In this article, we will take a look at these two and compare and discuss the similarities and differences between these two widely accessible rifle cartridges. We will take a look at performance and terminal ballistic characteristics of both as well as their price, availability, and uses.
Unlike most other caliber or cartridge comparisons you will come across, our goal at SWGGUN is not to crown one cartridge as better than the other. To do so would be nonsense. When looking at the .308 vs .30-06, it will become obvious that each has particular areas where they excel. Rather than pick one over the other, we simply want to point out why having both is beneficial and in what situations you might choose one over the other.
Cartridge Comparison: A Brief History
The .308 Winchester was introduced to the shooting world by Winchester in 1952 where it quickly became a staple in the American hunting world. Not long afterward, its performance specs were impressive enough to be adopted by the military, and it saw heavy use in Vietnam before being replaced by lighter loads.
While the NATO version of this round was short lived, it has and will continue to have a loyal and dedicated market for the avid hunter. This is a larger bullet with excellent range, penetration, and stopping power. It’s a great medium to large game caliber and can be used for just about any large game animal in the world under the right conditions.
While the .308 has found its place in the hunting world, it’s performance has also proven reliable enough to find a spot in police and military sharpshooting units and with competitive long range shooters.
Because of the popularity of this caliber, which comes from its performance, there is a wide variety of ammunition with various bullet weights and designs making it easy to match your ammunition with your intended hunting or shooting scenarios. Most bullet weights fall between the 150 and 180-grain weight, but there are lighter and heavier loads available.
The .30-06 was developed in 1906 and throughout the years saw modifications, especially to bullet design and also saw combat in several wars until it was replaced in the late 70’s by none other than the NATO version of the .308 Win.
Though retired from military service, the .30-06 is a well-known hunting cartridge that is sought after for its velocity, power, and flat trajectory to take down larger game cleanly beyond 500 yards.
The .30-06 is widely available in just about any retail store that sells ammunition. It has a huge selection of bullet weights as well as designs that allow to .30-06 to be used in a variety of hunting situations. The .30-06 can also be an extremely hot load when hand loaded, increasing its performance greatly.
.308 Win vs .30-06 Springfield Specs
|Parent Casing||.300 Savage||.30-03|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||62,000psi||60,200psi|
Both of these cartridges take a bullet of the .308 caliber, and both have similar neck diameters as would be expected. The .30-06 Springfield casing and bullet are longer and slimmer than the .308 and can hold a larger amount of powder charge. Though the case, the .308 design is better suited to withstand higher pressures and makes it able to be loaded with slightly hotter burning powder. Both of these are hard hitting rounds, and we will take a look at how these differences affect performance. The overall length of the cartridges does influence the types of rifles that can be used. Generally, rifles chambered for the .308 cartridge are short action while the .30-06 calls for long action rifles. It might not be relevant to some, but it is worth mentioning.
There is such a wide range of rounds for both of these cartridges that it’s near impossible to draw back the scope broad enough to compare them all and have room to discuss the results without publishing a book. Because of this, we are going to take a look at five of the most used rounds for each cartridge that encompasses hunting and shooting competition rounds and several bullet weights and designs. By doing this, we can draw some conclusions on which cartridge, and rounds within the cartridge, are better suited for certain applications. Below we have listed the ten rounds we will be examining for the rest of the article.
- .308 Winchester Super-X 180gr
- .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr
- .308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr
- .308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr
- .308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr
- .30-06 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 165gr
- .30-06 Hornady GMX Superformance 150gr
- .30-06 Federal American Eagle Jacketed Hallow Point 150gr
- .30-06 Nosler Custom Hand Loaded AccuBond 200gr
- .30-06 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 168gr
This is by no means a comprehensive list of available rounds for each cartridge. There are a lot of selections for factory loads out there, and when you factor in hand loading, the number increases exponentially. Every marksman out there has their favorite ammunition and tend to defend it beyond reason. Just because you don’t see it here doesn’t mean we do not endorse it, but we have to limit our selections.
Whether you are hunting or are out on the range, recoil has the potential to throw off a shot. For those new to shooting rifles, recoil can also be a pretty intimidating concept and is even more capable of throwing off an inexperienced shooters shot. Because of this, we are going to take a look at the recoil between these two popular cartridges.
