.308 Winchester: The Story of a POWERFUL Cartridge

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A Brief History

In 1952, the .308 Winchester was introduced, just two years before the NATO adopted the 7.62x51mm NATO T65. Winchester branded the cartridge, introduced it to the commercial hunting market, and shortly after, it became the most popular short-action, big-game hunting cartridge worldwide. I delve more into that later, but for now, some of you might be thinking: what is the best scope for 308?  Ask the Swedish. We actually did not know the Swedes use a .308 scope until one American’s journey to Ikea’s homeland.

Digging Deeper

It all began when an American hunter journeyed to Sweden, looking to hunt some big game with his golden .308 Winchester.  He thought he was the only one with the golden round.  He was wrong. When he got there, he was surprised to discover A LOT of Swedish hunters using the .308 Winchester. It is actually not that surprising.  You see, Sweden’s largest gun manufacturer, Norma Precision, lists the .308 as their best selling caliber. Matter of fact, the Swedes aren’t the only ones using the golden ammo.  In Africa, native hunters rely on the .308 Winchester to drop elands (huge African antelopes) along with many other game animals.  So, if Swedish, African, and American hunters rely on the .308 Winchester cartridge to down big game, then what’s the big deal?

The .308 Winchester’s ‘Big Deal’

The .308 Winchester is the most popular big-game hunting, short-action cartridge globally. It is no wonder. Hunters use this cartridge to hunt down black bears and gigantic antelopes.  The so called short action, with the .308 cartridge coming in with a case 1/2 inch shorter than its parent .30-o6 case, allows for a cartridge of almost identical capability to be used in shorter magazines and allowing shorter bolt throws for more rapid accurate shooting.  Additionally, for military purposes, the .308 (or 7.62 by 51 mm in military jargon) weighs less and takes up less room than the preceding .30-06 (7.62 by 63 mm to military types), allowing for greater efficiency.

Now, if any cartridge can down an American black bear or African antelopes, you know the ammo’s got a real nasty impact behind it.  And indeed, the striking power is so nasty that it can impart hydrostatic shock — rapid incapacitating effects — to living targets due to the high energy transfer. Ouch. So how did…

Hunters Discover The .308

The .308 was originally developed for the battlefield.  But before the round went to war, hunters got their hands on it. They brought this battlefield secret to the sacred land of the deer and antelope and let it loose. After that blessed day, hunters around the world have gathered around the fire, recalling stories of how they dropped beasts of the forest with a .308 Winchester bullet.

Soon, the golden bullet’s popularity blossomed throughout the hunting empires of the world. And for the first time, the hunting world agreed that the .308 is one of the best hunting cartridges in existence.  But how did the .308 Winchester go from a battlefield legend to a hunting field must?  It all starts with ancient history.

.308’s History

In the Spanish-American war, the U.S. military was — excuse my English — getting their arses handed to them by the opposing side.  They wondered why.  Then they pulled a sharp, 7x57mm Mauser round from a wounded American’s body and immediately knew why.  The round nosed American .30 caliber (.30 Krag or .30-03) cartridge was not as powerful or as efficient as the faster, Spitzer pointed Mauser ammunition.

The U.S. was behind on the weapons department. So, they went back to the drawing boards and started incorporating cutting-edge weapon technology. The result? The .30-06 — America’s finest ammo.  From the trenches of World War 1 to the beaches of Normandy to the Korean peninsula, the .30-06 served America well.  That was until American arms developers  gave…

Birth To The .308 Winchester

Weapon technology was rapidly evolving.  The U.S. Army needed something better than the .30-06 to stay on top of the world. So, the engineers embarked on a quest to improve the .30-06.  They meticulously studied the DNA of the .30-06.  No rock was left unturned.  They restudied everything: aerodynamics, ballistics, energy transfer, velocity, weight, and much more.

And then, after years of study, they found a way to replicate the performance of the .30-06, but in a shorter, lighter cartridge that fired the same projectile but used less powder.   At the time, the engineers at Winchester Repeating Arms Company were not fully aware of what they accomplished; however, the world did, but what is surprising is the .308’s longevity. Rather than being left on the battlefield, the new Winchester followed the troops to…

The Hunting Grounds

Winchester, out of a whim, decided to offer the .308 Win to the hunting public. As soon as it was released, there was a big boom in sales.

Everyone (and their dog) wanted the .308 cartridge to hunt big game. And it was not long until the entire world followed suit. Rather than the ammo retiring, it is still one of the most reliable and powerful ammo to date, both for hunting and for target shooting.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever fired a .308 cartridge? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

One Book, One Caliber Loadbook for the .308 Winchester.  Loadbooks USA, 2004.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by JHobbs of three examples of .308 Winchester, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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About Author

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large gun publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, ODU Magazine, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP, and more. In his free time, he reviews various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.