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Matt writes:

I am looking to buy my first AR. The biggest dilemma that is facing me is the choice of caliber. Obviously, the main stream choice is the 5.56/.223 but I am really interested in the .300 Blackout because of the larger size of the round and the perceived greater stopping power. The AR I am drawn to the most is the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport because of the price and I am a S&W fan. That rifle compared to an AR in .300 is a difference of around $1,000 from what I have been able to find. My question is, do you think that it is worth the extra money for the larger round or should I go with the cheaper option? I plan on using the rifle for home defense and of course range time. Do you think that I should buy a rifle in 5.56 and then possibly at a later time purchase a .300 upper? I am not sure if this will impact your suggestion but I also plan on putting a suppressor on my rifle at some point. Thank you for your help.

Short answer: No. Let me explain . . .

We’ve talked at great length about 300 AAC Blackout here at TTAG and as some of you can tell, I’m a bit of a fanboy. But while the round fills many roles (subsonic functioning, short barrel performance, interchangability of parts and cases) it’s not the best choice for a new AR-15 owner.

The true power in the 300 AAC Blackout round is that the only difference between a 300 BLK rifle and a 5.56 NATO rifle is the barrel. Everything else, including the bolt, remains the same. This is especially important for existing AR-15 owners, as they already have spare magazines and parts for their existing rifle, so making the switch to 300 BLK is effortless.

For new shooters, however, you run into the ammunition supply issue immediately. While there are a lot more manufacturers of 300 BLK ammunition than there were this time last year, they’re all out of stock. And the few stores that have the ammo on their shelves are asking around $1.50/round. I’d think twice about paying that much for .308 Winchester, let alone 300 BLK.

The best option is to buy a 5.56 caliber AR-15 and get a replacement upper receiver down the road. Especially if you don’t have a silencer ready to go for the rifle, there’s no point in spending money on the more expensive ammunition right away. Get the rifle, and six months after you send away for the paperwork, drop some more cash on an upper. In the meantime, you can take advantage of the slump in AR-15 sales to pick up a new gun for a song and a dance. Relatively to the last few months, that is.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via [email protected]. Click here to browse previous posts]

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  1. Being able to practice with your new rifle is a big concern and the bottleneck of ammo costs is spot on. Want to be a great shooter? Shoot allot. Want to be a poor great shooter? Shoot allot of 300 blackout.

        • Well, instead of going after allots, go after feral pigs… I hear no season, no bag limit on those, and the kinda hardware you’re allowed to bring is staggering… at least to those of us living in states where you’re not allowed to use bolt action rifles to hunt deer.

        • We gots a family o whole bunch o dems ” ALLOTS ” roamin round up ber n Northern Vermont ……… dems a lookins funny too, wid dems long ears an big ol twisted horn where da mouth shudda be….n wid jes one eye dey ain’t cross eyed neither……..funny color too ! green wid dems purple dots in all……ain’t never shot one yet because dey weave baskets fer the farmers market round here, dey fill em wid taters n such. so we cant shoot em. Yeah dem ALLOTS ziz an ol funny bunch yep……….Jes a sayzin…………………..BURP !

    • Or, learn to reload, save a lot of money, practice even more and become a GREAT shot.
      I’ve never understood how a person can afford to shoot without reloading, that is if you are serious about it. I used to shoot competitively, never could have afforded it if I had to buy ammo. I burned through 500+ rounds each week. I don’t shoot that much anymore, but reloading is a world unto itself and I love it.
      Good luck!

  2. Wow. I had the exact same question. Great and well articulated answer. Thanks for all the great articles and all the good work that you do.

  3. I agree on this. As an early adopter of the 300BO, there was virtually no ammo available, so right out of the gate I had to make my own brass (cutting down 5.56 brass and re-necking) , and of course reload my own ammo. I was fairly experienced on reloading, but the 300 was difficult to get the wrinkles ironed out.

    Now, it’s about the only rifle I run and I love it. But as was stated in the article, factory ammo is still in short supply, and where you can find it…… very expensive. I would also suggest to start with a 5.56 chambered AR and switch uppers when ammo supply allows.

