When Uncle Sam when looking for a lighter .30-caliber round than the ‘Ought-Six they wanted similar ballistic performance in a smaller cartridge.
The Army’s T65 cartridge eventually landed at 7.62x51mm length, the NATO standard for battle rifles and machine guns in 1954. With the specs for the cartridge already commercially available, Winchester beat the Army to the punch and released it on the commercial market in 1952 as the .308 Winchester, chambered for their new Model 70 Featherweight bolt-action rifles and loaded with a soft-point hunting bullet rather than the military’s steel jacketed boat-tail.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Here is our selection for the best battle and bolt-action .308 rifles available today.
Comparison of the Best .308 Rifles
|Most Classic: Browning BAR Mark III DBM|
|Best AR Option: Daniel Defense DD5 V4|
|Integral Buttstock Option: DSA SA58|
|Premium Option: HK MR762A1|
|Best Value Palmetto State PA10 Gen 3|
|Also Great: PTR91|
|Best Side-Folder: SCAR-H|
|Best SR25 Style: SIG 716|
|Best M14 Clone: Springfield Armory M1A|
|Best Value: Browning A-Bolt|
|Premium Option Daniel Defense Delta-5 Pro|
|Most Flexible: Ruger Scout Rifle|
|Best Craftsman Bolt Gun: Weatherby Mark V|
|Lightest: Winchester 70|
What to look for in a Quality .308 rifle
First, a Little History
While the U.S. Army first designed then adopted the .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm) cartridge in 1906 (hence the “aught-six” part of the title), and it went on to be used in the M1903 and M1917 Enfield bolt-action rifles of WWI, the semi-auto M1 Garand of WWII and Korea, and the ubiquitous M1918 BAR and M1919 machine guns, that doesn’t mean Uncle Sam was entirely happy with it.
Looking for a lighter .30-caliber round that produced similar results but in a smaller action, the Army began experiments with the .300 Savage (7.62x47mm) cartridge in the late 1930s. The thing is, the .300S was designed as a cartridge for lever-action rifles, such as Savage’s Model 99, and the Army decided to better tweak it for use in autoloaders.
With that, the experimental T65 “lightweight” cartridge was quickly designed by the Army at Frankford Arsenal in Pennsylvania. At 7.62x49mm, it was just slightly longer than the .300S it took cues from while still being shorter and more compact than the old .30-06, which it approached ballistically. The first gun designed specifically to fire the T65, the Army’s T25 trials rifle, was constructed in 1948.
Weighing in at just 7.5-pounds, the magazine-fed T25 could rock and roll on its T65 cartridges at over 700 rounds-per-minute, blowing away anything else the Army had in the field or on the drawing board.
Moving on from the T25, which in turn was beat out by Mr. John Garand’s T20 rifle to become the T44 which– after fighting off a competing design from FN in Belgium (the FAL)– the successor would be adopted as the M14 in 1957, replacing the U.S. military’s infantry and automatic rifles. Along the way, the T65 cartridge was tweaked to a 7.62x51mm length, which was established as the NATO standard for battle rifles and machine guns in 1954– three years before the M14 was adopted.
However, with specs for the cartridge already commercially available, Winchester beat the Army to the punch and released it on the commercial market in 1952 as the .308 Winchester, chambered for their new Model 70 Featherweight bolt-action rifles and loaded with a soft-point hunting bullet rather than the military’s steel jacketed boat-tail.
1. Why a .308?
As the Army originally intended in the 1940s when they started work on the design, as well as Savage before it, the .308 offers performance akin to “God’s Caliber,” the .30-06, but in a smaller package.
For reference, 20 rounds of .308 weigh in at 17 ounces, whereas 20 rounds of ’06 in the same bullet weight (180 grain) weighs 19.5 – an almost 15% weight savings. This allows users to trim ounces without sacrificing ballistics, remaining both practical and lethally viable out to 800 yards.
With a myriad of factory bullet loads ranging from as light as 79- to as heavy as 200-grains, the .308 is a high-velocity round capable of taking everything from medium-sized predators such as coyotes out to the dream list of North American big game.
This same flexibility carries over for its use in personal protection as well as by LE and military customers, able to “vibe check” most individual armor plate short of Level III SAPIs while remaining much more barrier blind than, say 5.56 NATO.
Further, innovative new bullet designs promise to keep it relevant for decades to come. There is a good reason why the round is still a NATO standard.
Is it 308 or 7.62 NATO?
