Compared: .308 Marlin and .300 Savage

By Chuck Hawks

The .300 Savage was the first cartridge specifically designed for a lever action rifle to drive spitzer bullets at velocities comparable to a standard .30 caliber bolt action rifle cartridge. In those days the standard of comparison was the .30-06, which drove a 150 grain spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2700 fps.

For 2007 Hornady and Marlin have introduced the new .308 Marlin Express, the latest cartridge designed specifically for a lever action rifle to offer spitzer bullets at a velocity comparable to a standard .30 caliber bolt action rifle cartridge. Today the benchmark at which the .308 Marlin is aimed is the .308 Winchester, which drives a 165 grain spitzer bullet at a MV of 2700 fps.

Given the similarities of these two lever gun cartridges, comparison is probably inevitable. And where better to do such a comparison than on Guns and Shooting Online?

The .308 Marlin Express

The .308 Marlin is a new cartridge that grew out of experiments by Hornady technicians with their 160 grain Evolution .30-30 bullet in the .307 Winchester cartridge. The eventual result, in partnership with Marlin Firearms, was a new case and a redesigned 160 grain Evolution bullet optimized for modern, non-canister powders and the 24" barrel of the highly accurate Marlin Model 336XLR rifle. The new cartridge is based on a unique rimmed case that closely resembles a .307 Winchester case with its shoulder set back .0998". The .308 Marlin has a maximum cartridge overall length of 2.60" and is loaded with the new .308" diameter, 160 grain Hornady Evolution bullet.

Hornady .308 Marlin Ammunition.
.308 Marlin. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Manufacturing Co., Inc.

At the heart of the .308 Marlin Express is Hornady's soft-tipped, boat-tail spitzer bullet. This bullet incorporates a semi-soft plastic tip that makes it safe to load in tubular magazines. This new 160 grain Evolution bullet has been re-optimized with a longer ogive and a higher ballistic coefficient than last year's .30-30 Evolution bullet to provide a flatter trajectory and greater retained velocity and energy down range.

It has It is primarily this new bullet, combined with the use of an advanced propellant, which allows the .308 Marlin to approach the performance of the standard 165 grain .308 Winchester load. Hornady figures show that their .308 Marlin load gives the 160 grain Evolution bullet a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2660 fps from a 24" barrel. Since that is the only load available for the .308 Marlin as I write these words, that is the load that we will use in this comparison. The Marlin 336XLR is the only rifle now available in .308 Marlin, but the cartridge is brand new at this writing and that situation may change.

The .300 Savage

The .300 Savage was introduced in 1920 for the Savage 99 lever action rifle. It gave the short action Savage rifle the approximate performance of the then relatively new .30-06 military round, a 150 grain soft point spitzer bullet at a MV of 2700 fps. The Savage 99 used a spool magazine and, unlike the Marlin and Winchester lever actions with tubular magazines, could accommodate standard spitzer bullets.

Factory loads were offered with 150 grain and 180 grain bullets, making the .300 Savage an acceptable all-around (CXP2 and CXP3 game) cartridge. For decades the .300 Savage was a very popular cartridge, and it was not until the introduction of the short action .308 Winchester (itself originally based on the .300 Savage case) that the .300 began to fade. Today the Model 99 rifle has been discontinued and no regular production rifles are offered in .300 Savage caliber. Factory loaded ammunition is still available from Federal, Remington, and Winchester.

Unlike most cartridges designed for lever action rifles, the .300 Savage is a rimless case with the same .473" rim diameter as the .30-06 and the later .308 Winchester. The Savage Model 99 action works fine with rimless cartridges. The .300 Savage has a case length of 1.871", a sharp 30 degree shoulder and a short neck, all very much in the modern mode. Its overall cartridge length is 2.6", the same as the new .308 Marlin. The SAAMI maximum average pressure for the .300 Savage is pegged at 46,000 cup.

Factory loaded ammunition has, over the years, progressively reduced the performance of the .300 Savage, probably in deference to the aging fleet of Model 99 rifles. In 1965, when I was a young man, standard Remington and Winchester .300 factory loads launched a 150 grain bullet at a MV of 2670 fps and a 180 grain bullet at a MV of 2370 fps. Now the same loads call for a MV of 2630 fps with a 150 grain bullet and 2350 fps with a 180 grain bullet. Stars and Stripes Ammunition offers a .300 Savage load in their Production Ammo line that drives a 150 grain Hornady Spire Point bullet at a MV of 2764 fps. This is a full power load, but still loaded within SAAMI guidelines.

