Letter Re: An Opinion on .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO

Dear Mr. Rawles:
I know you’re busy and I don’t expect you have time to chat about old ground but I did have some observations on guns that you might consider.
While the AR-15 in .223 cal. is not a bear killer nor a long-range sniper weapon, it seems to have been completely dismissed in “Patriots” (which I greatly enjoyed and profited from) and in the writings on the Blog. However, there are two cartridges that make this little gun lethal: the [55 grain] M193 Round/Q3131 Round and the 68 gr. Black Hills Match Hollow Point. The M193/Q3131 round has a bullet that upsets and fragments drastically on fibrous targets and delivers all of its hydrostatic shock to that target. All that is required is a velocity that is easily sustained by my Bushmaster 16″ barreled rifle out to 140 yards. After that, it is more of the conventional ice pick. The Black Hills HP round is on the FBI’s lethality list of the top 5 or 6 killer .223 rounds. The range requirements for its expansion and lethality may be greater than that of the M193 since it relies on expansion rather than fragmentation.
While I have and love my .308s, the .223 Bushmaster 16″ barreled rifle has some real advantages in weight, maneuverability and firepower and I feel should not be discounted unless one lives on the prairie. In wooded or urban areas, the little rifles offer excellent mid-range accuracy, lethality (with the proper bullet) and can be tricked up with a scope and 100 round [Beta] C-MAG to make it decidedly unhealthy downrange.
The M193 [ammunition] is not currently in issue in Iraq, I believe, but was an early round for the M16. The later, current .223 cartridges do not give the same lethality and were adopted for reasons other than maximization of lethality. Even later, longer, heavier bullets in .223 are used for sniping, etc., but none in issue currently can compare in lethality to the M193 and the hollow points offered on the market today.
As you have time, you can review the data on AR15.com which supports my comments.
One other cartridge that I feel has been overlooked is the 7.62 x 54 Russian rimmed round. Dirt cheap and sold by the sealed can, this round is the equal to the .30/06 military and is perfectly paired with the Finnish M39 bolt action rifle that sells, like new, for about $300. The Finns converted the Mosin Nagant and made an excellent little military rifle complete with top quality barrels.
Thanks for your good work, Best Regards, – Stephen D.

JWR Replies: I don’t consider the 100 round Beta C-MAGs very practical. In my experience they are heavy, cumbersome, and quite noisy. (When loaded, they rattle when you walk, as the cartridges slide forward and back. That is a tactical no-no.) They might have some utility for fixed-site defense, but if you are manning a fixed site retreat, then you probably should be using a rifle chambered in something more powerful than a .223. I consider an AR-15 equipped with a Beta magazine as the ultimate defense weapon for a retreat under attack by a human wave of palsied, midget, and/or wheelchair-bound looters.

I must politely disagree with you regarding .223/5.56. Granted, the 55 grain .223 can have some spectacular “tumbling” wound effects, but not consistently so. As often than not, especially when a bullet does not strike bone, it can have the “ice pick” effect. In essence, .223 puts Bad Guys in hospitals, but .308 puts Bad Guys in graves. If I ever hear shooting nearby and have my choice of grabbing either an AR-15 or FAL, then I’ll grab the FAL. Yes, a .223 platform does have some advantages, particularly as a weapon for a shooter that weighs under 100 pounds. It is also ideal to carry for LRRPs or long distance E&E. (In a survivalist context: walking several hundred miles to a retreat, as a few of the characters did in my novel “Patriots” .)

I greatly appreciate your mention of the 7.62 x 54R Russian cartridge. It is one of the most overlooked and bargain basement options available in the current market. Both the ammo itself and the Mosin-Nagant rifles that shoot it are quite reasonably priced. Ballistically, this cartridge is roughly comparable to .30-06. It is noteworthy that this is the same cartridge that is used in the Russian Dragunov sniper rifles, so it is obviously capable of great long range accuracy. The other nice plus is that it is fairly easy to find a Federally exempt pre-1899 production Mosin Nagant. Like you, my favorite rifles in this category are the M39s. In particular, I prefer the antique Russian Mosin receivers that were re-arsenalized into Model 1939s for the Finnish army. (Mosinnagant.net has a great web page with some details on this model.) These are very sturdy, reliable shooters that can be bought across state lines with no stinkin’ FFL paperwork! (BTW, I describe how to distinguish the year of manufacture of these receivers in my FAQ on pre-1899 guns.) To do so, you need to disassemble the rifle and examine its receiver tang markings.