Inside the gun community there are always talks about which is the better caliber, such as .308 vs the .243 or 9mm against the .45 ACP. Then of course there’s the long range rock star competitive round 6.5 Creedmoor against the .223/5.56 combat load issue of the military and well known among recreational shooters.
For those in hunting and competitive long range shooting circles all know that there isn’t much to compare when viewed only through long range superiority. Now for hunting or home defense there are some considerations. Lets take a look at some basic factors for hunting, home defense/tactical and competitive shooting.
At a first glance from this comparison the 6.5 Creedmoor stands out from a ballistics standpoint for precision long range. The 6.5 Creedmoor stands out in many ways such as sectional density.
Sectional density is about longer and thinner bullets that are more aerodynamic than short fat ones. Therefore, high sectional Density bullets have a higher Ballistic Coefficient (BC) than low sectional density bullets.
Quality .223 bullets have about .400 BC. The CM has .510 BC, many higher end 6.5 Creedmoor bullets are even better. For precision long range shooting the 6.5 Creedmoor bullet is less likely to drift in the wind and lose velocity.
Header image from AmmunitionToGo.com
Debates between different cartridges superiority is always a big discussion for gun enthusiasts at every gun club. Sometimes views from die-hard .308 users or .223 followers can be too one sided to reason with. Both cartridges have valid points to support their case. Lets take a comparison perspective between the .223 and the mighty .308 and see what its good for. Just to let you know this comparisons is not to be technical for the gun nut but for the layman’s gun enthusiasts.
For the most part, the .223 Remington has a flatter trajectory than the .308 Winchester out to 500 yards. However, the typical .308 Winchester load has more than twice the muzzle energy than the .223 load.
Also, the heavier bullets with a higher ballistic coefficient used by the .308 retains more energy and velocity than the lightweight .223 bullets.
So basically, the typical .308 load usually has as much or more energy remaining at 400-500 yards as the .223 does at the muzzle. Which makes the .308 Winchester a much better choice for long range shooting.
With that in mind, the .223 Remington has a flatter trajectory at short range, and the recoil is less than the .308 Winchester. Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare the two cartridges.
Both cartridges are used extensively in the military and police sniping operations because of its accuracies. Because its hard to choose an outright winner when it comes to accuracy between the two popular cartridges. Basically, for short range use the .223 and anything past 500 yards stick with the .308 heavier bullet. The .308 retains more energy and are less susceptible to wind drift.
Understanding what each cartridge is capable of helps us in choosing the caliber to go with and what we’re hunting. To simplify this the .308 is best used for taking down big game and the .223 can be used to hunt medium to large sized game.
Despite having less knock down power of the two, the .223 is perfect for varmints, coyotes, hog control and deer.
The .223 ranges is effective from 400 to 600 yards but with less energy and knock down power than the .308, the .223 is more useful at shorter ranges. With the advancements in cartridge innovation, the .223 can reach out to 1,000 yards.
Since the .223 has a lighter recoil than the .308, this may be the thing to have if your hunting situations requires lots of follow-up shots like feral hogs control.
In the military the US Army emphasizes an 800 meter maximum effective range for the .308, the Marine Corps preaches a 1000 yard (915 meter) max effective range. For most hunt you won’t have to shoot at these ranges but at 400 and beyond you’ll be able to bring down the big game without a hitch.
In summary the flat trajectory and lightly constructed bullets most common with the .223 Remington make it great for taking shots at small, thin skinned animals like prairie dogs, bobcats, and coyotes.
The .308 on the other hand shoots heavier, larger diameter, better constructed bullets, and the .308 Winchester has a clear advantage when hunting larger species like deer, caribou, elk, and red stag. The .308 may be light for moose and grizzly/brown bear, but it will work with good shot placement.
Home Defense & Target Practice
When it comes to home defense the .308 cartridges is suitable for its stopping power. Even if you go with the .223 there are many good semi-auto rifles with quality ammunition available at a reasonable price.