Although they evolved on the same timeline, contrary to popular belief .308 Win and 7.62 NATO are not entirely interchangeable.
While they are the same size and can utilize the same bullets, 7.62 is commonly loaded to a lower pressure, 50,000 PSI. On the other hand, commercial .308 Win loads can run as high as 62,000 PSI, nearly 25 percent higher, and still be in spec.
While SAAMI does not list the interchangeability between the two cartridges as being unsafe, it is best to remember to stick to the chambering written by the manufacturer on the barrel just to be sure.
An alternative rule of thumb is that 7.62 NATO is safe to fire from a .308 Win-chambered rifle or pistol, while the reverse cannot always be said due to the potentially higher pressure of commercial loadings. When in doubt, consult a gunsmith.
2. Bolt or Battle Rifle?
Soon after the cartridge became NATO standard in 1952, the 7.62x51mm was widely adopted across Europe and North America for a new generation of autoloading rifles.
These “battle rifles” developed along national lines and included the Spanish CETME 58, the FN FAL, the Swiss-made SIG SG 510-4, the West German HK G3, Italy’s Beretta BM59, as well as the already-mentioned M14 and AR-10. These guns replaced the WWII-era bolt-actions of and, although in large part phased out by even more compact 5.56 NATO carbines, remain in military service around the world to one degree or another. Further, commercial variants, often incorporating Cold War-era military surplus parts kits, are extremely popular with consumers.
The first commercially available .308 anywhere in the world was Winchester’s Model 70 Featherweight, debuted in August 1952.
Building on the concept of the new “lightweight” cartridge with .30-06ish ballistics, the rifle weighed just 6.5-pounds, which was a full 1.5 pounds lighter than the traditional M70.
By 1965 in Vietnam, commercial Winchester 70s and Remington Model 700s in .308 were being outfitted with Redfield optics and shipped to provide U.S. Army and Marine snipers with their first new marksman rifle since the troublesome M1C/D of the Korean War.
For the Model 700, it went on to set the bar for short-action sniper rifles, with its modified action being adopted first in the M24 and then the M40, the latter a platform that is only now being phased out.
Since then, the .308 has been a staple chambering for bolt-action hunting and precision rifles from household names such as Bergara, Browning, Mauser, Mossberg, Nosler, Remington, Ruger, Savage, Tikka, and Weatherby, among others.
The Best Semi-Auto .308 Rifles Reviewed
1. Most Classic: Browning BAR Mark III DBM
Not to be confused with John Moses Browning’s classic M1918 automatic rifle of world war-vintage, today’s commercial BAR was a product of the inventor’s grandson.
First introduced in 1968 with the modern sportsman in mind, the rifle’s action was a natural for the .308. Today, the third-gen Mark III series with a detachable box mag (DBM) is the way to go — it gives you 10-rounds and the lightest configuration of Browning’s modern classic.
2. Best AR Option: Daniel Defense DD5 V4
Pretty much the top of the line in the modern AR-10/SR-25 concept while keeping a direct gas impingement system, the DD5 V4 has an 18-inch 1:11-twist S2W chrome-lined barrel with an adjustable gas block.
Using a DLC-coated bolt carrier group and serious attention to detail, this rifle is rugged.
3. Integral Buttstock Option: DSA SA58
FN produced their FAL series of battle rifles for more than 30 years and was adopted by so many Western countries that the platform was known commonly as “The Free World’s Right Arm.”
Using the same metric-pattern FAL equipment that Steyr in Austria produced their guns on during the Cold War under license from FN, Illinois-based DSA today is the king of the hill for this classic.
Their SA58 series ranges from SBRs with 11-inch barrels, to 16- and 18-inch carbines, and 21-inch Belgium style FALO heavy barrel 50.41 models.
4. Premium Option: HK MR762A1
Heckler & Koch’s first production firearm was a battle rifle, the roller-locked G3.
Today, they have moved to “closed” short-stroke gas-piston AR models (HK416/417 series) in both 5.56 and 7.62, platforms that have been adopted around the globe by everyone to include the U.S. Army (M110A1) and Marines (M27).
On the consumer market, the semi-auto MR762A1 is the program of record, provided you have the scratch.
5. Also Great: PTR91
Speaking of the HK G3, while the rifle has been out of production in Germany for a minute, clones abound outside of the country.
Here in the States, South Carolina-based PTR made a similar deal as DSA and picked up surplus G3 tooling that the Portuguese military was retiring and went into the semi-auto HK91 clone business in 2000.
