Hunters have debated the pros and cons of the 308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag for decades. They’re all great cartridges with different strengths and weaknesses, but the question remains: which one should you be hunting with?
Though the three cartridges share many similarities, they are different in a few key areas and many hunters and shooters love to argue over the merits of the .308 Winchester vs the .30-06 Springfield vs the .300 Winchester Magnum. Each one has its own fan club, but which cartridge is the right one for you? Well, it all depends on what and where you’re hunting.
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308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Similarities
First, lets start with the areas where the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Win Mag are similar.
All three cartridges use a .308″ bullet with popular projectile weights ranging from 150 to 180 grains. All are great cartridges for hunting medium to large sized game on every continent under the right circumstances.
These cartridges are also have well deserved reputations for accuracy and performance at extended range. In skilled hands, all three are perfectly capable of hitting targets in excess of 1,000 yards.
They are also very popular cartridges among hunters and shooters all over the world. For that reason, just about every gun manufacturer produces rifles chambered in .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Winchester Magnum. The same goes for ammunition, so users of these cartridges have plenty of choices when it comes to good quality guns and ammo for these three cartridges.
So, we’ve covered how these cartridges are similar, but how are they different?
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Cartridge Sizes
Introduced in 1906 and developed as an improvement to the .30-03 Springfield cartridge, the U.S. Army designed the .30-06 Springfield for use in the 1903 Springfield rifle. Using smokeless powder and a revolutionary 150gr “spitzer” (pointed) bullet fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,700fps, the .30-06 Springfield was a significant improvement over previous cartridges the military used during that era like the .30-40 Krag and the .45-70 Government.
Not surprisingly, the .30-06 Springfield cartridge quickly caught on with the hunting and shooting communities.
After World War II, the Army started seriously looking for shorter cartridge to replace the .30-06 Springfield and experimented with new designs. From these experiments came the .308 Winchester and its close relative the 7.62x51mm NATO. Advances in propellent design allowed the .308 Winchester to fire a 150gr bullet at the same velocity as the original .30-06 Springfield with a significantly shorter case.
Around this time, the major gun manufacturers started devoting considerable time and energy towards designing flat shooting, high velocity “magnum” cartridges for big game hunters. Winchester developed the .264 Winchester Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, and .458 Winchester Magnum cartridges in the late 1950s using shortened .375 H&H Magnum cases. They followed up on the success of these cartridges with the .300 Winchester Magnum (also known as the .300 Win Mag and .300 WM) a few years later.
You can see the heritage of these cartridges on display in the photos below. With a case length of just 2.015″ (51.18mm) and an maximum overall length of 2.81″ (71.37mm), the .308 Winchester is the shortest of the three cartridges. Though the .30-06 Springfield cartridge in the photo is slightly shorter than the .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge, the SAAMI specifications for the two cartridges overlap slightly and the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum have the same maximum authorized overall length of 3.34″ (84.84mm).
Since the .308 Winchester is so much shorter than the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum, it will fit in a short-action rifle while the larger two cartridges are restricted to long-action rifles (more on this later).
Even though it has the same maximum overall length as the .30-06 Springfield, the .300 Winchester Magnum has a slightly longer (2.62″ vs 2.49″) and larger diameter (.532″ vs .473″) case thanks to its .375 H&H roots. For this reason, the .300 Winchester Magnum has significantly greater case capacity than the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield.
Note: while the case capacity figures listed below do give a good indication of the differences between the three cartridges, exact case capacities vary slightly according to the brand of brass used.
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Cartridge Performance
Put simply, a cartridge with a larger case capacity can hold more powder. All other things equal, this translates into greater muzzle velocity.
