Cartridge of the Week: The .308 Winchester, 7.62×51 NATO, 7.62x51mm

If you hear the shot, it was not meant for you. If you run, you will only die tired. Reach out and touch someone. Ah sniper talk, guys from the high ground, I love it. Without this cartridge, the sniper story would be greatly diminished. From 1952, its design year, then 1954, when the U.S. military chose it as the rifle cartridge for their forces and up to the present it has been the cornerstone cartridge for the long-range warrior. That cartridge is the 7.62x51mm NATO or the civilian .308 Winchester.

The developers driven to find a military cartridge to replace the 30-06 Springfield, 7.62x63mm, without sacrificing the ballistics of the fabled 30 Government M06, came up with this storied cartridge. Needed was a cartridge with a shorter stroke, less recoil and smaller so more would require less space and weight. Weight and space are everything on the battlefield.

Launched from many platforms such as the Remington 700 BDL, or in the Military the M-24 Sniper Weapon System (SWS), the M60 Machine gun, the FAL, the CETME, and the M14 to name a few. More and more platforms continue to be in the works.

However, let us not back this cartridge into a corner. It has a place more than just on the battlefield. Winchester in its brilliance back then, piggy-backed on the fact that a round good enough for military purposes could have uses as a field cartridge for hunting. If the 30-06 was good for Remington then the .308 could be just as good for Winchester. Winchester was right on target.

The .308 Winchester is now a staple cartridge in North American hunting and may very well be in the world as well. Deer, hog, bear, elk – this cartridge will get it done. Today every major manufacturer makes a rifle for this cartridge. Furthermore, every major manufacturer including two in Russia currently makes the cartridge.

For those out there ready to call foul on the two cartridges being the same, put your flags back in your pocket. While the two are not exactly the same as far as the Sporting Arms and Manufactures Institute (SAAMI) is concerned the two are interchangeable. You should, as with all your firearms, confirm with your manufacturer on the capabilities of your chambering requirements and limitations of your particular firearm.

What is so impressive about this cartridge, is that it has had over 30 different variations for military use in the United States alone. Other countries have made variations of this cartridge and thus it has become one of the most versatile cartridges ever employed for military use. It has seen the battlefields of Vietnam, the Falklands, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few.

Nevertheless, its true calling is as a long-distance sniper cartridge. In this capacity, it has reigned on the battlefield for over 50 years. While there are newer cartridges like the .338 Lapua Magnum (8.60x70mm), .300 Winchester Magnum (7.62x66mm), and the titan .50 BMG (12.7x99mm) that may replace it one day, it will be no time soon. This cornerstone cartridge will not go quietly into the night.

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Comments (24)

  1. I spent 8 years in the navy and had a m-14 set up for long range shooting ,it was a very reliable rifle and of course I was denied to be able to remove it from the ships inventory and bring it home

  2. We are pleased to introduce to your esteemed Company as Government Supplier enlisted with Ministry of Defence and various Ministries, Govt of PR Bangladesh since 1973.

    Infantry Directorate, Bangladesh Army, Ministry of Defence is going to procure the following 9mm Pistol quantity 360 Nos and Sniper Rifle Caliber 7.62x51mm NATO quantity 500 Nos :

    9 MM Pistol – Quantity 360 Nos in first face.
    Sniper Rifle – Caliber 7.62x51mm NATO – Quantity – 500 Nos

    We are very much interested for participate in the bidding and occupy the business on behalf of your esteemed company. For our long good reputation and excellent relation, we have been asked by the Bangladesh Army HQ purchasing authority to participate in the Evaluation process and subsequently bidding.

  3. I’m going to get all kinds of flak for this butit’s the way I see it.
    In 1952 there was no need for a new, lower-powered (compared to the .30-’06) cartridge. The selling points loudly touted by Winchester were that id recoiled less than an ’06 with the same weight bullet and rifle; that was true and it still is. They also, correctly, said that the .308 ALMOST equalled the ’06 in velocity and energy. Both of these statements boil down to the fact that the .308 is a slightly less-powerful cartridge than the .30-’06 with the same bullet in each. Why? If a lower-power version of the ’06 was desired, just load it to a lower pressure. That’s done all the time now. Such loads are usually marked “reduced recoil” or something similar. It works.

