Any discussion on the advantages or disadvantages of the .25-06 versus .308 rifle cartridge is going to get heated.
Both calibers have their pros and cons, their advocates and their detractors.
But no two rifles behave the same, even when chambered for the same rounds.
Then, throw in differences in the rifling, bullet weight, temperature, terrain, elevation, and target, not to mention the cost and reloading options… well, it’s a recipe for disputes late into the night.
To start the ball rolling, let’s look at the basics first.
The .25-06 Cartridge
The versatile .25-06 was standardized by Remington as a necked-down version of the .30-06.
Standard bullets are available in 75 gr, 100 gr, 115 gr, and 120 gr, which produce velocities of up to 3200 fps and higher.
The cartridge produces less recoil, higher muzzle velocities, and a flatter trajectory, which in turn results in higher kinetic energy down-range.
All things being equal, you should enjoy greater accuracy at longer ranges.
And, with a wide range of bullet weights and types available from Remington, Winchester, and Federal, you can find exactly what you need to deal with anything from coyotes to elk.
The .308 Cartridge
Arguably the most popular hunting cartridge in the United States, the .308 was introduced by Winchester as a civilian version of the 7.62×51mm NATO military round.
Production bullets are available in 125 gr, 150 gr, 168 gr, 175 gr, and 185 gr, producing velocities up to 3100 fps. With the heavier projectile, you can expect the .308 to deliver up to 300 ft-lb more energy than the equivalent .25-06 cartridge.
These dynamics help to increase accuracy no matter the shooting platform that you may choose to use.
Hunters find the .308 recoil eminently manageable. While the heavier projectiles and lower muzzle velocities produce more pronounced, bell-shaped trajectories over longer distances.
Due to its popularity, all manufacturers have a wide range of .308 cartridges from which to choose.
Despite the common assumption that it’s a suitable round only for smaller game, that’s not the case. Whitetail deer, pronghorn, and even black and grizzly bears have succumbed to .308’s.
So, the stage is set for a deeper discussion on the merits of these two iconic calibers.
Comparison Table – .25-06 vs .308
|.308 Winchester||.25-06 Remington|
|Cartridge Diameter||0.454 inches||0.470 inches|
|Cartridge Case Length||2.015 inches||2.494 inches|
|Overall Length||2.800 inches||3.250 inches|
|Maximum Muzzle Velocity||3.100 ft/s||3230 ft/s|
|Case Capacity in Grains||56||65.8|
|Bullet Size in Grains||125, 150, 168, 175, 185||100, 115, 120|
When out hunting, you’re after a one-shot performance at whatever range and atmospheric conditions the game dictate.
Whether you’re out on the prairie, making 400+ yard shots, or getting up close and personal in dense brush, you need to ensure that your animal drops where you shoot it.
The name of the game is hydrostatic shot. And it seems that for both of these calibers, 2600 fps is the magic number.
This means that you want to select a cartridge that will reliably send a bullet to its target and then hit it at or above 2600 fps.
Hydrostatic shock ensures that you achieve an instant drop, rather than the animal running on even after it’s effectively dead.
So, which caliber produces the required performance to get the job done?
What is a .25-06 Caliber Good For?
The .25-06 is purpose-made for deer and antelope-sized game. It sends 100 to 115-grain bullets out to the target at 3000-3200 fps.
Combining this high muzzle velocity with light recoil will help you achieve great shot placement. The flatter trajectory assists with targeting your kill at longer distances, which is then perfect for open-country hunts.
Is a .308 Overkill When Compared to the .25-06?
Where the .25-06 is suitable for smaller game and vermin, the .308 is a more versatile cartridge. You’ll find the .308, loaded with a variety of bullet types and weights, is effective in targeting smaller game all the way up to Grizzly bears.
Depending on which .308 bullet brand you decide to use, you can achieve hydrostatic shock at speeds down to 2400 fps. It’s very much dependent on several factors though, so this is not a guarantee.
