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Winchester's versatile .308; after 33 years, this little .30 has become Winchester's jack-of-all-trades.

* It has been said that the .308 Winchester has no "flash," no flamboyance connected with it.

Consider for a moment other cartridges such as the .220 Swift, .300 Weatherby Magnum or even the .44 Magnum. Now those three rounds project exotic auras. The .220 Swift makes one think of a precision-oriented rifleman lying in a meadow trying for impossibly long shots on tiny varmints. The .300 Weatherby Magnum conjures the image of a rather well-heeled hunter climbing a tough ridge in Alaska in search of Dall sheep, or maybe combing the brush of Africa for a trophy lion. Even the .44 Magnum reminds shooters of the great Elmer Keith, or perhaps the celluloid "Dirty Harry."

But back to the staid .308 Winchester. What does it put most shooters in mind or? When thinking of the .308 Winchester, I get visions of an average American hunter combing the woods for a modest deer. Perhaps that very same fellow saves his money and one season makes it "out west" for an antelope or elk hunt. There, the .308 Winchester with the proper factory load or a tailored handload can still be his game-getting rifle. And if one year he gets interested in metallic silhouette shooting with his local buddies, he can still use his big-game rifle--if it proves sufficiently accurate.

To this writer, the .308 Winchester gets its rather bland image because of its amazing versatility. Other more well-knwon cartridges have specific purposes which limit them. The .308 Winchester, though, is used for many different things and in many different rifles.

As a for instance, would the .220 Swift be considered an elk rifle, or the .300 Weatherby Magnum a varmintre? Some might choose to use them in those applications, but generally they are not considered for such purposes. However, the .308 Winchester, again with the proper loads, can easily do both.

The .308 Winchester, also known militarily as the 7.62mm NATO, is a big-game cartridge, a varmint cartridge, a target cartridge, a cast bullet cartridge, along with being a combat cartridge. Virtually every type of modern rifle in the United States is chambered for the .308 Winchester. That includes bolt-action sporters, bolt-action varminters, lightweight "mountain rifles," heavy benchrest guns, slide-action rifles, lever-action rifles, single shots, semi-autos and even full autos! I know of no other cartridge that is available in such a wide array of firearms.

Most knowledgeable riflemen know that the .308 Winchester is a direct descendant of the venerable .30-06, which was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1906. The two cartridges use the same dimater of bullets, the same shell holders and the same primers. However, the kicker is that the .308 Winchester case measures only 2.015 inches long as opposed to 2.494 inches for the .30-06. That enables its use in the shorter, lighter bolt actions and lever actions. Of course, detractors of the .308 Winchester cite its smaller size when saying that it cannot equal the .30-06 in power; and what they say is true, in absolute terms. However, in practical terms, it is not true. With equal weights of bullets, the .308 Winchester will come to within 100 to 150 feet pr second (fps) of the bigger .30 caliber. In the field, that means no discernible difference in either stopping power or trajectory.

To see these figures in black and white, I consulted the excellent Sierra Reloading Manual. In the data section on the .308 Winchester, Sierra lists six loads with 150-grain bullets that break 2,900 fps from a 26-inch test barrel. In the .30-06 section, they list five loads with the same bullets and barrel lengths that break 3,000 fps. By checking the ballistics charts in the rear of the manual, you will find that with 200-yard zeros the extra drop of the slightly slower .308 Winchester amounts to about 1/2 inch at 300 yards.

My personal shooting experiences have borne this out. From a pre-'64 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .30-06 caliber, my hottest loads achieved barely 2,900 fps with 150-grain bullets. Barrel length is the common 22 inches. My hunting loads give from 2,775 to 2,850 fps with the same bullets. The .30-06's only real advantage over the .308 Winchester is its ability to better handle the very heavy .30 caliber bullets of say 200 to 220 grains. Its larger case and longer neck have the capacity to hold enough of the slower burning powders required to drive such long, heavy bullets to acceptable hunting velocities.