    The other reason for developing the .308 was to make a cartridge that would feed through a shorter action than the .30-’06.. Why was that a desirable thing? .30-’06-length actions were seen as “standard” for decades. Sure, a ½” shorter action is a few ounces lighter, but carrying two or three fewer rounds on a hunt would make as big a difference, or even more. It just isn’t significant on a hunting rifle. The “long stroke” required of the .30-’06’s bolt had never been a problem for 46 years. Why was it suddenly a big deal?
    The accuracy potential of both rounds is excellent and about equal with the best loads. No difference here.
    I think Winchester just wanted a high-powered .30 calibre cartridge with their name on it.
    Lest I forget, there was also the .300 Savage which is very similar to the .308 Win.
    Then we come to military use.
    Yep, the lighter weight of each round of .7.62 NATO ammo does add up. I haven’t done the math, but I doubt that a full combat loadout would be very many more rounds at all. Is it possible that our military gunsmiths were unable to convert the MG-42 to a longer cartridge than the 7.92x57IS when they were developing the M-60 LMG? I find that hard to believe.
    Basically, the .30-’06 can be loaded down to match the performance of the .308 Win./7.62 NAYO with any given bullet weight. The opposite is not true.
    Both cartridges are great. They both do the job well. But the only reason I can see for the rise of the .308 Win. was for Winchester to have their name on a powerful .30 calibre cartridge.

  4. Use windex to clean rifles after you fire corrosive ammo = it nutralizes the chemical reaction! Then just brush swab and light coat of oil as with any other weapon!

  5. Just buy some Norma Brand ammo for your 7.62x54R and that will end your corrosion issues and if not dawn dish liquid is your friend.

    Wish I still had my father’s 7.62 russian, shot 180 gr. ammo and 500 yards was flat.

  6. I inherited alot of 180 gr .308 ammo from my dad after his passing. I also got alot of 168 gr from my son while he was a Marine sniper. I bought some 150 gr nato stuff just to shoot. I have never had anything get up from a 180 or 168 gr well placed bullet. The 150 gr stuff shoots a little low at 100 yards. I wouldn’t trade anything for my .308. I have other guns and they’re fine but nothing beats a .308 in my humbel opinion.
    I do have a 7.62X54R but hate to shoot it because of it’s corrosive powder that it seems it never gets clean enough. If anyone has a tip on cleaning it I’d like to hear it.

  7. The 30-06 is currently available for loads ranging from the Remington Accelerator 55 gr. saboted round, through some 220 gr. sledgehammers. The reason that 7.62 X 51 (308 Win.) replaced the 30-06 in competitive shooting was the availability of mil-surp ammo and the growth in popularity of the sport, the same reason that the 5.56 is replacing the 7.62 X 51/308 round. Efficiency difference has as much to do with the speed of burn for which the standardized specs of the ammo have been developed. Almost ALL 30-06 ammo is within very close proximity to the M2 Ball’s internal ballistics, this is by intent. Some of the stronger actions can handle “light magnum” loads of the 30-06 which, once again, push the performance envelope far beyond the 308’s. Accuracy is more of a function of gun design and ammo tuning than design of ammo casing. A $6000 Remmy 700 will shoot more accurately with hunting ammo than an off-the-shelf hunting rifle with with match ammo, and there are 60 year old guns out there that shooting wacky loads better than some of the new guns. Ever seen a Sharps in .45-70 black powder perform? Personally, my Remmy 700 BDL shoots more accurately than my 300 Win Mag, and the 300 is purportedly, more intrinsically accurate.

    Don’t believe all the marketing hype.

