As I wind down on finalizing assembly of my Ultalight SBR/PDW I find myself returning to a caliber debate that I have had before. Ultimately this new PDW is intended as a facsimile for a possible home defense carbine. As it is it is not terribly far off from my current solution which bears an 11.5” A1-profile barrel to the PDW’s 10.3” A1-profile barrel, and the VTAC version of the Troy TRX Extreme to the PDW’s non-VTAC version. The current HD gun is suppressed with an Ops 15th model suppressor which works out well with 11.5” barrels for a variety of reasons. However, the current HD gun is still “only” 5.56 and as such could be found lacking, if only in my head.
I find myself rather embroiled in this internal debate every few months or so. It started with the 6.8 SPC and a desire for a precision AR. I was headed down the path of the 16-18” barrel, free-float rail, variable-powered optic, stainless steel barrel, two-stage trigger, etc. when I started pricing out ammo costs and found that quite often when comparing 1:1 the 6.8 SPC ammo wasn’t really any more expensive, and was sometimes even less expensive. When I say 1:1 I’m talking about the same load design from the same manufacturer with the caliber being the only variable. Which then raised the question in my mind of “well then, if 5.56 is good, 6.8 is certainly better at the same cost. So what was to be a 5.56 project turned into a 6.8 project. Then come to find out that (give or take, my memory is rusty here) a 12.5” barrel in 6.8 had about the same “effective range” as a 5.56 barrel that was 16”, maybe even 18”, long. Hmm. So now I can get a better caliber in a shorter package. Sounds like a plan. Oh, and you can get several of the popular 5.56 silencers in 6.8 also? And then still use them on the 5.56 guns as well? Then clearly we are going to need one of those as well. Damn, but you can’t hunt deer with a silencer in Florida (something I’d never done to that point, deer hunting, and as of this writing still have never done), so I’m going to need to be able to shoot it both suppressed and unsuppressed. Ha! Noveske thankfully sells their 12.5” 6.8 SPC upper with a Switchblock! Crisis averted.
Except now we start to do the math. Said upper is nearly $1,500. And suitable glass will be at least that if not $2,000, and the silencer itself is another $1,000 or more, and I’m eventually going to need to register a dedicated SBR lower to this to get the two-stage trigger in it, so for lower, parts, paperwork, and trigger that’s quickly becoming another $700+ prospect. Shit. Suddenly my grand idea just went from ammo costing the same to having a whole new gun in a rather un-common caliber that could easily top $5k in investment. And when am I ever going to shoot this thing again? No, that’s ok, I’ll keep two lowers for it and use one for home defense and the other for precision. Wait, that doesn’t really help the cost issue. Not to mention dedicated magazines and bolt(s) for the 6.8 gun adding to the cost as well. Probably better to just stick with one caliber and deal with it’s shortcomings where they exist.
Fast forward a year or two. Now the PDW is done and feels awesome in the hands. Has me thinking maybe I need to revisit this idea of the dedicated HD gun in a larger caliber. Except now there’s the AAC 300 BLK, which is a .30 caliber bullet fired from the same magazine, bolt, and (although slightly wider at the mouth) case! This has fewer of the drawbacks of unique gear than the 6.8, so maybe we can go this route instead. Accept that it’s really no good as precision round, so that challenge still exists. And I haven’t mitigated the costs of the barrel, can, etc. Yes, because it doesn’t need a Switchblock there are some savings over the 6.8, and because it’s not a precision round I’ll be less inclined to purchase a two-stage trigger or expensive optic, but I’m still talking about a $1200 can (if not more) and a $365 barrel, and at least a $500 dedicated optic, so I’m winding up once again shelling out thousands of dollars for something that does less than the 6.8 in some ways (not as good for precision shooting) but more in others (obvious a better suppressed caliber).
Perhaps if I did more hunting, or had more actual need for a precision rig (or just general interest), or if I was a cop wanting a training gun and a trunk gun to be kept separate, I’d be able to justify the added cost for adding an additional caliber. Yes, I could sell off all of the current 5.56 HD stuff, or port over whatever can make the move, but I’m still left with a gun that fires a unique caliber that I’ll hardly ever shoot. As it stands now if I wanted to take out my HD gun and do some shooting with it I have no less than 5 different load types in the house that I could work with.
This is the Merry-Go-Round of calibers that I find myself on from time-to-time. There is no “right” answer, or at least no clearly right answer, as evidenced to me by the fact that I still haven’t acted on it. One can’t argue with superior terminal ballistics in soft targets, but that does not exist in a vacuum and there’s something to be said for keeping one caliber that works in all the long guns instead of two (or more).