243 vs 308: Which Hunting Round is Best for You?

by Travis Pike

November 19, 2021

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Who doesn’t love good ole fashioned American-made cartridges? I know I do, and I have two facing off in our not so grudge match today. Our stars are the 243 Winchester and the 308 Winchester. Winchester might not have the same market share they used to, but they have undoubtedly shaped the legacy of American firearms. These two cartridges are intertwined with each other and have a rather successful shared history. It’s only right they get the chance to each to prove their superiority.

Why 243 vs 308?

Why should these two rounds face off against each other? Well, they are basically brothers. You see, the 308 Winchester was derived from the 7.62 NATO, which was derived from the 30-06 Springfield. As you can see, cartridges have lineages. Lineages that are easy to follow.

If you look up the lineage of 243 Winchester, the first thing you’ll learn is that the 243 uses a 308 casing. This casing is necked down to accommodate the smaller 6mm bullet. The 243 Winchester was created just three years after the 308. Therefore, the 243 Winchester is the little brother of the 308.

As a little brother, I can tell you it gets exhausting being compared to your older brother all the time. But, it’s a necessary evil if you want to prove your worth. The 308 and 243 share more than a common case size. Both are short action rounds and are both very popular in American hunting circles. Seeing both at the deer camp isn’t uncommon.

Both rounds have staying power and have been popular since the 1950s. It just seems plain appropriate that we see what each round can do and where they fit in the world of American rifles.

Spec243308
Bullet Weight55 to 105 grains125 - 185 grain
Bullet Diameter6mm 7.62mm
Case Length2.045 inches2.015 inches
Max Overall Length2.7098 inches2.8 inches
Case Capacity54.9 gr H2056 gr H20
Max Pressure60,000 PSI62,000 PSI
Parent Case308 Winchester300 Savage

308 Winchester History and Purpose

As previously mentioned, the 308 Winchester is derived from the 7.62 NATO, which is derived from the 30-06. The 7.62 NATO was a military cartridge adopted by NATO forces to standardize a cartridge between NATO forces. Winchester saw potential in adopting the new, shorter, and more efficient cartridge for the hunting market.

Winchester released the cartridge in 1952 alongside the Winchester Model 70, Model 88, and Model 100 rifles. It became a near-instant success among sportsmen.

The 308 Winchester became the first short action cartridge. 308 Winchester is mostly the same as 7.62 NATO but is often loaded to higher pressures. The ole 308 quickly became the most popular short-action hunting cartridge in the United States and in several parts of the world.

Winchesters’ cartridge quickly outgrew Winchester rifles. Every intelligent gun company that was producing rifles quickly began producing 308 caliber rifles. The fact that the 7.62 NATO dominated the tactical world at the time also guaranteed that semi-auto platforms would be prevalent.

The 308 Winchester is a potent round and has become popular in realms beyond hunting. It’s a practical and effective cartridge for precision rifle competition, silhouette shooting, and police use. The greater degree of various rounds allows shooters to pick and choose between various projectile types and various loads.

BEST 308 CARTRIDGES

Best for Hunting

Norma Whitetail 308

Norma Whitetail

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Brownell’s $1.50

Best for Competition

Nosler 308 Ammo

NOSLER 308

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Palmetto State Armory $1.80

243 Winchester History and Purpose

Winchester wasn’t done with the 308 or its casing just yet. In 1955 they necked the case down to accept a 6mm projectile. Like the 308, it became an overnight success. People quickly saw the versatility the 6mm projectile offered and latched on to it.

The 243 Winchester was considered groundbreaking in 1955. The round’s ability to accept a wide variety of projectile weights made it more versatile than most rifle calibers on the market. This led to rapid adoption by serious sportsmen and hunters of both varmint and medium game.

Beyond the versatility, the lighter recoil made the round a favorite with smaller shooters looking to hunt medium game. Remington tried to copy the idea with the 244 Remington, but clearly, the 243 became the more successful round because who the heck uses 244 Remington?

The 243 Winchester got its own serving of Model 70 and Model 88 rifles, but like the 308 Winchester was quickly adopted by every major firearms company.

Overseas laws regulating minimum caliber also contributed greatly to the 243 Winchester’s success across Europe. Some nations military cartridges, which often includes the 308 Winchester. This is another factor in the worldwide popularity of the 243 Winchester.

To this day, the 243 Winchester remains a favorite round of hunters. It’s known to be especially friendly to younger hunters who may be recoil shy. I can speak to the fact that a 243 Winchester rifle was passed down from kid to kid in my family as our first hunting rifle.

BEST 243 CARTRIDGES

Great for Hunting

Norma Whitetail 243 Ammo

NORMA WHITETAIL

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Palmetto State Armory $1.50
EuroOptic $1.65

Great for Hunting

Sierra Bullet Ammo 243

SIERRA BULLETS, INC

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Brownells $2.05
Palmetto State Armory $1.98

243 vs. 308 Ballistic Battle

Obviously, the 7.62mm projectile is larger than the 6mm that lives on the 243 Winchester. The 308 has a higher ballistic coefficient due to its larger and heavier projectiles.

The 6mm projectile does have a more efficient ballistic coefficient than the 308, but it still cannot match the energy of the heavier, larger projectile. The lighter bullet can match the velocity of the heavier bullet but cannot meet the same foot-pounds of energy.

A heavy 243 projectile is a 100-grain bullet traveling at 2,960 feet per second and hits with 1,945 foot-pounds of energy. A heavy 308 is a 175-grain projectile traveling at 2,645 feet per second and strikes its target with 2,718 foot-pounds of energy.

