Long-Term Review: PSA AR-15 Barreled Upper (First Shots)

Welcome to the first part of a long-term review of my new Palmetto State Armory AR-15 barreled upper. This review has no deadline, other than the upper breaking or wearing out, me running out of ammo, or the downfall of society as we know it. Since I already have enough reloading components to produce 10k+ rounds of .223 Remington, it probably won’t be the middle option.

I’ve been using Palmetto State Armory products for several years and have generally been happy. They generate both good and bad reviews, as should be expected by a major producer in the firearms market at the budget level. My review will be a sample of one, but it will be extensive.

This second post is about the first practice session with the upper and testing accuracy with some budget plinking ammo.

Round Count to date: 370

The Plan

I headed out to the desert in public lands outside of Chapparal, NM. This is where I have done all by shooting outside of competitions for several years. Since it’s winter, I wore a T-shirt and cargo pants but did bring a jacket along too. Today will be the first shots out of the upper, as the lower has been in use already.

I brought 10 magazines loaded with 300 rounds, and those will be used to test the out-of-the-box function. I also bought four different types of budget FMJBT ammo, listed below, to see what kind of accuracy I am getting out of the barrel. I will do further accuracy testing with hand loads using quality bullets in the next part of my review.

  • Hornady Frontier 5.56mm 62gr FMJBT
  • Federal American Eagle .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT
  • PMC Bronze .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT
  • Tulammo .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT

Most shooting will be done with my Vortex Razor (1-6x24mm) but accuracy testing will be conducted while using my Nikon M-Tac (3-12x42mm)

Break-in Period?

In my first magazine, there was one jam. It appears the jam was caused by the bolt not traveling far enough back before attempting to strip the next round from the magazine. The jam was cleared in seconds and without tools. In the second magazine, this same type of jam happened two more times. The rest of the shooting continued without any jams or stoppages.

This includes the 300 cartridges fired and the approximately 70 rounds afterward used to test accuracy with the four varieties of ammo and sighting in both scopes.

I do not like break-in periods, and Palmetto State Armory does not warn of any in their advertising. At the same rate, everyone should conduct one on every firearm they own in a reasonable amount of time. This is not only important to confirm functionality but to identify any major problems in case a return to the manufacturer is needed.

Am I concerned? Not really. Three jams in the first two magazines and then none afterward isn’t something to worry me.

Notice the amount of brass left on the shell-deflector after just one shooting session.

Under-gassed or Minimally Gassed?

The three jams that occurred were almost certainly caused by the bolt not traveling far back enough during cycling. For those very new to firearms and AR-15s specifically, the rifle functions by feeding the expanding gasses created by the burning gunpowder from the barrel back into the action.

An AR-15 cannot take an unlimited amount of gas. Too much gas fed back into the action will cause jams and premature parts breakage. Too little gas will cause jams that can become progressively worse in combination with cold weather, a dirty gun, or slightly underpowered ammo.

If I were designing this barrel, I would have had it feed a bit more gas back into the action. Every AR-15 with a .223 Wylde or 5.56mm chamber should run both .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm ammo without a problem. My upper, I believe, does this but with little wiggle room.

The trend in the AR-15 world is they tend to be over-gassed, but still functional. This does allow for weaker ammo, mostly practice ammo, to be used without problem. If it takes a bit of lifespan from a few parts it tends not to matter as most shooters don’t shoot enough to break parts anyway. My PSA upper featuring an FN-made chrome-lined barrel falls into this category.

Based on today’s shooting, mine is on the opposite end of the functional spectrum. Further testing is, of course, necessary. The warning signs I will be looking for are more jams of a similar nature, and the bolt not locking back on an empty magazine (not an issue today).

Accuracy Results

Below are the result of firing the four types of ammo. Each group was shot at 100 yards, which I confirmed with my rangefinder. Two 5-round groups were shot with each ammo and no scope adjustments were made in-between. The goal is to see two good groups centered around the same area of the target.

I did not make any attempt to zero the rifle with any type of ammo. My groups aren’t “good but off-center” or “bad but off-center”. I could adjust the point of impact with any of these brands of ammo if I wanted to. As I primarily shoot reloads and with a different scope, it is not worth the effort to take this step.

Hornady Frontier 5.56 62gr FMJBT

Without surprise, the Hornady ammo shot the best out of the four. Hornady is known for making quality FMJBT bullets at a good price. There is a price premium to be paid though, as other brands will always offer cheaper practice ammo when compared to Hornady.

And, at the end of the day, it’s still FMJBT. These bullets shouldn’t be used for self-defense, shouldn’t be used for hunting, and have no redeeming qualities at longer ranges. There are better bullets for all of the above.

Federal American Eagle .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT

These shot the worst out of my gun. If I were to speculate, I would say 9 out of 10 guns will shoot Hornady budget ammo better. Still though, I am testing a sample of one.

In the past, Federal AE has been available in bulk as cheap as any brass-cased ammo. If most of your shooting happens inside of 50 yards, short of key-holing bullets, accuracy results aren’t as important.

Tulammo .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT

The true budget option, steel-cased Tula will almost always be the cheapest .223 Remington bulk ammo. This does stand to change in the future, but it’s been the case for as long as I’ve been shooting AR-15s. It is known for being both underpowered and dirty, and some AR-15s just don’t like running it.

Still though, if I didn’t reload, I’d shoot a lot of it if was compatible with my gun.

PMC Bronze .223 Remington 55gr FMJBT

Commonly regarded as a solid option for brass-cased budget ammo, PMC Bronze isn’t going to win any award but is still pretty good. It will run in any functional AR-15, unlike steel-cased ammo. My results weren’t great but weren’t terrible either.

Why no M855 Ammo?

I didn’t test any M855 ammo because it’s trash, and there is no reason to use it when prices are equivalent. M855, and the SS109 bullet, have no redeeming qualities over standard FMJBT ammo. Just to be clear, I’ve reloaded thousands of SS109 bullets over the years, but only when they were being sold at extreme discounts.

Accuracy Testing Conclusion

As I stated in the video I made to go along with the unboxing inspection, PSA Freedom barrels aren’t known for great accuracy. My results, so far, are about what I expected them to be. But just to be clear, even an excellent barrel can still shoot budget ammunition pretty bad. People who value accuracy tend to reload.

What’s Next?

Part 3 will involve me trying to find some accurate loads using reloaded ammo. I have a variety of BTHP bullets among my reloading supplies. Thus far, the only AR-15 barrel I haven’t been able to get MOA or better accuracy out of I return to the manufacturer and received a refund.

Based on sighting in my scopes using my reloads, I think things are going to turn out just fine, but I will post the results either way.

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