308 vs 30-06

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.

308 vs 30-06

308 left, 30-06 right

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.

308 Win

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.

30-06 Springfield

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.

  • Jacob Beaton

    Thanks for this! I’m hunting for my first rifle and am trying to decide between these two at the moment. I went to buy one yesterday as there’s year end clearance sales at the local dealer, but when I got there I couldn’t decide, and went for more research. Loving your website, thanks for all you do. Cheers.

  • Pryz Fytr

    Funny, but I bought a Remington 700 solely because someone gave me a case of 30.06! I already have an M1A, and tons of ammo for that. The 700 is my only bolt gun, and was <$400 on sale with a cheapo scope.

  • Christian Contos

    Thanks for the article. I am also a new(er) hunter with just 2 seasons under my belt, so I am certainly no expert. I live in Colorado, where we have small Whitetail Deer, large Mule Deer, and even larger Elk, Black Bear, and Moose. It was recommended to me by a Wildlife Officer to go with a .308 because, like you say, he said it is a caliber that can be accurately controlled by a new hunter. He also suggested that the .308 caliber, with an appropriately placed shot, is quite adequate for pretty much anything in this part of the U.S., so there is no reason for using artillery on a deer or elk. My small-statured wife also uses a .308 and easily handles it accurately. Finally, ammo for the .308 is affordable and plentiful everywhere here. I’m happy with a .308, and I hope to continue my success (3 deer so far) with my .308. Thanks again for the article!

  • Brent Gogel

    Ive been hunting and shooting for many years. If I were going for a semi I would prob opt for a 308. If I wanted a versatile hunting bolt rifle.. Aught 6 all they way. U can load ur own rounds and push a 220 grain bullet to where you can tell the impact and damage is more than slightly noticeable w not much more felt recoil. The 308 will kill it. The 06 will kill it’s soul lol..

  • Vince Freeman

    Good write-up, thanks. I have a Remington 760 in 30.06 and 2 rifles in 308 (Winchester 88 and Savage 99). Taken lots of game with all 3. I like the older rifles because I’m an older guy. The 30.06 has a stronger kick, but as said, can be loaded to greater variances, thereby the more versatile gun. My older brother does all the hand loading for hunting and loves the 30.06. All rifles are adequately accurate. I never got a bolt gun – couldn’t find one for a lefty, hence, the pump and lever actions. For plinking, the 308’s are much more affordable to shoot.

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