You may ask how many foot-pounds of energy are necessary to take a deer? That’s a good question, and both rounds are more than capable of killing a deer at most hunting ranges. The differences lie in two categories, bigger game and longer ranges.

At longer ranges, the 308 packs a wallop and can still effectively kill medium-sized game at 500 yards. However, that’s not a practical or humane range for most hunters. The strength lies in the round’s ability to take bigger game at the longer side of practical hunting ranges.

The 308 can take a bear down at 200 yards humanely and swiftly. The 243 Winchester can certainly kill a bear, but it’s not a recommended round for such endeavors due to its lack of energy. Bones, fat, and fur create a barrier that requires a bit of energy to overcome.

At longer ranges, the flat shooting 243 is one heckuva good varmint cartridge. You can sniper coyotes and even prairie dogs efficiently at several hundred yards. Those smaller animals don’t require the same energy as other cartridges.

The 243 Winchester is, on average, a flatter shooting projectile. At 500 yards, it drops almost ten inches less than the 308. This can vary on bullet weight and powder loading, but it’s undoubtedly a flat shooting round. The drop is minimal, and it tends to drop less than 308 Winchester. This results in less hold over and easier shots out to various ranges.

Interestingly enough, when we look at wind drift with a 10 mile per hour crosswind, we see a minimal difference between the two. It’s not until 400 yards that the difference really shows, and the heavier 308 predictably is less affected by wind.

Recoil and Muzzle Rise

The 243 Winchester might have the same case size and case capacity, but that’s not where the story ends. The lighter weight projectile requires less force to move, and therefore the shooter receives substantially less recoil than a 308 Winchester shooter.

How much difference? Well, on average, the 243 Winchester has roughly half the recoil of a 308 Winchester when you compare similar-sized rifles. We can measure recoil in foot-pounds, and calculators online make it easy to draw out a few numbers. Using rifles with the same weight, we can input commercial hunting loads made for deer and evaluate recoil.

The 243 Winchester delivers 11 foot-pounds of energy in recoil, and the 308 delivers 21 foot-pounds of energy in recoil. From a practical perspective, my ten-year-old sister was wielding a 243 Winchester Remington model 700 when she killed her first buck, and she could shoot that rifle like a pro.

With that said, the 308 Winchester is no shoulder-thumping, pain-causing cartridge. Recoil is relatively mild for adult shooters. The cartridge would never have become as popular as it is if delivered with sharp or particularly painful recoil.

Muzzle rise between the two is much like recoil. The lighter 243 Winchester results in a lighter muzzle rise as well. The 243 Winchester does offer faster follow-up shots, and the sights go less off-target than the more powerful 308. With modern muzzle devices, this can be mitigated, but when measuring raw, the difference is evident.

Rifle Selection

The 308 Winchester absolutely dominates this section. Sorry to say, but the 243 Winchester is mostly found in bolt action rifles. You can find single-shot rifles, and the occasional magazine-fed lever action, and heck, even AR designs, but they are often rare and expensive.

The 308 Winchester dominates and is one of the most popular cartridges on the planet. YOu can find a 308 rifle in nearly any action type you desire relatively easily. This includes traditional hunting rifles in the bolt action, lever action, and single-shot realm, as well as tactical rifles.

The 7.62 NATO’s military history and interchangeability with the 308 Winchester open up rifle selection significantly. This includes the popular AR 10, as well M14 clones, G3s, FN FALs, and even AK-type rifles have found themselves chambered in 308 Winchester.

If you want it, you can get it in 308. 243 Winchester has always been a hunting round, and the rifle selection affects that. One benefit of using a 243 Winchester is the availability of youth-sized rifles. You won’t often see a youth-sized 308. 243 Winchester rifles can also be lighter weight, and if you are stalking a deer over rough terrain, every pound counts.

Price

The price for premium-grade hunting loads is nearly equal. If you want an expanding round designed for taking animals humanely, then the price is often a dollar a round or higher. That seems to be universal among hunting cartridges.

The big difference comes from the 7.62 NATO angle. 7.62 NATO often comes in full metal jacket loads. These are substantially cheaper, often 50 cents per round. If you want to shoot your rifle a lot for a low price, then the 308 option might be a better choice.

Our Take

Both rounds are excellent examples of modern rifle cartridges. They each offer shooters something different, and honestly, you can make a good argument to just get both and call it a day.

The 308 Winchester offers you more tactical rifle options if you want to go that route. It’s also more widely used for precision rifle competitions and offers you cheaper ammo options altogether. From a practical perspective, the 308 Winchester allows you to hunt medium and large game at various ranges.

If you want a thousand-yard cartridge, then the 308 offers you that. If you want to hunt game like deer and bear, then the 308 is a rock-solid choice. If you want to hunt prairie dogs, gophers, and coyotes up to deer, then the 243 is a great option.

When outfitting a young hunter, the 243 Winchester is a capable rifle selection that they won’t outgrow anytime soon.

The Wide World of Winchester

Winchester was rather ingenious in their adoption of the 243 and 308 cartridges. They shaped the American hunting landscape and fueled the future for various cartridges. Without either round, it’s unlikely we’d have the 6.5 Creedmoor, which is one of the most revolutionary rounds currently being produced.

Yet, even with new rounds touting their effectiveness, the 308 and 243 still reigns. They are popular, accurate, easy to shoot, and both are quite versatile and impressive. I doubt anyone would be poorly served by either.

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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