April 18th, 2011

.308 Win vs. .30-06 — Match Results May Surprise You

The .308 Winchester, a shortened version of the .30-06, has almost completely replaced the .30-06 in NRA competition. The .308 is required for Palma shooting, so it is also used by many Palma competitors in other long-range and mid-range prone matches. However, with the exception of M1 Garand matches, you won’t see many .30-06 rifles on the firing lines. Does that mean the .30-06 is obsolete? Is the .308 Win really much more accurate? Or does it just offer the advantages of reduced recoil and reduced powder consumption?

.308 Win vs. .30-06
Cartridge photos courtesy Deuce45s.com, a leading source of specialized military cartridges.

In his Sibling Rivalry: .308 vs. .30-06 article on the Rifleman’s Journal site, German Salazar argues that the .30-06 remains a viable competition cartridge, particularly for the long-range game. This isn’t just a subjective opinion. German has data to back up the argument that the .30-06 can still do the job.

German compares the actual scores produced by his .308 Win rifles with the scores from his .30-06 rifles. German analyzes scores, over a two-year period, shot by “matched pair” rifles (one in each caliber) with similar actions, stocks, sights, and barrels. For comparison purposes, German also includes score data from his 6XC, a modern low-recoil chambering.

.308 Win vs. .30-06

RESULTS: .308 Has Small Edge at Middle Distance, But .30-06 Is Better at Long Range
Surprisingly, the .30-06 performed nearly as well as the .308 at middle distances. The .30-06 delivered 99.2% of max possible scores vs. 99.5% for the .308 Win. Notably, at 1000 yards, the .30-06 racked up 97.7% of max scores vs. 97.3% for the .308 Win. So, at 1000 yards, the .30-06 actually proved superior to the .308 Win. German explains: “This isn’t too surprising when one considers [the .308's] limited case capacity for the bullet weights typically used in Long-Range shooting. They just run out of steam and dip perilously close to the transonic range as they approach 1000 yards of flight. The extra 150 fps or so that can be safely obtained from the .30-06 case really pays off at 1000 yards.”

Mid-Range Comparison
In NRA Mid-Range matches (500 and 600 yards), the average score and percentage of possible score for each cartridge was as follows:

.308 – 597-36X (99.5%), 960 rounds fired
6XC – 596-35X (99.3%),1260 rounds fired
.30-06 – 595-31X (99.2%), 2580 rounds fired

If we look at the score averages, the .308 comes out on top at the Mid-Range distances… by 0.3% of the possible score. By the way, notice that the 6XC, as good as it is, simply straddles the .30 caliber cartridges; it is not the winner.

Long-Range Comparison
German rarely shoots the .308 in matches that are only 1000 yards; most of his 1000-yard .308 shooting is done in Palma matches which include 800, 900 and 1000 yards. To make the comparison useful, the Long-Range results are presented only as a percentage of the possible score and the 800- and 900-yard stages of Palma matches were NOT included.

In NRA Long-Range and Palma matches, the average percentage of possible score for each cartridge at 1000 yards was as follows:

6XC – 98.9%, 360 rounds fired
.30-06 – 97.7%, 460 rounds fired
.308 – 97.3%, 490 rounds fired

Editor’s Note: Among the three cartridges German studied, the 6XC actually proved best at 1000 yards, delivering 98.9% of the maximum possible scores. The .30-06 was second-best with 97.7%, slightly better than the .308 Win at 97.3%.

You’ll want to read German’s full Sibling Rivalry article, which includes an interesting history of the .30-06 and .308 in High Power shooting, along with tables showing German’s actual scores with his .30-06, .308 Win, and 6XC rifles.

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