The .308 Winchester, or 7.62mm NATO if you will, was first developed as an experimental cartridge, called the T-65. In 1952, Winchester introduced it to the shooting public in the Model 70 and Model 88 lever actions, but the United States and other NATO countries did not officially adopt it until 1954. As concrete proof of the .308 Winchester's growth in the past 33 years, take note of some ammunition catalogs. By my count, there are at present 17 different factory loadings available from Winchester, Remington, Federal and Hornady in .308 Winchester. These range from the 55-grain "Accelerator" by Remington through 110, 125, 150, 165, 168, 180 and 200-grain bullet weights. Nominal factory velocities vary from 3,770 fps with the Accelerator to 2,820 fps for a variety of 150-grain loads, down to only 2,450 fps for the 200-grain Winchester loading.

My own introduction to the .308 Winchester came almost by accident. Several years ago I was browsing the used gun racks of sporting goods stores searching for a bolt-action .30-06 or perhaps even a .270 Winchester. However, on that particular day I encountered a pre-'64 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .308 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) caliber. This rifle had been restocked with a Mannlicher-style chunk of wood devoid of checkering or carving. While it was obvious it had been put to hard use, it had also been well cared for, because the bore was bright and shiny. Although a .308 was not on my "wish list," the modest price caused me to buy it. I never regretted my decision!

not many groups were fired from the bench before I decided that this was one of the few honestly accurate sporters I had encountered. While never grouping five shots at 100 yards into the legendary 1-inch clusters, this bolt action would put it favored loads into 1-1/8 to 1-5/8 inches consistently. The important thing was that the groups were circular in form--never strung or with flyers. Also, by comparing its chronograph readings to other comparable rifles from my rack, I discovered that the .308 Winchester looked small but performed potently. That year, I used this newly acquired rifle with 150-grain bullets to bag a large five-point mule deer at approximately 250 yards. My only complaint was that I underestimated its trajectory and almost shot over the animal.

As is true of most converts, I then went overboard. In the next year I bought nearly every .308 Winchester that crossed my path. These rifles included Remington 700s, Remington 600s, Browning BLRs and Winchester Model 100s. I even went so far as to build a very heavy target rifle with a Shilen barrel on a Mauser Model 98 action, and I borrowed a friend's Springfield Armory MIA semi-auto. Today, I wish that I had kept complete records on the considerable number of handloads that were assembled for those rifles. The data would be invaluable.

Speaking of handloading, that is the area where the .308 Winchester really shines. The weights and styles of bullets available in .30 caliber are too numerous to list completely, and for those interested in "pouring their own," bullet moulds in .30 caliber are among the most common. A perusal of the various powders listed in reloading manuals for the .308 Winchester shows that any rifle powder with a burning rate between Reloder 7 on the fast side to IMR-4350 on the slow end is suitable. The aforementioned Sierra Reloading Manual lists a total of 14 different powders in its .308 Winchester section. The Speer Reloading Manual Number 10 lists 11 powders and Lyman's Manual Number 46 lists 14 also, not counting tose powders used in cast bullet reloads.

Like all reloaders, I have found a couple of "favorite" powders for reloading various cartridges. In the .308 Winchester, the powder that has been my all-time best performer in varmint loads, target loads and big-game hunting loads with bullets weighing 150 grains or less is IMR-3031. If it were not possible to use IMR-3031 for those three handloading applications, then each would have to be covered by an individual powder. For instance, H-322 gives accuracy and velocity equivalent to IMR-3031 in varmint loads, but it is slightly too fast burning for the heavier bullets. Conversely, IMR-4064 will give fine accuracy and high velocities in the .308 Winchester with 150-grain bullets or heavier, but it is slightly too slow burning for best results with the 110 and 125-grain varmint slugs. When it comes to target shooting, many bullet and powder combinations give fine accuracy, but a sort of standard for my testing guns is 37.0 grains of IMR-3031 and the 163-grain Sierra HPBT. Incidentally, that particular load was not discovered by this writer. I merely pulled it straight from the Lyman Number 45 Reloading Manual, and I've never seen reason to alter it.

