As far as short-action, high powered centerfire rifle calibers go, the .308 Winchester and its clone the 7.62X51mm NATO standard are the reigning champs.
The ammo is cheap, easy to find, and every possible type of bullet is available. Why? It’s because it is so common, and it shares the exact same bullet as its stalwart big brother, the .30-06 Springfield (and even bigger brother, the .300 Winchester Magnum).
.308 Winchester has proven over many decades to be a very capable main battle rifle cartridge (G3, M1A/M14). As well as a sharpshooter cartridge (M24, M40), and a very efficient hunting caliber, not to mention as a medium machine gun caliber in the M60, M240, and the M134 Minigun.
.308 Ammo Quick Answer Box:
• What’s the difference between 7.62×51 and .308 ammo? While it is accepted that the .308 Winchester and the 7.62x51mm are interchangeable, they are not identical. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI, or ‘Sammy’) has opined and given it the green light to interchangeable use so it is considered perfectly safe to do so, but understand that they are not dimensionally identical and the .308 generally operates at higher pressures.
• Is .308 ammo good for shooting long distances? Yes, the .308/7.62×51 NATO cartridge is an excellent choice for hitting targets well beyond the 300-yard range. A 165 grain .308 bullet with a velocity of 2,820 FPS should be able to effectively hit targets (assuming you have sighted optics and are adjusting for distance, wind, etc.) as far out as 500-yards. Hitting targets as far out as 1,000-yards is possible. However, you do need to be aware of decreased velocity and loss of performance at greater distances.
• Is the AR rifle platform good for shooting .308? Yes, the AR-10 chambered in .308/7.62×51 NATO offers many advantages over the standard bolt-action rifle. Not only can you use high-capacity magazines with the AR-10, you can also install a variety of popular AR-style accessories and optics on your rifle. Eugene Stoner knew what he was doing when he designed his modular Armalite battle rifle and chambered it in .308.
History Of The Mighty .308
The .308 Winchester actually precedes the 7.62×51 by a couple of years, when it was introduced by Winchester in 1952 for their Model 70, 100, and 88 rifles. It has since become the most popular short action caliber in the world.
The nearly identical 7.62x51mm was adopted by the U.S. military later on in the 1950s for use in the M14 service rifle and the M60 machine gun, both of which continue to be used in some capacity.
.308 Bullet Types & Weights
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)
The NATO standard and standard of shooters the world over, the standard full metal jacket bullet is the bread and butter of all shooters. Are you going to spend over $1 per round on match grade ammo to establish zero on a new optic or before the season opens? Shoot no. You go for your box, bag (yes, I’ve had bulk .308 show up in plastic, unmarked bags), or spam can of 150gr. FMJ to get it lined up.
Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP)
The JHP was once benchmark standard in terms of anti-personnel and hunting since it creates such devastating terminal effects. Hollow points often double in diameter while retaining nearly all of its mass, and do very well against light targets without heavy bone structures.
Soft Point (SP)
Soft point bullets, or some derivative of those, are the standard bullet type for most game hunting. Why? Ballistic coefficient for one thing. A gaping hole in the tip creates wind resistance which alters the aerodynamic properties of a bullet. Also, when you consider the velocity and energy at which a high-powered rifle bullet strikes a fixed object as compared to a handgun bullet, you come to understand why a rifle bullet can be more rigid and yet still expand radically.
Common .308 Bullet Weights
FMJ bullets usually weigh in around 150gr., which is a good middle ground weight. On average, a 150gr. FMJ possesses a ballistic coefficient of around 0.31 with muzzle velocity around 2,800fps at the muzzle, 2,500fps at 100 yards, and drops from there. Muzzle energy will be between 2,600 and 2,700ft/lbs at the barrel end, which is pretty impressive considering the hard-kicking .30-06 is less than 200ft/lbs higher.
Bullet weights range widely for the .308 which adds a lot to its inherent versatility. HPs designed for the rapidly growing Modern Sporting Rifle market for .308 and 7.62×51 chambered rifles hang around the lighter weight, around 120 grains, which is very close to the supersonic HPs in .300 AAC, and for much the same purpose. There are a few premium lightweight bullets available from Hornady which are 125gr. and are intended for medium game, but for the most part .308 hunting bullets are generally 150gr. or 180gr.
The .308 is a round with great proficiency, you can hunt almost any mid to large-sized game in North America with it. In fact, Hornady even offers a 220gr. round nose bullet which is marketed specifically for dangerous game. When you consider that a 150gr. FMJ is perfectly suitable for coyotes, this gives versatility to the most popular rifle caliber in the world!