  8. I’ve worked in law enforcement and have buddies that hunt. When I went to buy my first rifle, I did the research, talked to people, and my choice was the .308 bolt action Remmy 700. The round is accurate, though I’ve only shot out to 100yds at the range so far, and the recoil is not bad. Reloading for it is less expansive than the 30-06 and other .300 magnums and you have a TON of loadings to choose from from light target loads to heavy duty hunting loads. Most of the time, in the field, you’re usually not gonna be aiming at anything beyond the 300yd point and the .308 is up to that all day. For those awaiting the the zombie revolution, the .308 is entirely good out to 500 yds and by some Marine counts, up to 800 yds – that’s a good 1/2 maile away! Serioulsy, what else do you need???!!! Enjoy your rights to bear arms while you can – and stock up!!!

    1. Actually, the .308 in 175 gr. Sierra Matchkings is good for around 900 yards before it goes sub-sonic, and accurate to around 1100, maybe more. One of the Army boys used it in the mil. version (7.62X51) for an incredible shot at an Iraqi sniper at over 1300 yards. I think it was 1375yds or so. The 30-06, however, has about the same recoil in the same weight rifle, and will push the same bullet at least 150 feet per second faster with the same barrel length. It is the rifle cartridge Carlos Hathcock used the most in Vietnam, and he used it well beyond 1000 yards. A .308 will launch a 180 grain bullet at around 2550 fps from a 22 inch barrel, while a 30-06 will launch the same round at around 2675 or 2700 fps from the same 22 inch barrel. That adds about 3 ftlbs of recoil, which you won’t feel if the stock is designed properly. Put this cartridge in a 24 inch barrel and it leaves the muzzle at 2750 to 2775 fps. This results in a (slightly) flatter trajectory, especially at long range, but the most important thing is it increases bullet energy and keeps the bullet supersonic longer. Also, the 30-06 in the slower burning powders is just as accurate as the .308, because the powder fills the casing better. I regularly shoot 5 shot groups in bolt action standard weight rifles that will go inside 1 inch at 100 yards, and when I’m really on, I can get inside 1 and 1/2 inches at 200 yards. 3 shot groups will generally go tighter. Also, if you hunt in Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, Wyoming and several other Western states, your shot may range from 25 yards to 600 yards, depending on the terrain and game animal pursued. Antelopes are notorious for requiring long (beyond 300yd ) shots. So are elk in some areas. And with elk you need all the bullet energy you can get. This is where the .30-06 comes into its own over the .308. I reload both cartridges, and the cost difference per box might be as much as $1.50, if that much. I’ll pay that for the extra impact the 30-06 gives. I also have two .300 win mags, and the difference in cost for them is around $2.00 over the .308 for each box. If you can handle the recoil, this is a really great round, too, as is the .35 Whelen, which can duplicate the trajectory of the 30-06 when handloaded with either Sierra 225gr or Speer 250gr bullets. But it kicks like a .338 Win Mag.

  9. It’s all I need a .308 rifle with lots of ammo, a 12 gauge shotgun ( only have 4 of them) and a .22. Oh by the way, lots of fishing gear and we’ll get by.

  10. the 762 round is the best round to be found . wether it is a 762.63 / 762.51 / 762.54 r / a 308 round has been used the early 1900s . by all milatery forces , around the world . and is the best round for all hunting conditions . from pigs to people , from deer , elk , moose , bear ….. and so on . it will reach out and touch some one . at 1500 yards . yes it is a favorit sniper rifle , as well . so wether you are looking to put food on your families kitchen table , or are wanting , to hunt big game , or are looking to protect the ones you love most . i would advise you to seek out this gun . nomatter who make it . in my experiance the 762.54r is the best investment , you can get them for around 200.00 all the way to 1500.00 . and you can get the ammo for 440 rounds through cheeper than dirt for 112.00 bucks . you cant even get reloads for that price . so the good since investment for the all around gun is by far the 308 , or the 762 cal . if things get bad you will wish you had one . and sooner or later its going to get bad . we have not had a war on our country in a long time . are you prepared to protect what matters the most to you if our country was invaded . becouse aint nobody going to protect you or feed you . that is the truth . think . just think about it ||||||||||||||||||||

