I have always had good results with Federal ammunition, in handguns, rifles, and shotguns. It is what I carry in my primary self-defense pistol, and it’s what resides in my home defense shotgun. I’m torn between one of their loads and a competitor’s for the AR platform. Federal offers a pretty complete line; while it doesn’t satisfy every niche of my needs, it gets most of them and does so with reliable, high quality, and consistent products. They have some lines that I think should be of interest to SurvivalBlog readers, for self-defense, hunting, and training.
The Fresh Fire line was introduced in 2013 and 2014 and includes .22 Long Rifle and two 5.56mm loads. What makes this ammunition of special note to preppers is how it is supplied– in pop top aluminum cans that resemble Vienna sausage containers on steroids. The packaging is sturdy, durable, and airtight, which has tremendous advantages for a prepper who is thinking of long-term storage under less than ideal circumstances. Adding to the appeal is that the cans are filled with nitrogen to further protect the contents. I was very happy to see pop tops that you can open without a tool and that they include a plastic lid to protect any ammo left in the can after opening it. Another nice touch is the Styrofoam donut inside the can to protect the bullet tips from clumsy handling. Federal isn’t the only company using this sort of packing, but I expect it to win a lot of the market, thanks to its name and wide distribution.
It’s the 5.56mm rounds I’m writing about today. Both are from the American Eagle line that is primarily intended for practice and volume shooting. The first is the XM193 with a 55 grain full metal jacket bullet. This was the original standard load for the M16 and M16A1 rifles of the Vietnam era. Federal rates it at 3,240 feet per second (FPS) at the muzzle.
The next is the XM855 which has a 62 grain projectile with a steel penetrator designed to improve the penetration of hard targets, specifically a NATO specification 3/8 inch mild steel plate. Note that mild steel is not armor plate, so this is not considered an armor piercing round. It was adopted for use in the M16A2 rifle which featured a 1/7 twist rate barrel. The earlier M16 variants had a slower twist rate and do not shoot these bullets well, though the newer rifles work fine with the M193 loads. The XM855 is rated at 3,020 FPS at the muzzle.
There are some drawbacks to the design. Some military users have complained that it lacks stopping power (see the book Blackhawk Down along with countless Internet posts) compared to the M193 round. This has led to other designs being adopted by the military, particularly special operations units. A further issue is that accuracy tends to be less consistent. I’ve shot IMI and Privi Partizan as well as these Federal M855 loads, and I haven’t found any of them to group as well as loads without the penetrators, although these Federals were the best of the lot and quite acceptable for practice or service use, short of sniping. Some sources say the accuracy issues are due to the difficulty of positioning the steel penetrator in the same place in each bullet. Having every bullet be a little different can cause major problems. The M855A1 round– the new Army standard– addresses this with a new design that locks the penetrator more precisely and repeatably in the bullet. It is also a hotter load, which helps make it more lethal, but that might decrease the life of the carbines. Initial reports say it performs better in flesh, penetrates more, and handles intermediate barriers better than either of the earlier rounds.
I made myself popular at the range where I volunteer as an RSO, by distributing 180 rounds of the XM855 to three knowledgeable shooters who ran it through an assortment of weapons. including two Tavors, a couple of AR-15’s, and a SCAR-L. All of them were intrigued with the packaging.
The first shooter is a long-range bench rest competitor, who carefully shot some groups using his 16-inch barreled AR-15 and a 10 power scope. His best group was 1.75 inches and the worst was 3.25 with an average of 2.3 inches, which is quite acceptable for service grade ammunition. He says he can normally get one inch groups with his carbine with its favorite loads. He noted that the cases ejected into a neat pile to his rear, which indicates that they are loaded consistently. He measured overall length and found they were +/- .002 inches, which is pretty good. He had no malfunctions.
The second shooter decided to test the packaging and suspended it from a dock into salt water for a week. He reported some slight corrosion on the can and thought that a month or so would have been enough to eat through it. Salt water is pretty hard on aluminum, so I wasn’t surprised he got it to corrode a bit. I didn’t get to see the can, but I thought it was a pretty good test, and I was impressed that it had no issues afterwards. He ran 30 rounds through an AR and 30 more through a Tavor with no problems and said he liked the ammunition.
The third shooter put 30 of them through a SCAR-L and 30 more through a Tavor. He had no functioning issues but felt the accuracy wasn’t that good, particularly from the SCAR. He was using dot sights.
I shot it with an AR with a 16” M4 profile barrel and a Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x 50mm scope and got groups that averaged 2.5 inches, again within my requirements for a service or practice load. There were no malfunctions.
I didn’t get to try any of the XM193 from the Fresh Fire packaging, but Federal says it is the same ammunition as the stuff I tested below on stripper clips.
Just as a point of information, 5.56mm rounds should not be used in rifles marked .223 Remington. While the cartridges look the same, 5.56mm is often loaded to higher pressures. Additionally, the 5.56mm chamber is slightly larger in some dimensions and can handle the extra pressure while a .223 rifle may be stressed by the 5.56mm ammunition. Although a lot of 5.56mm does get fired through .223 rifles, it is best to avoid the practice, if possible.
The XM855 has a suggested retail price of $20.95 for a 30 round can, while the XM193 is $18.95. I’ve seen both for about 20% less when shopping online.
If I were laying in a bunch of ammunition for storage, I would find the Fresh Fire packaging very appealing. I would probably get the XM193 in preference to the XM855 due to concerns about stopping power. A lot of ranges, particularly indoor ones, ban the use of penetrator ammunition, so that’s a factor too. I wish the cans were rectangular instead of round, however, for efficiency when storing them. I was chatting with some other shooters and we came up with the idea of a rectangular can that held 30 rounds on stripper clips sized to be packed in .50 caliber ammo cans. I might consider spraying the cans with a wax preservative or varnish to protect the cans, as I sometimes do with storage foods. This would be overkill if you are storing it in any sort of reasonable environment, unlike the guy who dropped it in the canal!
