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Mark Underwood explores the classic calibre that redefined short-action shooting
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In the period shortly before the Korean war, there was talk of standardising a NATO cartridge for service rifles with a shorter action. In America they were experimenting with both the .30-06 Springfield, which went with their then current service rifle, and the .300 Savage developed by Savage in 1920 to replace their less powerful .303 Savage.
Although the .30-06 was still very popular in America, particularly due to its excellent stopping power, it was considered by many to be outdated, large and recoil-heavy and so unsuitable for use as a modern military round. The experimentation sought to iron out the negative attributes of this well-established round and develop a lighter, modern ‘equivalent’ that still provided the performance.
The result was the T65 experimental case which, although very similar to the .300 Savage, was actually made from a standard .30-06 case. Later versions of the T65 design were lengthened to give performance similar to the old .30-06.
During the experimentation with scaled down .30-06 cases, the Americans tested various versions including the 7.62x51mm. Although this calibre actually came into existence before the .308 Winchester, it was not yet introduced to the market or chambered in many guns. In 1952, Winchester took the design of the 7.62x51mm cartridge and marketed it as the .308 Winchester, presenting it to the public alongside their Winchester Model 70 and Model 88 rifles. Two years after this ‘civilian’ round hit the market, NATO actually adopted the 7.62x51mm and this paved the way for new military long guns like the US M14 and the FN FAL.
The American civilian market reacted very favourably to the new .308 Winchester cartridge and it rapidly proved to be a versatile and effective hunting round. It was found to be capable of bringing down most of the large game in America, demonstrated improved accuracy, and its ballistic performance was on a par with the older .30-06 cartridge. Hunters also found that with this new cartridge recoil was far more manageable than the .30-06 and firearms were lighter and so easier to carry.
The .308 Winchester also paved the way for many other short-action cartridges and its lineage includes calibres such as .243 Winchester, .260 Rem, .358 Winchester and many more. This goes to show just how much more practical and popular a shorter action has become, all due to the development of the .308 Winchester parent round.
The .308 Winchester and the 7.62x51mm are extremely similar, but they are not the same and are certainly not interchangeable. The 7.62 can be fired in a .308 Winchester rifle, but NOT the other way around. The 7.62x51mm has thicker and marginally longer case walls as well as working at lower pressure than the .308 Winchester, which has thinner case walls but works at much higher pressures. If you did shoot a .308 Winchester round in an older and looser tolerance NATO 7.62x51mm chambered gun there is a strong chance that the case will rupture causing significant issues.
The .308 Winchester is one of those calibres that has been around for ages and is definitely here to stay, much like its parent cartridge the .30-06. Today you can find an extensive range of bullet weights offered by the top ammunition companies competing to make the best hunting cartridges.
When it comes to target and competition demands the .308 Winchester is also a top choice with many different target and match loads available. The .308 Winchester always seems to be top of the list when someone develops a new type of bullet and for the reloader it is a very popular calibre, with endless loads and bullets listed. The .308 Winchester has staying power and it shows.
Ryan Charlton looks at calibre choice and the myriad options when it comes to competition types and home loading
Mark reviews an efficient soft-pointed bullet from Federal that has great penetration and expansion; accurate and consistent, there's nothing not to like!
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