.308 Winchester vs. .30-06 Springfield: the All-American Showdown
At this point, it’s safe to say that the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are two American legends. Both iconic rifle cartridges have a storied service history within the U.S. Military, defining two generations. Today, they still see some battlefield action in conflicts worldwide.
These two rifle cartridges have served our troops faithfully overseas. However, they’re better known for being two of the most popular hunting rifle cartridges across North America and around the globe. Nearly every firearm manufacturer has more than one offering in .308 and .30-06.
The cartridge debate over which is superior has raged since the mid-1950s. Although one is long action while the other is short, this source of “friendly discussion” wages across internet forums and hunting camps every year. However, it does raise a genuine question: which of the two chamberings is the better round?
We’ll look at both rifle cartridges’ history, ballistics, and applications to help you decide which is best for you.
History of the .30-06 Springfield
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Military began developing a new cartridge to replace the 30-40 Krag (made famous by Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War). At the time, manufacturers believed heavier bullets to be the superior choice. Therefore, the initial 1903 design used the same 220-grain round-nose bullets fired by the 30-40 Krag.
Manufacturers patterned the 30-03 Springfield after the infamous 7x57mm Mauser cartridge, which shared identical case head dimensions. However, it didn’t take long for U.S. generals to note that European nations favored higher-velocity Spitzer bullets in their newer bolt-action rifles.
The U.S. Military quickly adopted a similar design. In 1906, plans were submitted and accepted for a cartridge that fired a 150-grain Spitzer bullet. Thus, the 30-06 (thirty-aught-six) Springfield was born. Here, the “30” specifies the bullet caliber, and the “06” represents its adoption year.
The 30-06 initially gained popularity alongside the Army’s new bolt action rifle—the 1903 Springfield. However, it became world famous after the WWII introduction of the semi-auto M1 Garand. The 30-06 was the ammunition of our soldiers who fought in the WWI trenches on the Western Front, stormed the WWII beaches of Normandy, and assaulted the 38th Parallel during the Korean War.
History of the .308 Winchester
Following the Korean War’s end, the U.S. Military began developing a replacement for the M1 Garand. Although it had served the U.S. Armed Forces valiantly, the military desired a modernized service rifle with detachable magazines and select-fire capability similar to the AK-47 and Stg-44.
While the 30-06 Springfield performed well, its long-action made it less desirable for a full-auto service rifle. The U.S. Military sought a cartridge that fired a 30-caliber bullet, ballistics that closely mimicked the 30-06, and a shorter case to fit into a short-action.
With new propellants and advancements in case design, this was achievable. The result was the 7.62x51mm NATO or the 308 Winchester. Winchester was the first company to market the new cartridge commercially, quickly adapting their Model 70 bolt action rifle to accept it.
The 308’s use as the U.S. Military’s service rifle cartridge was relatively short (replaced by the 5.56x45mm NATO / 223 Remington), but competitive shooters still utilize it for its supreme accuracy and stopping power.
Comparing the .308 to the .30-06
After reviewing each cartridge’s history, let’s look at their dimensions and specifications to start the comparisons.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Cartridge Specs
You’ll likely notice that the .30-06 and the .308 shoot the same caliber bullets (0.308”). This detail, however, is where the similarities end.
The first noticeable difference is in the cartridge’s case lengths. The .308 has a shorter case length (2.015”), while the case length (2.494”) is longer for the .30-06. Each cartridge’s overall length (2.8” vs. 3.34”) is also quite different.
The next significant difference between these two rifle cartridges is their case capacities. The 30-06 case capacity is 68 grains, while the 308 measures 58 grains. This detail makes sense as a .30-06 has an almost half-inch longer case.
The differences in case and overall length are why the .30-06 requires a long-action, compared to the .308’s short-action. In a bolt action rifle, a short action will have a shorter bolt throw, requiring less movement when chambering a round.
Short-action rifles are often preferred because they allow quicker follow-up shots, more robust receivers, increased accuracy, and decreased overall weight. The .30-06 is a larger, bulkier cartridge, and we’ll further explore what that means for your sporting rifle.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Recoil
Both cartridges have a manageable recoil impulse. That said, neither cartridge is a recoil slouch, and you’ll need to use proper form to ensure accuracy. Because the .30-06 has a longer case and, therefore, a larger case capacity, it will have more recoil than the .308.
