I admit that I'm a fan of both cartridges, and the intent of this little discussion is not to get involved in the parentage or lineage of the .308 Win. I know that it came from the original T65 cartridge, and I know that Winchester standardized it as a sporting cartridge before NATO adopted it as a military standard.. I also know that for all practical purposes, the military's 7.62X51 cartridge is a virtual substitute and that SAAMI says they can be used interchangeably. That's not the purpose of this discussion.
I also know that I'm a fan of both cartridges. The old .30-06 Springfield has been around a long time, and lots of military and sporting arms have been chambered for it. Likewise the .308 Winchester, which to my paltry attempts at research, the shorter cartridge seems to be supplanting the older, longer cartridge in popularity. So, when we talk about which cartridge is best, we have to ask; "Best for What?" There's the rub.
Which leads me to this article, written by German Salazar, a noted NRA competitor. In the article, he looks at the argument, and tries to decide which cartridge is best for his purposes, which is NRA prone Highpower competition. He uses identical rifles and accumulated data over the course of several years, and he comes to some interesting conclusions.
In the Long-Range matches, the spread between the cartridges is a little bigger, reflecting the increased importance of ballistics when the range gets stretched to the maximum. So even with the same shooter firing all the rifles, the differences become more pronounced. Many modern-day competitors look down on the .30-06 as a long range cartridge, but I'll definitely say that if you want a good shooting cartridge with excellent barrel life and a huge choice of components, you can't do much better than the .30-06 for all around use.I'm not a high-power competitor, nor do I shoot F-class, or any of the long range games. I'm a hunter, plain and simple, a guy who can't see farther than about 250 yards on his deer lease. Yet the campfire discussions continue. Which cartridge is better? And I admit, I've got both of them and use both of them. I've come to know and trust them both. Yet, after all the discussion, with the newer powders and better bullets that we're blessed with, I really think that the difference between the two cartridge is the difference between Eenie and Meenie. For most practical purposes, it just doesn't matter. I don't think that a whitetail deer, nor yet a mule deer, nor even a bull elk would be able to tell the difference at 300 or so yards. So, for the practical sportsman, what's the difference?
Not a whit. It's only in the rarefied air of serious competition, or military sniping that the difference comes into play, and even in those situations, the two cartridges under discussion are always being supplanted by newer, more whiz-bang cartridges designed by folks who make money at such things, or for whom the difference matters. We sportsmen are a fickle lot, and we'll jump on the new bandwagon whenever it rolls by. Reference the success of such cartridges as the .260 Remington, or the 6XC.
I'm sure that in this puny blog post, I'm contributing to the debate, but I'm scribbling here more to link to Salazar (who has another great article here), more than anything else. I'm convinced that American sportsmen today are living in a golden age of riflery. We're blessed with factory produced rifles that are more accurate, more durable, and more affordable than anything that was available 20 years ago. It really doesn't matter which cartridge we use, simply because the rifles, the powders, and the bullets we have available to us today are so much better than the same equipment that was available to our fathers. Every thing else is either an intellectual exercise, or marketing. Use the rifle you've got, practice, take time to lay on your belly, or squat on your haunches and learn to shoot the rifle. It'll do what you want it to do.