As well as the Fresh Fire packs, you can find American Eagle loaded on stripper clips in both M193 and M855 configurations. The advantage of stripper clips is that you can rapidly charge magazines using the GI guides you can get from Amazon . The StripLula that I’ve written about will also work with stripper clips as will the Thermold chargers. As noted above, this is a 55 grain full metal jacket round.
I shot this for groups and reliability. Reliability was 100% in everything I tried it in. I’ve used this ammunition in classes and for practice and trust it. Accuracy tests in the three AR’s I tried it in averaged groups of around two inches, which is slightly better than the XM855. The weapons have both light profile as well as M4 profile barrels.
This load is my go to one for testing .233/5.56mm rifles and carbines. As long as the rifling twist is appropriate for this weight bullet, I have yet to find anything that won’t shoot it well. I’m sure there are some rifles out there that won’t, but when I encounter it, I will be surprised. The projectile is the superb Sierra MatchKing boat tail hollow point bullet, which is prized by competitive target shooters for its extreme accuracy. All of my AR’s shoot it into one inch groups at 100 yards, which puts a smile on my face and reassures me that all is well on the range. If that doesn’t happen, I know something is wrong that day with the rifle, the sights, or the shooter.
Federal says that this “… specialized deer bullet electrochemically joins pure copper to an extreme pressure-formed core to ensure optimum performance. The result is high terminal energy on impact that radiates lethal shock throughout the target.” Besides all that, I found it is pleasingly accurate in our AR-15’s, giving two inch groups at 100 yards. It was 100% reliable.
This roundalso groups at about two inches at 100 yards from the light barreled AR with a three power Nikon scope that my son used for hog hunting. I find this to be quite acceptable accuracy, and it is quite consistent. I suspect it would do better with my 3.5-10x Leupold scope, but I haven’t had a chance to try that yet due to not having much of it to shoot. The round uses the same 62 grain bonded bullet as the other Fusion load, but Federal says it is optimized for shorter barrels by using a different powder charge. I really didn’t notice much difference between the two.
My son used this load in an AR-15 to harvest a 200 pound feral hog. It was lying down, apparently trying to hide, as we went through some scrub land. He hit it once in the head and it got up and started to run. He put it down with a second shot to the head while it was on the move. I was pretty pleased with him. The bullets were not recovered. The range was about 15 yards.
This is the load that I am tempted to switch to for our self-defense purposes. The bonded bullet should perform well through intermediate barriers and is similar to some loads that get a lot of respect in law enforcement circles. I currently use M193 or a 75 grain open tip match load for self-defense. One of the factors in which I wind up settling on will be how closely the loads group with practice ammo I can create at home.
I used this round in a Savage Scout rifle on the same hunt. Mine was a 320 pound sow, also pretty close, at about 20 yards. My shot went a bit higher than I planned, going through the lungs rather than the heart. There was intervening brush, and I had trouble lining the shot up the way I wanted. I also think I incorrectly estimated how much I needed to hold over at that range. The bullet was recovered against the ribs on the opposite side of the sow from the entry. She ran about 15 yards before dropping. We put a shot into her head from the AR to finish her quickly, since she was still kicking on the ground. The .308 bullet mushroomed to .87 inches as it traversed about 24 plus inches of pig, and it retained 130 grains of weight. It folded outwards in four petals, with the lead clearly bonded to the jacket.
I had hoped it would have exited the pig, but it did a lot of damage and I can’t complain. I thought about taking a head shot, but I wanted to see what it would do on a body shot.
Again, Federal says this ammunition is optimized for short barreled rifles, such as the popular AR-10 carbines with 16 inch barrels. My Savage has a 20 inch one, and I doubt if that altered anything.
I got 1.5 inch groups at 100 yards with this round using a 2.5 power Scout scope, which I found quite satisfying. The consistency was also pleasing.
While I thought this might be a better choice for use with a big hog, I chose to use the 150 grain load, as it was a lot more accurate in my Savage. I was getting five inch groups at 100 yards, which indicated my rifle didn’t like it. That doesn’t mean yours won’t. My Savage has, so far, shown a marked preference for lighter bullets, so this was no surprise.
I took a 75 pound piglet with this load with a shot to the heart. The piglet ran about 15 feet and dropped dead, which is pretty good performance in my book. The bullet was not recovered. This is a fairly old design round, but it is still considered effective in law enforcement circle, and it is what lives in my self-defense pistols. There are more modern loads, but I haven’t found one that shoots as well in my pistols, and it has been completely reliable.
This is my round of choice for 12 gauge self-defense shotguns. It has nine 00 pellets of copper-plated buckshot in a protective plastic wad. It patterns tightly in both of our shotguns– a Remington 11-87 and a Mossberg 500. I have used the load for classes and practice, and it has never malfunctioned in either gun. It is considered a light recoil load, which makes it much easier to control the weapon. I had some concerns about it working in the 11-87, which is a gas operated semi-auto, but there have been no issues. It has jammed with eight pellet light recoil rounds as well as the reduced recoil slugs but never with these.
Federal is not the only maker of quality ammunition, and I do use other brands. I could be pretty happy, though, if Federal were all I could get. I would like to see them make a few more loads in some cartridges though. Their line in .300 AAC, for example, is limited to a subsonic load, and I don’t see anything in 7.62x54R for the Mosin Nagant. I am also a big fan of CB caps, and I wasn’t able to find those either. Regardless, the ammunition they do make is worth a look and a try. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie