308 Win OR 30-06 Springfield? By Craig Boddington

Right now, the 6.5 Creedmoor is gathering all the headlines and glory. Fifty years ago, the 7mm Remington Magnum was America’s darling, for some years the world’s most popular cartridge to carry a “magnum” suffix. Both, to me, are anomalies. America is .30-caliber country!

308 blacktail: An excellent blacktail from northern California, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308. The 88 is one of several lever-actions chambered to the .308. Able to fit into short actions, the .308 offers a much larger choice of both rifles and actions than the .30-06.

It started in 1892 with the .30-40 Krag, and continued in 1895 with the .30-30, now 125 years old and still selling well. Introduced in 1906, the powerful .30-06 became the American standard. Introduced in 1963, the .300 Winchester Magnum was at first reviled: Too short in the neck, caught up in Winchester’s catastrophic pre-’64/post-’64 shift, and designed to replace the revered .300 H&H. The .300 Winchester Magnum did not take off well. However, the sun, moon, and stars realigned. Over time the .300 Winchester Magnum, a proper American .30-caliber, booted the 7mm Remington Magnum as the most popular magnum cartridge.

308 Dad M70: My Dad, Bud Boddington, took most of his game with this Winchester M70 .308. Dating to the 1950s, it has been shot little since Dad passed 20 years ago—but it still groups extremely well…like most .308s.
308 Dad M70: My Dad, Bud Boddington, took most of his game with this Winchester M70 .308. Dating to the 1950s, it has been shot little since Dad passed 20 years ago—but it still groups extremely well…like most .308s.

It remains to be seen if the 6.5mm Creedmoor will retain its current popularity, but I believe order will return to the universe and we will again become a .30-caliber nation, as we have been since the dawn of smokeless powder. However this plays out, two great and versatile .30-caliber cartridges will remain among our most popular choices. They are, of course, the .308 Winchester (aka 7.62×51 NATO) and the .30-06 Springfield (aka .30 U.S. Government, Model of 1906).

Co elk .30-06: Of several, this is the first elk I took with a .30-06, a Remington M700 using 180-grain Nosler Partitions. Both the .308 and .30-06 are superb elk rifles…at moderate ranges.
Co elk .30-06 Of several, this is the first elk I took with a .30-06, a Remington M700 using 180-grain Nosler Partitions. Both the .308 and .30-06 are superb elk rifles…at moderate ranges.

The .308 is based on a .30-06 case shortened from 63mm (2.494 inches) to 51mm (2.015 inches). It was introduced in 1952, the year of my birth so, like me, it’s no spring chicken. We must never forget that the .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge ever adopted by a major military power. The .30-06 and its 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle defined what we think of as “standard” action length. In part this was its undoing; its later Garand rifle was long and heavy; we wanted a shorter and more efficient self-loading action.

DSC_0292: Left, .308 Winchester; right, .30-06. The .308 (7.62x51 NATO) was introduced in 1952 by shortening the .30-06 case. The result is a slightly less powerful cartridge that fits in short actions, is more efficient, and tends to be extremely accurate.
Left, .308 Winchester; right, .30-06. The .308 (7.62×51 NATO) was introduced in 1952 by shortening the .30-06 case. The result is a slightly less powerful cartridge that fits in short actions, is more efficient, and tends to be extremely accurate.

Well into the Fifties the .30-06 was not only America’s service cartridge, but also our most popular sporting round. Unabashedly, I am a .30-06 guy. As such, I have huge experience with the .30-06…and not nearly as much with the .308. In performance on game, the .308 and .30-06 are similar. Always it depends on who is doing the loading but, with greater case capacity, with bullets up to 180 grains the .30-06 averages about 150 fps faster than the .308. Game animals are unlikely to discern the difference; there’s really nothing you can (or should) do with a .30-06 that you can’t (or shouldn’t) do with a .308. The gap widens with heavier bullets. These days few of us actually use heavier bullets, but with 200-grain bullets the .30-06 is about 200 fps faster…and with 220-grain slugs the .30-06 is nearly 300 fps faster than the .308.

DSC_0358: Although first introduced by Winchester as a commercial cartridge, the .308/7.62x51 NATO was designed primarily for self-loading actions. This semiautomatic AR10 was built by Doug Turnbull.
Although first introduced by Winchester as a commercial cartridge, the .308/7.62×51 NATO was designed primarily for self-loading actions. This semiautomatic AR10 was built by Doug Turnbull.

