To the untrained eye, they seem almost identical. The .30-30 and .308 cartridges were both introduced by Winchester, but they have unique histories. While the shell casings are only .014 inches different in length, and the bullets are separated by just .008 inches, they are completely different calibers.
The .30-30 an American Classic
The .30-30 was created by Winchester for use in their incredibly popular lever-action 1894. It was a step into the future when Winchester marketed the .30-30 round as a small-bore hunting rifle for the advancing smokeless powder. Smokeless powder was quickly replacing its predecessor, black powder, in the late 19th century, and Winchester rode the wave in their .30-03 cartridge.
It is the iconic image of western life when a lever-action Model 1894 was built with the .30-30 round. The .30-30 became the favorite of many hunters for ease of use, rapid-firing capability in its original bolt action design, and stopping power for big game at ranges up to 200 yards.
You could hit, and retain enough energy at longer range, but the cartridge works best at the average distance most hunters take hogs, deer, and antelope, which is below the 200-yard mark.
Detractors of the .30-30 often call it a “brush gun” despite its obvious advantages.
The .308 Born of War
Winchester introduced the .308 in 1952, but its history dates back to the brutal days of World War I.
Spanish troops were armed with the 7x57mm Mauser, a high-powered, smokeless cartridge vastly superior to the arms used by American troops in the Spanish American War. In response to the gap in technology, the English came up with the .303 cartridge. America’s response was the .30-06.
The .30-06 was a popular cartridge across the USA in both military and civilian applications. The 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle was the weapon of choice for American troops in World War I and the M1 Garand, in World War II. Both fired the .30-06.
The .308 was taken from the .30-06 cartridge and redesigned by Winchester engineers to create a shorter cartridge that functioned more reliably with semi-automatic rifles.
The .308 and its sister cartridge the 7.62x51mm NATO entered the world in 1952.
The 7.62x51mm became the standard cartridge around the world for many military uses. The .308 quickly became a favorite of big game hunters across the United States and remains one of the top sporting cartridges today.
Every big game animal in North America, from hogs to moose is fair game for the .308.
What’s the Difference?
You can’t see the difference when placing the cartridges side by side, but once you chamber a round, and fire it, comparisons are much easier to make.
The difference with any cartridge always boils down to ballistics. How fast will it propel a bullet? How heavy a bullet can it fire? How accurate is the bullet over distance? How much energy does the bullet have on target? How far does the bullet drop?
When you take these factors into consideration, the .308 is the clear winner.
Velocity (Feet Per Second)
|Cartridge||Grain||Muzzle||100 yds||200 yds|
Energy (Ft. Pounds)
Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)
|Cartridge||Grain||100 yds||200 yds|
You can even feel the difference in your shoulder. The .308 kicks hard, it is one of the hardest-hitting rounds on the consumer market. A day at the range will leave bruises from the top of your shoulder to the bicep.
The .30-30s popularity when it was introduced was just the opposite, it is one of the lightest recoil cartridges in the big game market.
A close look at the ballistics of these two popular cartridges provides a lot of information. When loaded with a Winchester 150 grain cartridge, the .30-30 is slower out of the barrel, but the big difference comes at 200 yards where the 430 feet per second muzzle velocity disparity has increased to almost 800 feet per second.
That speed, with the same size bullet, translates into stopping power.
The standard metric most hunters use to ethically take game animals is 1000 foot-pounds of energy at the target. At 200 yards the .30-30 has slowed over 800 feet per second from the barrel velocity, while the .308 has almost the same velocity at 200 yards as the .30-30 did at the muzzle.
The energy at 200 yards of the .308 is 1787 foot-pounds, while the .30-30 has dropped below the 1000 foot-pound threshold at 832.
Which One is Best in the Field?
Aside from personal preference based on nostalgia, light recoil, and use at close range, the .308 is obviously the better cartridge for big game hunting.
The .30-30 drops almost eight inches at 200 yards, while the .308 was designed to shoot flat at that distance. The ability to send a 150 grain or larger bullet 200 yards downrange with no drop is the biggest factor that hunters use in taking the .308 after hogs, deer, elk, moose, and antelope.
The .30-30 has its place as a short-range deer rifle and is a good caliber for hogs and whitetail deer, but it lacks the punch over distance for larger game.
Why Use the .30-30?
The .30-30 has its advantages in short-range applications, where recoil is a concern. A person who can’t handle the punch of the .308 will flinch, and ultimately miss shots for fear, whether conscious or subconscious of the hammering they’re about to take when they pull the trigger.
If that’s a concern, and you’re hog hunting, or deer hunting at target distances under 150 yards, the .30-30 is a good choice.
The image of the Winchester Model 94 and the ever popular brass plated elegance of the Henry series of rifles fit the mindset of the .30-30 for many users.
Why Use the .308?
The simple answer is that you have a much better chance of hitting where you aim with a .308. The high velocity, high energy round delivers a flat, knockout punch at 200 yards. The caveat on the .308 on shots beyond the 200-yard range is bullet drop.
At 300 yards the bullet drops eight inches, but at 400 yards it’s two feet and at the 500-yard range, where the bullet retains plenty of energy, the drop is a ridiculous four feet on even the hottest loads you can find.
Since most game is taken at less than 200 yards, the .308 has the advantage.
Both the .30-30 and the .308 have large fan bases. The .30-30 has entered the collective mindset of many hunters and recreational shooters as the only cartridge they want to shoot in a lever-action rifle.
The .308 has a wide platform of manufacturers, both military and sporting, that support his cartridge.
The choice is yours.