Battle Of The Bullets: Comparing 556 Vs. 308

Matt Johnson
Matt JohnsonPublished: May 19, 2023
Battle Of The Bullets: Comparing 556 Vs. 308

As an avid huntsman, I have had my fair share of experience with the 5.56 vs .308 cartridges. Deciding between the two can be daunting, as each has pros and cons. This decision requires a thorough examination of various factors.

We'll dive into a comparison of the 5.56 vs. .308 (aka 7.62) rounds. We will cover everything from bullet size and weight to ballistic performance. We will also analyze the recoil and suitability for specific types of use. At the end of this post, you will have all the information you need to decide which cartridge is the better choice for your hunting and defense requirements.

Introduction: Comparing 5.56 vs. 7.62

When choosing ammunition for your firearms, the market is brimming with many options. Two of the most commonly used bullets are the 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds, both widely used by military forces for years. Having spent considerable time in the field, as an avid huntsman, I have had the chance to shoot with both rounds. I can confidently say that both rounds have their unique features and drawbacks.

The 5.56mm cartridge has been around since the 1970s, primarily associated with the AR platform (civilian version of the M16/M4 platforms), and is suited for home defense and target shooting. It possesses less recoil, making it easier to control. With bullet weights ranging from 55 to 77 grains, the 5.56mm has a muzzle energy of up to 1,300 foot pounds.

The 7.62mm cartridge, on the other hand, has been in use for decades, since the end of World War II and then adopted by the Continental Army Command shortly afterward, and is ideal for larger game hunting. With a heavier bullet weight that ranges from 110 to 175 grains, it boasts a higher muzzle energy of up to 2,500 foot pounds.

Both rounds have distinct advantages when used in the right situations. While the 5.56mm has a flatter trajectory due to its higher velocity, it has less stopping power for larger game. The 7.62mm, however, produces significant recoil, making it harder to control during rapid fire.

Ultimately, selecting the right round depends on several factors, including intended use and personal preferences. In the following sections, I'll look at the differences between the two rounds, giving you all the information you need to make an informed decision before selecting a caliber.

Bullet size and weight of the 5.56 and .308.

308 vs 556 Catridge Side By Side

I have a lot to consider when choosing between 5.56 and 7.62 for my bolt-action rifles. One of the first things I think about is the bullet's size and weight. Both rounds have a lot to offer, but they have their respective strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered.

Let's focus on 5.56, also known as the .223. This bullet is smaller than 7.62, with a diameter of just 0.224 inches. It also has a weight range of 50 to 77 grains, making it incredibly popular. 5.56 has been used by the military, and it's now gained popularity in the civilian market. It's perfect for target shooting, hunting small game, and home defense.

The bullet has a lower recoil that makes it easier to fire from an AR platform. This feature makes it a great option for those new to shooting. However, 5.56 has its flaws; it has limitations regarding long-range shooting and stopping power and is generally less effective in these situations.

In contrast, let's look at 7.62, also known as .308. This bullet is larger and heavier, with a diameter of 0.308 inches and a weight range of 150 to 200 grains. It has been around since World War II and was even recommended by Continental Army Command as a standard battle rifle cartridge. This bullet has more stopping power and can take down more significant game, making it ideal for hunting large animals.

It also performs exceptionally well in long-range shooting competitions. However, it has a downside; the 7.62 has a heavier recoil, making it more challenging to use in rapid-fire situations.

This feature makes it less friendly to beginners and harder to control overall.

Ballistic performance of the .308 vs. 5.56: velocity and trajectory.

When it comes to ballistic performance, many factors come into play - but the velocity and trajectory of a bullet are two of the most vital ones to consider. Choosing the right round for your rifle can be perplexing, especially when you're faced with multiple options. Among the most common ones are the 7.62 and the 5.56 rounds. The 7.62 is generally much heavier and moves slower than the 5.56, so it can pack more punch and maintain its trajectory at longer distances.

In my experience, the 7.62 is a clear winner if you're looking to take down large game or hit targets that are further away. However, the 5.56 may be the more feasible choice if you're dealing with close-quarters situations. Its faster velocity and flatter trajectory make it a better option for shooting in enclosed spaces. Ultimately, it all depends on what you're using your rifle for and what kind of result you hope to achieve.

