I can’t shoot that buffalo with a .308, Ian. Nobody does that.” I still remember that conversation with a good friend about his upcoming opportunity to shoot a big, old bull. He sells rifles by the score, but his inventory was depleted at the time. I had recently helped him set up a great-shooting heavy-barrel Remington Model 700 in .308 Winchester, so I grabbed a box of Federal 180 Trophy Bonded Bear Claws and said, “These are ideal. Give them a try. You can place the bullet perfectly with that Remington, what more do you want?”
A few days later, he called and told me the bull died instantly from one Bear Claw to the forehead. Although he still won’t hunt with a .308, my friend admits the little cartridge did a fine job. I’m always amazed when he tells me how difficult it is to sell used .308s and how nobody in their right mind orders one anymore. The little cartridge is by far my favorite for hunting in Saskatchewan, and I would have no concerns using it farther afield. I know it’s a great caribou killer, even at fairly long ranges.
Against the Magnums
I admit to shooting my share of magnum ammo through the years, and I still play with the .300 and .325 WSMs and other magnums. There is a place for more reach and smack, and I get just that from my magnums — at both ends. My .308 rifles do not beat me up, and they are much easier to shoot with extreme precision. It’s as simple as that. Granted, a really light .308 will let you know when it goes off, but the recoil energy and muzzle jump is nothing compared to that of larger cartridges.
One reason the .308 is such an effective hunting cartridge is the choice of excellent bullets and bullet weights. Bonded bullets allow flatter trajectories and more energy. I rely on 165-grain bullets instead of 180s since switching to the bonded designs. My rationale is that 85 percent of 165 grains is better than 40 percent or 50 percent of 180, because many lesser bullets break up and shed their jackets and cores. Swift Sciroccos, Hornady Interbonds and Bear Claws do the job. More recent bullets — such as Nosler’s E-Tips, Winchester XP3s, Barnes Triple Shocks and Remington’s Bonded Core-Lokts — are also fine choices.
No doubt, the main reason I favor the .308 is because I shoot it so much. I enjoy the challenge of hitting distant targets, and the .308 is the ideal platform to learn the necessary skills and gain confidence at fairly long ranges. There are excellent reasons for that, the first of which is that the little cartridge is inherently accurate. I do not care about blistering velocities and flat trajectories as much as accuracy, shooting costs and barrel life. My .308 barrels will last for several thousand rounds compared to 1,500 or fewer with many magnums.
My 168- and 175-grain bullets might only be flying about 2,600 feet per second, but they follow the same arc with amazing precision. I really don’t care about how many inches of drop I have compared to other cartridges, because my drop charts are extremely accurate and repeatable. The military has studied the .308 to perfection, and there are almost no secrets concerning drop and wind-drift.
Actually, wind drift is relatively easy to handle if you know the velocity and direction, again using military-developed charts.
.308 Vs. The Ultimate Enemy
In a 10-mph full-value wind (3 or 9 o’clock), I simply apply one minute of angle less than the first digit of the distance. At 600 yards, that would be five minutes of angle — simple as that. The interesting thing is, this works. Drops are a little more involved, but not much. I use various aides to ensure that I have quick access to the necessary numbers. Some of the more common settings are engraved in my memory, but I don’t trust that source nearly as much as the written dope-charts.
How do you keep track of elevations? I use a slick little device that attaches directly to the tube of my scope. I simply grab a tab and unreel a small tape-measure-like device with my drops and drift written on it. I also use commercial Ballisticard drop cards that provide even more data. On some of my rifles, I’ve applied simple labels with the info in rows. As you can see, drop info is crucial for long-range shooting success.
I should mention that wind considerations can be more complex than merely knowing speed and direction. Winds gust and swirl and do weird things in rough terrain. Wind is our ultimate enemy, but it can be handled if you work hard at understanding its properties. My friends and I almost always shoot with a spotter in charge, so the onus is on him to make good calls. That lets the shooter concentrate on marksmanship.
What can you expect from a good-shooting .308 at longer distances? We practice out at 700 yards a lot. If the spotter can handle the wind, our groups will stay close to one-half MOA at that distance. I have seen the little .308 overlap bullets on my steel targets many times when we are holding well and the wind is steady. Why practice at 700? If I can hit consistently at 700, I should be able to hunt to 450 or 500 yards if necessary. I like to shoot as close as possible, but I also want to use the full potential of my equipment. My .308s are deadly on deer out to 500 yards, so why not use the full capability of my cartridge?
I have killed my share of game with the .308 Winchester, including the odd moose and large black bears. With proper shot placement and good bullets, the .308 will always do the job.
-Sadly, Ian McMurchy passed away recently. He will be missed by the shooting sports community.
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