Admin Note: I wrote this prior to the contemporary…um…’incident’. But that being said, it’s timely for those just now waking up, those looking to streamline kit, or those simply wanting to read another take on the bewilderment that is the contemporary AR platform. This is NOT a caliber war. Intermediate caliber debates are stupid and get argued by people who don’t know their rear from a hole in the ground about fighting. So if you want to argue why your pet caliber is better than Joe’s pet caliber, there’s whole forums where folks with no experience do that- Go there. Understand?
A Reader’s Question:
Looking to purchase a new ar-15 soon, but am at odds on the caliber. So (many) conflicting opinions on the internet. Could you do an article in the future about the feasibility of each caliber? .223, .308, 6.5 Grendel, 300 ACC Blackout. Considering long term ammo availability as well, that being the primary issue. Thanks.
Our first question needs to be what is the purpose of this weapon? Is it going to be a jack of all trades, general purpose home defense rifle? That’s 99.9% of you reading this. Is it going to be an *actual* sporting rifle that you intend to hunt with or is it simply a range toy? If it’s a range toy then what I have to say is going to be irrelevant either way; I’m not wealthy, I can’t afford range toys. Are you buying with the intention that you’re going to need resupply (you should be) at some point or are you planning on going it alone? How do you intend to keep it running? Logistics matter a lot more than what you like best. For sanity’s sake lets look at our options listed above and say that our first rifle is going to be our general purpose, home defense, fight if we have to, carbine. We have .223 (5.56×45), .308 (7.62×51), 6.5 Grendel, and 300 BO. (But, why not 7.62×39??? Because it runs far better in an AK. That’s why.)
This is, like 6.8 SPC, doomed to be an “also ran” for a lot of reasons. Having shot a good amount of it, the round always seemed like to me an answer in search of a question. “The better mousetrap” I guess. It may have a ballistic advantage in a certain niche, and while I’m NOT a fan out of an AR, it’s interesting out of a bolt gun- but nothing that can’t be done cheaper with more common rounds. Wanting a caliber with the close range ballistics of the 7.62×39, better performance than 5.56 suppressed, and fitting in a standard AR 15 magazine all seems like a worthy notion, but in practice I think it falls flat especially for a Survivalist.
First, it’s not in widespread use. Yeah, sure, such and such or so and so secret squirrel ninjas are rumored to use it (because wikipedia said so), and it’s the hottest thing on the planet this week to the cooler-than-thou range bunny types, but the real story is that it’s a lot of hype for not much gain in any direction, especially if you’re running a standard length barrel unsuppressed (and that’s most all of you). It’s smaller cousin, 5.56, from which it borrows its case is in far more widespread use, every bit as effective at longer ranges (300-600m) in my experience, and unless you’re explicitly building a rifle to be suppressed-only, you’re not gaining much except for a more expensive ammo budget. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s going to be adopted by anyone in large quantity either. The usuals said that about 6.8 too…which went nowhere. In fact, if it did get picked for large scale .gov use the on-the-shelf supply would dry up faster than .22 LR at a prepper convention.
But, but, I can reload for it! Yeah, right, ok. And when you run out of that supply, eventually, where are you going to find new brass? You don’t have time or ability to worry about digging up brass if you’re laying down the pain on a target. Oh, you’ll ream .223 brass that’s everywhere, that’s right. But you’re doing all that while you’re also runnin’ n’ gunnin’ and survivin’ n’ preppin’ like a doomsday master right? Have you reamed 2,000 of them to resupply your team? Can you? No? That’s what I thought. Shaping brass is a major PITA, and there’s no guarantee that it will even work across varied rifle manufacturers or chamber tolerances. The logistics simply don’t support it, and until they do, and I don’t think they ever will, you should avoid it no matter how much the tacticool gunrag crowd tells you not to. Yeah, it kills stuff. So does 5.56. So does 7.62×39. The dead ain’t gonna compliment you on your boutique round.
Now the Grendel is a neat concept and in many ways perfects the concept of the intermediate round. Interestingly enough, Bill Alexander ( I have a close friend who met him bumbling in a gunshop of all places local to Alexander’s facility, and speaks very highly of the encounter) took a similar path that the British did earlier in the .280 British, which was scrapped as the NATO standard in lieu of the 7.62×51, as the US possessed far larger means to produce .30 cal ammo. (And it kept the MIC in business) But the .280 class round excelled at flat trajectory and carried energy at distance, also reflected in the strengths of its newest incarnation. The Grendel is excellent for shooting at longer distances and being lightweight with low recoil, making it a very attractive round for families of smaller statured shooters or recoil sensitive people to be more effective at longer ranges. Overall, I think it’s a great round and a great idea. It’s an excellent intermediate range cartridge and works very well. But I won’t recommend it as a first or only AR-type weapon.
First, you need special magazines. Like the 6.8, it suffers from needing it’s own due to a unique cartridge taper. This gets expensive and can be complicated, especially for newer shooters. Second, it needs it’s own bolt, which is the same as the 7.62×39 AR bolt face, having much less metal on the lugs. This WILL lead to premature failure compared to the standard AR bolt dimensions, as any 7.62×39 AR shooter will begrudgingly tell you. Ammo itself used to be expensive, but interestingly enough a number of nations are looking at the round as a possible next generation cartridge, including Russia and Serbia. In fact, a 6.5 Grendel AK Vepr was available in the US for a very short time before Molot imports ended up being banned earlier this year. Zastava also builds one, and we might see an imported version on our shores along with their Yugo M70 type AKM. As of this writing 6.5 ammo is indeed made by Wolf and is available at many outlets, so stocking up on training ammo is not a problem currently. But that being said, since it’s not (yet) in widespread use, not used by any domestic entity in any measurable quantity, requires specialty magazines, and I don’t foresee a foreign invasion by an army using it, I don’t recommend it as a first or only AR-type weapon.
