Without a doubt, two of the most popular cartridges for big game hunting are the .300 Winchester Magnum (.300 Win Mag) and the .308 (7.62 NATO).
Both are known for stopping power, range, accuracy, and ease of use.
Both rounds share a lot in common, but their differences put them worlds apart.
To break down these two rounds, it needs to be clear that both fill different roles. One is not necessarily better than the other. However, hunters/shooters want to make sure that you use the right tool for the right job.
This comparison between the two rounds should serve as a great way for the end-user to decide what round might work best for them.
The .308 came into being in 1952 when the Nations that made up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) decided on a standardized round for the military.
Winchester saw an opportunity to market this for civilian use, and it has since become the most popular short-action, big-game hunting cartridge in the world.
Hunters, target shooters, military snipers, long-range shooters, and combat shooters worldwide turn to the versatile .308 for its availability and history.
The .308 was developed after the .30-06 used by the United States Military since just before World War One. The .308 has a little more drop in range when compared to the .30-06; this is due to the round being shorter and packing in less powder.
The parabolic arch produced by the .308 gets pretty significant at ranges beyond 300 yards. At a 100 yard zero, the shooter will need to hold off about 2 inches above the target to hit center bull at 200 yards. At 300, the shooter is required to hold off of nearly 15 inches (depending on bullet grain size).
Most hunters zero their rifle at 200 to help mitigate the hold off needed for longer range shots.
Having less powder does create a benefit, lower and more manageable recoil. This allows shooters of the .308 to re-acquire targets faster while having more comfort from reducing the rifle bucking in the shoulder. Less recoil also helps with your optics; some lower-end optics will start to lose their zero due to recoil.
This is why it’s crucial to invest in good glass, especially when dealing with hotter loads.
The popularity of the .308 is largely due to its availability. Since armies around the world adopted the round, factories cranked out millions of rounds in .308.
With the ammo being in somewhat abundant numbers, the cost of the round is pretty low. Decent quality but economically valued hunting rounds up to match grade quality rounds are pretty easily found in most local stores.
It is popular because it works, stopping the big game in their tracks with a single well placed shot.
.300 Winchester Magnum (.300 Win Mag)
Magnum rounds have been around for rifles as early as 1913 with the .30 Newton.
The desire for more power, a flatter parabolic arch, and faster velocities in the world of sport shooting resulted in a series of magnum rounds developed.
In 1925 we saw the .300 H&H Magnum; in the 1940s, we see the .270 Weatherby Magnum and .300 Weatherby Magnum.
Winchester decided to throw their hat in the ring in the late 1950s with several magnum rounds, including the .338 Winchester Magnum and the .458 Winchester Magnum.
It was not until 1963 did the .300 Winchester Magnum come to pass and lived to become the most wildly available Magnum Round. The others still exist, but the ammo is a lot more expensive and harder to find.
The .300 Win Mag is one of the most popular long-range rounds on the civilian market. The round itself is the exact size and diameter of the .308.
However, behind it is a much larger brass casing filled with far more powder.
This creates a much faster muzzle velocity, which translates down range to a much lower parabolic arch at ranges further than 300 yards.
With a 100 yard zero, the .300 Win Mag will have the same 2-inch drop at 200 yards that the .308 has, but at 300, the drop is only a mere 9 inches.
For a hunting round, this gives you a lot of room for error at longer range shots. With a properly dialed in scope, it is not uncommon for hunters/shooters to reach out well beyond 800yards.
In fact, the .300 Win Mag round is used by many competition long-range shooters extending out to 1,000 yards.
Having all that power comes with the side effect of a lot more recoil. This round was designed for maximum power and accuracy combined into one package. The idea being you make that first shot count, and at any range, you will have no doubt that your target will be down.
Elk hunters in Montana prefer this round as most shots on Elk are taken at ranges 300+ over rugged terrain, not a place you want to chase a wounded animal for any period of time.
Now, this round comes at a higher price point than the .308. However, as far as magnum rounds go, this one is popular. This means the markets are not without a supply, and generally, the prices are a lot more affordable than the multitude of other magnum rounds.
So if you want to do a lot of long-range shooting and enjoy a good performing round, the .300 Win Mag brings a lot to the table but won’t cripple your wallet.
.308 vs .300 Win Mag
The .308 is a great round, used the world over as a sporting and hunting cartridge. With a lot of practice and good glass, a .308 rifle can reach out as far as the .300 Win Mag, but with a lot less energy and a lot more hold-off.
The 300 Win Mag will have a lot more recoil but will be able to reach out to longer ranges with a lot more ease.
Since the .300 Win Mag is a lot hotter of a round you will want to consider barrel life. With the .308, the barrel life is considerably longer, meaning it will last a lot longer than the .300 Win Mag due to the lower power and velocity.
As the round passed down the barrel, the rifling is stressed a lot more with the much hotter .300 Win Mag round.
The .308 round is less costly to manufacture and is abundant all around the world. So the cost is a lot lower than the .300 Win Mag. That said, the .300 Win Mag won the popularity contest of the Magnum rounds, so it’s not as scarce or costly as other Magnum rounds.
So while it does hit the wallet harder than the .308, it’s not as bad as other options on the market.
When shopping for what works best for you, consider what you want the rifle to do.
Both are adequate big game rounds and have a home in the long-range shooting community. To say one is better than the other would be dishonest.
They are different rounds designed for different applications. At the end of the day, pick what works the best for what you need it for.
I have hunted with and shot targets with both rounds, and enjoy both rounds immensely. I tend to carry my .308 a lot more out in the field than a .300 Win Mag. This is purely an economical choice more than anything.
You cannot go wrong with either, and I recommend having both in your inventory.