Part 7: The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)

Part 7: (Ammo) After you have selected your Survival Carbine, the next step is selecting the right ammunition to store and train with for emergency situations.  This article will help you make sure that when it counts….you have the right ammo in your magazine.

This article is Part 7 in a series of posts.
Read Part 1: (A Little Background)
Read Part 2: (History)
Read Part 3: (Direct Gas Impingement (DI/DGI) vs. Gas Piston Operated)
Read Part 4: (Build Options)
Read Part 5: (Commercially Available Direct Gas Impingement Systems)
Read Part 6: (Commercially Available Gas Pistons Systems)

Ammunition Performance and Your Rifle

The baseline for your ammo choice is going to be your rifle’s barrel.  What is it chambered for Survival Rifleand what is the twist rate?  This will determine what rounds you will be able to fire.  The next question you want to ask is, “what is my ammo’s mission?”  Will this be for training, home defense, hunting, SHTF?  Ideally you would want to choose a load that satisfies all needs, but this is not always practical.  The last question you need to ask is, “am I willing to lay in the funds to stockpile my chosen load?”  Hopefully you find a balance between performance and price where you can both stockpile ammo and train to maintain proficiency.

Terminal Ballistics and the 5.56mm NATO/ .223 Remington

The primary wounding mechanism for 5.56mm NATO and .223 is bullet fragmentation.  The AR Rifle fires a small, high velocity bullet that turns and breaks apart when it strikes flesh.  This creates a wound profile much larger than if it had passed clean through.  The key to fragmentation is velocity, if a bullet is traveling too slow it will not fragment, and tumble or break into a couple pieces, making a much less dramatic wound.  Different bullets use different construction and will fragment at different velocities and in different ways.  This is important when choosing your load; light varmint bullets will fragment at very long ranges but produce a shallow wound that is less likely of producing a stop (incapacitation).  Heavier OTM (Open Tip Match) bullets will fragment at shorter range but produce devastating fragmentation profiles that are much more likely to produce a stop, even through cover.

Military Ball (M193, M855)

Military ball the ammunition chosen most often for survival carbines.  It is what was designed to Survival Riflebe fired in the rifles.  M193 is the older style ball with a clean copper tip.  It is suitable for barrels chambered in 5.56mm NATO and some .223 chamberings (223 Wylde for example) but is a NATO pressure load so be sure your rifle is capable of handling it.  M193 has a 55 gr FMJ bullet that can be stabilized by 1:12 to 1:7 twists (1:7 twist is the MilSpec standard).  With a 16” barrel, M193 will fragment out to 150 meters.  M855 has a heavier bullet at 62 gr and features a mild steel penetrator before the lead core.  M855 is the current load used by the US Military and is identified by green paint on its tip (M855 is often called “green tip”).  M855 will stabilize in a 1:9 barrel or faster.  With a 16” barrel, M855 will fragment out to 95 meters.

For military ball, I suggest getting Lake City ammunition.  Lake City Army Ammunition Plant produces small arms ammunition for the US Military, and lots of ammo that fail testing but are deemed acceptable for resale are packaged and sold as XM193 and XM855.  This is excellent ammunition and as close to milspec as possible.  Inspect your ammo for any large defects and shoot the closest thing to military surplus 5.56mm NATO there is.  I would avoid foreign made military ball because it is made to different specs and wound profile and fragmentation range would be unknown.

Heavy Open Tip Match Bullets

While M855 is adequate ammunition for most applications including urban survival, it is mass produced military ball and Survival Rifle Ammothere have been some reports of under performance.   Studies have show it to be “acceptable for CQB use” and there have been numerous engagements where green tip has shown more than acceptable performance, the bullet composition (lead core with a steel perpetrator wrapped in a copper jacket) is difficult to manufacture consistently.  As part of the SPR program, Mk 262 was developed to increase the accuracy, improve the fragmentation profile, and increase the fragmentation range of the 5.56mm NATO round.  Using a heavier 77 gr match bullet pushed to high velocity, the Mk 262 round achieved those goals and registered superior wound profile at 300 meters out of the 18” barreled SPR (Special Purpose Rifle).  77 gr Mk 262 requires a 1:8 twist barrel.  Mk 262 is extremely hard to come by on the open market, but the technology should be noted.

