And that is why the goal of this article is not to pick one of them as the best; there are plenty of articles and forums out there endlessly debating the topic. Instead of throwing ourselves into a circular argument, we are going to look at the performance specs of these two cartridges so that we can have a better understanding of in which situation these calibers will excel.
For two hunting cartridges with an impeccable track record such as these, they both deserve the recognition for their abilities in the field. So, let’s first take a look at the origins of them and how their design specifications match up.
Caliber Comparison: 300 Win Mag vs 308 A Brief History
.300 Win Mag
The .300 Win Mag accepts a 30-cal bullet and came into production by Winchester in 1963. When comparing to other popular hunting rounds, the .300 Win Mag is a newcomer.
This cartridge can be packed with large amounts of powder giving it a huge advantage in velocity and in turn, the ability to carry a large amount of energy over a greater distance. It is also able to take a variety of bullet weights. Most weights are within the 150-200 grain range, but there are several lighter and heavier rounds available. It is available in a wide array of bullet styles which gives it a lot of versatility.
This is an extremely popular cartridge for long-range shooters including those chasing big game. The .300 Win Mag is not only a hunting cartridge but is also favored by long range competitive shooters. While it has been and is still used in sharpshooting corners of the military, the majority of its action is found in the hunting world.
The .308 Winchester is a cornerstone in the American hunting world, though it has a strong history in other shooting circles. The .308 was introduced by Winchester in 1952 where it gained an immediate following in the hunting community. Soon after, the military adopted the cartridge and modified it to produce the 7.62×51 NATO round to replace the .30-06 chambered rifles in Vietnam.
Even though widespread use of the .308 for infantry was short-lived, it shows no sign of faltering in the hunting world. The larger weight bullets and casing provide a cartridge that can give excellent range for most hunting scenarios and provide more than enough stopping power for medium to large size game.
This is a highly popular cartridge and is widely available with numerous options for bullet weights and designs which further increases its versatility in the field.
300 Win Mag vs 308 Specs
|.300 Win Mag||.308 Win|
|Parent Casing||.375 H &H Magnum||.300 Savage|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||64,000psi||62,000psi|
If we take a look at the specs of these two cartridges, we can see some major differences. Both of these use the same diameter bullet, but we will see by looking at performance specs that these two do not behave similarly. The major difference is in the case dimensions. The 300 Win Mag has a much more voluminous case that allows more powder and can take higher pressure. This is where the differences we will see originate.
To look at these differences, we have selected four rounds for each cartridge. We have tried to cover a range of bullet weights, loads, and bullet design to give us a diverse set of available rounds for each of them. Below we have listed our choices.
- .300 Win Mag Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded 180gr
- .300 Win Mag Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded 150gr
- .300 Win Mag Nosler Trophy Grade 200gr
- .300 Win Mag Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 180gr
- .308 Hornady Custom Lite SST 125gr
- .308 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 150gr
- .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr
- .308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr
What we are going to look at for recoil is the actual force that is generated by igniting the powder within the cartridge. Sending bullets downrange at such high velocities also generates a significant amount of force that we feel and call recoil or kick.
We can’t quantify the recoil you will feel when firing a rifle chambered for one of the cartridges. This is known as “felt recoil”, and a lot of other factors influence this such as gun weight and stock design. Because of this, we will stick to the measurable ft.lb force generated. It still gives you a good idea of the amount of kick you will have to deal with.
First, let’s look at a general comparison of recoil force between the 308 that was generated by the recoil calculator as an average of several rounds. Both generate over 20ft.lbs of force, so they have significant kick. Comparing the two, the 300 Win Mag generates a little over six lbs of force. While six ft.lbs of force might not seem like a huge difference, it is pretty significant when associated with recoil.
Let’s take a look at our eight rounds and see if this trend continues when we compare several different rounds of each cartridge.
There is variability in recoil generated for each round depending on the bullet weight that is given. The powder loads most likely differ between the rounds as well although that data is not given and we took the liberties of using the same powder loads for each round. We do see the same trend of the .300 Win Mag generating more recoil than the .308 rounds throughout the graph.
Ballistics are an extremely important component to effectively comparing two different cartridges. Ballistics cover a variety of topics including ballistic coefficients, which tell us a lot about how the bullet will perform in other categories, bullet velocity, and bullet trajectory. By looking at all of these different components, we will have a much better recognition of which scenarios either one of them will be better suited for.
One of the main reasons to look at velocity is because it has been shown to correlate with accuracy. The faster a bullet travels, the less effect wind and gravity have on the bullet. The less these outside influences can affect the bullet, the truer the flight path and more accurate the round will be.
Because these are popular hunting rounds, accuracy is a critical component, and we will take a look at how these two cartridges match up with each other from the muzzle to 500 yards.
