7 Best Budget 223 Ammo Options for Training and Home Defense

If you’re looking for the best budget 223 ammo options for training and home defense, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article I will review some excellent 223 / 5.56 NATO rounds for a variety of purposes. We’ll also cover some interesting terminal ballistics research, to help you find the right round for your specific needs. Let’s get to the ammunition!

If you’re really into practical rifle training then you need to shoot regularly. Because rifle ammo can be quite expensive, it makes sense to conduct your live fire practice efficiently. If you like shooting AR15’s, then you’ll really like this book by world champ Ben Stoeger, and his business partner Joel Park. (Amazon Affiliate Link)

This book can save you a lot of money on ammo, because they provide many training drills that can improve your skills in dry fire. They clearly spell out what drills need to be live fire, and what doesn’t. In the long run this could save you thousands of dollars in ammunition costs.

For the vast majority of your live fire shooting, you should shoot decent quality training ammo. There’s absolutely no need to shoot very expensive self defense hollow points all the time. Save that ammo for validating your training. Here are some quick links to the training and home defense ammo we’ll cover in this article. As a side note, all prices are as of this writing, and will almost certainly fluctuate.

7 Best Budget 223 Ammo Options for Training and Home Defense

Before we get to the details of each of these rounds, I want to point out that these links are affiliate links. That means if you purchase any of this ammo after clicking on them we get a small referral fee, at no cost to you. It helps support the website, and we really appreciate it.

The nice thing about our affiliate partners is that they carry all popular ammunition brands so there is no incentive to recommend anything other than the best 5.56 mm cartridge for your needs. Now let’s get into what makes a good training, and self defense round.

Considerations for Training and Self Defense Ammo

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go full nerd here. I’m just going to touch on a few key characteristics, that we should consider when selecting our training and self defense rounds. The most important thing to consider is reliability in your chosen rifle.

I’m a very high round count shooter. I would estimate that I’ll probably shoot close to 20,000 rounds in 2023. I’ve shot the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can also tell you that even large ammo companies produce bad batches of rounds, just as smaller no name companies can make very high quality ammo.

All the ammo companies listed in this article are companies that I’ve shot hundreds, if not thousands of rounds, with a solid reliability record. Blowing up your gun with a squib, or double charged round is not going to be a fun day at the range.

It’s also important to point out that there are some differences between 223 Remington ammo and the 5.56 NATO round. NATO rounds are a little higher pressure, so you can’t always shoot them in every 223 rifle. If you’re shooting a stander AR-15 rifle, then you should be able to shoot whatever 5.56 round you want. Make sure you check the specs on your gun before picking ammo.

External Ballistics Matching

One key consideration when contemplating which training ammo to buy, is matching the external ballistics to your self defense or hollow point bullet. For example, if you shoot a 35 grain varmint round for practice, you wouldn’t want to shoot an 75 grain self defense round for defense. They will have much different ballistic performance as you get to further distances. This is even more important for law enforcement and self defense shooters. Here’s an example comparison chart.

We do need to use some common sense here. If you’re primarily practicing for close quarters battle (CQB) distances, then you don’t need to concern yourself with 500 yard hold overs, and the ballistic coefficient. If you’re a varmint hunter, then you should go for a training round that mimics your hunting round. That way you don’t have to remember completely different hold offs.

The two rounds in the chart have completely different uses and are equally excellent at their respective tasks. You can see that there really is no ballistic difference out to 200 yards. Past that, you start to see large changes in performance. As long as the bullet weight is close, both your training and defense rounds will have negligible differences.

It’s worth noting that heavier bullets, 70 grain or above, do better with a higher twist barrel. One to seven twist barrels are a popular choice for heavier rounds. If you’re trying to pick between different twist rates, and bullet weights, I recommend going with a higher twist rate. You can shoot lighter bullets with higher twist barrels. It doesn’t work in reverse.

Terminal Ballistics for Home Defense

Terminal ballistics is the performance of the round as it impacts the target. Since we’re talking about self defense, that means what a bullet does to a human. Rifle rounds have a significant advantage over handgun rounds because of their high speed, and pressure.

Not only do they create a permanent wound cavity, as they pass through the body, they create a much larger cavity behind the bullet. This is called the temporary wound cavity. This is where the bulk of the tissue damage actually comes from. Check out this image to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Most folks think that rifle rounds actually penetrate deeper, and go through more barriers, like walls. This isn’t always true. Certain rounds can actually penetrate less than handgun rounds, because they break up upon impact. Generally speaking we want a fast moving, moderately heavy round, that doesn’t penetrate more than 18-20 inches through ballistic gel. It should come as no surprise that I’ve included rounds that meet that criteria for home defense.

It’s important to note that there are no magic rounds. In a large Army study, they found that the the only method to increase the likelihood of incapacitating a person with a 223 round was to shoot them again. Even when compared to a 308 NATO round, there really is no practical difference in stopping power. If you want to read even more about the science of 5.56 / 223 round then check out this article.

