This post is a little more off-the-cuff than my usual, but it’s something that’s been weighing on my mind lately. Producing the new podcast is quite the learning experience. I don’t say that just about the technical audio stuff, either, but the wisdom of the folks I’m talking to. To date, I’ve talked to four very experienced shooters across the tactical and competition realms. I’ve asked all of them about the caliber wars, and where things like .224 Valkyrie or 6.5 Creedmoor fit in. Though I keep waiting for the answer to change, it doesn’t: shoot the .308.
To be honest, I have to constantly remind myself to follow my own advice. Like you, I’m perpetually tempted by shiny objects and gadgetry. I daydream about building up the ultimate rifle for this or that. I obsess over things like caliber, optic design, suppressors, and other gadgetry.
I convince myself I won’t be competitive in local PRS matches unless I rebarrel my bolt gun to 6.5 Creedmoor. Of course, the fact that I’m not actually yet competing in local PRS matches is beside the point. I just know that I need that new caliber.
I do that despite knowing better.
This post is a defense of the classic .308 cartridge. I’m writing it just as much to remind myself that I need to get out there and shoot the gun before investing in new toys.
A Case for the .308
Look, I’m not going go at this from the angle of the .308’s performance in hunting or defense. I’m reasonably sure those things are practically uncontested these days. Instead, I want to get into why the .308 is perfect for your precision marksmanship journey.
This argument comes down to two main factors:
- Lifetime Costs
- Learning Potential
Lifetime Costs of the .308
Russ Miller, a triple distinguished competition shooter and sniper instructor, told me the best wind formula he’s come across in decades of shooting.
Let’s start with the number one truth that every expert I’ve interviewed repeats: there’s no substitute for practice.
Yes, you can buy wind meters like Kestrels and other gadgets. But at the end of the day, those are point solutions that only tell you the story of what’s happening at your shooting position. But what about the rest of your shot? Can you look out over a 600-yard span and read what the wind is doing?
Can you translate that into what your bullet will do?
If you’re like me, then probably not. And the only way you get there is by shooting the gun.
So let’s talk dollars.
A single box of good quality .308 or 7.62×51 ammunition like Federal Gold Medal Match (FGMM) costs you between $25 and $30. If you wanted to up to 6.5 Creedmoor, expect to spend a few more bucks per box of ammo.
Now, the difference of $5 per box of ammo might not seem like much. But how much ammunition do you have to shoot to “get good?”
If we follow Malcom Gladwell’s position that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of something, what does that translate to? Let’s say you did some really focused practice between dry fire and live fire and shoot 2 boxes per hour.
Bringing back some realism
Sure, those numbers are dramatic. The reality is that we aren’t running out to buy 5,000 boxes of top quality match ammo to practice with. We can spend a lot less than that to get in quality repetitions.
What I’m illustrating is that the per-round cost of .308 is cheaper than other cartridges, and those costs add up over time.
But again, that’s not the whole story. What about barrel life?
If you look at Precision Rifle Blog’s series on what the pros use, then you’ll notice a trend towards 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges. The 6mm Dasher and 6mm Creedmoor take the top spots, with the 6.5 Creedmoor further down the list along with 6.5×47 Lapua.
Well, here’s the next consideration: barrels wear out, especially with these fancy calibers.
Top match shooters wear out their 6mm/6.5mm barrels between 1500 and 2000 rounds.
The “average guy” shooting may replace a 6.5 Creedmoor barrel around 2500 rounds.
The 308, though? That’s usually good to 5000 and beyond.
In other words, not only is the 308 saving you money per shot with practice time, it also saves you money in maintenance costs of your rifle.
All of that brings me back to the second point
Learning Potential with the 308
The .308 cartridge provides you a lot more opportunities to learn and grow as a shooter.
The cost of practice itself aside, which is cheaper with .308, let’s talk wind. Yes, a nifty cartridge like the 6.5 bucks the wind really nicely and make shots easier. But you know what’s even better than that? Learning to read the wind in the first place.
Take two shooters. One shoots a .30 call all the time and has really learned to deal with the wind. The other started their journey by splurging the cash and starting with a fancy caliber starting with a 6.
Now swap rifles. Who is more likely to have developed the required skills?
Of course I’m exaggerating again. The truth is that the difference between these two rifles isn’t that much.
So aside from just getting out and practicing, where else can you learn with the .308?
Well, are you interested in reloading?
The .308 has been around for so long that the number of reloading recipes and available bullets for it are staggering. Not to mention the much lower price of quality .308 brass, which also offers you yet more savings for your practice time.
The Bottom Line
So here’s the bottom line: The trusty .308 will literally do everything you need in a precision rifle cartridge so long as you do your part.
You know, I always found that “as long as you do your part” phrase to be annoying when I see it in message boards. And there I go using it myself.
So what reason is there left to rebarrel that practically-new 308 sitting in the safe? What’s that, you want to be competitive at PRS matches you say?
This is why we have divisions
If you aren’t familiar, nearly every shooting competition style has divisions. These divisions help divide shooters into groups so that they compete with similarly-equipped folks.
If you want to get into PRS, as I do sometime soon, allow me to introduce you to the PRS Tactical Division.
So, in other words, show up with your .308 and you won’t be “outmatched” by the dudes running the newer fancy calibers. Instead, you’ll be up against folks running the same kind of gear you are, so it’s all about your skill.
Back in August 0f 2018, the Practical Sharpshooter wrote up an article detailing how the PRS Tactical Division got him to appreciate the .308 again.
Stories like that help remind me that it’s ok to stick to “basic” gear because it works. As shooters, we’re all far better served by shooting what we’ve got until we’ve mastered those fundamentals. After that, everything else is a technicality.
Am I saying that you should ditch your 6.5mm rifle and replace it with a .308? Of course not. If you’re still in the market for a rifle, that’s up to you. What I am saying is that if you’re like me and have a perfectly good .308 rifle in the safe, but feel like it’s “not up to snuff” compared to what’s hot on the market, then fret not.
It’s a perfectly good rifle that will do everything you need it to do, and do it well.
If you take nothing else away from this article, it’s this: there’s nothing wrong with your “low-speed” rifle as long as it’s reliable and accurate. You don’t need whizbang wunder-bullets and shiny gadgets in order to learn to shoot.
All you need to do is go out and shoot the rifle.