”, the SAAMI velocity drops a double the amount – or 240 f.p.s. In a nutshell, the further the velocity (and pressure) drops, the greater the increased potential for the round to fail to fully operate the weapon. (Could there be a reason why the 5.56 NATO round generates higher velocities and pressures?)
3.) A barrel twist rate of 1:12 (one complete turn of rifling for every twelve inches of barrel) has not been the ‘standard’ since the A2 version of the AR-15/M-16 was introduced 20+ years ago. The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle has a ‘faster’ 1:9 twist rate, as do many barrels for the AR-15. There is also the fact the even faster 1:7 twist rate is now becoming more and more prevalent in the AR-15 market; to the point where it could be argued that it is even more readily available than the 1:9.
Again, keeping it relatively simple, there is an ‘ideal’ barrel twist rate for every bullet and/or bullet weight for proper ‘stabilization’ of the bullet; i.e., creating the correct ‘spin’ for the bullet to ‘stabilize’ it (keep it from wobbling) in flight and as it impacts the target. The original AR-15/M-16 barrels had a 1:14 twist that understabilized the 55 gr. bullet; creating gruesome and devastating wounds as the bullet would tumble upon impact. Without going into the causes of the change, the military soon adopted the 1:12 twist barrel so as to properly stabilize the 55 gr. bullet. Based on various factors, this became accepted as the standard twist rate for the 55 grain .223/5.56 round.
When the military adopted the heavier, 62 grain bullet, it was determined that a 1:9 twist barrel would be more appropriate as the 1:12 did not sufficiently stabilize the heavier bullet. As a result, the 55 gr. bullets were, to some degree, overstablized in these faster twist barrels. While overstabilization combined with high velocity can lead to bullet fragmentation and/or decreased accuracy, there hasn’t proven to be much of a problem running 55 grain .223 through 1:9 twist barrels; unless you’re a target shooter that’s just gotta get that last millimeter of performance.
Of course, time marches on and manufacturer’s as well as shooters being what they are, the .223/5.56 is being used as and generally made over into something it’s really not. Thus, even heavier bullets have entered the fray in an attempt to generate greater accuracy/range and ‘knock-down’ potential. Also factoring into the equation was the move to a carbine version of the M-16 as a general issue weapon; with the shorter barrels needing a ‘faster’ twist rate to properly stabilize the heavier bullets. Think about it. The M4 Carbine has a 14.5” barrel. If you have a 1:9 twist in a 14.5” barrel, that means the rifling makes just over 1 ½ full turns vs. just over 2 full turns in the now, more common 1:7 twist barrels. However, if the 1:9 twist overstabilized 55 gr. bullets, what could be expected from 1:7 barrels besides faster wear of the barrel?
With all of this said, the 55 grain load remains the most readily available factory ammunition currently available for sale on the market. As a result of these factors, SAAMI standards must be adapted to more accurately reflect the particular firearm’s specifications; otherwise, they lose most of their meaning…
The Test Rifle And A Standard For Evaluation
With the increased popularity of the carbine version of the AR-15 and the growing dominance of the 1:7 twist barrel, it was decided to ‘procure’ an appropriate firearm. Without going into all the specifications, the test carbine has a chrome-lined, 16” Noveske 1:7 twist barrel chambered in 5.56 NATO and a mid-length gas system. Adapting SAAMI velocity standards would mean we should expect to see an average velocity of approximately 2,975 f.p.s.
As for establishing a velocity range, that is somewhat problematic. If we were to stick with SAAMI’s plus/minus of 90 f.p.s., we’d end up with a range of 2,885 – 3,065 f.p.s. While that may sound reasonable, in terms of both reliable weapons function and potential accuracy, that’s a pretty extreme spread from a single manufacturer. Truth be told, given the shorter barrel length and mid-length gas system, I’d prefer to see velocities averaging a little closer to the ‘high’ end of this range to reliably operate the weapon.
As a result, in this case, we might be better off looking toward the standard deviation (SD); i.e., how close each shot in a string is to the ‘average’ velocity. Stated simply, the lower the standard deviation, the ‘better’ or more consistent the ammunition. While I may strive for and expect a relatively low standard deviation from my handloads, I simply don’t have that much faith in factory ammo; particularly ‘budget’ (non-match) lines. Therefore, an SD between 10 and 20 is what I hope for in factory loads.
PMC Factory Specs
.223 Remington 55 gr. FMJ
Velocity (ft./sec.) = 3,200 at the muzzle with a 'zero' at 200 yds.
[Note: I don’t personally consider the .223 Remington to be a ‘long-range’ cartridge; particularly when fired from a ‘short barreled’ carbine. While some would not consider 200 – 300 yards ‘long-range,’ I’d personally contend that anything over 200 yards with a .223 Remington carbine is pushing the limits of this particular load.]
This velocity rating would put the PMC factory load almost directly on the mark by SAAMI standards. Thus, as stated above, adapting SAAMI velocity standards would mean we should expect to see an average velocity of approximately 2,975 f.p.s.
I set up a Chrony F1 (chronograph) and measured a distance 15 feet from the muzzle in accordance with SAAMI; a distance sufficient to mitigate the muzzle blast’s potential to influence the chronograph results in this caliber. All testing was done offhand. The elevation was 5,500 ft., on a clear day with temperatures hovering right at 77 degrees F and relative humidity around 35%.
