And that is our objective for this article. We will take a look at the history and dimensions of these cartridges and then dive into the ballistic and other performance characteristics. By doing this, we can better tease apart which hunting or shooting applications these cartridges are suited for.
.308 vs .223: A Brief History
The .308 Winchester was introduced by Winchester in 1952. Though the predecessor, this cartridge is the civilian version of the 7.62×51 NATO round that saw brief use in Vietnam before being replaced.
Where the .308 has gained a strong and loyal following is in the hunting community. This is a larger bullet with excellent range and stopping power. It’s a great medium to large game rifle and can be used for just about any large game animal in the world, barring a few.
Not only is the .308 a fantastic civilian hunting round, but it also displays enough speed, power, and distance to be adapted into police force sharpshooting units. That is a high recommendation for the use of this cartridge.
The .308 is extremely popular, and you can tell based on the sheer amount of ammunition and type of ammunition that is available. There are several bullet weights, powder charges, and bullet design can all impact the bullets flight and power characteristics.
The .223 Remington (Pronounced two-twenty-three) was introduced to the public in 1963. This .224” diameter bullet was designed as a high velocity, flat shooting cartridge that would be capable of taking varmints up to deer sized game. There is a multitude of ammunition options available for the .308 Win including various bullet designs and weights. The most common bullet weights available are going to fall within the 40-55gr range, but there are lighter and heavier options available.
As many of you are probably aware, the .223 cartridge is the civilian version of the 5.56×45 NATO round. Both of these cartridges are very similar in their performance and specifications. The 5.56 NATO is slightly hotter than the .223. While most firearms chambered for the 5.56 NATO can also shoot .223 rounds, not all firearms chambered for the .223 can shoot 5.56 rounds. Be aware of your rifles specifications before loading with 5.56.
The high velocity, flat trajectory, and light recoil of the .223 also make it a popular round for competitive shooters as well as AR owners.
.223 vs .308 Specs Comparison
|.223 Rem||.308 Win|
|Parent Casing||.222 Remington||.300 Savage|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||55,000psi||62,000psi|
Right from the beginning, we see that there are some significant differences when looking at the 308 Win vs 223 Rem. The .308 uses a much larger 30-cal bullet while the .223 uses the smaller 20-cal bullet. Right there we can expect some pretty dramatic differences between these two cartridges and how they will fly. The .308 case and overall cartridge length are a few tenths of an inch longer than the .223 cartridge as well.
Looking at the case specs, we also see that the .308 uses a much larger casing that can hold much more powder and withstand a higher amount of pressure when the powder is ignited and combusts. And it makes sense with a larger and heavier bullet more powder would be needed to provide the force to make this an effective cartridge.
To make some comparisons between these two cartridge types, we have chosen five rounds that give us a better glimpse at the types of rounds available for each cartridge. We will see that even rounds of the same cartridge type can behave quite differently. By doing this, we hope to give a broader picture of the 308 versus 223. Below is the rounds will be looking at for the remainder of the article.
- .308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr
- .308 Winchester Super-X 180gr
- .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr
- .308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr
- .308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr
- .223 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 60gr
- .223 Remington Premier AccuTip 50gr
- .223 Nosler Trophy Grade Varmint 40gr
- .223 Winchester Super-X 64gr
- .223 Hornady BTHP Match 75gr
This selection of rounds might still be a relatively small sample size of what’s available on the market, but we have a nice selection of styles for each cartridge type that range in bullet weights, designs, and uses.
And this is not a list of what we think is the absolute best rounds available. Chances are your favorite round for whatever cartridge you use are not on the list, and that is not because we looked at it and decided it was worthless. We are just limited in space, and these rounds gave us a nice rounded set of for each cartridge.
All of the data that you will find in this article was either generated from popular ballistics calculators that are available online or the data was gathered directly from the manufacturer’s website. Because this is computer generated data, the numbers might vary slightly when these rounds are fired through your shooting platform. While the numbers might differ slightly, the differences in the stats between rounds should remain the same.
And finally, we are looking strictly at factory loads. If you’re looking for the top-performing rounds, you are probably going to have to get into hand loading which is beyond the scope of our ammo comparisons. Factory loads are not loaded as hot as they can be for safety reasons so you might see some numbers floating around for these cartridges that seem to blow the performance of these rounds out of the water. They are out there, and we are aware of it. Still, there is a lot we can learn from just looking at some of the available factory loads on the market.
Recoil is an important aspect of cartridge comparison, and when you are down to several cartridge choices lighter recoil may or may not be a topic you want to consider. While most shooters can deal with the recoil of most hunting or self-defense rifles, it is much easier to handle a rifle when the recoil is manageable. For new users or younger hunters, the recoil becomes even more important. If you are thinking about the recoil when trying to line up a shot, there is a good chance that flinching during the pull is going to throw the shot of course.
