Our “9mm vs. 45” Survival debate was a popular one, so we’re going to take it one step further and go to the ultimate U.S. Military assault rifle comparison: the great .223 Remington, (NATO designation 5.56x45mm) vs. the stalwart .308 Winchester (NATO designation 7.62x51mm). They are both battle proven platforms that have been in service since the 1950’s and remain in service today with both the United States Military and our NATO allies. They are also both one of the most common types of rifle rounds manufactured in the United States, which is why they are the preferred choice of survivalists.
The .308 Winchester
The .308 Winchester was brought out as a sporting cartridge in 1952, and was made by shortening a .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm) case to fit a standard short-action rifle. The .308 proved to be a very efficient caliber, motivating its projectiles to within 150 feet per second of its higher case capacity parent, with incredible inherent accuracy. It soon became the most popular short-action big game caliber in the world, a title it still holds. Bullet weights are occasionally encountered as light as 55 grains in Remington’s old “Accelerator” loadings, but are usually from 125 grains to 220 grains, with 150, 165/168, and 180 grain loadings the most commonly encountered commercial bullet weights. The U.S. Military adopted the cartridge two years later for its M14 rifle, and it still soldiers on in light machine gun and intermediate-range sniper duty. It was superseded in standard infantry rifle capacity in U.S. Military service by the .223/5.56-chambered M16 rifle.
1. Inherently a brilliantly accurate cartridge, even out to 1,000 yards
2. Very versatile, with a wide range of bullet weights an profiles to accomplish everything from varmint hunting to big game hunting to sniping.
3. Heavier bullets retain velocity and energy better at longer ranges, especially with modern VLD (Very Low Drag) projectiles. Reach out and touch someone with NO problems.
4. Larger diameter bullet (.308”) coupled with heavier weight means more surface area for knock-down power, and deeper penetration in targets.
5. Still a standard U.S. Military caliber, with ammunition relatively easy to come by in bulk.
6. The .308 is a reloader’s dream, being very accommodating of a wide range of projectiles and powders, with usually excellent accuracy.
1. .308-chambered rifles are larger and heavier than their equivalent .223 brethren.
2. Magazines for .308 battle rifles are generally harder to come by.
3. Magazines are generally only 20-round capacity at their largest, and even at 20 rounds, are much heavier loaded than even a loaded 30-round AR-15 magazine.
4. Personal magazine and round loadout generally is lower, due to added bulk and weight of .308 cartridge.
5. The larger bulk of the .308 cartridge means it is more expensive to buy and takes up more storage space on the ammo rack.
6. .308 sporting rifles are very easily obtained, but .308 battle rifles (M14/SOCOM, HK 91, FN FAL/CETME, etc.) are more difficult to find and expensive to buy than their .223 brethren.
The .223 Remington
The .223 was developed more or less concurrently with the M16 rifle in 1963, as an offshoot of the .222/.222 Remington Magnum line of small-bore cartridges. The U.S. military wanted a caliber that would have a higher round loadout and high lethality, with reduced recoil and higher rate of fire. Analysts showed that the standard infantryman could carry roughly twice the amount of ammunition per man versus the 7.62×51/M14 package, and therefore would theoretically bring more firepower with a faster-handling rifle. This was also thought to hold true when compared to the NVA’s AK-47/7.62x39mm combination. After some teething issues, the M16 and its new cartridge ended up proving to be a useful package, and it has proven itself well enough to still be the standard U.S. infantryman’s rifle to this day, 52 years later. The caliber has become very popular in the civilian market, with varmint and small game hunters taking a liking to its low recoil and blast, flat trajectory and speedy lightweight bullet, and readily available surplus brass supply for reloading. Preppers, survivalists, police forces, and the everyday gun enthusiast have flocked en masse to the AR-15, the civilian version of the military M16, for the same reasons the military adopted the caliber.
1. Very good to excellent accuracy, as well as low recoil and low report.
2. Excellent performance on small game, varmints, and even animals up to the size of a deer with proper bullet selection and careful bullet placement.
