I have a confession to make. A 308 Winchester confession. Brace yourself:
The 308 Winchester is still one of the most overly-hyped cartridges in the stable, exceeded only by the 6.5 Creedmoor.
But I still respect them both.
Yup. That’s it. My big 308 Winchester confession. I grudgingly admit I respect the cartridge.
Rattling the Cage
If you follow my writings, you’ll know I’ve been rattling the cages of 308 Winchester fans everywhere by bad-mouthing this old war horse. It seems odd labeling the 308 Winchester as “old,” but it was hatched in the mid-20th century: 1952. That’s even older than I am!
Many fans are surprised to learn that the U.S. Army didn’t adopt this round as the famous 7.62x51mm until 1957. By then even NATO had already accepted it (in 1954.) And that is basically why it’s thought to be such a superior cartridge: “If it’s good enough for the U.S. Army and NATO, by god it’s good enough for me!”
308 Winchester Confessions Apply to the Military, Too
But veterans are well aware of the shortcomings of military choices. This doesn’t mean my 308 Winchester confession is going to include a 7.62x51mm NATO confession too. As far as I know, the U.S. military confessed somewhat when it adopted the much smaller 5.56x45mm in the radical M-16 Armalite rifle in 1964. That means the beloved 7.62x51mm (aka 308 Winchester) saw only some seven years of service in the M-14 combat rifle as the official US Army standard issue cartridge.
Of course, many M-14s continued in service after getting officially bumped by the little 5.56, particularly in the M60 machine gun. The 7.65 was also widely used by snipers because it’s vastly superior to the .224” bullets fired by the 5.56x45mm (aka 223 Remington.) But serious snipers like Carlos Hathcock used more powerful rounds. Hathcock’s rifle was a Winchester M70 chambered 30-06 Springfield. He used a 50-BMG machine gun to register his longest kill, 2,500 yards. Kris Kyle preferred a 300 Winchester Magnum in a Remington M700 and had limited time behind a 338 Lapua Magnum that he really liked.
308 Convenience Over Performance?
While the 7.62x51mm was used by many snipers, the choice was probably more a matter of convenience than preference. The Army issued 308s (7.62.) If a sniper wanted more reach and less wind deflection, he had to scrounge a bit or request, I’m guessing, a special sniper rifle. 168-grain M852 OTM bullet went sub-sonic at about 800 yards, compromising its precision. Of course, in civilian marksmanship competitions the 308 Winchester established all kinds of records out to 600 yards or so, but it just didn’t have the horsepower to keep truly efficient, high B.C. bullets supersonic to 1,000 yards.
To my way of thinking, bullet performance at 1,000 yards or 800 or even 600 yards has little or no bearing on hunting. I’m more interested in what bullets do at 100 to 400 yards, every once in a long while at 500 yards. At 600 yards I’m more interested in stalking, a critical part of hunting.
In short, my 308 Winchester confession is that I don’t really despise the round so much as the “superior long range sniper round” hype that surrounds it. That’s why I’ve written so many articles (here’s one and here’s another) comparing it and the 7mm-08 Remington and 260 Rem. and even 6.5 Creedmoor. Since all three are short-action cartridges with almost identical powder capacity, they clearly show how and why their narrower, thus higher B.C. (in a given weight) bullets can and do outperform the 308.
That said, my 308 Winchester confession extends to the hunting fields where, I’ll admit, I’ve employed it in a Kimber rifle to take a mature Colorado mule deer buck sporting a heavy, gnarly rack. I’ve used it to take axis deer on Lanai. I’ve watched my wife and friends drop whitetails, wildebeests, warthogs, hartebeests, oryx, zebra, black bears, and elk with it. I’m aware that W.D.M Bell said late in life that if he’d had the 308 Winchester as an option back when he was a commercial ivory hunter he might have preferred it over the 7x57mm Mauser he used for most of his work.
And, surprise surprise, I agree with the many, many readers who have written to inform me in no uncertain terms that the 308 Winchester is 100 percent effective and the perfect, beautifully balanced, mid-caliber, mid-power, low-priced, available everywhere, do-it-all hunting cartridge.
So there you have it. My 308 Winchester confession is that I know all this and I do appreciate and respect what the 308 Winchester (aka 30-not-6 aka 30-06 Short) can do. But I still prefer the 7mm-08 and 260 Remington. But that doesn’t mean you have to! Embrace your 308 and enjoy your hunting and shooting. You’ve got one of the world’s most versatile hunting cartridges.
Ron Spomer has been known to tease, stir the pot, tweak a few noses, and write a paragraph or two of sarcasm to make his points.