This is where the .300 Win Mag holds a clear advantage over the other two cartridges. As you can see in the table below, the .300 Win Mag can propel a 180gr bullet faster than the .308 Win or .30-06 Springfield can push a 150gr bullet. That being said, those cartridges aren’t slouches either. With the help of modern propellents, both the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are capable of firing a 168gr bullet as fast or faster than the original 150gr .30-06 Springfield load.That extra velocity translates into a flatter trajectory, better performance at extended ranges, and a longer effective range. As you can see in the table below comparing .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield Barnes VOR-TX factory loads using a 168gr Barnes TTSX BT to a .300 Win Mag VOR-TX factory load using a 165gr Barnes TTSX BT, there is a significant difference in the bullet trajectories. Even though the .308 Win and .30-06 loads use a bullet with a higher ballistic coefficient (.470 vs .442), the .300 Win Mag still hits over a foot higher and has almost 400 ft-lbs more energy remaining at 500 yards than the .308 Winchester.All that extra velocity comes at a price in terms of recoil though. For instance, even in a rifle that weighs nearly a pound more, the .300 Winchester Magnum generates over 60% more free recoil energy than the .308 Winchester when firing 180gr Nosler Partitions.Gun writers have spilled a lot of ink comparing the accuracy of the 308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag. While picking the most accurate cartridge of the three is a somewhat contentious subject, most people agree that all three cartridges are capable of excellent accuracy.
For this reason, military and police snipers have used all three cartridges at various times in history and all three cartridges have been used by competitors in long range shooting competitions (like the Wimbledon Cup). Indeed, no less an authority than Major John L. Plaster discusses the advantages of the .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges at length and why they are so currently popular among military and police snipers for precision shooting in his book The Ultimate Sniper (p133-142 & p147-148).
While the .308 Winchester probably has a slight accuracy edge here, the reality is that most of us are not nearly good enough marksmen to really be able to tell the difference between them. The .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and the .300 Winchester Magnum are all very accurate cartridges and are more than capable of doing the job in capable hands.
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Rifle & Bullet Selection
As stated previously, the most popular bullet weights for the three cartridges are in the 150gr to 180gr range. However, the major ammunition manufacturers produce bullets for these cartridges as light as 110gr and as heavy as 230gr.
Bullets for the .308 Winchester tend to be on the lighter end of the spectrum: 110-180gr with 150gr, 165gr, 168gr, and 180gr bullets being the most common and the occasional 200gr load thrown in for good measure.
The .30-06 Springfield uses very similar bullet weights: 110-220gr with 150gr, 165gr, 168gr, and 180gr bullets also being the most popular with a few 125gr, 200gr, and 220gr loads out there as well.
The .300 Winchester Magnum typically uses heavier bullets: 150-230gr with 150gr, 165gr, 180gr, 190gr, and 200gr bullets being the most common.
Virtually every ammunition manufacturer of note like Barnes, Browning, Federal Premium, Hornady, Norma, Nosler, PPU, Remington, Swift, Weatherby, and Winchester (just to name a few) makes a wide variety of good quality ammo for all three cartridges. So, the odds are good that you’ll be able to find a load that shoots well in your rifle regardless of which cartridge you choose.
Prices and availability for each cartridge vary from region to region and even store to store in some cases. However, .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield ammunition are generally more common than .300 Winchester Magnum. .308 Winchester ammunition is usually the least expensive and .300 Winchester Magnum ammunition is typically the most expensive.
If you like to handload, then you’re also in luck because reloading components for all three cartridges are widely available. There are also lots of good quality .308 caliber bullets to choose from, so you shouldn’t have much trouble working up a custom load that shoots very accurately in your chosen rifle.
Just like with ammo, the major gun manufacturers produce rifles chambered in all three cartridges. So, regardless of whether you’re a Winchester Model 70, Remington Model 700, Ruger American, Ruger American Magnum, Ruger M77 Hawkeye, or Savage 11/111 fan, you should be able to find your favorite bolt action rifle chambered in all three cartridges.
However, keep in mind that the exact specifications of the same model rifle will vary slightly from cartridge to cartridge. Remember when I mentioned earlier that the .308 Winchester will fit in a short-action rifle while the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Win Mag only fit in long-action rifles? Well, this means that rifles chambered in .308 Winchester have a shorter bolt than the exact same rifle chambered in either of the other two cartridges.
Additionally, (this has nothing to do with a rifle having a short of a long-action), gun manufacturers tend to put longer barrels on rifles chambered in .30-06 and .300 Win Mag. So all things considered, rifles chambered in .300 Win Mag tend to be slightly longer, heavier, and more unwieldy than rifles chambered in either .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield.