3. Wide range of loadings available, from 36 grain varmint loads that fragment quickly in unwanted critters, to 90 grain VLD bullets that retain flat trajectories at intermediate (out to 500 yards or so) ranges.
4. Sheer popularity of the AR-15 platform means that ammunition, magazines, spare parts, and upgrades will be easily obtainable for the foreseeable future. Vast numbers improve odds of pick-up or salvage guns for parts or use.
5. Light weight and small size of .223 cartridge means that more rounds can be carried in a given area or on a person than the .308, which is much heavier.
6. .223 ammuntion is of small size and takes up less storage space in bulk
7. .223 is reasonably lethal to 300 yards or so for the average shooter.
8. Light weight of rifles and low recoil means less training time to master, andeasier use in field
9. Can be converted to .22 Long Rifle in a pinch for training or small-game hunting
10. Easy to reload with good to very good accuracy resulting.
1. Relatively low bullet mass and diameter (.224”) means less frontal area for knockdown power and less penetration, especially on hardened targets
2. Bullets theoretically prone to “tumbling” (spinning end over end), which may be a good or bad thing depending on terminal ballistic viewpoint. “Tumbling” bullets theoretically do more terminal damage, but penetrate much less farther.
3. Lower energy and lower penetration of lighter bullets means that the cartridge is out of big-game hunting territory.
4. Even with heavier, longer bullets, the .223 loses its velocity much more quickly than the .308, limiting its practical effectiveness to 500 yards with 69+ grain bullets, and probably 300-400 yards with 69 grain and lower bullets.
5. The lightweight bullet of the .223 is very susceptible to wind drift, even at short distances.
6. The .223 seems to be more bullet weight and rifling-twist sensitive than the .308, with the same bullet and load accuracy varying greatly even between 1:7 and 1:9 twist rifles.
Apples to Apples
To compare size differences between .308 and .223 rifles, let’s compare one excellent company’s lineup of equivalent rifles, one in .308 and the other in .223. Windham Weaponry offers a “SRC” (Sight Ready Carbine) variant in both caliber lineups. The carbine in both instances offers a railed gas block and collapsible stock, with flat-top upper receivers. No optics or accessories are added.
Also Read: SOCOM 16 Battle Rifle Review
.308 Win. SRC: (link to full specs here)
Overall Length: 38” with stock extended, 34.1875” with stock collapsed
Weight: 7.55 lbs. with empty 20-round magazine
Barrel length: 16.5”
.223 SRC: (link to full specs here)
Overall Length: 36.125” with stock extended, 32.375” stock collapsed
Weight: 6.3 lbs with empty 30-round magazine
Barrel length: 16”
Keep in mind that M14 based platforms, HK91s, and FN-FAL based platforms are all substantially heavier than their AR10 counterparts.
Individual Loadout Comparison (data from 7.62x51mm NATO Wikipedia)
RIFLE CALIBER WT. OF LOADED MAG 22lb. AMMO LOAD
M14 .308 Win 1 lb 7 oz. / 20 rounds 14 mags – 280 rounds
M16 .223 Rem 0 lb 10.5 oz / 20 rounds 33 mags – 660 rounds
Ballistics (standard US military loadings)
.223/5.56x45mm M855 – 62 grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), 20” barrel
3,025 feet per second (FPS) velocity at the muzzle
1,260 foot-pounds of energy (FPE) at the muzzle
.308/7.62x51mm M80 – 147 grain FMJ, 22” barrel
2750 feet per second (FPS) velocity at the muzzle
2462 foot-pounds of energy (FPE) at the muzzle
Cost Per Round as of 1/4/2015: (costs taken from Lucky Gunner)
M80 7.62×51: 500 rounds for $345.00, $0.69/round
M855 5.56×45: 600 rounds for $340.00, $0.57/round
Of course, prices vary based on quantity and manufacturer, these prices were taken as examples.
Pick Your Poison
The Balloon goes up, you have to bug out the door. You have a .223 battle rifle and a 7.62 battle rifle, each with a full standard 22 lb. loadout. What do you grab (only one, please!) and what is your reasoning? Sound off in the comments below!
Survival Cache Team
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