When choosing ammunition for your firearm, there are many factors to consider. One being the decision between steel and brass-cased ammo. Both have benefits and disadvantages, so it’s important to understand their differences.

Read on as we take a closer look at steel and brass case ammo.

Steel Case Ammo: Pros and Cons

Steel case ammo is typically available to include; .22LR, 9x19mm (Luger), 9mm Makarov (9x18mm), .380 ACP, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, .38 Spl., .223, 5.56, .308 Win., 7.6 2×39, 7.62x54r, .30 BLK.

Steel case ammunition is often lauded for its price point, one of its benefits. Customers often overlook steel cased in favor of brass. However, several advantages make steel case ammo worth considering. If you are on a budget, steel is less expensive than brass, a good way to save money.

Shooters should be aware of some drawbacks using steel case ammo. Steel is harder than brass, therefore, it could over time induce more wear to firearm feeding mechanisms. That said steel case ammo is stronger than brass case, it will dent or deform less with the same rough handling.

Steel cases are normally coated in order to delay corrosion however if exposed to the elements over time they will rust and be useless. If you are purchasing foreign-made steel case ammo in vacuum-packed steel containers with the thought being long-term storage this is a viable option. You may want a good quantity stocked up for security.

If you are considering recycling current scrap metal prices at this writing from the smelters are; steel $.09 Lb. brass $1.78 lb. When you take this to a recycler, you’ll be lucky to get 1/3 the price the recycler receives from the smelter. Even if scrap steel prices increase significantly it will require a lot of gleaning to pay you to take it to a scrap yard. This is why at some gun ranges you see rusting steel cases on the ground.

Steel case ammo is dirtier than other types. If not inspected and cleaned before use it may cause jams. Steel-cased ammo is harder on firearm feeding parts.  Single loaded or fired in a revolver mechanism makes no significant difference.

Brass Ammo: Pros and Cons

There are several reasons why brass ammo is often the best choice for shooters. For one, brass is a softer metal than steel, so it’s less likely to cause wear and tear on your gun. Additionally, brass is more expandable than steel, so it can create a tighter seal in the chamber and help prevent hot gases from escaping. 

Brass ammo is also less prone to corrosion than other ammo type, making it a good choice for humid or saltwater conditions. Brass is also easier to shape and mold compared with steel. So if you’re looking for an economical option that will still provide good performance, brass ammo is a good option.

However, there are some cons to using brass ammo. One con is that brass ammo is more expensive than other ammo. Another con of brass ammo is that it is not as widely available as different types of ammo. This can make it challenging to find brass ammo when you need it.

Brass Ammo vs. Steel Ammo: Which Is Better

There are many factors to consider when choosing between brass and steel ammunition. Cost, availability, and personal preference are all important factors. We will do a quick comparison of each type to help you make a more informed decision.

Brass ammunition is typically more expensive than steel ammunition. However, brass is also more durable and reloadable than steel. For these reasons, many shooters believe that the extra cost is worth it in the long run.

Steel ammunition is less expensive than brass ammunition and is often more readily available. However, steel is less durable than brass and is not as quickly reloaded. That’s why many shooters believe that steel ammunition is a good choice for practice.

Steel Core Bullets

For clarification, we will diverge and look at steel core bullets. There is a lot of difference between steel cases and steel core bullets, two entirely different components.  We will not refer to these as steel bullets, more correctly steel core.  Some consist of three metals, a lead core on the inside, next steel for penetration, and on the outside either a heavy copper plating or exterior copper jacket to contact the rifling.

When fired only the jacket or copper plating contacts the rifling, with no advanced barrel wear.  At this time a search for all steel bullets has been made and none found.  Bullets with steel cores and copper alloy jackets will normally have better penetration characteristics.

Many military armor-piercing bullets have heat-treated steel cores, U.S. varieties normally have black-painted tips.  At many shooting ranges steel core bullets are not allowed as they can damage their bullet traps.  Ranges with this rule have magnets and some range personnel may check customers’ ammo to be sure it passes inspection.

Steel core bullets are often used in dangerous game ammo these are referred to as “solids” for deep bone-crushing penetration.  Facing an angry Hippo or African Buffalo “AKA black death” intent on stomping you into mush, this is the ammo to have in your .458 Lott.


Understanding the differences between steel and brass case ammo or lead core copper jacket bullets vs steel core bullets is important before deciding which is best for your use. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Those reloading their ammo can improve the performance of brass cases by annealing the case neck. This is an essential step toward increasing accuracy and extending brass case life.

See Anneal-Rite demonstration video at cartridgeanneal.com for brass case neck annealing, available from Enterprise Services, LLC. It anneals cartridge brass necks at the precise temperature required with guaranteed perfect results when following simple instructions included. For questions call (479) 629-5566 Mon-Sat 9 am to 9 pm.

Tom Wilson ©