Before we start looking at the individual rounds of each cartridge, let’s take a general look at how the recoil energy of both stack up next to each other. Both of these numbers were generated using a 7lb rifle, and we will keep this constant when looking at our rounds. We see that both generate over 20ft.lb of force, which is a generous amount of recoil and can cause flinching for inexperienced shooters. In this case, the .30-06 generates a few more lbs of recoil than the .308, but we will see how that holds up when we look at our selected rounds.
For our rounds, we kept the 7lb gun weight the same for all. For powder loads, we used the common grain weight for each caliber. Now obviously, the amount of recoil generated is going to be influenced by more or less powder charge added to the cartridge, so you need to keep that in mind when looking at this data. For the sake of comparison, we kept the powder charge constant for each round of the same cartridge. Though the force can fluctuate, we are still going to be able to see the general trends of the force generated between these two cartridges.
So, let’s take a look at our ten rounds and see how the force generated compares between rounds.
As the first graph, we still see a general trend of the .30-06 rounds producing a few more lbs of energy than the .308. More importantly, you will notice that the recoil energy generated depends on a lot of the specific components of each round. The very light 125gr .30-06 round from Remington produces less than 20ft.lb of force compared to the nearly 30ft.lbs of force generated by the much heavier 200gr bullet from Nosler.
Overall, when looking at rounds of similar weight, we see more recoil energy produced by the .30-06 cartridge with a higher powder charge. With hand loads, you might be able to squeeze in some more powder with the .308 or less with the.30-06, and you would have even closer results when comparing recoil of the two cartridges. Of course, doing this will change the ballistic properties of the rounds which we will get into shortly.
One more note is that we are looking at the force generated and not specifically the “felt recoil”. Felt recoil is going to depend a lot of your shooting technique as well as firearm characteristics. Still, force generated still translates to felt recoil to some extent, especially when keeping the variables consistent as we have done here.
Any marksmen, whether they spend most of their time shooting at the range or in the woods but most likely both apply, will be concerned with how their bullets behave once they leave the barrel. In this section, we will take a look at the velocity, ballistic coefficients, and trajectories of our ten rounds. With this information, we can begin teasing apart under which situations one might choose one of these cartridges over the other.
The velocity of a bullet is key for both hunting and range shooting purposes. The hotter the load, the more penetration you are apt to get, which is important for hunting purposes. Higher velocity, paired with the correct twist rate in your barrel, makes the bullets less susceptible to environmental influences.
With this in mind, velocity is an important ballistic property for hunters and competitive shooters alike. We have compiled load data for each of the ten rounds we have selected for this comparison. We are looking at the velocity from the muzzle out to 500 yards, measured in ft/s.
All of these rounds display supersonic velocities even out to 500 yards with most of them likely to maintain supersonic velocities out to 600 and even 700 yards. The rounds from both cartridges also seem to bleed off velocity around the same rate.
Looking at these selected rounds, there is not a large difference in velocity when comparing the 308 vs 30-06. We can see some differences from round to round if you are looking for a little more giddy-up, but it’s nothing significant. Of course, if your hand loading you can probably sneak a few more grains into the .30-06 cartridge to widen the gap against a .308.
Some shooters pay a lot of attention to ballistic coefficient while others probably are unaware of what it is or what it means. It can get pretty complicated when you dive into the physics of it, but we don’t see the need to dive too deep.
In the simplest of terms, the ballistic coefficient is derived from an equation using several bullets and cartridge variables. This number gives you an idea of how streamlined a bullet is. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the better the bullet can resist wind drag and wind drift. A bullet more resistant to these factors is going to be less likely to be pulled off its flight path and theoretically will be a more accurate round.
Let’s take a look at our ten selected rounds and see how they stack up against each other when looking at the ballistic coefficients. We gathered these numbers from the factory loads manufacturers.
Like we will see with most of the performance specs when comparing the 308 vs 30-06, there is not so much a discernible difference between the two cartridges, but more so from round to round. All but one round have BCs above .4 which are excellent ratings. Only the heavy 180gr .308 round has a BC below that threshold.
We aren’t willing to make a decision based on these numbers. Both the hunting rounds as well as the match grade ammunition have the BCs to back up a decision to use them for longer distance shooting.
The trajectory is what just about every hunter or competitive shooter of every skill level will be interested in when comparing two different cartridges. A few hours online and you will find forums trashing one cartridge over the other and people talking about how flat shooting their round of choice is and its superiority to the other. You will find cases and arguments for both the .308 and .30-06. We have even been sucked into the never ending argument of the more flat shooting cartridge.
