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Choosing MSR AmmoWords by James Tarr | Photos by Jeff Jones
I’m frequently asked, “What kind of gun should I buy?” My immediate response is, “What do you plan to use it for? Target shooting, concealed carry and self-defense, competition, hunting?”
Whether you’re talking power tools for home improvement or firearms and ammunition, the No. 1 rule is and always has been: Use the right tool for the job. That same rule is doubly true when it comes to picking ammunition for your modern sporting rifle.
The original MSR, the AR15, was designed more than 60 years ago. Its select-fire cousin, the M16, has been the issued service weapon of the U.S. armed forces for more than 50 years in one form or another. Its adoption in 5.56×45 NATO chambering (a slightly higher pressure version of the commercial .223 Rem. load) signaled a change from the big bore cartridges of the past.
As rifle cartridges go, the .223 Rem. is on the small side. The original military load featured a .223 caliber 55-grain bullet, which exited the muzzle somewhere north of 3,000 fps, depending on barrel length.
The 55-grain round is a small, light bullet, generally one-half to one-third the weight of the average pistol bullet. There is not a lot of mass there. What makes the .223 Rem. cartridge work is its high velocity.
However, because it fires a small, relatively light bullet at high velocities, there is a huge difference in performance between different types of projectiles. This means that some types of ammunition are perfectly suited for some jobs, but not others. Here’s where it can get complicated if you’re unfamiliar with some terms.
FMJ stands for full metal jacket ammunition, and when it comes to practice or plinking or target shooting, FMJ ammo is probably your best choice. The bullets are not designed to do anything upon impact with the target. Rather, their shape is meant to ensure proper feeding from magazines and decent aerodynamics when flying through the air toward the target. FMJ ammo is usually the least-expensive type of ammo as well, which makes it ideally suited for fun at the range.
Similarly named FMJBT (full metal jacket, boat-tail) ammo is a more refined type of projectile with a narrowed base. This boat-tail base gives it better aerodynamics for flatter shooting.
If you’re looking for ammo for hunting or self-defense, however, FMJ ammo is the wrong type for you.
When it comes to handgun ammo, police officers are issued hollow-point ammunition, and that type of ammunition should be the choice of anyone carrying a handgun for self-defense. Why? The purpose is to make him stop what he’s doing.
You want bullets that hit hard and transfer a lot of energy so that the bad guy immediately reconsiders his life choices. FMJ ammo tends to zip right through people, causing minimal damage without transferring much energy to the target. It does not do a good job of stopping anyone or anything. That is why FMJ ammo is not a good choice either for self-defense or hunting in either handguns or rifles.
However, if you look at the tiny tip of the .223 bullet, there’s not exactly a lot of room for a big hollow point. Not if you want the bullet to feed reliably into the chamber or have decent aerodynamics.
That’s not to say there aren’t hollow-point rifle bullets, but buyer beware—not all hollow-points are designed to expand.
Perhaps the best-known “hollow point” rifle bullet in the country is the Federal Premium Gold Medal .308, loaded with the Sierra MatchKing bullet. This is a very accurate bullet/cartridge and the runaway favorite of police snipers, but the hollow point in it is an artifact of the manufacturing process and is not designed to expand. Most BTHP bullets are the same, as are OTM (open tip match) bullets, which superficially resemble hollow points.
Rifle bullets are, to some extent, handicapped in design by their nose profile, but rifle cartridges offer something that pistol cartridges can’t: velocity.
Pistol bullets need big hollow cavities that open upon impact, because they just don’t have much velocity. Still some of them don’t expand because pistol bullets travel at such relatively low velocities.
Rifle cartridges, on the other hand, often have velocity to spare, and engineers and bullet designers have spent decades designing non-hollow-point bullets that expand upon impact.
One tried-and-true bullet design that has worked for hundreds of years in rifles simply because of the velocity is the simple soft-point (SP) bullet.
Instead of the entire bullet being encapsulated by a copper jacket, a soft-point bullet features an exposed lead tip. Lead is softer than copper, so upon impact, the lead tip begins expanding and working the same way a hollow-point handgun bullet does in transferring energy to the target. The mushrooming of the lead tip also prevents (or at least reduces) over-penetration.
About twenty years ago, one of my friends (who was a cop) made a bulk purchase of Federal .223 Rem. 55-grain SPs (soft points) and sent me a couple hundred. Before I started writing for gun magazines I was much younger and closer to poor, so I was very happy to get that ammo, because I knew how effective it was.
The great thing about soft-point ammo in rifle cartridges is it works just about as well as the high-tech ammo with expanding bullets while being less expensive. It works for self-defense as well as hunting appropriately-sized game.
But traditional soft-point ammo isn’t perfect. Because of that exposed tip, if you have to shoot through anything (like windshield glass if you’re a cop) or your game is very thick-skinned, that copper jacket can peel away from the core, drastically reducing the effectiveness of the bullet.
Modern technology hasn’t just improved firearms. It has improved ammunition as well, and perhaps the best example of that (and directly related to this discussion of soft-point ammo) is the Fusion MSR line from Federal Ammunition.
First, the MSR in the title. Several years ago, the National Shooting Sports Foundation coined the term “Modern Sporting Rifle” to describe a detachable magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR15 and AK47.
Federal’s MSR line features cartridges specifically designed to fit and feed from MSR magazines. Not just that, but both the AR and AK platforms are gas-operated, and the MSR line is loaded with powders which provide the right pressure curve to reliably cycle those actions, something that isn’t a concern when using a traditional bolt- or lever-action hunting rifle.
At first glance, the bullet loaded into the MSR line doesn’t look like anything special—it has a narrow flat tip with exposed lead. Think of it as a modern product-improved soft point that provides performance near or equal to a premium bullet but at a lower cost.
First, the lead core is molecularly bonded with the copper jacket to prevent jacket separation after impact. The jacket is internally skived for consistent expansion at different distances/velocities.
It also features a cannelure to prevent bullet setback in those rounds bouncing back and forth in the magazine with every shot. The Fusion MSR round also uses a mil-spec primer to prevent slam-fires in AR platform rifles, which have free-floating firing pins.
My first experience with Fusion MSR ammo was about three years ago during a hunting trip to Florida. I was carrying a Rock River Arms AR15 that, with this ammo, would consistently do one-inch groups at 100 yards. I killed both a feral hog and an alligator with the 62-grain .223 Rem. Fusion MSR load, and both of them were one-shot kills.
The Federal Tactical Bonded round is considered THE go-to .223/5.56 round for law enforcement due to its ability to penetrate auto glass and car doors, but unfortunately it is not sold commercially. The Federal Trophy Bonded Tip in .223 Rem. is as close as we can get to the Tactical Bonded in the commercial market. It makes a great choice for a hunting round.
The Fusion MSR round in that caliber offers nearly the same performance at a fraction of the cost. Because of its bonded core and controlled expansion, this load is advertised as an ideal hunting load.
Specifically because of those properties, I think this also would be an ideal defensive load as well, especially if you wanted a round that could reliably penetrate intermediate barriers while still expanding.
Fusion MSR ammo is currently offered in four calibers: .223 Rem., .308 Win., .338 Federal and 6.8 SPC, all of which can be found chambered in AR-style rifles and are popular for hunting.
The .308 Win., in particular, is capable of taking any game on the North American continent.