What we are measuring in this section is the actual force of recoil generated when firing these cartridges. This is not technically the “felt recoil.” Felt recoil has a lot of other variables involved, and we just can’t put a number on them. Still, knowing the force of recoil (ft.lb) will give you a good idea of the kick that you will feel since more recoil energy is going to mean more kick.
So, let’s first just take a look at the averages for the .223 vs .308. This is a pretty clear-cut conclusion that the .308 generates a significantly higher amount of recoil than the .223 at nearly four times as much. When shooting one right after the other, you’re going to notice the difference regardless of your experience. This is a general look at the recoil from the two rounds provided by the ballistics calculator, and we need to look at our rounds to be sure this trend holds up.
Let’s take a look at all eight of our rounds for comparison and see if there is any variability between different rounds and loads.
While there is some difference in the recoil when looking at different rounds within each cartridge, especially with bullet weight, the trend of the .308 having more recoil is still there, and it is significant with each of the five .30 rounds being between four to five times the amount of recoil energy than the .223 rounds.
It’s not only the difference between the two cartridges that we want to focus on but the actual numbers. All of the .308 Win rounds have a recoil energy (ft.lbs) of over 20ft.lbs. While an experienced shooter is not going to be phased by this amount of recoil, it is enough to influence a shot and especially quick follow-up shots. On the other side, the .223 Rem rounds are only generating recoil at or below the 5ft.lb mark which for experienced shooters is not noticeable at all and even for new shooters is more than tolerable. We will come back to this when we talk about the applications of both cartridges.
In this section, we will take a look at several ballistic categories to compare these two cartridges. While ballistics alone will not tell us which cartridge performs best in specific hunting and shooting situations, they are a huge component. We will look at ballistic coefficients, velocity, and trajectory for the .308 versus .223 comparison and use this data at the conclusion of the article to draw some conclusions.
It’s also important to mention that all of these different categories in the ballistics section, as well as those outside of this section, interweave together rather than just stand alone. For a comparison standpoint, we look at each individually but remember that all of these categories play off of one another.
Velocity is an important ballistic factor when hunting or shooting at the range. The faster the bullet is traveling, the less it is impacted by wind and gravity. The less these outside influences have on the bullet, the truer its flight path and perhaps the more accurate. There is a fine line in velocity, and a stable bullet and the twist rate of your barrel and the type of round you are using is involved in this stability. A hot round doesn’t do any good when you start getting odd rotations or even flipping in the bullet’s flight. Velocity is also important because a bullet needs a specific velocity to have the proper expansion at impact. This is critical for hunting rounds.
There other factors that influence accuracy and we will touch on that later. In this section, we will look at the velocity of all ten rounds as they leave the muzzle and travel downrange to the 500-yard mark. The velocity is measured in feet per second (ft/s).
While the .223 has a much higher muzzle velocity than the .308, you will notice that as the bullets travel downrange, the .223 bleeds velocity significantly faster than the .308 and a lot of this has to do with how light the bullets are and the amount of powder that can be used in the .223 casing. Now, we will get to other specs of these cartridges shortly, and those numbers will show that this trend in losing velocity may not be relevant anyway as it’s effective range does not reach out to the yardage where significant velocity is lost, especially in the energy department for the .223.
Even though the .223 rounds tend to bleed velocity at a higher rate than the .308 Win rounds, even at 500 yards, they are still supersonic as are the .308 Win rounds.
If we look at the averages of both cartridges, though we think looking at individual rounds is more important, we see the .223 rounds with a higher average velocity than the .308 Win rounds by quite a large margin out to the 300-yard mark. From there to the 400 and 500-yard mark the .308 rounds close the gap and surpass the average velocity of the .223 rounds.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC)
The ballistic coefficient is a number generated from several variables that deal with bullet dimensions. What this number will tell you is how well a bullet is streamlined. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the better the bullet is at cutting through the wind due to minimal air drag and the bullets are less prone to wind drift. This also means that a bullet will hold its velocity better. Theoretically, a bullet with a higher ballistic coefficient is going to require fewer shot adjustments when taking shots at long range where wind becomes a large factor.
We have taken the BCs for our eight round selections and put them side by side for comparison.
We see that the .308 rounds that we have selected have a much higher BCs than the .223 rounds. If you remember from the velocity section, the .223 rounds seemed to bleed off velocity much more dramatically than the .308 rounds and the small BCs complement that observation. All but one of the .308 Win rounds shows a ballistic coefficient of over 0.4 and the one that falls below is a soft point which usually has a decreased BC.
