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How Do the .308 Win, .300 WinMag, and .338 WinMag Stack Up?

I received another request for a cartridge comparison. This time I was asked to compare the .308 Winchester (.308 Win), the .300 Winchester Magnum (.300 WinMag), and the .338 Winchester Magnum (.338 WinMag) against each other with a hunting application in mind. Since I’m enjoying doing these comparisons, I figured I might as well give it a go. So how do they stack up?

I’ll attempt to answer that. But, please keep in mind that I have no experience with the .300 WinMag nor the .338 WinMag whatsoever. I do have first hand hunting experience with the .308 Win, but I’ll try to limit my anecdotal data to a minimum in this post.

I’ve previously covered the importance in matching the cartridge to the game. In that post, I mentioned the game classification generally defines the minimum sectional density (SD) and impact energy needed for an ethical shot. The minimum SD also varies a little bit by the caliber of the projectile. For the purpose of this comparison, please note that all three cartridges I will compare meet the minimum SD requirements for large (CPX3) game. I will also use the minimum impact energy of 800 ft/lb for medium (CPX2) game and 1,200 ft/lb for large game.

To make this comparison as fair as possible, I’m going to use the advertised ballistic data from the Hornady Precision Hunter product line up. The three cartridges being compared are all available in the line up and use the same ELD-X projectile.

Advertised Ballistics.308 Winchester.300 Winchester Magnum.338 Winchester Magnum
Bullet178 grain ELD-X200 grain ELD-X230 grain ELD-X
Secional density.268.301.288
Ballistic coefficient.552 (G1)
.278 (G7)
.597 (G1)
.301 (G7)
.616 (G1)
.310 (G7)
Muzzle velocity2600 fps2850 fps2810 fps
Muzzle energy2672 ft/lb3607 ft/lb4032 ft/lb
Advertised ballistics from Hornady

The advertised ballistic data confirms that all three cartridges have both the necessary SD and initial muzzle energy for both medium and large game hunting applications. For the .308 Win and .300 WinMag, the minimum SD for medium game is .210. For large game, all three cartridges require a minimum SD of .250.

While the initial muzzle energy of all three cartridges is sufficient for medium and large game hunting applications, the question that follows is how far out will the cartridges go before they no longer have sufficient energy for those applications? That distance will determine the cartridges effective range.

The following table compares the remaining of the projectiles at various distances:

Energy.308 Winchester.300 Winchester Magnum.338 Winchester Magnum
550 yards1282 ft/lb1889 ft/lb2148 ft/lb
850 yards827 ft/lb1276 ft/lb1468 ft/lb
1000 yards1041 ft/lb1206 ft/lb
1150 yards850 ft/lb991 ft/lb
1300 yards819 ft/lb
Energy at extended distances

I purposely selected the distances in the energy table to only include those at which a cartridge reached an effective distance.

The data indicates that at 550 yards the .308 Win has enough remaining energy to still be effective for large game, but that’s about its limit. At this distance, the WinMags still have plenty of oomph left for large game.

The .308 Win can be stretched out to about 850 yards effectively for medium game applications. Again, the WinMags are still effective for large game at this distance. However, the .300 WinMag is at its limit for large game applications.

The .338 WinMag remains effective for large game applications all the way out to the 1000 yard mark. At this distance, the .308 Win is out of the game and the .300 WinMag is still good for medium game.

The .300 WinMag maxes out its effective range for medium game at 1150 yards. The .338 WinMag keeps its medium game effectiveness up until the 1300 yard mark.

Somebody is bound to wonder how much further these cartridges can be stretched out when the application is a paper (or steel) target. Well these particular .308 Win, the .300 WinMag, and the .338 WinMag cartridges remain supersonic out to 1100, 1350, and 1350 yards respectively. I’d suggest looking at match target loads rather than these hunting loads to stretch out those distances a little bit more.

Okay. That’s cool. But what about drop and drift?

Drop.308 Winchester.300 Winchester Magnum.338 Winchester Magnum
550 yards78.5″61.7″63.2″
850 yards246.1″191.1″194.6″
1000 yards294.4″298.8″
1150 yards431.1″436.3″
1300 yards614.4″
Drop at extended distances

I’m not going to spend too much time on drop in this comparison. However, I will say that these data points are consistent with I’ve learned about drop. Drop is a result of exposure to gravity. Slower moving projectiles experience more drop at a given distance because they take longer to arrive to that distance and are therefore exposed to gravity longer. The idea of “the faster the bullet the flatter the trajectory” generally holds true especially when comparing projectiles based on the same design.

One other that is an important take away form this data is that hunting at extended distances will require better optics than hunting at shorter distances. I’m not just talking about magnification, albeit magnification helps. I’m talking again about range of mechanical adjustment. For example, the .308 Win at 850 yards will require a mechanical adjustment of 27.6 MOA (8 MRAD) based on a 100 yard zero. The .300 WinMag at 1150 yards will require an adjustment of 35.8 MOA (10.4 MRAD). The .338 WinMag at 1300 yards will require an adjustment of 45.1 MOA (13.1 MRAD). The longer the effective range, the higher quality optics needed.

Let’s look at wind drift.

Drift.308 Winchester.300 Winchester Magnum.338 Winchester Magnum
550 yards22.7″18″17.7″
850 yards60″47.2″46.4″
1000 yards68.6″67.3″
1150 yards95.3″93.3″
1300 yards124.8″
Drift with a 10 mph cross wind at extended distances

The wind drift data is also consistent with results from other comparisons I’ve done. Again, generally speaking the higher the BC the less the projectile is susceptible to drift a projectile is.

From a hunting application perspective, this data is stark reminder of the importance being able to estimate wind accurately. Even at 550 yards, a bad wind call can mean completely missing the vital zone. At best, this means tracking a wounded animal. At worst, this means a complete miss. The same holds true for a bad distance call, but as I’ve said before wind calls are more art where distance calls are more science given proper supporting equipment.

One other thing comes to mind here and that’s the importance of knowing the ballistic data from one’s selected hunting cartridge load from one’s own rifle. Consider this advertised data comes from firing these cartridges in Honady’s controlled environment with a 24″ long barrel. It’s not uncommon to see around a 150 fps or so difference on a chronograph when firing a .308 Win from a rifle with a 18″ barrel vs a rifle with a 24″ barrel. This change in velocity can reduce the effective range of a .308 Win to 500 yards for large game and 750 yards for medium game due to the reduced initial muzzle energy.

After writing all of this, it might seem that I am saying that the .338 WinMag is the best choice out of the bunch for hunting applications. While it’s true that it has the longest effective range for for those applications, it comes at the cost of recoil and price of ammunition. While I have no experience with either of the WinMags it fairly easy to infer both have more recoil than the .308 Win with the .338 WinMag having the most. In terms of price, I’ve found the .338 WinMag to be twice as expensive as .308 Win and .300 WinMag being somewhere in the middle closer to the price of the .308 Win.

The best choice in my book comes down to the cartridge one already owns assuming it was effective for the game and the terrain. If I had access to all three of these, I would only roll out the .338 WinMag when I expect to come across game at distances in excess of the .300 WinMag’s effective range. Likewise, I would only opt for the .300 WinMag when I expect to come across game beyond the effective range of the .308 Win.

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