Today, they have worked out all the kinks and make a beautiful send up of this Teutonic battle rifle.
6. Best Piston .308: SCAR-H
FN cut its modern teeth on 7.62 battle rifles and by 2004 had another trick up its sleeve. Answering a call from USSOCOM for a modular carbine that could go “light” in 5.56 or “heavy” in 7.62 with a lot of commonality between the two, the company came up with the concept today that is the SCAR or Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle.
Using an ultra-clean short-stroke gas piston system and outfitted with a distinctive side-folding boot-shaped adjustable buttstock, the SCAR Heavy is well-liked and often hard to find.
For those who enjoy controlling the heights, the 20-inch precision rifle variant, the SCAR-20S, is also an option.
7. Best SR25-Style: SIG 716
Another SR-25 style piston gun, Sig Sauer’s 716 series grew out of the company’s 5.56 NATO-chambered 516 model, only scaled up for .308.
This gun has proven to be an unexpected smash hit for Sig, who has sold thousands as patrol rifles for LE use and in recent years has landed contracts for more than 150,000 to equip Indian Army units facing off with China and Pakistan on remote mountainous border regions.
For those on a budget, a gas-impingement model, the SIG716i, runs a few hundo less.
8. Best M14 Clone: Springfield Armory M1A
When the M14 went out of production for the U.S. military in 1967, replaced by the M16, much of the tooling went overseas and the historic U.S. Army arsenal at Springfield Armory was closed the next year.
Soon after, taking advantage of a glut of surplus parts and furniture, a Texas-based company picked up the SA brand and started making a semi-auto version of the rifle, dubbed the M1A.
With production centered today in Illinois under the Reese family, the M1A is still around but in much more variety than the Army ever envisioned and is a regular on the DCM/CMP match circuit.
The Best Bolt-Action .308 Rifles Reviewed
1. Best Value: Browning A-Bolt
Introduced in the 1980s to replace the Belgian-made BBR-series of bolt-action rifles, the Browning A-bolt is the company’s answer to the Winchester Model 70 and Remington 700.
Made today by Miroku in Japan– who also make Winchesters– the A-Bolt remains in limited production but can still be had in .308.
2. Premium Option: Daniel Defense Delta-5 Pro
Billed as “the most accurate sub $2500 production rifle in the world,” Daniel Defense’s new bolt action line has just about every goody in the world, right from the factory.
This includes a Timney Elite Hunter trigger, 20 MOA Picatinny scope base, a heavy Palma barrel, a fully adjustable stock for length-of-pull, preferred height, yaw and drift; and 17 M-LOK slots for bipods, monopods, and QD sling points. Accuracy is guaranteed as 0.5-inch MOA.
3. Most Flexible: Ruger Scout Rifle
Building on Col. Jeff Cooper’s Gunsite “scout rifle” concept gun, Ruger introduced this model a decade ago and hasn’t looked back.
Utilizing a Model 77 action — which has largely been replaced by the Ruger American today in most hunting calibers — the Scout Rifle runs a short 16.5-inch barrel.
It includes a 10-shot detachable mag along with the provision for an extended eye-relief optic, just as the Colonel intended.
4. Best Craftsman Bolt Gun: Weatherby Mark V
A legendary California-based sporting rifle maker now relocated to Wyoming, Weatherby has been making beautiful bolt guns for generations.
Today, they have a number of their budget Vanguard series rifles available in .308 while the more top-shelf Mark Vs still evoke the sort of old-school craftsmanship the company still takes pride in.
5. Lightest: Winchester 70
The first commercial .308 maker is still producing several models of the venerable Winchester 70 in the caliber today.
This includes classic 6.75-pound Featherweights, complete with pre-64 style short actions and 22-inch barrels, and more modern Model 70 Extreme Weather versions featuring all-stainless barrels and actions in a hand-laid composite stock rated for use from Alaska to Arizona.
The more things change…
What is a .308 rifle good for?
A .308 Winchester caliber is fantastic for hunting and long-range shooting. Large and mid-size game such as deer, elk, moose, and bear can all be hunted successfully with a .308 rifle. In addition, the .308 round is a solid distance performer – with capable shooters able to hit targets at 700 yards and beyond.
How far can you shoot with a .308?
A.308 rifle with a maximally effective barrel length of 24-27″ should enable capable marksmen to perform consistently at a range of 600-800 yards when paired with appropriate scope magnification.
Is a .308 considered a high powered rifle?
Yes, the .308 rifle is high-powered and capable of very long distance accuracy – well beyond 600 yards.
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