The Winchester Model 70 Super Grade illustrates these differences well. When chambered in .308 Winchester, the rifle has a 22″ barrel, an overall length of 42.7″, and weighs 7.8 pounds. The same rifle chambered in .30-06 Springfield has a 24″ barrel, is 44.7″ long, and weighs 8.2 pounds. Chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum, the rifle has a 26″ barrel, is 46.8″ long, and weighs 8.6 pounds.
The rifle chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum is over 4″ longer and weighs nearly a pound more than the exact same model chambered in .308 Winchester, which is not an insignificant difference. Additionally, Winchester makes a Featherweight version of the Model 70 in .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield (but not .300 Win Mag) that’s even shorter and lighter than the Super Grade models described above, making it a good choice for hunters who really want a light and easy to carry rifle.
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Which Is Right For You?
When using the right bullets and with good shot placement, all three cartridges are great hunting cartridges for medium to large sized game like whitetail deer, mule deer, black bear, feral hogs, pronghorn, caribou, elk, javelina, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, impala, kudu, wildebeest and other species of African plains game. The same goes for mountain lion and leopard.
While they’re far too light (and not legal) for use on thick-skinned dangerous game like Cape Buffalo and elephant, you could use any of these cartridges to hunt other really big species of game like eland, moose, bison, and brown bear (Roy Lindsley used a .30-06 Springfield to take the current Boone & Crockett record Alaska brown bear back in 1952) under the right circumstances.
Picking the right cartridge out of the three really depends on your personal desires and what/where you’ll be hunting.
Do you primarily hunt deer in a thickly wooded area where long distance shots past 200 yards are uncommon and bullet drop is less of a concern? The .308 Winchester is probably the best choice in this case. Having a short, light hunting rifle is a big plus when moving through thickly wooded areas. The .308 Winchester is absolutely deadly on medium game like deer and the other two cartridges do not have a significant ballistic advantage over the .308 Winchester until ranges get past 300 yards.
Are you very sensitive to recoil? Do you do a lot of mountain or backcountry hunts where it’s really nice to have a lightweight rifle? Again, consider going with the .308 Winchester, which is the lightest recoiling cartridge of the bunch and is available in the smallest and lightest rifles. For instance, Randy Newberg uses a Howa Mountain rifle chambered in .308 Winchester on most of his hunts. He has cleanly taken a bunch of deer and elk with it and there is no reason you can’t either if you use good quality ammunition.
Do you hunt in an area where shots past 300 yards are more common? Then the .300 Winchester Magnum might be a better choice because you’ll be able to take advantage of the cartridge’s higher velocity, flatter trajectory, and superior power at longer ranges under those circumstances.
Do you prefer to hunt with a semi-automatic rifle? There are a ton of good semi-automatic rifles chambered in .308 Winchester (like the AR-10, the FN FAL, the M14, and it’s civilian cousin the M1A), but, aside from the M1 Garand, very few in .30-06 Springfield or .300 Winchester Magnum.
Do you want to hunt really large game like moose and eland? All three cartridges will work, but the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum offer a clear advantage since they can use the heavier 190, 200, and 220 grain bullets that are better suited for extremely large animals.
Do you want a “Jack-of-all-trades” or “Swiss Army Knife” type rifle that can accomplish the widest possible variety of tasks well? Then the .30-06 Springfield might be the best choice for you.
As I’ve stated before: the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and the .300 Winchester are all great rifle cartridges. While each one may be better suited to specific situations than the others, they are all generally very solid performers.
Get a good quality rifle in one of these cartridges, learn to shoot it accurately, and it will serve you well out in the field. The difference between them (308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag) is not as great as it is sometimes made out to be and the animal will never know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot.
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Cartridge dimensions were obtained from SAAMI (p, 95, 105, and 110), as were the SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure figures (p29-31). Original .30-06 Springfield load data was obtained from the 14th Edition of the Newton Arms Company Catalog Circa 1920. Nosler provided the load data used to compare recoil for the three cartridges (here, here, and here). Cartridge case capacities were obtained from Chuck Hawks. The Lyman 50th Edition (p241-250 & 260-262) and Hornady 10th Edition (p474-484, 510-522, & 574-585) reloading manuals were also used as references for this article.