.223 Remington and .308 Winchester are two of the most popular cartridges in the firearms community. For those who don’t spend all their free time reading about guns, though, there might be some confusion about what these .223 and .308 mean and why you would want one cartridge over the other.
For most shooters, rifles chambered in .223 and .308 have a place in their collection. Both of these cartridges have some things they excel at and other things they could do better.
Depending on your intended use and personal preferences, you can decide whether .223 or .308 is the right cartridge for you.
If you are new to shooting, make sure you check out our excellent guide that covers bullet sizes, calibers, and types.
Post World War 2, intermediate rifle cartridges have become the dominant rifle cartridge in military and police use.
.223 Remington is one of the most, if not the most, used intermediate cartridge in the world. In the 1950s, the United States military adopted .308 Winchester as their primary military cartridge. But by the 1960s, the military realized that the .308 Winchester, for all of its attributes, was not the ideal cartridge to be the main cartridge for modern military conflicts.
This realization gave rise to the .223 Remington.
The .223 cartridge, also known as the .223 Remington or 5.56x45mm NATO, is a centerfire rifle cartridge that was first introduced in 1964. It is a smaller cartridge than .308 and is the cartridge that replaced .308 as the primary infantry cartridge in the United States military.
223 has a bullet diameter of .224 inches (5.7 mm) and a case length of 1.76 inches (44.7mm). It is typically used in higher-powered rifles and is a popular choice among hunters and long-range shooters.
The .223 cartridge is also used by many military and law enforcement organizations around the world, as it is considered an intermediate cartridge that strikes a balance between recoil and stopping power.
Due to its high muzzle velocity, accuracy, and versatility, the .223 Remington is an excellent choice for target shooting and hunting small to medium size games.
.308 Winchester was developed post World War 2 to provide an alternative to the venerable .30-06. After winning two world wars, .30-06 was looking a bit long in the tooth, and there was some desire to move the military to a more modern cartridge to meet the changing needs of the nation during the Cold War Era. Enter .308 Winchester.
Introduced in 1952 for the bolt action Model 70, Model 88, and Model 100 rifles, .308 Winchester became the main cartridge of the United States military with the adoption of the M14.
.308 Winchester was designed to provide a lighter recoiling cartridge with a flatter shooting profile. These attributes made the .308 an excellent overall cartridge, but as a modification of the .30-06, it was still a full-power cartridge and proved not to be what the military was looking for.
In the 1960s, .308 Winchester was replaced by .223 Remington as the main cartridge of the United States military.
The features that caught the attention of the US military are still valid, and coupled with modern bullet design; the .308 is an outstanding performer.
With a bullet diameter of .308 inches (7.8 mm) and a case length of 2.015 inches (51.2 mm), .308 Winchester is very versatile. .308 is popular with both hunters and target shooters. Additionally, .308 is still in use with many military and police units around the world.
Overall Differences Between The .223 Remington Vs. .308 Winchester
|Effective Range||Medium range500-600 yards||Medium to long range800-1000 yards|
|Recoil||Light recoil||Medium recoil|
|Purpose||HuntingVarmint huntingTarget/Competition shootingMilitary and police use||HuntingTarget/Competition shootingMilitary and police use|
|Firearm suitability||Modern Sporting Rifles:AR-15, Mini-14, many othersBolt Action Rifles:Various manufacturers||Modern Sporting Rifles: AR-10, M1A, SCAR 17, and many othersBolt Action Rifles:Various manufacturers|
|Parent case||.222 Remington||.30-06 Springfield|
|Case type||Rimless, Bottleneck||Rimless, Bottleneck|
|Standard Overall Length||2.26 inches||2.800 inches|
|Case capacity||29-30 grains||56 grains|
|Max pressure (SAAMI)||55,000 psi||62,000 psi|
|Muzzle Velocity (fps; ft/s) (Ballistic performance with an example ammo box)|
|Muzzle Energy (ft-lbf)||1,100–1,282 ft⋅lbf (821–952 J)||2,390–2,648 ft⋅lbf (1780–1967 J)|
.223 Remington and .308 Winchester Key Differences
Intermediate vs. Full Size Cartridge
.223 Remington and .308 Winchester occupy two different categories in terms of performance. Intermediate cartridges, of which the .223 Remington is one, are designed to be less powerful than a full-size rifle cartridge but more potent than a pistol cartridge.
Intermediate cartridges are ideal for those wanting significantly more performance than a pistol cartridge can provide and are willing to give up some performance for a cartridge with lower recoil, which is easier to control, and can be fired from lighter rifles.
.223 Remington, 7.62×39, and .300 Blackout are examples of intermediate cartridges. .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, & .270 Winchester are examples of full-size cartridges.
Recoil is an important factor in selecting a rifle and cartridge. .223 Remington and .308 Winchester have different felt recoil impulses. Knowing what their recoil impulses are can help you decide what is best for your individual situation.
- .308 Winchester, using a 7.5-pound rifle, produces 15.8 ft-lbs of recoil energy when firing a 150-grain projectile at 2800 fps.
