308 vs 30-06: Cartridge Comparison

A very common debate that comes up often in firearms discussions is the comparison of the 308 vs 30-06.

In the 1950s, the M14 rifle and its newer, standardized 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge, in which the .308 is the commercial version, were introduced as a replacement to the venerable M1 Garand with its classic .30-06 Springfield ammunition.

Since then, gun enthusiasts all over the world ask, “Which cartridge is better?” While “better” is a very subjective term, this article attempts to spell out the pros and cons of each round.

That way you can draw your own informed conclusions on this debate.

30-06 vs 308: Background

The .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield fill a similar role as medium-weight, medium-bore ammunition.

Both are .30 caliber rounds with the same bullet diameter (.308 inches). Bullet weights typically run between 140 and 180 grain (roughly 1/3 to 2/5 of an ounce).

308 vs 30-06

The casing of the .30-06 cartridge is longer than the .308 by nearly one-half inch.

Since gunpowder has become more efficient, requiring less powder to push a similar sized bullet downrange, the .308 does not require the extra space inside the casing as the .30-06 does.

However, for shooters that like to reload their ammunition, or make custom loads, the .30-06 is the cartridge of choice because of the extra space inside the casing that .30-06 provides.

Conversely, because the .308 has a smaller casing, it is a slightly lighter cartridge than the .30-06 and takes up less storage space. As a result, a person can carry more .308 ammunition than .30-06.

.308 vs 30-06 Ballistics

Back in the 1960s, .308 ammunition quickly proved its superiority in performance over the .30-06.

In fact, the .308 performed so much better that organizers of marksman competitions had to shrink the size of the bullseye on competitive targets to prevent .308 shooters from tying.

However, a lot has changed since the 1960s. Thanks to advances in ballistic technology, new .308 and .30-06 ammunition fresh from the factory have very similar ballistic properties.

In the hands of a skilled marksman, both cartridges can be used to accurately engage a target from distances out to 1,000 yards.

Extremely talented marksmen can push their accuracy even beyond that range, though larger calibers are typically used to engage targets beyond the 1,000 yard mark.

Below we have ballistics data comparison for the .308 and .30-06 over a range of 0-500 yards. We used the Federal ballistics calculator and went with the normal default inputs. We chose the full metal jacket boat tail version of the cartridges, which is 150 grain.​

Federal - FMJ Boat Tail - 150 Gr

Cartridge

Range (yd)

Drop (in)

Wind Drift (in)

Velocity (fps)

Energy (ft-lb)

.308

0

-1.5

0

2820

2648

.30-06

0

-1.5

0

2910

2820

.308

100

0

0.8​

2597

2246

.30-06

100

0

0.8​

2683

2397

.308

200

-3.6

3.3

2385

1894

.30-06

200

-3.3

3.2

2466

2026

.308

300

-13.5

7.8

2183

1586

.30-06

300

-12.4

7.4

2260

1701

.308

400

-30.6

14.4

1990

1319

.30-06

400

-28.3

13.7

2064

1419

.308

500

-56.3

23.3

1808

1089

.30-06

500

-52.2

23.2

1877

1173

While bullet timer results will vary depending on the brand and quality of ammunition used, the .30-06 typically has a slightly greater velocity than the .308. 

On average, the difference is between 100 and 200 feet per second.

Because the .30-06 has more velocity on average, the .308 will have less felt recoil than the .30-06.

In a nutshell, to the average shooter, there is little difference between the two calibers aside from recoil. Even the difference in bullet drop between the two calibers is small.

The overall performance in factory new ammunition is so similar that comparing their ballistic differences becomes a matter of contrasting the slightest degrees of variation in statistical data.

Availability

Since both rounds perform well, one must look at the ammunition’s availability in the marketplace, as well as which rifles are offered in those calibers when determining which of the two better suits your needs between .308 vs .30-06.

After all, how useful is a rifle whose ammunition is rare, hard to find, or extremely expensive to purchase? Fortunately, both .308 and .30-06 ammunition are readily available at your local sporting goods store.

The most notable difference between the two calibers falls to the availability of rifles chambered in .308 and .30-06.

In bolt-action rifles, the two calibers are tied. Most major manufacturers that make bolt-action rifles offer models in either caliber.

Average pricing between the two is also similar. An entry-level bolt-action rifle costs between $300 and $400.

While there are slightly more offerings in .308, shooters that prefer a bolt-action rifle should not have difficulty locating one in their price point.

In the semi-automatic rifle category, the .308 has the clear advantage in the availability of chamberings.

This is primarily because the .308 was standardized across multiple militaries. Since then, these have become the basis for modern sporting rifles in civilian markets.

Conversely, the .30-06 was a distinctly American cartridge and was rarely available outside of the United States.

The .308 cartridge is available for most semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, especially those based on the designs of military rifles.

The FN SCAR-17, the HK 417, and the AR-10 are great examples of this.

In the military surplus or reproduction categories, the .308 wins the contest of availability there as well.

It has variants of the HK G3, CETME, FN FAL, and M14 (offered to civilians as the M1A) available to civilian buyers.

For .30-06, the semi-automatic market is typically focused around either hunting rifles with minimal capacity, military surplus M1 Garands and BARs, or custom-made rifles offered in small quantities by specialty manufacturers.

There are only a handful of .30-06 offerings in the AR platform. They are much more expensive than their .308 counterparts.

There are also a few reproductions of Soviet-bloc rifles that are chambered in .30-06 (such as the Yugo M76). Like the AR platforms, these are more expensive than those offered in the rifles’ original caliber.

Conclusion

In summary, the contest between the .30-06 vs .308 is a close one.

The determining factor comes down to personal preference and the rifle’s intended use. The .30-06 will probably remain the favorite of hand-loaders because of its longer casing.

The statistical aficionados probably prefer the .30-06 for its slight advantage in velocity.

Hunters have their choice of caliber, as most hunting rifles are offered in both .308 and .30-06. However, recoil-sensitive shooters will prefer the .308.

Shooters that want a sporting rifle of military pedigree with a high capacity magazine will have to make a choice. 

Either accept the .308 to take advantage of a broad selection of rifles at reasonable prices or choose the .30-06 with the understanding that you will be paying a higher price with a limited rifle selection in that caliber.

If you are interested in another popular alternative, check out our article comparing the .308 to the 7mm-08. ​

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