If you shoot at an indoor range, chances are that you can’t shoot Green Tip 5.56 rounds. That may even be the case at an outdoor range. There are reasons for that, and it’s not because Green Tip ammo is “armor piercing,” which it isn’t. Nor are the ranges trying to inconvenience you, though it may seem that way, especially at outdoor facilities. Green Tip ammo has been subjected to plenty of political propaganda, so let’s start by looking at what those rounds are, and what they are not.
The Standard NATO Round
Green Tips are more formally known as the M855 round, which is the US military’s designation for the SS109 NATO cartridge. They’re called “Green Tips” because of the distinctive green paint on the bullet’s nose. Duh. The M855 features a 62-grain projectile that travels at an average of 3,020 feet per second. M855 was NATO’s standard infantry ball round. It has since been phased out of military service in favor of the M855A1 cartridge, which is not available for civilian purchase.
The cartridge was developed in the 1970s, as NATO sought to upgrade and standardize the 55-grain M193 cartridge, specifically for use in the FN “Minimi” machine gun (M249 SAW US designation). Unsurprisingly, FN submitted the winning design, optimized for their machine gun, and NATO designated the new cartridge the SS109.
The extra seven grains of weight come from a steel “penetrator” at the tip. The green paint on that tip makes the rounds easily discernable from other types, such as tracers or the old M193 rounds, which the military no longer uses. The tip allowed the Minimi to achieve the standard of penetrating 3.5 millimeters of steel at 600 meters. Those tests were conducted on steel helmets, giving rise to the propaganda talking point that the AR-15 was specifically designed to shoot through steel helmets, which is not true at all.
In fact, Green Tip rounds have proven to be less effective in shorter barreled rifles, such as the M4, and were far less effective against enemy personnel than the old M193. The original 5.56 round was optimized for the old-school M16’s 20-inch barrel with a slow 1:12 twist rate. But the M855’s higher bullet weight requires a faster twist rate in a longer barrel. The standard Minimi has an 18.3-inch barrel. The M855’s projectile is also slightly longer than the M193, again requiring a faster twist rate for stabilization, which the Minimi has with its 1:7 twist.
Modern M4 rifles generally have 1:8 or 1:9 twist rates, with a few coming in at 1:7. That’s certainly faster than the old Vietnam-era M16, but the shorter barrel mitigates its impact. The even shorter barrels found on modern SBRs further degrade the M855’s performance. Despite the M855’s terminal performance success in the Minimi, that performance on the target does not translate to infantry rifles. You can engage a target at 500 meters, but it won’t hit as hard as it would from the Minimi or another gun with a longer barrel and faster twist rate.
Finally, the M855’s penetration ability detracts from military anti-personnel missions. The extra weight and the steel “penetrator” cause the M855’s projectile to over-penetrate human targets. Tests indicate that the M855 only begins to tumble at or beyond 4.7 inches of penetration. That means the projectile will cleanly pierce most of the human torso before it starts tumbling, meaning far less damage to the target. Those aspects directly translate to hunting and self-defense uses.
That over-penetration also impacts hunting and self-defense applications by posing a threat to anything beyond the target. It is not a good choice for home defense unless you plan to shoot through walls, which we do not recommend. You may bring down a home intruder, but you may also hit things behind that intruder that you don’t want to hit. Commercially available M193 rounds are the better choice.
So, what is green tip ammo good for?
Honestly, Green Tip rounds are great for penetrating thin steel, brick, or block barriers. They also work well against thick clothing. Whether you need to do that is up to you. Green Tips are also relatively inexpensive, so they make for great target rounds, assuming you find a range that allows them. We’re getting to that.
But another thing that Green Tips aren’t great at is accurately penetrating windshield glass. It’s really a crap shoot. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, especially at close range. Only you can decide whether Green Tips fit your real-world needs.
One thing we should make clear: Green Tips are not “armor piercing,” despite what gun controllers and the ATF might say. ATF tried to ban them in 2015, citing their “armor piercing” capability from AR pistols. That proposal was withdrawn after pro-gun advocates demonstrated that Green Tips don’t meet either of the ATF’s two “armor-piercing” criteria.
Gun controllers labeled Green Tips “cop killer” bullets because they can penetrate body armor. Most of you probably know this, but it bears repeating: armor-piercing rifle projectiles aren’t necessary to defeat body armor. Any old high-velocity centerfire rifle round will do. Body armor isn’t meant to guard against those rounds, and it doesn’t.
So, let’s get to it. Why do many ranges prohibit Green Tips? The answer is really pretty simple. Green Tips are harder on their steel targets and backstops. The projectiles damage their equipment, meaning shorter lifespan and greater expenses. It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.
Outdoor ranges have more leeway. If your outdoor range doesn’t allow Green Tips, it’s probably because they fear that sparks from the projectile’s steel element could start a wildfire. There have been several documented cases of this happening, mainly in the West, and especially in California. One would think that ranges with dirt berms would not have such concerns, but some apparently do. We reserve judgment, since those folks undoubtedly know their situation better than we do.
So, there you have it. We have a decent supply of Green Tips for the range. Not because we particularly need Green Tips, but because that was the best available deal when we were buying ammo in 2020. You may remember how that was.
Just know beforehand whether your range allows Green Tips before you buy. If you already have it and the range says no, well, save it for the apocalypse. We’re told that Zombies have hard heads.