Hunting with the .308
By Steven Spiekman
Let’s face it: everyone has a preferred cartridge for hunting a particular game animal. Some like the .17HMR for rabbits while others prefer the .22 Rimfire, many like the .375 H&H for buffalo but others only want the thumping power of a big .40 calibre. Truth is, it doesn’t matter what cartridge a hunter uses, the most important thing is that it does the job required and is suitable for the intended game. I’ve always hunted mid-size game like pigs and goats so I began my hunting days using the .308 Winchester. Back in the late 70’s you could hunt with just about any type of rifle, so I started out with a semi-auto Remington 742 Woodsmaster .308 carbine. I must admit it wasn’t the best looking rifle around with its rather unattractive fleur-de-lis chequering and stumpy 18.5” barrel, but crikey it was an effective pig taker and accounted for a heap of porkers. But despite its impressive performance I did what lot hunters do, I sold it to move onto the something else, and in the intervening years owned a variety of cartridges before finally deciding to get another .308.
So after owning several other rifles chambered in a variety of cartridges, including 7mm-08, .280, .257 Roberts AI and .270WSM I once again found myself owning another .308. Make no mistake, all those other cartridges worked really well on game like pigs and goats and I have no complaints about their performance, but I liked the idea of owning a common cartridge that had the best variety of loading components on the planet, as well as a reputation as an excellent performer with an extremely wide range of powders. And luckily, I’d already done the hard yards regarding .308 load development since my two hunting buddies use .308s and I was the good soul that put his hand up to do all their handloading.
So a few years back I bit the bullet and purchased another .308. This time it was a Remington 700 that tickled my heart
strings. My new bangstick had a 55cm barrel, jewelled bolt, hinged floor plate magazine and had better finished metal work compared to cheaper versions of the same rifle – it ticked all the right boxes and to be honest, that particular rifle had my name written all over it. A few weeks after my initial purchase and to make the rifle a lot lighter, I sold the timber stock it came with and replaced it with a second hand black plastic 700SPS stock which I picked up cheap on US Ebay. I ended up getting the seller to send it to a water printing company in the US and they did some hydro graphics on the stock in Proveil: Reaper Buck before sending it on to me. The whole process worked out quite cheap and the finished product looked impressive. Next up, I fitted a Leupold VX3 2.5-8x36 scope on a set of old style Burris rings and two piece bases. I prefer the old style Burris rings and they took a few months to find but I wasn’t settling for anything else.
So with my new outfit complete and ready to be taken afield I just needed to knock up a few handloads and do some range testing to see which combination worked best in my rifle. Having done a truckload of load development for the .308 previously I had a reasonably good idea where to start when it came to bullets and powder. Despite the wide range of .30 calibre bullets available to the handloader I’ve always been a big fan of 150gn pills for hunting midsized game, primarily because they worked well for me in the past, and of course ammunition manufacturers load 150gn bullets in the .308 more than any other weight. I figured they know what they’re doing when it comes to the optimum bullet weight for a particular cartridge.
Just recently quite a few different .30cal 150gn bullets have been released and the Nosler Accubond was one I was keen to try. I’d used Accubonds in my .270WSM and .280 and they’d always worked well and shot accurately so I wanted to give them a try in my .308. Of course, mid-size game doesn’t usually require the use of a premium bullet, but what the heck, I was anxious to see how they performed on paper as well as pigs, especially big tough buggers caked in mud.
Choosing a suitable powder was my next task and luckily the .308 performs well with a wide range of powders, including ARs 2206H and 2208, BM2, BM8208, RE15, W748 and the new kid on the block Alliant PowerPro 2000-MR. Previous experience loading for the .308 suggested that despite a good range of suitable powders there is usually no real standout in terms of velocity and accuracy and individual rifles performed differently using the same load. So to get started I tried the commonly
used load of 47gns of 2208 with a 150gn Accubond, which produced a 15 shot average of 2727fps from my rifle’s 55cm tube. Another load I’ve used successfully in other rifles was 48gns of W748. In my rifle this load produced 2830fps and good accuracy. Last cab off the rank was the relatively new powder Alliant Power Pro 2000-MR, which from all reports was a top performer in the .308. I started a few grains below suggested maximum eventually working up to 51.5gns which pushed a 150gn Accubond along at 2820fps with accuracy similar to W748. Despite W748 and Power Pro 2000-MR given similar velocity I felt the loads using the PowerPro 2000-MR produced a little less pressure. So I decided to stay with that load permanently. As well as that, at the time W748 was almost impossible to obtain on a regular basis.
So with a good load found I spent the next few weekends at the range testing the combination a little more and getting my rifle sighted in as best as possible – a little practice didn’t go astray either.
My first opportunity to field test my new outfit came during a trip to Arnhem Land in October 2014. Despite wanting to give my new rifle a thorough workout more than anything else, I was very keen to see how the 150gn Accubonds would perform on big Territory boars.
First afternoon on day one saw my two companions and I sneaking along a fast drying watercourse, the intermittent pools of muddy water a magnet for pigs. We’d only walked 200m from the vehicle when the first boar busted out of a wallow and headed for parts unknown rather quickly. I jacked a round up the spout of my new .308 and let loose with a quick offhand shot. It was quite a difficult shot but to my surprise the 150gn Accubond landed right where I aimed and the first crusty old boar for the trip bit the dust. On inspection, I noticed the bullet had failed to exit, but there’s no doubting that bullet left a trail damage through the pigs vitals which resulted in almost instant death. Over the next few days lots of quality boars succumbed to my new outfit and to be honest, I was rather pleased with the way it performed n the trip.
Back home a few weeks later I did some more load development. Not that I was unhappy with combination I’d been using, it worked a treat, but I just wanted to leave no stone unturned regarding getting the best possible performance. I range tested a few more Accubond loads this time using 2206H and BM2 and they shot quite well but velocity was down by about 50fps compared to the load I used in the NT, not that 50fps will make any difference in the field. While I was in the mood for load testing, I also knocked up a few combinations using Sierra and Speer 150gn boat tails atop maximum loads of W748 and BM8208. Those combinations shot accurately with average velocity between 2750 – 2800fps. At the end of the day, all combinations worked well but the Alliant Power Pro 2000-MR and 150gn Accubond had a slight edge with velocity and accuracy in my rifle, so I stayed with that combination.
Just recently I ventured out to far Western Qld with a regular hunting mate to get amongst a few porkers. Conditions were tough due to a prolonged drought and I knew after the first day we were going to have our work cut out for us when it came to finding pigs. The first few days yielded very little but luckily on day three we hit pay dirt when we spotted a rough looking boar wandering across a gibber plain in the middle of the afternoon. He was approaching a concrete trough, no doubt intent
on having a drink. I was off my bike in a flash but he’d already heard us coming and started to move away at a steady pace. It was now or never, so I had the Leupold crosshairs on him in a flash and squeezed off a quick a shot. The 150gn Accubond was right on target; the pig took a few steps and keeled over dead.
He turned out to be a really good boar with a decent set of tusks. We spent the next few days scouring the countryside looking for more porkers and were lucky enough to score two smaller boars on our last day. While we were disappointed at the lack of game numbers, at least my new .308 performed as required and with little fuss.
So for those looking for a mid size cartridge that works extremely well on mid-size game, it’s pretty hard to go past the .308 Winchester. I’ve heard people say “Oh, it’s too common I wouldn’t own one of them”. So obviously it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it really does have the right stuff with absolutely no fuss.