In the mid 1950s, still during the early years of the Cold War, the M1 Garand was showing its age.
First adopted as the standard issue rifle of the US Military in 1936, the Garand was more technologically advanced than any other widely issued service rifle on the battlefield at the time. But then WWII came a long, leading to countless innovations in the field of small arms. After two decades in service, the M1 offered few advantages over the weapons being issued to rivals of the US.
After much debate, the controversial replacement for the M1 was finally announced in 1957, and it would be the Garand-inspired M14 rifle. Along with this change also came the end of the .30-06 Springfield as the US military’s primary rifle cartridge, first introduced in 1906 with the Springfield 1903 bolt action rifle. The M14 was chambered in the new 7.62×51 NATO cartridge, which shortly thereafter would be re-branded and introduced commercially as the nearly identical .308 Winchester.
The new .30 caliber round had a short-lived role as the standard cartridge issued to the American infantryman. After only five years, the M14 was ditched in favor of the M16 using the intermediate 5.56×45 NATO cartridge. Despite its metric counterpart being snubbed by the military, .308 Winchester meanwhile steadily gained popularity on the commercial market where it was frequently compared to the venerable .30-06.
A rivalry was born and ever since, competition shooters, hunters, and keyboard commandos from every corner of the country have argued over which cartridge is “better” in the great .308 Win vs 30-06 Springfield debate.
On the surface, .308 Win and .30-06 share many common traits. They both use bullets of identical .308 inch diameter in a weight range typically around 140-180 grains. Both are respected for their accuracy, moderate recoil, and impressive effective range (nominally 1000 yards, depending on who you ask). Either cartridge is suitable for hunting nearly any medium or large game on the North American continent, with the possible exception of some of the bigger bears. Military snipers continued to use rifles chambered in both .30-06 and 7.62×51 for decades after their respective service rifles were dropped from general issue. With so much in common, what actually distinguishes these cartridges?