Comparison of .308 and .30-06 cartridges

Can the .308 be loaded to equal the .30-06?

Q: The ‘expert’ at my local rifle club insists that the .308 Winchester can be handloaded to equal the .30-06 when both are chambered in strong bolt-action rifles with 600mm barrels. This doesn’t seem right to me, but he always seems to know best and won’t accept any criticism. 

I thought I’d get you to settle the argument for us.

Andrew Millington

A: In a factory load comparison with the larger .30-06, the .308 looks pretty good, but the factories load the .30-06 milder than the .308. 

For handloaders, however, if both rounds are chambered in a 600mm barrel, the .308 isn’t close on the heels of the .30-06 in performance, even with lighter bullets.

Most reloading manuals show maximum velocity for the 150gn bullet in the .308 to be about 2900fps (about equal with .30-06 factory loads). Maximum velocity listed for the .30-06 is 3100fps. 

And when we go to the heavier 165gn and 180gn bullets, the .30-06 cartridge maintains its 200fps edge over the smaller .308.

So your local club expert is wrong and should realise that the advantage always lies with the larger-capacity case. The more powder you can burn in a cartridge, the higher the velocity is going to be.

That said, the .308 is a versatile round which produces good accuracy with many different powders and moderate velocity with small charges. 

It works well in shorter barrels, can be had in short, lightweight actions and doesn’t kick as much as the larger .30-06.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.