Comparison of the .308 Win., .30-06 Springfield., .300 Mag., and .338 Win. Mag.

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[ Written by Dr. Jim and Mary Clary ]

Yep, this is yet another article on the 30+ caliber cartridges. In this article, we used data obtained from the Nosler Reloading Guide, 5th Edition. To make the comparison as fair as possible, We selected the 180 grain bullet, which is available in each caliber. And, for loads, we chose 2 grains below the maximum recommended for each caliber with IMR 4350. IMR 4350 was chosen since there are loads in all four calibers for that powder, and we want uniformity. You may prefer a different powder to obtain higher velocities or greater accuracy, but for comparison, as many variables as possible must be controlled. Note: We do not be use the solid base BT for most of our shooting, but again to fairly compare the calibers, the bullets had to be the same. Recoil was calculated for 8 lb rifles.

The calibers compared are the .308 Winchester, 30-06 Government, .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Winchester Magnum. They represent the most popular calibers in the 30 – 35 caliber range.

These calibers have accounted for every game animal that walks our continent (providing you follow rule number one: proper shot placement). The .308 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield are very close in ballistics and recoil. The choice is purely personal.

There are, however, major disagreements over the .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Winchester Magnum. The difference in recoil of 4 pounds may not seem like much at first, but after you shoot both, you can definitely tell the difference. While the .300 is not a joy to shoot like the .308 or 30-06, it is definitely more comfortable than the .338.

The muzzle energy of the .338 is impressive, and at first glance, superior to the .300. However, it drops off rapidly, and by the time the bullet reaches 100 yards, the energies are comparable. Add that fact to the heavier recoil and the only argument favoring the .338 magnum is the larger diameter and heavier bullet for dangerous game.

It is questionable in our minds whether a .338 magnum is needed by many hunters. Animals do not have titanium bones or joints. They are not wearing body armor, and a modern, well-placed 30 caliber bullet will do the job in every instance that we can imagine (unless you are going for Grizzly…. Then we would want a .375 instead of the .338). So, why the argument? Is it because a lot of folks believe the .300 magnum to be as close to the 30-06 as to be a duplicate? The tables above debunk that belief. Is it because folks believe that if they are going to a magnum, why not get “more bang for the buck” and get the .338? If that is their reasoning, why not just get a .375 magnum and call it good?

We don’t know the answer to those questions. However, we have heard some hunters say that they like the “brush busting” capability of the .338 magnum. Ok, but we prefer not to shoot through brush. We’d rather hold our shot until we have a clear unobstructed view. That is probably why Jim passed on a royal bull elk in the Colorado Rockies 40 years ago. He never could get what he considered was a clear, clean shot… so he passed and the bull lived to see another spring. Jim has never regretted his decision. Between us, we have been hunting for almost 80 years, from PA to Wyoming and never needed anything bigger than a 30 caliber. However, we also have rifles in .223 Rem. and .243 Win. calibers for occasions when a .308 Win., 30-06 Spfd. or .300-338 magnum are too much.

Ruger Nr. 1: Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc

Which of the magnums do we shoot? Easy answer: Jim shoots a Ruger Nr.1 chambered for the .300 Win. Mag. He can load it up or down as the occasion demands and has a wide variety of bullet weights to select from. Mary’s .300 Win. Mag. is a customized Ruger M77 Mk II with a purple-thumbhole stock and muzzle brake. It shoots like a .243 Win. She can drive tacks with her purple gun at 100 yards. Since neither of us plan on hunting for Grizzly anytime in the future, we have decided to pass on buying a .338 Win Mag.

100 yards with the Mary’s purple Ruger M77 Mk ll (not pictured)

We won’t resolve the argument over calibers here, but hope that we have provided a little more “fuel for the fire” with our discussion.

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Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • http://vuurwapenblog.com Andrew Tuohy

    Good to see the .375 get a nod.

    • MONKEYBALLZ

      I shot a nice buck with a 375hh, 300 grain swift a frame. Nice clean hole, through it. Dropped INSTANTLY.

