The “Approved List” Of 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem Self-Defense/Duty Ammo


If you’d like to know the absolute best 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington ammo to use in your AR-15 for self-defense then this short article will tell you exactly that.

The truth is that I’ve held off on writing this article because as far as priorities, choosing the “best” rifle self-defense ammo is just not as important a topic as choosing the best self-defense handgun ammunition.


Because rifles are typically much more effective when compared to handguns as it relates to stopping a threat.

In fact, most people shot with handguns live. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 times out of 7 a person survives a handgun wound.

Rifles on the other hand are much more effective. And as much as I think using the “best” bullet possible is a smart idea in an AR-15, plenty of enemy soldiers have been killed in combat by American soldiers using the AR-15 and normal FMJ ball ammo.

Plus, because you are more likely to have your handgun with you when you might need to defend your life from a violent criminal, I felt the handgun ammunition info was way more important to get out there quickly.

That’s why I wrote a three part series on handgun ammunition:

*** The CRITICAL difference between self-defense & practice ammo (Part 1 of 3)

*** More on self-defense ammo & why the FBI is switching back to 9mm (Part 2 of 3)

*** The “approved” list of self-defense ammunition (is your ammo on this list?) pt 3 of 3

And then, because of multiple reader requests I followed it up with a couple more articles on handgun ammunition that answered some common questions:

Why your favorite self-defense ammo is not on “the list”” answers that important question when people ask me about the “latest and greatest” new self-defense handgun ammo.

It also goes a bit more into the extensive testing process that all the recommended self-defense ammmo should have

And finally I wrote “What’s the best self-defense ammo for a .380 pocket pistol?” because people kept asking that question.

So now we get to …

What Is The Best AR-15 Self-Defense Ammunition?

Before we begin, I feel it is important to quote the respected Dr. Gary Roberts from again, because he is the one that has been leading the research on the best self-defense ammunition available and posting the information freely online. Again, all credit for this list goes to Dr. Gary Roberts.

In his list of 5.56 Duty Loads Dr. Roberts prefaces it first with this:

Only after proper foundational and ongoing repetitive refresher training, cultivating warrior mind-set, and ensuring weapon system reliability do you need to worry about ammunition selection. Most folks would be far better off practicing with what they have, rather than worrying about what is “best”. As long as you know your what your weapon and ammo can realistically accomplish, it is all just a matter of training and shot placement. I would much rather go into battle with a guy who practices 15,000 rounds a year using generic 55 gr FMJ out of his old M16A1 than with some guy that has the latest state-of-the-art ammo and rifle, but only shoots 500 rounds a year. If you need to delve into the arcane subject of agency duty ammunition selection, below are the state of the art choices in 5.56 mm/.223:”

The Importance of Knowing Your Barrel Twist Rate

Because your twist rate will determine what the optimal ammunition for your rifle is. The most common AR-15 barrel twist rates are:

– 1/7 twist: The fastest. This is the Mil-Spec standard and recommended, because you can use everything from 50 gr to 77+ gr weight bullets.

As an aside: may disintegrate high-velocity, light-weight, 40gr varmit rounds (but because we’re not hunting varmits this is OK).

– 1/8 twist: In between 1/7 and the common commercial 1/9 twist. Can stabilize most of the heavy bullets too.

– 1/9 twist: A common commercial twist rate on commercially designed AR-15’s (i.e. not Mil-Spec). May not stabilize 70+ gr projectiles.

– 1/12 twist: The slowest twist rate. Can be used for 40gr varmit rounds, may not stabilize heavier weight projectiles.

Again, the Mil-Spec 1/7 twist is recommended (although 1/8 twist is acceptable) for simplicity sake and to give you the option of using the greatest versatility of ammunition.

Barrier Blind Ammunition Is Preferred …

As noted in previous articles on self-defense ammo …

Over the past years, there has been a switch not only from ball ammo (FMJ) to Hollow points (JHP) but now the new standard is “barrier blind” ammunition.

This is a reference to how the bullet performs in ballistic gelatin AFTER it has passed through an intermediate barrier. In other words, can it shoot through some type of barrier and still perform well in the ballistic gelatin.

This can greatly affect how the bullet performs in real life (because most criminals are NOT naked and many times are not standing straight in front of you giving you a perfect silhouette shot!)

Further, they may be behind car windows (or you may be stuck in your car and have to shoot through your own window). An intruder might be hiding behind your couch in your home.

Common testing of these bullets could be a three event IWBA (International Wound Ballistics Association) type test using bare gelatin, 4 layer denim, and auto windshield tests all at 10 feet.

In short, Barrier Blind ammunition represents the pinnacle of modern self-defense bullet performance whether we’re talking rifles or handguns. Thus, in this following list Barrier Blind ammunition is recommended first, with other options discussed.

The Official Approved List of AR-15 Self-Defense/Duty Ammunition

The entire shooting world owes a lot of gratitude to one Dr. Gary Roberts (aka DocGKR) from He is a subject matter expert (SME) on ammunition and terminal ballistics.

