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.

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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
I know that looks simple, but I can’t overemphasize how huge these two points are. So let’s talk about it.

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.

Wind = Range Time + Ammunition + Repetitions
Learn to trust the calculator between your ears.

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.

5,000 boxes of .308 match ammo works out to $125,000.

For 6.5 Creedmoor? That’s $150,000.

Holy Smokes!” you say, so did I when I ran those numbers. But that’s not the whole truth, right?

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.

This chart comes from MCARBO, and depicts two nominal cartridges. Notice that at 800 yards, the 6.5 is doing slightly better than 5" of deflection than .308 in a 10 mph wind. It's not insignificant for match purposes, but it's not world-shattering, either

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.

Meh.

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.

Bolt Gun - Tactical Division

Tactical Division rifles are restricted to .308 Winchester and 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington calibers only.

5.56 NATO/.223 Remington has a bullet weight cap of 77 grains and muzzle velocity cannot exceed 3,000 fps (+/- 30 fps for environmental factors and equipment discrepancies).

7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester has a bullet weight cap of 178 grains and muzzle velocity cannot exceed 2,800 fps (+/- 28 fps for environmental factors and equipment discrepancies).

No modified wildcat rounds such as the .223 Ackley Improved are permitted to shoot in the Tactical Division. Anyone discovered violating this rule will receive an automatic Match DQ.

Tactical Division shooters will shoot the exact same COF as Open Division

PRS 2019 Rule Book

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

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Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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DarkLordOfOptics
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You make a really good argument if you substitute 5.56×45 instead of 308 everywhere in the article. The rest of it is not nearly as clear cut if you go and check ammo prices. 308 is cheaper than 6.5 Creedmoor if you are looking for plinking ammo, but if you are buying precision ammo from the factory, 6.5Creedmoor is mostly LESS expensive or similarly priced than 308 for match ammo. I suspect that Hornady supporting their Creedmoor rounds pushes everyone else’s price down as well. You do end up burning barrels faster with 6.5 than you do with 308, but if the ammo is cheaper, the cost of replacing barrels more or less makes it equal based on looking at Prime website (ammo is about $800 less, which is roughly what a new match barrel will cost you). With Hornady ammo, the difference is a little bigger. With Federal, the ammo cost is similar, so 308 will be cheaper in the long run.
All that having been said, if you are looking to save some money, 223/5.56 is where it is at. You get good barrel life, minimal recoil and major ammo savings.
If you already have a 308 rifle, I agree that until the barrel is burned out there is not good reason to switch to one of the Creedmoor rounds. However, once it is time to replace the barrel, it is worth considering.
Now, as far as 5.56 goes, over a course of 5000 rounds, you probably save close to $2.5k over a 308Win if you use factory ammo, which is something worth considering.

Sunshine Shooter
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I can’t believe that liking .308 makes me the contrarian. Also, I can’t believe that I’ve actually heard a good case for .308. Good post.

Cutright
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Knowing that I wanted to take a precision rifle course to “round things out” and “stay balanced” on skills, whatever that means, I asked one of the instructors what caliber he’d recommend. “.308, with out a doubt.” Well why is that? The above article is why. In Missouri, it’ll do everything you’d ever want. More importantly, there’s more ballistic knowledge about the round than virtually any other. It’ll make you learn wind and distance estimation. It still does the job admirably. The kick is acceptable to all but the frail. It’s affordable. It’s not a barrel burner. You can pick up everything you need at any Wal-Mart in the nation.

I did pick one up too. A Savage Model 10, 20″ tapered, fluted, threaded bull barrel. Regrettably, it has the new magazine and not the old AI mags. Even has a nice tactical bolt. $1400 for the rifle, base, rings, scope, 200 rounds of ammo, bipod, reloading dies and suppressor adapter. By the way, shooting it suppressed reduces the recoil a solid 20-25%. I shot my first clover leaf group at 100 yards with it, maybe a .5″ group, I didn’t measure and it doesn’t really matter but I was proud.

I took my father with me to the range and let him shoot it, first unsuppressed and then with the can on. “Wow”. “Yeah, makes a difference”. Then we shot a hanging golf ball in the wind at a 100. Mom tells me he’s still talking about it almost two months later. And neither of us are crack shots, its just what a good gun with a decent set-up can do with match ammo.

And it’s enjoyable.

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