  • Sneed Hearn

    Not valid as to the 338 as you would have had to use bullets of comparable sectional density to make this work. In a 338 a 180 grain bullet is for small deer or varmints and you compared one of the worst 338 bullet weights to probably the best for the 30s.

    • Travis

      This. If you have a .30cal 180 grain bullet and a .338cal 180 grain bullet, I will guarantee that 338 has less ballistic coefficient than the 30. The only reason the “energy drops off rapidly” is due to the loss of velocity associated with a inferior BC. Its all math. Given the same BC, weight and velocity, the energy numbers are going to be the same no matter what caliber you are talking about.

    • http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/ Tony Williams

      Agreed. The only reason to choose .338 over .300 is if you’re going after really big, tough game which the .300 isn’t enough gun for. In which case you’ll be using heavy, strongly-constructed bullets – 250+ grain being normal.

      The only purpose of the 180 grain .338 loading is to provide hunters who carry a .338 for big game with a flatter-shooting load more suitable for taking the occasional smaller game they may come across.

  • John Doe

    I love my .300 Win Mag. Shoots like a laser and hits like a Mack truck.

    The .338 Win Mag is a bit excessive even when hunting at longer ranges. I feel more confident with the .300WM as opposed to the .308 at those ranges, but I’m also satisfied that I won’t turn the deer into soup when I hit it, unlike what would happen with a .338WM.

    In my opinion, it’s the best compromise for the way I hunt.

    • Slim

      John,

      Have you actually ever seen what a .338 WM will do to a deer? I have and truth be told was not anymore than a .308, 30-06, or .300 mag. It all comes down to shot placement and the type of bullet you use. I had a solid shot through both lungs with a Barnes X-Bullet, and did not lose excessive amounts of meat. In fact, I shot a deer with a 7mm mag, and destroyed way more meat because of the angle I hit it at, and I have seen a .25-06 do lots of damage to the meat on hitting both shoulders.

      Now I will grant .338 is excessive for deer. But in my case, I was hunting Sitka deer on Kodiak Island when the Kodiak Grizzly bears were still up and about. I had to weigh the decision of either taking my 7mm mag, or something with a little more “umph” just in case. IMHO any of those rounds are good, as long as you have consistent groups, and ALWAYS have proper shot placement. That is unless you are hunting rabbits or ground hogs, which then I would probably say your “soup” prediction would probably be right.

      • John Doe

        I was making a massive exaggeration, but my point is that it’s not necessary to pack a .338WM when hunting deer. If I were to hunt larger game, I would take the .338 into consideration.

      • ThomasD

        I completely agree. Shot placement is king. the quickest way to ruin a shoulder of meat is to send any bullet through it. On quartering shots I’m always angling to avoid the far side shoulder. On anything smaller than a bull elk if I can’t miss it, I might not take the shot.

        Beyond that the worst bloodshot damage I’ve seen is from ballistic tip, silvertip, and other thin skin type projectiles. The only upside to them is that the rapid expansion saved me once on a Pennsylvania whitetail I hit too far back, clearly missing the lungs. The deer still only ran about 40 yards before tipping over. Turns out the rapid expansion bullet had damage the liver enough that the deer quickly bled out internally – even though the bullet never actually penetrated the liver.

        Out west I’ve always used some variant of the Barnes X and it has never let me down.

      • Crockett

        Shot placement is key and paramount. In heavy timber or forest my .30/.30 does the job. If there be Bear around, a .44 mag on the hip insures I’ll be eating venison liver and onions in the evening! Nough said!!!

      • John Doe

        @Crockett

        Not to nitpick, but “If there be Bear around, a .44 mag on the hip insures I’ll be eating venison” seems wrong.

        Last time I checked, venison doesn’t come from bears.

