This article is written with beginning hunters in mind as they choose their hunting rifle and are considering the differences between the 308 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield.
What’s great about both the 308 and 30-06
Even though there are 40+ years between development of the two cartridges, they share a lot in common when used for hunting in modern times.
- They’re both great for hunting big game in North America. Deer, bear, moose, elk: they’ll all go down from a well placed 308 or 30-06.
- Both cartridges are readily found on store shelves and are inexpensive compared to rarer chamberings.
- Because they both use mild speeds, expensive premium bullets aren’t really necessary. Weight retention in a 165 grain bullet will be acceptable without having to go to a copper bullet.
- Most rifle magazines will fit 4-5 308 or 30-06 cartridges, while they’ll fit 3 magnum or 2-3 short magnum cartridges.
Wins For the 308
Weight: I think the biggest difference is that 308 can fit into a short action. That means that the bolt travels less distance and the action can be built a bit lighter. If you want a lighter rifle, go 308 because you’re going to get some free weight savings.
Cost: There’s a really slight cost advantage with 308. Hunting ammo will be pretty much the same cost, but plinking ammo is non-existent for 30-06 and plentiful for 308.
Semi Automatic Rifles: While there are some semi automatic hunting rifles for the 30-06, there is a lot more variety of 308-based rifles these days.
Accuracy: To be direct: there isn’t enough accuracy difference between these two cartridges to worry about, but there are more accurate factory match ammunition options for 308, as well as high quality brass cases that are readily available if you want to reload and eek all the accuracy out you can. You can do all this with a 30-06, but it’ll be harder to find.
Wins For the 30-06
Speed: The 30-06 runs a higher muzzle velocity compared with similar weight bullets from a 308. (factory loads typically run about 50-100 fps faster)
Flexibility: The short 308 case doesn’t have a lot of room in it for powder and the magazine length is pretty short so when you load it with long bullets, you really cut down on available case volume. The 30-06 can very comfortably run 200 grain bullets and if you want to get silly, you can even run a 220 grain bullet.
What 308 and 30-06 Both Kinda Suck at
- Neither are great for really long range hunting. By 600 yards, both 30-06 and 308 are under the 1800 fps that most bullet manufacturers recommend for proper expansion, and by 700 yards most bullet types have dropped below 1000 ft-lbs of energy. You can stretch the range a bit by going for the heaviest bullets, or you could get a 7mm Remington magnum or 300 Winchester magnum and be done with it.
- Neither are the pinnacle of technology. WSM cartridges cram more performance in a short package.
- Maximum accuracy used to be the 30-06, and then then 308, but target shooters these days are into smaller diameter 6.5 and 6mm bullets for more target shooting, depending on discipline. For hunting purposes, the 308 and 30-06 both still offer great accuracy.
Should a New Hunter Get a 308 or a 30-06?
So which would I recommend to a new hunter? All else equal, I’d recommend 308 Winchester over 30-06 to a new hunter looking at a new hunting rifle. The rifle will be just a little bit lighter, the recoil just a little bit less, the action just a little bit faster to use. Now, if they had 5 boxes of 30-06 that granddad gave them, well, I might just be inclined to recommend the 30-06 instead.