In some cases, we see nearly twice as high a BC for the .308 Win over the .223 Rem rounds. Not all of the .223 rounds are in the .2 area. We do see a .395BC with the 75gr Match ammo. So while we see a general trend for the .308 showing higher BCs, there are rounds out there for the .223 that is going to give you better long range potential.
The .223 rounds also have much lighter bullets than the .308 which makes them more susceptible to wind drift. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the .223 will have a poor trajectory, especially in the ranges it functions best at. So, we will take a look at the short and long-range trajectories of these cartridges and individual rounds.
Understanding the trajectory of the cartridge you want to use is going to make lining up shots and staying accurate through various ranges much simpler. Bullets do not travel in a straight line but have a more arching flight path which means you have to adjust the elevation of your shot placement correctly. Wind might also be a factor at increased distances, but these two cartridges usually are not used at ranges where the wind is going to alter a shot unless you are in gale force winds. Even at distances up to 500 yards though, there is going to be some bullet drop.
Before we take a look at the short and long-range trajectory, we wanted to give a broader picture of these two cartridges’ trajectory that allows you to compare their flatness much easier. The flatter the trajectory, the easier it is to make shot placement adjustments.
We used the same rounds from the same manufacturer, and same bullet design and both of these rounds are not used in our comparison for other topics. Finding two rounds from these cartridges near the same bullet weight is not possible as the casings and firearms chambered for a .223 round would not be compatible with a 4” long bullet but with other metrics matching up, we think this is a fair comparison for comparing the 308 vs the 223 trajectories.
Out to 150 yards, there is not any difference between the two rounds that is noticeable. It is not until the 250-yard mark that we start to see some space between the two trajectory lines. Even as the bullets move out to 500 yards, there is only around five inches of difference in bullet drop between the much heavier .308 round than the lighter .223 bullet. Even so, both bullets drop over 50 inches from the muzzle making long-range shots difficult with these two cartridges.
Of course, this similarity in trajectory might not be prevalent across the board when you start enlarging the sample size. To go into a little more depth, let’s take a look at the short and long-range trajectories of our eight comparison rounds.
Short Range Trajectory
In the hunting world, a look at trajectories from 300 yards and in is warranted as a vast majority of shots are taken within this range. Of course, there are instances where longer shots occur, and we will look at the trajectories of these rounds at increased ranges as well to see how feasible 300+ yard shots are for the 308 vs 223.
For short range trajectory, the firearm was zeroed in at 100 yards for each round. We are measuring bullet drop in inches from muzzle out to 300 yards with the data taken from the manufacturer’s website.
All rounds would need very minimal adjustments within the 100-yard mark, and there is no difference between the two cartridges that are worth noting. We see that both cartridges all hold around the same position at both the 200 and 300-yard mark and show only a few inches of difference for all of the rounds for each cartridge. We do see a slightly flatter trajectory from a couple of the .223 rounds. The light 40gr .223 round does show a much flatter trajectory than the other rounds, but overall, both show the same loss in trajectory at these ranges, and we are only talking about less than 2 inches of difference at the 200-yard mark.
At the 300 yard mark, we do see a more discernable difference between the two cartridges, especially with the 175 and 180gr .308 rounds. There are still quite a few rounds that are clustering around the thirteen-inch drop mark, but there are outliers of much flatter .223 rounds around the nine and eleven-inch mark while some .308 rounds drop to the fifteen and seventeen-inch mark. It’s still not a huge difference between cartridges. We have a lot of comparison articles where there is a much more dramatic difference.
We can conclude that the short range trajectory for both of these rounds is very similar to all the rounds dropping between 9 and 17 inches at 300 yards out. We also see that for both cartridges, there are rounds that can give you flatter trajectory or a more pronounced drop in trajectory.
Long Range Trajectory
Neither of these cartridges is known for their outstanding performance at long range like several other cartridges, but they are both used in hunting situations, especially the .308 Win, where there might be times where you need to take a 300+ yard shot and we still want to look into any major differences between the two. For this section, the firearms were zeroed in at 200 yards and measurements taken out to 500 yards. Bullet drop is measured in inches.
Like the short range trajectory, both of these cartridges cluster fairly tightly at the 300-yard mark. Also, like the short range, there are rounds available for each cartridge that will give you a flatter trajectory. What we want to point out is that both cartridges show a pretty significant drop when hitting ranges of 400+ yards. At 400 yards, all of the rounds are within ten inches of each other with the .223 showing a slightly flatter trajectory than the .308 rounds. At the 500 yard mark, it gets a little messy with the various rounds from each cartridge intermingled with no real trends between cartridges.
