Compared: The .260 Remington and 7mm-08 Remington

By Chuck Hawks

This article is another in a series inspired by e-mail questions I have received along the lines of: "I am planning to buy a rifle in either .260 or 7mm-08 caliber, but I can't decide which is better. Can you explain the advantages of each?"

I think that all of these sorts of comparison articles must have been done previously at one time or another, but the mail keeps coming. So, if you are pondering a .260 or a 7mm-08, this article is for you.

The .260 Remington is the newer of the two cartridges. It was introduced in 1997. Like all 6.5mm cartridges, its biggest advantage is the high sectional density (SD) of its bullets. Remington .260 factory loads drive a 120 grain bullet (SD .246) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2890 fps, a 125 grain bullet (SD .256) at a MV of 2875 fps, and a 140 grain bullet (SD .287) at a MV of 2750 fps. Federal and Speer also offer factory loaded .260 ammunition. Reloaders can safely achieve velocities similar to the factory loads. The SAAMI maximum average pressure for the .260 is 52,000 cup.

Remington offers the .260 in their Model 7 and Model 700 bolt action rifles. Among the other major rifle makers in the U.S. market, Ruger and Kimber also chamber for the .260 Remington cartridge. Browning, Savage, and Winchester have done so to a limited extent in the recent past.

The 7mm-08 Remington was introduced in 1980 in the Model 700 bolt action rifle. Remington 7mm-08 factory loads drive a 120 grain bullet (SD .213) at a muzzle velocity of 3000 fps and a variety of 140 grain bullets (SD .248) at a MV of 2860 fps. Federal, Hornady, Norma, PMC, and Winchester also offer factory loads in 7mm-08 for the North American market. Reloaders can safely achieve velocity figures similar to the factory loads. The SAAMI maximum average pressure for the 7mm-08 is 52,000 cup.

Remington offers the 7mm-08 in the Model 7 bolt action, Model 7600 pump and Model 7400 autoloader in addition to the Model 700. The 7mm-08 has become a standard short action offering, and is also available in Blaser, Browning, Kimber, Ruger, Sako, Savage, Tikka, Weatherby, and Winchester rifles.

Both the .260 and 7mm-08 are based on a necked down .308 Winchester case, and are covered in detail in articles on the Rifle Cartridge Page. They are at their best with bullets weighing between 120 and 140 grains, although other weights are available. The .260 is a 6.5mm cartridge and uses .264" diameter bullets. The 7mm-08 uses bullets .284" in diameter.

There are meaningful differences between .264" and .284" bullets. That .020" difference in diameter shows in bullet frontal area and sectional density. Both are important in evaluating killing power. The bullet's velocity, energy, and trajectory should also be considered, which further complicates matters.

Comparing bullets of the same weight (let's use 140 grain Nosler Partition bullets as an example) favors the .260 in sectional density (and theoretically wound channel depth), and favors the 7mm-08 in bullet frontal area (and theoretically wound channel diameter), assuming all other factors are equal. But all other factors probably won't be equal. According to the fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Guide, the 7mm-08 can launch a 140 grain bullet about 100 fps faster than the .260 with near maximum pressure loads (2900 fps vs. 2800 fps).

  • The .264" bullet has a better ballistic coefficient (BC) than the .284" bullet.
  • The 7mm-08 bullet will start with almost 200 ft. lbs. more muzzle energy than the .260 bullet because of its higher velocity.
  • Due to its greater velocity the 7mm-08 bullet will have approximately 1.1" less drop at 400 yards if both are zeroed at 200 yards. That isn't much difference, and the reason is that the superior ballistic coefficient of the longer, slimmer .264" bullet largely cancels out the initial velocity advantage of the .284" bullet.
  • The .260 bullet's superior BC has also closed the energy gap. At 400 yards both bullets are traveling at about 2100 fps and have about 1371 ft. lbs. of remaining energy.

If bullets of equal sectional density and design (this time let's use 120 grain .260 and 140 grain 7mm-08 Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets as examples) are compared at the same impact velocity, the penetration should be equal. Unfortunately, in the real world, things are not always equal. According to the Nosler Reloading Guide, near maximum pressure loads in the .260 will drive the 120 grain .264" bullet (SD .246) at about 3000 fps and similar pressure loads in the 7mm-08 will drive the 140 grain .284" bullet (SD .248) at about 2900 fps.

  • The 7mm-08 retains its advantage in frontal area, and its 140 grain bullet will again start with about 200 ft. lbs. more muzzle energy because it is 20 grains heavier.
  • As a result of its velocity advantage, the .260 bullet will have about 1.2" less drop at 400 yards when both are zeroed at 200 yards. Again, this isn't enough difference in trajectory to worry about.
  • But this time the 140 grain 7mm-08 bullet will still be carrying about 150 ft. lbs. more energy than the 120 grain .260 bullet at 400 yards.

One conclusion seems inescapable from all of this. In the examples above, neither cartridge seems to have a significant advantage in trajectory. They have very similar long range trajectories when loaded to the same pressure with bullets suitable for big game hunting. Since there is no significant difference in trajectory we are going to have to look elsewhere to find meaningful differences between the two cartridges.

