The Great .308 Family of Cartridges (.243 Win., .260 Rem., 7mm-08 Rem., .308 Win., .338 Federal, .358 Win.)

By Jon Y. Wolfe

.308 Winchester
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .308 family of cartridges is possibly the finest lineup of useful and practical cartridges available to the pragmatic North American hunter. American ingenuity, without question, has resulted in the finest selection of modern cartridges in the world. I have a magazine advertisement from 1943 that states, "When peace time comes, sportsmen will do well to remember that Winchester ammunition is geared to global climate." In this article the main point was the three invisible enemies, heat, cold and humidity.

Today, it is rare that we discuss such factors, as we are more likely to discuss velocity, energy, downrange accuracy, and a host of other things many view as unnecessary. We operate without question under the premise that our ammunition is going to work properly when the trigger is pulled. This manner of thinking is akin to the hierarchy of wants and needs. We need food, water, and air to live. Once our needs are fulfilled we progress to our wants. For many of those in the shooting sports, we want perfect accuracy, perfect bullet expansion, extreme velocities, and instant kills. Even though extreme, it could be argued that this modus operand has had the effect of pushing the envelope and creating some of the finest cartridges in the world.

The 08 family was born when the .308 Winchester was developed as a result of the Army's effort to replace the .30-06. The experiment began with trials using the .300 Savage, and the T-65 was the final result. Winchester released it for civilian use as the .308 Win. Since that time four additional cartridges have been introduced by Remington and Winchester.

The .243 Win. and .358 Win. were born in 1955, only three years after the introduction of the .308 Win. Two and a half decades later, in 1980, Remington introduced the 7mm-08 Rem. In 1997 the .260 Rem. was announced as a new offering by Remington. Finally, in 2006, Federal introduced the .338 Federal. All seem to be holding their own if the rifle offerings by Kimber, Sako, T/C, Winchester, Remington, Ruger and Browning are good indicators.

The .308 family of cartridges falls somewhere in between satisfying our needs and being sensible enough to shy away from the extreme wants. When rifle offerings, price of ammunition, reloading supplies, accuracy, recoil, and bullet selection are considered, the 08 family of cartridges could well be the most ideal family of offerings available to the modern hunter.

All members are capable of taking CXP2 class game with proper bullet selection and the .308, .338 and .358 are capable of CXP3 class game with the proper bullets. The .338 Federal develops the most punch of all the .308 based cartridges (ME 3225 ft. lbs.) and with its factory loaded 210 grain Nosler Partition bullet it is a formidable elk, moose and even grizzly bear cartridge.

The .358 Win. has to be close to an ideal brush cartridge. This is particularly true for the reloader, who has access to a good selection of bullets weighing 180, 200, 220, 225, and 250 grains. Use the light 180 grain bullets for deer and the heavier bullets for elk. The 200-225 grain bullets are usually a good choice for mixed bag hunts. The Winchester factory load drives a 200 grain Silvertip bullet at a MV of 2490 fps and ME of 2753 ft. lbs. This load is specifically intended for CXP3 class game, but is also very effective on deer. I could also argue the merits of the 7mm-08 and the .260 as being effective elk stoppers with the proper bullets, but certainly they are not the most ideal choices.

Two offerings I like in the .308 that bring out its full potential are the Hornady Light Magnum and the Federal Premium Vital. The Federal uses a 180 grain Nosler Partition bullet and gives it a velocity of 2740 fps at the muzzle with 3000 ft. lbs. of energy. The optimal game weight of that load stays above 600 lbs. out to 200 yards. The Hornady load launches a 150 grain SST bullet to a muzzle velocity of 3000 fps with 2997 ft. lbs. of energy. This bullet has a maximum point blank range (MPBR) of 297 yards when 3 inches high at 150 yards.

The 7mm-08 is a very practical combination of flat trajectory, moderate recoil and versatility. The offering I prefer is the Hornady 139 grain SST Light Mag. This offering has a muzzle velocity of 3000 fps and 2777 ft. lbs. of energy. With a maximum point blank range of 297 yards, and plenty of downrange energy, this is truly a flat shooting cartridge that emulates the ballistics of the .280 Rem.

The .260 is the baby in terms of age, but certainly not in terms of its effectiveness on deer, goats, antelope, ram, and black bear. As many who have hunted with the .260 or 6.5X55 SE know, these bullets penetrate well, and are effective at stopping game.

The .260 Rem. is currently offered by two of the big three, Federal and Remington. Federal has a better selection in my opinion. They offer a 120 grain Nosler ballistic tip bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2950 fps and 2320 ft. lbs. of energy. With its high ballistic coefficient and sectional density, it's as accurate as it is powerful downrange. That load has a maximum point blank range of 291 yards when set 3 inches high at 125 yards. The wind drift on this bullet is also minimized because of its excellent ballistic coefficient. Federal also has a 140 Sierra GameKing BTSP with a muzzle velocity of 2750 fps, and 2350 ft. lbs. of energy. This load has a maximum point blank range of 265 yards when 3 inches high at 100 yards.

Hornady and Sierra make 160 grain bullets in .264 that qualify the .260 as an excellent brush or woods cartridge of moderate recoil. With a sectional density of .328 and a round nose, the 160 grain .264 bullet is approximately equivalent to a 195 grain 7mm, a 220 grain .30 caliber, and a 390 grain .35 caliber bullet, all of which would have significantly more recoil. Push the 160 grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 2450 with 2132 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle and you've got the neatest little brush gun on the planet. Recoil in an 8 pound rifle using this load amounts to about 15 ft. lbs. of energy.

The .260 seems to have found its home in the Remington Model Seven, Ruger Compact, Steyr Mountain and a variety of other short, light weight rifles. I would argue that the .260 with a 120 grain bullet would be an excellent long range cartridge for CXP2 class game. With a 24 inch barrel and a hot load, the hand loader could get 3050 fps with a 120 grain bullet, and that load would have a 300 yard maximum point blank range when 3 inches high at 150 yards. The .260 is an extremely versatile cartridge with both short and long range prospects, and would make an excellent choice for young or recoil sensitive shooters as well as experienced hunters.

The .243 is an excellent cartridge that is best suited to varmints, predators and the lighter species of CXP2 class game. It was originally conceived as a long range varmint cartridge, and for that purpose it really shines. As a coyote slayer it is close to ideal. In the Western U.S. it is widely used for pronghorn antelope, and in South Africa it is used for similar size game. The .243 Winchester is the most popular combination varmint/CXP2 game cartridge in the world.

The .243 is not the best choice for big northern deer that weigh in excess of 200 lbs. I have seen big bodied deer taken with the .243, and it is effective if the shooter does his/her job just right. However, many young and inexperienced shooters start with a .243, and the marginal performance of this cartridge on large CXP2 class game, combined with inexperience, creates the potential for a wounded animal that cannot be recovered. I would prefer to start a young hunter with a .260, 7mm-08, .30-30 or .300 Savage. All have moderate recoil and depending on the range, they each can be matched to short, medium or long range hunting.

Looking forward, I believe that all members of the 08 family have a bright future. Two of them, the .308 and .243, are solidly ensconced among the top 10 best selling centerfire rifle cartridges. If ammunition manufacturers continue to make improvements, and advancements continue to be made in the powders used, the performance of the 08 family of cartridges is sure to increase over time.

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Copyright 2005, 2012 by Jon Y. Wolfe and/or All rights reserved.