We do have the 40gr .223 round sitting at around 38 inches of drop while the remainder of the rounds is falling in the 45-55 inch range. While the flattest round is a .223 round and the steepest drop round is a .308 bullet, the majority of the rounds cluster together with no statistical difference between the two.
Even if these cartridges have rounds that have the velocity and stopping power, which we will shortly get to, having to adjust for 50” of bullet drop make hitting the target difficult for even the most skilled of marksmen. It’s not impossible, but a lot of hunters are not going to be willing to take a shot with that much adjustment on an animal, and that’s not even taking into account terrain and other environmental factors.
For self-defense and hunting situations, stopping power might be the most used term when discussing a comparison of cartridges such as the 223 versus the 308.
There are a lot of factors for determining how well a bullet can take down a target quickly. The kinetic energy that is transferred to the target and which can disrupt and destroy vital organs and nervous system is what we will focus in on in this section along with penetration. Fragmentation and wound type are also important but are more of a discussion for specific rounds than trying to compare two cartridges.
When we talk about stopping power, the kinetic energy that is associated with a bullet is a critical component. This kinetic energy turns into a physical force when the bullet hits the target. This energy is transferred from the bullet to the target and causes tissue/organ damage. If you search around you will find that the 1,000ft.lb of energy is the safe marker for harvesting a whitetail. Obviously, other factors are involved such as the bullet’s behavior on impact and shot placement. Still, you can see the importance of bullet energy.
So, let’s take a look at our rounds for comparison and examine any differences we might see in associated bullet energy (ft.lb).
When we look at the kinetic energy of these two cartridges, there is no denying that the .308 greatly outperforms the .223. All of the selected .223 rounds fall below 1,000ft.lb of force by the 100-yard mark and continue to fall to around the 400-500ft.lb mark at 500 yards.
The .308 rounds, on the other hand, have rounds that stay above the 1,000 and even 1,500ft.lb mark at the 400-yard mark. Though, when factoring in long-range trajectory, you might have some issues, but that is for when we discuss the applications of these cartridges. Regardless, this is one of the more clear-cut differences we have seen between the 308 vs 223 besides the recoil.
How well a bullet penetrates is also an important component of stopping power. There will be hunting situations where deep penetration is needed, especially for larger game, while there are also times where penetration is not going to be as important.
Our best method for discussion penetration quantitatively is by looking at the sectional density which is calculated by using the bullets weight and diameter. Heavier bullets with smaller diameters give you a higher sectional density, and higher sectional densities mean more penetration. Think of it like this; heavier bullets with smaller diameters mean a greater amount of pressure is being exerted on a smaller area which pushes the bullet further. Velocity also plays a big role in penetration as does the bullet design but for the sake of a cleat comparison, we are omitting those factors.
We have calculated the sectional density for our eight rounds and will take a look at those now.
It’s very obvious that the .308 is going to offer you much more penetration than the .223 with all of the .308 Win rounds having sectional densities at or greater than .25 while only one .223 Rem round barely breaks the .2 mark. Even though the .223 uses much skinnier bullets, they rarely go above the 65gr weight which means poor penetration. You can see how bullet weight influences the amount of penetration you will get as well when looking at the 75gr .223 round that has the highest sectional density of the .233 rounds. This is going to be a major factor when we discuss which applications each cartridge is best suited for.
Comparing the accuracy of two cartridges has its limitations. While we could gather shot group data for each round, in the end, the accuracy can still vary from day to day from environmental factors and because of who is pulling the trigger and what firearm they are using.
Still, accuracy is an important component, especially for those trying to decide between a cartridge choice, and we can use our recent discussions to draw some conclusions on accuracy.
Both the short and long-range trajectories were very similar between these two cartridges. On average, the .223 might have slightly flatter trajectories for some rounds, but overall, you’re going to have to make the same type of adjustments for both rounds.
The ballistic coefficients for the .308 rounds used in our comparisons give an advantage to the .308 cartridge over the .223. When shooting in windy conditions, the heavier .308 bullets are going to be able to resist these environmental factors better than the .223 rounds.
Recoil is also going to play a role in accuracy, especially for less experienced shooters and for making quick follow up shot. The .308 has a much more significant amount of recoil than the .223 and is going to be difficult to make accurate follow up shots, especially when going side by side with the .223.
Again, for experienced shooters who have dealt with recoil similar to the .308, it might not impact them as much. And while there is increased recoil, there are going to be hunting situations where you will have to deal with the recoil to get more power.