    • IMHO, 300BLK is a caliber for reloaders only right now. It just doesn’t make sense to buy or build a 300BLK upper right now, suppressed or not, if you can’t load your own rounds for it.

      The cheapest jacketed 300BLK on right now is $2.75/round. That’s over 15X more expensive than the 5.45×39 I feed my main AR. To put that in perspective, I can feed my AR three full CA-compliant 10-round magazines for what it would cost to fire two shots of commercially loaded 300BLK.

      Fortunately, loading your own 300BLK is much easier than it used to be. You can get once-fired brass already cleaned and resized for 300BLK by the thousand at reasonable prices, and it’s actually possible to get powder, primers and projectiles if you spend some time looking.

      • I COMPLETELY agree with the above statement. My buddy liked shooting mine and was spouting about getting one himself. I told him not to until he started reloading himself. However, this is a really fun round to load for. I shoot a lot of 150-180 gr loads at 13-1500 fps. At 100 yards you hear a separate “thwack” of it hitting the plywood.
        Just finally getting around to sending in suppressor stuff so someday ill get to see what this round can really do!

    • I think I see your problem.
      A. If there are wrinkles in your rounds you are doing it wrong.
      B. Using an iron to remove the wrinkles is just unmanly!

      (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. My Dad always said “the smartass is strong with this one”.)

  4. I totally thought Nick was going to go full fanboy on this one. It’s nice to be plesantly surprised once in a while.

  5. Matt,

    I am starting to see .223 and 5.56 ammunition back at stores now. And I am seeing it for about $11 per box of 20 which works out to about $0.55 per round. I have even managed to find Herters (Russian made which is in steel cases but claims to be boxer primed and non-corrosive) for around $7 per box of 20 which works out to about $0.35 per round.

    I think the standard 5.56 x 45 NATO is a very good choice for home defense and range fun. It is a little lacking for hunting game beyond the size of coyotes. But like Nick said, you can “upgrade” to a .300 AAC barrel in the future if things return to “normal”.

  6. Ok follow up question. I’m in the same boat, I have a complete lower for my first AR15 and I have been vacillating between uppers. I would be using it for range fun and home defense. I’m trying to decide between .223, 7.62×39, and 5.45×39. The main reason is ammo availability and ammo cost. Best prices around right now are about .20/rd for 5.45, .28/rd for 7.62, and .45/rd for .223. The Russian-chambered uppers run about $100-200 more than the least expensive .223, so it takes about a thousand rounds to break even. After that, you see big savings (and big availability blessings in the short term) with either Russian choice. So…suggestions? Anyone?

    • Go with the 5.56/.223 instead.

      I have yet to meet an AR magazine for 7.62×39 that ran even remotely reliable. I don’t know about 5.45 except for the only 5.45 in my area is the spam cans of corrosive stuff, which I would NEVER run through an AR because of the difficulty in cleaning afterwards.

      • Counterpoint: the corrosive-primers thing is NOT a big deal.

        I run 5.45 with a Spike’s upper. Cleaning the corrosive salts from the primer is an extra few minutes after the range trip, which consists of pouring a few cups of very hot water (near boiling) over the fire control group and through the upper receiver.

        The payoff is that my ammo costs are roughly 1/3 of the guys running 5.56, and since I went 5.45 I have had ammo continuously available to order at reasonable prices. Even buying single-box quantities to try out Wolf and Silver Bear loads, I’ve never paid more than $0.33/round.

        I get effectively 100% reliability out of PMAGs loaded to 10 rounds (CA limited). When I’m shooting at locations outside CA, I get similarly so-close-to-100%-it-doesn’t-mattter reliability from ASC magazines made specifically for 5.45, and I’ve loaded unmodified gen-2 PMAGs to 20+ rounds with no problems.

        Get a Spike’s upper from AIM Surplus, even if you have to wait for it, then cackle evilly as you shoot 5.45 long after the 5.56 guys have exhausted their ammo budget for the weekend.

        • Alpha, did you get one of the Spikes this spring from Aim Surplus, or is it older? A whole bunch of gun forums say they’re having problems chambering some surplus rounds due to chamber dimension problems on the newest ones that were sold a couple months ago.