.308 – Using this heavy round for home defense is kind of expensive and not the thing to consider. But if your purpose is for target practice and you compete as an F-Class shooter, then you’ll be going through rounds by the thousands per month. For a quick tip on choosing the bullet weight consider what your barrel twist rate is, here’s a quick guideline:
.308 For Plinking/Target Practice
This is pretty good for plinking at bottles or dirt crap and consider cheap military surplus FMJ. This here is $39.42 at Sportsman Guide.
Hornady Match 168gr
Hornady Match ammo is one of the most popular target rounds out there, and the 168gr .308 offering is fantastic for stretching the legs on your .308. $30 at Lucky Gunner.
Federal Premium Sierra Match King Gold Medal
One of the best match loads on the market, Federal uses Sierra Match King bullets to make an outstanding factory loaded round.
.308 for Hunting
Federal Premium Vital-Shok – 165 Grain Trophy Bonded Tip
Consider one of the popular game rounds. The .308 Vital-Shok offering comes with a 165gr Trophy Bonded bullet with a polymer tip for superior aerodynamics and controlled expansion. $30 at Lucky Gunner.
Remington Core-Lokt – 150gr Soft Point
The 150gr SP round is perfect for mid-sized games at close to mid-range, and is relatively accurate, even without the polymer tip. Remington’s Core-Lokt line is a favorite of whitetail hunters, especially in the Southeastern US where we don’t have those long 400+ yard shots to worry about. $24 at Lucky Gunner.
.223 – If you like to shoot many rounds and you’re a range rat then .223 is the way to go. the price of these .223 rounds is quite affordable for home defense and target practice. Here are some .223 ammo to try out for target practice or competitive shooting:
Very affordable and the brass is great for reloading. Low end recoil so you can practice shooting for target and/or competition shoot. $7.45 at Lucky Gunner
Reload galore, may be the best bang for the buck! $7.40 at Lucky Gunner
Federal Gold Match 69 gr
This costs a little more but if you’re a competitive shooter, get these for $22.75 at Lucky Gunner.
Tula .223 55 gr
Just heads up, this is Russian made these rounds may not be as accurate, but if you’re looking to save more money, these come in at $5.95 at Lucky Gunner. Oh yeh, you can’t reload these.
308 Home Defense Ammo
Yes, we mentioned that using 308 for home defense is a little pricy, but for the die hard .308 users maybe you’ll be sporting an AR10 Pistol and here’s a pretty good hitter.
308 Win 155 gr Critical Defense
Designed for short-range defensive situations, a new breed of FTX® bullets are at the forefront of the Critical Defense® Rifle ammunition line. The bullet’s patented Flex Tip® not only helps keep the nose cavity free from clogging as it passes through heavy clothing but also helps the bullet expand at low velocities.
.223 Ammo for Home-Defense
These are hollow/soft point used by law enforcement, which is great for self-defense.
Hornady Critical Defense 55gr
This will set you back at $21 at Lucky Gunner.
Speer Gold Dot Duty 55 gr
A good go-to brand for self-defense but less in price at $12.75 Lucky Gunner.
We can go on and on with this comparison but the bottom line is what are you going to use these cartridges for? We’ll just recap with the main Q’s and answer.
Do you want a cartridge well suited for hunting big game like deer, elk, or bears? Get a .308 Winchester since it’s much more powerful and there are lots of great ammunition choices designed for that sort of hunting.
Are you looking for a cartridge to hunt predators and small game animals with?
Both will work, but the .223 Remington is the better choice here because it has a flatter trajectory, ammunition is cheaper, and there are many types of .223 ammo specifically designed for predator and varmint hunting.
Are you very sensitive to recoil? Go with the .223 Remington as the recoil that cartridge produces is virtually non-existant.
Since the difference between them (223 vs 308) is pretty big in certain respects, each cartridge is better suited to specific situations than the other.
Here’s an entertaining perspective from Demolition Ranch’s Version
Sentiments from The Firing Line Forum on this subject
threegun – I periodically rethink my self defense weaponry from the ground up. My handgun and shotgun are good to go however I’m questioning (in my head) my AR-15’s in 223/5.56MM. Not the platform, as I’m very satisfied with the weapon itself, but the caliber.
