The 308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag debate has gone on for about as long as those three cartridges have existed. They’re all great cartridges with different strengths and weaknesses, but the question remains: which one should you be hunting with?
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History Of The 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, & 300 Winchester Magnum
The U.S. Army designed the .30-06 Springfield for use in the bolt action 1903 Springfield rifle in 1906 as an improvement on the .30-03 Springfield cartridge. The Army had recently received a sobering lesson regarding the effectiveness of the 7mm Mauser in the hands of Spanish troops in Cuba in 1898.
For this reason, they wanted a cartridge and rifle that could compete with the revolutionary new Mauser. While the .30-03 Springfield cartridge did represent an improvement over the old .30-40 Krag and .45-70 Government cartridges, the Army still wasn’t completely happy with its performance.
However, a few tweaks to the design of the .30-03 Springfield gave them the results they were looking for. Using smokeless powder and a revolutionary 150gr “spitzer” (pointed) bullet fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps, the .30-06 Springfield was a significant improvement over previous military cartridges used during that era.
In addition to extensive use with the U.S. military, the .30-06 Springfield cartridge also rapidly caught on with the big game hunting and shooting communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. The .30-06 has also served as the parent for many other cartridges (like the .25-06 Remington and .35 Whelen).
After World War II (WWII), the US military began seriously looking for shorter cartridge to replace the .30-06 Springfield and experimented with new designs. From these experiments came a new cartridge: 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. The .308 Winchester also operates at a slightly higher pressure than the .30-06.
Like the .30-06 Springfield, the .308 Winchester quickly caught on with the shooting and hunting communities and has served as the parent for many other cartridges (like the .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester).
Around this same time period, the major gun manufacturers started devoting considerable 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.
The .300 Winchester Magnum was not the first .30 caliber magnum cartridge (the .300 Weatherby Magnum and .300 H&H Magnum are both older), but it’s far and away the most popular and commercially successful magnum cartridge of that size.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the .300 Winchester Magnum and how it compares to the .338 Winchester Magnum, read the article below:
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Cartridge Sizes
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).
Interestingly, .300 Winchester Magnum has a relatively short neck compared to the other two cartridges. As a rule of thumb, cartridges generally need a neck at least one caliber in length (.308” in this case) to help hold a projectile securely and concentrically.
This design principle can help with accuracy, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Even though the .300 Win Mag only has a neck length of .264”, it’s still capable of excellent accuracy in the right hands. At .304”, the .308 Winchester also has a neck on the short side, but it also has a reputation for outstanding accuracy. The .30-06 Springfield has a .385” long neck.
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. Therefore, the .300 Winchester Magnum has significantly greater case capacity than the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield.
All three use the same .308″ bullet diameter. While there is a big overlap in common bullet weights, there are some important differences to keep in mind here though.
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.
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.
The three cartridges each have different maximum SAAMI pressures: 60,000psi for the .30-06, 62,000psi for the .308 Winchester, and 64,000 for the .300 Winchester Magnum.
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.
As a slight aside, the .300 Winchester Short Magnum (.300 WSM) has an even larger diameter case than the .300 Winchester Magnum (.535″ vs .532″). So, even though it has a 2.1″ case length that’s just a little longer than the .308 Winchester case, the .300 WSM has a significantly larger case capacity (79.0g H2O) than the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield. For this reason, the .300 WSM packs almost the same level of performance as the .300 Win Mag into just a slightly longer case than the .308 Winchester.
While they fall outside the scope of this article, there are a few downsides associated with .300 WSM cartridge though. I only brought up the cartridge in the first place to illustrate the potential gains in case capacity associated with increasing the diameter of the case.
Learn more about the 300 WSM and how it stacks up against the .300 Winchester Magnum at the link below.
308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag Ballistics
Put simply, a cartridge with a larger case also usually has a greater powder capacity. 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 180 grain bullet faster than the .308 Win or .30-06 Springfield can push a 150 grain bullet.
That being said, those cartridges aren’t slouches either. With the help of modern propellants, 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, more resistance to wind drift, 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. The .308 Winchester also has noticeably less recoil than the .30-06 Springfield.Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.
30-06 vs 308 vs 300 Win Mag Accuracy
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 (often chambered in custom Remington 700 sniper rifles). All three cartridges have also been used by competitors in long range shooting competitions (like NRA high-power matches and the Wimbledon Cup). Indeed, the .30 caliber Sierra MatchKing is an extremely popular bullet among competition shooters due to the widespread use of these three cartridges.