- .223 Remington, using a 7-pound rifle, produces 3.9 ft-lbs of recoil energy when firing a 62-grain projectile at 3025 fps.
One of the most significant differences between .223 Remington and .308 Winchester is the effective range of both cartridges.
This difference directly relates back to the intermediate vs. full-size nature of each cartridge. .223 Remington fires a much lighter bullet than .308 Winchester. The larger bullets fired by .308 retain their energy better over longer distances than the lighter bullets of .223.
A good rule of thumb for the maximum effective distance for each cartridge is 600 yards for .223 Remington and 800 yards for .308 Winchester.
There are factors that can both lengthen or shorten the distances that these cartridges are effective. A high-quality rifle shooting high-quality ammunition, especially ammunition specifically loaded for long-distance shooting, will be able to shoot further distances.
Hunting is another area where the two cartridges experience significant differences.
You can take .308 Winchester to hunt in almost all situations and when hunting all game in North America. The cartridge, especially when using high-quality ammunition, is very effective. Go to any sporting goods or gun store in America, and you can get hunting loads capable of bringing down deer and other similarly sized game animals.
.223 Remington is an effective hunting cartridge, but it is not a cartridge you should use to hunt deer, elk, moose, bear, or other larger game animals. If using .223 Remington, you need to be looking for varmints and predators like the coyote. In these instances, the high velocity of the cartridge, the light weight of the rifle, and the shooting characteristics really stand out.
.223 Remington Pros & Cons
- Low Recoil – relatively low recoil compared to full-power cartridges
- High Velocity – leads to flat, accurate shooting
- Cost-effective – .223 Remington is cheaper than most other rifle cartridges
- Versatile – .223 can be used for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense
- Popularity/availability – Large numbers of .223 rifles and ammo types are on the market
- Limited range – diminishing returns in effectiveness out to 600 yards
- Limited stopping power, especially at longer distances
.308 Winchester Pros and Cons
- Long range – easily able to shoot out to 800+ yards
- Stopping power – .308 is capable of hunting all game in North America
- Versatile – .308 can be used for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense
- Popularity/availability – Large numbers of .308 rifles and ammo types are on the market
- Higher recoil – .308 Winchester is a full-power rifle cartridge and has more felt recoil than an intermediate cartridge, like .223 Remington.
- Cost – .308 Winchester is more expensive than some cartridges but is also cheaper than many others
Other Alternatives to Consider
6.5 Grendel is an excellent alternative to .223 Remington. It was developed using a .223 cartridge case necked up to 6.5mm. 6.5 Grendel was designed to use the same AR-15 platform that the .223 Remington uses.
6.5 Grendel offers several advantages over .223 Remington. It has increased range and energy on target. It was developed in 2003 and benefits from recent advances in firearms ballistics. 6.5 Grendel is a good choice for those who want a more capable cartridge than .223 Remington but don’t want to step up to the power/recoil of .308 Winchester.
6.5 Creedmoor is one of the hottest/most popular cartridges in the world of firearms. 6.5 Creedmoor has .308 Winchester as a parent cartridge.
6.5 Creedmoor is a necked down .308 case and offers superior ballistic performance to the .308 Winchester.
6.5 Creedmoor is very popular for hunting and target shooting. It is known for being a flat shooting, high velocity, high ballistic coefficient cartridge with less recoil than .308 Winchester.
What are .223 Remington and .308 Winchester good for?
Each cartridge has its own strengths and weaknesses. Both are good for hunting in their own rights. Both cartridges are suitable for shooting competitions; .223 excels at 3-gun, and .308 Winchester at precision shooting.
Which can I hunt with .223 Remington?
.223 Remington is suitable for hunting small game like varmints and Coyotes. Avoid hunting deer with .223 Remington. Wild hogs are sometimes hunted with .223 Remington, but it is advisable to stick to more effective cartridges. As will all hunting, the skill of the hunter and shot placement is paramount for ensuring an ethical hunt.
What can I hunt with .308 Winchester?
All game animals in North America can be hunted with .308 Winchester. Selecting the appropriate ammunition loading is very important when hunting, as the ammunition you hunt coyotes with is different from the type of ammunition you would use for hunting bears. As mentioned before, the skill of the hunter and shot placement is paramount for ensuring an ethical hunt.
.223 Remington and .308 Winchester are two of the most popular rifle cartridges available. They are useful for hunting, competition shooting, target shooting, and self-defense. .223 Remington is the go-to cartridge for the AR-15, the most popular rifle in the United States. .223 Remington is highly accurate, has mild recoil, and is an outstanding cartridge overall.
.308 Winchester has excellent performance under 800-1000 yards. It is an accurate, powerful cartridge that can do just about anything the shooter asks of it. Rifles like the AR-10, Scar 17, Remington 700, and many other high-quality rifles use the cartridge and demonstrate its ability.
Ultimately, whether you choose .223 Remington or .308 Winchester as your preferred cartridge comes down to your intended uses and personal preference. Both have their place in the modern sportsman’s collection, and this isn’t really an either-or choice and more of a “which cartridge should I choose today.”
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