Is .223 just not cutting the tactical mustard anymore and you’re looking to get into your first .308 rifle? Atta boy. (Or girl. Or other, if you thusly identify.) The .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO is one of the most useful cartridges in existence.
You could – without too much trouble – get a gun that will pull double duty as a hunting rifle and long-range target rifle. The .308 cartridge is one of the few truly do-it-all rifle cartridges, as it’s a proven long-range round and proven slayer of game animals short of the great bears and large African game.
It’s fantastically widely available, not terribly costly to shoot and has (relatively) moderate recoil. It’s rivaled in these respects perhaps only by the .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum and the .270 Winchester.
However, the .308 is a bit more suited to the modern shooter. The modern Gun Guy/Gal even has the options of tactical socks and may prefer a black semi-auto rifle, which those other rounds aren’t suited to as they have full-length cases. The .308, however, is a short-action round and thus can be used in an AR-platform rifle (specifically an AR-10) as well as a bolt-action rifle.
If you’re used to .223…you might want to get yourself a recoil pad, as .308 will be a bit more than you’re used to. Granted, the .30-06 guys are going to make fun of you at first, but feel free to tell them that the 1940’s called and they want their stuff back.
How to get started? You wouldn’t want to necessarily buy a custom chassis rifle right off the bat, so you might not want to get a Ruger Precision Rifle for your first .308 Winchester rifle at $1600 MSRP. What, then, are some good beginner guns?
Here are six solid contenders for your first .308.
First up is the Ruger American Rifle. The American is an entry-level bolt action rifle, available sans scope for around $400 in most stores, though it’s frequently offered as a gun/scope combo for about $500.
The American is a workhorse gun, wearing tough synthetic furniture. The internal box magazine holds four rounds, employs a simple and intuitive tang safety, and comes with an adjustable trigger for dialing in the bang switch. Everything you need, nothing you don’t and one MOA out of the box. What more could you ask for?
The Savage AXIS is next, as – much like the Ruger American – you’re going to find a lot of AXIS rifles in gun stores, often shown as a gun/scope combo for an affordable point of entry. As it happens, it’s often viewed as the best entry-level big game rifle. It’s arguably the best bang for the buck of any rifle on this list given the features.
The AXIS frequently comes with a Bushnell 3-9x40mm scope, a detachable box magazine (which holds four rounds) and since the original was superseded by the AXIS II, it now comes with the Savage AccuTrigger, often hailed as one of the best factory triggers, period. Basic models come with synthetic stocks but a hardwood model is available as well.
If you wanted a little more of a high-end bolt-action rifle, replete with walnut stock and everything, the Remington 700 is about as big a slam-dunk as it gets. The 700 has proven itself in hunting grounds and battlefields the world over as a reliable, accurate rifle platform second to very few, if any.
Remington offers a lot of options, so features and price range depends entirely on what you want. Workhorse models with synthetic stocks like the 700 SPS, to the 700 CDL – a classic walnut and blue steel bolt-action rifle – to tactical models and chassis-stocked long-range target rifles. The 700 can be almost all things to all men. Granted, point of entry is a bit more steep for the beginner – expect to spend about $650 or more on the gun before you add optics – but it’s money well-spent.
But wait…you want a semi-automatic? Naturally! Today’s rifle shooter can’t be bothered with all that bolt-action business; they want semi-auto convenience and with that, they usually want an AR. While the AR-15 is great and all, some folks want to scale up to an AR-10, which is probably one of the most versatile rifle platforms around.
Tactical and practical, the AR-10 is equally at home as an implement of personal defense as it is punching targets from exceedingly long distances (if you own the right model) and certainly is capable of taking big game. Plenty of hunters have migrated from bolt guns to ARs, and AR-10s drop the hammer on deer and hogs from coast to coast.
The entry-level AR-10 that many have likely discovered is the Palmetto State Armory PA-10. The basic 18-inch barrel model has an MSRP of $599. Granted, this is a bare bones gun. It has a Picatinny rail up top, a front sight and…that’s about it. If you want more, you gotta add it yourself, but customization is part of the joy of owning an AR. This gets you on the ground floor affordably. PSA guns aren’t necessarily custom shop guns, but they will run and gun with the best of them.
If you wanted to get a bit more mid-shelf, the DPMS Oracle is considered by many to be the best entry-level AR-10 around. MSRP is $1100, but expect to find it in stores for more like $800. The Oracle comes sans sights of any kind, so you’ll have to add the iron sights or optics of your choosing. It’s a short-barrel model (16-inch) so don’t expect the utmost in longer range accuracy, but if you’re after a quality AR-10 for everything but mountain hunting and long-range competition, it’s one of the best to get.
But what if this stuff is all too boring? After all, AR’s are all kind of blasé at this point and bolt-action rifles DEFINITELY are. What about the person who wants to stand out, be different? What’s the .308 rifle for the contrarians among us?
Thats the Springfield M1A, but you gotta pony up to get one, as they MSRP at $1700 or more, depending on the model. The M1A is essentially an M14 in civilian guise, so it’s a tactical rifle from the era when cars had fins and 8L V8 engines made less than 250 horsepower. What you get is up to you; Springfield Armory has multiple models, including compact tactical modes, match-grade target rifles, old-school walnut and wood models, and plenty in between.
That may seem like a lot, but mid-shelf AR-10 rifles go for roughly the same amount. Heck, a Winchester Model 70 – another old-school bolt gun – commands about the same price for the Super Grade model, and that isn’t a custom gun, nor does it come with a scope, mounting rings or anything else. Cost of entry is a bit on the steep side…but you’ll get a great gun that’s actually interesting.