Caliber .308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester caliber (7.62 × 51 mm), often simply called “308”, is considered the “little sister” of the more heavily loaded .30-06 Springfield (7.62 x 63 mm). It is one of the most widely used calibers in the world and is also one of the most popular hunting calibers.

The caliber is said to have high inherent accuracy, and the cartridge also has a more comfortable recoil than .30-06 or the most powerful caliber in the 7.62mm family .300 Winchester Magnum. Therefore, it is considered one of the most accurate calibers and is also very popular among sport shooters. The caliber is legal in USA for all cloven-hoofed game and is recommended up to medium-weight black and red deer.

Compared to .30-06, the flight velocity of projectiles in .308 caliber is about 30 m/s slower with the same laboratory and weight, varying between about 770 m/s and 950 m/s depending on the bullet weight. As a result, the bullets lose elevation somewhat faster in .308 than in more rapid calibers. However, this is an aspect that only becomes important at longer distances, starting at about 150 meters.

Due to the widespread availability of .308 Winchester, rifles from all manufacturers are available in this caliber, as is the ammunition.

Its versatility makes the caliber very suitable for young hunters.

Although the caliber has slightly less penetrating power than more heavily loaded calibers, shooters are less likely to sputter in anticipation of bullet sound and recoil. It also allows another target to be put in the glass more quickly after firing and repeating, and an accurate shot can be fired. Lastly, the comparatively low charge of the .308 cartridge is also reflected in the easily damped bullet bang. These three advantages make the caliber eminently suitable for driven hunts.

Background

The 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge was developed from the civilian .308 Winchester and introduced as a standard cartridge in the military alliance in 1953. However, as an attentive reader will notice, the cartridge was “developed” from the civilian variant so there must be differences.

Differences & associated problems

  • The most important difference is that the .308 Win has a slightly flatter case shoulder. While this is a very minor difference, it can cause problems.
  • A civilian .308 Win rifle usually has a chamber reamed to .308 Win. Depending on the tolerances of the chamber and the cartridge itself, this can cause problems when using surplus ammunition (former military ammunition in 7.62×51 mm NATO that was released for the civilian market).

For example, the somewhat steeper shoulder of the military cartridge creates a gap towards the chamber. If the cartridge is fired, the pressure causes the brass of the case to abruptly adapt to the chamber – the case now actually becomes a .308 Winchester case. However, due to the abrupt adaptation to the shoulder shape of the chamber, this can lead to the cartridge now lying so snugly in the chamber that it is very difficult to extract.

This is probably also related to the second difference in cartridges, because military ammunition has greater wall thicknesses. So, by design, the case does not yield as easily as the civilian .308 Win, thus favoring jamming in this case after the case has adjusted to the chamber.

My experience with this is based on one of the first MR308s from Heckler and Koch, from which I shot Surplus. I had a malfunction with the former military ammo on about every fifth cartridge fired. The cases were so tight that the extractor claw of the breech head tore off part of the case base and then slid a round onto the case remaining in the chamber. After that, I started researching what the problem could be, and you can see the result in the form of this article.

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As far as the malfunction problem is concerned, it does not seem to be a general problem and many guns of later builds from HK cope better with it. Nevertheless, this problem of “compatibility” of former military ammunition exists with many manufacturers. Also, there are ammunition manufacturers who label their ammunition .308 Win, but make cases shaped like the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO. Even on Surplus ammunition, .308 Win is added to the information on the cartridge, although it is actually the 7.62 NATO.

So it is obvious that overall there is only a very small problem with the different shoulder angle and this affects only a few guns (mostly semi-autos). All the better, however, to know what the problem might be.
After much research, consultation with shooters and my own tests, I have come to the conclusion that a military chamber in 7.62 NATO has hardly any problems firing a civilian .308 Win – on the other hand, however, a .308 Win chamber from civilian weapons is rather susceptible to malfunctions for 7.62 NATO.

The use of the .308 WIN as a hunting cartridge

As hunting ammunition, the .308 WIN has found many enthusiasts. Looking at the performance data, the .308 is below the 7 x 64 or .30-06 Springfield. It does not come close to the 8 x 57 IS, despite many claims to the contrary. Nevertheless, the .308 WIN is a cartridge that is popular for hunting medium sized cloven-hoofed game, especially in Europe.

.308 Winchester Energy

Despite all the prophecies of doom, hunting large cloven-hoofed game with this cartridge is also possible without any problems. Due to the high inherent precision of the cartridge, it is also popular with sharpshooters and precision marksmen. In addition to the good external ballistic properties of the cartridge, we would like to briefly discuss the wound ballistic properties. The widespread use of the cartridge has contributed to the fact that there is a wide choice of bullet heads and powder charges, which makes it possible to ideally match the ammunition to the weapon. At this point, the bullets of Lutz Möller GmbH should be mentioned, which have excellent wound ballistic properties.

Last but not least, we are absolutely convinced of this cartridge; not only because of the fact that we know the cartridge from service use, but also because of the wide range of inexpensive rifles with this caliber and the also wide range of different versions of the .308 WIN cartridge. The cartridge is reliable and suitable for all hunting situations in USA, with the purchase of a gun in this caliber you are always well advised.

