I couldn't help but respond to the blast of letters re: ".223 as
Man Stopper", as most of my time in the employ of our Uncle Sam was engaged
in the testing and evaluation of small arms, OPFOR and NATO.
(As a matter of full disclosure, I did not offer any opinions or make decisions
respective performances; rather, I merely conducted the tests and recorded
the results. Therefore my opinions were/are not colored by the political intrigues
of small arms procurement procedures). The trap we, as survivalists/retreaters
fall into when looking at our weaponry is to look to the military. Survivalists
are not infantrymen!!! Military doctrine is based on large numbers
of well-armed, well supplied men engaging
in unit activities to accomplish a specific mission
within the parameters of acceptable losses. Survivalist do not operate in the
same world. Who in your group is an "acceptable loss"? Your wife,
husband, son, daughter, neighbor?
The best lens to focus your preparations
through is that of the early settlers in the Old West. Constantly at risk
from hostile natives and marauding bandits, they stocked their homesteads high
with arms and ammo, and always carried at least two guns in
every foray away from the home. The ones that made it also planned retreats,
escapes, and hideouts,
equally stocked, around frequently visited locations on their homesteads.
So, what is the best caliber? The 7.62mm NATO is an excellent (but heavy)
and the 7.63x39 is a decent (200 meter) cartridge, the ballistic twin of
a .32 Special or moderate .30-30. The 5.56x45 is currently in use by all NATO
save Turkey and Greece (they're soldiering on with their [Heckler & Koch]
G3 variants). Its limitations are well known but the body count continues to
for the last forty years. Very accurate, easily controllable (especially
in full auto) and light weight (read: easy to carry a lot of;
see full auto mention).
It's like the Aussies say about beer: "The best beer in the world is the
one in your hand!" Pick your poison, but remember the Five Rules of Gunplay
Grandpa taught me: 1) Shot placement; 2) shot placement; 3) shot placement;
shoot enough gun; 5) never get shot for lack of shooting back! Something
to consider, thinking like a farmer rather than a commando.
As always, keep the Faith, - Bonehead
Scientific evidence supports Martin's observations of the .223 Remington as
a man stopper.
There is a substantial body of academic forensic analysis of the .223s terminal
performance. This includes extensive autopsy work, as well as prolonged accumulation
of wound and mortality data from battlefield and law enforcement encounters.
The United States Department of Defense studied terminal performance of the
5.56 NATO round during the initial deployment of that round to Southeast Asia.
Setting aside the later problems that would tarnish the M16 reputation, and
unfortunately taint the round by association, the terminal performance of the
round itself was deemed to be excellent.
The most documented encounter involving the .223 is the infamous FBI Miami
shootout. With the exception of several presidential assassinations and attempts,
this is the most carefully, forensically analyzed gunfight in history. In that
fight, five FBI agents were hit with a .223 round fired from a Ruger Mini-14:
Head (1), neck (1), arm (1) and torso (2). All four of the men hit in the torso,
head and neck were immediately removed from the fight. The man hit in the arm
was unable to operate that limb.
You suggest that slow expansion soft points are needed for the .223 to be potent.
[JWR Adds: I think that you misunderstood my statements.
I stated that fast-expanding soft-nose .223 varmint bullets would not stop
at long range.]
.223 FMJ was
developed specifically to remove that need. At appropriate weight, velocity,
and stabilization, the .223 was designed to overcome the
disadvantages of internationally mandated military FMJ ammunition. It yaws
upon entry into flesh, tumbling and travelling sideways to create a large wound
channel, coming apart during the process.
Yes, .30 cal rifles have superior penetration performance against targets behind
cover, and in the case of rounds like the .308 Win., will carry more energy
at very long ranges. But they don't necessarily have better terminal performance
than the .223 at the ranges at which most people are capable of
Factor in the number of platforms available, the ubiquity of the ammo, the
low recoil, the cost, the ability to store and carry more rounds: The .223
is a very good choice in a main defensive weapon.
Regards, - Rich S.
Jim & Co.,
I hadn't had much time to read the blog in the last few weeks (maybe months)
but was greeted with another discussion of caliber selection, and thought
I would throw my hat into the ring. Of all the ammo out there, some of the
worst you can chose is SS109, unless you are trying to shoot long distances
for area effect with an M249. That steel they put in the nose is only there
so that the nose wouldn't be too heavy, not so it would "penetrate" better.
While I don't disagree with the opinions of some of our men and women in uniform
about caliber selection (mostly because it's their a** on the line), combat
is a numbers game, and everything comes with trade-offs. For your MBR you
have to choose between weight, round count, penetration, range and knock-down
When we fought the last two world wars 60 rounds was considered a combat load,
and any of those rifles could punch through several concrete houses before
they stop. The .308 is a little bit lighter,
and has a little bit less punch, but is deadly accurate past 1000 yards, but
still suffers from the same inherent drawback; weight.
