Don’t Believe The Hype: The .308 Winchester Is Still Going Strong

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The author’s favorite deer load for the .308 Winchester, built around IMR 4064 and the 165-grain Sierra GameKing hollow-point boat-tail bullet.

While metric marvels have made headway in American shooting, they’ve yet to supplant the versatile and potent .308 Winchester.

Why The .308 Winchester Is Still Among The Best:

  • The cartridge more than holds its own at long range, is dead-on at medium range.
  • Hitting hard, the cartridge is appropriate for nearly all North American game.
  • With a slew of bullet choices, it is among the most versatile cartridges to reload.
  • As far as centerfire cartridges are concerned, it's among the most affordable and available.

Open any gun publication or dial up a firearms website nowadays and you’ll see they’re awash in metric calibers. It used to be around elk season that there was a polite nod to the sturdy 7mm Remington Magnum or perhaps the 7mm-08. Those have since been supplanted by a wave of 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges, each billed as the second coming in brass, copper and lead.

That said, don’t believe the hype that these reinvented wheels have stricken traditional American favorites from the rolls forever. That especially goes for the standby they are most often measured against—the .308 Winchester.

For more than half a century, the squat .30-caliber has excelled as a long-range precision option, lights-out hunting choice, versatile target pick and as a first pick for any other role you’d expect from a non-magnum cartridge. And while it might have a bit more competition now, the .308 Winchester is as capable as ever now. It’s even fair to say that a gun collection isn’t quite complete without the old standby in the rack.

Ballistics Are Stong With The .308

Admittedly, the sexy six and six-and-a-half have the .308 Winchester beat hands down at long distance. There’s no denying the superior aerodynamics vastly flattens the metrics’ trajectory, making them less susceptible to wind deflection and improving hit percentages 700 yards out.

Does it beat every cartridge's ballistics? Not by a long shot, but the .30-caliber does hold its own.
Does it beat every cartridge's ballistics? Not by a long shot, but the .30-caliber does hold its own.

That said, the .30-caliber is still a legitimate long-range option that, in the hands of a skilled shooter, is more than capable of consistent 1,000-yard performance. Beyond that is pushing it a bit. Regardless of bullet weight, the .308 typically goes sub-sonic around 1,100 yards. But let's face it: across the shooting world there is a handful of marksmen that make this range their goal.

Furthermore, when talking typical, Joe-sixpack ranges of 500 yards in, most 6mm and 6.5mm offer little decisive ballistic advantage over the .308 Winchester. A “for instance” is in order. Let’s go with Hornady’s heaviest Match Ammunition loads with the same type bullet in each cartridge—the company’s ELD Match. In the case of the .308, this is a 168-grain load with a ballistic coefficient (BC) of .523 with a listed muzzle at 2,700 fps. For the 6.5 Creedmoor, it’s a 147-grain projectile with a BC of .697 and a muzzle velocity of 2,695.

308 Trajectory
Hornady ELD Match .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor trajectory comparison.

At 500 yards, the .30-caliber only drops around 4 inches more than the 6.5mm, which is negligible. Wind drift plays out in a very similar fashion, with a 10 mph crosswind defecting the .308 5-inches more than the Creedmoor Very manageable.

Extend the range to 1,000 yards, and the difference inflates to more than 5 feet and wind drift to nearly 3 feet, with the advantage going to the metric cartridge. But again, those longer pokes are the minority of shots taken by a majority of shooters.


Take Aim At .30-Calibers:


Terminal Performance Of The .308 Winchester

As to capability against North American game, the .308 Winchester is right on target. Outside of coastal brown bears and the polar cousins, the .30-caliber has been proven over and over again against the likes of elk, moose, black bear and deer. Additionally, lighter loads in the 110-grain neighborhood, are more than appropriate for predators—if you fancy yourself a one-gun hunter.

Outside large, tough-skinned animals, the cartridge is appropriate for nearly all North American game.
Outside large, tough-skinned animals, the cartridge is appropriate for nearly all North American game.

Aiding the .308 in terminal performance is one of the largest bullet selections of any caliber—not only by weight but style. Everything from tried-and-true cup-and-core bullets and cutting-edge polymer-tip controlled expansion options are on the menu. In turn, you’re more likely to match your ammunition to your quarry than any other cartridge—except perhaps the .30-06 Springfield. But that’s a different discussion.
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Reloading The .308

The vast selection of bullet weights and styles not only matches the .308 Winchester up against a vast array of game animals, but also makes it a gem to reload. As it stands, the .30-caliber loads projectiles from 100 to 200 grains, with a couple of specialty options north of this point. That’s versatile and opens the door to plenty of experimenting. That’s half the fun of reloading.

Like a versatility in your reloading projects, the .308 delivers it in full.
Like a versatility in your reloading projects, the .308 delivers it in full.

Additionally, the .308’s case has enough capacity to allow a fair degree of tinker as well. Roughly speaking—and depending on what brand of brass—the case holds around 56 grains of water. Certainly, that’s shy of the moderately larger .30-caliber .30-06, but big enough to trickle in a load that hits the sweet spot of your particular rifle or application.

The .308 Winchester Keep Costs Down

We’re getting into the nitty-gritty of what helps keep the .308 Winchester on top. Added to its other attributes, it’s also among the most affordable cartridges to shoot. Paying 50 cents or less per trigger pull isn’t unheard of, which puts it in rare company among centerfire rifle cartridges. You pretty much have to jump down to 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem. or go Russian—7.62x39mm or 7.62×54mmR—to find a cheaper cartridge to shoot.

Also known as the 7.62x51 NATO, the cartridge is among the most affordable centerfire cartridges.
Also known as the 7.62×51 NATO, the cartridge is among the most affordable centerfire cartridges.

Compare that to the metrics. While there are a few options below the $1 for the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6mm Creedmoor, the vast majority is well above this mark. Essentially, going with the metrics increases your ammo tab anywhere from 30 to 50 percent, which for most means half the shooting.

Availability

With ammo shelves bare as of this writing in late 2020, it might not seem like .308 ammunition is all that easy to find. But outside anomalous droughts such as this year’s, it’s about as plentiful as it comes. Aiding in its availability is the fact that the .30-caliber has a military guise—7.62x51mm NATO—and was widely used in the western world. That’s a boon for shooters, as surplus is often abundant and affordable.


We Found Bulk Ammo In Stock:

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1 COMMENT

  1. For eer hunting in Pennsylvania i loved my .308 Savage pp lever gun.
    UT, for hunting here in Nevada I prefer my 6.5 PRC Browning X-bolt Pro mountain rifle with that very flat shooting cartridge who has enough energy to 600 yards for bull elk and to 800 yards for other big game and to 1,000 yards for antelope.

    it’s hard to beat the 6.5 bullets for their ability to have less wind deflection than 90% of the .30 cal. bullets.

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