Hornady’s TAP (Tactical Application Police) line is a premium LE and self defense ammunition designed for maximum Hornady 7.62mm TAPperformance.  TAP has multiple loads using a 75 gr OTM bullet that fragments very similarly to to Mk 262 rounds.  TAP 75 gr is also available in both 5.56mm NATO and .223 pressure, and there is a training round available that comes in a steel case and a reduced price.  TAP has show to be very accurate out of most rifles.  The wound profile is excellent with violent fragmentation with a short “neck” or depth of penetration before the bullet fragments and continues to penetrate deeply.  TAP gets a strong recommendation for the survival carbine, with it’s excellent performance and the availability of training ammo at a reduced cost.  TAP 75 requires a 1:8 barrel to stabilize, but may work in a 1:9, it would be worth the cost of a box of 20 rounds to test it.

Imported Steel Case Ammunition

Most of this ammo is made in Russia and has a polymer coated case.  It’s usually found in 55 gr Survival CarbineFMJ or hollow point with a copper jacket or more often mild steel with a copper wash jacket.  This is the cheapest ammo possible, and many people shoot it for training and for recreation.  It is known to be underpowered even for .223 spec and does not fragment.  This ammo is not a top choice for the survival carbine.  When ammo prices are high, this may be a means to keep shooting, but don’t let this become your survival stockpile.  While this ammo will certainly work as a last resort, we win by inches, not miles, and need every advantage possible, and quality ammo is an advantage you should afford yourself.

Other Calibers


7.62×39 performs a lot like an underpowered battle rifle round.  Ballistically, it follows a football shaped arc, and terminal performance does not rely on fragmentation.  Most Russian made bullets penetrate deeply, turns base first, and continues to penetrate.  Wound profile does not exhibit the gross damage that fragmentation based wound exhibit.  Deep penetration is the sole advantage of the 7.62×39 round.  There are premium rounds with JSPs (Jacketed Soft Point) that will exhibit a larger wound profile and still retain deep penetration.  These are much more expensive than the steel cased Russian rounds, but terminal performance is greatly improved.  Hornady also makes a steel cased round with a 123 gr V-MAX bullet.  This is a fragmenting bullet but with limited penetration.  Testing shows a huge wound profile but less than 15” of penetration from a 18.5” barrel.  Expect this penetration to reduce even more when shooting through cover and with shorter barrels.


The 5.45×39 is essentially a 7.62×39 necked down to fire a 5.45 caliber bullet.  The Russian bullet designs are not a fragmenting design, the bullets deform and turn creating two wound cavities and a long penetration trail.  This is not a particularly effective wound mechanism, but does not rely on velocity to inflict trauma, so barrel length and range do not make a huge difference on hits.  Most ammo is corrosive, especially surplus, so clean accordingly.  AR pattern rifles are often treated to prevent corrosive gases from causing damage to the rifle.  Hornady also offers a V-MAX load for the 5.45×39, but with poor penetration.  If you do not plan on encountering any barriers it may be a good load, but it seems to be stuck in a very narrow portion CQB (Close Quarters Battle) role.  I would like to see a OTM load for the 5.45×39, I think there is potential for a TAP 75 type round, but at this time there is no commercial load available.  There are various Russian loads available, some surplus and some new manufacture, with some bullets purported to possibly break along the cannelure and some more likely to deform at the tip and tumble.  The Russian 7N6 bullet has a hollow tip and a steel perpetrator, making it the best general purpose round for the 5.45×39, with the most reliable performance at all ranges.

6.8mm SPC

6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Caliber) was designed from the ground up to perform better than 5.56 NATO and to complement the Mk 12 SPR (Special Pupose Rifle).  It’s an intermediate caliber rifle cartridge that fires MOA or better from 100 to 600 meters with accuracy that is on par with than 77gr Mk 262.  6.8 SPC will travel a similar ballistic path as the heavy 5.56 NATO rounds, and recoil impulse is also similar.  Ammo is definitely more expensive, but the trade-off for your dollar is a better performing round.  There are about a dozen good bullets loaded for the 6.8 SPC, some of which are good for taking game in North America, but not all are readily available.  The most popular and widely available loads are going to be the Hornady 110 gr OTM and Remington 115 gr Core Lokt JSP.  The Hornady 110 gr OTM is a good fragmenting load that has a good wound profile and good barrier penetration compared to other loads.  The wound profile is still rather good even when the bullet doesn’t fragment, and penetration meets or exceeds the FBI minimum 12” recommendation.  The Remington 115 gr JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) performs like a medium sized rifle JSP and is a good barrier round.  It’s also a good hunting round for medium and large game.  The JSP is expensive and not something I would chose as a primary load.  6.8 SPC ammo is expensive in general and may be a mission specific weapon system in your survival toolkit.  I can see a 6.8 SPC SPR or a 6.8 SPC PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) being great platforms for this caliber.  The drawbacks to this caliber would possibly be the limited availability compared to 5.56/.223 and 7.62×39.

