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Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers

A series of introductory articles conceived to teach beginners specs, features and history of the most popular rifle ammunition calibers


Up until very recent times, the 7,62x51mm or .308 Winchester caliber was the world's most popular military service round; it represented the first attempt to reduce the U.S. service .30-06 Springfield cartridge to a more compact size, but unlike what the Soviets did with the 7,62x39mm caliber − and unlike what the Germans did before that with the 8x33mm "Kurz" cartridge − the U.S. didn't fully embrace the intermediate cartridge philosophy: what they did was to merely shorten the .30-06 round a little bit while retaining more or less its original performance levels.

Some history


The debut of the .308 Winchester ammunition was somewhat unique for being a military cartridge, in that it wasn't developed in a military arsenal and was offered for civilian sales before the military would show any interest about it.

An infantryman and his M14
An infantryman of the 1st Division, 1st Team, 4th Cavalry Regiment (Quarterhorse), U.S. Army wielding his M14 battle rifle in Vietnam
M14 7,62x51mm caliber
An M14 7,62x51mm caliber battle rifle, equipped with an ART/Leatherwood riflescope

The Frankford Arsenal had been trying to shorten the .30-06 Springfield round for quite some time, but the process was slow-paced and had been returning meager results; it didn't take much for the Winchester Ammunition company to fully understand the potential of this caliber, launching it commercially in 1952. 

The evolution in quality of propellant powder mixtures allowed this new round to offer basically the same performance of the old .30-06 Springfield cartridge despite the more compact dimensions; the U.S. military was immediately appealed by the new Winchester .308 caliber, and it was adopted in 1953 as the "U.S., Ball Cartridge, T65". 

It was immediately well received by military users and civilian customers alike, and became appreciated and successful basically in any field of application.

Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers
A round of .308 Winchester ammunition: hereby portrayed is a Lapua Scenar round conceived for long-range shooting, loaded with a 167 grains HPBT ball

Military operators found the 7,62x51mm/.308 Winchester to be an excellent caliber, more compact than .30-06 Springfield and, unlike it, well controllable when used in full-auto mode on general-purposes machineguns, as well as extremely accurate on individual infantry weapons and less prone to jammings, as its shorter case allows its use in firearm designs based on a short-travel bolt.

The cartridge


On the civilian market, basically every gunmaker started to produce rifles and carbines chambered for the .308 caliber very soon after its introduction; it also debuted on lever-action rifles, a type of firearms which is extremely popular on the U.S. market but less than adequate to this kind of ammunition.

Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers
The .308 caliber GECO Zero ammunition is loaded with totally lead-free, tin-based 136-grains expanding bullets
Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers
Nosler's .308 Winchester ammunition, loaded with 165 grains Ballistic tip balls conceived to provide an excellent precision level with very good terminal performances

Bench-Rest sport shooters were soon greatly impressed by the high level of intrinsic accuracy of this caliber − quite possibly its best known quality − and by the fact that it could be further improved by well-calculated hand loads; this also contributed to turn .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm into the most popular caliber in long-range precision shooting sports − a position it held for years, before several specific chamberings were launched on the market.

Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers
Fiocchi's MKC 7,62x51mm ammunition, loaded with 180 grains Sierra Match King balls for long-range shooting
Ammunition: the .308 Winchester and 7,62x51mm calibers
Norma's .308 Winchester hunting ammunition, loaded with 180-grains Nosler bullets

The .308 / 7,62x51mm caliber is also one of the backbones of the ammunition market, with basically all manufacturers offering a plethora of variants, both by quantity and quality, although precision shooting loads are generally preferred. The reloading components industry is likewise highly engaged in the manufacture of .30-caliber dedicated supplies, most notably offering balls in any and all sizes and weights, and for any purpose.

Ruger's Model 6951
Ruger's Model 6951 "American Rifle" bolt-action hunting and sporting rifle, chambered in .308/7,62x51mm caliber
Merkel's Helix Tracker Camo 
Merkel's Helix Tracker Camo straight-pull bolt-action rifle was conceived for battue hunting
Sauer 303
A .308/7,62mm caliber Sauer 303 semiautomatic hunting rifle, hereby portrayed with a Synchro XT thumbhole synthetic stock
Benelli Argo
A .308 caliber Benelli Argo semiautomatic hunting rifle in a full wood furniture variant

Fields of use


The .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm is a great big game hunting round, albeit not just as versatile as its forerunner, the .30-06 Springfield round; its compact size, good power and excellent accuracy make it a perfect choice on any mid-to-big size prey, and most of all, make it suitable for use on short-action rifles and carbines.

