Two of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges in the United States today are the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield rounds. Both rounds are highly versatile and an excellent choice for big game hunting. A survival rifle chambered in either .308 or .30-06 would likely be equally effective for general purpose use.
But is one inherently better than the other? We’ll try and find out by analyzing these two calibers based on their history, similarities, size, accuracy, hunting effectiveness, selection of rifles, ammo availability, and the price.
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Knowing the history of the .30-06 and .308 is important because the two rounds are directly related. In fact, the .308 is really just a development of the .30-06.
The .30-06 Springfield round began its life when it was developed as the caliber for the Springfield M1903 bolt action rifle, which was adopted into widespread service by the U.S Army in World War I.
Later, when the military upgraded from the 1903 to the semi-automatic M1 Garand, they kept the .30-06 round. Many other weapons, military and civilian alike, were chambered for the 30-06, including the BAR light machine gun and the world renowned Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle.
As a result, the .30-06 easily became the most popular round for both the United States military and civilians. It proved its worth as an effective caliber both for the battle and for hunting out in the woods.
Later in the 1950s, the military sought to again upgrade their main service rifle, eventually switching from the M1 Garand to the M14 (or M1A for the civilian version).
The M14 was essentially an updated M1 Garand with two major differences: it accepted a detachable box magazine rather than an en-bloc clip, and it was chambered for a shortened version of the .30-06 called the .308 Winchester.
That’s right, a .308 is basically a .30-06 that’s been shortened down. But just because the .308 is shorter than the .30-06 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less effective.
The .308 quickly rose in popularity with a myriad of different military and civilian rifles chambered for the round. The .308 eventually eclipsed the .30-06 as the most popular big game hunting cartridge in North America, and it is quite possibly the most popular hunting cartridge across the entire world today.
Since the .308 was essentially born out of the .30-06, there are many things they share in common. They both have an equal diameter (.308).
Additional similarities they share are roughly equal range (they can be effective out to a thousand yards in the hands with a skilled shooter and a quality rifle), and bullet weight is typically the same at 140 to 180 grains.
Recoil is slightly heavier from a .30-06, but that only holds true if the rifles are the same weight. A lighter .308 rifle will probably have greater recoil than a heavy .30-06, for example.
Both calibers have also been used in the hands of military snipers and marksmen (though the .308 is definitely far more widely issued today), and in the hands of big game hunters.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the .308 and .30-06 is their literal size. The .30-06 is a longer round (as in around half an inch longer). The reason the .308 is shorter is because the military wanted a shorter round when they were seeking to replace the .30-06.
The reason the military wanted a shorter round is because it had been proven that a smaller case capacity could still send a bullet out to the same distance and with the same velocity as a round with a longer case.
Furthermore, a shorter case means that the action and bolt of the rifle is shorter, which saves on production costs and weight.
If you take a bolt action rifle, say a Winchester M70, with a .308 and .30-06 version of that same rifle, you will notice that the .308 model uses a shorter action. This shorter action is lighter, cheaper to make, and it’s also (at least in theory) quicker to operate.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the .308 eclipsed the .30-06 in popularity is because the .308 has greater perceived accuracy. Competitive rifle shooters gravitated over to the .308 because shooters firing the round were having greater success on the shooting range than with the .30-06.
That’s not to say that the .30-06 round is an inaccurate cartridge, because on the contrary, it’s highly accurate! How accurate you are with your rifle will ultimately come down to your skills as a shooter more so than the rifle and caliber of choice. It’s more than possible for a skilled shooter with a .30-06 to outshoot a moderately skilled shooter with a .308.
Scientifically speaking, a .30-06 will have greater velocity than a .308, but a .308 still has less recoil and is therefore easier to shoot for most people. The bullet drop difference between the two is extremely minimal, and both can easily be accurately shot out to 1,000 yards.
Both the .308 and .30-06 are equally effective for big game hunting. Choosing between the two often comes down to personal preference and experience.
Some hunters prefer the .30-06 because, since it’s a longer round, you can add more powder into the, to make it a hotter round, and thus deliver more punch than .308. But for off the shelf factory ammo, the difference between the two is extremely minimal.
Both the .308 and .30-06 are effective for anything from deer to pronghorn to elk and to black bear.
One of the biggest advantages the .308 has over .30-06 is rifle selection. There are simply a greater variety of rifles chambered for the .308 than .30-06, especially when it comes to semi-automatic rifles.
While there are likely an equal number of makes and models of bolt action rifles chambered for both the .308 and .30-06, for semi-automatics there is absolutely no denying that the .308 reigns supreme.
Examples of popular semi-automatic rifles chambered for the .308 include the AR-10, M1A, HK G3, and the FN FAL.
Since both the .308 and .30-06 are insanely popular, you will encounter absolutely no problems in finding ammunition across the country, and it’s also fairly easy to find .308 across the world.
Both rounds are highly available and they are also readily affordable. You can easily find a box of 20 shells for $20 or less for both of the calibers, which is the reason why many shooters continue to prefer them even when many new rounds have been introduced.
.30-06 is usually more expensive than .308 simply because it has higher production costs. While both rounds are affordable, the .308 is even more so.
Because the .308 is the more popular of the two, it is also the most widely produced, and this also plays a factor into why it is cheaper at the price tag.
If you’re on a serious budget, the .308 should be your choice simply because the price per box will be $5-10 cheaper. That may not sound like much, but it adds up with the more boxes you buy.
So, is one better than the other between the .308 and the .30-06?
Honestly, not really. Certain .308 rounds will perform better than certain .30-06 rounds and vice versa. Both calibers are almost equally popular (a slight edge to the .308) and have proven to be equally effective for big game hunting.
If only one could be chosen, however, it would likely have to be .308 simply because there are more semi-automatic rifles chambered for it than .30-06. If you want an SHTF survival rifle that you can use for personal defense and big game hunting alike, it will be much easier to find a .308 semi-auto rifle than a .30-06 one.
Still, you can be rest assured that regardless of whether you go with .308 or .30-06 (or both), both are going to perform well for you.