Experimentation is a good thing. But then tinkeritis — fixing what isn’t broke until it is broken — is a bad thing. Sometimes a fan of a certain firearm or cartridge will attempt to put the cartridge or firearm into a role for which it wasn’t deigned and for which it isn’t well suited. The 5.7x28mm cartridge may well fit that role. It is definitely controversial.
Before we look at the 5.7x28mm, resolve to meet me halfway with your own experience. Take each posit up the logic ladder. As an example, I once read a pundit who claimed the 5.7 was proven lethal at 300 yards. I could not help but think, “No relevant information there…”, and it certainly doesn’t make it a run up the logic ladder.
Role of the 5.7x28mm
The 5.7x28mm is a friendly little cartridge for many shooters. “Fun to shoot” is all the requirement needed to own a cartridge. But to recommend the cartridge over proven cartridges that are better performers in every way isn’t very wise.
The original role of the 5.7x28mm was as a personal defense weapon for NATO couriers, certain officers, drivers, and those with their hands tied up with other matters. I think that as a port gun in an armored vehicle or executive protection the concept has much merit. A light, handy carbine that can zip through most body armor is a substantial improvement over a 9mm pistol. A burst or two will likely anchor a threat within 50 yards or less.
The 5.7x28mm was designed for a specific purpose. However, that role is filled well by the FN P90 automatic carbine. An important consideration is that the 5.7x28mm weapon is issued to soldiers who are not highly trained in firearms. They may be superb shots with artillery or missiles, but the same cannot often be said about a firearm.
Then came the 5.7x28mm pistol, which most find less desirable. Today we have quite a few semi-automatic carbines and pistols chambered for this little .224-inch cartridge.
Fiocchi recently introduced a fresh line of loadings for the 5.7x28mm. They are also attempting to offer the ammunition at a fair price. Recently, I was able to obtain 150 rounds of Fiocchi 5.7x28mm for just over $70, far better than the usual $40 to $50 per 50. Some loads, such as the Speer Gold Dot, are still expensive. When a caliber is much more expensive than either the 9mm Luger or .223 Remington cartridge, we must consider the performance and practical use. After all, a considerable amount of ammunition must be expended in mastering a firearm.
Ammunition cost is a demerit to the 5.7x28mm compared to the 9mm or .223. During the recent pandemic, the ammunition looked better because it didn’t go up as much as some common cartridges. Today, the others are increasingly affordable, but the 5.7x28mm is not.
Let’s knock one comparison in the head. The .223 Remington compared to the 5.7x28mm is a no brainer, but let’s pretend we don’t know much. A 40-grain bullet at 2,200 fps is a common velocity from a 5.7x28mm carbine. I have (in the ammo vault) .223 Remington 36-grain Varmint Grenade loads and Fiocchi’s 40-grain V Max. These are good varmint and pest poppers but not something I would use for home defense.
Clocking on the RCBS Chronograph shows 3,600 to 3,700 fps. The 2,200 fps 5.7x28mm is not even close. A 55-grain JSP will break just under 3,000 fps in most rifles and even the heavyweight 77-grain bullet is rolling along at 2,650 fps.
In decades of combat, a general consensus (founded in fact and sustained in after action reports) is that the .223 Remington gives up much of its lethality past 125 yards. It is irrational to feel that the much less powerful 5.7x28mm would have some type of magical effect at a range far past its design parameters.
For use in a home defense carbine, the 5.7x28mm — in my opinion — shines. Recoil is about half that of the .223, and I don’t consider the .223 a hard kicker. The 5.7x28mm has limited muzzle blast, good magazine capacity, and is very easy to use well. For the elderly or anyone with a strength problem, the 5.7x28mm is a good choice… if they can afford the ammunition.
For the uninitiated or the novice, it is a great home defender. I have a pretty broad circle of experienced friends, both police and military, and I am unaware of a single one of them that owns or deploys a 5.7 of any type. The caliber seems more of a good choice for those who for some reason cannot handle a 9mm or .223 carbine.
The .22 Magnum rimfire cartridge is often compared to the 5.7x28mm. This isn’t correct; it is a real stretch. Rimfire priming will never be as reliable as centerfire priming and feed reliability with a rimmed case will never be as good as that of a true purpose designed service cartridge with an extractor groove extraction.
A 40-grain CCI Maxi-Mag in a revolver will run 1,300 fps or so. I recently clocked a Maxi-Mag in the S&W M&P .22 Magnum at almost 1,400 fps. Compared to a 40-grain 5.7x28mm at 1,800 fps in a pistol that is a large deficit. I rate the .22 Magnum good for game to about 35 pounds and would not rely on it for personal defense.
The 5.7x28mm is much more powerful. As another example, the Vanguard 36-grain Dragon Fang loading breaks 1,890 fps in my personal Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7. That is very fast for a pistol. Recoil is hardly a consideration.
Perhaps, I see things other don’t. A couple of generations ago, Smith & Wesson introduced the .22 Jet revolver. Ballistics are remarkably similar to the 5.7x28mm. This cartridge seems hotter than the .22 Hornet. But these semi-bottleneck cartridges suffered setback from the revolver chamber and locked the gun up. Not every time, but often enough that the .22 Jet died on the vine.
An acquaintance of mine obtained one of the first FN 5.7x28mm pistols and deemed it accurate enough for predator hunting. He shot a fat coyote at 35 yards with the V Max load. One shot, down it went. I believe the 5.7x28mm cartridge would be a crackerjack outdoors load for coyote bobcat and the like. I have never seen this mentioned. It is stronger than the .22 Magnum and would not be as hard on a pelt as the .223. Just my thoughts…
Drawbacks to the 5.7
We keep getting back to expense. Ruger solved the problem of good, quality, affordable firearms easily enough, now we have Fiocchi offering ammunition that is at least affordable. But 5.7x28mm is still much more expensive than 9mm Luger ammunition or .223, for that manner.
Another drawback is that I have never seen a truly tack driving 5.7x28mm handgun. Acceptable, service grade, but not great. Wound ballistics are not impressive in my opinion. To look at a gelatin block and feel that the load will perform in a superior fashion in flesh and blood doesn’t make horse sense.
Gelatin reflects potential, save that a high-velocity bullet hitting bone is often more effective. No gelatin or water testing is reality, and comparative testing comes up short of the 9mm and .223. It is like expecting the .38 Special to beat the .357 Magnum, when comparing the 5.7x28mm to the .223. It is what it is. The 9mm offers superior wound ballistics. I think the military got it right in its application.
The 9mm as a service pistol, and the .223 for the service rifle. And the 5.7x28mm for secondary specialized use. There’s no point in arguing with success.