7.62×39 and .308 are both cartridge superstars. These rounds have big reputations and also big differences. This article analyzes each round’s strengths and weaknesses and examines the ballistics of how 7.62×39 VS 308 Winchester match-up.
The 7.62×39 is a smaller cased .30 caliber – also known as an intermediate round. Most notably, this round finds its home in the world-famous AK-47. The 7.62×39 provides good power within 300 yards, with very manageable recoil. More than seventy years since its introduction, it can hold its own against modern calibers like the 300 Blackout.
The 308 Winchester, or 7.62×51 (NATO), is versatile and widely popular. The 308 isn’t a stranger to automatic rifles, often seen in the AR-10; however, it’s carved a place in the bolt action rifle and hunting realm.
If you’re on the fence about which to buy, or you’re wondering if you should own them both, then you’re in the right place.
7.62×39 VS 308 Winchester Compared
Notice our careful use of the phrase differences and similarities, as opposed to pros and cons. Why this formality? Fundamentally, a con is a problem, and it would be unfair to say a weapon has “a problem” when pushing it beyond its intended purposes. If you’d like to learn more about design and purpose, read about the history of the AK-47.
With that out of the way, let’s explore the differences and similarities between the 308 and the 7.62×39.
Differences between the 308 and the 7.62×39:
- Case length and capacity
- Long-range capability
- Recoil and control
- Price and availability
Why Case Length Matters
The 308 has a longer case than the 7.62×39. This is one of the main differences that affect the performance and use of both rifles. The longer case size of the 308 allows it to hold close to twice the amount of powder as the 7.62×39. Because of this, 308 ammo can travel longer distances, with higher velocities and with more energy. We’ll talk more about these specifics in the ballistic section.
As you’ll see, the increased powder capacity allows the 308 more range.
Long Range Capability: 7.62×39 vs. 308 Win
The 308 is an effective long-range rifle. Yes, it’s not going to poke as far as something like the 300 Win mag, but it still launches bullets in the same tradition as the 30-06 (the 308’s older brother). At 300 yards, a 150gr 308 bullet has about -8″ of drop at the target. There’s a reason the U.S. Military built a sniper rifle platform around the .308 cartridge. It hits targets hard, with an effective range of 500 yards and beyond depending on the rifle and ammo.
This isn’t to say that the 7.62×39 is a slouch. It’s just not on the same level as the 308 when it comes to distance. At 300 yards, a 124gr 7.62×39 bullet has about -14″ of drop at the target. Running iron sights, it can be difficult to hit anything beyond 100 yards. However, by adding a simple red dot optic, hitting targets out to 300 yards becomes much easier.
Of course, extra power doesn’t come free.
Recoil Compared: 7.62×39 VS 308
The 308 is not a big kicker, but it punches harder than the 7.62×39. Of course, the amount of felt recoil can vary significantly based on the rifle platform and the person. Many people find the 308 is plenty comfortable for a long-range bolt action rifle. Some shooters don’t have an issue with running semi-auto 308s either.
The 7.62×39 is more comfortable to shoot in semi-auto and even full auto mode. Smaller frame adults and responsibly trained young adults can operate a 7.62×39 without worrying about the recoil. This makes on-target follow-up shots with a 7.62×39 VS 308 much easier. As you might imagine, after a day at the range with both options, the 7.62×39 is more comfortable to shoot with.
Price: 308 Win vs. 7.62×39
It’s no secret that 308 ammunition will cost you more than 7.62×39. It’s not uncommon to see 7.62×39 ammo for about half the price per round of 308. While you can buy 308 in surplus bulk, it’s not always easy to find, and you may want to check the country of origin before purchasing.
When economic times are optimal, the 7.62×39 is known as cheap and widely available. If you plan to use a lot of ammo, you’ll find that bulk 7.62×39 doesn’t steal from the savings accounts quite as fast as 308 Win.
Similarities: 7.62×39 VS 308
It would be fair to say that these cartridges are more different than similar. However, that doesn’t mean they are without likeness. This section will discuss some of the overlap comparing the 7.62×39 VS 308.
Similarities between the 7.62×39 VS 308:
- Bullet size
- Semi-auto capability
Bullet Size: 7.62×39 VS 308 Winchester
The 308 and the 7.62×39 cartridge contain similar bullets. They are both .30 caliber, however, they don’t use the same bullet diameter. The 308 has a bullet diameter of 0.308 inches. The 7.62×39 is actually a feather more, at 0.312 inches in diameter. While they may look similar to the untrained eye, they have no compatibility between cartridges. Because of this, you can’t use reloading supplies intended for 308 cartridges with 7.62×39 cartridges.
You can find both the 308 Winchester and the 7.62 by 39 on multiple platforms. The 308 is most commonly found in bolt action rifle configuration. You also can find bolt action rifles chambered in 7.62×39, but they are few and far between. Both are popular in semi-automatic rifles, with 7.62×39 being almost exclusively a semi-automatic round. The AR-10 is among the most popular automatic platforms for the 308, with the AK-47 taking the blue ribbon for the 7.62×39.
Both these rounds are popular. Around the world, the 7.62×39 is used by many civilians, militias, and militaries. While the 308 still sees some military use, it’s found a niche in the hunting world. On the other hand, the 7.62×39 is still going strong in militaries worldwide. Both these rounds are widely known, used, and loved.
