“If you do not own a rifle that will reliably cycle steel-cased ammunition, you had better get your hands on one.” Those words of advice were offered by my original firearms training mentor, John Farnam, nearly ten years ago. John saw the ammo crisis of 2013 coming a mile away.
Russian/Soviet arms, particularly the AK, were built around a lacquered steel case cartridge. Lacquered steel cased ammunition is much less expensive to manufacture and that has always been the model for Russian arms; make as many as you can, at the lowest cost, thereby equipping as many soldiers as possible.
In the USA we like to shoot steel-cased ammo because it gives us more bang for the buck. When it is time to load up “for real” we choose more expensive brass-cased ammunition with controlled expansion projectiles. However, for training, the cheap steel-cased FMJ ammo is the way to go. Unfortunately, there has been one hiccup in the low-cost training solution: stuck cases in AR-15 rifles.
AR-15 or M4 style rifles/pistols will indeed cycle lacquered steel-cased ammunition, that is, until the chamber reaches a certain temperature. No, I do not not know exactly what temperature, but really super hot, okay? What happens is that the chamber gets super hot, you pause in your shooting, and the lacquered steel case sits in the chamber as it cools. When you press the trigger the shot fires but the case gets stuck. You are out of business until you unseat the stuck case with a cleaning rod.
I have both experienced this situation and witnessed it on the training range. Though it is not scientific, the magic number of rounds fired to super heat the chamber seems to be two to three magazines of .223 fired in rapid succession (not full-auto, just semi auto real fast).
If you have been paying attention, and shame on you if you have not, we featured the M85 PAP pistol from Century Arms in the pages of this site last year. The M85 is unique as it uses a Kalashnikov action but chambers the .223 Remington cartridge.
As for manufacturer’s specifications, the M85 PAP has a 10 inch barrel, weighs 6.4 pounds unloaded, has an overall length of 29.5 inches as you see it configured here. The gun is classified as a “handgun” and not available in any of the several Slave States in our Union (NY, CT, CA, NJ, MA, etc.) The Century Arms website states that the guns ship with two 30 rounds magazines. Mine arrived with Tapco versions. A hinged top cover is a classy touch and the bolt and charging handle are stainless steel.
My hypothesis was that as the M85 is a Kalashnikov design firearm and AK’s are designed to eat steel-cased ammunition, therefore the M85 should not have an issue with said fodder. To test the theory, I would need an ample supply of steel-cased .223 Remington and then I needed to get out to the ballistic laboratory (range).
As for ammunition, I had a few hundred rounds of the Wolf Classic .223 Remington on hand. But, I wanted to test more than that. A quick trip to Academy Outdoors and I picked up several boxes of .223 Rem. ammo from Monarch and Tul Ammo. The Wolf and Tul have grey colored steel cases and the Monarch cases are the more traditional Soviet green.
As for magazines, I used standard GI aluminum 30 rounders, MagPul PMags and a couple from Tapco. I filled the magazines with the various types of ammunition and labeled them with tape and a marker for the testing.
The M85 PAP was modified slightly from the original review I did a year ago. The wooden forearm was replaced by an aluminum rail system from Midwest Industries. I did have do a bit of fitting but the rail is now securely in place. Atop the rail is an Aimpoint Micro T1 red dot optic. I should not need to explain to you the benefits of having such a sight on a fighting gun. The entire gun was refinished with DuraCoat OD green.
Once at the range I deliberately rapid fired magazines getting the gun chamber nice and hot. When I could feel the heat coming through the handguards I set the gun aside leaving a round chambered. While the M85 was cooling down I practiced with my TP9SA pistol.
I ran through the heating and cooling process three separate times and worked through numerous shooting drills with the M85 pistol. With several hundred lacqured steel-cases strewn about the range, I did not experience a single stuck case issue. I did have a couple of failures to feed from the Tapco mags and the PMags were VERY tight in the PAP magwell and needed serious encouragement to come out when empty. The aluminum GI mags worked flawlessly and would seem to be the way to go.
Want to shoot the less expensive steel-cased .223 Remington and use the dozen AR mags you already own? The M85 PAP from Century Arms might just be your steel-cased solution.
Be sure to subscribe to the SOTG Blog so you don’t miss a single article and listen to SOTG Radio every week.