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The era of precision

The era of precision shooting has always been here and is growing year after year. Manufacturers are pushing their research and development equipment into high gear to build the most accurate rifles for the rapidly growing long-range precision market. It’s a competitive race to be the best of the best, using the latest technology to stay ahead of competitors is a race to feed the hungry market.

It’s no wonder that the .308 Winchester has been one of the few cartridges that has gone through several precision shooting platforms and seen its share of medals on the world stage of competitive shooting to this day. But have we pushed this old cartridge too far and to its limits, or does it still have potential?

Loaded with the right bullet, it is more than capable of taking down the largest European deer or American elk with ease. Its popularity is no wonder that many ammunition and rifle manufacturers make it a priority to have this cartridge in their inventory year after year. Its versatility is considered by many to be a one-round solution cartridge for most of their hunting or shooting needs. Long-range and competition shooters continue to rely on this old workhorse to bring home their ultimate medal. It is a cartridge of passion for many, and for some, it is a cartridge steeped in history.

Pros and cons of the .308 Winchester

There are many more positives about the .308 Winchester that I could address, but I want to go over a 3/3 ratio for pros and cons and cover what I think is worth highlighting.

Pros:

  • Tolerable recoil.
  • Ammunition is inexpensive and available worldwide.
  • More rifle manufacturers have rifles chambered for this cartridge than most cartridges out there. This means there are more options to choose from.

Cons:

  • The .308 Winchester is still considered a military “status” cartridge in some countries. This status makes it illegal to hunt with this cartridge or use it for any other sporting purpose.
  • Once dubbed as a capable long-range cartridge, it is a cartridge that is losing some of its luster and stardom to newer long-range cartridges.
  • Old habits die hard, but more hunters and shooters are looking for new alternatives, especially as the media popularity of long-range hunting and PRS-style shooting is taking center stage in the countries that thrive for it.

Success or failure of this cartridge

Winchester hit the gold mine by introducing the .308 Winchester. This cartridge is one of the most popular cartridges for short-action big game hunting worldwide, but not just because of its name. Many hunters around the world have studied this cartridge with great interest and know its ballistics and performance better than ever, so we can only hope it continues for generations.

Failure will depend on us

Its failure will depend on a few things: lack of interest and lack of rifles and ammunition. If lack of interest is on the decline, production will also slow down and that may be the end of its reign. Most of us in this industry have seen it happen before. When a cartridge loses its star status, it begins to lose its luster and fade into the back storage space of everyone’s priority. The .308 Win is no different than any other cartridge, it is still vulnerable to falling victim to supply and demand like every other cartridge out there.

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The king of the short action

The .308 Winchester is the king of 30-caliber short-action cartridges. It can be hard to elaborate on the old-school popularity for new generations of shooters these days when hunting and shooting have taken a huge surge of interest in the long-range shooting crazies over the past decade.

I consider myself an old school hunter. I like the challenge of an open sighted rifle and still prefer to get as close as possible. I may have to change my thinking about the .308 Winchester and help keep its popularity alive like many of you who are passionate about this cartridge.

It is the king of the short action for many reasons, but the crown of the .308 Winchester could be in jeopardy with the growing popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor as more international hunters and long-range shooters are opening up to it. I could be wrong, but time will tell.

Conclusion

Personally, I don’t think the .308 Winchester will be completely disappearing from the media and the deer field any time soon, at least not in my lifetime. Whether you are a classic .308 Win shooter or a new generation of .308 Win long-range shooters, one thing we all have in common is our interest and curiosity in this cartridge.

What is your opinion on the .308 Winchester, is the popularity of this cartridge coming to an end, or is it already dead for you? Tell me what you think about this classic cartridge.

Technical Specifications

30-06 Springfield, the .308 Winchester is possibly the most widely used caliber in the world. Like the .30-06, the .308 also has military origins. Known at its birth as T-65, NATO soon made it its official caliber and renamed it 7.62 x 51mm or simply 7.62 NATO. The great popularity and diffusion of this caliber is mainly due to its enormous accuracy. This characteristic, together with its power at long distances, makes the .308 Winchester one of the most widely used cartridges by snipers all over the world. The civilian version for hunting appeared in 1952, linked to the birth of the Winchester M70 rifle. Precisely in this field, that of sport hunting, the .308 proves to be a versatile caliber, ideal for shooting all types of big game species. The Spanish assault rifle, the popular Cetme, is calibrated to fire this mythical cartridge.

  • Characteristics: Accuracy, reliability, power and versatility.
  • Effective distance: 300 m

Sporting use

With 9.7-gram bullets, the .308 is optimal for hunting medium-sized prey, such as the various subspecies of white-tailed deer, roe deer, chamois, axis and various species of antelope. With solidly constructed projectiles, it is suitable for shooting larger prey. It can also be loaded with 10.7, 10.9 and 11.7 gram projectiles, which provide higher ballistic coefficients and greater sectional density, resulting in better penetration.

But the versatility of the .308 Winchester, characteristic of all .30 caliber cartridges, is that it can also stabilize lighter 8.1 and 7.1 gram projectiles, making it also a suitable choice for small game and varmint hunting, and giving it an extremely flat trajectory.

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