        • I got one of the spring crop, and yes, mine refuses to chamber one specific round: Wolf SP (softpoint) 5.45×39.

          It was annoying at the time, but I’ve tried it with basically everything else that’s commercially available and it does just fine. It’s only the Wolf SP rounds with the different bullets which are problematic. I don’t consider it to be a deal-breaker since everything else works.

          The 3 boxes of Wolf SP I bought were set aside to be used for “Mexican Match” reloads at a later date.

    • personally i’d get them all, but then i’m planning on having multiple dedicated rifles. reasons i like the 5.45 and 7.62 is the price and availability (plus on the 7.62 if you ever get an AK they can share ammo) 5.56 is common and not going anywhere. only things that need to change between the types are the barrel, bolt and magazine.

    • “Range fun and self defense”.. 7.62×39, all the way.

      I have a lot of experience with the AR platform, and have shot many of the different calibers available for the 5.56 lower. .223/5.56 is fairly inexpensive to shoot, when the ammo is available, but it’s still a .224 bullet. There’s only so much you can do with over the counter loads. It’s accurate, but it really shines on coyote sized targets at a few hundred yards. A coyote at 250 yards is not a 180 lb bad guy on drugs breaking into your house at 3am.

      5.45 is a cool round to look at simply because of the cost of ammo, and is pretty comparable to 5.56 in terms of power. But as mentioned earlier, most of the cheaper commie ammo is going to be corrosive. Not a problem if you don’t mind hosing down your rifle with windex immediately after you shoot it. Another problem is the bullet. The 5.45 is a long, spitzer bullet designed to tumble as it rapidly decelerates through tissue. Like the 5.56, this is supposed to happen at longer ranges than home defense range.

      6.8spc is an interesting option. Much heavier bullet equals more energy on target, but the cost of ammo is prohibitive. I can personally vouch for how effective the 90 Sierra HP and 110 VMAX are on game sized animals, but unless you reload, things get spendy fast. Even before the current crunch, brass was difficult to find. Try finding some now. Ain’t gonna happen.. Additionally, magazines are about double the cost of a 5.56 mag.

      Which brings me to 7.62×39. In all reality, the bullet is very close to the .300BO in terms of ballistics. My reloading manual says that the BO was designed to mimic the x39, while retaining the same bolt and mag as the 5.56. Now, compare the cost of .300BO with a box of Tula, Wolf, or WPA 7.62×39. I’m still finding 20 rounds of SP x39 locally for $7-8. Purists will argue that the .300 is a better round because the bullet is better made, or because the ammo is produced domestically vs commie bloc, but where do those differences in quality really show up? Do you routinely shoot past 200 yards for self defense or at the range? That Wolf 123gr SP out of my Oly upper with their SS Ultramatch barrel is easily capable of 3-4 in groups at 200 yards, with my mediocre shooting ability and a 2-7x scope. And isn’t a 120-ish gr bullet at 15 feet more desirable for self defense than a 55gr 5.56? As to the magazine issue, I too have heard this stated as an issue with regards to the x39. I have the 25 or 27 round ASC mag that came with my upper, and a 10 round ASC mag that I bought aftermarket for hunting. Neither has ever given me problems. Well over 1000 rounds of the cheapest, cruddiest ammo I could find, and i’ve never had a FTF/FTE.

      As an aside, I had it at the range day before yesterday. I was blowing up grapefruit sized rocks on a berm at 240 yards with that little 2-7x Redfield. Point and shoot…

      • “. I was blowing up grapefruit sized rocks on a berm at 240 yards with that little 2-7x Redfield…”

        Was that out at Paul Bunyan? Didn’t know there was anyone else from Puyallup on here…

      • Another person from Puyallup? I didn’t know there were any others on here. I do appreciate some 6.8 SPC and down the road that would probably be my choice for hunting (assuming Nick doesn’t convert me to a 300BO follower) but my main goal here is to actually shoot, not dream about how expensive ammo is 🙂

        • No, I go to TSC. Haven’t gotten around to membership at PB, which is a shame because I live 2 blocks away from them. If you’re interested in the 6.8, I don’t mind if you shoot mine. You just need to get your own ammo, or trade something for mine. 🙂 Contact me at dieschem AT hotmail. Put something about in the subject line so I don’t miss it.