The .30-06 Springfield is less popular in those fields than it used to be though and has been largely supplanted by the .308 Winchester and .300 Win Mag with shooters who want to use a .30 caliber cartridge. This is also reflected in the fact that many rifles built specifically for that sort of work (like the Ruger Precision Rifle) are chambered in .308 Winchester and sometimes .300 Win Mag (among other cartridges), but rarely .30-06.
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 law enforcement snipers for precision shooting in his book The Ultimate Sniper (p133-142 & p147-148).
Pick up a copy of The Ultimate Sniper on Amazon. It’s an interesting and useful read that’s definitely worth your time and money!
While the .308 Winchester probably has a slight accuracy edge here and is the most popular of the three for target shooting, 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 skilled hands.
300 Win Mag vs 30-06 vs 308 Barrel Life
Since the three cartridges have the same bore diameter but vastly different case capacities, there can be some significant difference in barrel life with the three cartridges. Simply put, burning more powder in a similar sized space will result in shorter barrel life.
This means that, in general, the .300 Win Mag will simply wear out barrels faster than the .30-06 Springfield, which will in turn wear out barrels faster than the .308 Winchester will. Exactly how fast that occurs depends on a number of factors like the quality of the barrel, the exact ammunition used, etc.
For serious target shooters, this can be a concern. However, the good news for hunters is that typical barrel life for all of these cartridges is more than enough to last for many, many years of hunting with no issues at all.
So where do we stand overall with these cartridges?
They’re all great cartridges, but the .300 Win Mag is clearly the most powerful of the bunch, has the flattest trajectory, and has the most resistance to wind drift. These factors make the cartridge more forgiving of wind or range estimation errors and it carries the most energy downrange.
However, the .308 has significantly less recoil than the other two cartridges. Providing about 90% of the power of the .30-06, the .308 is also capable of excellent accuracy. Combined with the miler recoil of the cartridge, these characteristics help maximize the shooting abilities of the hunter to a greater extent than the other two cartridges and can help facilitate better shot placement.
Finally, the .30-06 Springfield strikes a good balance: it can shoot a heavier bullet at a higher velocity, has a relatively flat trajectory, and carries more energy downrange than the .308 Winchester. However it has less recoil than the .300 Win Mag.
Here’s how each cartridge compares directly to the others in general terms.
308 vs 30-06
The 30-06 can shoot heavier bullets at a higher velocity than the .308 (~100-200fps faster with the same bullet). Therefore, the .30-06 Springfield has more recoil, but is better for longer shots or bigger game because it has a flatter trajectory and carries retains more energy downrange.
300 Win Mag vs 308
The .300 Win Mag can shoot heavier bullets at a much higher velocity than the .308 (~400fps faster with the same weight bullet). So, the .300 Win Mag is much more powerful, has a much flatter trajectory, and has significantly more recoil than the .308.
300 Win Mag vs 30-06
The .300 Win Mag shoot heavier bullets at a higher velocity than the .30-06 (~200-300fps faster with the same bullet). So, the .300 Win Mag is slightly more powerful, has a slightly flatter trajectory, and has somewhat more recoil than the .30-06.
30-06 vs 308 vs 300 Win Mag Ammo
All three cartridges are extremely popular centerfire rifle cartridges in North America (as well as the rest of the world). In fact, all are probably in the top 10 best-selling rifle cartridges in the United States each year.
This is probably splitting hairs, but if I had to guess, I’d say the .308 Winchester is the most popular of the three, followed by the .30-06 then the .300 Win Mag.
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.
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.
They’re all also available in a wide variety of bullet styles ranging from FMJ (most popular with the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield), to soft point, round nose, hollow point, and boat tail bullets.
So, regardless of whether you prefer a Hornady SST, Nosler AccuBond, or a Remington Core-Lokt, the odds are good that you’ll be able to find a load that shoots well in your rifle and performs well on most species of North American big game 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 ammo.
.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. .30 caliber bullets are the most popular bullet size in the United States.
So, there are also lots of good quality .308” diameter bullets to choose from and these three cartridges use many of the same bullets as other popular .30 caliber cartridges like the .30-30 Winchester, the .300 WSM, the .300 Ultra Mag, and the .300 PRC.
