Cartridge debates are always fun and entertaining — especially when there usually is no right answer. When it comes to hunting everything in North America from varmints to giant bears, like many of you I have a handful of rifles chambered for different calibers. But if I had one — and only one bullet diameter to choose from — it would be of .308-inch diameter.
For me that offers great balance between cartridge choices for both close and long-range hunting, a bullet that produces a big enough hole to create plenty of blood for tracking, and one that will destroy muscle, internal organs, and bone with equal ferocity. Equally important is the fact that some .30 caliber cartridges are accurate and reliable enough to be the choice of military and SWAT team snipers around the globe.
And while there are other choices — notably the .30-378 Wby. Mag., .30-40 Krag, .30-06 Ackley Improved, .300 Remington SAUM, .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, and .30 Carbine — here is my own personal Top 10 list of .308 hunting cartridges of all time:
10) .300 Savage
Developed by the Savage Arms Co. in 1920 for its Model 99 lever-action rifles, Savage model 20 and 40 bolt actions were later also chambered for the round. The goal was a cartridge that would work in medium-length actions while closely replicating the .30-06 in performance. Soon other rifle makers, notably Remington, chambered rifles for the round. It was very popular early on, especially for hunters using the pump-action and semi-auto rifles that were the rage back in the day. It remained very popular until the introduction of the .308 Win., which fulfills the same function in a short-action cartridge.
9) .300 H&H Mag.
Introduced back in 1925 by the famous British rifle making company Holland & Holland as the “Holland Super 30,” the cartridge showed its stuff when, in 1935, it was used to capture the 1,000-yard Wimbledon Cup shooting match. While its ballistics have not changed, its popularity, never huge, has suffered greatly in recent decades as other cartridges like the .300 Wby. Mag. and .300 Win. Mag. have received far more attention. Still, it’s an easy cartridge to handload for, and those who own rifles built for this cartridge swear by it.
8) .300 Weatherby Magnum
Still Weatherby’s most popular cartridge, the .300 Wby. Mag. was developed back in 1944, though commercial ammo was not available until 1948. It was not chambered by a rifle maker other than Weatherby until 1989, when Remington built a Model 700 for it. Pushing a 180-grain bullet from the muzzle at about 3050 fps, this cartridge requires rifles with longer barrels (24-26 inches) to achieve max performance, and it can be something of a kicker in lighter weight rifles as well. All that aside, the .300 Wby. Mag. is a superb choice for long-range big game hunting worldwide.
7) .30-30 Win.
Making its debut in 1895, the .30-30 Win. was first marketed in early 1895 for the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle. The .30-30 was America’s first small-bore sporting rifle cartridge designed for smokeless powder. With almost zero recoil, it’s still a solid choice for close-quarters whitetail hunting — and still very, very popular.
6) .300 Ruger Compact Magnum (RCM)
Every now and then a new cartridge comes along that makes you sit up and take notice; the .300 RCM is such a cartridge. It’s a rimless short-action round based on the .375 Ruger case designed for hunting all but North America’s largest game, designed by Ruger and Hornady and released in 2008. Unlike the WSM cartridges, the RCM rounds share the same diameter from head case to body. Notably, unlike traditional magnums that require longer barrels for maximum performance, RCM cartridges have been designed for max performance in short (as in 20-inch) barrels. This one is also loaded in Hornady’s Superformance ammo line, giving it added muzzle velocity. For those looking for magnum performance in a short, lightweight rifle, this cartridge is well worth considering.
5) .300 WSM
Early in the 21st century, Winchester diverged from common cartridge design thinking and decided to build cartridges around new “stubby & chubby” rounds designed to fit modern short-action rifles. Introduced in 2000, the .300 WSM was the first of the line of Winchester Short Magnum cartridges; it can nearly duplicate .300 Win. Mag. performance using about 10 percent less powder. The rimless cartridge features a beltless design favored by many competition benchrest shooters. Like all short-action cartridges, however, its inherent design makes it difficult to load longer bullets weighing over 190-grains, which somewhat limits its effectiveness on the continent’s largest game.
4) .300 Blackout
Often hunting cartridges are simply military rounds adapted to the task, and the .300 BLK is no exception. It was developed by Advanced Armament Corp. (AAC) together with Remington Defense for use in the M4 carbine with the goal of achieving 7.32x39mm performance in an AR-15 platform using standard AR magazines, primarily for use by Special Forces. It was approved by SAAMI in January 2011. Its roots go back to an old wildcat round, the .300 Whisper. The popularity of the .300 BLK is growing day by day, and is it does I expect to see improved bullets and performance for hunters who pursue deer-sized game, wild hogs, coyotes and other varmints. It’s especially lethal for hog hunting when firing subsonic rounds (supersonic ammo is also readily available) through a suppressed AR. You can find hunting ammo with .308 bullets weighing between 110-125 grains, with practice ammo using bullets weighing up to 150 grains, and subsonic loads using bullets weighing up to 240 grains. For those who prefer hunting big game with the Modern Sporting Rifle at moderate ranges, the .300 BLK is a great choice.
Originally a military cartridge termed the 7.62mm NATO, the .308 was introduced to the sporting world in 1952 and is accurate enough to be used by top benchrest competitors; it remains a favorite of professional snipers. Rifles of all action types, makes and models are chambered for the .308, there’s little muzzle blast or recoil, and .308 ammo loaded with a myriad of bullet designs and weights can be found anywhere at reasonable cost. For deer-sized game I prefer 150-165 grain bullets, and will go up to 180-grain bullets for elk, bears and the like.
Introduced as a military round back in 1906, this oldie is still arguably the single most useful big game hunting cartridge in all of North America. With modern powders and bullets, the round is far more accurate and deadly that its forbearers. Factory ammo can be found in towns large and small and comes in loadings with bullets weighing between 110- to 220-grains, but for deer hunting the 150- and 165-grain loads are the most popular. I once killed a very large Canada moose with a .30-06 and handloads featuring a 250-grain bullet, and have taken numerous deer, elk and black bears with an ’06 using bullets weighing between 125- and 180-grains. It doesn’t get more versatile than that!
1) .300 Winchester Magnum
Introduced in 1963 for the Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle, this was a long-anticipated introduction following the 1958 launch of the .338 Win. Mag. Some nitpickers say the short neck makes it tough to properly seat longer, heavier bullets, but in truth the .300 Win. Mag. remains accurate enough to be the choice of many military and SWAT team snipers the world over. It pushes a factory-loaded 180-grain bullet at near 3000 fps, and while you can use bullets as light as 150-grains, I find accuracy is best with heavier slugs. Recoil can be a problem for some, but it has never bothered me with this cartridge. In 1991, when I moved to Alaska (where I lived for 15 years), I had a custom .300 Win. Mag. built, and I have used this rifle to cleanly kill everything from ground hogs to grizzly bears. If I had to choose just one gun for the rest of my days, this would be it.
There you have it. What’s your favorite .30 caliber hunting cartridge? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
Featured image: Bob Robb with a Quebec-Labrador caribou taken at long range with his pet .300 Win. Mag.