The .223 (5.56x45mm) has an advantage in this arena, it's fired from a lightweight
gun (nominally 8 pounds) it has low recoil and high second follow up shot potential
(in full auto mode) and the ammo weighs about 1/3 of the .308. Playing this
strictly as a numbers game, you can now carry three times as much ammo for
the same given weight. Would you rather: land one round of .223 causing a serious
wound, or take the chance of missing and not hurting your assailant at all?
Another point that is often forgotten, people are really not all that big.
Typically we are thin skinned, and are maybe 8-18" thick from front to
back, side to side. Thus any kind of "penetrator" round will simply
punch a clean hole right through, and not do very much damage (arguably the
biggest issue with the .223 vs .308). As a follow up, it bears repeating, any
wound over 2" deep has a very high likelihood of being fatal. 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. It's how much blunt force trauma you can inflict on your enemy.
To this end a bullet which penetrates will not transfer much of this energy,
but a hollow point, or frangible bullet will.
In my opinion, those varmint bullets, or frangible bullets are the way to go
for putting your enemy in the ground. Both of these will give higher rates
of energy transfer, destroy more tissue, and based on the guaranteed fragmentation
at long range are likely to cause very high bleed rates in whatever you decide
to put them into.
Also, some of the other letters referenced military development pushing back
towards larger caliber rifles such as 6.8 SPC and others. This is utter garbage,
as the military is still buying more 5.56 rifles, as well as putting out further
competitive bids for 5.56 caliber weapons. While it's nice to see the 6.8 out
there, and I am always impressed with it's performance, will it be replacing
the 5.56 any time soon? I really really doubt it. However, it looks like the
Brits are dropping the .308 as being too small for sniper purposes, and are
rolling out a few new variants in .338 Lapua.
Some links for people to digest:
Tavor21 rifle headed into service with Indian special forces
USA's M4 Carbine Controversy
Once again I feel called to step in and provide some info on 5.56 ammo.
First, as I've said before, for long-term situations I'd prefer a bolt action
rifle in a common game caliber of the area (8mm, .30-06, 7.62x54, .308). This
gives ultimate reliability for best cost.
However, there are times when high output is necessary. At those times, you
need a fast firing weapon in the standard caliber of the area. In just about
the entire civilized world, that caliber is 5.56mm. There is no point in stocking
a "wildcat" caliber, and little in stocking a non-standard round.
I love the .45 ACP, but 9mm and .40 are far more common in official supply
chains, which will have ammo long after .45 ACP is exhausted in stores. Actually,
I prefer .45 Long Colt, but it's no longer US issue and a bit hard to find
in strategic quantity.
As far as rifles, .308 is getting very pricey, very fast. It also means a heavier
weapon, heavier ammo and more recoil. In a G.O.O.D. situation, all these are
In such a situation, I don't plan on stopping for long. I don't plan to hang
around to find out if my rounds killed or merely wounded a goblin, and I don't
expect most goblins, rioters, etc, will act like hardened combat vets and stick
around for an extended fight.
My sources (beyond my own decades of experience) include a Navy combat medic
who has treated more than 400 casualties in our current nastiness. In his words,
he's never seen a serious torso or head hit with 5.56 that was not incapacitating
or lethal. I can testify firsthand from running a training range that most
troops do not shoot exceptionally well. Add in the fog of war and a natural
fear reaction, and, with no disrespect intended, I'll bet any amount of money
that most of the "multiple torso hits" that didn't take a bad guy
down were probably multiple torso misses. We've all been positive that
we hit a target that didn't react, and must be defective. Or else the weapon
human nature to trust ourselves, if we are healthy. But it doesn't matter what
you miss with. It won't work.
Did some hits fail to stop the bad guy? Certainly. Bob Dole took multiple German
8mm hits in WWII. Should we assume 8mm is an inadequate stopper and go back
For information and reassurance I offer the following links:
An extensive, official
analysis of wounding mechanisms in small arms projectiles.
Army LTC's take on matters.
Also, one cannot equate ".308 or 7.62 Soviet." Apart from a similar
diameter, the two rounds have nothing in common. This is the "bigger is
better" school, which taken to its extreme would equate 9mm and .375H&H.
Both are "Big." The question is, do they have enough power to penetrate,
and do they terminate in a fashion that will cause sufficient wounding? At
400 yards, the 5.56 is comparable in power to a .45 ACP at the muzzle. Is that
the definition of "inadequate"? Especially since the odds of any
one of us engaging a hostile target at that range, and hitting, are very close
to zero (and I speak as someone with military match trophies on the shelf behind
me, using a standard H&R contract M16A1 at 400 yards).
5.56mm causes greater wounds than 7.62X39. This has been demonstrated and documented
hundreds of thousands of times since Vietnam. It is also a more effective round
in terms of rounds per pound for transport. See Dr. Fackler's documentation
above, among others. For example:
will go through at least 12" of
pine...and keep going.
7.62 NATO nor 5.56 will penetrate a 6" sandbag.
5.56 will penetrate two Level
IIIA vests with hard trauma plates.