What’s even more frustrating with most of these arguments is that there are hardly ever numbers attached to the claims. We hope that with our selection of rounds and the data procured from the manufacturers, we can provide a more unbiased look at the trajectory of the .30-06 vs .308 debate.
Before we take a look at the individual rounds we have selected, we wanted to show a pulled out view of the trajectory of these two cartridges that isn’t muddled. We selected two rounds, one from each cartridge, that are made from the same manufacturer, have the same bullet design, and are of similar bullet weights.
Looking at a .308 and .30-06 Federal Sierra MatchKing BTHP we see that the trajectory is very similar between both cartridges with only a few inches difference between the two at the 500-yard mark. While there are flatter shooting rounds of the same cartridge, it shows you that when you have a lot of similarities between the two cartridges, they have just about the same amount of bullet drop throughout their trajectory.
Let’s take a look at all of the selected rounds we are using for this comparison and take a look at the short range trajectory, which is comprised of ranges most often used in the hunting world. We are looking at firearms zeroed in at 100 yards and measured out to 300 yards. We are measuring the bullet drop, in inches, for each selected round.
Again, we see a lot of similarities at how these bullets behave along their flight path. At the 200 yards mark, there is less than 2″ of difference between all of the .308 and .30-06 rounds. When we move out to the 300-yard mark, there is still minimal difference between the two types of cartridges with the most being 5″ of difference in bullet drop between the flattest and steepest dropping bullets. Interestingly, the flattest and the steepest are bullets from the same cartridge. What we see is that it depends on the bullet weight more so than the cartridge. All of the rounds that showed the most bullet drop at the 300-yard range have bullet weights of 175gr+. So again, we are seeing that, despite all the arguments, these two cartridges are showing a lot of the same ballistic properties.
Both of these rounds carry the distinction of being good long range calibers. Let’s take a look at the long range trajectories of our selected rounds and see if there begins to be some distinction in bullet drop at further ranges. Firearms were zeroed at 200 yards and data comes from measured bullet drop (in inches) out to the 500-yard mark.
Out to 300 yards, we don’t see any difference when looking at the 308 vs 30-06. Out to 400 yards, we do start to see some differences in bullet drop between the ten rounds. The bulk of the rounds are still clustered tightly together with only about 5″ max of difference. We do see the heavier 180gr .308 round begin to fall off more dramatically and we also see the lighter and higher velocity 150gr .30-06 Hornady round showing a flatter trajectory. This same trend continues out to the 500-yard mark. Again, most of the rounds cluster pretty tightly together and fall within a 10″ range of each other. The two outliers distance themselves even further from the main groupings.
What we can take away is that again, based on the 30-06 vs 308 argument, there is not a lot of traction from these selections. There are rounds for each cartridge that gives you a flatter trajectory at increased distances.
Where you might begin to see some bigger differences in the two rounds is when you get into handloading. Manufacturers do not load their cartridges up with the maximum amount of powder. When handloading, the .30-06 cases have more room than the .308 and when loaded properly, you can make some pretty hot .30-06 loads that might give you a better long range trajectory than .308 rounds. Of course, the effectiveness of those loads are going to depend heavily on the person doing the loading.
While competition shooters might not be as interested in stopping power as hunters, it’s an important factor that we can’t afford to leave out. For hunters, stopping power is important for several reasons. The first is safety, especially if you are hunting larger predators, coming up on a wounded animal can be a dangerous situation. Secondly, most hunters want enough stopping power to be able to make a clean and humane kill of the animal without causing unneeded suffering. Finally, a clean kill means you are not going to have to track a wounded animal sometimes a couple hundred yards and possibly in the dark.
We will take a look at the kinetic energy that is associated with bullets traveling downrange and also look at the penetration potential for all of our selected rounds.
When a bullet is fired from the barrel, it carries kinetic energy that upon impact is transferred to the target. This large amount of force is very destructive to the marks surrounding tissue and organs. As you can imagine, the bigger the game, the more energy you are going to need to cause to do enough damage for a clean kill. The energy is only part of the “equation” to stopping power, but it is an important one.
If we look at our rounds and their associated energy (ft.lbs) as they move downrange, do we see any differences between the .308 Win and .30-06 Springfield?
From the muzzle out to 100 yards, all of the rounds are carrying well over 2,000ft.lbs of force and that’s more than enough to take down large game. Regarding differences between the two cartridges, there are a few .30-06 rounds that have more energy than the .308 rounds, but that also might just be selection bias. There are one or two .308 rounds that are up there, but we could easily find some .308 rounds that match the .30-06.