The 7mm-08 has a modest advantage in muzzle energy with full power loads. An examination of the Remington ballistics tables show this to vary between approximately 50 and 250 ft. lbs. with Remington factory loads. How much of that extra energy it retains at long range depends on the relative weight and BC of the bullets chosen for the two cartridges. It seems to vary between about 0 and 150 ft. lbs.

For what it's worth, the "Maximum Optimal Ranges for Big Game" table shows that for shooting a 400 pound animal the maximum optimum range of a 140 grain .260 Remington bullet is 210 yards. For a 140 grain 7mm-08 bullet the maximum optimum range for the same size game is 270 yards, which indicates greater net killing power.

If you load bullets of the same weight to the same pressure the recoil is essentially identical. The Rifle Recoil Table shows that when using 140 grain bullets at factory load velocities in 7.5 pound rifles, the .260 develops 13.6 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy and the 7mm-08 churns up 13.5 ft. lbs. of recoil.

However, if you compare the recoil of bullets of similar sectional density loaded to the same pressure the .260 should kick less because its bullet will be about 20 grains lighter. The Rifle Recoil Table shows that a 7.5 pound .260 rifle shooting a 120 grain bullet at a MV of 2890 fps develops 11.0 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy. A 7mm-08 rifle of the same weight shooting a 140 grain bullet at a MV of 2860 fps generates 13.5 ft. lbs. of recoil.

To summarize the recoil situation, the .260 kicks less with bullets of the same sectional density loaded to similar pressure and velocity. With bullets of the same weight loaded to similar pressure, the recoil of the .260 and 7mm-08 are similar.

For reloaders, bullet selection and availability is important. Almost every bullet maker offers a good selection of both .264" and .284" bullets for every application for which either cartridge is suited. There are more choices in .284 caliber (7mm), but the selection in .264 is quite sufficient. .264 bullets range in weight from approximately 85 grains to 160 grains. .284 bullets range in weight from approximately 100 grains to 175 grains. It is worth noting here that because both cartridges are based on the short action .308 case, neither is at its best with the heaviest bullets available in their respective calibers. For most purposes I would limit bullet weight to about 140 grains in the .260 and 154 grains in the 7mm-08. So, for reloaders, there is not much to choose between the two calibers in terms of bullet selection.

For the North American hunter who shoots primarily factory loads, however, there is a big difference. Because it is among the top 25 best selling rifle cartridges, 7mm-08 factory loads are much more widely distributed than .260 Remington factory loads. Sadly, 6.5mm cartridges have never (yet) become popular in the U.S. Both calibers are loaded with a reasonable selection of bullet weights, but you can buy 7mm-08 cartridges in a lot of stores that do not stock .260 cartridges.

The 7mm-08's popularity also carries over into the availability of rifles. Most gun companies that make a short action rifle chamber it for the 7mm-08 cartridge. The selection of rifles in .260 Remington caliber is much smaller. So it is easier for the most shooters to find a decent selection of 7mm-08 rifles from which to choose.

If for no other reason, this is matters because stock fit is important. Even though they may measure the same or nearly the same, each brand of rifle fits and feels different. The average shooter should try as many brands as he can, seeking the one with the stock that fits him best. Most retail stores will sell several brands available in 7mm-08, but only one or two available in .260.

And even within the brands that offer rifles for the .260 cartridge, there are usually more individual rifle models available in 7mm-08. If, for example, you want a mountain rifle instead of the standard rifle, or an autoloader instead of a bolt action, it is more likely to be available in 7mm-08.

It is hard to say, on balance, which cartridge is superior. Even on the same type of game it depends on the specific situation (the angle at which the animal is standing, its state of mind, etc.) as to whether greater bullet frontal area or greater sectional density is more desirable, and that is hard to predict in advance. Both cartridges are adequate for all species of North American antelope, deer, sheep, goats, feral pigs, black bear and caribou.

I would summarize the 7mm-08 Remington vs. .260 Remington comparison thusly:

  • If you favor bullet frontal area for increased shocking power, the 7mm-08 has the advantage.
  • If deep penetration is important to you, the .260 is hard to beat.
  • A recoil conscious shooter who wants a reasonably flat shooting cartridge that throws a heavier bullet of larger diameter than the popular .243/6mm caliber cartridges might do well to purchase a .260 Remington and shoot 120 or 125 grain bullets.
  • If you are starting fresh with no commitment to either cartridge and are not particularly concerned about recoil, the 7mm-08 is probably the better choice. It has been around longer and it is more popular, so there is more factory loaded ammunition and more rifles (new and used) available in 7mm-08.
  • If you are a reloader that already owns another rifle in either caliber, say a .264 Winchester Magnum or a 7mm Remington Magnum, then I would stick with the caliber I already own. There is a pretty good chance that you will be able to use the same bullet(s) in both calibers, reducing your inventory costs, and you are probably predisposed to favor that caliber.
  • If you prefer a certain make and model of rifle and it is available in one caliber but not the other, your decision has been made. Getting the rifle you like best is more important than the differences between the two calibers.

Ballistically, the two cartridges have many similarities, but they are not identical and each has specific advantages. Fortunately, most shooters will be well served by either.

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Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.