We do see some overlap in bullet velocities when looking at the 300 Win Mag vs 308. When just looking at the .300 Win Mag rounds. The lighter bullets show a higher muzzle velocity and higher velocity downrange than the heavier bullets.
The .300 Win Mag rounds have a slight advantage in velocity right out of the muzzle out to 500 yards. There are several .308 rounds that compete with them, and if other categories are to your liking and you decide to go with a .308, there are rounds with more than enough velocity for you. What we also see is that all of these rounds remain supersonic even out to 500 yards.
While the .300 Win Mag rounds have heavier weighted bullets, only slightly, we don’t see slower bullet velocities compared to the .308 because of the higher powder loads that can be used. This is one of the main reasons we see a lot of similarity between the two cartridges velocity. Of course, we are only looking at four rounds for each of them, and with a wider sample size, we might see a more pronounced higher velocity for the .300 Win Mag.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC)
A ballistic coefficient is a number that you will run across when doing any research on ammo. The BC is derived from an equation and basically, gives you an idea of how streamlined the bullet is. The higher the BC, the less susceptible the bullet is to drag and wind drift. For taking shots at game in less than ideal weather conditions at 100+ yards, the BC is an important factor.
We have collected the BC for all eight rounds used in this comparison.
We see that overall, the 300 Win Mag has a higher BC than the .308 rounds. While there is variation from round to round, this trend will hold up with just about any rounds of the two cartridges you can find. We will come back to this section when we talk about application, but keep this in mind as we move on to bullet trajectory.
With any round, you want to see a flat trajectory. For hunting, especially for long range shots, a flat trajectory makes aiming and connecting on a shot much simpler.
Before we move into looking specifically at short and long range trajectory, we wanted to compare two very similar rounds from each cartridge made from the same manufacturer and contain the same bullet style. By doing this for the 300 Win Mag vs 308, you can get a clear picture of how the trajectories of these two cartridges compare.
Even with a slightly lighter bullet of the .308, there is a very discernible difference in trajectory between these two. From around 180 yard mark, the 300 Win Mag shows a much flatter trajectory than the .308.
Let’s take out eight rounds and zoom into smaller sections along this yardage and look closer at these differences.
Short Range Trajectory
While the .300 Win Mag is more known for its long range ability, the .308 is often associated with closer range and thicker hunting. So, let’s take a look at the short range trajectory and see if there is any difference (bullet drop) between our .300 Win Mag and .308 rounds.
Up to the 100-yard mark, where the shots were zeroed in, all of these rounds for both cartridges show minimal adjustments that would need to be made when taking a shot.
As the bullets move out to the 200-yard mark, there is still not a whole lot of difference between the two. For the most part, the rounds all fall within 3 inches of each other besides the single .300 Win Mag outlier. Once the bullets get out to the 300-yard mark, there is a definite advantage for the .300 Win Mag bullets that are propelled down range by a higher payload.
While there is going to be variability depending on the round, both perform very similarly out to 200 yards before the .308 begins to bleed altitude at a faster rate than the .300 Win Mag rounds.
Long Range Trajectory
Since we looked at short range trajectory, we also want to take a look at how these two cartridges compare when on a longer flight path. We are still measuring bullet drop in inches, but in this case, the test firearms are zeroed in at 200 yards.
Up to the 300-yard mark, both are near identical in their trajectory for all rounds with only a 2-3 inches in difference. While there is a significant difference between several of the 300 Win Mag and 308 rounds at the 400-500 yard mark, there is some middle ground where the two cartridges have a very similar loss in trajectory at the 400+ yardage. The hotter loads and lighter .300 Win Mag rounds are going to show a much flatter trajectory at long range as is shown here. Again, it can vary depending on the type of round you are shooting.
While all of the ballistic properties are important, it doesn’t make a difference if the bullet is not carrying enough energy when it reaches the target to make a clean and humane kill. In this section, we are going to compare the amount of force that will transfer to the animal from the bullet in impact (ft.lb). We will also examine the penetration potential of these cartridges by looking at the sectional densities of our eight selected rounds.
This energy is not the only component to making a round effective in dropping an animal quickly; bullet design and wound type also are important factors but are more difficult to compare quantitatively, especially when only comparing two cartridges. We will cover penetration after looking at the rounds energy.
If we look at this force for our eight rounds for comparison of the 308 vs 300 Win Mag, we see that the .300 Win Mag has the edge over the .308 in stopping power.
All of the .300 Win Mag rounds but one have well over 1500ft.lb of force at the 500-yard mark. This is extraordinary power for a hunting rifle. The .308 rounds still all carry 1,000ft.lb or a little less at the 500 mark as well, though as we have seen, it might be a little more difficult to put them where it matters at this range.
Overall, both of them have more than enough stopping power to take medium to large size game within the 500-yard mark.