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Best Budget 223 Ammo Options for Training

In this section I will be providing you with the best budget 223 ammo for training. All ammo options feature a brass casing for ease of use. You could use this ammo for self defense if you wanted, but it definitely won’t be as good as ammo built for that purpose. I will include the current price per round as of Aug 2023. I encourage you to follow the links, as manufacturers are always running specials and discounts. You might be able to find even better deals than are listed here.

I have not included any 62 grain green tip ammo in this article. There is nothing wrong with this ammo, but it can be a real pain in the ass to shoot, even if it has extensive military use. It has a steel core, and most ranges won’t let you shoot it, because it destroys their steel targets. Moreover, there are a lot of better options on this list. Without further ado, here are the training ammo options.

AAC 5.56 NATO 55 Grain FMJ

This 55 grain AAC 5.56 NATO round is the best priced round on this list. As of this writing you can pick it up for 40 cents per round, which is a great deal. That means a case of 1000 rounds will run you around $400 dollars. I generally recommend buying in 1000 round lots or more, as it tends to minimize shipping costs. If only we could get Amazon Prime ammo!

This round is a basic 55 grain bullet, with a full metal jacket. It’s a good choice for training purposes. This is a high velocity round, listed at 3175 feet per second, out of 20 inch test barrel. If you’re shooting it out of a shorter barreled firearm, you’ll be slower than that. Most 10-11 inch guns chronograph around 2400 feet per second.

best training ammo for 223

I’ve shot tons of AAC ammo over the years, and they make good quality ammunition. In my experience they are just as reliable as Winchester or Federal, and their prices are much better. This is the number one best budget 223 ammo. Next let’s get to some of the most popular ammo on the list.

PMC X-TAC 5.56 NATO 55 Grain FMJBT

This PMC X-TAC 5.56 55 grain round has been around for a while. You can pick it up for a good price, and it’s very high quality. If you read my article on affordable 9 mm ammo, then you won’t be surprised to see the equivalent to PMC Bronze on this list.

This 223 round is a full metal jacket, boat-tail design. Boat-tail style bullets are a little more aerodynamically efficient, and are less affected by wind. This would make it a great training round for those who want to shoot at long range with their rifle. It makes even more sense for those that plan on shooting lighter self defense rounds.

most popular 223 ammo for target practice

As of this writing you can pick up X-TAC ammo for 45 cents per round, or $480 per case of 1000 rounds. If you want something that’s reasonably priced and good at extended distances, then this is a greta choice. Next let’s get to another one of our best budget 223 ammo options.

Winchester Bulk 5.56 FMJ 55 Grain

The Winchester 5.56 FMJ 55 Grain round is one of the most popular training rounds available. It’s also the third best value on this list. Currently Winchester is running a 25% rebate on their ammo, so you might be able to pick this ammo up even cheaper, if you purchase it during the rebate period.

good bulk 5.56 mm ammo

This ammo is sold in bulk. If you mail in the UPC and receipts to Winchester, they will drop the price to about 43 cents per round, or $430 per case of 1000 rounds. If you’re partial to Winchester rounds, and don’t mind going to the post office, then this could be a very good deal. Now let’s get to a great option for those who like to shoot heavier rounds.

AAC 75 Grain 5.56 NATO BTHP Match

AAC 75 Grain 5.56 mm NATO ammo is by far the best choice if you plan on using a heaver grain bullet for home defense. Its ballistic trajectory will be very close to rounds with a similar weight. It’s also a little better at defeating the wind, as heavier projectiles aren’t pushed around as easily as lighter ones.

great option for 75 grain training ammo

As of this writing you can pick up this 75 grain option for 60 cents per round, or around $600 per 1000 rounds. This is good match ammo for those that enjoy target shooting or 3 Gun, and expect to shoot at extended distances. Next we’ll move on to some of the most popular ammunition on the list of best budget 223 ammo.

American Eagle 5.56 Nato Bulk 55 Grain FMJBT

American Eagle 5.56 NATO rounds are so popular almost everyone has shot them. This brand is manufactured by Federal. That means you can expect a very high quality 55 gr bullet. Out of all the ammo brands I’ve shot, I think I’ve had the fewest issues with Federal.

high quality training 223 ammo

Unfortunately, quality control does cost money, and this is the most expensive training ammo on the list. As of this writing you can pick up a case of 1000 rounds for $650, or 65 cents per round. While this is very good quality ammo, I would probably recommend some of the other options, unless your Uncle works for Federal. Next we’ll cover my top 2 recommendations for home / self defense ammo on a budget.

Best Budget 223 Ammo Options for Home Defense

There are hundreds of great options for self defense ammo in 223 Remington / 5.56 NATO. I’ve found that folks fall in love with their defensive ammo. In an effort to avoid angry comments, I’m going to say that there isn’t a large difference between most quality rounds.

