SHTF Rifle Caliber Choices: .308, .223, and 6.5 Creedmoor
Jon Stokes 07.23.18
One of the aspects of my previous post on SHTF rifle selection that generated the most response was my decision to move to .308 from .223. I want to unpack that a bit more, here, and give the reasoning behind this selection.
First off, I need to point out that I wasn’t totally honest: my SHTF caliber choice is not, in fact, .308 but 6.5 Creedmoor. Before you flip out, know this: my main gun, the LMT LM8MWS, has a quick-change barrel system, so that I can swap out my 20″ 6.5CM barrel for my 16″ .308 barrel in a minute or so. So I have the gun and optics configured for 6.5CM which is my preferred caliber that I’m stocking up on right now, but a few minutes and a few turns of a turret to dial in the .308 DOPE for the gun, I can run .308.
With that out of the way, let’s take a brief look at SHTF caliber choices for AR-pattern rifles.
(Note: I’m leaving the AK out of this particular discussion in order to keep things focused. I think it’s possible that the AK could be a better choice than the AR for most casual preppers — people who want to buy a cheap rifle “just in case” — but that’s not the audience for this discussion. The AK is also a very good and popular choice for serious preppers, but again, I want to keep this focused on prepping with an AR.)
Most preppers will offer something like the following list as primary considerations for selecting a SHTF caliber: availability, weight, lethality (at likely ranges).
I’ll go through each of these in turn and offer some comments, but before I do you may want to check out the post where I talk about the phases of a SHTF event. I’ll be referring to phases 1-3 in the following text, because the phases matter.
Availability: You want ammo that’s popular and widely available, because you’ll be more likely to run across stashes of it in stores, personal stockpiles, or military stockpiles.
I’ll tell you a secret: I think availability may well be the single most overrated consideration that preppers use when picking ammo. I think this for two reasons.
First, I’ve lived through two different ammo droughts, and you know what was on shelves when everyone was panic buying? The odd stuff. The more boutique the round, the more likely it was to be in stock. If a SHTF event doesn’t come on suddenly, and there’s a bout of panic buying that precedes it, then unless you’re already stocked don’t expect to find any popular ammo in stores before or after catastrophe strikes.
The second reason I suspect availability is overrated, is that if there is a true SHTF event and there’s something like a 90% die-off in the first month (phases 1 and 2), then if you’re one of the (un?)fortunate remnant you’ll have your pick of anything and everything. You just have to pick the load-out that will get you through those first two phases, and if you can manage that then you won’t have ammo supply problems. You’ll either have your pick of the remaining ammo in your preferred caliber, or you’ll be able to pick up a different gun in a different caliber and use that, instead. Either way, availability isn’t an issue if you can hold out long enough.
Weight: “Ounces are pounds, and pounds are pain” is the saying most preppers use when thinking about weight issues. If you’re bugging out, or even just carrying a rifle on patrol or for a hunt, weight is a very big deal.
The older you get the bigger a deal weight is, and the same if you have some disability or aren’t in very good shape. You may live in an area with a lot of wide open space, where you’d ideally prefer a gun that can keep some distance between you and a threat, but if you can’t get around with your load-out then you’re going to need to rank this consideration above all others.
If you make it to phase 3, you’ll have age to contend with sooner than you can imagine, but by that time you’ll also have options courtesy of the many who didn’t make it that far.
Lethality: Finally we get to the question of lethality, and I include effective range under this heading. You need ammo that will do the job at the ranges you’ll most likely be shooting at.
Your area of operations (AO) matters a great deal for this consideration. If you’re in an urban or suburban environment, then by all means stick with .223 because you’re unlikely to shoot much past 300 yards. I’m in central Texas, though, and I can look out the windows of the second floor of my house and see over a mile in multiple directions. So I tend to favor calibers with more reach.
When you’re thinking about your AO, you’ll want to take into account a possible bug-out scenario. For instance, if you’re set up for an urban environment, but you bug out to a farm on some flat land, you might find yourself wishing for more reach.
Given the considerations and comments above, let’s take a look three different AR-15 rifle calibers and see how they stack up.
The Newcomer: 6.5 Creedmoor
I have no interest in fighting on the internet with people who don’t like 6.5 Creedmoor because they don’t see the point, or because they’ve been into 6.5 Swede since Moses was first handed a box of it on Mount Sinai, or because .308 too good to be improved upon, or whatever. I have shot this caliber at a long-range shooting clinic and on a number of hunts, and I can testify to its accuracy and lethality. I’m comfortable and experienced with it, I really like it, and the price of good ammo compares well to good .308.
6.5CM is lighter than .308 and has less recoil, making it easier to carry and to shoot. So it wins vs. 308 in the weight department, but loses pretty handily to .223 in that same department.
The “availability” criterion is a big, fat “nope.” Once my own stash goes dry, I’ll be attaching the .308 barrel and probably living with that for the rest of the ride. But then again, see my notes above on availability issues.
Note that 6.5 Creedmoor is also a barrel burner. You’ll only get about 3,000 rounds of good accuracy out of a 6.5CM barrel, vs about 8,000 rounds for .308. So by the time my stash is done my barrel will be close to done, too.
The Stalwart: .308 Win
.308 win is probably a wash in the availability department with .223, but it scores a lot higher in lethality at longer distances. Again, if you’re totally confident you won’t need to go the distance, maybe skip this caliber.
As for weight, .308 is about 40% heavier than .223, so you’ll be carrying a lot less ammo in any scenario where you’re on foot. Given that number of rounds equals time in fight, this matters a great deal. Should you find yourself in a close-range firefight with someone sporting a standard AR-15 and full combat load-out, you’ll be outgunned.
Again, think carefully and realistically about your level of physical fitness, your likelihood of ending up on foot, and your area of operations before deciding that the increase in weight is worth the boost in range.
The Standard: .223 Rem
.223 is still the gold standard by which SHTF calibers are judged, as the right choice of round will give you a great balance of availability, weight, and lethality. If your AO permits .223 as a choice that you can make with confidence, then definitely pick it. Likewise, if you’re just not sure what to do because you’re new to prepping and you find the caliber wars overwhelming, then forget about everything else above and just pick .223. It won’t be a mistake.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I consider .223 Rem the baseline choice for a SHTF centerfire long gun caliber, and everything else is more a matter of making a selection that’s more narrowly tailored to your specific situation.