Dr. Roberts has an approved Duty 5.56 ammo list that is posted on online forums and is updated as new loads are tested of the “best list” of approved ammo, and all credit belongs to him for this list (I have simply reformatted it for easier viewing on this blog).

If you have 1/9 or faster twist rate barrel (so 1/9, 1/8, and 1/7 twist):

 *** 5.56 mm Federal 62 gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (TBBC) bonded JSP (XM556FBIT3)
*** 5.56 mm Winchester 64 gr solid base bonded JSP (Q3313/RA556B)
*** Black Hills 5.56 mm 50 gr TSX loading.
*** The Hornady 5.56 mm 55 gr GMX

NOTE: that these are all true 5.56 mm loads that require a real milspec 5.56 mm chamber, not a SAAMI .223 chamber–be sure to check with an appropriate gauge or reamer.

Most other acceptable LE barrier blind loadings are at .223 pressures including the following …

*** .223 55 & 62 gr Federal bonded JSP Tactical loads (LE223T1 & LE223T3)
*** Nosler 60 gr Partition JSP,
*** Remington 62 gr Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded JSP (PRC223R4)
*** .223 Federal 55 gr TSX (T223S)
*** .223 Hornady 55 gr GMX
*** .223 Speer 64 gr Gold Dot JSP‘s (and identically constructed Federal 62 gr Fusion JSP and Federal XM223SP1 62gr Bonded JSP).
*** The Swift 75 gr Scirocco bonded PT is also good choice, but usually requires a 1/7 twist.

Note that the Barnes all copper TSX bullets are great projectiles and offer good penetration through barriers, however, when first hitting a laminated automobile windshield intermediate barrier, most TSX bullets exhibit less expansion than bonded JSP’s, as the Barnes jacket either collapses at the nose, the jacket “petals” fold back against the core, or the “petals” are torn off; this results in a caliber size projectile configured a lot like a full wadcutter, leading to deep penetration.

If you have a 1/12 twist barrel:

If running 1/12 twist barrels, stick with the BH 50 gr TSX, Fed 55 gr TBBC, Fed 55 gr TSX, Horn 55 gr GMX, or Speer 55 gr Gold Dot.

NONE of the fragmenting 5.56 mm OTM bullets, even the heavy 75 – 100 gr loads, offer acceptable performance through automobile windshield glass. Contrary to what many believe, M193 & M855 FMJ are not very good against glass; the best military 5.56 mm load against glass is 52 gr M995 AP, followed by the 62 gr Mk318 Mod0 OTM and 70 gr Optimal “brown tip” OTM.

In those situations where intermediate barrier penetration is not a critical requirement, for example LE urban entries or long range shots in open conditions, then OTM, JHP, and standard JSP loads can offer acceptable performance.

For 1/7 twist barrels, the Hornady 75 gr OTM, Nosler 77 gr OTM, and Sierra 77 gr SMK OTM are all good choices. The experimental BH loaded 100 gr OTM exhibits impressive fragmentation, even at relatively low velocities, however while capable of shooting out to 600, it is optimized for 200 and under.

If stuck with 1/9 twist barrels, the heavy 70+ gr loads are not universally accurate in all rifles and the 69 gr SMK OTM, the 68 gr Hornady OTM, the Winchester 64 gr JSP (RA223R2), the Federal 64 gr TRU (T223L) JSP, Hornady 60 gr JSP, are likely to run accurately in the majority of 1/9 twist rifles.

Again it is critical to keep in mind that the above loads fail to offer adequate penetration through intermediate barriers.

For longer range engagements using precision weapons like the Mk12 SPR or DMR rifles with faster 1/8 or 1/7 twist barrels, one of the combat proven 5.56 mm (ie. 5.56 mm NATO pressure loads, not .223 SAAMI pressure loads which run about 200 f/s slower) heavy OTM loadings are a good choice:

– the Barnes 70 gr TSX (Optimized “browntip”)
– Hornady 75 gr TAP (#8126N)
– Nosler 77 gr
– or the Sierra 77 gr Match King (Mk262 Mod1).

Short barreled 5.56 mm weapons, such as the Colt Commando, Mk18 CQBR, HK416, HK53, HK G36C, etc… offer advantages in confined spaces.

With SBR’s it is best to stick with the barrier blind loads recommended above, although the heavy OTM’s suggested for long distance shooting will also work. SBR’s can run into rotational velocity issues with some loads, so it is generally best to select faster 1/7 twist barrels whenever possible. Remember, with SBR’s, effective engagement distances are significantly reduced compared to the longer barreled carbines.

In Conclusion, 5.56/.223 Bullet Technology Has Vastly Improved

This list represents the state-of-the-art in bullet technology applied to the AR-15 platform …

Can these bullets really make such a difference?

I read an interesting article the other day attributed to a combat medic of 8 years who was technically a “combat advisor” for two tours in Afghanistan and said he recorded 371 gun shot wounds.

