Here we go again with another ‘what’s the best 30 caliber rifle cartridge’ piece.
The easiest answer is to have at least one of each.
We took a deep dive into the .300 Winchester Magnum from a while back. In that article, we looked at some history, some rifles, some ammo and who needs a .300 Winchester Magnum in their safe.
In this article, we’ll take a side by side look at the .300 Win Mag and the more than capable .308 Winchester.
Table of Contents
Both cartridges will chamber in standard length actions. The .308 will easily fit in short actions, and the .300 Win Mag will slide into a 30-06 length action (long-action). No magnum lengths that add cost and weight are necessary.
Component bullets for handloaders are available from 125-grains to 200-grains, giving the rifleman a wide range of choices for everything from varmints to critters like moose and bears.
A .308 loaded up with quality 200-grain bullets would even serve as a reasonable bear deterrent on a sheep or goat hunt in the north country. You have a light, accurate mountain rifle for your primary hunting, but an adequate tool in your hands when you’re packing your sheep through the alder jungles back to base camp.
Both cartridges have proven themselves as accurate long-range options in military deployments as well as competitive venues to 1,000 yards or more.
Where Do They Differ?
The .308 Win started life as a military development and quickly gained favor as a capable round in the hunting fields. The .300 Win Mag was actually designed as a sporting cartridge that could be chambered in standard length actions.
.308’s can be found in compact, lightweight rifles that are handy and quick in tight cover. Generally, the .300 Win Mag will be a heavier and longer-barreled rig designed to take advantage of the increased powder capacity of the case.
All shooters are different, but for most, the recoil of the .308 Win is manageable even by new shooters or youngsters. The .300 Win Mag is probably not something you start a new shooter on.
A Look at Head to Head Performance
In taking a quick look at the data in a few reloading manuals, we begin to see not only the capability of each cartridge but also the obvious performance gains the .300 Win Mag provides as bullet weights increase and distances begin to stretch out.
The figures below come from the Speer Reloading Manual #13 and are averages in order to draw a comparison between the .308 Win and the .300 Win Mag. The 500-yard drop figures assume a 100-yard zero range.
|.308 Win||.300 Win Mag|
|Bullet Weight||Velocity||500-Yard Drop||Velocity||500-Yard Drop|
However, all that trajectory comes at a cost. More powder equals more velocity equals more recoil.
When we examine the data above it is readily apparent the increased case capacity of the .300 Win Mag offers much greater velocity across the board for all bullet weights. In most cases, we are seeing average velocities of 400 feet per second or more. The added velocity gives us a much ‘flatter’ trajectory out to the 500-yard mark.
If we look at the recoil calculator at Beartooth Bullets here is what we find for our two rifles.
Let’s assume we build up a Tikka T3 Lite in .308. Mine weighs exactly 7 pounds with a scope and three rounds of 165-grain Nosler Partition Ammo. My go-to hunting load runs about 2,650 fps. With that data in the calculator, I experience 19 foot-pounds of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of 13 fps.
To keep things fair let’s assume we have our .300 Win Mag in a Tikka T3 as well. With a set of Warne one-inch steel rings and a Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10 x 40 scope mounted we’ll have a hunting rifle that weighs in at about 7.5 pounds.
Now load up those 165-grain Partitions to about 3,000 fps and our recoil numbers go up considerably. We are now hit with 31-foot-pounds of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of 16 fps.
Best Ammo For Plinking, Hunting, and Long-Range Shooting
I’ll admit, this is an abbreviated list. We go in-depth for ammo choices in our Best .308 Ammo and Best .300 Win Mag Ammo guides and I highly recommend both of those, but here is the top of the top for each round to save you time!
.308 Plinking Rounds
Wolf Military Classic – Budget .308
This ammo is steel-cased and has a 145-grain FMJ bullet. Perfect for a day at the range and training. At just $9.95 per box of 20, you can send a lot of rounds downrange without breaking the bank.
Prices accurate at time of writing
The cases are Berdan primed and are not reloadable.
Lake City 7.62×51 – Budget Brass .308
This is Mil-Spec 7.62 NATO ammo that will run in all your semi-auto rifles as well as your bolt gun. Typically it is not loaded quite as hot as commercial ammo, so for a new shooter recoil will be a bit less.
