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.308 vs .30-06: Which Round is Better, and for What Uses?

Is there really a noticeable difference between .308 Win. and .30-06 Springfield?

In the long, storied history of American firearms, no two rifle cartridges are endlessly debated as much as the .308 and .30-06. Both rounds have origins with the U.S. Army, and both have seen action in conflicts all over the world.

Both have subsequently become incredibly popular hunting and self-defense rounds as well.

But the age-old question remains. What is the difference between these two chamberings?

Know your history

Almost everyone knows the .30-06 has its origins with the U.S. Military in the early part of the 20th century. The Army was looking for a newer and lighter round, and the .30-06 was the result of those development efforts. It's a .30-caliber bullet and the 06 part of the name comes from the year it was developed, 1906.

The .30-06 saw action in both World Wars. The first use of it in combat was in the Springfield M1903 service rifle during World War I. But the round's most notable use was in the legendary semi-automatic M1 Garand during World War II.

After those wars, it continued to see action through Korea and Vietnam and is still used today, although primarily as a sniper round by some of the military's most experienced marksmen.

But the military is always on an endless quest to improve things, and in the 1950s they developed a new cartridge, the .308 Winchester. This was later developed into another popular round, the 7.62x51mm NATO. That round is now pretty much standard for military use not just by the United States, but by many other nations as well.

So, what is the difference?

In truth, there is almost none. The bullets are an identical 7.8mm in diameter. The primers are the same. The only real difference is in the cases. Put a .308 and .30-06 next to one another and you'll immediately see the .30-06 has a longer case.

What it all really boils down to is that the Army liked the stopping power of the .30-06, but they hated the long action round. They wanted something better suited for short-action rifles that would allow troops to carry more rounds into combat.

Also, a .30-06 cycles well out of a bolt action rifle, but less so for a full or semi-automatic. As the military moved towards putting more rounds downfield faster, it made more sense to have a shorter case length that would cycle better out of those types of rifles. Also, the .308 has less recoil, which means faster and more accurate follow-up shots.

A use for each

When talking about .308 vs .30-06, a lot of people want to pick sides and ask 'Which is best?' But let's face it, "best" is highly subjective, especially when we're talking about two rounds that are for all intents and purposes nearly identical.

You can try and break things down by comparing bullet weights and muzzle velocity. Both are going to be slower as you use heavier bullets. There are differences there, but in some cases they're so small that they're probably going to be imperceptible to most shooters.

A .30-06 has a muzzle velocity around 2,900 feet per second with a 150-grain bullet, while a .308 is around 2,800 fps. I don't know anyone who can tell the difference, can you?

The choice you make between the two really depends on personal preference and what you intend to use it for. Both rounds are great for big-game animals. If you're whitetail deer hunting on the Kansas plains, you might want to go with a .30-06 hunting rifle. The higher velocity means this round is going to shoot flatter at longer ranges than the .308. It's probably just a good rule of thumb to remember that the .30-06 is the long range sniper round.

You'll also find some hunting and fishing guides in Alaska prefer a little bit of extra power that 220-grain bullets can bring to the table. It's not uncommon to use .30-06 ammo for protection against black bears or other angry large game animals. The extra stopping power is probably why it has become one of the most popular big-game hunting rounds ever. Bighorn sheep, elk, antelope, bear, moose, deer--you can pretty much hunt them all with a .30-06.

As far as hunting cartridges go, it has more than enough stopping power for deer and similarly sized North America game animals. It's something to consider if you're hunting an area where most of your shots are going to be under 200 yards. That's not to say the .308 can't go long range. It definitely can, but most hunters are more confident with the .30-06 at longer distance.  Consider something like the Savage Model 110, Ruger American Rifle, Remington Model 700, or the Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifles for this accurate cartridge. 

The .308 is also a round to consider for AR platform-style sporting rifles. Maybe you want the capacity to hurl a lot of rounds downrange, but the standard .223 isn't powerful enough for your tastes. This is where a semi-auto .308 comes in handy.

In Texas, many hunters are starting to use platforms like the AR-10 in .308 to control the wild hog populations. It can be used to put lot of rounds on multiple pigs, but the cartridge is also powerful enough to cut through a big boar's tough hide and bones, allowing the hunter to put the pig down for good.

If the AR style of semi-automatic rifle isn't for you, the civilian version of the M14, the M1A can also be found in .308 and can be used effectively against hogs or other pest predators.

So, again, just to recap: a .30-06 is generally going to be better suited for long range shooting, and a .308 is going to be better for faster shooting.

You can't go wrong

We're not going to pick a favorite between the .308 and .30-06, because both rounds are great for what they are. You really can't go wrong buying a sporting rifle chambered for either. Whether you are looking for a new hunting gun, a target shooting machine or something for self-defense, you're sure to find a use for one of these rounds. Before you go to the gun store to buy one, just ask yourself what you'll be using it for and pick the one that best suits your needs.

Either way, you can rest easily at night knowing that whatever task you have picked for your rifle, these cartridges are sure to deliver when the time comes!

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For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis Youtube channels


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.308 vs .30-06: Which Round is Better, and for What Uses?