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.308 Winchester Vs. .30-06 Springfield: Battle Of The 30 Cals

The .30-06 Springfield and the .308 Winchester are two much-beloved cartridges that get used for a lot of the same things. They’re both long-lived rockstars in the shooting community, and each has some passionate fans. 

To help newer shooters (or just those with an interest in comparing these two titans) to figure out what exactly separates them, we wanted to take a deep dive into the history, ballistics, and real-world practical uses of these two rounds.

Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and while both are awesome, one or the other might be better for your particular use case…or at least a better option to buy first before you pick up the other one down the road.

A HISTORY OF GREATNESS

The .30-06 Springfield first entered the firearms scene in 1906. Springfield produced it as an update to the older .30-03 cartridge, which used a round-nosed projectile. They shortened the neck of the .30-03 casing, threw in a 150gr Spitzer projectile to replace the old round projectiles, and a legend was born.

In the years after, the .30-06 was the primary rifle cartridge of the US through both World Wars, the Korean War, and had limited use in the early parts of Vietnam.

During the 1950s, the US had a desire for a shorter, lighter cartridge, and that led Winchester to the development of the .308 Winchester. While it wasn’t an immediate hit with the military, it did take off with civilian shooters who liked it as a hunting and target round.

.30-06!

And then, of course, it did eventually get adopted by the US military. Technically, it was adopted as the main rifle cartridge along with the M14 rifle in 1957, but this would prove to be kind of short-lived.

The .308 Win/7.62×51 NATO would find a true home in the battle rifles, DMRs, sniper rifles, and machine guns of the world.

BALLISTICS FACEOFF

Ballistically, these rounds are actually very similar. The .30-06 is a long-action cartridge, and the overall length of the cartridge is about .5” greater than that of the .308. 

The Springfield offering also has about 10gr H20 of extra case capacity, making it a favorite among reloaders. 

Because of the extra space, .30-06 can have more powder, and thus is able to push bullets of the same weight much faster or heavier bullets at the same speed as .308 Win is able. Basically, more power.

308 win, 284 shehane berger bullets
308 Win (right) and 284 Shehane (left)

On the energy side of things, you do see a benefit in that you have a (potentially) heavier projectile going at or slightly above the same speed as the .308, which is great. This is definitely what makes the .30-06 more preferable for hunting larger game.

The .30-06 has taken every game animal on the planet, and it’s hard to argue with that kind of lineage and track record.

Where you also see a difference between these two is after about 800 yards or so, which is pretty much solely the purview of long-range target shooters like PRS competitors.

If you’re just interested in long range shooting, both cartridges have some merit. But the lack of match-grade ammo available for .30-06 and higher recoil puts it at a major disadvantage. In long range competition, .308 Win is normally in a special “Tactical” division by itself since it has no hope of competing against the 6mm PRS gamer rifles. 

While the .30-06 has the edge ballistically in terms of velocity, drop, drift, and of course, energy maintained down range. The big advantages of .308 are it is considerably cheaper, is more plentiful, has less recoil, it’s a NATO round (see previous two points), and it’s a short-action caliber so there’s a plethora of semi-auto and bolt-action platforms that shoot it.

How much does all that matter in the real world though? Let’s find out.

PRACTICAL USES

Hunting

For hunting, both of these rounds have absolutely stellar histories and have brought down serious amounts of game over the years. The .30-06 is a great do-it-all cartridge that can drop anything that walks the earth.

The .308 is also solid, however, and is perfect for mid-sized game at any realistic hunting distance. Anything up to about an elk in size is totally a reasonable target for an experienced hunter with a steady hand and a .308 rifle.

The .30-06 is comfortably capable of harvesting the larger African ungulates, bears, and more in the right hands. Those 220-grain bullets are no joke. It’s still not overkill for deer and won’t waste too much meat like some of the magnum calibers tend to on more medium-sized game.

Where the .308 comes back into its own is when you start looking at available rifles. Being a short-action caliber as well as a NATO cartridge in the form of the 7.62×51 Winchester means you have a much greater number of rifles available.

The AR-10 options alone open up a lot for hunters, particularly for anyone going out after dangerous game like predators or wild hogs. There are of course semi-auto .30-06 options out there, but they’re less versatile (you can change AR-10 calibers with an upper swap) and more expensive.

Not to mention heavier. Your average .308 rifle is going to be lighter than the average .30-06 equivalent, which is always nice when you’re trekking long distances out on the prairies or climbing a tree to a stand. 

Plinking/Having Fun/Preparing For the End Times

For general blasting of clay pigeons off a berm or ringing steel at medium ranges, it’s hard to go wrong with either of these rounds as far as the actual shooting goes. Your shoulder might start to feel it if you’re going through an entire box of .30-06, but it really isn’t that bad.

Where you will start to feel it though, is your wallet.

30 cal. 308″ Fusion Component Bullets

We love both of these rounds, but there’s no denying that the .308 is much, much cheaper. In general, expect to pay 30-40% more for equivalent .30-06 ammo than for .308. 

This might change depending on the quality of ammo of course, as higher-end .308 will probably be much more expensive, but in general .30-06 is the pricier option. 

