Note from JWR: The string is starting to degenerate into one of those endlessly-mired “Ford Versus Chevy” or “Revolver Versus Automatic” debates, so this will likely be the last batch of letters that I post on this topic.
The .223 versus.308 [debate] is interesting. I think that several factors should be examined when selecting a cartridge and weapon. Military and police snipers shoot .308 or bigger. Why? Killing power. all the hype about .223 boils down to this. It is a varmint round meant to shoot things under 50 pounds. Jeff Cooper described the controversy very succinctly. a SWAT team in Alexandria Louisiana found out about stopping power the hard way. Which brings up the next point. The SWAT team could not penetrate a federal housing project steel door with their .223 weapons. All of the comments on .223 out performing .308 are wrong. That SWAT team now carries your weapon of choice, the [.308] FAL. Also, if .223 was all that great, why is the military fielding more .308 weapons than before? And why did the Special Forces community invent the 6.8 mm SPC if they loved the .223 so much? The .223 was designed to be used for varmints on four legs and two wings not two-legged ones. People forget that a rifle is not a death ray. You need all the stopping power you can effectively handle. You also need the versatility of a cartridge that penetrates cover, which the .223 does not as the rounds are designed to expand violently. There was a [Discovery Channel] television show that compared the effectiveness of.223 to that of 7.62x 39mm. On paper and in a clean sterile environment, that M16 and .223 look superior. But after examination of the rounds in combat the 7.62 x 39 was superior. I agree that the .223 is good for what it was meant to be used for, a varmint gun. Also, I will keep a .223 Galil in my battery just because it uses our military forces’ cartridge and may be around if ammo is in short supply. But, it is very far from my mind as a primary or secondary combat rifle cartridge. – Bret
AVL wrote in praise of the .223, “…it bears repeating, any wound over 2″ deep has a very high likelihood of being fatal.” I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let this one go by. That statement is utterly false Following the infamous Miami/Dade shootout with Platt and Madix, the FBI has done extensive testing and found the minimum penetration requirement for a given round to be effective. It is 12″
(30.48cm) in 10% ballistic gelatin, not 2″ as AVL suggests. The 12″ minimum is agreed to by the International Wound Ballistics Association (IWBA) as well. This is exactly way you don’t use [an instantaneously-expanding] varmint round against humans:
He went on to state: “With this in mind, even explosive varmint bullets will penetrate this deep, most likely tearing through soft body armor up to 500 yards.” The main kill method for bullets, clubs, and rocks is not penetration, it’s energy transfer.” Wrong again! Energy transfer actually has little to do with incapacitation. I suggest reading the following online sources:
BT Ammo Labs
Regards, – Krunch
In case some of your readers missed the reference in Michael Z. Williamson’s letter, the info available in the Ammo Oracle reference is well worth the time reading. All AR15 owners/shooters and potential owners/shooters should read and digest this info, it gives invaluable info regarding the capabilities and limitations of the 5.56/.223 round. It is a long read but well worth the time. Good stuff!
Regards, Keith in Texas
Nice ammo dialogue. I am reminded of the old domestic giant engined muscle car versus slick handling foreign sports car arguments of the 1970s. As Bonehead reminded us, survivalists are not infantrymen. I would guess that the lighter/smaller third of our population will find the .223 much more user friendly and therefore effective in a sustained engagement. I also don’t see how many folk can properly practice with .308 at current ammo prices. I would rather be accurate than be Macho. – Bruce F.
Re: [AVL’s comment] “… even explosive varmint bullets will penetrate this deep, likely tearing through soft body armor up to 500 yards.” That is laughable. I have no doubt that lightweight varmint bullets would be devastating against an unarmored person at close distance…but at 500 yards, with a 5.56×45? You might as well be shooting buckshot, IMO, at least then you might hit an unarmored place. Controllability in full auto? That is a non issue – we [aren’t he military so we] don’t work that way. Too much [expense] to buy one, too much to feed one, and too wasteful in the long run.
