5.56 Ballistics Charts From Every Major Ammunition Manufacturer

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights

Whether you're a military enthusiast, a law enforcement professional, or a civilian engaged in shooting sports, understanding the dynamics of 5.56 NATO rounds can significantly enhance your shooting accuracy and safety.

In this guide, we'll break down the key elements that define 5.56 NATO ballistics, including velocity, energy, and effective range.

Our aim is to provide you with easy-to-understand information that helps you make informed decisions about your ammunition, ensuring optimal performance in various shooting scenarios.

5.56 Velocity

A bullet's muzzle velocity is the rate at which it exits the rifle barrel, measured in feet per second (fps).

Generally, a longer barrel produces a higher muzzle velocity, as it gives the exploding propellant more time to exert its energy against the projectile's base.

Bullet design and weight also bear significantly on how much velocity a projectile will exhibit downrange.

For example, heavier bullets have higher inertia, and tend to have relatively lower muzzle velocities as a result.

Polymer-tipped hollow point boat tail bullets, on the other hand, tend to conserve velocity more efficiently than traditional soft point bullets because they're more ballistically efficient.

Handloads also tend to have higher velocities than factory-loaded ammo, which is one reason why reloading is so popular among dedicated shooting enthusiasts and competitive shooters.

The muzzle velocity of factory 5.56 ammo ranges from 2,700 fps to 3,300 fps, depending on the exact load and whether you're firing a 5.56 handgun, carbine or rifle.

5.56 Kinetic Energy

A bullet's energy is measured in foot-pounds (ft-lbs). Muzzle energy reflects the force with which a projectile exits the barrel.

Heavier bullets tend to have higher muzzle energy. Velocity is also significant, which is why lighter bullets can have greater muzzle energy than heavier bullets.

A higher muzzle energy typically means the round has more recoil. The 5.56 NATO's lightweight bullets generate relatively little recoil energy, which makes it an excellent cartridge to introduce someone to shooting.

The biggest problem with lightweight projectiles is that they conserve relatively less energy downrange.

For instance, a 50 grain TSX with a muzzle energy of 1,191 ft-lbs will only conserve 184 ft-lbs at 500 yards, whereas a 77 grain open tip match with a muzzle energy of 1,293 ft-lbs will conserve 480 ft-lbs at the same distance.

This is why shot placement becomes even more critical when it comes to lightweight projectiles.

5.56 Effective Range

The 5.56's great versatility has made it wildly popular among American shooters. It's commonly used for target shooting, varmint and predator hunting, boar hunting, personal protection and home defense.

When chambered in a rifle with a 20" barrel, the 5.56 NATO has a maximum range of about 1,000 yards for target shooting.

Naturally, success hinges on the shooter's skill level, the quality of their ammo, and environmental conditions.

The effective range of 5.56 rounds for hunting drops to about 600 yards. The lightweight projectiles don't maintain enough energy to harvest game animals ethically over long distances.

How Do 5.56 Ballistics Compare to Other Rifle Cartridges?

The 5.56 NATO is one of the most popular rifle cartridges on the planet, and its versatility means it can be compared to countless other cartridges.

The most common is the 223 Rem, as it is virtually identical (with the caveat that a 5.56 round cannot safely chamber in a 223 Rem rifle). Even so, other rifle cartridges might prove a better option depending on the circumstances.

Check out the full 5.56 ballistics guide here, for full charts and comparisons between the top manufacturers.