All of the selected rounds carry over 1,500ft/lbs of energy at the 300-yard mark. Very few hunters are going to be consistently taking shots over this range, and both the .308 and .30-06 cartridges carry more than enough energy to cleanly take down an animal. Now, not all of these rounds are the best for hunting due to the bullet design, but you get the idea.
Once we get out to the 500-yard mark, all rounds are still working with 1,000+ ft.lbs of force which is still enough to drop medium game and even larger game with proper shot placement. Like at earlier ranges, there are several .30-06 rounds that 1,300+ ft.lbs of force while only one .308 round. Even so, there is not enough distinction to pick one of these cartridges over the other based on kinetic energy that the bullets carry downrange.
A lot of factors go into a bullets ability to penetrate a target. The velocity is one factor as is the bullets design. Bullets that do not expand will penetrate deeply, but not cause as much tissue damage. Fast expanding bullets will cause larger wounds, but might not penetrate down to vital organs of larger game.
Another factor is the sectional density of the bullet. The sectional density is calculated by using the bullet weight and bullet diameter. As we already know, both of the cartridges use a .308 caliber bullet, so the bullets weight is going to be what determines the differences in SD. How sectional density equates to penetration is the diameter where force is applied. Heavier bullets with the same diameter are going to penetrate deeper than lighter rounds with the same diameter. If we have two bullets with the same weight, but different diameters, the smaller diameter localizes the force to a smaller area and gives you deeper penetration.
Ballistic gels are a great method for measuring penetration, but unfortunately, we do not have the equipment to test all of the rounds we have been looking at. Still, by looking at the sectional density (SD) of the rounds, we can get an idea of how well these different bullets can penetrate and gives us a basis for comparison.
If we look at the sectional densities of our ten rounds, we see that there is no difference at all when trying to make inferences between the 308 vs 30-06.
Both cartridges can take bullets of the same weights so the only factor that is going to make a huge difference is the design of the bullet, which can be used for either cartridge. Again, we find ourselves looking at two cartridges that have very similar properties and characteristics.
Perhaps the most argued property of all time when discussing any two different cartridges is how accurate they are.
While we would be more than happy to be out on the range, giving you our MOA data for accuracy and bullet groupings, we don’t have it on us. And while some comparisons might provide you with their own groupings data, we think it should be taken with a grain of salt. Is the same person shooting? Is it on the same day with the same conditions and how much do you trust their honesty?
What we can do is look at some of the other characteristics and performance specs of these different cartridges and draw some inferences.
There was a time where the .308 was a fan favorite for accuracy, especially when compared to the .30-06, but in the last fifteen years, cartridge design and the better quality powder used has greatly decreased the gap in accuracy between today’s modern .308 and .30-06.
We have looked at the ballistic properties of these two cartridges and have seen that they behave nearly identical and most differences depend on the characteristics of the individual rounds rather than a trend between cartridges. The one characteristic where we saw a discernible difference between the .308 and .30-06 was the recoil energy. Overall, the .30-06 showed around 4-5ft.lb of energy more than the .308 rounds. Of course, there are some exceptions.
In the hands of an experienced shooter, 4-5 extra ft.lbs of force is not going to make a huge difference in accuracy. For someone with less experience trying to decide then yeah, you might lean towards a round that produces less recoil. We don’t recommend basing your decision off of that because a lot more going into what you feel, especially the firearm. And both of these cartridges are capable of producing more than 20ft.lb of recoil which is more than enough to throw off a shot and more than enough to effect aiming for a follow-up shot.
In the end, we can’t imagine one of these cartridges being any more accurate than the other, especially when dealing with standard factory loads. The experience of the shooter, the rifle, and environmental factors are more prone to affect the accuracy than choosing between one of the two cartridges we have been discussing in depth.
Price & Availability
Both of these cartridges are readily available to you and can be found at any major retail store that carries rifle ammunition. Both are also popular enough that these stores will often carry a wide selection of rounds for each as well as the components needed to reload your own brass. There might be better selections for .30-06 rounds, but that is just our experience in our region, but with the amount of stores that carry a wide range of ammunition and with the internet, you’re not going to have a problem finding the specific round or cartridge parts to suit your needs.