Oddly enough, it is not a popular choice for battue hog hunt, at least in Europe; it would indeed be more apt for the role than the above-mentioned .30-06 Springfield, but at the same time it's more popular than the latter in selective hunting and target shooting specialties. The .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm caliber is best loaded with bullets ranging between 150 and 165 grains in weight, but 180-grains loads remain well manageable despite being at the edge of this caliber's limits; some users still find it proficient even with 200-grains balls.

It is extremely easy to reload; hand reloading can indeed boost the intrinsic potential of .308/7,62mm, allowing the preparation of extremely high accurate and versatile loads offering performance levels that are mostly unthinkable for calibers other than .30 − more than enough to stalk the most popular mid-sized and heavy game available in Europe. Its trajectory is not exactly the flattest, but drop compensation becomes very easy with little practice even when taking the most difficult shots. Recoil is very controllable and won't scare the shooter, allowing him or her to focus on the target rathern than on the recoil energy.

Steyr-Mannlicher Scout
Originally available only in a .308 Winchester/7,62x51mm caliber variant, the compact Steyr-Mannlicher Scout bolt-action carbine follows the indications and philosophy of colonel Jeff Cooper, and is now available in popular chamberings such as .223 Remington/5,56x45mm, .243 Winchester, .376 Steyr and 7mm-08 Remington

Curiosities


Military surplus ammunition or spent cases for this caliber are very easy to find on the market, but their use is not indicated for anything much than training at the range, and military surplus spent cases may be less than ideal to use for the hand loading of hunting-oriented rounds: they're harder, thicker and sturdier, and thus heavier; they also provide a lower propellant capacity. The weight of cases should always be checked before reloading and compared with the weight of commercial cases; some times it may be necessary to reduce the propellant quantity of about 10%.

The U.S. Armed Forces replaced the .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm round in general issue with the new 5,56x45mm / .223 Remington round when the Department of Defense decided to fully embrace the "intermediate cartridge" philosophy for individual infantry weapons, in 1964. 7,62x51mm still remains in service for several purposes, and is making a comeback in roles from which it has been phased out due to the resparked demand for increased range, accuracy, penetration and stopping power in certain situations on the modern theatres of operation.

The 7,62x51mm / .308 Winchester caliber is also known as 7,62x51 NATO, .30 NATO, .30 OTAN or 7,62mm NATO.

A minority of historians trace the origins of the .308 Winchester round back to the Italian 7,35x51mm Carcano cartridge rather than to .30-06 Springfield, maybe due to the overall case lenght.

An example of reloading specs for the .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm cartridge


Gun: Remington 700 PoliceBarrel lenght: 66 centimeters

Caliber

Propellant

Quantity

Bullet

Primer

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mm

Vihtavuori N140

42,5 grains

Palla Lapua Match 168 grains

CCI Standard

An example of reloading specs for the .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm cartridge


Gun: Remington 700 VTRBarrel lenght: 54 centimeters

Caliber

Propellant

Quantity

Bullet

Primer

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mm

Vihtavuori N140

48 grains

Barnes TSX 150 grains

Remington Standard

An example of reloading specs for the .308 Winchester / 7,62x51mm cartridge


Gun: Remington 7400 semi-automatic rifleBarrel lenght: 54 centimeters

Caliber

Propellant

Quantity

Bullet

Primer

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mm

Vihtavuori N140

47 grains

RWS KS 150 grains

CCI Standard

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mm

Winchester 748

46,5 grains

Sierra BT 150 grains

Federal 215 

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mm

IMR 4350 

51 grains

Remington Spitz. 165 grains

CCI Standard

.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mmNorma 201 39 grainsRWS H Mantel 180 grainsCCI Standard
.308 Winchester - 7,62x51mmVihtavuori N140
44 grainsNosler Partition 180 grainsCCI Standard

Warning: 

Our readers should be advised that ammunition handloading requires skill and attention. All provided handloading data should be considered as purely indicatory; even the slightest variations could cause dangerous pressure surges, which could in turn result into bodily harm or property damage. In no case will the author of this article or all4shooters.com accept any responsibility for any injury or damage caused by the improper use of these data.

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