It stands to reason that you’re always going to deliver a greater wallop with the heavier .308 loads despite the .25-06’s higher velocities.
With 125-175-grain bullets all producing sufficient hitting power to stop just about any animal you wish to hunt, a good compromise is to use the versatile 150-grain bullets.
Whether your preference is for the .25-06 or the .308, selecting the right bullet type for the animal you’re targeting is still crucial.
Both faster-expanding bullets or designs that penetrate deeper, produce clean kills out to 600 yards and further with both calibers.
This brings us to the calibers effective range.
What is the Effective Range of .308 versus .25-06?
Effective range is a very touchy subject wherever two or more hunters sit down to chat.
There are so many variables that enter into the equation that it is almost impossible to have a balanced discussion on the subject.
When asked about the effective range of a .25-06 on deer, you’re going to receive a boatload of advice. This is especially true when considering factory loads compared to reloads.
Personal preference plays a huge part in the argument, but when it comes to reloads, I have yet to come across anyone who doesn’t speak highly of using H4831 powder in their .25-06’s.
For effectiveness and more importantly, repeatable range performance, bullets weighing over 115 grains perform well when hand-loaded with H4831.
.25-06’s loaded with 115-grain bullets have a well-deserved reputation for accurate and effective shooting at 350 yards. And if that’s the case, then there’s no reason to believe that they can’t be just as effective at 50 yards and up to 400 or 450 yards.
So, whether it’s a coyote in a field or pronghorns on a plain, your .25-06 will not let you down.
It now begs the question: what about the .308’s range?
A .308 cartridge is lethal out to a mile, but that doesn’t mean that’s its effective range.
It is more likely that you will be targeting deer out to the 300 or 350-yard mark. At that range, the .308, whether it’s a factory load or a hand load, has a reasonably flat trajectory which will see a minimal drop of 6-7 inches onto the target.
In the absence of a range finder, you can be pretty certain that holding a little over dead-center will put you on target.
However, once you start heading towards 150-grain bullets and above, you could find your bullet dropping up to 14 inches at 300 yards.
It is therefore a matter of personal preference as to which caliber you would use if your stalk was taking you to within 300-350 yards of your intended target.
Anything beyond that and I’d be inclined to start looking lovingly at the .25-06 with its flatter trajectory and higher retained energy.
As we said earlier, the .308 has an effective range of approximately 1000 yards. But the maximum distance a .308 can travel will be dictated by the angle it is fired at, the weight of the bullet, type, and quantity of powder loaded, as well as the weather.
If looked at theoretically, a .308 bullet could travel well over 5000 yards.
Difference Between the .25-06 Long Action and .308 Short Action
The weight and size of your rifle may have an impact on your hunt should you find it necessary to hike and camp in remote regions. Depending on your limitations, your choice of a long- or short-action rifle could be a very practical consideration in your planning.
The .25-06 is a long action caliber that has a small impact on the size and weight of your rifle.
Being slightly longer, you can expect this caliber to increase the weight of your rifle by a few ounces and length by an inch or two in comparison to a .308.
The .308 is a short action cartridge that results in a lighter and slightly shorter shooting platform.
Whether this affects accuracy is very much up for debate, and outside of professional shooting circles, will likely make little difference to effective hunting.
The short action, .308 cartridges can also be brought into action about 1/10th of a second faster than the .25-06 due to the shorter distance the bolt needs to move.
If that sounds like something you need, then tick the box.
The debate on whether the .25-06 is superior to the .308 will no doubt rage on for years to come.
What is without dispute though, is the fact that the .25-06 is, for the average hunter, a comfortable, low recoil cartridge that achieves its accuracy through a higher muzzle velocity and is better suited to hunting smaller game and deer.
The .308 is, on the other hand, a somewhat more versatile choice and deserves its place as one of the most popular hunting calibers.
From deer to pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and Grizzly bear, the .308 handles them all with ease, on a tried and tested platform that is unlikely to let you down.