  7. The 300BLK is great for hitting the gongs but still doesn’t have the accuracy ability of the 223. Its an ok second caliber but the cost of the ammo, along with the cost of the upper is definitely not a starting gun for a newbie to ARs.

    It would be the same reason I would not recommend a new shooter buying an F Class rifle chambered in 6×47. New guys need to start with calibers that are plentiful and easy to practice with. Plus if he burns out on the gun, he can sell it to someone who is interested in shooting a common ar15 compared to someone who is in the minority, shooting a minority cartridge. 300BLK is still niche cartridge. Accuracy at 100 yds is ok at best. Its a cartridge that can shoehorn itself into a gun that was designed to shoot 223/5.56 and deliver a 30 caliber pill with a 2 moa expectation. I don’t expect it going much farther than short range steel plate shooting AR15s and the occasional odd bolt gun.

  8. I don’t really think 300blackout is all that and a bag of chips. I think there is a lot of hype for something 99% of people are going to punch holes in paper with.

    If you hunt with it, it’s been proven to be acceptable. I don’t know of many “hunting” loads for it but I know people do.

    Perhaps if/when I hear ar-15 in 300blk suppressed I can make final judgement but 5.56 seems to kill the paper bad guys just fine for me.

    Suppressed ar-15 that is spooky quiet? I have a 15-22 and a Spectre for that.

  9. Excellent advice, Nick. I made the mistake of 300BLK for my first AR. Shot 2 boxes at $12/box then the madness struck. During that time the only 300BLK I could find was $45/box (slickguns & gunbot). When ammo started to come back around .223/5.56 were readily available and cheap, and 300BLK was still impossible to find let alone affordable.
    I’ve since switched to a 5.56 upper and shoot $5/box .223 ammo all day. That’s effectively 4x the trigger time of the 300BLK in today’s ammo economy.
    I’d still love to pick up a 300BLK upper one day and make it quiet, I really like what the round is capable of.

  10. How good is the 300BLK for home defense? It certainly has better stopping power than 5.56, but does it also have more penetration? That would be a concern for me with family and neighbors in close proximity.

    • Standard velocity .300AAC rounds have a weight in the 123gr range, so it reasonable to assume greater penetration than 5.56 at 62~75gr (all else being equal). Penetration is not necessarily a bad thing as you want the round to accomplish your desired goal, getting through and into the threat. The key is awareness of what’s behind the target.

      Where .300AAC could shine in a home defense scenario is 220gr subsonic suppressed. Thirty quickly-reloaded rounds of essentially .45ACP in a stable, long-barrel, carbine platform that is relatively comfortable to fire indoors.

      • Correction: 25rnds per magazine.

        I don’t personally own a .300AAC, but I am a fan of suppressed 7.62×39 for similar reasons as above (short-intermediate range). Shame there is not a better selection of subsonic of AK commercial available. Defensive ammo selection is only marginally better. 300AAC has a significant advantage in this area.

        • .300BLK is just a chopped and channeled 5.56 round so you can fit as many .300BLK cartridges as you can fit 5.56, so reasonably 29 to 30 (YMMV).

        • Makes perfect sense. Thanks for that info.

          Must have been thinking of 6.8SPC (proprietary mag) in my ‘correction’.

  11. My concern with running any unsuppressed AR for HD is permanent hearing damage without hearing protection on. Not only permanent damage in the long term, but not being able to hear family/good guys after your first shot.

    As a matter of fact I am considering filling out the NFA paperwork and running my HD guns suppressed for just that reason. I turn 40 this year and I need to save the hearing I have left.

    • Good idea. A suppressed 9mm or 45 with good SD ammo should do the trick indoors. I don’t have a can for my glock 17 yet but eventually it will. Run a good weapon light on it (tlr-1s 160lumen right now for me) and you’re all set. I have a “backup” 33rd mag full of 115gr fmj in case the Russians come.

  12. But I want one, dammit! And it would be my first. I don’t want to go against Foghorn’s recommendation, because he’s usually right. Does it make any difference that I was also going to use that platform to learn reloading, and I already have a healthy pile of 5.56 brass?

