Aluminum vs Brass Ammo
When it comes to ammunition, there are at least three different types based on the cartridge casing: aluminum case, steel case, and brass case. Most steel-cased ammo is of foreign manufacture, so we will look at the two types offered domestically: aluminum ammo and brass ammo. There are differences between the two and each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Aluminum vs Brass Ammo: The Differences
Aluminum-cased ammunition is mostly used for handgun cartridges. This has to do with the strength and malleability inherent to brass cased ammo as opposed to aluminum. This is not to say aluminum is weak as a material, just that the properties tend to be different when compared to brass.
Brass has been used as a cartridge case since the invention of fixed ammunition in the 1850s. Aluminum on the other hand came about much later in the history of the cartridge case by a little over 100 years later in the 1960s.
In the actual ammunition manufacturing process, both aluminum and brass cased ammo are equal. If you are purchasing from a top-quality ammunition manufacturer, then you are going to get what you paid for. Due to being a softer metal and having a lower melting point, aluminum-cased ammunition is said to be of lower quality. However, it all depends in the purpose you have for your ammunition.
If there is an advantage to be had about aluminum cased ammunition, it is the cost. Probably the only type of ammunition cheaper than an aluminum casing is imported steel cased ammo with a lacquer coating. If you were to compare aluminum ammo with a similar type of brass-cased ammo, there would be a two-to-six-dollar difference.The reason for a less expensive cost is the relatively cheap and consistent supply of aluminum. Brass prices fluctuate along with other precious metals whereas aluminum remains stable. Sometimes, the sheer volume of used cartridge brass keeps market forces in check, but a new firearm cartridge or resurgence of interest in an older one can make for crazy mini spikes in brass ammo. Ultimately, aluminum cased ammunition will always cost less than brass. This difference in cost can be debatable if you reload your fired cases. Most domestically manufactured brass and aluminum cased ammunition is Boxer primed. On the other hand steel cased ammo is what is known as Berdan primed. A Boxer primer contains a single flash hole so that the spent primer can be removed by a single decaping pin, and the brass case can be reloaded. A Berdan primer uses two or three flash holes and requires a specialized tool in order to remove the spent primer. Add to that, the fact that aluminum ammunition cases tend to crack or split when the case mouth is reformed or crimped. Aluminum cases are not designed to be reloaded, and Berdan primers are significantly cheaper to produce than Boxer primers. Both of these factors help keep production costs relatively low. If you do not reload, then ammunition with an aluminum casing makes for a relatively cheap ammo source.
As mentioned previously, aluminum cartridges are not as strong as cartridge brass, and you can experience issues while attempting to reload spent aluminum. It comes down to a question of malleability of the cartridge case. Malleability is a property found in all metals, referring to the flexibility of the metal and how it can be formed into a different shape. This is exactly what happens when a round is fired. As the primer ignites the powder, pressure within the cartridge case expands so that the casing fits in a tight seal to the chamber. Most brass casings are extracted and ejected and during the reloading process can be formed into a new round. With aluminum being less malleable, the fired cases are prone to splitting or cracking a significant amount of the time. This can cause extraction or ejection issues with some firearms and may cause the mouth of the case to crack or split. It will not cause damage to your firearm beyond making it dirtier after firing. You will not blow up your Glock, SIG, or S&W M&P by using aluminum cased ammunition.
Some folks like to point out that aluminum rounds are lighter in weight when compared to their brass counterparts. While this is true, the amount of difference is only a matter of grains or grams and offers very little benefit to the shooter. You might be able to carry a larger quantity of aluminum as opposed to brass cased ammunition for a trip to the range, but the difference is not very significant below 500 rounds.
Which is Better for Hunting?
For the most part, true brass cases are superior for hunting as opposed to aluminum because they can tolerate higher pressures necessary to humanely harvest game animals. The only rifles suitable for using aluminum cased ammo are either 22 lr or some pistol caliber carbines. Even in a small game hunting scenario, the brass cases will be superior, particularly from a reliability standpoint. There may be a small benefit to aluminum because brass tends to corrode and blemish when exposed to severe exposure to the elements.
Which is Better for Self Defense?
As we stated about hunting, brass cased ammo is superior for self-defense use. It will always be loaded with more power and tend to be more reliable than aluminum cased ammo. If it comes down to a situation where only aluminum ammunition is available, it can perform in a self-defense role. It may not be ideal, but if it is all you can find, it certainly beats an empty gun. However, keep in mind that aluminum is less malleable. A split case mouth, failure to extract or double feed could cost you your life in a defensive shooting scenario. While any of these mishaps certainly can and do occur with brass cased ammunition; they are more likely to happen with aluminum cased ammo.
Which is Better for Range Training?
Because aluminum ammo is cheaper than brass cased ammunition, it can offer an advantage when it comes to training with your firearm. Secondly, if you are shooting at an indoor range that prohibits shooters from retrieving fired cartridge brass, aluminum ammo aids in saving you time and effort, and you’re not throwing valuable reloadable brass cases away.Aluminum cased ammo can also aid in training because it may not be as reliable as brass cased ammo and can help with clearing malfunctions. A particularly hot firearm may cause these issues with aluminum cases. It is not a common occurrence in small arms, but aluminum cases can over expand and may become more difficult to extract
Aluminum vs Brass Ammo: Who Wins?
For the most part, brass cased ammunition is superior to aluminum casings. Aluminum does offer the benefits of a lower cost, but it cannot be successfully reloaded as brass can be. Brass ammunition cases can withstand higher pressures than aluminum ones which means that brass should be your first choice for hunting or self-defense use. In the end it comes down to priorities. Some shooters will only shoot brass for the reliability and reloading aspects. Other shooters are not concerned with reloading or shooting hot or heavy loads through their firearms, and the cost savings speaks more to them than even reliability. Regardless of your personal preference, shoot either or both until your heart is content. You certainly will not damage your firearm with either one.
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