Prices accurate at time of writing
The brass is annealed (heat treated) and is boxer primed and reloadable. A note to all you handloaders: Lake City brass is some of the best brass available and is wonderfully consistent for crafting top-quality, accurate ammunition for hunting or match use.
.308 Hunting Ammo
There is no end to quality bullets and ammo for the .308 Winchester. All major ammunition manufacturers offer choices with premium bullets and components.
I’m partial to 165-grain bullets for the .308 and the Hornady GMX bullet is one of the best, in my opinion. I’ve witnessed deer, elk and bison drop in their tracks with this ammo. It is extremely accurate and moves out a bit faster due to the proprietarily blended powder in the Superformance line.
A box of 20 isn’t cheap, but with one-shot kills those 20 rounds should fill your freezer for a few years.
You can likely find a box of Big Green at any hardware store or sporting goods store you stop at should you arrive for your hunt and remember your ammo is sitting on the kitchen table at home.
The Core-Lokt bullet led the way in controlled expansion bullets and has accounted for many full freezers over the years. If you’re out for deer, hogs or black bear the Remington ammo will serve you well.
.308 Long Range
When we lean on the .308 to stretch out and hit targets way out there, we need to look at sleek, accurate bullets. The .308 seems to be at its best with 168-grain projectiles.
There are several choices here, but the 168-grain Sierra MatchKing bullet is great for long-range shooting and considered by many to be the best long-range bullet available.
Good ammo isn’t cheap, but this is worth it.
What’s your take on Gold Medal?
The Hornady Match Rifle ammo is a solid choice for the long-range shooter.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Available in several of Hornady’s very accurate bullets, won’t go wrong with the 168-grain ELD-M bullet or the boat-tail hollow point.
.300 Win Mag Plinking Ammo
I don’t know that the .300 Win Mag is really a “plinking” round, but to learn your rifle system, it’s nice to have some less expensive options for your practice sessions.
This is a great economical round for practice and hunting.
The cases are boxer primed and reloadable and since it’s decently cheap, you can afford to get out shoot your big .300 more often. PPU is also just solid ammo, very reliable and one of our most trusted brands.
.300 Win Mag Hunting Ammo
It should come as no surprise that the best purveyors of .308 hunting ammo also churn out exceptional offerings for the .300.
This is a do-it-all choice for big game hunters.
With a monolithic bullet that provides up 95% weight retention and a muzzle velocity a bit over 3,000 fps, you could tote this ammo anywhere in the world and be very confident in taking all but the very biggest and most dangerous game.
The Accubond bullet combines the downrange accuracy of the sleek Ballistic Tip with deep penetration and consistent expansion.
This bonded bullet combined with Black Hills reputation for accurate and consistent ammunition is perfect for the big game hunter. Black Hills doesn’t come cheap though so…don’t miss.
Long Range Ammo
These are Extremely Low Drag bullets meant exclusively for long-range shooting. They are not designed for game killing expansion so should not be used as such.
These bullets also feature a Heat Shield tip to decrease bullet nose deformity as the bullet moves through the air. This is the type of bullet you want when steel plates are on the menu.
If you want to squeeze all the accuracy you can out of your .300 Win Mag, give the Match King a try. You won’t be disappointed with it!
Lacking some of the cooler features that something like the Hornady ELD-M offers, Federal Gold Metal loaded with Sierra Match King are widely seen as some of the absolute best long-range factory ammo you can get.
In the world of 30 caliber rifles, a shooter would be well-served with a .308 Winchester and a .300 Winchester Magnum to take care of just about any hunting or shooting chore that needed to be done.
A light, short .308 for those deep woods whitetail or grueling backpack hunts and a .300 Win Mag to take of the mule deer in the Wyoming sage or knocking the paint off a silhouette 1200 yards away.
While a person could probably do with one or the other, where’s the fun in that? Probably best to have one of each. Why? Because guns are cool! Our Best Large-Bore Hunting Rifles will get you started!
What is your chosen round? Taken any awesome game with .308 Win or .300 Win Mag? Looking for ammo deals or reloading guides…check out our Ammo & Reloading section.