In 1952, the .308 Winchester was released for the iconic Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle. Winchester based this cartridge on the 7.62x51mm NATO, and released it to the public before NATO adopted the 7.62x51mm by two years. It is commonly misunderstood that the 7.62x51mm is interchangeable with the .308 Winchester. This, however, is not true, as the modern .308 Winchester cartridge generates higher pressures than seen in the military 7.62x51mm. Therefore, .308 Winchester cartridges should not be fired in weapons chambered for the NATO 7.62x51mm.
The .308 Winchester cartridge was designed for hunting. It is able to harvest most game in North America, as well as a large portion of game in Africa. This is possible because of the efficiency of the bullet in delivering hydrostatic shock to the target. This happens especially well when expanding bullets are used, for example Nosler Partition bullets, or the Sellier & Bellot Exergy, a high performance bullet engineered specifically for hunting. The bullet weights for the .308 Winchester cartridge ranges between 150 grains and 180 grains. Muzzle velocities are in the range of 2,600 to 2,800 feet per second, which gives the bullet from 2,600 to 2,800 foot pounds of muzzle energy. It is possible to find loads with lighter or heavier bullets, from 110 grains to 200 grains, and loads with muzzle velocities that exceed 3,000 feet per second.
Police and military shooters consider the .308 Winchester to be a valuable component in their arsenals. It shoots with great accuracy and recoil is manageable. The round is versatile and has been employed effectively in urban situations, yet it still offers the ability to engage human targets at ranges as far as 1,000 yards.
For large numbers of sport shooters, the .308 Winchester is their go to cartridge. The .308 Winchester is currently used by PALMA competitors in their 800, 900 and 1,000 yard events. It is also used by F-Class shooters for competitions at 1,000 yards. The USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) has a Multi-gun, Heavy Metal class with very specific firearms requirements, one of them being that the smallest caliber size be 0.308", and as a result, the most frequently chosen cartridge is the .308 Winchester. This is also partly due to the number of AR-15 style rifles which have been chambered in .308 Winchester.
Development of .308 Winchester ammunition has continued since its introduction over sixty years ago, and it remains one of the primary rifle cartridges offered by ammunition manufacturers when they develop a new product line. Sellier and Bellot sell .308 Winchester topped with their Exergy bullet and Nosler Partition bullets. Federal Premium Ammunition sells .308 Winchester in their Fusion hunting ammo and with the Nosler Ballistic Tip. Hornady sells its new TAP ammo in .308 for tactical applications, and their A-MAX Match ammunition for competitive shooters.
The .308 Winchester, for sixty years, has been a popular cartridge for sport shooters, hunters, and shooters with tactical applications. It is extremely accurate, recoil is manageable, and it has a variety of ammunition available. It is likely the popularity of the .308 Winchester will continue for many years to come.