Remember that both bullet and rifle weights play significant roles in felt recoil. However, on average, the 308’s felt recoil is about 21 ft/lb while the 30-06’s is around 23 ft/lb. Less recoil makes it easier to develop good shooting practices, which can translate into increased downrange accuracy. Less felt recoil gives the .308 a slight edge.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Accuracy
Accuracy is a heavily debated topic in the shooting community as both rifle cartridge proponents proclaim theirs is the superior choice.
Initially, the .308 was the more accurate choice due to short-action use. Short-action rifles have a tighter construction, typically resulting in a rigid shooting platform and higher accuracy. Initial competitions reflected these results.
However, that’s not so true today. Gun construction has come a long way since the 1950s. In today’s modern sporting rifles, you’ll unlikely discern a significant difference in accuracy between the .30-06 and the .308.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Long Range Trajectory
Long-range performance is another hotly contested point in the shooting community. Which cartridge has the flatter trajectory?
Remember that the ballistics you obtain with your firearm can, and will, vary considerably from what’s advertised. Also, ballistics can vary from batches, even with the same brand and load type. However, below is the manufacturer’s “standard.”
The .308 and .30-06 trajectories remain similar to about 100 yards. At 200 yards, the .308 drops 4” on average, while the .30-06 drops 3.71”. The difference gets slightly more pronounced the longer the range. At 400 yards, the .308 drops 32.8”, while the .30-06 drops 31”.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Weight
For this category, the .308 Winchester is the lighter option in ammunition and rifle options. Short-action rifles have a shorter overall length and weigh less than long-action options.
With modern construction, this weight difference is sometimes only ounces. However, any avid backpacker will tell you, “ounces equal pounds.” So, if you’re planning on hoofing through the backcountry with your hunting rifle, your feet and back will thank you when you bring the .308 over the .30-06.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Ammo Cost
Ammo cost is always a consideration, especially if you plan to purchase a new hunting or target shooting platform.
Generally, the .30-06 tends to be more expensive than the .308, usually amounting to $5-10 extra a box. The .308 tends to be cheaper as it has less material involved in its construction.
If you’re only shooting to confirm your zero and go Whitetail hunting, that cost difference probably won’t amount to much. However, if you’re a competitive shooter blowing through rounds of ammunition each year, that cost can quickly drain your shooting budget. Buying in bulk is always a wise choice, but, as it stands, the 308 is still the cheaper option.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Reloading
If you’re a reloader, you’ll love both cartridges. With a wide variety of propellants and bullet weights, the .30-06 and .308 are a breeze to reload. If you are fortunate to have both in your collection, stockpiling components is easy since they both use the same caliber primers and bullets.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Hunting
With a wide variety of bullet weights, the .308 Winchester and the 30-06 Springfield can handle most of your big game hunting needs. Both hunting rounds accept bullet weights from 150 to 200 grains. However, the 30-06 has one specific advantage: it bears 220-grain bullets.
If you’re deer hunting, whiteys and mulies won’t be able to tell the difference between the two cartridges. But for a large game animal, like an elk or black bear, the ability to shoot heavier bullets at a higher velocity leads to the 30-06 having a slight edge.
Shot placement is vital, and both of these hunting rounds can ethically harvest a bull elk. However, the 30-06 will penetrate more effectively due to higher sectional density, punching through those thick elk bones and sinew easier than the 308.
**.30-06 vs. .308: **Rifle Availability
Since their development, these cartridges have been extremely popular with long-range shooters and hunters alike. As such, a wide variety of sporting rifles are available in both cartridges to fit your needs and budget.
Ammo Planet’s Pick: The .308 Winchester
We won’t lie: the .308 is our favorite. In many ways, the opinions on both rounds are pretty subjective. However, we pick the .308 because it’s a lighter, less expensive option for target shooting or those who keep their shots on deer or elk within the 200-300 yard window. If we’re honest—that’s most of us!
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either one of these classic rounds. They both have plenty of stopping power. For the prospective buyer, it’s not a bad idea to go out and shoot both at the range before deciding which you’d prefer.
As always, Ammo Planet is here for all your ammunition needs. Check out our .308 and .30-06 options today!
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