  • Lance

    Great article. I do have some experience in .300 and .338 mags. NEVER and I say NEVER use ball powders I used a load in a SPEER book. The load blew the primers out. This was a few grains under max load in the CCI/SPEER manual so the caliber dose NOT like Winchester Ball powders IMR 4350 and IMR 7848 are the best for rifle Mag loads anyway best ballistics for large calibers.

    • Sian

      Oh definitely, it’s all about the slow burning stick powders at that end of things. H-1000 is your friend.

  • WeaponBuilder

    When looking at things from a TRUE “Bang for the Buck” cost effectiveness, the significantly more expensive hand loading components of the 338 Lapua Magnum spell things out QUITE CLEARLY:

    Your best value in Cost:Performance ratio is clearly the 300 Winchester magnum! When using the same components, the powder costs will be higher for the 338. When using heavier premium bullets with match grade BC in the 338, to squeeze out better ballistics as Travis mentioned – then the cost goes exponentially higher for the 338, while the performance difference is negligible. Yes, it’s higher, but it’s not high enough to justify a 30% to 40% cost increase in loading components. You’re not getting a 30% to 40% performance increase.

    In a similar comparison of cost of components, a 185 grain BTHP bullet for 338 LM costs $0.656 each, and that 185gn BTHP from the same manufacturer, for 300 WM costs $0.445 each – the 338 Lapua costs 47.3% MORE, and you’re certainly NOT getting 47.3% more performance than the 300 WM.

    Likewise, if you stepped the 338 Lapua Magnum up to a 300 grain Berger Match Tactical Hybrid OTM bullet – not even counting the powder cost difference – the cost difference is 79.5% more per bullet – but you will NOT see a 79.5% performance difference.

    When looking at the obscene cost differences between the 300 WM, and the 338 LM, I’m sticking with the 300 Winchester Magnum. My buddies shooting their informal 1760 Club in North Dakota don’t seem to think the performance difference is worth the notably higher ‘Niche Caliber’ component costs either. Their shots at 1 full mile are no problem with the 300 Winchester Magnum.

    I’ll have to agree – for hunting you’d get better performance from a 375… If you’re going for precision and greater range than 1 Mile – you’d probably be better off stepping up to 408 Cheytac or 50 BMG and hand loading precision match rounds for those calibers.

  • ThomasD

    Apples to apples comparisons can be a bit tricky, for the first three rounds a 180 gr. projectile is within reason, but for .338 it is more than a little light for the caliber.

    Also, for eastern hunters the 100 yard zero tables are probably plenty good, but western hunters might be better informed with a 200 yard zero.

    Comparative energies don’t change much as you look further down the table- the .308 and 30-06 stay darn near identical, while the .338 (assuming you select a a more proper 225-230 grain projectile) does show somewhat better retained energy at the longer ranges. What also does begin to show better is the flat shooting nature of the .300 Win.

    Not a real concern on elk in the timber, but judging distance on a muley or pronghorn out on the open plain is much harder. The air is clear and dry, and what you think is 150 yards can easily be 200+. If it is a big muley then given the size of the vital zone it may not matter, but on a pronghorn it certainly can.

  • MP

    I like how all of the guns/cartridges mentioned here at least 40 years old and the author thinks he can add ‘fuel to a fire’.

    • fw226

      I haven’t been studying the differences between these rounds for forty years – and I’ve recently been considering a 30 cal rifle. So if there’s a helpful post on a site I already visit, isn’t that a good thing?

  • Ted

    The thing that always captured my fascination with firearms was that every weapon, every caliber, is a tool with a purpose as well-defined as a screwdriver. Given an animal and a distance and a budget, there’s a proper cartridge to get the job done.
    Kinematics works the same no matter where you are; I’m surprised that there’s room for debate at all.

  • mat

    So the same bullets zeroed to the shortest practical distance offer similar performance – big surprise. And big deal.

  • Brant McGee

    I’ve been shooting a magna-ported 338-06 for nearly 20 years here in Alaska.
    I load the new 160 gr Barnes TRX bullets for deer but the bottom three cartridges in the magazine are hand-loaded 250 gr Nosler Partitions. I’m well set up for long shots on deer and would also be prepared for an unpleasant bear encounter.

