Following hot of the heels of .223 Remington (see my earlier post here) in terms of general popularity is .308 Winchester. The .308 has enjoyed a reputation of excellence for decades and deservedly so. Most shooters that grew up before and even during the AR revolution that wanted a do-all cartridge went with the .308 because of the large increase in power and myriad available bullet options. A good 9mm, .45 ACP, .223, and .308 Win was often what most people ended up with, or some combination thereof.
Unlike the nearly universal, plug-and-play AR-15 platform, the .308 hasn’t seen the same level of standardization. Many manufacturers out there are prone to having their own proprietary designs as far as AR-style rifles chambered for .308 (the so-called AR-10) and the same goes for generational differences in bolt actions. That said, there are plenty of great stand-alone options.
So what does the .308 Win offer a new shooter? In my previous (and contentious) articles on 9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and .380 ACP, I detailed many direct comparisons between them and riled up the normally civil and completely unbiased folks in the audience.
The comparison between pistol rounds was necessary as they all essentially occupy the same purpose and share an effective range of only a few yards at best. Their benefits are a matter of limited perspective and it’s important for a beginner to see the advantages and disadvantages among roughly comparable rounds. Rifle is a different ballgame.
As I’ve said, virtually all pistol rounds compete in basically the same niche, each having its own features and advantages. When it comes to pistols, we’re talking the difference between sparrows and chickadees. When we talk rifles, we’re talking about the difference between kestrels and eagles. There’s a huge difference between .223 and .308 and it is not at all a fair or similar comparison. The beginner should keep that in mind when making a purchase or deciding on a use for their rifle.
For the new shooter the .308 offers some of the following benefits:
- Available everywhere and anywhere. The .308 is one of the most common and trusted rifle rounds in the country and it’s easy to find good, accurate ammunition.
- Ample power for virtually all North American game species. The .308 is a powerful cartridge and can handle bullets over 200gr, although most hunting can be accomplished with lighter bullets.
- Ammo options span a range from import junk for range fun to state-of-the-art long-range match loads costing several dollars each. If you have a question, there is a .308 load out there with an answer.
- Easy and proven handload information, should you get that far. The .308 has a long history of match shooting and competition use. As a result there are volumes published on good, accurate combinations of brass, powder, and bullets.
- Reliable and proven weapon platforms. Many of the best .308 rifles have a military heritage. The legendary Remington 700 has seen use as a sniper rifle since the Vietnam War and that use continues to this day.
Some of the possible disadvantages to the .308, especially for a beginner, include:
- Most .308 rifles tend to be larger and heavier than other contemporary options, but they’re getting lighter every day. POF’s Revolution is a .308 that’s the same size and weight as a comparable 5.56mm option, a truly amazing feat of engineering to be sure.
- Greater recoil. The .308 is in the same recoil category as rounds like .30-06 and 7.62x54R. These rounds don’t have fearsome recoil, but they can be more than some new shooters can handle right out the gate.
- The .308 is a bit more expensive than smaller rifle calibers and the cost can add up, especially in high volume. The rifles themselves can be very comparably priced to others in their peer group, but there’s usually a significant price difference between an AR-15 and an AR-10.
Ammunition can be had from virtually any company that makes ammo. The list is incredibly long, but I’ll name a few new and not-so-new ones just to give you an idea of what’s out there.
- Match loads. Yes, there are dozens available and almost all of them are pretty damn good. Some of the best factory match loads can be had from Hornady, Lapua, Federal, and HSM, and Black Hills.
- Hunting ammo is arguably the most widespread type available in .308. Because it’s one of the most popular deer and medium game cartridges of all time, it enjoys a huge following. Winchester, Remington, Hornady, and Barnes make some excellent products in this category.
- Bulk loads. There’s a great deal of military surplus and new production military ammo available from a number of sources. Cost-effective ammo comes from makers like Wolf, Tula, Lake City, Bear, PMC, Federal, and Prvi Partizan.
When it comes to rifles chambered in .308, there are many different types and they all do slightly different things.
- The AR-10 is a bit of a weird thing. There isn’t really a set standard for these so there are differences within this class of rifle. There are several large ‘families’ of the AR-10, with the main ones being the shape of the lower and the magazines it uses. The SR25/DPMS style is the most accepted, with the Armalite type taking different mags. There’s a lot more to it, more than I can get into here. Great rifles come from Savage, POF, SIG SAUER, LMT, Mega Arms, Larue Tactical, and many others.
- FN SCAR 17S. This is a rather interesting rifle that’s in current military use and has a number of advantages over the AR-10 family, including a folding stock, gas piston operation, and a reversable side charging handle. This rifle is among the most expensive on the list at about $3,500 MSRP.
- Bolt actions. The most popular in this category is probably the Remington 700, which is a rifle that just about every serious hunter and target shooter has used at some point in their lifetime. The .308 is very much at home in a bolt action rifle and it is a very good long range cartridge with the right setup. Some of the most accurate and rugged bolt actions you can buy come from Remington, Savage, Ruger, Mossberg, Howa, CZ, Bergara, and Winchester.
- Springfield M1A. This rifle is essentially a modern version of the military M14, but without the full-auto switch. These rifles have been around for decades and enjoy a variety of uses across the shooting spectrum. They are most commonly seen today at target matches and out hunting.
The .308 is a hard cartridge to go wrong with. Sure, there are some new calibers that do better at certain games, but the .308 is very hard to ignore for the beginner due to the fact that it can do almost anything required of a rifle cartridge while being wonderfully common and relatively affordable.