Data in the sixth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading shows loads for that same 150 grain SP bullet at a maximum MV of 2800 fps. The same manual also shows full power loads for the Hornady 165 grain SST bullet at a MV of 2600 fps using a number of different powders. Since the Hornady SST is a boat tail spitzer bullet similar to the 160 grain Evolution bullet, we will use that bullet at a MV of 2600 fps to represent the .300 Savage in this comparison. (For .300 Savage shooters who don't reolad, Stars and Stripes Custom Ammunition can duplicate this and many other loads in new factory loaded cartridges. Visit the Stars and Stripes web site at for prices.)

The Comparison

The .308 Marlin and .300 Savage are both .30 caliber cartridges (bore diameter .300" and groove diameter .308") and shoot standard .308" bullets. All .308" bullets have a frontal area of .0745 square inch, regardless of style or weight. So cross-sectional area is not a consideration. We will compare the .300 Savage and .308 Marlin in sectional density and ballistic coefficient, velocity, energy, trajectory, killing power, and recoil.

To be as consistent as possible, the loads that we will compare both use Hornady bullets of similar shape and weight. As mentioned above, the Hornady LEVERevolution (LE) load using the 160 grain Evolution boat-tail spitzer bullet will represent the .308 Marlin. A handload taken from the Hornady Handbook using the 160 grain SST bullet at a MV of 2600 fps will represent the .300 Savage.

Sectional Density and Ballistic Coefficient

Sectional density (SD) is important because, other factors being equal, the higher its SD the deeper a bullet will penetrate. The heavier a bullet of a given caliber is, the higher its SD. Shape (round nose or pointed) has no affect on SD, just the bullet's mass and diameter. Penetration is an important factor in the length of the wound channel, and the amount of tissue disrupted.

Ballistic coefficient is a measurement of how well a bullet flies through the air. A higher BC helps a bullet retain more of its initial velocity and energy down range and also results in a flatter trajectory. Here are the sectional densities and published ballistic coefficients for the bullets used in the loads compared in this article.

  • .308 Marlin 160 grain Evo - SD .241, BC .400
  • .300 Savage 165 grain SST - SD .248, BC .447

Those numbers show that these two .30 caliber bullets are similar, but the slightly heavier bullet used in the .300 Savage has a slight advantage in SD and a more significant advantage in BC. We will see how this plays out as we move along in our comparison.


Velocity is the most important component of energy and also decreases bullet flight time and hence flattens trajectory. Here are the velocities from the muzzle (MV) to 300 yards in feet per second for our selected loads.

  • .308 Marlin 160 grain LE - 2660 fps MV, 2441 fps at 100 yards, 2232 fps at 200 yards, 2033 fps at 300 yards.
  • .300 Savage 165 grain SST - 2600 fps MV, 2406 fps at 100 yards, 2220 fps at 200 yards, 2042 fps at 300 yards.

The .308 Marlin has a modest velocity advantage from the muzzle to 200 yards, but somewhere between 200 and 300 yards the superior BC (lower drag) of the .300 bullet allows it to retain more velocity than the .308 bullet. The .308 bullet would still arrive at 300 yards slightly before the .300 bullet, however.

Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy is a measure of the ability to do work. It is energy that powers a bullet's expansion and penetration in a game animal. Bullet penetration and expansion are very important factors in killing power. Here are the energy figures in foot pounds for our selected loads from the muzzle (ME) to 300 yards.

  • .308 Marlin 160 grain @ 2660 fps - 2513 ft. lbs. ME, 2116 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 1769 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 1468 ft. lbs. at 300 yards.
  • .300 Savage 165 grain @ 2600 fps - 2476 ft. lbs. ME, 2120 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 1805 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 1527 ft. lbs. at 300 yards.

The .308 Marlin LEVERevolution bullet starts out carrying more energy, but by 100 yards the numbers are close to equal, and at 200 yards the .300 has a small advantage. Even at 300 yards, where the .300's advantage has increases due to the superior BC of its slightly heavier bullet, the numbers are close enough that no game animal could live on the difference.


Trajectory is important because the flatter a bullet shoots the less the shooter needs to compensate for bullet drop as ranges increase. The following trajectories, shown in inches above or below the line of sight, are computed for the maximum point blank range (MPBR) +/- 3" of each load and assume an optical sight mounted 1.5" over bore.