So, the .30-06 is a bit more powerful and shoots flatter than the .308, and does better with extra-heavy bullets. Personally, I like the .30-06 better, but I grudgingly admit the .308 offers significant advantages. The shorter case is more efficient. Efficiency is conducive to accuracy, so, on average, a .308 is likely to be more accurate than a similar .30-06. That said, in my experience quality of barrel and ammo are more important to accuracy than case design. I’ve never had a problem with .30-06 accuracy, certainly not for hunting…but it depends on what you want to do. The .308 has been used for bench-rest competition; the .30-06 rarely. Also, because it’s slightly less powerful, the .308 kicks less than the .30-06.

DSC_0634: Because of required action length, semiautomatic sporters in .30-06 are fairly uncommon. One of them is the Sauer 303, used to take this big Texas boar at last light.
Because of required action length, semiautomatic sporters in .30-06 are fairly uncommon. One of them is the Sauer 303, used to take this big Texas boar at last light.

The greater advantage to the .308 is its suitability to shorter actions…and various action types. My Dad did virtually all his hunting with a Model 70 Featherweight in .308, a shorter and lighter bolt-action than was possible with a .30-06. The .308 has been chambered to several lever-actions, including the Savage 99, Winchester 88, and Browning’s short-action BLR. In lever-actions, only the long-action BLR and the 1895 Winchester have been chambered to .30-06. Semi-auto .30-06 sporters aren’t as scarce: Remington’s Woodsmaster series; Browning’s BAR; H&K M940; and Sauer 303. Self-loaders in .308 are common, including Browning, Remington, and of course, the M14/M1A series and the full gamut of AR10-based rifles.

DSC_1037: Semiautomatic .308s are more common than .30-06 self-loaders. Browning’s BLR in both short and long-action is chambered to both. This big aoudad was taken with a left-hand short-action BLR in .308.
Semiautomatic .308s are more common than .30-06 self-loaders. Browning’s BLR in both short and long-action is chambered to both. This big aoudad was taken with a left-hand short-action BLR in .308.

Today not as many shooters handload as we did a while back. To handloaders this doesn’t matter, but for shooters of factory ammo there’s a huge advantage to choosing popular cartridges because, in both variety and availability, there’s lots of ammo. Everybody loads both .308 and .30-06, with hundreds of factory loads to choose from, featuring just about any bullet. Popular cartridges also benefit first from emerging technology. Hornady’s Superformance line uses blended propellants that increase velocity without increasing pressure. When Superformance was introduced in 2009 the first load was a 165-grain .30-06. In the test rifle we used, this load clocked over 3000 fps, which is creeping into .300 magnum territory.

IMG_3054: An advantage to “popular” cartridges is wider choice of loads. Both the .308 and .30-06 (shown) are loaded by everyone, literally hundreds of factory loads, with every imaginable type, style, and bullet weight.
An advantage to “popular” cartridges is wider choice of loads. Both the .308 and .30-06 (shown) are loaded by everyone, literally hundreds of factory loads, with every imaginable type, style, and bullet weight.

It is unlikely that a .308 load with a 165-grain bullet can ever be that fast. However, today the .308 is more popular than the .30-06, profiting equally from ongoing load development. Because the .308 case is more efficient and propellants continue to advance, the velocity gap between the .308 and .30-06 is narrower than it used to be. For example, that same Superformance .30-06 load with 165-grain SST is currently rated at 2960 fps in a 24-inch barrel. The .308 Superformance load with the same bullet and barrel length is rated at 2840 fps. That is a very fast .308 load, just 120 fps difference from the .30-06 load with the same bullet.

IMG_4088: My friend Ron Silverman is a staunch .308 guy. A careful and picky shooter, Ron loves accuracy and chooses the .308. It is probably needlessly powerful for deer-sized game, but it performs with decisive results. This 2019 Kansas buck was downed in its tracks with a single Berger bullet.
My friend Ron Silverman is a staunch .308 guy. A careful and picky shooter, Ron loves accuracy and chooses the .308. It is probably needlessly powerful for deer-sized game, but it performs with decisive results. This 2019 Kansas buck was downed in its tracks with a single Berger bullet.

There is a difference: The faster .30-06 will deliver more energy and shoot a bit flatter. No matter what loads are used, the .308 is not quite a .30-06. However, one thing the growing long-range crowd is teaching us: Trajectory, meaning bullet drop at a certain distance, is just a number. Know the number, know the range, know your equipment, and the solution is just a matter of dialing the range or holding the correct stadia line.

IMG_4100: Among our Kansas hunters and friends Bobby Dierks had the longest and perhaps toughest shot, a good buck headed over a ridge at something over 300 yards. Dierks used a .30-06, flat-shooting enough and plenty powerful.
Among our Kansas hunters and friends Bobby Dierks had the longest and perhaps toughest shot, a good buck headed over a ridge at something over 300 yards. Dierks used a .30-06, flat-shooting enough and plenty powerful.

