Many people see .308 Winchester as a war horse of the hunting industry, and such a point of view is perfectly reasonable. This caliber has been around since 1952 and has managed to enter the club of the most popular hunting cartridges not only in the United States but all across the world. Some may say that with the introduction of newer cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor .308 is becoming obsolete, but this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. We don’t have the heart to say that .308 rifles are getting over the hill, and millions of shooters across the planet would agree. Sometimes, the old ways are the best ways, and .308 is one of the brightest examples of this rule.
Now then, since you followed the link to the article covering tips on choosing the best 308 rifle for deer hunting (or hunting in general, to be more precise), we get it that you don’t have any preconceptions against .308 Winchester rifles. In this article, we’ll cover the options you are presented with in terms of hunting rifles. But before that, we at our gun store gritrsports.com want to cover the basics of .308 rifles so that you know what lets them crown “the best hunting rifles” lists.
The .308 Winchester Introduction
The .308 Winchester is a smokeless powder rimless bottlenecked rifle cartridge developed based on the T65 series of experimental cartridges. Rifles, chambered in this caliber, are considered shot-action due to the short length of the cartridge (2.8 inches). The .308 Winchester is actually the most popular short-action rifle cartridge that made headlines at the time of its introduction to the market. It gathered all the front-line cartridge production technologies of that time and outperformed the then most-popular hunting rifle cartridge 30-06. The introduction of the more advanced powders allowed the manufacturers to produce ammo that was cheaper, lighter, and more compact than earlier models while showing the same level of performance. Low recoil was yet another benefit the new cartridge brought.
Even though the technologies are constantly advancing, the .308 Winchester is still alive and kicking. It remains the first choice for many hunters who pursue medium-sized and big game alike. Truth be told, the possible applications of .308 rifles are not restricted to hunting only: they are often used for target shooting, military sniping, and police sharpshooting. Some rifles, chambered in .308 Winchester, are suitable for self-defense. As with every rifle, you can look for something that can perform multiple tasks in an okay-ish manner or something that excels at what it was intended for. Here’re the things you need to consider when deciding on a rifle.
Type of Action
If we talk about .308 rifles themselves, they are available in two actions: semi-automatic and bolt-action. Semi-automatic rifles do much of the job for you by automatically cycling the action, ejecting spent cartridges, and feeding new rounds into the chamber without your participation. As you can imagine, such a configuration allows for quicker consecutive shots and spares you the necessity to perform extra manipulations. But such convenience comes at a price: due to a fairly complicated set-up, semi-automatic rifles are more prone to malfunctioning. We should note that “prone to malfunctioning” doesn’t mean “will inevitably break”. If a firearm is taken care of, cleaned, and maintained properly, such things shouldn’t be an issue. The risk, nonetheless, remains. Due to a higher number of internal parts, these rifles also tend to be heavier than bolt-action ones.
Bolt-actions lack all the listed disadvantages: the chances of malfunctioning tend to zero, and rifles are lightweight and even more reliable. However, the fire rate is significantly lower than semi-automatic ones’, and every single shot is preceded by manually operating the action via a bolt handle. Since we are looking for the best 308 hunting rifle for the money, we strongly recommend getting a bolt-action rifle. Fire rate hardly matters when hunting, and you won’t have to pull the slide too often. But you get a light gun tailored for precision shooting at long distances. Seems like a viable trade-off to us. And the choice of bolt-action .308 rifles for deer hunting is much more varied than semi-automatic ones’, so it’s a win on all fronts.
The question about the best barrel length for a 308 hunting rifle is among the most frequent ones. That is understandable, considering the options. Here, we once again are presented with two options: long and short. Long barrels have been traditionally favored by hunters for the increased accuracy at longer distances. Such barrels ensure that the cartridge burns all the powder, resulting in higher muzzle energy and helping the bullet stay supersonic longer. Short barrels are usually reserved for tactical rifles since they allow for a more consistent rate of fire. Since it is accuracy we are after, the scales seem to shift in favor of long barrels. However, things are not so unambiguous. There is no direct relationship between the barrel length and precision. But if you own a suppressor and want to mount it on your rifle, you might opt for shorter barrels to compensate for the additional length. Rifles are quite loud, so it’s not uncommon to pair them with suppressors, but you need to make sure the barrel is threaded. Shorter barrels also give you more maneuverability if it’s something you care about.
This point may seem obvious, but there is more than meets the eye. The first quandary we need to solve is .308 Winchester vs. 7.62x51mm. The thing is, the latter was designed based on the former: their external dimensions are almost identical. The difference between the two lies in two characteristics: bras thickness and chamber design. The military 7.62x51mm cartridge has thicker case walls and, as a result, reduced powder capacity. Chambers in 7.62x51mm rifles are slightly longer than those in .308 rifles. Some people may recommend you use these two cartridges interchangeably. We won’t join their ranks. Funnily enough, the internet is rife with articles that will recommend opposite things. One half suggests not shooting .308 in 7.62x51mm rifles, saying 7.62 is a universal cartridge, while the other says the exact opposite. Here’s our rule of thumb: just don’t. At the end of the day, .308 cartridges are not that expensive to skimp on them.
The second dilemma is the bullet weight. Ammo can significantly influence your in-field performance both ways. Lighter loads are great for varmint hunting but are insufficient for big game. In the same way, heavy loads are suitable for taking down bigger animals but might be excessive for smaller ones. The general rule is to stick to the 150-180 grain range. The 150-grain bullets are the best .308 ammo for deer hunting, as well as pursuing other medium-sized game. If you are after a bigger animal, like elk, consider something in the range of 165-180 grains. Preserve 200-grain bullets for something bigger, like a bear.
Those three points are crucial when choosing the best 308 rifle for deer hunting, though they are not the only ones. For some people, stock material matters more than any other characteristic. Some won’t change the feel of the wooden stock for anything, and that we respect. But no one knows you better than yourself. You should also make sure that the rifle is equipped with (or at least can mount) rails or mounts. Even the best scope for a 308 hunting rifle will prove useless if you can’t mount it. But going into details would make this article two or three times as big, and we are already thankful that you’ve been with us for so long. Our job here is to show you which paths you can follow and what awaits you on the road. Keep those three aspects in mind, and you’ll be fine.