Today, we take a look at .300 Win Mag and .308 Winchester. We want to compare the ballistics, the accuracy, and of course the cost. Both have more in common than most people think. This makes it an important decision to pick one of them for the caliber of your next rifle. The impact might be big, especially in the long run, so choose wisely.

Some might think of apples and oranges when comparing them. On the first glance, you might be right, but in fact, both cartridges come with the same bullet diameter and bullet weight. Either can be used for targets or game animals.

Yes, both cartridges look different in size, but their bullets have both .308 inches in diameter as has the .30-06 of 1906 vintage. In fact, the .30-06 falls between both cartridges and is the parent of the .308 Winchester. Some want to say that the real parent was the .300 Savag, but the measurements of the cartridge make it clear that it comes from the .30-06. Some go so far as calling the .308 Winchester the .30-06 Short to show this connection. Another, rather derisive, name is also the .30 Not Six, making it almost sound like the parent.

This begs the question why someone would use the .30-06 to make a weaker cartridge? Usually, it is the other way, meaning, that the envelop is pushed further instead of tightened. However, raw performance is not everything. Besides velocity and energy, there is also the question of efficiency, and of course the costs.

Making the .30-06 shorter and thereby creating the .308 allows for shorter actions which are lighter and cycle faster. Also, the cartridges are lighter themselves, so that more of them can be carried. This might be important for a hunter, more or less, but definitely more so for the military for which Winchester was aiming when creating it. When you ship millions and millions of rounds for the big green machine, there is a difference if you mange to pump a few million rounds more through the same system without having to spend more resources on it.

The love affair with the military was short lived or long lived, depending on your point of view. It got adopted as the NATO caliber and was introduced as the 7.62 x 51 NATO. For the US military, it all began with the M14. However, the M14 was soon to be replaced by the M16 itself bringing a new and smaller round to the table. This made it rather short lived. On the other hand, there are still plenty of machine guns, battle rifles, and sniper rifles out there, still using it. From that point of view, it might be a long lived love affair.

Be it as it may for the military, as a civilian hunting round, it made its breakthrough 2 years earlier, and it is still up and about. A big reason for that is its still strong performance. OK, the cartridge is smaller, and there is less powder in it. However, when shot from rifles with the same barrel length and with a 150-grain bullet each, the .308 Winchester loses only about 100 feet per second to the .30-06. Going up the 180 grain, the .30-06 shows its temper and beats the .308 by 200 to 250 feet per second. That is, if you need this kind of performance. That is not a given, as we are speaking of muzzle velocities between 2700 and 3000 feet per seconds. 100 or 200, even 300, feet per second more or less are of less significance than it would be in a pocket pistol with less than 1000 feet per seconds. It comes into his own only when you go after a big and dangerous game. Going for whitetails, pronghorns, and mule deer, the 150-grain bullet at 2,700 feet per seconds can reliably do the trick. Over time, technology came into its own, and nowadays, the difference between both is even less pronounced.

The .300 Winchester Magnum went a different way. It follows the bigger is better and faster the best idea and used the belted .300 Weatherby Magnum case as a parent. While it shoots the same bullet, the case itself has a bigger diameter. That allows for more powder that drives a 150-grain bullet for some 400 feet per second faster than the .308 and still 300 feet per second faster than the .30-06. This comes at a price. For this round, you pay more, and you feel it more in your shoulder shooting it.

Often, the belt around the head was thought to be needed to withstand the pressure generated by this amount of powder. The truth is that it is just an unnecessary leftover coming from the parent. There, the sloped shoulders made it a must, but the angle of the .300 Winchester Magnum is different, so it was not needed anymore. It was retained for marketing reasons which worked out well for Winchester.

Both rounds, the .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum, became more and more popular over time. For the .300, it was the flat trajectory, making it easier to hit, and the raw power, that convinced shooters. With different bullet weights, it can take on practically anything.

In comparison, the .308 convinces with its rather mild recoil, its excellent accuracy, and enough power for most if not all game depending on shot placement. Most of all, it is affordable. Another, not easily dismissed advantage, is the military. Many shooters get in touch with this great round there during their extensive training, and once used to it, fall in love with it.

Looking at the trajectory and energy, the .300 Winchester Magnum is the clear winner. With brute force out if its bigger load of powder, it beats the .308 whenever you compare the same bullet weight shots from the same barrel lengths.

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When it comes to recoil, the .308 has the clear lead. When you compare the kick out of similar barrel lengths and with the same bullet weight, the .300 Winchester Magnum hits the shoulder of the shooter with just a little bit less than the double of the .308.

Looking at the ammo versatility, .300 Winchester Magnum is again winning. As it has more powder, it can hammer heavier bullet weights, for example with 220 grains, with decent speeds and up to 3800 foot pounds of energy downrange. For .308 Winchester, that would be just a 200-grain bullet with an energy of just 2550 foot pounds, but it is already a challenge to find heavier than 180 grain bullets.


On the flip side, when it comes to ammo cost, the .308 Winchester is again the winner. Before the great ammo shortage, a box with 20 rounds would cost $15, depending on location and availability. For the .300 Winchester Magnum, it would be $25. Nowadays, during the pandemic, these prices just went up.

Going to accuracy, one might think that the .308 is clearly the winner. Given all that tactical gear, sniper rifles, and such, this would be forgivable. The reality is that both calibers are very precise. It depends more on the rifle, barrel length, scope, and most importantly, the human at the trigger. This is a clear tie.

So, which one is better? It depends on your needs. If you are from the bigger is better fraction, and you are willing to take the recoil and pay the price, go for the .300 Winchester Magnum. If you want less recoil, less weight, and better prices, and are willing to lose some performance in return, go for the .308 Winchester. In the end, it comes all down to what suits your needs best.

And there you have it guys. Two great cartridges that both have their place in the shooting community.

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