Lots of cover here in the northwest and I’ll take a 308 for it’s versatility and power. If things were to ever get close, in a situation where many people would grab an M4, I’ll take my 7.62×39 AK – it has enough bullet IMO and I don’t have to worry about a short barreled 5.56 “underperforming”. I think it is very informative that the military is looking at calibers from 6.5mm to .30 as possible replacement for the 5.56, no calibers smaller…hmm.
I hope we do see a compromise in the future, I think one exists. Given the constraints of the M16 platform the 6.8 SPC is spectacular and with a new platform the 7×46 in a moderate loading might be ideal.
As far as medics treating 5.56 wounds goes – why are our medics treating 5.56 wounds? Because those we shot with 5.56 and were not hurt really badly–left to fight another day would be my guess. No doubt the little 5.56 can get the job done – with the right load but larger calibers offer more flexibility and a larger margin for error.
Keep up the good work! – A. Friendly
As I’ve read the interesting and informative debates here, on .223 vs .308 vs 7.62×39, I can’t help but think we’re falling into what Jeff Cooper would call PII: Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments. Terminal ballistics is only one consideration, among many, and when the differences in that one metric are marginal, you look at other factors for your decision.
For example, do you buy a $70,000 car if it is only 10% better than a $30,000 car? Not unless you’re independently wealthy. Why? Because the $40,000 price difference is an opportunity cost; it represents $40,000 of other goods and services you now can’t buy. It is in this context that I view firearms: they fulfill a survival role, and as such, should be cost effective. Money spent on gold-plating firearms is money not spent on other preps.
To many of us, this debate is moot: we’ve already made our choices of platforms and calibers. We bought our .308 milsurp back when it was $150/case. But what if I were starting out all over again, with no legacy arsenal? How would I select? I would define the mission that my firearms would fulfill, and find the best-for-the-money solution, without undue overlap.
What would I need? I need: handgun; defensive carbine; and, depending on my area, a longer range solution. I need them all to “get the job done” without soaking up too much money. I also need to look at the reality of defensive gunfights: most people are not going to be able to take careful aim and make one surgical shot after another. You need something easy to shoot, with reasonable capacity, rugged and light. You also need to afford enough ammo for training and practice, as well as to stockpile.
For this reason, I exclude MBRs in .308: at $600 per case, .308 is no longer a serious option for those starting out. The .308 is analogous to the $70,000 car: yeah, it might be a little better than the others, but the cost effectiveness isn’t there. I follow a similar rationale for handguns: .45ACP and .40 [S&W] might be slightly better stoppers than 9mm (though there really isn’t any evidence of this), but not enough to justify the large price difference in ammo. The bottom line reality is that all the basic intermediate powered rifle and “service caliber” handgun rounds will get the job done within the limits of most people’s ability to hit anything under pressure. Hence, here is my advice for those starting out:
Handgun = Glock 19 or Glock 17. At least 10 spare magazines. Holster and mag carrier. 5,000 rounds FMJ 9mm for practice. 500 rounds premium hollow point for self defense. Minimum of two weekend training classes. Total cost about $2500.
Carbine = AK47. At least 10 spare magazines. Shoulder-style mag/dump pouch. 5,000 rounds 7.62×39 Wolf ammo for training and also actual use. Minimum one weekend training class. Total cost about $2200.
Affordable plinking/practice = any rifle in .22 Long Rifle: bolt, lever, or semi-automatic. 10,000 rounds .22LR. Advantage Arms .22LR conversion kit for the Glock. Total cost about $700.
Long distance = scoped bolt action in .308 or .30-06 (a used Savage provides excellent value, for example). 500 rounds match level ammo. Remember: we’re looking for usable minute-of-torso shots at reasonable distance, not match trophies. Total cost about $1,000.
If you have any extra money, buy an extra Glock and an extra AK47.
This covers all essential firearms needs. I consider a shotgun a niche weapon, whose role the carbine adequately covers. Shotgun is nice to have, not must-have.
I invite readers to calculate similar solutions for .308 MBR-based arsenals, and decide if the ballistics value-add justifies ammo that costs three times as much as 7.62×39. – DG in Philadelphia