The chart below highlights this fact. In my article where I reviewed a great analysis of 1800 shootings, some clear trends emerged, with respect to rifle rounds. First, long guns do better than pistol rounds. Secondly, relatively few rounds are actually needed to incapacitate a target, once they are hit. Check this chart out.

rifle incapacitation stats

I want to point out that calibers that are featured in slow to shoot firearms, like shotguns, and revolvers, have lower round counts. It’s harder to shoot a shotgun faster than an AR15. In real world engagements, there isn’t much of a practical difference between any caliber.

This makes a crucial point. Most people who are shot quit fighting out of the psychological fear of death. They aren’t immediately incapacitated. Don’t expect a 75 grain round to be 50% better than a 55 grain round. There just isn’t that big of difference amongst any self defense bullet.

That being said, there are several other considerations for defensive rounds, which lead me to these two options below. Let’s take a look at them.

Hornady Black 75 Grain Interlock SBR Round

Many of you reading this article use an AR15 for home defense. I would also guess that many of you use short barreled rifles, or AR15 pistols, with a 10.5 inch barrel. These more compact firearms, are great for storage and maneuverability, but you do lose a lot of velocity.

Most 5.56 / 223 ammo is tested out of a 20 inch barrel. You’ll find that these rounds test around 3200 feet per second. When tested out of a 10.5 inch barrel, you’ll probably find the muzzle velocity drops to 2400 feet per second. You’ll also find that you get a lot more muzzle flash, due to unburnt powder.

Hornady kept this issues in mind when they created the Hornady Black 75 Grain Interlock SBR Round. Check out this awesome video from Sage Dynamics, for an incredibly detailed look at this round. Long story short, it’s the jam for home defense at close range.

If you don’t have 30 minutes to nerd out, I’ll cover some of the highlights for you. This round is designed to create much less muzzle flash out of shorter barrels. Similarly, it creates much less heat for guns that are suppressed. Aaron found that this round penetrates through 20 inches of ballistic gel, at 10m distance.

As these distances increase to 50-100m, the round penetrated more than 30 inches of gel. This is not ideal. If you plan to shoot at long distances, this isn’t your round. Aaron also found that heavy clothing, drywall, and even car door steel, did not impede the rounds overall performance. It penetrated between 15 – 20 inches of gel, in all of those conditions. It also performed well through automotive glass.

If you recall the chart from the top of the article, this round did extremely well to about 250 yards. Past that, it loses a lot of velocity. It also reduces suppressor heat, and muzzle sound (6-7 decibels), as well as muzzle flash. Overall I think this is a great option.

As of this writing it retails for $1.15 per round. Fancy engineering isn’t cheap. If you have a shorter gun, then this is a no brainer. I would recommend buying a couple hundred rounds, to make sure you like it’s performance through your gun, then train on one of the cheaper training rounds above.

The good thing is that any of the cheaper options should perform similarly out to 200 yards. Next let’s talk about a great budget self defense option for those that need longer distance performance.

Superperformance Match 75 Grain HPBT

Hornady Superperformance Match 75 Grain ammo is great all around defensive ammo. This ammo has been optimized for higher velocity and muzzle energy. This makes it a great choice for those that live in open country and might have to engage at longer distances.

high velocity hornady 223 ammo

This ammo is also great for competition or longer distance shooting with your AR15. If you’re a longer range shooter, then this might be an excellent choice for you, as you could use it for self defense, and competition.

The only downside is the price. As of this writing it retails for $1.35 per round. I don’t want to consider buying a case. Sadly, the best ammo will always cost more money. This has been a longer article so I’ll wrap it up with a few final thoughts, in the next section.

Final Thoughts

I think you have a lot of great options when shopping for the best budget 223 ammo. The clear winner is the AAC 55 Grain FMJ round. I’m surprised that they can make a profit at this price. To point out how low that really is. Most companies charge somewhere around $26,000 per pallet of 60,000 rounds.

If you do the math, you’re looking at around 43 cents per round. Palmetto State Armory is selling this ammo at 40 cents per round! If you need some good training ammo then that’s your clear winner.

I’m also really excited about the SBR ammo from Hornady. Many of my readers run suppressors and shorter barrels. This ammo is designed to perform well out of both. If your really want an awesome self defense set up then you should read this article about my 300 Black out pistol, with my Dead Air Sandman K suppressor. You can run 220 grain subsonic rounds out of that set up, and it’s extremely quiet.

It’s important to remember that the minutia of these rounds really won’t matter as much as the marketing people will tell you. Your personal shooting performance is what will matter the most. Shoot fast and accurate, and you’ll win regardless of round choice.

If you have any questions or comments, put them in the comments section below. Don’t forget to join the email list before you sign off!

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