The .308 Winchester: Our Favorite North American Big Game Caliber
If there was only one rifle caliber that you could have, what would you choose? Keep in mind, this caliber would have to be used for literally every application that you would need: big game hunting, tactical training, home defense, and so on.
While there is no one caliber that fits all purposes perfectly, meaning that no rifle caliber is truly perfect, there is one particular caliber that is arguably the most versatile centerfire rifle caliber cartridge there is: the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO, colloquially known as the "Three-Oh-Eight".
Don't worry, this isn't just another .308 Winchester vs. .30-06 Springfield argument!
If you could only own rifles in one caliber, a very strong argument can be made that your caliber of choice should be the .308 Winchester: it’s versatile, it’s practical, it’s available, and it can perform a wide variety of functions.
But what specifically makes the .308 such a solid choice? Let’s find out.
The .308 Winchester was Born from a Legend
The .308’s history can be traced back to the .30-06 Springfield, another excellent and very popular round (at least in the United States).
In World War I, the U.S Army selected the Springfield M1903 in .30-06 Springfield as its rifle and caliber of choice.
The army continued to use the .30-06 into World War II with the M1 Garand, an accurate and dependable rifle that fired from an 8-shot clip.
The M1 Garand served the United States through World War II, past Korea, and even saw limited service during Vietnam.
By the mid-1950s, however, the M1 was showing its age. Modern rifles were being fed with 20-30 round box magazines, and the M1 Garand’s 8-shot clip design was largely obsolete.
Thus, the U.S military sought out a new rifle, and with it, a new caliber. That rifle was the Springfield M1A, essentially a modified M1 Garand that fired from a detachable box magazine, and it was chambered for the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm round, which was essentially a shortened .30-06 round.
The .308 Winchester remains a very popular round among civilians, military forces, and law enforcement units all over the world. In fact, it is quite possibly the most popular hunting caliber and rivals the 7.62x39mm (chambered for the AK-47) in terms of overall popularity for rifle rounds.
Design and Specs of the .308 Winchester
A bottlenecked, rimless, short action, cartridge, the .308 Winchester was officially born into the world in 1952.
The .308 is a common round used for sniping, thanks to its accuracy and high terminal performance. The .308 is capable of delivering velocities of 2,500 to 3,000 feet per second, and will expand and tumble when it hits impact, meaning it can deliver truly devastating wounds to targets.
Here are some basic specs of the .308 Winchester for your perusal:
- Diameter – .308 inches
- Length (overall) – 2.800 inches
- Length (case) – 2.015 inches
- Base Diameter – .4709 inches
- Rim Diameter – .4728 inches
More data available at source
You Can do Anything with the .308
One reason for the .308’s extraordinary popularity and worldwide success, and perhaps the only reason, is because of its versatility.
This is an excellent round to use for medium to large sized game. In North America, the .308 is routinely used for whitetail and mule deer, black bear, caribou, pronghorn, wild hogs, and elk. It is also usable on moose if you need it to be and with the right loads.
The .308 is also a popular hunting caliber in other continents such as South America, Europe, and Africa. In Africa in particular, it can bring down animals up to the eland antelope.
Another reason for the .308’s success, beyond its versatility, is that recoil is moderate and is controllable by most shooters, including new shooters, women, and anybody of a smaller stature and build.
This stands in stark contrast to larger calibers such as the .300 Win Mag or the .338 Win Mag, which produce significantly more recoil and are largely unpleasant to shoot for new or smaller shooters in particular.
Granted, the .300 Win Mag and .338 Win Mag (and other calibers like them) have longer range and greater stopping power with less drop, but for any instances where extra-long range or power is not needed, the .308 Winchester is more than sufficient for most uses.
The .308 is also an excellent round to stockpile for disaster preparedness and survival related purposes because it is readily available, relatively inexpensive, and will be a popular round for bartering and trading purposes as well.
Yet another reason the .308 is so versatile is because it can be used in each of the four major types of rifles, which we will discuss next.
It is available on nearly any platform or action
The .308 Winchester is currently available for rifles in each of the four major types of action: bolt action, semi-automatic, pump action, and lever action.
The .308 Winchester is an extraordinarily popular caliber for bolt action rifles. In fact, major bolt action rifle companies began producing rifles chambered for the .308 almost as soon as it was introduced.
Practically every bolt action manufacturer today makes a rifle that will chamber and fire the .308, including the Browning A-Bolt, Ruger M77, Remington 700, and the Winchester Model 70. Budget models of rifles will also chamber and fire the .308, such as the Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, Browning X-Bolt, Weatherby Vanguard, and the Savage Axis.
