30-06, .308, or 6.5 Creedmoor; Which is Better for Hunting? One Question. Many Answers.
- 17 Mar, 2018
Perhaps the most used rifles for big game are the 30-06, .308, and 6.5 Creedmoor. If you are trying to decide which is right for you, this article should help sort out the differences.
Who doesn’t like a good debate? Debating, arguing, disagreement, and disputes seem to be as American as apple pie, baseball, and cowboys. Heck, the ability to disagree lies at the very heart of the democratic nation our forefathers set in place. Although some arguments can go stale (ie: Congress) arguing can really be an excellent vetting process. Debating is a process through which people can boil issues down to truths and make decisions based on that truth. Perhaps our national political issues garner the most attention when it comes to disputes, but every group has their divisions. Outdoorsman too, who generally agree that hunting, fishing, and trapping are wholesome traditions worth passing down, have disagreements. One great debate that has only intensified recently is the debate between rifle shooters about the superiority of their favorite caliber for hunting big game. Three cartridges that come to mind are the 30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, and the 6.5 Creedmoor. If you are looking to spark some discussion between a group of sportsman, just try asking which is the best of the three for hunting and stand back to watch the fireworks.
So the first point to consider in the discussion is to understand how these cartridges evolved. First off, the oldest of the bunch is the 30-06 Springfield. This cartridge became popular with the US army in 1906, and was put into widespread use in World War I and World War II. Soldiers were partial to the 30-06 due to its tremendous downrange power while not producing terrible recoil. It was standard in the M1 Garand rifles that became so popular in the second war. After soldiers returned home they remained loyal to the cartridge and many took it deer hunting when they returned. As time moved on the 30-06 did nothing but gain popularity until right after World War II.
As the US was getting set to enter the Korean War, the ammunition soldiers were to be supplied with was scrutinized. With the advancing semi-automatic rifle technology, the Army was looking for a cartridge that was not as long as the trusted 30-06. With a shorter cartridge, a shorter action would be required, which improved the reliability of the rifles during combat. Not only that, but if they could shrink the cartridge they would take up less room. Smaller cartridges meant soldiers could carry more rounds, trucks could have more cases packed, and boats and planes could store more as well. When you are dealing with billions of rounds the small gains could add up and a produce some real efficiencies.
What they ended up developing was the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, which later entered civilian markets as the .308 Winchester in 1952. What arms engineers developed was a cartridge that was a full .7 inches shorter but still packed the punch soldiers needed on the battlefield. Not only did soldiers warm up to the idea of the .308, but many big game hunters of the day were also switching in their old 30-06 rifles for the new .308. The one drawback was the .308 carried slightly less energy than the 30-06 downrange, although the difference was only slight. Since the ballistics were very comparable, and the recoil was considerably milder, the 1950’s was the decade of the .308.
So it went on for decades. The .308 steadily rose to prominence, while the time tested 30-06 still maintained a dedicated following. During those years it would be hard to estimate the amount of big game animals that fell victim to these two devastating cartridges. Then in 2008, Hornady announced the release of a brand new long range cartridge that would quickly grow to challenge the two old rivals; the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The 6.5 Creedmoor was actually developed for long distance tournament shooters, but quickly caught on with big game hunters as well. The attraction was two fold. First off, shooting this new cartridge resulted in significantly less recoil than shooting the .308, and especially the 30-06 (one source claims 34% less recoil). Another appealing characteristic was the efficiency of the cartridge. Although it doesn’t have the same power of a 30-06, it’s aerodynamic bullet design allow it to fly through the air better than the other two cartridges. This characteristic means it has a smaller MOA (minute of angle), thus making aiming easier downrange, and more downrange power when compared to its recoil. In just the matter of less than a decade the 6.5 Creedmoor has really caught on with American sportsman.
Best for You
So what does all of this mean for you choosing a hunting rifle? Well, it really depends on what you are looking for.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a heck of a modern rifle that is easy to shoot. That being said, the 140 grain bullets just don’t carry the energy downrange of the other two cartridges. That doesn't mean it isn't capable of taking down big game, such as moose, but just means shot placement has to be spot on. Another point to consider is that if you simply can’t shoot a big gun straight, you’d be better off going with a gun that doesn’t make you flinch. The 6.5 Creedmoor might be that gun. Also, 6.5 ammunition may or may not be easy to buy in your area, it just depends on your region.
The .308 Winchester is also a very solid choice for hunting big game and has taken countless animals all around the world. Ammunition comes in more variety, and larger grains, than the 6.5. That being the case, it will also carry more energy with it down range when it strikes the target. For big game hunters, the added energy might be a necessity. On the downside, it doesn’t pack the same punch as an -06, and has a larger MOA downrange than the 6.5. All that being said, if you can shoot this gun well, it is an understatement to say it can do the job.
Finally we turn to the time tested 30-06. Ever since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House this cartridge has been fired upon elk, deer, bear, moose, and enemy combatants. If it wasn’t up to the task it would have fallen to the wayside many years ago. The truth is it is still around and still has a following as dedicated as ever. The 30-06 is a big cartridge that can shoot bullets up to 225 grains. It certainly has more energy than the other two cartridges, but also kicks back more than the other two. If you can shoot it, and many guys can, there is no reason this rifle should be traded in.
At the end of the day all of these rifles are capable hunting tools. They have proven that since their release. In reality, the right gun for hunting big game is really more about the shooter than the cartridge. If you can shoot one better than the other, then by all means stick with it. If you feel like a 30-06 is a bit too much, then you might be best to back off a little bit. On the other hand, if the 6.5 just doesn’t seem to carry enough energy for you downrange, it might be worth browsing the other two models. At some point it might just be mental as well. When you settle those crosshairs over your target you should be shooting a cartridge you are confident in. Whether that be a 30-06, .308, or 6.5 I’d hate to be the deer on the other end.
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