Does the extra $.40/round or so matter if you’re looking for a hunting rifle? Probably not. Ditto if you’re thinking about serious target shooting or self-defense. Where we really start to see this matter is if we’re just turning money into noise at the range, training, or doing some other high-volume shooting. 

Or just stocking ammo in the shed in case of a severe breakdown in society and/or zombie uprising. 

If those are use cases you’re considering, be it plinking or stocking up for a Walking Dead-type scenario, then the much cheaper, and more readily available in bulk surplus .308 is probably your better bet.

Serious Target Shooting/Competition

For serious target shooting and competition like PRS, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You would think, looking at these two rounds on paper, that the .30-06 would simply be the winner. 

Better ballistic coefficient, more case room, what’s not to love?

In reality, the difference between these rounds is so slight that the lower recoil and better rifle/ammo availability (plus the price) make the .308 the more attractive option for long-range shooters. 

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t see much of either at PRS matches these days among pro shooters, but among the hobbyists who just want to get out and test their skills, you still see the .308 far more than the .30-06. 

The extra expense of the .30-06 just isn’t justified for the almost negligible performance gain you get. For budget competitors or those who just want a rifle they can hunt with and then turn around and compete with, the .308 is a much better option.

And if you want to get serious about your target shooting, I’d recommend 6.5mm Creedmoor for beginners, and 6mm cartridges like 6 Creedmoor, 6 GT, or 6 Dasher if you’re looking for a gamer cartridge.

Defense

Overkill might be underrated, but there are some instances where you’re going to see diminishing returns and maybe even hamper your chances. For my money, .30-06 is just not a great option for any kind of defensive shooting, unless you’re in bear country.

The .308 isn’t one of my preferred self-defense calibers either, but the fact that you can get a semi-auto like an AR-10 or even something a little more vintage/surplus in the form of an HK G3 or FN FAL clone means that you have a much better option for closer ranges.

B&T .308!

The Winchester offering has less recoil, works in a more practical short-action, and the available platforms are generally just more suited to defensive uses. This is basically the reason we have the .308 after all, and it absolutely outperforms a .30-06.

That said, I’ll take any port in a storm, and any firearm in a life-or-death situation is better than none. And I certainly don’t want to take a hit from a .30-06 at close range, and I bet your average home invader doesn’t either. 

LOOSE ROUNDS

As with anything, it’s all about trade-offs. While the .30-06 Springfield is a legendary cartridge and has a place in the world even today, it’s not unfair to say that it is long in the tooth and not America’s favorite cartridge any longer. 

At the same time, we’ve passed the .308 Winchester’s golden age as well. Yet still, it is a NATO cartridge and very popular with civilian shooters of all stripes making it not obsolescent either.

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2 Comments

  • Corey Jaquette says:

    So the .30-06 has a better ballistic coefficient than a .308? This statement tells me that the author is writing about a subject that they know little about.

    As the .30-06 and .308 BOTH fire many of the exact same bullets (it is the bullet that determines ballistic coefficient, not the cartridge) this statement is patently false.

    .308’s fire .30 caliber bullets, in most cases, up to 180 grains.

    .30-06’s fire .30 caliber bullets, in most cases, up to 220 grains.

    While the .30-06 may be able to fire heavier bullets (generally above 180 grains) that may have higher ballistic coefficients than lighter weight .30 caliber bullets. To make the blanket statement that the .30-06 has a better BC than a .308 is just incorrect.

  • Corey Jaquette says:

    A proper comparison of the two cartridges in relation to ballistic coefficient would be:

    Generally speaking, the .30-06 has a potential advantage over the .308 in that it can fire heavier .30 caliber bullets (again, over 180 grains) of which, many have higher BC’s (depending on bullet design) than .30 caliber bullets of lesser weight (below 180 grains).

    That being said, you don’t usually find off the shelf commercially manufactured ammo in either caliber that exceeds 180 grains. So unless you are handloading, the BC debate between .308 and .30-06 is more or less mute.

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View Comments

  • So the .30-06 has a better ballistic coefficient than a .308? This statement tells me that the author is writing about a subject that they know little about.

    As the .30-06 and .308 BOTH fire many of the exact same bullets (it is the bullet that determines ballistic coefficient, not the cartridge) this statement is patently false.

    .308's fire .30 caliber bullets, in most cases, up to 180 grains.

    .30-06's fire .30 caliber bullets, in most cases, up to 220 grains.

    While the .30-06 may be able to fire heavier bullets (generally above 180 grains) that may have higher ballistic coefficients than lighter weight .30 caliber bullets. To make the blanket statement that the .30-06 has a better BC than a .308 is just incorrect.

  • A proper comparison of the two cartridges in relation to ballistic coefficient would be:

    Generally speaking, the .30-06 has a potential advantage over the .308 in that it can fire heavier .30 caliber bullets (again, over 180 grains) of which, many have higher BC's (depending on bullet design) than .30 caliber bullets of lesser weight (below 180 grains).

    That being said, you don't usually find off the shelf commercially manufactured ammo in either caliber that exceeds 180 grains. So unless you are handloading, the BC debate between .308 and .30-06 is more or less mute.

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