Bearing in mind that I am not a ‘gun writer’ with access to manufacturer’s in terms of obtaining ‘donated’ ammunition for testing, the sample size is, of necessity, a bit small. Be that as it may, 10 rounds from two different boxes/lots of PMC Bronze Line .223 Remington, 55 gr. FMJ to establish the following results:
Mean Velocity = 2,733.57 f.p.s.
High = 2,814 f.p.s.; Low = 2,599 f.p.s. – ES (Extreme Spread) = 215 f.p.s.
Standard Deviation (SD) = 75.43
This puts it notably below the adapted SAAMI specs, insofar as average velocity; a significant factor in that the .223 Remington relies on velocity for much of its potential. As I said, I hope for an SD between 10 and 20 in a factory load. While an SD of 30 isn’t outside the realm of what I’d call ‘reasonable,’ an SD of 75 ½ is just plain pitiful; even for ‘value’ ammunition. Frankly, I was shocked; as was an ‘expert’ I showed the results to. While we agreed that a retest (next year in similar conditions – it’s way too cold now) is in order. However, given that the results were consistent across the spectrum of .223/5.56 brands tested that day, I gotta say that I did some hard thinking.
My conclusion? You will note, above, that PMC has placed an emphasis on military rather than civilian production. Further, you will note that the ‘aim of the game’ for the military in recent decades has been suppressive fire. In that methodology, accuracy isn’t the first criterion; consistency being a key to accuracy. You don’t suppose there’s a reason why I stipulated above that there are good, documented, and predictable reasons why the military is currently issuing M14 (.308/7.62 caliber) rifles to unit designated marksmen in Iraq and Afghanistan and why debates still rage concerning volume of fire vs. accuracy when it comes to the true definition of firepower? Could this ‘volume of fire’ also be a contributing factor to the ammunition shortages we’ve seen recently?
I do not currently have access to an ‘official’ range. I won’t go into the reasons; suffice to say I’ve been ‘invited,’ but there are ‘issues’ I find run somewhat against the grain of my sense of aesthetic. With BLM cracking down as regards shooting on ‘their’ land (don’t get me started on that), I’m forced to find my shooting opportunities on Forest Service lands. While our USFS guys and gals in the region are pretty good eggs about this kind of stuff, it is a bit difficult to find an open stretch of country that isn’t shooting toward a road, in the direction of ‘human activity,’ isn’t congested with trees/bushes/limbs, and is over a few yards in length.
I did manage to pace off a good 60 yard range (call it an honest 50 yard-plus distance), with a slight downhill slant. I attached a human silhouette (“B-27”) to the remainder of a deadfall trunk. All rounds expended were grouped sufficiently to stay well inside the “9” ring shooting off hand, rapid fire, without a sling. Remember, I was primarily interested in function testing the weapon and had no rest; manufactured or impromptu. Likewise, while I did test four different brands of ammo, I was not interested in simply blowing through a bunch of factory ammunition, at the current replacement costs, in an ad hoc attempt to establish some sort of ‘ideal.’ (The guy intends shooting mostly 68 grain handloads through the rifle.)
I did note that while there were no Failures to Feed (FTF) or Failures to Eject (FTE), the empty cases spread out very irregularly. I do so hate spending more than a reasonable amount of time huntin’ brass…
Speaking of which – this brass reloads quite well. I can’t tell you what the longevity is given that I never, intentionally shoot cases to failure. For autoloaders, the brass typically ends up in the brass bucket after 5 or 6 loadings.
The PMC .223 Remington 55 gr. FMJ is not a hunting load. In fact, most places outlaw use of FMJ’s for hunting and .223 is overkill for ground squirrels. As we’ve already discussed, there are issues with the ammunition insofar as barrel twists. While I had absolutely no problem with fragmentation out of this barrel, remember that it is a sixteen inch barrel and will, therefore, generate slightly lower velocities than the standard twenty inch barrel. (Frankly, I don’t see anyone using this ammunition out of a 24” target or varmint barrel.)
As noted, PMC has done a credible job this year, even with the high demand, making their ammunition available. It’s just that prices are going to vary – considerably. Locally, I saw this ammunition go for as ‘little’ as $9 a box… IF you bought it in a case lot. The average has been between $10 and $11; with a high around $14. Online pricing also varies a bit. As a basis to compare prices, Cabela’s, at the time of this writing, currently has it on sale for $8.99 per box of 20; regular price is listed as $10.99. They also list bulk packs at $144.99 (300 rds.), $264.99 (600 rds.), and $499.99 (1,200 rds.). That’s when they have it!!!
Would this be my first choice in a plinking or casual target shooting round?
It never has been; even when I did own a 1:12 twist, heavy barreled rifle.
Though I can’t speak to performance in Mini-14’s, it also would not be my first choice for carbine-length AR’s. I do believe it makes a good ‘fun’ or ‘value’ (oh, that hurt to say given today’s pricing) load for older, A1 models. It simply won’t ‘beat’ your baby to death as the ‘hotter’ and ‘heavier’ loads might.
Would I stockpile this in preference to something like the Wolf brand against ‘Judgment Day’ or for when the zombies are coming over the fence?
But, if I had a choice…
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