  11. As you mentioned the .308 Winchester (7.62X51mm) does have “shorter stroke” and “less recoil” than the .30-06 Springfield (7.62X63mm). I would add that it is also more efficient. I have documented this in all the current reloading manuals. For every weight bullet manufactured for this caliber, there is a corresponding load or loads for the .308 Winchester that produces equal or greater velocity and equal or greater accuracy with less powder than the .30-06 Springfield. Note that these are tested “book loads” published by the bullet manufacturers, and not “home brews”. In other words, if one allows the .30-06 Springfield shooter to select the bullet, and the .308 Winchester shooter to select the powder, the .308 Winchester has the proven potential to achieve equal or greater velocity and accuracy with less powder, bolt throw and recoil. This documented and celebrated threesome of greater efficiency coupled with shorter actions and reduced recoil remains the .308 Winchester’s claim to fame.

  12. I Have two .308’s, a lightweight Ruger M-77 that is great to carry in the woods and a Model 12 Savage Varminter (26″ SS fluted heavy barrel, accutrigger, free-floated, 1 in 10 twist, target crown, Leupold 6-18 Tactical mil-dot)for long-range work. I handload, measure the chamber and chrono each load. I also usually talk with one of the tech folks at the manufacturer for chamber dimentions and all have been very helpful except one…Savage. The tech at Savage was not nice and would not give me any information concerning the chamber specs and warned me against handloading. I suspect they are concerned about liability but that’s their bad. I really like the model 12. It’s very accurate, shooting five shots into less than half an inch at 100 yds and holding less than MOA out to 300 yds (that’s as far as our range goes). I’ve just gained access to a 1000 yds range but I’ll most likely just shoot out to 600 yds.

    Doug correct. The 30.06 and .308 ammunition is not interchangable. I believe the author was referring to the ballistic performance of the two different calibers but it was a little ambiguous.

    Even if the author was referring to the differences between the .308 and 7.62×51, the shooter must be careful because there are significant differences in the SAAMI pressure ratings between the the two, specifically between the M-14 chamber and the .308 chamber. That’s where the confusion lies.

  13. being a former combat trained military cop, to me there was only 1 choice for a hunting cartridge. Everyone else is going for .300 magnums , 6.5 , 6.8 , and 30-06s. All i am going to say is that there is a reason why i purchased a remington chambered for .308.

  14. DougD,

    I think he was talking about the difference between. 308 Win and 7.62X51. The author does jump between the cartridges so I could see how it can be confusing. Perhaps something got lost during editing!

  15. For those readers who may not know: You CANNOT use .308 Winchester ammunition in a rifle chambered for 30.06 Remington (at least, not without expert modification). You CANNOT use 30.06 Remington ammunition in a rifle chambered for .308 Winchester. Doing so is ineffective at best and highly dangerous at worst.

    A very few firearms may be used safely with ammunition other than what they are designed for. Example: You may safely fire .38 Special ammunition in a .357 Magnum revolver. Always make sure to use the right ammunition for your firearm.

    Why make this comment? CTD Allen writes: “While the two are not exactly the same as far as the Sporting Arms and Manufactures Institute (SAAMI) is concerned the two are interchangeable.” My interpretation: the two cartridges have similar ballistic performance and similar terminal effects on real-world targets. So, if you are considering buying a rifle designed for one of these cartridges, either choice will work well in the field.

  16. I have used the NATO round and the .308 for a very long time. I have never had a target get up and walk away form either a Huey platform or a log rest in the woods. The 5.56, with a 3 round in the center body mass and the OUTLAW kept firing at me.

  17. TonyB, I did the 7.62x54R several weeks ago. Click on my name CTD Allen at the top of the page and it will show you all my posts to include that great cartridge.


  18. I did a review on the Remington 700 SPS tactical in a 308 1 in 10 twist COLD BORE! You wont believe that I found. Go to youtube type in ColdBoreTactical it My firs Vid!!!!

  19. what about the 7.62x54R compared to this one , Russia’s sniper cartridge , it’s been around since the 1900’s, I know the R stands for rimmed but will it be the same .308 since there is a 2mm difference.

  20. note the 7.62×51 NATO is a 147gr bullet this is not used by US sniper. US sniper use the 7.62×51 175gr bullet otHerwise referred to as the XM118 not the NATO round.

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