The day I returned home from the gunsmith's with my heavy, Shilen-barreled .308 Winchester Target rifle, it was tested with the above Lyman "accuracy load." The very first five-shot group was a ragged hole measuring just under 1/2 inch. The next three five-shot groups were as good or better, and I ended up with an average group of only .440 inch. Many hundreds of rounds were fired in load testing and in competing in local turkey shoots, and that rifle with Lyman's load convinced friends and acquaintances that the .308 cartridge was truly one of the most accurate calibers.

Perhaps the only loading applications where IMR-3031 does not jibe with the .308 Winchester are when using bullets heavier than 150 grains, or with cast bullets. Bullets weighing 165 and 180 grains can be driven faster with less pressures in the .308 Winchester by such powders as WW748, IMR-4064, H-380, BLC2 or IMR-4350. With cast bullets, it is hard to beat the old favorite for that type of projectile, SR-4759. The vast bulk of my personal .308 Winchester reloading is done with IMR-3031, IMR-4064 and SR-4759. Other powders can do as well, but my particular rifles have shown their preferences for those three Du Pont propellents.

In .30 caliber, the handloader is blessed with an enormous variety of bullets from all makers. Therefore, in choosing bullets for my .308 Winchester, some decisions have been arbitrary. For example, Sierra's 110-grain hollow point has an excellent reputation for accuracy and explosive destruction on small varmints. Not surprisingly, then, it has performed well for me in a wide variety of .308 rifles. Loaded over 46.0 grains of IMR-3031, the 110-grain Sierra is capable of outstanding accuracy from my Winchester. Three-shot groups will often cut one hole, and the fourth and fifth shots seldom enlarge things much over 1-1/8 to 1-1/4 inches. Plus, velocity is about 3,000 fps from the 22-inch barrel. Sighted in 2 2nches high at 100 yards, the bullet will be dead on at 200 yards and only 3.78 inches low at 250 yards. With that combination, I consider the .308 Winchester to be at least a 250-yard varmint round. In the area of big-game hunting bullets, I consider the .308 Winchester to shine best with the 150 grainers. Although nearly every 150-grain bullet on the market has been tested on paper, I have only taken game with the 150-grain Sierra spitzer and 150-grain Nosler Partition. Both gave one-shot kills on mule deer and antelope. Although 150-grain bullets are my favorites in this caliber, I must admit that when hunting for game the size of elk, I load up with either 165 of 180-grain bullets. However, I personally draw the line at 180 grains. In my view, the lower velocities of the 200-grain bullets are too restrictive in the trajectory department.

The .308 Winchester is an easy caliber to reload with cast bullets, and some handloaders report being able to drive cast bullets to velocities rivaling jacketed bullets with comparable accuracy. I have never been that successful and have limited my cast bullet speeds to 1,800 fps or less. Perhaps my favorite cast bullet is Lyman's Number 311316, a 116-grain flat nose, gas-checked version. Sized to .309 inch, lubed with Alox and loaded over 16.0 grains of SR-4759, that bullet will group into less than 3/4 inch at 50 yards from my trusty Model 70 Featherweight. Velocity is about 1,550 fps, which comes darn close to converting the .308 Winchester into a .32-20 carbine equivalent.

Thee is one warning of which prospective .308 reloaders should be aware. That is in regard to the varying thicknesses and corresponding internal volumes on the wide range of .308 Winchester brass on the market today. Each manufacturer has individual specifications, with the military brass being the most heavily constructed of all. Do not work up a hot or even a warm load in one make of brass and then switch over to another. It could be dangerous.

In the beginning I said that the .308 Winchester has no flamboyance. That is true. But, there is another way of considering it. For example, if you buy a car and never have a problem with it over the years, won't you be likely to remember it fondly? Won't you look for another one like it? Wouldn't you have better memories of a trouble-free Volkswagen than a flashy but breakdown-prone sports car?

If you have a rifle in a certain caliber that is so agreeable that you never have reason to cuss it, won't you have a soft spot for it? That is the way I feel about the .308 Winchester. It may not have flash, but I think of it fondly, because it always works so well for me.
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Author:Venturino, Mike
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Words:2363
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