Even after this brief recap, we don’t feel comfortable saying one cartridge is superior to the other when it comes to accuracy. Both have limitations, but both can be tack drivers when in the hands of a confident and practiced shooter.
Price and Availability
As far as price goes, these two cartridges are both affordable, especially when compared to other popular hunting cartridges The .223 round might be a few dollars cheaper on average, but your choice for cartridge should be based on other factors other than such a small difference in price. We have listed the prices of the eight rounds we have used through this article and listed them in the table below.
|.308 Winchester Super-X 180gr||$21.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr||$26.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr||$30.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr||$31.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr||$25.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.223 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 60gr||$24.79 (20 Rounds)|
|.223 Remington Premier AccuTip 50gr||$21.23 (20 Rounds)|
|.223 Nosler Trophy Grade Varmint 40gr||$25.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.223 Winchester Super-X 64gr||$20.99 (20 Rounds)|
|223 Hornady BTHP Match 75gr||$18.49 (20 Rounds)|
Both the .308 Winchester and the .223 Remington are popular hunting rounds and are readily available at any retailer that sells ammunition. The .223 is readily available because of the popularity of 5.56 platforms. Both cartridges also come in a variety of designs that allow you to match your ammunition to be the most effective in the field going after whatever game is in season at the time.
If you’re hunting for medium to large size game, the .308 is the obvious choice when talking about the 308 Winchester vs 223 Remington. The difference in stopping power is undeniable, with the .223 only carrying roughly 1,000ft.lb of force at the 100-yard mark. Several of the .308 rounds carry over 1,500ft.lbs of force at 500 yards. The higher sectional densities of the .308 rounds also provide much better penetration which will be needed for larger game.
For small game where you need tight groupings, the .223 has an advantage over the .308. Lighter bullets paired with the correct rifle twist on your firearm is going to provide incredible accuracy needed to pop small targets at 100 yards.
Both of these cartridges are excellent at short range, especially when used for shots taken at under 300 yards. For long-range trajectory, there are much better hunting cartridges out there with better terminal performance at these ranges, but the .308 is pretty darn good too.
If you are heading out to the range to show off your marksmanship skills, the .223 might be a better option than the .308. Not only is ammunition cheaper, but the light recoil is going to be much easier on your shoulder after a day on the range.
When thinking about the .308 vs .223 and when to use each, we still think it should be matched with the hunting or shooting situation, but the .308 is a cartridge that young or new hunters with little shooting experience should not be started out on. The .223 is a great hunting cartridge for smaller game that can get the young or inexperienced some confidence handling hunting rifles safely.
Before we wrap up this cartridge comparison, we like to take the ten rounds we have examined and pick some of our favorite rounds for each cartridge for certain shooting scenarios. In this case, it is hunting and range rounds.
Top Hunting Round
For the .308 Win, we are fond of the Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr. The one drawback is the price tag as it is a little more expensive than other .308 hunting rounds. Even so, it has tremendous velocities remaining well above supersonic speeds over a 500-yard range. The BC of .402 and a decent trajectory when compared to other .308 rounds make it excellent for most shots taken in hunting scenarios. More importantly, the ballistic tip with the penetration and incredible stopping power make it an excellent round for both medium and large game.
For the .223 Rem round, the Winchester Super-X 64gr stands out to us. It has decent kinetic energy for a .223 round and even has enough to take deer up to 100 yards. For small game and varmints, it would have no problem. It also has a pretty high sectional density for a .223 round which helps it out even more for use with medium size game. The trajectory is more than flat enough for shots up to 300-yard shots though the force associated with the bullet at that range is going to limit it to smaller game.
Top Range Round
The Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr round is one of the most used range rounds when it comes to factory loads for the .308 Win. It has supersonic velocities out to 500 yards and beyond with an excellent ballistic coefficient of 0.462. It’s not the cheapest round out there, but it won’t break the bank to go through a box or two on the range. Like any .308 round at 500+ yards, there is going to be some adjustments needed because of the bullet drop, but that’s part of the fun.
For the .223 Rem rounds we have examined, the Hornady BTHP Match 75gr is a great option to take out to the range. It’s an affordable round so you won’t feel guilty about sending a lot downrange. With supersonic velocity that bleeds speed at a low rate and a BC of 0.395, this is a great round to test your skills at long range targets.
Conclusion – .308 Winchester vs .223 Remington
When looking at the .308 vs .223, it’s a perfect example of how two cartridges can perform very differently, but still be invaluable when in the right situations. How anyone could label one as better than the other has never made any sense in our minds. For certain game or certain shooting competitions, sure, we understand that one might be better than the other and we hope that is what we have made clear in this cartridge comparison.