308 vs. 556

What's the Difference?

The .308 Winchester and the 5.56x45mm NATO (.556) are both popular rifle cartridges, but they have distinct differences. The .308 Winchester, also known as 7.62x51mm NATO, is a larger and more powerful round primarily used in long-range shooting and hunting. It offers excellent accuracy, high energy transfer, and is effective against larger game. On the other hand, the 5.56x45mm NATO is a smaller and lighter round commonly used in military and law enforcement applications. It provides higher velocity, lower recoil, and greater magazine capacity. While the .308 is better suited for long-range precision shooting, the 5.56 is preferred for its versatility and maneuverability in close-quarters combat. Ultimately, the choice between these two cartridges depends on the intended purpose and specific requirements of the shooter.


Caliber.308 Winchester.223 Remington / 5.56x45mm NATO
Bullet Diameter0.308 inches (7.82 mm)0.224 inches (5.7 mm)
Effective Range800-1000 yards500-600 yards
Magazine CapacityVaries (typically 10-20 rounds)Varies (typically 20-30 rounds)
Popular PlatformsAR-10, bolt-action riflesAR-15, M16, M4, SCAR, etc.
Primary UseLong-range precision shooting, huntingGeneral-purpose, military, and civilian use

Further Detail


When it comes to firearms, choosing the right caliber is crucial. Two popular calibers that often come up in discussions are .308 and .556. Both have their own unique attributes and are widely used for various purposes. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics of each caliber, exploring their ballistics, applications, and performance.


Ballistics play a significant role in determining the effectiveness and range of a caliber. The .308 Winchester, also known as 7.62x51mm NATO, is a powerful rifle cartridge primarily designed for long-range shooting. It has a larger bullet diameter of .308 inches, which contributes to its excellent accuracy and energy retention over extended distances. The .308 typically fires heavier bullets, ranging from 150 to 180 grains, resulting in higher muzzle energy and better penetration.

On the other hand, the .556 NATO, or 5.56x45mm, is a smaller caliber commonly used in military and civilian rifles. It features a bullet diameter of .224 inches, making it lighter and faster than the .308. The .556 usually fires bullets weighing between 55 and 77 grains, providing flatter trajectories and higher velocities. While it may lack the long-range capabilities of the .308, the .556 excels in close to medium-range engagements.


The different attributes of the .308 and .556 make them suitable for distinct applications. The .308 is widely favored by hunters and long-range precision shooters. Its superior ballistics allow for accurate shots at extended distances, making it ideal for hunting big game or engaging targets in precision shooting competitions. Additionally, the .308's larger bullet size and higher energy make it effective for taking down larger animals.

On the other hand, the .556 is commonly used in military and law enforcement applications. Its lighter weight and higher velocity make it well-suited for close-quarters combat and urban environments. The .556's ability to penetrate barriers, such as body armor or light cover, is an advantage in tactical situations. Furthermore, the lighter recoil of the .556 makes it easier to control during rapid-fire scenarios, enhancing its effectiveness in high-stress situations.


When comparing the performance of the .308 and .556, several factors come into play. The .308's heavier bullets and larger diameter result in greater stopping power and better terminal ballistics. It delivers a significant amount of energy upon impact, making it highly effective for hunting or engaging targets at longer distances. The .308's accuracy and ability to maintain velocity over extended ranges contribute to its exceptional performance.

On the other hand, the .556's performance lies in its versatility and maneuverability. Its lighter weight allows for carrying more ammunition, which is advantageous in military or law enforcement operations. The .556's higher velocity and flatter trajectory make it easier to engage multiple targets quickly. While it may lack the sheer power of the .308, the .556 compensates with its rapid-fire capabilities and effectiveness in close-quarters engagements.

Ammunition Availability and Cost

Another crucial aspect to consider when comparing calibers is ammunition availability and cost. The .308 has been in use for decades and is widely available in various bullet types and weights. Its popularity ensures a broad selection of ammunition from different manufacturers, making it relatively easy to find. However, the .308 ammunition tends to be more expensive compared to the .556 due to its larger size and higher demand.

On the other hand, the .556 is one of the most common calibers worldwide, primarily due to its military adoption. As a result, ammunition for the .556 is widely available and generally more affordable than the .308. Its popularity also means that there is a wide range of bullet types and weights to choose from, catering to different shooting needs. The lower cost and availability of .556 ammunition make it an attractive option for many shooters.


In conclusion, the .308 and .556 are two popular calibers with distinct attributes and applications. The .308 excels in long-range shooting, offering excellent accuracy, energy retention, and penetration. It is favored by hunters and precision shooters who require superior ballistics and stopping power. On the other hand, the .556 is a versatile caliber suitable for close to medium-range engagements. Its lighter weight, higher velocity, and maneuverability make it ideal for military and law enforcement applications.

Ultimately, the choice between the .308 and .556 depends on the intended use and personal preferences of the shooter. Whether it's long-range precision shooting or close-quarters combat, understanding the ballistics, applications, and performance of each caliber is crucial in making an informed decision. Both the .308 and .556 have their strengths and weaknesses, and selecting the right caliber can greatly enhance shooting experiences and overall effectiveness.

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