Several different elements can affect the velocity and trajectory of a bullet. The bullet weight, the barrel length, and the round's intended use are just a few of them. It can be hard to analyze all of these factors, so selecting the right round can be challenging.

Nevertheless, choosing a rifle chambered in a round that best suits your needs is essential. Whether you're looking to hone your target shooting skills, planning a hunting trip for big game, or even choosing a round for home defense, picking the right bullet weight and caliber can help you achieve optimal accuracy and stopping power.

Recoil and control of the 5.56 and .308.

Talking about cartridge comparison, the amount of recoil you feel when you pull the trigger is a vital feature that can't be overlooked. Recoil plays a significant role in how you experience shooting, especially when firing cartridges like the 7.62mm, which tend to have a stronger kick compared to the 5.56mm. Recoil can make shooting uncomfortable, and control is a crucial aspect to consider if you want to hit your target accurately.

Control is fundamental when it comes to shooting. Rifles that shoot the 7.62mm cartridge are reliable when targeting large animals, making them an excellent choice for hunting. If the round has the stopping power to knock down the animal with a single shot and you don't have to worry about multiple shots, it's perfect for hunting in the case of the 7.62. On the other hand, the 5.56mm cartridge is preferred for home defense and target shooting because of its lower kick and ease of control. It's much easier to pop off multiple shots and retain control.

If you're comparing the 5.56mm vs. 7.62mm cartridges, recoil, and control should be at the top of your list of factors to consider. The 7.62mm cartridge delivers a heavier bullet, higher muzzle energy, and more stopping power, making it ideal for hunting large animals. However, the 5.56mm cartridge is more versatile, and you'll find it suitable for shorter ranges and home defense scenarios where control is a crucial aspect.

Having shot both cartridges before, I can confidently say that the 5.56mm cartridge takes the crown regarding recoil and control. No matter what you're shooting, you want to be in control of your firearm to ensure accurate shots and precision when taking down your prey.

Effectiveness and versatility of the cartridges.

When choosing the perfect rifle round, there are many factors to consider, including effectiveness and versatility. Two rounds that are often compared are 5.56 and 7.62. But which one is the better option? Let's dive in and look at their advantages and disadvantages.

The 5.56 is an affordable, lightweight round perfect for target shooting and home defense. It also has lower recoil, making it easier to take accurate shots quickly and maneuver in tight spaces. It has the stopping power to take down smaller game, but the increase in control allows hunters to take multiple shots at larger game.

On the other hand, the 7.62 has more stopping power and is better suited for larger game and long-range shooting. However, the heavier bullet has more kick, which impacts accuracy and requires more skill to maintain trajectory over long distances.

Both rounds in your collection can be advantageous, as they each have specific uses. For example, I use the 5.56 for target shooting, home defense, and as a "varmint round" to take care of pesky animals on our land. In contrast, the 7.62 is my go-to for larger game hunting, like deer or elk, or when I need to take specific shots from a distance.

Ultimately, the choice between 5.56 and 7.62 depends on your needs and situation. Each round has unique characteristics that should be considered before making a decision. Whatever your choice, choosing the best rifle round for your needs is essential to ensure effectiveness and versatility.

Availability and cost of the 5.56 and 7.62.

As an avid shooter, I understand the struggle to find the right ammunition. While numerous options are available, cost and availability are major deciding factors in determining the ammo you choose. In this regard, the 5.56 ammo reigns supreme. Due to its compatibility with the AR platform, this type of ammunition is so prevalent that you can find it practically anywhere, often at pocket-friendly prices. Plus, it offers a diverse range of bullet weights to accommodate varying shooting needs. In fact, I've saved a ton of cash by purchasing 5.56 ammo in bulk.

On the other hand, purchasing cheap 7.62 ammunition can be challenging. The relative rarity of this round leads to a steep market price, and locating uncommon bullet weights is no walk in the park. In general, it's just costlier to shoot. While many use this caliber for long-distance shooting or hunting sizable game, it's not the go-to choice for individuals interested in home defense due to the high cost.