So you shouldn’t have much trouble working up a custom load that shoots very accurately in your chosen rifle if you’re into handloading.
308 vs 300 Win Mag vs 30-06 Springfield Rifles
Just like with ammo, the major gun manufacturers produce sporting rifles chambered in all three cartridges.
There have been a handful of lever action and single shot rifles chambered in .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield over the years. Due in large part to their military heritage, those two cartridges have also been manufactured in a few semi-automatic rifles over the years as well.
All that being said, the .308, .30-06, and .300 Win Mag are most commonly available in bolt-action rifles. Indeed, they’re all incredibly popular cartridges, so, regardless of whether you’re a Browning X-Bolt, Winchester Model 70, Remington Model 700, Ruger American, Ruger American Magnum, Ruger M77 Hawkeye, Mossberg Patriot, 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. Some things, like the rifling twist rate, may or may not change from cartridge to cartridge.
However, 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/standard length 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 or 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 when you’re carrying that rifle up the side of a mountain.
Additionally, Winchester makes a Featherweight version of the Model 70 in all three cartridges 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.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been using a Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter in .300 Win Mag as my primary hunting rifle for the last few years. I originally bought it for an elk hunt, but it has quickly turned into my “go to” rifle for everything from mule deer hunting in New Mexico, to pronghorn hunting in Wyoming, and everything in between. I even took a really nice Himalayan Tahr with it in New Zealand back in 2018.
The Hawkeye FTW Hunter uses a standard Ruger Hawkeye action, but it’s specifically designed for longer range precision hunting situations, so it’s a really nice platform well suited for the ballistic advantages offered by the .300 Win Mag cartridge.
That being said, in addition to .300 Winchester Magnum, the Hawkeye FTW Hunter is also currently available in 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester, and .375 Ruger.
If all that sounds appealing, you can purchase a Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter rifle here.
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 are great hunting rounds for medium to large sized game in North America like whitetail deer, mule deer, black bear, feral hogs, pronghorn, caribou, javelina, mountain lion, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat. The same goes for red stag, tahr, fallow deer, chamois, and other game you might encounter on a New Zealand hunting safari or impala, kudu, wildebeest and other species of African plains game.
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? All three cartridges will work really well here. However, 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 where short range hunting situations are the norm. 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 yds.
Are you very sensitive to recoil? Go with the .308 Winchester. Of the three, the .308 is best suited to new, small framed, and or recoil shy hunters. Indeed, a good rifle chambered in .308 Winchester is a great gift for a hunter who is just getting started.
Are you planning a mountain hunt for sheep, mountain goat, Himalayan Tahr, or chamois where it will be really nice to have a lightweight, but hard hitting 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 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 an AR platform or just a semi-automatic rifle in general? There are a ton of good semi-auto firearms in the .308 Winchester chambering. This includes service rifles like the AR-10, the FN FAL, the M14 (or the M1A, which is the civilian version of the M-14). However, aside from the M1 Garand, there are very few semi-autos in .30-06 Springfield or .300 Winchester Magnum.
Do you want to hunt really large game like red stag, moose, kudu, eland, or a big bull elk? All three cartridges will work, but the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum offer a clear advantage since they carry significantly more energy downrange and 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.
Are you specifically hunting brown or grizzly bear? What if you hunt in Canada or Alaska and need a heavy hitting cartridge just in case you find yourself on the wrong end of a grizzly/brown bear attack? All will certainly work here, though none would be my first choice for use on a really big bear though. If I had to pick one, I’d go with the .300 Win Mag since it has the most stopping power of the bunch and can use the heaviest bullets with the highest sectional density.
As I’ve stated before: the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and the .300 Winchester are all great rifle cartridges. After all, there’s a reason why they’re all such popular hunting cartridges. While each one may be better suited to specific situations than the others, they are all generally very solid performers. It’s also possible that the best one for you could simply come down to personal preference.
Bottom line: get a good quality rifle in one of these great hunting 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 no big game animal will know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot.
Want to take a rifle chambered in one of these cartridges on a hunt?
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For a more detailed discussion on the .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield and how they compare to the .270 Winchester cartridge, or to learn more about how the .300 Win Mag stacks up against the 7mm Remington Magnum, read the articles below:
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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, 564, & 574-585) reloading manuals were also used as references for this article.