I’m seriously thinking of adding the AR in 308 to my stable with intentions that it replace the 223 as my primary go to rifle. I would like your opinions pro and con on why I should or shouldn’t switch.
jmorris – What are you defending yourself against? How Many? Where at? For how long? At what range?
Creature – I would say that for self-defense, an AR chambered for .223 is a better choice for CQB (ala “self-defense”) than one chambered for the .308. The 308 to me is more of a “reach out an touch someone” kind of cartridge, whereas the 223 is an “in your face” kind of round. I may be the last of the Mohicans for thinking and saying this, but I consider the 223 to be just fine for CQB and short-medium range engagements. I consider the .308 better suited for medium to long range engagements, which in my opinion are NOT self-defense distances.
dalegribble – I agree with creature. Adding a 308 won’t replace your 223. They are 2 different cartridges for 2 different purposes. Look to the military and see the number of guns deployed in each caliber, the 223 far outweighes any other caliber in the number of guns issued.
If you feel the need for a 308 (as I do) then add it to your system, I’m sure you will be glad you did. Only you will be able to determin if it will replace the 223 as your goto caliber.
overkill556x45 – I would lean toward the .223 because ammo and magazines are cheaper than .308 ammo and AR-10 mags. The AR10 will get expensive fast, as mags go for $30-$50. In addition, cheap 7.62nato surplus is drying up fast (all surplus is drying up fast). If you’re going to reload (which is fun in and of itself), both can be affordable, but the .223 will be pretty cheap in comparison.
As far as application of force, your follow-ups can be faster with the .223. The .308 will obviously open up a bigger hole in your foe, and do it at longer ranges. However, on the civilian side (meaning not stuck with M855 ball ammo), the .223 can be loaded up with bullets like the Vmax and others that expand faster and should cause more catastrophic wounds than a standard ball round. Also, a .308, if used in a home defense situation, stands more of a chance of WAY over-penetrating (though more frangible rounds are available) and going through the BG, the wall, the exterior, down the street, etc. The .223 shouldn’t over-penetrate as much.
Really, it comes down to the intended use. Short-med range, I’d go with .223. Med-long, .308 win. Another consideration is how much money you want to spend. Either round is pretty versatile.
kraigwy – Ask me a few years ago I’d said the 308, having shot my M1A and have gone through and tought snipers schools using the M21.
However of late, I’d have to vote for the 223. Its beat all the 308 highpower records, even beating the 308 in Service Rifle 1000 yard matches.
The 223 is cheaper to shoot, both in factory and reloaded ammo. A good match AR is about a third the cost of a Heavy Match M1A and easier to shoot.
The 223 has allowed younger shooters and ladies to compete with us old folks.
At a small additional cost you can get an extra upper for shooting Mulit and3 gun matches without burning out your Match rifle.
If you want it for home defence you can get the shorter barrel of the M4 configeration. You want a varment gun you can get 50 grn bullets, you want a long range gun you can get 80 grn bullets. You dont have that versatility with the M1A.
Thats why its called AMERICA’S RIFLE.
2transams – Here’s my zero cents (it’s the internet,my opinion is not worth two cents) :
.223/5.56 is an extremely versatile round,and can be loaded with any and all types of bullets. Low recoil in a lightweight weapon make it excellent for CQB situations. Based on my observations of the layout of the town where I live and tales from friends and family who have seen combat in the Middle East,in any type of urban situation you will very likely not be making shots past 200 yards,where the 5.56 round is plenty ’nuff. But that’s already been discussed,moving on…
For me,even with a sling on the rifle the .308 is much harder to take faster follow-up shots. The recoil is harder unless you go to a heavier weapon,which to me defeats the purpose of a light-‘n-handy battle rifle. I really wouldn’t want to run around with a full-size M1A,and the SOCOM 16 puts that big ol’ thunderboomer pretty close to the face,I didn’t care for it,and I didn’t shoot well with it.
Now a good, heavy, accurate .308 seems to me would be great from a fairly secure position where you can take good clear shots,and you know you’re good for 100 yards on out. In that instance,bigger is better.
Just my zero cents.
Header image from AmmunitionToGo.com