6.5mm Grendel

This is an intermediate cartridge developed by Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms and is an improved version of the PPC (Palmisano & Pindel Cartridge).  The 6.5 Grendel cartridge was designed as a low recoil, high accuracy, long-range cartridge for the AR-15 platform.  The name “6.5 Grendel” is a trademark owned by Alexander Arms.  Les Baer Custom has released a new cartridge known as the 264 LBC-AR which uses the same cartridge case, but has different chamber dimensions from those using the “6.5 Grendel” brand.  Supporters claim that the Grendel is an ideal middle ground between the 5.56 mm NATO and the 7.62 mm NATO, taking the best aspects of each one. It has a reported flatter trajectory and retains greater terminal energy at extended ranges than either of these cartridges due to its higher ballistic coefficient.  Production rifles have consistently achieved sub-minute of angle (MOA) groups at test ranges out past 600 meters.  Hunting with the 6.5 Grendel is a great option and premium hunting 6.5 mm bullets that are available including Nosler Partitions, Nosler Ballistic Tips,  Swift A-Frame and Swift Scirrocco to mention a few, all work from the magazine. Shooters have already been using the Grendel to great success on Deer, Hogs, Antelope, and Coyotes.  Once again, the availability and surplus of these types of rounds will be lower than 5.56 and 7.62 due to 6.5 current limited use and production, in relation to the standard military and law enforcement rounds that have been in worldwide use for decades.

Continue Reading Part 8: The Conclusion

Also read Mr. Smashy’s Classic SeriesSurvival Shotgun – 6 Reasons You Need One

Photo Credits:
Photos by Mr. Smashy – Click Here For Mr. Smashy’s Photo Stream.
Photo of Hornady V-Max by Mikey Mike

Written by Mr. Smashy

Mr. Smashy has been shooting competitively for more than 15 years. Scouted from a junior club rifle team for the state team, he has won state championships in several events over his years. Mr. Smashy currently competes in NRA Highpower, USPSC, Action Pistol, among others. Mr. Smashy has excellent knowledge of US service rifles, reloading, and marksmanship. Read his full interview here. Read more of Mr. Smashy's articles.

30 thoughts on “Part 7: The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)”

    • Russian HP (like Brown Bear or Wolf HP) is not a Hollow Point Boat Tail match bullet like the heavy OTM loads for the 5.56, 6.8, and 6.5. It's a steel jacketed FMJ with a copper wash and the tip shorn off, and it does not behave like a heavy OTM round; it does not expand or fragment. Typically the round will turn and bend like a FMJ or the jacket and lead core will separate, but you do not get the massive fragmentation that a OTM or M855 round exhibits.

      • Might not hurt to keep a few of the chemical hand warmers and MRE heaters in a cold weather gear bag. Has anybody tried any clothing insulated using synthetic down? I saw it in a Cabela's catalog and it looks interesting.

      • The author is not the editor of this site. I am not sure what you are getting at, the only thing we try to delete is spam.

  1. @Mr Smashy- I want to set up an ar platform soon, you mentioned a bunch of makers in the last few posts (some of the prices threw me across the room!) What barand/model would you suggest for a good price that can eventually be built uplon to make a better carbine? I want one I can hunt with, won't break the bank at the range, easy to maintain and train others how to use ot?

    Thanks for your help. thanks for your posts always look forward to reaing them!

    • I would check this article again:… and some of the manufacturers I'd also take a look at are Bravo Company MFG, STAG Arms, Rock River Arms, and S&W. Bravo Company produces a top tier DGI carbine (on par with Colt Defense, LMT, Noveske), so that would have the nod from me. I've run Rock River Arms rifles for years and have had good experience with them, and they are offering chrome lined barrels in 1:7, if you know where to look, and the lowers are quality with the exception of the "commercial" spec receiver extension for the adjustable stock. STAG is another great choice, I've been running a couple STAG lowers and they are outstanding. They feature a milspec sized receiver extension so you can swap collapsing stocks easily. STAG uppers are quality, but are only offered in 1:9 to my knowledge. S&W MP15 is also another solid rifle, but again is limited by the 1:9 barrel.

