Before we go any further, please extinguish your torches and put away your pitchforks. Let me be clear. I absolutely love the .308 Winchester cartridge, as well as its close-but-not-the-same brother, the 7.62x51mm NATO. I’ve been shooting both most of my adult life and it is one of the most useful and legendary cartridges of all time. The .308 firmly holds a comfortable spot in history as one of the military’s workhorses, both in precision shooting as well as crew-served weapons. It’s reliable, accurate, and most importantly, ubiquitous. Any corner sporting goods store carries it, and it deserves every accolade we can throw at it.
Winchester introduced the .308 in 1952 as a short action hunting round for big game. The aim was to create something that gave comparable performance to the .30-06 Springfield, but in a shorter cartridge. Since its inception, shooters have cemented the .308 as one of the most versatile ever created. Hunters, target shooters, military and LEO sharpshooters—all laud the greatness of the legendary round, and deservedly so.
We should keep in mind that while the .308 is a legend, it wasn’t exactly designed for long range target shooting. In recent years, several attempts have been made to replace the .308 Win in a number of its current roles. In 2007, Hornady introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s becoming the most popular contender out there to replace the .308 for tactical rifle shooting. However, in regards to bullet drop at ranges around 500 yards, the two cartridges are very similar. From a pure ballistics standpoint, the 6.5 CM is the clear winner however. It mops the floor with the .308 in pretty much every category. If your distances are known, even a novice shooter can adjust for bullet drop quite easily with the right tools. Modern optics, ballistic calculators and range finders make this process a relative snap as long as you have your fundamentals in order. Where the 6.5 CM shines is with a much less predictable variable—wind.
At 700-1,000 yards, the Creedmoor just plain doesn’t care about wind as much as the .308 Winchester. Some tests put the 6.5 at greater than 25% better performance in regards to windage. Ballistically speaking, the sharp shoulder and long neck help provide a more efficient round. We should take note that the 6.5 delivers all this with a comparatively smaller amount of felt recoil compared to the .308.
Great. So the 6.5 Creedmoor does a better job at long distance target shooting than the .308 Win. Should we all put our .308 rifles in mothballs? Not so fast. While there are a ton of rifles available in 6.5, you going to get a lot more options with the .308. Just about everyone makes one, so you can hand pick your rifle from any of your favorite manufacturers. There’s also an endless amount of knowledge to pull from. Shooters have been studying and documenting the performance of the .308 for decades. If you’re looking to learn more about your firearm or it’s cartridge, someone has already done the work for you. With the 6.5 CM, your options are much more limited, but not terrible. Savage, Ruger, Bergara, Browning, Howa, Tikka, Weatherby, and many others offer a full line of 6.5 bolt guns.
Doesn’t the 6.5 Burn Through Barrels?
Not really. A lot of .308s are often thought to be around 5000 rounds or more of barrel life. The 6.5 tends to burn up a barrel somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds. That’s a lot of shooting. Even if you’re shooting every single week, you probably aren’t going to burn through that many rounds in the first couple of years. Even if you do, barrels can be found for a couple hundred bucks. Therefore, while this round does go to the .308 for barrel longevity, it isn’t really a category I care too much about. Tools wear down and need to be replaced or repaired over time. It’s as simple as that.
Which One Is Right For You?
It depends on what you want to do. If you’re hunting game, I’d actually prefer the .308. I can buy hunting ammo at any corner store in the county. The area where I hunt, I’m usually not trying to hit targets beyond 500 yards anyway. The .308 Win hits with plenty of energy and has been dropping game all over the world long before many of us were born.
If you’re a beginner at long-range precision or tactical shooting, get yourself a 6.5 Creedmoor. You’ll spend less time correcting for windage and won’t leave the practice range thinking you aren’t cut out for this sport. Everyone should be able to leave the range with a smile, and the 6.5 Creedmoor is up to the task. Match grade factory ammo is now available in more places, so you won’t have trouble feeding your weapon.
While the .308 is not a bad choice for distance shooting, the 6.5 Creedmoor is just plain better. End of discussion. Availability of ammo and longer barrel life just doesn’t outweigh the superior ballistics of the 6.5.