  • .308 Marlin 160 LE @ 2660 - +2.8" at 100 yards, +1.2" at 200 yards, -7.3" at 300 yards.
  • .300 Savage 165 SST @ 2600 - +2.8" at 100 yards, +1.1" at 200 yards, -7.7" at 300 yards.

The MPBR of the .308 Marlin is 261 yards, and the MPBR of the .300 Savage is 258 yards. Those are the distances at which the bullet drops 3" below the line of sight, having been allowed to rise 3" above the line of sight at the peak of its arc. As you can see, the .308 shoots a little flatter than the .300 due to its higher velocity, but not enough to matter in a practical sense. Based on their trajectory and MPBR, you could conclude that these are approximately 260 yard deer cartridges.

Killing Power

Killing power is nearly impossible to calculate with certainty due to the great number of variables, not the least of which are the game animal's physical condition when hit and the effect of bullet expansion on the length and diameter of the wound channel. And the most important factor, by far, in killing power is bullet placement. That said, some approximation of killing power can be a useful tool in cartridge and load selection.

In my opinion, one of the best attempts to estimate killing power on game animals is the "Optimum Game Weight Formula" devised by Edward A. Matunas. It at least attempts to consider more than one factor and relates the result to the live weight of the animal and the distance at which it is shot. Most of all, OGW seems to have a positive correlation with results in the field. (There is an extensive OGW table on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page of Guns and Shooting Online.) Here are the Optimum Game Weight results for our loads at 100, 200, and 300 yards.

  • .308 Marlin 160 at 2660 - 560 lbs. at 100 yards, 430 lbs. at 200 yards, 327 lbs. at 300 yards.
  • .300 Savage 165 at 2600 - 570 lbs. at 100 yards, 449 lbs. at 200 yards, 351 lbs. at 300 yards.

According to these OGW figures, and assuming good bullet placement, these are both about 150 yard elk cartridges and that range limitation is based on their killing power, not their trajectory. On the other hand, as deer cartridges they are--as previously determined--limited by their MPBR to about 260 yards, not by their killing power, which is adequate for deer well beyond 300 yards. We here at Guns and Shooting Online do not recommend shooting at game animals beyond the MPBR of the cartridge, since proper bullet placement is required for quick kills regardless of the power of the cartridge.


To compute recoil you need to know the rifle weight, bullet weight, MV, and the weight of the powder charge. Such computations are approximate, but adequate for our purposes. A scoped Marlin 336XLR rifle, as well as most standard Model 99s, weigh about 8 pounds with a scope and mount, so that is the rifle weight we will use to compare recoil.

We have all the information needed to calculate recoil except the powder charge used in the .308 Marlin LEVERevolution loads. Hornady doesn't reveal how much powder they use in their factory loads. Unfortunately, I can't pull a bullet and weight the powder charge because as I write this I have no .308 Marlin ammunition on hand. But, we can make an educated guess based on the size and performance of the cartridge compared to the similar .307 Winchester cartridge from which it evolved. And I'm estimating about 39 grains of powder. (I'll update that when I find out the actual amount.) So here are the approximate recoil energy (in foot pounds) and recoil velocity (in feet per second) figures for our loads.

  • .308 Marlin 160 @ 2660 fps - 13.4 ft. lbs., 10.4 fps.
  • .300 Savage 165 @ 2600 fps - 14.0 ft. lbs., 10.6 fps.

These figures reveal that there isn't much difference in recoil. Both cartridges are below the 15 ft. lb. level that marks the comfort level limit of many shooters. My guess is that most shooters will not find the recoil of the .308 Marlin or the .300 Savage objectionable in a rifle that fits them properly. Moderate recoil is a big help in achieving proper bullet placement, as everyone can shoot more accurately with a rifle that kicks less. And the three keys to quick, humane kills are: bullet placement, bullet placement, and bullet placement!


This has been an interesting cartridge comparison because it not only brings to light the sterling attributes of the new .308 Marlin, it illustrates how far ahead of its time the .300 Savage really was, and what a fine cartridge it remains. The .300 Savage and .308 Marlin are among the cartridges included in the blue ribbon article "Ideal Deer Cartridges," which can be found on the Rifle Information Page. There are individual articles about the .300 Savage and .308 Marlin, as well as another comparison article including the .308 Marlin, on the Rifle Cartridge Page.

Back to Rifle Cartridges

Copyright 2006, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.