      With a chrome lined 1:9 barrel you can shoot Wolf or other steel cased import rounds for practice/training, but you will not be able to shoot the premium heavy ammo. For hunting you can fire the lighter varmint bullets(40 gr VMAX, etc), OTMs up to 69 grs, and 55 and 60 gr JSP for medium sized game (where legal).

  2. I am running a STAG system upper and lower. Model M2. Getting a quad rail up front, looking at the Samson or Daniel Defense non free floating.

    I am also preparing to mount optics. I am torn between the Aimpoint M4 with their 3X magnifier or the EOTECH 557 with their 3X magnifier. Do you or anyone else have any direct experience with either of these systems. Each will allow my BUIS's to cowitness and both use standard AA batteries.

  3. I have a STAG complete model M2. Looking at optics, I am between the Aimpoint M4 with 3X magnifier and the EOTECH 557 with their 3X magnifier. Does anyone have any direct experience with either of these setups? I like to get some real world opinions before I make my choice on the research I have done.

    • I understand from what my gunsmith says that the aimpoint is good for some ridiculous amount of time without turning off, whereas the eotech WILL TURN ITSELF OFF after a time. That would be an absolute no go for me, what if it conveniently turned off in the middle of a fight? He said he leaves his aimpoint on 24/7 and the batteries are going strong after three years.

      • I had a Eotech, and it is a good sight, but it does burn through batteries pretty quick. i have also noticed that with any optical sight, without my glasses, I have a tough time focusing on it, and this throws my accuracy. Oddly enough, I do not have this problem with Iron sights. As such, I have switched back to them over the Eotech. From what i have read on Aimpoints, they can go years on a single AA battery. And an ACOG from Trijicon has a tritium fueled reticule that is good for years as well. However, Iron sights require no batteries, spare parts can be carried easily, and take up very little space, and they are adjustable out to 600-800 yards depending on the rifle and rounds used. you can also get tritium lit front and rear sights to allow for low light shooting. But if I had to get a optical sight again, it would probably be an Aimpoint, half the batteries and hundreds of times the life.

    • Not sure how old this post is but the EOTech 553.A65 1000 hour battery life(I use rechargeable) with 3x magnifier has been great. If you want fast acquisition there is nothing better to me. The magnifier is great if your eye sight is getting older. If that is not the case then the Aimpoint M4 is a good substitute if your more about long battery life. The technology each of these product use are different. Know that Eotech holographic does have some issue when subjected to negative 40 degree weather. lol not something I will ever worry since I will not be able to function at that level even if I had to. Aimpoint also has some issue with people with astigmatism when it comes to the reticle. I would advice to go with the 2 MOA and not the 4 since it takes up a lot more real-state than people realize. For most people neither of the issues above will impact them but for couch generals you never know. Hope I answer your question.

  4. I think I have found a combination- Stag lower and I think I am going to get a Bravo Co. upper (16", 1:9, flat-top) and would like to put flip-up iron sights on it for now, and save up to get an ACOG sight.

    Thanks for breaking down the basic rifle cost, I really didn't need all the "bells and whistles" anyway, but I have to say again, it's pretty slick lookin'

    • The weapon you have and are comfortable with is your best choice for an end of the world/social collapse event. My AK47 found a home with my oldest son a few years ago and my tactical Ruger mini 14 found it's place with my youngest son recently. Now the only carbine the old man has is a WWII .30 cal. M1 carbine and I still don't feel under gunned. Of course 18 months combat experience 50 years ago might have something to do with that.

  5. Cor-bon makes 2 great self defense rounds for the 7.62×39 cal .

    the JHP and DPX . From all reviews , they are both devastating !

    they recommend the DPX as it can easily penetrate car windows and steel . They also make a sp hunter round in150gr, Bad part is they are all very pricy but outstanding from what has been read and most people that reviewed them bought only one box for a home defense magazine because of the price ( most seemed to feel it was worth it ). I do have one question , Hornady makes a bullistic tip ammo for this cal. as well . what does a bullistic tip round supposed to do . They are almost as high as the cor-bon loads ?

