While there are both pros and cons of .308 rifles, .308 is one of the most common rifle rounds used by sportspeople and recreational shooters in the US.
Does this mean everyone should have a .308 rifle, though?
The main pro of .308 Winchester is it’s a good generalist cartridge. It’s an excellent choice for hunters and anybody interested in owning one or very few rifles. However, the primary cons of .308 is that it’s outshined by more specialized cartridges, and it’s too much gun in some cases.
If you don’t know the basics of this venerable cartridge, it’s a full-size rifle round related to the military’s 7.62x51mm NATO round.
There’s no such thing as the perfect rifle round. I have friends who claim .308 comes close, though!
Read on to learn if .308 may be a good fit for you!
PROS: Why You Should Use .308 Winchester
.308 Win has many advantages, even over technically superior cartridges. Let’s delve into this wonderful cartridge’s many pros.
First of all, .308 Winchester is the least expensive full-power rifle cartridge on the market today. This alone makes it a good choice for those who have to budget our ammo purchases.
This is partially because it’s almost the same as 7.62×51 NATO, a common military cartridge. Note that they’re not exactly the same.
.308 is proofed to a higher pressure, which means you can load 7.62×51 in a .308 rifle but not .308 in a 7.62 rifle!
This does drive up availability, though.
Another factor in .308’s comparatively low price is the positive feedback loop of it being such a common round. The more common it is, the better manufacturers can achieve an efficiency of scale, the cheaper it gets, and the more common it becomes.
Other rifle cartridges may be less expensive, such as .223, but .308 is the cheapest powerful cartridge.
And what a powerful cartridge .308 is!
It’s not the most powerful on the market, no, but it has more than enough kinetic energy for almost every hunter in the United States.
.308 will take deer and wild pigs every day of the week and at a range greater than .223 or .30-30.
.308 Winchester came into existence because the US military wanted a full-size rifle cartridge suitable for automatic and semi-automatic weapon fire.
This makes .308 the round of choice for shooters wanting a semi-auto rifle that’s got more power than 5.56 or 7.62×39.
From the G3 to the FAL, M1A to all the various AR-10 clones, .308 is a great choice when you want power without manually operating the gun.
I favor a CETME for the sheer personality of that quirky gun. On the other hand, my best friend has a boringly accurate AR-10.
A less well-known advantage to .308 is that it can fit into a shorter bolt-action receiver than many other full-size rifle rounds because of its semi-auto heritage.
Shorter actions are inherently stiffer, which increases shot-to-shot consistency.
And rifles with short actions are shorter and lighter than long action rifles. Every little bit of weight saved is a blessing on those long hunting hikes!
CONS: Reasons to Avoid .308 Winchester
Though .308 is an excellent round for many purposes, it’s not perfect. Some shooters may want to leave the .308 rifle on the shelf and pick a gun chambered in something else.
Let’s delve into why.
Is power a disadvantage as well as an advantage? How?
There is such a thing as too much gun.
As a full-power rifle round, .308 recoils more than lighter cartridges such as .223 and a whole lot lighter than .22lr.
This sounds obvious, but it is a factor you should keep in mind.
When you’re at the gun range and putting holes in paper at 100 yards, which gun would you rather fire a hundred times?
Also, .308 is too powerful for use against many small animals. Light loads can alleviate this problem, but it’s often better to use the right caliber for the job rather than try to force the wrong one.
Noise and Recoil
.308 Winchester is the largest round most people will be willing to casually dump downrange because it’s so cheap.
However, while you may be a seasoned shooter unaffected by the excess noise and kick, other shooters may not be so experienced.
Rifles chambered in .308, especially semi-autos with muzzle brakes, can be disruptive to shooters around you. That’s a big pressure wave.
While a big ol’ gun can be fun, you may want to consider being polite to your fellow shooters.
And the round kicks hard enough to cause new shooters to flinch. We don’t want that!
If you’re teaching someone new, work your way up to .308. Perhaps let them fire five shots at the end of a range session as a reward?
The .308 Win case was shortened for use in semi-automatic firearms. This is the significant difference between .308 and .30-06.
That smaller case means you have less case capacity, which puts the .308 at a slight disadvantage compared with .30-06, .300 Win Mag, and other .30 caliber rifles when you want to shoot at long ranges.
With .308, you can add either more powder or use a heavier bullet. Longer cases let you add both.
The previous point touches upon this, but the .308 is merely an okay long-range round.
It has a big punch out to about 300 yards but starts to lose steam.
Cartridges with more powder will push their pills farther before bullet drop becomes a significant factor.
Cartridges with a more efficient bullet design, such as 6.5 Creedmoor, will bleed less velocity and resist the wind better.
Unless you live on a rural property with no neighbors around, .308 is a bad home defense cartridge.
.30 cal bullets just have too much penetration to be safe when there’s a possibility your bullets can miss the bad guy and enter your neighbor’s house.
Who Should Own a .308 Winchester Rifle?
Taking the above pros and cons of .308 rifles into consideration, let’s answer the question of who would most benefit from owning a .308 rifle.
My top 3 answers for this are hunters, preppers, and military firearm enthusiasts.
Hunters will love .308 because it’s such a versatile cartridge. Familiarity with your firearm improves your shot placement, so a .308 rifle you like will be more effective than a rifle chambered in a technically superior cartridge.
Preppers are likely familiar with the scout rifle concept, a lightweight and accurate .308 bolt-action rifle. Such a generalist firearm is perfect when you need to rely on only one gun.
And military rifle collectors tend to appreciate historical arms, which will naturally lead to picking up a gun such as a FAL or PTR-91. Unlike many old military weapons, .308 is inexpensive enough for these collector’s items to also be enjoyed at the range.
Target shooters, varmint hunters, long-range competitors, and people interested in home defense may want to choose a round more tailored to their needs.
Summary of the Pros and Cons of .308 Rifles
The .308 Winchester cartridge is popular for a reason:
It’s inexpensive, powerful, and fits various purposes. It’s the closest choice to a jack-of-all-trades cartridge you can buy today.
A good selection of generalist guns is a 9mm pistol, 12 gauge shotgun, and three rifles: .22 Long Rifle, .223 Remington, and .308 Winchester. This will cover the majority of situations you’ll experience.
Do you like .308 rifles? Why or why not?
Let us know below!