7.62 NATO (308 Winchester)
Unlike the bulk of the gun culture out there, I have combat experience with the SR-25, aka M110 aka SASR. I greatly preferred the M24 when given the option. The M14 EBR was also issued, and I still rather carried the M24. I privately owned a higher-end 7.62×51 AR-10 type weapon for a while, and still prefer a bolt gun. That should tell you what you need to know, but in case it doesn’t, I’ll elaborate.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind questions the power of the 7.62, be it a fighting round or medium game caliber, and in my opinion, it’s the best all around utility cartridge for a Survivalist along with the 12ga, primarily due to it’s commonality and widespread use among…pretty much everyone. I know first hand the destruction both M80 ball and the M118 can deliver on the business end, as well as the freezers I’ve filled growing up with Remington Core-lokt. But I don’t really like it in an AR.
The first problem is defining an industry standard; for the 308 pattern AR, there’s a few out there. The Armalite pattern took a proprietary magazine, the DPMS/Bushmaster yet another, the Rock River took an FAL magazine, etc, etc, with a de-facto industry standard arising with the adoption of the SR-25/M110 type rifle. This led to Magpul making the good quality and inexpensive magazines for it, somewhat resolving one issue, but still, there’s others. Like it’s little brother, the AR10 suffers from varying degrees of quality associated with expense- and if you’re buying “budget”, expect problems. I’ve shot
enough of them to know and I’m not interested in hearing how your $500 homebuilt runs like a swiss watch. If you’re new to the AR in general, this is a HUGE deal. Malfunctions when it matters not only saps confidence but costs lives. Second, all ARs break stuff in time; if there’s varying degrees of standards, ill fitting parts deadline that weapon and without experience in your fold you’re going to have a heck of a time diagnosing the issue. Big Bore ARs are far less common and not nearly as interchangeable as their 5.56 counterpart. Bolts are a big part of the problem- there’s no one monolithic standard. The new DPMS Gen II makes this even more complicated, blurring the lines between the AR15 and 10 in an attempt to shave weight, using a completely different bolt than anything else on the market. Last, they’re all, to a rifle (again, I’ve got enough experience with them from the bottom end range trash to the Stoner SR-25) finicky about cleanliness. Much more so than the AR-15. In fact, the M110 is widely known among end users for being unreliable- the semi-integral suppressor and extreme close tolerances are the culprits- and keeping a weapon meticulously clean is a challenge on long movements. Trust me, I know. I think LMT has it right with their version that the Brits are using from what I’ve observed, but that’s the only one I can vouch for.
So while I love the 308 round, I don’t love the AR rifles that fire it, and approach with caution if you do. If you’re wanting a semi-auto combat rifle, the FAL, M1A/M14, and G3/PTR-91 types are better options in my experience, in that order. If you just have to have an SR-25 type rifle, don’t cut corners and buy the best quality possible. If standardizing on them as part of a group, buy ones form the same maker to have a known standard between rifles. But you’re walking into SCAR territory in terms of cost when buying quality, and that’s a better weapon all around. Even better still, put the money into a good bolt action rifle with great glass and buy a quality AR15 for everything else. Does this mean they’re all bad? No, it’s just not what you should buy as a first or only AR.
5.56 NATO (.223 Remington)
Probably the most controversial round ever created among people who talk more than do, the 5.56 since it’s adoption long, long ago either meets scorn or high praise depending on varied levels of experience of the story teller (BS artist). I’ll tell you first hand it always worked fine for me. Fine as in, did it’s job. Nothing more, nothing less. It did what I expected it to do, every time. The round was designed with certain parameters filling the same void the Kalashnikov did; bigger than a burp gun but playing the same role for the “marching fire” concept that was all the rage post-WWII. A soldier can carry a lot of ammo with not a lot of weight, and the heavier loadings that I favor (69gr Nosler, 77gr OTM, for different purposes) are very effective against a wide variety of targets. Since I’m not bound by any convention anymore (and that works two ways, for all you would-be partisans), I’m not limited to the 62gr green tip- not that it doesn’t work, but a Barnes Varmint grenade or a Nosler BT work dramatically better.
But this ain’t a caliber debate; its a logistics debate. Overwhelmingly the 5.56 is in broad supply, along with the standard magazines and standard dimension parts. Everything about the rifle is a known quantity. Spare parts, even for top shelf quality, has never been cheaper. The 5.56 AR15 is experiencing a renaissance in the US like few weapons have, and in 20 years it went from being an “army gun carried by the fringe types” in the eyes of the public to being a status symbol along with Ford Trucks and Yeti coolers. It doesn’t make sense not to have one.
And for that reason, you should own one in 5.56 for your first AR. It is not the best of any world (no intermediate cartridge is), but it works and it’s what you’ll find in many people’s hands when need be. It’s not my own favorite round by any means but I know it works from experience. For that matter all of them discussed here work, it’s just a matter of how the logistics figure into the equation long-term. And that answer for the AR-15 is 5.56, period. The design is not going away anytime in the foreseeable future and adding one to your arsenal in its basic form is a logical move. Keep it simple and you’ll keep it effective. Avoid gimmicks, buy quality and train often.