Cartridge Size Comparison: 7.62×39 VS 308 Winchester
Let’s do a quick run-through of the cartridge size. Other than the bullet, the 308 is larger in every category. The extra size of the 308 casing allows it to hold more powder. That being said, the 7.62×39 is smaller and weighs less, meaning that you can carry more rounds as needed.
|Cartridge Specs||7.62×39||.308 Win|
|Parent Casing||None||.300 Savage|
|Max Pressure (SAMMI)||45,010 PSI||62,000 PSI|
Hopefully, this gives you a realistic idea of how the 308 and 7.62×39 compare.
Let’s chat about the ballistic differences between 7.62×39 VS 308. As you’ll see, the 308 carries significantly more power out past 200 yards. That’s not just an advantage in velocity, but in energy as well. In fact, the 308 bullet has over twice the energy at 300 yards as the 7.62×39 round. Not only does that cause more displacement when hitting soft targets, but provides improved accuracy at distances.
The 7.62×39 shows its teeth at closer distances. That’s not to say the 7.62×39 isn’t an accurate cartridge, but rather, that it excels at hitting targets hard out to about 200 yards. It doesn’t have as flat of a trajectory as the 308, nor does it have the ballistic coefficient to hit targets at great distances. It does however have excellent penetration, good knock-down power, and causes devastating wound channels. Especially when compared to smaller caliber cartridges like the .223 Rem.
One last item to discuss for ballistics is the quality of the ammunition. 308 generally comes from the factory in brass cases and is expected to perform with MOA accuracy out of the box. 7.62×39 on the other hand is more commonly found in steel cases, which aren’t exactly known for their accuracy. Steel case ammo does not expand like brass when fired, so the seal around the chamber is not as tight, allowing more gasses to escape, instead of propelling the bullet down the barrel.
|Caliber||Bullet Type||Bullet Weight||Velocity (Muzzle)||Energy (Muzzle)||100 Yards (Velocity/Energy)||200 Yards (Velocity/Energy)||300 Yards (Velocity/Energy)|
|7.62×39||FMJ||124gr||2,350 FPS||1,520 FT LBS||2,078 FPS/1,189 FT LBS||1,824 FPS/916 FT LBS||1,595 FPS/701 FT LBS|
|.308 Win||FMJ||150gr||2,820 FPS||2,648 FT LBS||2,597 FPS/2,246 FT LBS||2,385 FPS/1,894 FT LBS||2,183 FPS/1,586 FT LBS|
The ballistic coefficient of the 308 bullets is greater than the 7.62×39, indicating a smoother flight. The 308 can do damage easily at 500 yards, whereas the 7.62×39 isn’t really a contender at those distances. If shooting accurately at distances is your main focus, the 308 is your best option.
Caliber Specific Uses
The 7.62×39 emerged amid war, for war. The AK-47 designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, wanted to create a strong all-around fighting tool and succeeded in creating the most popular rifle in the world.
The 308 Winchester was an attempt by the military to shorten the 30-06, giving them a more usable short-action round. Though the 308 saw some action, it has earned its stripes as a versatile and reliable hunting round.
Here are several categories to compare the 308 and the 7.62×39:
- Self Defense
Let’s look at these in more depth.
Best Option For Hunting?
For hunting, the 308 is more popular. If you’re a hunter who wants a rifle that can cover the most game, from elk to big horns, then the 308 is probably the round for you. The 308 Winchester is fast and accurate, comes in numerous bolt action arrangements, and has many ammunition choices.
Though not as popular in the hunting arena, the 7.62×39/AK-47 has found use as a varmint exterminator. If you’re after coyotes, feral hogs, or other pests, the 7.62×39 can get the job done well. Some people use it effectively for deer. With that said, the 7.62×39 doesn’t maintain 1000 ft-lbs. of punch much further than 150 yards, limiting your distance.
Best Option For Self-Defense?
While the 308 might be the ultimate hunting round, the 7.62×39 is certainly one of the ultimate self-defense rounds. Indeed, it has as much experience as a cartridge can hope for, and its reputation hasn’t faltered. The 7.62×39 has very manageable recoil, allowing you to get many rounds on target quickly. And the legendary reliability of the AK-47 platform makes it well suited for urban, jungle, and arctic conflict.
With that said, some may (and some do) prefer the AR platform. And, if this is you, you might prefer the power and long-range capability of the 308, which has seen military and police use as a sniper round.
Best Option For Target Practice and Competition?
This category will depend on the type of plinking you like to do and how much you want to spend. If you’re a long-range competition shooter, then the heralded accuracy of the 308 is hard to debate. However, if you want less expensive ammo and less recoil, the 7.62×39 will give you more rounds down the range. Now, let’s get back into the nitty-gritty details.
Important Takeaways: 7.62×39 VS 308 Winchester
Many gun collectors and enthusiasts have a 308 rifle and a 7.62×39 in their arsenal. Both these cartridges offer a high degree of durability and function. They haven’t risen to super-star status for no reason. Gun owners flock to them because they deliver on their promises.
Ballistic upgrades and technological improvements have given both calibers new life. These changes have also opened doors for more specialized ammo types to hit the market. Not to mention the customizations available for both rifle platforms. The real winner here is the well-armed civilian.
But let’s not take the easy way out – which one should you choose?
If hunting or long-range is your main focus, the 308 will give you the most platforms. There are many semi-automatics (AR-10) and bolt action options for the 308. The amount of 308 hunting ammo options on the market is almost overwhelming. Competition shooters rely on match-grade 308 ammo, as do police and military snipers.
If you’re looking for a general self-defense cartridge and you’d still like to bag the occasional deer or hog, go with the 7.62×39. Not only will you save some cash on ammo, but you’ll have a versatile rifle platform to customize to your needs. On the range, or in the field the 7.62×39 will serve you honorably.
If you’re curious to learn more, check out our post about the best AK-47 ammunition.