Most modern rifles will shoot well beyond 1,000 yards. However, not all of them should be considered for hunting at this range. Several variables determine at what range a .308 Winchester is considered a viable hunting caliber.
The .308 Winchester is quite capable of shooting to at least 1,000 yards. However, the effective range of a .308 Winchester for North American game animals is between 300 and 400 yards. The range may be somewhat less depending on the size of the game animal you are hunting.
What is a .308 Winchester?
Winchester began developing what was known as the .308 Winchester in the early 1940s. For many years the .30-06 has been the military’s basic rifle cartridge, but with the advent of a different style of warfare, the military saw a different need. Starting with the military .30-06 round and the .300 savage, Winchester produced the .308 Winchester.
In 1954 NATO adopted the basic .308 Winchester design, known as the 7.62 x 51 NATO round. This cartridge has been adapted to semi-auto infantry rifles, bolt-action precision rifles, and belt-fed military automatic weapons.
The .308 Winchester has become a staple for hunters, long-range precision shooters, and competition shooters in its civilian guise.
In general, the .308 Winchester is an all-around performer. The .308 is shorter than the .30-06 and is designed for a short-action bolt rifle. This makes these rifles faster to cycle, which helps with their military uses in fully automatic weapons.
The .308 doesn’t offer the range of some larger calibers and has been replaced in many military situations for rifle cartridges such as the .338 Lapua, the .300 Win Mag, and the .50 caliber weapons.
The Distance Factor – How Far Will It Go?
It is safe to say that most .308 caliber rifles can be expected to take North American big game out to about 300 yards. Much of the discrepancy in the effective distance of the .308 Winchester cartridge is attributable to bullet choice, powder and load choice, and barrel length.
To understand the differences in the effective range of the .308 Winchester, it is better to compare the different characteristics of various commercially available bullets.
I chose 5 of the most popular commercially available loads for the .308 Winchester. These loads and bullet weights represent what most hunters use in the field.
|Ammunition||Velocity (fps)||Energy (ft pounds)||Bullet Drop (inches)|
|Remington 168 gr MatchKing BTHP |
|Federal American Eagle 150 gr FMJBT |
|Winchester White Box 147 gr FMJ |
|Hornady Precision Hunter 178 gr ELD-X |
|PMC 147 gr FMJBT |
Beyond Effective Range
Looking at the comparison chart, it is fairly easy to see that after 300 yards, the .308 cartridge begins to drop in speed and energy rapidly. For most loads, the drop in trajectory becomes dramatic after 400 yards. In most cases, between 300 and 400 yards, the drop triples.
Between 400 ad 500 yards, the drop doubles again. In the case of the Hornady 178 grain bullet, the total drop at 500 yards is almost 51 inches.
Trying to take the .308 Winchester much past 300 yards for game such as black bear, white-tailed deer and mule deer is risky at best. Larger game animals, even at shorter ranges, is a risky proposition. The delivered energy decreases with the drop in trajectory, making a clean kill less likely.
The Upside of the Story
Now I know that thousands of dedicated .308 Winchester shooters are ready to take me to task for opinionating that the .308 Winchester is not a 1,000-yard cartridge. I admit that a skilled shooter with the proper rifle and .308 Winchester load can routinely make shots at 1,000 yards.
This makes, in my mind, the effective range of the .308 Winchester, in the hands of a reasonably skilled shooter, about 300 yards. It is possible to make clean kill shots with the .308 Winchester twice this distance.
However, hunting ethics dictate that we have confidence in our rifle and cartridge to make a humane kill at that distance. I don’t think most hunters can make this claim.
However, very few of the thousands of dedicated hunters in this country take a 1,000 yard shot on a dear, elk, or bear. Most game animals taken in North America are shots of between 200 and 250 yards. The .308 is a highly effective cartridge for any North American game animal at these ranges.
Distance, Size, and Bullet Choice
The .308 Winchester is a versatile all-around cartridge if you understand its limitations. Almost any game animal on the North American continent can be taken with the .308 Winchester, provided you choose the correct bullet and remain aware of the distance limitations of your rifle.
There are, of course, some assumptions that we make about your choice of rifle. One of these is the size of the game animal you are hunting. I think it is obvious that the .308 Winchester is overkill for most of the smaller game and varmint animals. In my opinion, the .308 Winchester isn’t appropriate for any animal smaller than a coyote.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some larger game animals that we would not recommend hunting with a .308 Winchester. Among these are polar bears, grizzly bears, and moose.
What Can You Hunt with a .308 Winchester and at What Distance?
These are the most popular game animals in North America, and my recommendations for the best .308 Winchester ammunition for hunting these animals. Ammunition choice for a particular animal is always very subjective. You should consider your situation, needs, and expectations when choosing ammunition for your hunts.
Feral hog hunting, especially here in Texas, is extremely popular. The feral hog population continues to soar, and many hunters have turned to hunting hogs since it can be done year-round. There are no seasons and no limits.
If I am using a .308 Winchester, my choice of ammunition is the Federal Fusion 150 gr MSR ammunition. I like the Federal fusion ammunition for several reasons. You can expect this ammunition to cycle your AR-10 platform rifle reliably.
If a bolt action is your choice, the Federal Fusion ammunition will give you groupings at 100 yards in the .75-inch range. Since most hog kills occur at less than 175 yards, the .308 Winchester is well suited for feral hogs.
Whitetail and Mule Deer
Depending on where you hunt deer, their size may vary from barely over 100 lbs to well over 200 lbs on the hoof. Our choice for .308 Winchester ammunition for whitetail and mule deer is the Federal 308 150 gr Interlock ammunition.
This lighter-weight bullet gives excellent ballistic characteristics and a relatively flat trajectory out to 300-yards.
If you are like most average deer hunters and your shots are less than 250 yards, this bullet will deliver enough energy to make clean and humane kills on even the largest deer you may encounter.
If you are pursuing Elk in North America, you are hunting in mountainous regions for the most part and maybe pushing your .308 to the edge of its range capabilities. You need a load that shoots relatively flat, maintains a decent amount of delivered energy at a distance, and shoots accurately.
Our choice for an elk load for the .308 Winchester is the Federal Premium ammunition loaded with 180 gr Nosler Partition bullets. The heavier 180 gr bullet delivers the energy you need at greater ranges to ensure a clean kill.
The Nosler Partition design ensures deep penetration with enough expansion to get the job done. You should be comfortable with shots out to 300 yards using this ammunition.
Hunting bear in North America puts you in another dimension of big game hunting. At the lower end of the spectrum, the most common North American bear is the black bear. These animals are usually smaller than their other cousins, the brown and grizzly bear.
Still, black bears are formidable animals, and any hunter should be sure that the caliber and load of ammunition they choose will provide adequate stopping power.
The 168-grain bullet is a good choice for black bears. The Sierra 168 grain MatchKing ammunition is an excellent choice for hunting black bears in the US. This ammo is technically a competition ammunition.
However, it is also an excellent choice for larger North American game animals. Using this ammunition, you can reliably take black bear out to ranges between 250 and 300 yards.
Our Final Thoughts on the .308 Winchester
For most civilian hunting and sport shooting situations, the .308 Winchester certainly serves well. Is it the end-all of sniper cartridges? Not at all. Many new cartridges outrange the .308 Winchester and deliver more energy at those longer ranges.
Is it as flat shooting at a distance as these new cartridges? Unfortunately not. However, based on most hunters and target shooters’ shooting, the .308 more than serves the purpose.