He basically spent an entire article bashing the 5.56 NATO, saying “at ranges from zero (negligent discharges) to 35 yards (my closest, and worst-placed, shot on a person) to 400 yards (our average initial engagement distance in Afghanistan) individuals shot with a single 5.56 NATO round had time to fire, maneuver, or both”, before saying something very interesting (emphasis mine):

“As an aside, Chris Kyle (FWFS, brother) was a friend of mine, and while not so patiently listening to one of my Crown-induced rants on the 5.56 NATO, he suggested that it was not caliber I hated, but the bullet. He told me to load up the case as fast as I could, push a 64 grain or heavier soft point round and see what happens. So I had Underground Tactical built me an AR in 5.56 which I swore I would never own, and built rounds ranging from 64 to 75 grains with it. I’ve taken 11 deer with them, and the wound tracks are nothing like I saw with the NATO round. I’ve never had to look for an animal, and a little Underground 5.5lb AR in 5.56 is my go-to hill country deer gun now, which is just crazy.”

So a combat vet who hated the 5.56 NATO round because he was using FMJ ball ammo, now uses it extensively because of a simple ammo change. In short, like handgun ammunition, the terminal effectiveness of 5.56/.223 can be greatly improved by choosing the right type of bullet.

If you anticipate using your AR-15 for self-defense, grab one of the rounds off this list, zero it in your rifle and then practice a lot with cheaper FMJ ball ammo and be confident in your rifle.

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Caleb Lee is the #1 best-selling author of "Concealed Carry 101" and founder of He is a civilian (no law enforcement or military experience) who shares information about self-defense and becoming more self-reliant. He's a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo, NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor, Concealed Carry Academy Instructor certified & also a graduate of the Rangermaster firearms instructor course. He's also the author of numerous online courses including the course.


  1. Lordy,Lordy come Lardy does one know what firing an M1 Garand w/o a shoulder pad, Ear Plugs or Eye Glasses with 50 men firing on KD Targets on 100 yard line to the 500 yard Line let alone the heat of the day in July @ Camp Gordon, Ga during the Korean War with one canteen of water which got dumped if caught drinking w/o permission as all hands dumped there’s also!! This also included cooks taken out of the Chow Lines to be a cook and requiring cook training how to Boil Water which gave one’s the worst case of Dry Heaves in memory: most would trade for a (3) day hangover from drinking water out of the post water tower with all sorts of contagious critters hiding in it’s midst while painting G.I. Bunks with Aluminum Paint in The Hottest Sun in Georgia @ 110 in the shade in July??

    This scenario is a smidgeon of the go-inns on this Army Post @ 60 plus dollars per month going FECOM to 50-60 below Zero in Korean Mountains with the same wind speed trying the impossible to dig a fox hole in dirt as hard a granite while dresses in material only good for above 32 degrees at the worst cold temps!!

  2. before 2000 we never had problem lick we have today , in 1999 government said this country is going be the tick of the world, that’s then and now look at us now , this country was number one in manufacturer in the world ,not say that tick is no good , but you don’t put all you egg in one basket , not every body can be a computer expert , we still got to make product for us and the world , Its a sin what this government whit there selfish greed , and Stoll the money from us whit there lies about frack plans , were the money going , its going in there pocket , they bind there to long , and mad a money click on our money , how much is enough for use , I here there going to cut s/s and you do this thing I and many other well lose our homes , you are bunch heartless demons , we the people well kill the first person that try tack my home because off your greed , I usa mad and believe in the law was mad of our for father that mad this country , they new then 1776 what was good for the future of this country , they care for all the people , tack the money out of welfare , you boys on the hill live in your on world , if you do Theas thing YOUR ARE GOING HAVE A BIG MASS , I radar see NUCK FALL ON TOP OF ME , THEN SEE WHAT YOUR GOING TO DO NEXT

  3. A lot of people think a 1:7 twist rate is too fast for light bullets. And there are those that miss the 1:14 twist rates of the early M16’s because those are the ones that had tumbling bullets or so I have read. I’ve never shot one

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  12. When I built my 1st AR-15 it was with all the cheapest parts I could find , I just wanted an AR. I bought an 80% lower and the lowest priced parts kit Sarco offered . With a 1 in 9 twist and the cheapest brass cased ammo I could find it was a nice , fun target rifle. I own a small machine shop and wanted more so I bought copies of the old Armalite blueprints. I now do all my upper and lower recievers from billets. I still like 1 in 9 twist , even in a match barrel.I want to get into bench shooting competitions so now I reload. While doing research I came across someone making their own soft point round so I decided to design my own. I start with cleaned 22LR range brass. I run it thru a die set that extrudes the rim back into the base. I also made a mold that casts lead cores that are a light press fit into the 22 brass. From there they go to my 20 ton press to get the ojive and final od. The finished product is a 56gr brass jacketed soft point that consistantly shoots the smallest groups I’ve found so far.


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