SS109 spec 5.56 has better armor
penetration than some 7.62 NATO loads. (This site has lots of useful info, but is starting
to decay. I've sent a reminder to the hosts.)
As far as I'm aware, the myth of the US military "returning" to .30
caliber has been around for 40 years, ever since 5.56 was adopted. For a variety
of reasons, not the least of which is number of rounds per pound for logistical
supply, this is never going to happen. If you run out of ammo, it doesn't matter
what you could have shot the bad guy with. Even if it were inadequate, I'd
rather have half a 210 round loadout of 5.56 than none [remaining] of a 100
round loadout of 7.62.
By the way, I've been performing a dirt test on one of my AR-15s. 2000 rounds
over a year so far with no cleaning. The only failures have been due to $3
used sold-as-parts Israeli surplus Orlite magazines.
I should also mention the following data that I found at AR15.com
"Combat operations the past few months have again highlighted terminal performance
deficiencies with 5.56x45mm 62 gr. M855 FMJ. These problems have primarily
been manifested as inadequate incapacitation of enemy forces despite their
being hit multiple times by M855 bullets. These failures appear to be associated
with the bullets exiting the body of the enemy soldier without yawing or fragmenting.
This failure to yaw and fragment can be caused by reduced impact velocities
as when fired from short barrel weapons or when the range increases. It can
also occur when the bullets pass through only minimal tissue, such as a limb
or the chest of a thin, malnourished individual, as the bullet may exit the
body before it has a chance to yaw and fragment. In addition, bullets of the
SS109/M855 type are manufactured by many countries in numerous production plants.
Although all SS109/M855 types must be 62 gr. FMJ bullets constructed with a
steel penetrator in the nose, the composition, thickness, and relative weights
of the jackets, penetrators, and cores are quite variable, as are the types
and position of the cannelures. Because of the significant differences in construction
between bullets within the SS109/M855 category, terminal performance is quite
variable—with differences noted in yaw, fragmentation, and penetration
depths. Luke Haag’s papers in the AFTE Journal (33(1):11-28, Winter 2001)
describe this problem."
So obviously one also must consider the construction of the projectile. With
that in mind, and the wonderful mass of data available here, I'm still very
with the right ammo selection (as with any caliber). - Michael
The posts about the .223 on your web site reminded me of an
article I recently read [At Michael Yon's web site] and thought you would be interested.
The takeaway line from the article: "Prosser shot the man at least four times
with his M4 rifle. But the American M4 rifle [cartridge]s are weak - after
Prosser landed three
nearly point blank shots in
the man’s abdomen, splattering a testicle with a fourth, the man just
staggered back, regrouped and tried to shoot Prosser.”
Keep up the good work, - Jack
Okay! Hold on a minute, I did not say that I preferred the .223, I
just said I found a new found respect for the .223. I have seen what it can
I was only comparing
chest size and penetration. In the right hands the .223 is a very formidable
weapon. If all I can see is the boot or hand or leg or arm it will have serious
hole in it and the varmint will be out of the game along with the two it takes
to haul them out of the line of fire, and I may get them too with my .308.
The .223 68 grain is not extra heavy by any means when you consider the available
bullet weight spectrum. The various arms conventions re hollow points will
not apply as society breaks down. The dead never complain.
To Stephen in Iraq, CDR, Clyde, Jack, and all the readers of the blog. My
favorite .308 cal shoots a solid 168 grain boat tail crimped molly bullet.
These are not super hot hand loads. They are loaded to the same specs as standard
mil spec .308s. They are just faster because of the moly. Faster gives me
a longer battlefield zero.
For all you new readers I fully support Jim's position regarding the .308
as the primary battle weapon. I personally hold that our primary survival caliber
is a .308 in a semi auto, backed up with other common calibers like .30-06,
7.62x39, and .223.
Here we use mil spec .223 and .308 ammo. However, Jim is very right in developing
ballistically matched rounds for each weapon. We have done this. In my bolt
gun I prefer to use 168 grain
bullets but will use mil spec as well. Now I am a older fart, can't run a
long distance, but can walk all day with short breaks. Will defend my home
and will seek out varmints using the shoot
and scoot principal. For me accuracy and long range is more important than
firepower, however we have both.
So for all you .308 buffs, "I are one" too. My favorite hunting caliber is
a .300 Weatherby magnum, and yes, I shoot 168 grain boat tail bullets in
it as well. - Martin
JWR Replies: Thanks to all of those that commented. There
is certainly no lack of controversy on this topic!
One important point
of clarification: I specifically mentioned
that current fast-expanding .223 soft nose
"varmint" ammunition lacks penetration against armored
opponents at long range.
It works fairly well "up close and personal", or against someone
that is not wearing body armor.
But even then, it may take several shots to put Mr. Bad Guy out of the fight,
during which time he very well might still be launching lead at you.
So once again, if I have the choice, I will grab a .308. It has often and
rightly been said that in gun fights there are no