The .308 Winchester was originally designed for the Springfield M1A semi-automatic rifle. Today, the .308 is chambered for a number of semi-automatic rifles including the M1A, FN FAL, AR-10, or the HK G3/PTR-91/Century Arms C-308.
The advantage to using a .308 semi-automatic rifle is that it can be used for both big game hunting on game such as deer or elk while also being used for tactical training or defending your home and property against raiders and looters. The .308 certainly has more range and knock down power than the 5.56x45mm NATO/.223, which will definitely be a big advantage in open country.
Pump-action rifles are not the most popular type of rifle used for hunting, but they are still a perfectly viable option. One example of a pump action rifle that is chambered for the .308 Winchester would be the Remington Model 7600, which is essentially a rifle version of the enormously popular and proven 870 shotgun.
The .308 Winchester round is also chambered in lever action rifles, primarily the Browning BLR and the Henry Long Ranger. Something about .308 lever actions is the .308 can only be loaded into magazine fed lever action rifles rather than tube fed lever action rifles, because the pointy end of the .308 round can possibly cause a discharge if it strikes the primer on the round in front of it.
The .308 is also the round of choice for the ‘Scout rifle’ concept. A Scout rifle is simply any carbine-length rifle (41 inches or less) chambered for a full power cartridge capable of bringing down big game, that usually accepts box magazines, and is sometimes installed with a forward optic. The Scout rifle is meant to be a highly versatile rifle that can be used as a hunting rifle, for defensive use, or as a general-purpose truck gun or brush/woods gun.
The Scout rifle is generally thought of as being a bolt action but it can also be a lever action or a semi-automatic. Examples of popular bolt action Scout rifles chambered for the .308 include the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle, the Mossberg MVP, the Savage Scout rifle, and the Steyr Scout rifle.
Examples a semi-automatic Scout rifle would be the Springfield M1A Scout Squad and the Springfield M1A SOCOM.
It's Benefited from a Virtuous Cycle
As a government adopts a caliber (especially when that gov't is the United States), a market expands due to increased demand. Manufacturers compete and prices go down, which makes the arms and ammo available for that caliber available to the larger commercial market.
The .308 Winchester benefited from being adopted by US government and then as a NATO round in the form of 7.62x51mm. Since it was such a hit with the commercial market, once there, more manufacturers entered creating new rifles and more types of ammo.
Today, the options for both ammo and rifles in .30-06 Springfield pale in comparison to the .308 Winchester.
It is One of the Few Calibers that Gives you Access to the Most Innovative AmmoAlong with the 9MM, .45 ACP, 12 Gauge Shotgun, .223/5.56 NATO, and the 7.62x39MM, the .308 Winchester is part of the small club of calibers that get access to the newest and most technologically advanced ammo, such as G2 Research's Trident Rifle Ammo. This is partially due to the fact that it is lower risk to experiment in these calibers because of the available market.
Notice that this is the only true big game caliber on the list. In the world of hunting big game, anything that allows us to better harvest game in a more humane way not only increases our success, but also increases the return on investment (ROI) of our time, money spent on gear, trips, license, etc. To us, here at Clark Armory, that's worth it. We spend as much time as we can outdoors and sometimes at great cost in trips to experience new frontiers.
But, it isn't without cost, more innovative ammo is more expensive because of research and design (manufacturers have to recoup their costs, right?) and because of higher manufacturing costs because they are produced in smaller batches.
Yes, the most technologically advanced ammunition is more expensive, but all costs combined, it is small percentage of your total overall spend.
As you can hopefully tell by this article, the .308 Winchester is a truly excellent all-around rifle cartridge. Is it the only rifle cartridge that you should own? No, but if you can only have one at the present moment due to financial constraints the .308 will overall be the best choice because it’s very effective for long range target shooting, big game hunting, and tactical training or tactical use.
Yes, there are other great calibers out there. Many will claim that the 5.56x45mm NATO, 7.62x39mm, .270 Winchester, or the .30-06 Springfield are superior calibers that you should choose first.
Each of those are a great choice, but the .308 is still arguably the better choice because it can bring down larger game that 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x39mm cannot while also being cheaper and generally more common than .270 or .30-06 Springfield.
The .308 may not be the absolute greatest caliber ever made, but it is certainly one of the most versatile for long guns. If there was only one rifle caliber that you could own, there are ultimately more arguments in favor of the .308 being that caliber than there are arguments against it being the .308.