.308 vs .30-06: The Quick Version Of This Almost-Pointless Debate Amongst Gun Nuts
For decades, people have been debating .308 vs .30-06, and people are still going on about it. We’ll quickly go over what the argument is over, what the key differences between the two rounds is, and why it barely – at all – matters.
There are a few ways in which it matters, but it’s not in the ways that many people think. Both are excellent target and hunting cartridges, and both have been used – to great effect – in a military role. In fact, the latter is still in service albeit in the guise of 7.62x51mm NATO, which does differ slightly from .308 Winchester.
However, we’re going to be ignoring the military context. Yes, both rounds were developed by and for use by the military, but we here are talking about the difference in caliber as far as civilians and civilian applications are concerned.
.308 vs .30-06: The Differences
The largest difference between .308 vs .30-06 is that the former uses a shorter case, as .308 Winchester is 2.8 inches in overall length and .30-06 is 3.34 inches in length. As a result, the .308 case holds 56 grains of water compared to the .30-06’s 68 grains.
In essence, the former is shorter but the latter holds more powder.
Both seat .30 caliber (.308-in diameter) projectiles. What the disparity in case capacity leads to is a slight edge in terms of velocity to the .30-06, though it isn’t a ridiculous difference; a .30-06 cartridge with the same grain weight of the same projectile will usually only propel said bullet with an extra 100 to 150 feet per second over .308 Winchester.
The extra “oomph” does come at the cost of an extra ft-lb or two of recoil. Not a heck of a lot, but there is a little more. A deer, elk, hog or black bear is not going to notice, since placement and bullet design matter far more.
However, the extra 0.5 inches of case length also allows for the heaviest of .30-caliber projectiles to be seated in a .30-06 case but not as easily (or at all) in a .308 case. 200- and 220-grain .30-06 ammunition is common; .308 Winchester tends to top out around 180 grains.
Those bigger pills come with some benefits, though. Modern premium bullets have far higher ballistic coefficients than bullets of eras past, and thus lose velocity and energy at a much slower rate. Generally, .30-caliber bullets hit the sweet spot at 180 grains and above, which a .308 case is less-suited to than that of a .30-06. The ’06, thusly loaded with a high-BC projectile, actually retains more power down range than a .300 Winchester Magnum loaded with traditional bullets does.
So, a .30-06 with premium ammunition has an edge at long range, but when all things are equal…there’s barely any difference.
Those are the big differences when it comes to the cartridges themselves.
.30-06 vs .308: Accuracy
What some people like to insist upon in the .30-06 vs .308 debate is that .30-06 is less accurate at long range.
The genesis of those claims was an army test conducted in the 1960s. The military pitted two match rifles in those chamberings against each other, using match ammunition, and the .308 prevailed. People have been quoting or pointing to these tests as proof of .308’s superiority ever since, despite there being A.) little explanation of how caliber mattered because nobody agrees on how it did (that means nobody knows) and B.) several decades of development in bullets and powders having occurred in the meantime.
Back when people used typewriters, that was something. Today? The gap has narrowed to nil. A quality rifle in .30-06, shooting quality ammunition, and in the hands of a competent shooter, will do everything that .308 Winchester will do when it comes to accuracy or ballistics.
Both are excellent target rounds, and – with quality ammunition – can reach out and touch something out to 1,000 yards. Both are excellent hunting rounds, and have been used to put almost every land-based game animal in the freezer at one point or another. Both are still among the most popular North American game cartridges in production, and for good reason. Either will harvest everything from hogs to deer, all the way up to moose and black bear; if you wanted to be a one-gun hunter, .308 or .30-06 will do it.
So, if there’s only slight differences between the two cartridges, is there any reason to pick one over the other?
.308 vs .30-06 Rifles
Here’s where .308 vs .30-06 starts to actually matter, though the degree to which it does…well, that’s up to you.
There are far more compact bolt-action rifles offered in .308, but what you should know is the compactness comes only due to barrel length. Standard bolt-action rifles, with a 22-inch or 24-inch barrel, are only 0.5 inches shorter if chambered in .308 vs .30-06, and barely any lighter.
Because of the length of the cartridge, .30-06 and other standard/long action cartridges are typically not offered in modern semi-automatic rifles. There are some, to be sure, but they aren’t common and aren’t cheap. On the other hand, you can find AR-10s and other modern sporting rifles in .308 for days.
Since the modern shooter is obsessed with everything tactical, that’s likely a bit of a deal-breaker. You could get yourself an M1 Garand, but it’s not an AR and AR-platform rifles are what people tend to like these days.
So does .308 vs .30-06 matter anymore? Basically no, unless you want to shoot 190- to 220-gr bullets (’06) or if you want an AR-10. Other than that…who cares?
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.
.308 vs .30-06: Does It Make That Much Difference? is written by for gunbelts.com