223 vs 556 Ammo Comparison | Which Is The Best?

Many new and experienced shooters ask: which ammo is better for hunting – 223 vs 556? There’s no denying both of these rounds are very popular…and for good reasons. But, as there are many different factors to consider it can be difficult to tell which is the best. In this post, we’ll take an unbiased look at both ammunition types and help you decide which is best for you!

Main Differences Between 223 vs 556

image comparing the differences between 223 vs 556 ammo

1) History of 223 vs 556

Let’s breakdown the history of these two cartridge types.

  • .223 Remington ammunition was invented in 1957
  • 5.56 NATO ammunition was invented in 1967

You can often learn a lot about a cartridge by understanding why it was invented in the first place. The .223 Rem burst onto the scene first as an experimental Military cartridge. It was to be used with the popular AR-15 style rife.

A few years later in 1964, the US Military officially adopted this round as the 5.56mm ball cartridge M193. Since then, the US & NATO have adapted a slightly heavier 5.56X45mm round called the 5.56 NATO. These rounds & other types of bullets have been used in countless wars and battles around the world!

At first glance, these two cartridges are nearly identical. But there are some small differences to discuss.

2) Performance Difference

One of the biggest factors when comparing two different rounds is their ballistic performance. After all, whether you’re a hunter, range shooter, or in the Military we all want the best performing round possible. You have to ask yourself a few questions.

  • Does it maintain its speed?
  • Does it hold its trajectory?
  • Does the bullet drop significantly?

The 5.56 NATO is a heavier round that is capable of shooting further distances with less bullet drop. Especially in very windy conditions! The 223 is essentially a less powerful version of the 5.56. We saw in our comparison of the 223 Rem & 350 Blackout that the 223 is not the most powerful round. It produces less pressure and has more bullet drop from long range shots.

3) Cost Comparison

When it comes to purchasing ammo, cost is definitely a critical factor to consider. It’s no secret that ammo can get expensive at time. Especially when you have round like the 35 Rem which are hard to find!


Luckily, these two rounds are priced nearly identically. Cost should not be a major factor in your decision here. It will largely depend on if the ammo is in stock at the store you’re buying from.

4) Size and Weight

The size and weight of the round is very important. Depending on your specific firearm, certain calibers may be incompatible or even dangerous to use. And certain bullet weights and sizes may be better for certain shooting conditions.

The 5.56 NATO and the 223 Remington are identical from a dimensional standpoint. In fact, these two rounds are difficult to tell apart in side by side comparisons. However, the 5.56 NATO is the heavier round and it uses slightly more powder than the 223.

Which Is More Deadly?

image of a 5.56 NATO ammo box

Stopping power is definitely up there on the list of important factors to consider when choosing the best round for you. You won’t be able to take down an intruder or predator with a weak round!

As we already mentioned, the 5.56 NATO produces higher chamber pressures and more force than the 223. The 5.56 NATO is the stronger of these 2 rounds and is often used by Military and Law Enforcement.

What’s Safe For You To Shoot In Your AR-15? [5.56 vs 223]

Not all ammo is compatible with all firearms. It’s important to always check your firearm’s manual or consult with a professional to make sure you’re using the right kind of ammunition. Using incompatible ammunition can cause malfunctions and even lead to potential danger.

You can safely shoot 223 ammunition in rifles chambered for 5.56. However, due to the very higher pressure of the round, you CANNOT shoot a 5.56 NATO in a rifle chambered for a .223. The high chamber pressure can be very dangerous to the gun and shooter! 

We learned in our post about if you Can You Shoot 30-30 In A 32 Special that not all rounds can be fired from all weapon types!

223 vs 556 | Which Is Best For Hunting?

Generally speaking, the 223 Rem is a more popular hunting round for the average person.

  • 223 is typically lighter and has a bit less recoil
  • 5.56 has more stopping power and has a longer effective range

The 223 is the better hunting cartridge and can effectively take down medium to large game. The 5.56 NATO is best left for soldiers on the battlefield.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a 5.56 or .223 stronger?

The 5.56 NATO produces higher chamber pressures and is stronger than the .223 Remington ammo. These two rounds are very popular and both pack a punch. However, the higher chamber pressure makes the 5.56 stronger.

Will a Ruger 5.56 shoot 223?

Yes, a Ruger with 5.56 chamber dimensions can shoot both a 5.56 NATO and 223 Remington ammo. These two cartridges can safely be fired from a Ruger 5.56.

What is green tip ammo?

Green tip ammo is used to signify that they are considered ammo piercing rounds. There are more strict laws around civilians owning & using green tip rounds that have a steel penetrator tip. They most commonly come in 5.56 or 223 and are used as a Military cartridge.

What's better 556 or 308?

Generally speaking, the 308 are heavier bullets and will be less impacted by wind and other weather conditions. For this reason the 308 is often used by snipers in Military or Law Enforcement. The 5.56 NATO are lighter bullets that work best in the longer throat NATO chamber design.

The Bottom Line

By now you should have a firm understanding of the difference between the 223 vs 556 cartridges. Both of these rounds have a long history and are very popular for different reasons. If you want a higher pressure round go with the 5.56 NATO. If you want a more precise round for hunting go with the 223! And if you noticed the terms 5.56 and 5.56 NATO in our post and want to learn more about the difference, check out our article!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

Leave a Comment