Educational Zone #18 – Shooting Wolf steel-cased Ammo in an AR15

Today’s Question: Does shooting Wolf ammo in an AR result in the “Lacquer” or “Poly” being deposited in the chamber, resulting in stuck cases?

My buddy Tman and I do a lot of shooting. I had previously shot a lot of Wolf 5.56 ammo (steel cased) through my Model One uppers and had no problems whatsoever. But one day, I followed-up a session with a few rounds of South African ball. The first round stuck in the chamber and the rim was pulled off by the extractor.

Some time later, I tried the same thing again, and had the exact same results. I attributed it to the old “lacquered” Wolf and decided to just wait till I needed some more ammo to try the new Polymer stuff.

I used up that last of the lacquered Wolf and just bought some new stock with the Polymer coating.

Here they are.

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The new Polymer Wolf is on the top and the old “Lacquered” Wolf is on the bottom.

It is easy to see the difference.

I expected a difference in the old problem of it leaving “lacquer” in the chamber, (but was to learn that this was a mistaken belief.)

So, we went to the range. I shot about 100 rounds of the polymer Wolf in my rifle and then, without letting it cool off, I loaded some South African ammo and shot it.

The first round stuck in the chamber and the extractor pulled off the rim.

This is a picture of the rim.

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We had forgotten to bring a bore rod, so we had to wait till we got home to knock out the brass. It was much more difficult to knock out than I thought it would be.

Once we knocked it out, it was clear why it was stuck so fast.

Look at the stuff on the case.

You can see the black build-up on the body of the case and also on the shoulder of the case.

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The question is: What is this stuff?

Since we had been able to duplicate and repeat this failure several times, I believe we had pretty well identified the problem.
The problem seemed to be shooting a lot of Wolf and then following it with South African Ball.

We decided do further experiments by substituting XM-193 Ball or Israeli Ball to see if they also stick in the chamber.

In the mean time, I discussed this phenomenon on AR15.com and got this comment by Troy, a noted expert:

“What’s happening here is that the steel Wolf cases aren’t expanding enough to form a good seal when fired, so some of the (dirty, carbon-filled) gasses are getting between the case and the chamber, causing a build up of carbon in the chamber that is far in excess of normal. Then, firing a brass case that DOES expand fully will result in that case being “glued” into the chamber by the carbon buildup.

It actually looks to me like the SA brass is BRITTLE, not too soft. Soft brass will be deformed at the case rim where the extractor pulled through it, while hard, brittle brass will just have that section of the rim broken off.

Likely, neither ammo would be a problem on its own, but mixing them is clearly bad news.
-Troy”

I agreed that this was the likely explanation. The “stuff” on the sides of the case was carbon residue, not lacquer or poly.

We went back to the range.

I used the same rifle as before.

I shot about 80 rounds of Wolf, loaded a round of South African, waited about 15 seconds, and then fired it.

It ejected, but the rim was bent where the extractor grabbed it.

See the photo, at about 2 o’clock on the rim.

Not a really clear picture, but it is more obvious in person.

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I also noted the carbon on the side of the case.

It was not as bad as earlier this week, but I had given the chamber a really good scrubbing with a chamber brush and carburetor cleaner.

I then loaded up and shot another 25 rounds of Wolf and tried a round of XM-193.

Then the same with a round of Israeli Ball. Neither failed to eject.

This is the photo.

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The SA is on top, then the XM-193, then the Israeli Ball.

Notice how they get less “carboned-up” as they go.

I think that shooting only 25-30 rounds of Wolf between tests did not dirty up the chamber very much. Also, shooting the brass seemed to “catch” most of the carbon and remove it from the chamber.

Some have suggested that firing the military ball in brass cases might help to “clean” the AR system after shooting the Wolf. This test seems to confirm that theory.

Conclusion:
South African Ball seems to be brittle and more susceptible to the breaking off of the rim, when fired in a dirty chamber after shooting Wolf.

Oh well, an interesting day at the range.

Lessons Learned:
1. This is certainly not a “bash” against Wolf. I still plan to shoot Wolf as it is the cheapest ammo I can buy. It shoots fine for plinking and I will continue to use it. I will simply be sure to use a chamber brush and carburetor cleaner on the chamber when cleaning it after a shooting session.

2. We have heard rumors of SA ammo having “brittle” brass. These tests seem to verify that as a possible problem.

3. I will not shoot Wolf and follow-up with brass-cased ammo unless I have a bore rod with me. 

4. My experience is that Wolf may have the following “problems”:

  • It can be dirty.
  • The steel case can lead to carbon build-up in the chamber.
  • I have seen 1 or 2 failures to fire, probably primer related, per thousand.
  • It may not be as accurate as other military surplus ammo.

The good factors are: 

  • It is the cheapest ammo out there for .223, usually about 16 cents per round or less.
  • It shoots just fine for plinking and drying-up mud holes.
  • For the most part, it goes bang every time.
  • Did I mention that it is cheap?

I see no reason not to shoot Wolf for fun.

I will continue to load my “Social Purposes” weapon with conventional high quality ammo, and only use the Wolf for practice.

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