Review: Hornady Steel Match

The biggest cost of the ammo we shoot is the case. That's why reloading saves us so much money. What if reloading isn't an option? Then what? How about steel-cased ammo? What, that corrosive, commie stuff that breaks guns? Well, they are less corrosive than they used to be, at least for the stuff they export, and can be had in non-corrosive loads. And it hasn't broken any of mine yet.

To address this situation, Hornady looked into the matter of steel cartridge cases. The first thing it figured out was that there was no advantage to making its own steel cases. Here, the materials costs are nothing compared to the labor involved, at least not enough to save anything. Sure, the company could do it, but by the time it invested in new tooling (you can't use the same gear for steel and gilding-metal cases) and then trained workers on the new details, it couldn't offer savings enough to make it worth our while.

So it looked overseas. And Hornady being Hornady, this wasn't easy because of the company's reputation for making really good ammo. It wasn't going to put its name on a box of ammo that wasn't up to its demanding specs.

Hornady gets pallets of steel-cased empties, cases with primers installed, from its supplier. Then the cases are carefully inspected (including samples from the bottom of the pallet, where an unscrupulous shipper might want to hide the tawdry scrap) before they are introduced into the loading presses.

As its called Steel Match and is designed to catch the eye of competition shooters, Hornady makes sure that the big ones (.40 S&W and .45 ACP) make Major for competition, and the 9mm passes the Minor threshold—but not by any more than needed. And for top accuracy at low cost, it stuff the steel cases with Hornady Action Pistol (HAP) bullets.

The cases are not lacquered but given a polymer coating for corrosion resistance and ease of feeding. The Berdan primers are noncorrosive, and being steel, the cases are easy to pick up—just wave a magnet over them.

No ammo is worth anything in savings if it costs you in reliability or accuracy. Having shot a bunch of Steel Match thus far, I haven't had a malfunction yet. In fact, I recently used a bunch of the .308 in a bolt-action rifle, and it fed more smoothly than the brass-cased ammo I tested at the same time. The polymer clearly is working.

As for accuracy, one of the guns I shot the Steel Match in was a custom 1911—a Government-size 9mm with an aluminum frame. As a lightweight, it is really touchy to shoot. It is unforgiving of poor follow-through, and as a result, if there are any accuracy problems with a load, they'll show up with a vengeance.

I used it in a friendly match with simple rules: an array of six eight-inch steel plates at 70 yards; you had two shots to get a hit, and then move to the next plate. The shooter with the most plates in a row won. The shooters I was up against were fellow instructors at a class I was helping to teach, and eight-inch steel plates, late in the day, offhand, with everyone else watching and commenting on your score, is not easy. Do it at 70 yards, and the plates are smaller than your front sight width.

I managed the best score of the day: eight plates in a row. I made sure I didn't use up all of the Hornady Steel match, and when I got home and tried it on my home range, I was pleasantly surprised. I tested the 9mm Steel Match out of a Ruger SR9. The 125-grain bullet did 1,089 fps at the muzzle, and the average accuracy at 25 yards was 2.25 inches. For the .40 S&W I used a Smith & Wesson M&P. The 180-grain bullet did 911 fps out of that gun and averaged 2-inch groups at 25 yards.

The savings you manage will depend on the volume you buy, where you buy it and what kind of ammo you were accustomed to buying before. To take the 9mm as an example, if you were used to buying big lots of 115-grain full-metal-jacket, you won't see a big savings going to Steel Match. You were already buying the cheapest stuff to be had.

If, however, you've been burning premium jacketed hollowpoints, you're going to see a significant savings from going to Steel Match. And you are not going to see a decrease in performance. In fact, if the jacketed hollowpoints you've been shooting were not Hornady, then you might even see an improvement in accuracy, using the "cheap steel stuff."

As mentioned, Steel Match is available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. I have not used the .45 ACP yet, but I plan to. The 9mm and .40 have worked like a charm and shot as well as anything else I've put through those handguns.

So if you find yourself ready for a day at the range, but you can't drag yourself to the reloading press, or don't want the bite in the wallet of brass-cased factory ammo, get yourself some Steel Match.

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