    • Just saw the question. Hornady's ballistic tip ammo uses a soft plastic point insert into their hollow point ammo. This prevents clothing, fur, fat or whatever from clogging the hollow point and preventing expansion. The tip gives a spitzer point like ballistic to a hollow point or flat tip round without removing the hollow point effect. Better flight ballistics for same muzzle velocity. The Leverevolution rounds in my 30-30 hit about 2 inches higher at 200 yards, same aim point as a 30-30 flat nose; same bullet weight powder charge. I assume that is a velocity retention thing – I've never measured it but it is even more noticeable in my 45-70 as well. Better bullet expansion and better velocity retention. I've started buying them whenever possible.

  6. Ak and SKS rifles are good ones, yes, but I feel that you can get more utility out of a good quality AR style rifle. If you dont like the small .223 or 5.56, then get on chambered in something else. I know for a fact that an AR can hit an 18 inch circle at 500 yards, and that my AK can hit that same circle at only 100 yards. Factor in that a 5.56 or .223 chambered ar can be modified to shoot .22lr, and you begin to expand what that one rifle can do. Spare parts are relatively small, and can be carried in a small, water tight tube for repair, and ammunition in .223 is much more readily available than 7.62×39. There are more options for sights, and upgrades, and the rounds weigh less. Load a 30 round AK mag, and a 30 round AR mag, and you can feel the difference. I will take my 7lb rifle that fires a .22 on steroids over a 7lb AK any day. And if you are worried about reliability, check out the Guns and ammo article on the torture test that one of the writers put a selection of ARs through. It was not for accuracy, just function, and involved burying them, soaking them in pond water, and de-greasing them. I actually cringed a little reading it, but they all passed with flying colors (and in fact, the DI rifles had less problems than the almost problem less Piston rifles).

  7. There is an outfit here in AZ that makes incendiary rounds for several calibers , why you would want these ? I dont know , just passing it along . Reviews say they are geared more for large calibers such as 308 and 30.06 . the pics of these things hitting look crazy . Shock value alone might be enough for a box .

  8. People, people, people!!!! The absolute best survival rifle is the one you already own or can afford to buy! Is the AR platform a good rifle? Yes. I have one. However, my go to rifle is an M1 Garand. (30/06). It makes no difference if your SHTF rifle is the latest wizz-bang AR 15 or a 50 plus caliber muzzle loader. The question is can you shoot the damn thing? Can you get close enough to some small game to make a head shot and not destroy the meat? Are you capable of a center shot on a man-size target at 200 plus yards? (with iron sights). If SHTF and someone says we are bugging out, then hands you a rifle, will you be able to hit the proverbial barn door at 10 feet? So from a vet and life long shooter, I would suggest you learn, read, ask questions, buy what you can afford and learn how to shoot the blasted thing! I have friends that their go rifles span multiple calibers. These cover everything from 30/06 down to 22LR. None of them feel over or under gunned. Why? Because they can hit what they aim at. And that my friends is the name of the game.

  9. Another AR-platform caliber to add to the mix is 300 AAC Blackout (300BLK/7.62x35mm). Since the parent case is the .223 Remington, converting brass for 300BLK loading is not a problem. Similarly, 300BLK uses .308 bullets, which gives a wide variety of possible loads. Finally, unlike the other calibers you mentioned, firearms chambered in 300BLK use the same bolt as those chambered in 5.56/.223 Remington, and retain full magazine capacity using standard AR magazines.

    • I'll second that! The ballistics on the 300BLK are impressive and are comparable to 7.62 Russian. That's AK stopping power on the AR you already have with all the same parts sans chambering and barrel.

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  13. I want to point out that while the 6.5 Grendel cartridge has higher KE at 1k yds and out to 1200 yds than M80 ball ammo, it does not have more KE at those ranges than the commonly loaded 168 gr BTHPs (BC in the .45 range) unless one is shooting very warm 140 gr loads, which is beyond the capability of most rifle like those on the AR platform. And, even those 140 gr loads carry less energy at those ranges than the 175 gr (like the m118lr) or 180 gr VLDs in 7.62.

    I’ve heard the statement floating around that Grendel has better terminal ballistics than either 5.56 or 7.62 NATO, but never any evidence. It certainly fares better than 5.56, but I think 7.62 is wishful thinking and probably got started on one of the fanboy forums.

    Either that, or a forumite confused 6.5 G with 6.5 Creedmore for the AR-10 platform and the misinformation and confusion has spread since.

  14. Are you going to write an update that concerns the new group of 308 gas piston rifles that are available in .308? Thanks and I really like your articles. I am currently trying to decide on a .308 to keep my M1A company. My main concern in parts interchangeability with the gas piston rifles. Any input would be greatly accepted


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