The 5.56 is the most practical option for those who love shooting, either as a hobby or for self-defense reasons. As for the 7.62, you can often find older rounds at a discount, but I wouldn't trust them. As such, we suggest selecting a rifle chambered in 5.56 if you are on a budget.

5.56 vs. .308 FAQs

We get a lot of questions about cartridges, and more specifically, 5.56 vs. 7.62, so here are some of the most common questions we get asked. These will help you decide when selecting the best round for your needs.

Are a .308 Winchester and 7.62 round the same?

Essentially, yes. They're both rounds with the same diameter and use similar bullets. However, the two cartridges differ when it comes to power. The .308 is generally loaded with higher pressure (62,000 PSI) than the 7.62, typically around 58,000 PSI. So if you want to use both in your hunting rifle, be sure it can handle the power of both. It's not a significant difference, but it can increase the wear on your weapon after you put several rounds through it.

What is the difference between 5.56 and 7.62?

The main differences are in their ballistics, cost, availability, and compatibility with various firearms. As mentioned above, the 5.56 is more versatile regarding these factors, while the 7.62 offers more stopping power for larger game hunting. We're big fans of the 5.56, but that depends on your needs.

Is 5.56 or 7.62 better for home defense?

The 5.56 is typically the better choice for home defense due to its lower power and cost. The extra stopping power of a 7.62 round may be helpful if you're dealing with significant threats, but in most cases, it's unnecessary. If you need to drop a threat, 5.56 is more than capable.

Which one is better for hunting, 5.56 or .308?

The 7.62 is generally better for hunting due to its increased power and accuracy at long distances. The 5.56 is more versatile and can work for some game, but it won't be as effective against larger animals. Both will work for hunting deer, aoudad, hogs, and other similar-sized game animals. Ultimately, it depends on the hunting you’re doing and the game you’re pursuing.

Which one is better for target shooting?

The 5.56 is better for target shooting due to its availability, cost, and compatibility with various firearms. It's quieter than the 7.62 round, ideal for indoor ranges and backyard shooting. Plus, there are multiple bullet weights, giving you plenty of options for different types of target shooting.

Which has more bullet drop, the 5.56 or the 7.62?

The 7.62 has more bullet drop than the 5.56 due to its higher power and greater trajectory over long distances. The 5.56, on the other hand, has a flatter trajectory and is better suited for shooting at shorter ranges where you don't need to compensate for bullet drop.

What is the cheapest round to buy, 5.56 or 7.62?

The 5.56 is the cheaper round to purchase due to its popularity and availability in bulk. The cost of 85-grain 7.62 ammo can vary depending on where you’re buying it from and what type of bullet you’re looking for, but it's usually around 20-25% more expensive than the 55-grain 5.56 FMJ. Of course, these are just some of the most common bullet weights, and you might find some other weights more or less expensive.

.308 vs. 5.56: Choosing the right caliber for your needs.

Choosing the best rifle caliber can be an imposing task. One critical factor to consider is the type of shooting you plan to pursue. Your ideal caliber largely depends on this aspect. We've compared the .50 Beowulf vs. .458 SOCOM bullets before, so you can head over there and see those two in a side by side comparison if you want the low-down on them.

If you're searching for a powerful round that can take down larger game animals from long-range, the .308 Winchester might be the way to go. However, if you're looking for a round perfect for lightweight rifles for long hikes, target shooting, or home defense, the 5.56 NATO could be your ideal choice. This smaller-sized round has lower recoil and is easy to handle, which makes it perfect for various scenarios.

Personally, whenever I'm out hunting large game animals, I choose the .308 Winchester. Its heavier bullet weight grants more muzzle energy and stopping power compared to the 5.56 NATO. With my Burris Eliminator 5 as the optic, I can reach out and hit wild game at hundreds of yards.

On the other hand, when I intend to spend a long day at the range, I prefer to use the 5.56 NATO. Its light recoil and smaller size make it easier to control and shoot accurately for extended periods. The lower muzzle energy also means less discomfort and strain on my shoulder after every shot.

There are numerous factors to consider when picking a rifle caliber. Your intended usage, budget, personal preference, physical ability, etc. Considering all these, you can make sound decisions between the 5.56 NATO and .308 Winchester whenever needed.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.