    The recoil is significantly less than a 338 and a 300 Win Mag so I practice more. While the 160 gr bullet sounds a bit silly for the caliber it is the best one-shot cartridge I’ve found for Sitka blacktails. A neck shot is best as shoulder shots often ruin the top of the front quarters.

    I grew up hunting moose but those areas are simply too crowded now with 4-wheeling hunters. When I do hunt moose, I use a 210 Nosler Partition.

  • http://blackwater tminc

    love my .300wm, stood the test of time well,and it holds up well to the latest and greatest. .22-250 for varmits, .243 for deer ,and anything else to a 1000 yds.+ the .300wm the best around imo.

  • hnachaj

    I used a 338-06 last week on a Blesbuck at over 200m. It went down, big time with a 250Gr Nosler Partition with less recoil than a 30-30 in the Medalist with adjustable muzzle break. The 375HH with a 300 gr Hornady BTSP was not as good on a waterbuck even if it took ouf the kidnes and half the liver! Owning at 375HH and many other calibers, I will build a .338-06 on a probably a Remington action on an Accumag chassis.

  • Andy45Cal

    My personal choice is my 1903A3 in 30/06. With handloads and a good scope I can shoot it a lot and not get “The flinches” and we all know the more you shoot the better you get – or you should be anyway. The 30/06 is big enough for me and a good tactical scope and range finder is all I need!

  • Jerry

    Well placed shots are the key:there is not a lot of difference in a hole in the ground and a hole in a tree etc. When we where hunting elk last year one guy hunting near us shot an elk at a little under a thousand yards( with no wind), it went down and got back up and he shoot again and it went down for good he did it with a 300 Weatherby not one of my favorites He hit it twice I think in spite of the rifle.not having the proper twist for heavy bullets Also my uncle shot a deer in the head at about a quarter mile with a 30-30 win the bullet hit the dears skull between the antlers fracturing the scull and killing the deer,the bullet bounced off, it only penetrated the skin.

  • Jeramie

    If the advantage of muzzle brakes is reduced recoil, the disadvantage is increased muzzle blast. As always, in the real world, there is no free lunch. The increase in muzzle blast with these devices can be literally deafening, even for shooters wearing hearing protection.

    The muzzle blast from a powerful muzzle brake equipped rifle is so loud that even with hearing protection the shooter risks suffering some permanent hearing damage after a few shots. Earmuff type hearing protectors typically reduce noise by about 25 dB. A muzzle brake equipped magnum rifle (like a .300 or .338 Magnum) produces a sound pressure level (spl) in the 130-dB range, according to reports I have read. Thus the spl inside the hearing protector is in excess of 100 dB, a potentially damaging level.

    For a hunter in the field, shooting without ear protection, the muzzle blast from a muzzle brake is immediately deafening. Nearly complete temporary deafness usually lasts from about a minute to several minutes after firing a powerful magnum rifle equipped with a muzzle brake. Later almost all of the shooter’s hearing returns, but a certain amount is permanently lost, and the losses are cumulative.

    This is why hunting rifles equipped with muzzle brakes are illegal in some African jurisdictions. They have proven damaging to the unprotected hearing of the scouts and guides accompanying the hunter. In North America an increasing number of big game guides now refuse to let a sport use a rifle equipped with a muzzle brake for the same reason.

  • Mr gun guy

    Yes at 100 yards a 180 gr from a .300 win mag and a .338 LM are almost the same. However…. “Most” .300 rounds top out around 200 gr while “most” .338 LM start at 250 gr.

    Sooooo in all reality with powder charge and ballistic coefficient differences your really looking at a roughly 1000 ft lb diff

    And if your using either your going long range. And even with same gr bullet there is around 500 ft lb diff by the by the .338 is the higher of the two.

  • N

    For the record the article talks about a winchester .338 magnum cartridge not a .338 lapua magnum they are very different