I have more confidence in the .30-06 because I’ve used it much more, and I like its higher velocity and increased energy. Fans of the .308 probably like its legendary accuracy, its ability to be housed in shorter actions, and its lighter recoil. All arguments are valid, and we’re really splitting hairs. Although decisively effective, both cartridges are needlessly powerful for deer. Despite what I just said about trajectory, neither shoot as flat as I like for mountain hunting or serious long-range pursuits. However, the two are close enough in power to be redundantly effective on game larger than deer: Elk, moose, black bear, larger African plains game.

Namibia kudu donna: Donna Boddington used a Ruger M77 in .30-06 with 180-grain Interlock to take this excellent Namibian kudu. We’ve used the .30-06 to take a wide assortment of non-dangerous Africa game…but at normal African shooting distances the .308 works equally well
Namibia kudu donna: Donna Boddington used a Ruger M77 in .30-06 with 180-grain Interlock to take this excellent Namibian kudu. We’ve used the .30-06 to take a wide assortment of non-dangerous Africa game…but at normal African shooting distances the .308 works equally well

Oddly, I’ve never hunted elk or moose with a .308, although my Dad’s .308 accounted for both species. I’ve taken several elk with the .30-06 out to about 350 yards. The .30-06 is still, always, and forever a great elk rifle…but at reasonable range, so is the .308. In Africa I’ve used the .308 a bit. Like I said, of the two cartridges, I’m mostly a .30-06 guy, so I’ve used the .30-06 a whole lot more. Both are extremely and identically effective on tough animals such as 500-pound wildebeest and 800-pound zebras…at normal African ranges.

P1000465: This Asian water buffalo is the largest game I’ve taken with either .30-06 or .308. Firearms can’t be brought into the Philippines, so we used an old M14 and military ball ammo borrowed from the local military. For close-range jungle shooting it worked just fine!
This Asian water buffalo is the largest game I’ve taken with either .30-06 or .308. Firearms can’t be brought into the Philippines, so we used an old M14 and military ball ammo borrowed from the local military. For close-range jungle shooting it worked just fine!

The long-distance shooting that we bandy about as if routine is rare in Africa. Over there, one drop of blood is considered a wounded animal, counted against the license with all fees payable. African hunting teams work hard to secure close, near-certain shots; anything much over 200 yards is considered “far,” and shots beyond 300 yards are rare. At these distances, both the .308 and .30-06 are powerful and effective for almost all non-dangerous species. The 2000-pound eland is an exception…but I’ve seen eland bulls taken cleanly with both cartridges.

Superformance 06-1: Hornady’s first Superformance load was a165-grain .30-06, producing over 3000 fps. This was obviously a “fast barrel,” with velocity a bit higher than rated. No .308 load can approach this velocity, solidly into .300 magnum territory.
Hornady’s first Superformance load was a165-grain .30-06, producing over 3000 fps. This was obviously a “fast barrel,” with velocity a bit higher than rated. No .308 load can approach this velocity, solidly into .300 magnum territory.

The .308 and .30-06 have also been used effectively for all thick-skinned African game. The .30-06 with 220-grain solids was once considered acceptable for elephant, and expert wildlife officers often use 7.62×51 NATO rifles and ammo for elephant control. To me there are much better tools, but the power of these versatile .30-calibers should not be underestimated. When I hunted in the Philippines, we couldn’t bring in firearms, so we borrowed a vintage M14 in 7.62×51 and some military ball ammo from the local garrison. My partner and I each shot multiple water buffaloes Jungle shooting at close range is not something I’d like to make a habit of, but we had no problems and the “little” .308 was impressive.

Superformance 06-2: On average the .308 is probably slightly more accurate than the .30-06, but I haven’t had any problems with .30-06 accuracy, especially for hunting. This was the first group from Hornady’s fast Superformance load with 165-grain bullet, three shots well under an inch at 100 yards.
On average the .308 is probably slightly more accurate than the .30-06, but I haven’t had any problems with .30-06 accuracy, especially for hunting. This was the first group from Hornady’s fast Superformance load with 165-grain bullet, three shots well under an inch at 100 yards.

Take your pick: Both the .308 and .30-06 are useful and effective cartridges. If you place a premium on accuracy and want a bit less recoil, you’ll probably prefer the .308. The .30-06, with more velocity and energy, and better able to handle heavier bullets, is slightly more versatile. Both are excellent choices, two classic all-American .30-caliber cartridges, almost certain to remain popular and available for many years to come.

GUN CALIBER DICTIONARY

Author: Craig Boddington

Craig Boddington was the senior contributing editor of our modern gun and ammunition caliber dictionary. Craig was involved in the development and testing of many of these and writes from first hand experience. This dictionary was written exclusively for Wholesale Hunter with unique information found nowhere else.

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