0.308: Benefits of This Ammo When to Use It

0.308 is the most popular hunting cartridge

The 0.308 round is one of if not the most popular hunting cartridge in the United States and is popular all over the world. Its performance makes it not only popular with hunters, but also match shooters and civilian marksmen. What makes this round so special, what are all the jobs it’s suited for, and how is it different from its younger brother, the 7.62×51mm NATO? Let’s find out.

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Fact Sheet

ammo fact sheet

  • Type of Round: Rifle
  • Origin: United States
  • Caliber: 7.62×51mm (0.308)
  • Bullet Diameter: 7.8mm (0.308 inches)
  • Case Type: Rimless, Bottleneck
  • Maximum Pressure: 60,191 psi (415.00 MPa)
  • Maximum CUP: 62,000 CUP

History of the 0.308

referred to as the 0.308 Winchester

The 0.308 cartridge was introduced by the Winchester company in 1952. This is why the round is often referred to as the 0.308 Winchester. It is important to note the distinction sometimes because there have been many other rounds based off of the 0.308 Winchester in the same caliber due to its popularity.

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For Hunters

From the very beginning, the 0.308 was intended for and marketed to hunters. It found popularity very soon after being introduced and has become the standard hunting round for North America for quite some time. It also finds use in big game hunting areas around the world.

Two years after it was introduced, the 0.308 was used as a blueprint for the 7.62×51mm NATO. The United States military adopted this round in 1954 as their primary cartridge for use in both the M14 rifle as well as the M60 and M240 machine guns. The military has since replaced it with the lighter 5.56×45mm NATO round, but the 7.62×51mm NATO still sees use in machine guns, sniper rifles, and designated marksman rifles.

The 0.308 vs. the 7.62×51mm NATOboth ammo are almost identical

The 0.308 and 7.62×51mm NATO are almost identical to the naked eye. Even upon inspection, they are of similar weight and feel. However, despite being so similar, there are several differences between the two and the rounds are not, as some mistakenly believe, interchangeable.

Measurement

Regarding measurement, they are identical. Their size and shape are the same. Internally though, the 0.308 has a higher pressure. Experts place the difference in psi at about 4,000 to 12,000 with the 0.308 coming out on top. The 7.62×51mm NATO has a thicker wall than the 0.308, affecting how it expands.

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Differences

Because of the difference in pressure and wall thickness, it is not safe to fire a 0.308 round in a 7.62×51mm NATO chambered rifle. Most 7.62×51mm NATO chambered rifles have a longer headspace, which is the distance from the part of the chamber that stops forward motion of the cartridge to the face of the bolt. With the added space and increased pressure and thinner walls, the 0.308 could expand far too much and damage the barrel of the 7.62×51mm NATO chambered rifle.

However, 7.62×51mm NATO rounds can be used in rifles chambered for 0.308. The operator likely won’t get identical performance, but the differences are negligible in some cases, and it is relatively safe.

Advantages of the 0.308

this ammo is used for hunting

There are several characteristics of the 0.308 round that make it well suited for hunting, target shooting and more. Since the cartridge’s destiny was always to be a hunting round, most of its advantages are in that field, but it performs well in many others.

Terminal Performance

Due to the high pressure of the 0.308, it has very high impact energy. At 300 yards (275 m) the cartridge has around 934 ft-lbs (1266 J) of impact energy. This amount of stopping power is enough to down just about any big game in North America at a reasonable distance.

The 0.308 expands to 1.5 to 2 times its original diameter upon impact and can penetrate 18 to 20 inches into 10 percent ordnance gelatin. This is more than enough to bring down even a bull moose. Some hunters even swear by the cartridge for hunting yet larger game in Africa.

Accuracy

At midranges, the 0.308 is quite accurate. At around three hundred yards the round performs best and offers not only accuracy but consistency. It also maintains good accuracy at long ranges up to 1,000 yards (915 m), but at that range, the 0.308’s significant bullet drop becomes a factor.  In the hands of a proficient shooter, however, it is more than precise enough to get most jobs done.

Here’s An Ammo Accuracy Test:

Capacity

Because of its military pedigree, the 0.308 is compact and light compared to other cartridges of its class. Rifles chambered in 0.308 tend to have larger clip sizes, which is preferable in most situations. Pair that with shorter bolts for a shorter round, and a shooter can more quickly deliver more rounds than similar rifles.

Also, since the cartridges are lighter, more of them can be carried at one time for longer periods, and the rifle that uses them is also lighter. A boon for hunters and other outdoors people who range long and far.

Recoil

For its size and weight, the 0.308 has a pretty good recoil. With recoil energy of around 11.5 ft-lbs (15 J), the 0.308 performs much better in the manageable recoil department than some of its competitors, like the more powerful 30-06. Manageable recoil, combined with high capacity, helps operators to group shots faster and more accurately.

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Longevity

Amongst its peers, the 0.308 round is considered low stress and doesn’t “burn through barrels” as other rounds do. Despite its high pressure, its design allows for barrels chambered in 0.308 to fire many thousands of rounds before accuracy is affected. While an operator may find themselves replacing the barrel of, say, a 6.5 Creedmore chambered rifle relatively early, 0.308 stands the test of time.

Price

It might not be a performance advantage, but it is a benefit nonetheless. Due to its popularity, 0.308 is widely and cheaply available. Also, since you can safely shoot 7.62×51mm NATO in a 0.308 chambered rifle, Owners can take advantage of military surpluses for cheap ammunition.

Disadvantages of the 0.308

there are also disadvantages for this ammo

Like all rounds, the 0.308 round is not without its disadvantages. The cartridge performs well in most situations, but this general purpose ability is where it is lacking. It serves no specialized purpose, but the average operator likely won’t need it to.

Drop Off

Perhaps the most glaring weakness of this is its bullet drop off. Amongst peers such as the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .30-06, the bullet drop off is significantly higher. This results in poorer accuracy past 400 yards (365 m), especially in winds. A shooter can adjust for this of course, but a flatter trajectory is always better, especially if the shooter is without range finding capabilities.

What to Use This Ammo For

this ammo is also used for shooting

Since it performs well in many situations and has proven itself in military and law enforcement sectors, it has several ideal uses. Proponents of this cartridge even go so far as saying that if a shooter buys just one rifle, it should be this ammo.

1. Hunting:

Of course, hunting is where this round truly shines. This ammo does experience significant bullet drop starting at 300 yards (275 m), but most hunting situations won’t occur at ranges greater than that. The round is powerful enough to take down just about anything when in skilled hands, and is still light enough to be carried comfortably on long trips into the bush. There are many reasons that this ammo is the most popular short action hunting round in the world.

2. Marksmanship:

It has found many fans in the target shooting community. Skilled shooters can adjust for the high bullet drop and take advantage of the rounds high accuracy. Its excellent accuracy at range and quick firing capabilities make it well suited for competitive shooting and metallic silhouette shooting.

3. Casual Shooting:

Since this round is quite cheap compared to other similar cartridges, it is an excellent choice for casual target shooting. With high volumes of it and military surplus 7.62×51mm NATO on the market, it is easy and affordable to purchase plenty of rounds for all-day shooting fun. Additionally, as it puts less wear on the barrel than other rounds, owners can shoot in high volume and often without having to re-barrel their rifle every couple of years or so.

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Venerable and Competent

The 0.308 is a capable hunting and target shooting round that has proven its worth over the past 70 years. It may not be ideal for specialized shooting situations such as short-range home defense or long-range hunting, but it does just about everything in between better than most. For the casual shooter or experienced marksman, it is always a good idea to have a 0.308 caliber weapon in the collection.

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