When looking at price, we need to look at the big picture. From our selections, there are some outliers when it comes to price such as the 30-06 Nosler 200gr. While it carries a hefty price-tag, not all .30-06 rounds are going to be this expensive. Still, a 20 round box of .30-06 ammunition is going to tend to be around 5-10 dollars more than a box of similar .308 ammunition. Is this enough of a price difference to make you lean one way or the other? We don’t know, it might be or it might not, that’s your decision.
|308 Winchester Super-X 180gr||$21.99 (20 Rounds)|
|308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr||$30.99 (20 Rounds)|
|308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr||$31.99 (20 Rounds)|
|308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr||$23.99 (20 Rounds)|
|308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr||$25.99 (20 Rounds)|
|30-06 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 165gr||$39.99 (20 Rounds)|
|30-06 Hornady GMX Superformance 150gr||$54.07 (20 Rounds)|
|.30-06 Federal American Eagle Jacketed Hallow Point 150gr||$24.99 (20 Rounds)|
|30-06 Nosler Custom Hand Loaded AccuBond 200gr||$65.90 (20 Rounds)|
|.30-06 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 168gr||$37.99 (20 Rounds)|
There is a reason that both the .308 Win and the .30-06 Springfield have remained two of the more popular cartridges in the world. They both make fantastic hunting rounds and can also provide the ballistic performance for competition and long range shooting.
Both rounds have the reputation of being excellent 500+ yard rounds, though most factory loads are limited when thinking of ranges between 800 and 1,000 yards. To reach these ranges effectively and accurately, you have to start playing around with loading your own rounds. With an experienced loader and shooter, both rounds can hit targets out at 1,000 yards. As we stated before, the extra room in the .30-06 case might make it a bit flatter compared to the .308.
As far as hunting goes, both of these cartridges are great medium to large sized game rounds. They have the velocity and the stopping power that is needed and can easily cover the ranges often seen with shots in the field. While there are parties out there that will go to the grave arguing the cartridge they use is better for their hunting situations, the data tells us otherwise. When it comes to hunting, it’s all about what you have experience and confidence shooting with. A .308 or a .30-06 in the hands of an experienced hunter is going to bring down game the same.
Before we wrap up, we want to pick, from our selected rounds, our favorite for hunting and target shooting for both the .308 and .30-06 cartridges. We hope that we have made clear that this is by no means a comprehensive list of the available rounds available for each cartridge. Don’t get too upset if your favorite round is not on this list; there are plenty of great ammo options out there.
Top Hunting Round
For the .308, we have had a lot of success with Nosler 165gr Ballistic Tip. It’s a fantastic medium to even larger sized game round that has the stopping power to take these game consistently out to 300 yards. With a well-placed shot, it can also drop game out past this point. It has fantastic trajectory and controlled expansion that transfers energy well and can penetrate to vital organs with ease.
Our favorite .30-06 hunting round is the Hornady GMX Superformance 150gr. While it doesn’t have the following like some other rounds, its performance is spectacular in the field. It’s fast, flat, and has incredible stopping power. If you’re chasing after larger game, you might want to step up to a heavier bullet, but this 150gr has a greater force than a lot of other heavier factory loads. For deer, hogs, sheep, and some elk applications, this is a fantastic hunting round.
Top Competition Round
When on the range, our favorite .308 round from our list is the Hornady BTHP Match 168gr round. The round maintains a supersonic velocity out to 500 yards and has a decent trajectory for a factory load. It’s weight, and ballistic coefficient make it a good round in just about any weather condition and it’s a few dollars cheaper than other match grade ammunition.
Our favorite range round for the .30-06 falls on the Federal 168gr Gold Medal Sierra Matchking. Like the .308 round, this bullet stays supersonic out to and past 500 yards. Though it will need some heavy adjustments out past this range, the long range trajectory is decent for a factory load. It also has a fantastic ballistic coefficient and can cut through nasty cross winds as well as any other factory load on the market.
As we have stated before, these factory loads are pretty good for ranges out to 500 and 600 yards, but for increased performance and accuracy at distances past this point, you’re going to have to dish out some dough or begin playing around with loading your own rounds.
The argument of the 308 vs 30-06 has been raging for decades and is still a hot topic on some shooting and hunting forums. For the most part, it’s guys and gals just sticking up for their cartridge of choice. The reality, when looking at factory loads of the two cartridges, is that they are much more similar than they are different. From our research, there is nothing that jumps out at us to choose one of the other. And you know what the greatest part of all of it is?
You can have both.
If you have to decide between the two, so be it, but if you can, get some experience with both. They are great cartridges, and there is a reason they have been a mainstay in the shooting and hunting world for decades with no end in sight.