      • A couple?

        I’ve had good luck with Lil’Gun, H110/W296, A1680, and N110. I have a buddy that runs 4100 and Reloader 7 with very good results. Outside of Lil’Gun, I haven’t really had any problems finding powder either.

      • As someone who intends to go the 300 Blk route eventually, I watched availability of some of the powders during the recent shortages. While powders for .223, .308, and 9mm were unavailable several 300 Blk powders (H110 and Lil’Gun) were still on shelves.

    • A reasonably good way to get going with it as .300BLK is almost a straight-walled case, almost. To trim down those .223s, get a cheap tabletop chopsaw from Harbor Freight, ($25), case trimmer ($60-90) and your reloading setup ($100-1500) and you’re off to the races. While it can be a bit finicky as you’re using magnum pistol powder for a rifle round, pay attention to published data, start 10% under the slowest published data and work up to it.

  13. Great advice. Around my area 5.56 and .223 is getting easier to find. Most stores have a limit as to how much you can buy and its mostly just 55 grain but its certainly not extinct. I see 6 or 7 boxes sitting on the shelf at WalMart for days and recently was pleasantly surprised to see an entire endcap at Bass Pro full with 5.56. 300BLK and .308/7.62, whats that? I cant even find 7.62×54 and there probably arent nearly as many gun owners shooting that as there are other calibers.

    • On an unrelated note, I went by my local Wal-mart last night and looked at their ammo case. Surprisingly, they had no .22-250, which they’ve had every single other time I’ve looked. Not that I wanted that. They also had a couple boxes of .243 Win, which I bought, and a couple boxes of .270 Win, and the usual pile of 12 gauge. The funny thing was that sitting on the shelf next to the 12 gauge was a single 7.62×39. Not a single box. A single round, of Tula steel-cased ammo. What a tease!

    • Try ammo to go for x54. They have it. I’ve been seeing 5.56, 7.62×39 and x54 on the shelves at the local shops. It’s the 9mm and rimfire that’s proving elusive.

  14. Here it is in a nutshell. The 300 BLK is the most silencer-friendly, SBR-friendly rifle caliber available. If you’re not into silencers, then you probably wouldn’t be into SBR’s either (unless you just like paying an extra $200 for the fun of it). So in that regard, then no, do not get 300 BLK as a first AR.

    • … so if you have no intention of going the NFA route, get a nice quality 556 AR first. Learn and practice with the base platform first. Then simply buy a 16″ 300 BLK upper in the future when, hopefully, more ammo comes around.

      • The upper would be for convenience. All you really need is a barrel and an armorer’s wrench.

    • DPMS A4 at the local Walmart last week @ $630 and several Colt AR varients @ $1100+. Zero 5.56/.223 though.

  15. I say stay out of AR15s for the time being.

    But if you have to have one, I suggest a LMT (if you can find one). Why them? because my LMT has been the most reliable with steel cased (which you can find cheap on gunbot).

  16. My first & only (so far) AF is 300BLK. I am looking at an additional upper in 5.56. Nice to not need a BCG immediately though and all my stuff is cross-compatible!
    Yes ammo is scarce…but I can reload just as well and get my prices down to ~.40 a shot or less. In fact, when my bullets get here in a week I will have 100 more 110 grains to go blast at stuff.
    Yes, perhaps a different upper would have been better but considering I managed to assemble the gun in the crazy time for just under $1100 I am quite pleased.
    Really though, its Nick’s fault. Too many videos and raves over the gun.
    I’m not sad though.

  17. Solid advice, Nick. Good to see the fanboy side hasn’t clouded your vision of the big picture.

  18. As usual, good advice.

    I bought my first AR in 6.8mm because a friend was getting rid of it. After the great ammo panic of 2012, my first planned improvement is a 5.56mm upper.

  19. I have a 5.56 upper… that’s been collecting dust for 7 months.

    A month after the panic buying began, I saw that 5.45 wasn’t jumping up in price. I researched it and saw that it was a great round for the AR platform. I’d had experience with it in my ak74, so I took the plunge and bought a gas piston 5.45 upper from Huldra Arms. I also had to buy three new mags, which were nearly $30 a piece at the time, but they’ve gone down considerably since I bought them. (SOME regular 5.56 mags work, but not too reliable.)

