What is Green Tip Ammo? – Whether you have recently purchased your first AR platform rifle or have been shooting for a long time, you have probably heard the phrase “green tip ammo”. This popular 5.56 bullet is also called a “penetrating bullet” because of its 62-grain, partially steel core and greater ability to pierce difficult targets.
The official United States military designation for 5.56 green-tipped cartridges is M855. In the case of ammo, the “M” usually stands for “ammo” because the military likes to simplify. Simplicity and creativity are two different things. As with almost any gun or cartridge, military names are designated by the letter “M” followed by some numbers, but that’s a whole different conversation.
What is Green Tip Ammo? – Most of the information you will find about green-tipped ammo is fairly accurate. However, some misconceptions are still circulating. To make things easier for you, we’ll put all the hype aside and jump straight to the facts about the M855 cartridge.
Origins of the green-tipped ammo
Green tip ammo was originally called the SS109 when it was introduced in the 1970s. The Belgian-made SS109 cartridge participated in and won the NATO standardization tests. These tests were organized because NATO did not have an officially standardized 5.56 cartridge at the time. NATO wanted the cartridge to have optimal long-range penetration capabilities, so the tests consisted of shooting steel helmets.
The United States Army adopted the SS109 to replace its M193 5.56 ammo in the early 1980s. It was renamed as the M855 and the tips were painted green. This was done to help troops distinguish between the new cartridge and the old M193 ammo. Although the United States Army eliminated the M193 cartridges when it switched to the M855, the tradition of painting the M855 tips green continues.
What is Green Tip Ammo? – Gun manufacturers took advantage of this new cartridge and quickly introduced the M855 to the commercial firearms market in the United States. Most of these companies sell and market green-tipped ammo under a different name. Although the cartridge is virtually identical to the one used by the military. Some companies, such as Federal, simply added the letter “X” before the name to indicate that the green tip cartridge was for civilian sale.
Can I legally purchase green tip ammo?
Currently, federal law allows U.S. civilians to possess green tip ammo. However, some states, such as California, have draconian gun laws that constantly seek to limit what state residents can possess. Because of these restrictions, it is important to check the most recent anti-gun laws in your state before making a purchase.
The ATF and the federal government have made several attempts to ban the cartridge in recent years. Fortunately, these attempts to circumvent the Second Amendment have had minimal success. The most recent attempt came in the wake of the 2015 rule banning the use of lead ammo on federal lands. Those environmental restrictions have been lifted.
What is Green Tip Ammo? – Lawmakers did not specifically mention the M855 cartridge in the 2015 lead legislation. However, the cartridge contains a predominantly lead core and cannot be used for these reasons during the ban. At the same time, the ATF also tried to argue that green-tipped ammo could be considered “piercing” ammo. They argued that it should be banned under the Security Forces Protection Act of 1985. They argued that the ammo should no longer receive a sports exemption due to the increase in the number of AR gun owners.
Fortunately, the M855 doesn’t even meet their definition of “AP” ammo because the core is 80% lead. The ATF suspended the current ban after receiving a quick and massive response, which included 53 US Senators and over 200 members of the US House of Representatives. The ATF’s definition of armor-piercing ammo is shown below. So, yes, Virginia, you can keep buying all the green-tipped bullets you can find.
Although no longer used by the US military, the civilian version of the M193 cartridge continues to be continuously produced by various manufacturers. It remains a popular alternative to the M855 in the civilian market. The M193 cartridge contains a 55-grain boat-tail bullet with a copper jacket and lead core. The term “boat tail” simply refers to the shape of the bullet, which is intended to increase the range of the cartridge.
We are often asked which of these two cartridges is best, but the answer to that question depends on several factors. If you only want to shoot paper or metal targets, the M193 is your best choice. If you are hunting or planning to shoot down a moving target from a long distance, the M193 wins again. However, if you need to drill a hole in something, the M855 is your best option. Since the green round tip has a semi-steel core and is heavier than the M193, it is better suited for certain applications.
Ballistics of green tip ammo
In addition to providing better performance at certain torque ratings, the ballistic characteristics of the M193 and M855 vary considerably. The “softer” bullets in the M193 do more ballistic damage when hitting easy targets, making them a good choice for hunting endeavours. The M193 fragments very well and leaves a large wound, especially at less than 100 yards.
What is Green Tip Ammo? – You wonder why the M193 causes so much ballistic damage when the M855 has been dubbed “penetrating ammo“. Well, that’s because the lead steel core and added grain weight of the green tip ammo do its job a little too well up close. The M855 generally passes through the target, doing minimal damage unless it hits a vital organ or major artery.
For shots over 100 meters, the ballistic comparison is a bit more balanced. Above 300 yards, the green tips take over. I won’t bore you with a physics lesson, but it involves changes in ball speed and angle of impact as the distance travelled increases.