Gun Digest

Loading the .308 Winchester

Whether for long-range shooting or hunting, the .308 Winchester comes into its own when handloaded.

Why the .308 Winchester is among the best cartridge to reload:

It’s taken quite a beating since the 6.5 Creedmoor has popped onto scene, but the fact remains that the .308 Winchester is a very cool cartridge, whether you punch paper and steel or use it as a hunting cartridge. It’s also one of the cartridges truly worthy of the “inherently accurate” moniker — it can certainly shine with today’s factory ammunition, but it will come into its own with handloaded ammunition.

The .308 Winchester can run on a multitude of powders. Here are four of the author’s favorites.

Loading for the .308 Win. is not a difficult affair, and I feel it’s one of the perfect cartridges to both teach a new handloader the basic processes and how to hone his or her reloading skills, seeing good results quickly. Let’s take a look at some of the suitable powder/bullet/primer combinations that have worked for me and my loading buddies over the years, for both target shooting and for the hunting fields.

Timeless Versatility

In spite of all the arguments for and against, and in spite of all the comparisons to the larger-cased .30-06 Springfield, the .308 Win. makes an excellent hunting cartridge. I feel it performs best with bullets between 150 and 180 grains, giving a good trajectory out to sane hunting ranges with plenty of energy for most common game animals.

If you want to do some predator or varmint hunting, the lighter 125- and 130-grain bullets work just fine, though it’s a bit large for extended sessions over a prairie dog town. Some of the lead-free bullets will pose an issue, as they are longer for their weight than are the lead-core bullets, and I’ve also had issues with magazine length when using the high ballistic coefficient (BC) hunting bullets, but I can get around it by changing the bullet design for the hunting fields.

More Reloading Info:

One of the attributes of the .308 Winchester is its balanced velocity: It isn’t so fast that the cup-and-core bullets will breakup prematurely, yet isn’t so slow that the premium bullets will fail to expand. For deer hunting, I’ve had great results with handloads built around common bullets such as the good ol’ Remington Core-Lokt and Hornady InterLock, to the premiums like the Nosler Partition, Speer Grand Slam and Nosler Ballistic Tip. I generally prefer the 150- and 165-grain bullets because they offer a good balance of accuracy and trajectory, especially if I’m hunting one the few stands that offers shots out to 300 yards.

For game on the bigger side, both the 180-grain Nosler Partition and Swift Scirocco II will work perfectly in the .308 Winchester.

My favorite deer hunting load for my .308 Win. uses the Sierra GameKing 165-grain hollow-point boat-tail bullet (No. 2140), over a heavy charge of IMR4064 powder. The bullet is tough, accurate and, with a crimped “x” meplat, will not deform in the magazine.

Despite the fact that much of my deer hunting is done in the thick hardwoods of Upstate New York, we’re often forced to thread the needle, picking those small holes in the timber and brush where a bullet won’t be deflected, and I appreciate the wonderful accuracy of the Sierra for this application. The bullet is short enough to allow for a COL (cartridge overall length) that doesn’t compromise case capacity, and using a powder like IMR4064 — with its longer grain structure — is no issue.

For larger or tougher game, I like the 165 and 180-grain Nosler Partition and Swift Scirocco II. I’ve also used the 180-grain Scirocco and IMR4064 for baited black bears, with good effect.

The Long-Range .308 Win.

For the target shooter, BC is everything, especially when the distances get out toward the 1,000-yard mark. The Sierra 168-grain MatchKing (No. 2200) has long been a staple in the .308 Winchester, and with good reason: It offers an excellent blend of overall length, BC and downrange trajectory. I also like the 168-grain Tipped MatchKing (No. 7768) because it has most definitely proven itself as a perfectly viable candidate for .308 target work. The 175-grain Tipped MatchKing (No. 7775) will give a bit better curve at longer ranges, yet it can still be loaded to good effect.

A good set of dies, such as the Redding Type S Match dies, will help attain the accuracy that the .308 Winchester is famous for, as well as extend brass life.

There are numerous choices from Berger, such as the 175-grain Long Range BT, that can and will be as accurate as the Sierra offerings — you’ll have to do some experimentation (a.k.a. fun at the range) to see which gives the best accuracy in your rifle. ABM loads the 175-grain OTM Berger bullet in their ammunition line, and that makes a good choice for the handloader as well.

Critical Components

I like to use the Federal Gold Medal Match GM210M large rifle primer for all my .308 Winchester loads, whether for hunting or target work. It’s a dependable and consistent primer, which has shown in my experiences to give the most consistent results. I’ve never had a single misfire using these and hope I never will.

Powder selection for the .308 Winchester is nearly as varied and wide as is the bullet selection; you could easily spend a year investigating the various powder/bullet combinations that would offer proper accuracy. Years ago, IMR4320 was the choice for the factory loads that helped garner the .308 Winchester the reputation is has, though I understand that powder is being phased out. That’s a shame, because I’ve used 4320 in a number of cartridges with great results. I’ve personally used IMR4320, IMR4064 (my go-to for this cartridge), Reloder 15, IMR4166, Ramshot TAC, IMR8208XBR, Hodgdon BL-C2, H380 and Varget for my .308 Win. loads, giving an inkling as to the versatility of the cartridge when it comes to powder selections.

The author handloaded the 180-grain Swift Scirocco II in his Ruger 77 MkII .308 Winchester for this Quebec black bear.

When I’m loading the shorter bullets — the flat-based partition, or those with shorter ogives — I generally look to IMR 4064 and the new IMR4166, part of IMR’s Enduron line. I will also reach for Alliant’s RL-15, as this powder has worked so well in my .375 H&H, .404 Jeffery and the .450/400 NE, and there’s always a good amount on hand in my shop. If I’m loading a bullet that will take up considerably more room in the case, I have relied on Hodgdon’s BL-C2 or H380 as they are a spherical powder, or IMR8208XBR, as the grain length of this extruded powder is small enough to minimize the air space between grains.

Reloading Details

Loading for the .308 Win. is a straight-forward process. I like to full-length resize my brass for the hunting loads because I want them to feed and extract with the least amount of effort. If I’m not getting the accuracy I want, I will look to the Redding Instant Comparator to measure the amount of stretching (at the shoulder) I’m getting in the particular rifle’s chamber. If I’m seeing a significant amount, I’ll use the correlative Competition shell holder to avoid moving the shoulder back during the resizing process, leaving me with a case that is of SAAMI spec in diameter but better matches my chamber. This has greatly increased accuracy while allowing my ammunition to feed and extract easily should I need a quick follow-up shot.

I love the Redding Bushing die for the .308 Win. because I can measure the outside diameter of my cartridge and avoid over-working the brass during the resizing process. Finally, a micrometer-adjustable seating die will help maintain the consistency I’m after to get the most out of the already accurate design. I don’t roll crimp any of my .308 Winchester ammunition, as I find there’s plenty of neck tension already. If loading for an autoloading rifle, I have used a taper crimp to keep the bullets from moving outward during the violent cycling of the action.

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.

Lastly, I’ve found that loads that fill the .308 Win. case the most — with your particular bullet choice — have given the best accuracy. I do avoid compressing the powder charge to the point where the grain structure breaks, especially with extruded powders, but a bit of compression is no problem. I do not try to turn the .308 Winchester into a .300 Magnum with regards to velocities — it does just fine at the velocities it was designed to produce. Hold the crosshairs where they belong and squeeze that trigger, and you’ll find yourself falling in the love with the little cartridge, whether ringing steel or taking it to the game fields.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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