    The 5.45x39mm round is great for practice. I even have one magazine loaded with hollow points for self defense, but that’s mostly to ensure that the feral hog population around my property is kept in check.

    I’m happy with the 5.45 round as well because it’s 15-19 cents per round. 5.56/223 is still at least 50-70 cents per round – when you can find it. Sure, what I buy in bulk is corrosive, but you must remember: my upper is gas piston operated, so the internals don’t get near as much trash and corrosive materials in them as a DI system does.

    Sure, the round and the upper isn’t commonplace (at least not where I live) but I can go out and shoot all day without needing to sell one of my other guns just to buy more ammo.

    …my two cents.

    • Who needs “commonplace” when you can have 2160 rounds of 7N6 delivered to your door securely packaged in the original Russian crate for $420? 🙂

    • wanna know a secret?

      the 5.45 7N6 is pseudo hollow point.

      Take a pair of cutting pliers and see your yourself 😀

  20. My vote with is to go with the .223 but regardless of caliber (except for 5.45 and 7.62×39) is to consider handloading. I have a number of Lee-Enfield No4s, but the ones I use the most are the .223 conversions. Handloading with cheap bulk components cuts my cost for cheap close range ammunition (100-200 metres) down to less than $0.20 per round. I’ve had to use the cheap reloads at 300 metres and put in some good scores with it but I prefer my Match-King load (69g Sierra Match Kings) for 200-300 metre matches where the scores are used for grading. The Match King rounds are about $0.50 per round but are still better than any factory ammunition.

    I’ve had good results with AR2206H with 55-62 grain bullets and I am now considering using this powder instead of the much more expensive Benchmark 2 (BM2) powder in the 69 grain loads. Note that AR2206H is available in the US from Hogden Powders and is a powder than can be used from .222 to .30-06.

  21. I simply fail to see the point of the 300 Blackout. It is a round developed to meet SAAMI specs, because J D Jones developer of the 300 Whisper wouldn’t let go of his proprietary claims on the cartridge. The 300 Blackout/Whisper are truly suppresable. This means that with any load that is subsonic, from a suppressed barrel, all ones hears is the “click click” of the action as the rifle is fired. Considering that many are not going to fork over their ID, wealth, and privacy to the ATF just to have a suppressed rifle, one has to wonder just how useful the cartridge really is. Examining that, one finds that the cartridge drives 115-120 grain bullets at some 2100-2250 fps, which sounds dreadfully like the 7.62×39. So, for the better part of $700 for an upper or $1000 for a rifle and the use of cartridge which is at once expensive and hard to find, we get the same performance we can have from a $200 SKS… somehow, I fail to see the point.

  22. Buy the 800 dollar m&p in 5.56. Then add the 300 upper when you have the extra cash. Oh and you will want a 9mm Upper…. And… And… It goes on and on

  23. I notice the newest post is right at a year old (“Jeremy” from 6-21-13) and – as expected – the landscape has changed dramatically in a year. 1) AR-15s are again in plentiful supply. Prices have come down – but nothing like the days before the Newtown CT elementary school tragedy. 2) Ammunition is almost back to “not too bad” in popular most calibers. Not that long ago, 9mm, 5.56 NATO and even .22LR were simply non-existent. Today, 6-21-14 at my local Wally’s, Bass Pro Shops & Gander Mountain – oodles of everything EXCEPT .22LR …… and .300 Blackout. Either no one in making this stuff – have the standard bearers, Remington, parent company of the developer, AAC, abandoned it?!?!? – or else this is the “noveau populaire” round! Haven’t seen any at retail in 15-18 months …. I.M.O., super-sonic .300 BLK with the appropriate ballistic bullet is easily a excellent medium-sized game round. Feral hogs? No problem. Deer? Ditto. I clocked one at about 150 yards – a chubby 6 point buck – and he barely ran more than 25-30 yards before he dropped. Mountain goats & similar? Up to 200m and they’re down in one. //// Just saw some 147gr. FMJs “plinkers” on Ozark Ordnance for about .60¢ a round

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