Penetration is another factor to a cartridge, or more specifically, a bullet’s ability to take down a target. Penetration is especially important when hunting for game with tough and thick bone and tissue where a shallow wound is not going to bring it down. The best way to measure penetration quantitatively is with ballistic gels, but those do not always mimic a bull elks tissue and vitals.
The way we will measure penetration quantitatively is by looking at the sectional density of the rounds we have selected for each of them. As with other categories, our results for the cartridge comparison rely heavily on the rounds we have selected, but our range of bullet types and weights should even everything out.
The sectional density is derived from a calculation that is the bullet’s weight divided by its diameter and then squared. In theory, the higher the sectional density, the greater the penetration of the bullet as more force is applied to a smaller area of the target. Depending on the use of the cartridge, you might want more penetration or you might not. How the bullet expands or fragments also changes the penetration, but is left out of this comparison for simplicity.
So. Let’s take a look at our eight selected rounds and see how the sectional densities (SDs) compare.
There is not a huge difference in the SDs of these two which makes sense given they both are the same diameter. The .300 Win Mag does have rounds with slightly higher SDs because of the higher because of the heavier bullets. What this means for penetration is that both offer great penetration potential given their SDs and velocities. If you need deep penetration, the heavier .300 Win Mag bullets are going to be the best choice.
There is not a number we can put with accuracy for comparison. We could measure groupings of shots at various yards, but that still is affected by who is doing the shooting more than anything else.
Still, with some of the information, we have already discussed, we can make some assumptions about the accuracy of these cartridges.
The .300 Win Mag rounds that we have used in our comparisons show slightly better muzzle velocities, some rounds more pronounced than others, and they also show a much flatter trajectory than the .308, especially once they have moved past the 100-yard mark. The .300 Win Mag rounds also have slightly better BCs than the .308 rounds. All of this points to the .300 Win Mag being slightly easier to put on target, especially at long ranges than the .308.
With that being said, shots taken up to 100 yards away, the .308 is going to perform just as well as the .300 Win Mag rounds.
Another important factor in accuracy that is often neglected is the recoil. While both of them have a considerable amount of kick, the .300 Win Mag has several more ft.lb of force than the .308. It’s enough recoil that even more experienced shooters might have issues holding through the shot when thinking about the kick they are about to endure. More so than a single shot is any potential follow shots after such recoil is going to be extremely difficult to put back on target with the .300 Win Mag.
In the end, a lot of it is going to depend on the confidence of the shooter with the cartridge, more so than any numbers we can put in front of you and discuss.
Price and Availability
|.300 Win Mag Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded 180gr||$46.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.300 Win Mag Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded 150gr||$34.75 (20 Rounds)|
|.300 Win Mag Nosler Trophy Grade 200gr||$56.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.300 Win Mag Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 180gr||$40.00 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Hornady Custom Lite SST 125gr||$ 36.45 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 150gr||$22.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr||$30.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr||$31.99 (20 Rounds)|
Both of these rounds are easy to obtain and are going to be available in various rounds at any major retailer or through online sales. As far as price goes, the .308 is going to be a much cheaper round than the .300 Win Mag. Now, if you want the terminal performance of the .300 Win Mag, you’re just going to have to put out a few more bills.
Both are excellent medium to large sized game cartridges. For the largest game, the heavier bullet weights of the .300 Win Mag are going to give you much better penetration than the .308, especially as the distance increases to 300+ yards. When taking shots within the 200-yard mark, both of them perform extraordinarily well at close ranges, and they also do well in use around heavy brush and timber.
While both the .308 and .300 Win Mag have excellent stopping power, the trajectory of the bullets may sway you one way or the other depending on the distance of shots you think you will be taking. Even though the .300 Win Mag has heavier bullets, the increased powder loads the casings can hold give them as good or even better trajectory than the lighter weight .308 rounds and make long range shots for large game more achievable.
For range and competition shooters, the trajectory and ballistic coefficients are going to be one of the deciding factors. Along with the flatter trajectory, the .300 Win Mag rounds will normally have a higher ballistic coefficient making them more resistant to drag and drift.
So, who should be using these cartridges? While anyone can become accustomed to using these rounds, it’s a good idea to have some experience with hunting rifles and have some sessions at the range before taking them into the field. The reason for this is because of the heavy recoil associated with them. Both can have recoil energy of over 20ft.lb which can easily influence the shot of an inexperienced shooter.
Conclusion- 300 Win Mag versus 308
There is a reason that these cartridges are two of the more popular large game hunting rounds on the market and we hope that his article has outlined those reasons. Both feature excellent terminal ballistics and when used in the proper scenario, can be highly effective.
When looking at the 300 Win Mag vs 308, we can’t tell you which is the best as we don’t believe there is a definitive answer. We do hope that this article, as well as some experience in the field with these two cartridges, will convince you that both should be in your arsenal.