Match grade ammunition tends to be on the heavier end of the spectrum. The obvious reason for this is that it is impacted less by wind drift. Plus, match grade bullets are longer and generally boat-tailed so they possess a taper at both ends to reduce wind resistance, al la ballistic coefficient. These bullets range anywhere from 155gr. on the lighter end to the more common 168gr. and 178gr. bullets.
Best .308 Hunting Ammo
Winchester Deer Season XP 150 Gr Poly
Riding the wave of popularity of polymer-tipped hunting cartridges, Winchester offers the Deer Season XP 150gr. It is an average weight for a deer hunting .30 caliber bullet, identical in fact to their .300 AAC and .30-06 offerings. It exits at 2,820fps, 2,588fps at 100 yards.
Federal Fusion 165 Gr Fusion
Federal offers a few bullet weight options in .308. The polymer tipped Fusion, which uses the Nosler® AccuBond® 165gr. bullet, a boat-tail bullet designed for excellent ballistic co-efficiency, deep penetration and great weight retention. A little bit slower than the 150gr. Winchester, the Fusion exits at 2,700fps carrying 2,671ft-lbs, and 2,513fps with 2,313ft-lbs at 100 yards.
Best .308 Match Grade Ammo
Match ammo is commonly heavier than hunting and target shooting loads, and for good reason: stability. More mass equals higher stability. This is experienced clearly while flying airplanes which is why many people who have never experienced air sickness in an airliner end up retching in a Cessna; the weight of the large aircraft provides stability.
Federal Premium Sierra Matchking Gold Medal 175 Gr HP-BT
Sierra® Matchking® is predictably heavy, weighing in at a staunch 175gr. It is a boat-tail hollow point, the preferred bullet style of match shooters. But why a hollow point? That’s a big question with a long answer since HPs are traditionally thought of as defense and hunting bullets. In a nutshell, the hollow point allows better distribution of bullet mass due to the method of forming the bullet casting.
The Matchking® has excellent characteristics in regards to wind drift, drifting only half an inch at 100 yards in 10mph winds, 2.9” at 200, and less than seven at 300.
Hornady Match 308 168 Gr HPBT
Hornady Match offers a 168gr. HPBT bullet, much the same configuration of all other prominent match bullets. Designed for a 200 yard zero, the 168gr. match bullet exits are 2,700fps and a powerful 2,719ft-lbs and maintaining 2,314fps and 1,997ft/lbs at the targeted 200 yard marker.
Best .308 Target Shooting Ammo
It is important to understand why FMJ bullets are used for training and mass production, and somewhat counterintuitively, are not often selected for match shooting. FMJs are the cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to produce bullets. They were intended for use in semi-automatic and automatic weapons for the reliability of feeding, not precision accuracy. This is not to suggest that they are akin to round musket balls; far from it. The average modern battle rifle with basic FMJ target ammo is many times for accurate than sharpshooting rifles of yesteryear.
Lake City 7.62×51 XM80 149 Gr
Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is a government-owned facility in Independence, Missouri. It is run by Federal Premium ammunition and produces the most common munitions used by the U.S. armed forces, including the standard M80 ball ammunition in 7.62x51mm NATO.
This ammunition is also made readily available to the public. Its a good choice for feeding your AR-10, CETME or PT91, or any of the other prominent auto-loading rifles. It is comparatively inexpensive and is readily available in bulk buys, often shipping in bulk pack or green ammo cans.
Wolf Polyformance 145 Gr
The name is a little confusing considering the recent rise in popularity of polymer-tipped rifle bullets. The Wolf Polyformance is actually an inexpensive steel-cased round. It has had a light film of polymer-coated over the steel case. It fires a very plain 145gr. FMJ bullet at a predictable 2,800fps and 2,611ft-lbs of energy at the barrel. It doesn’t burn particularly clean, but clean shooting precision is not the goal of Wolf; their goal is providing reliable, bulk ammunition at a fraction the cost of American manufacturers and they do a great job of that.
Like A Rock: The .308 Platform
The .308/7.62x51mm NATO is the world’s most popular short-action caliber and for great reason. You can visit a local big-box store, grab a basic bolt action rifle chambered in it for $300 or less. You can also fill up your cart up with relatively cheap ammo to sight it in with. DIY builders can now assemble an excellent AR-10 for sometimes under $500. If you know where to look, you can affordably accessorize it to no end. You can also buy or custom build an incredible precision rifle and chew holes sub-MOA with the same caliber. It is so diverse, so versatile, and affordable.
Looking for more hunting ammo options for .308 rifles? Check out our handy guide to the best .308 hunting ammo on the blog.