Over the past couple years I’ve shot .308 in matches a lot more than I ever have before. The .223 ammo shortage created by the Barackalypse Part II in December of 2012 is partially responsible for this. The other factor was I was actively testing .308 platforms including the MK17S SCAR-H, the same gun with the CAV-MFG PMAG Fire Control Module, and then a Windham Weaponry SRC-308. For those who haven’t read my posts before, I view matches as a laboratory to validate firearms, equipment, and techniques. During this time frame I shot around 4,000 rounds of .308 in matches. Some of the observations I have may seem obvious, but its different reading about something in a few sentences from a third party than experiencing it yourself. Note I’m not criticizing the rifles themselves; they both worked as they should. This is a discussion of using .308 rifles in general.
I used my SCAR-H to win Heavy Metal Limited Division at the 2012 Independence Day Action Rifle Match.
Effect on Target
Matches rarely account for the terminal effect of larger cartridges in their scoring. The closest thing we get is engaging moving/falling steel targets. When .308 impacts a steel target there is no debate if it was a hit or not. With .223 at further distances sometimes targets won’t move enough for an RO to call a hit if it was marginal. On falling targets like LaRues .308 more easily knocks them down, where .223 may require multiple hits higher on the target. The MGM Targets Double Spinner is easily rotated in 3-4 hits with .308 vs 8-12 with .223. The number of Double Spinner targets at the Ironman 3 Gun for example made using .308 a potential advantage where it normally isn’t at most matches. The .308 rifles generally worked the best on intermediate to long range stages in open field conditions.
Memorial Day Rifle Match 2013. There were no divisions at this match, everyone competed against each other heads up. A lot of people used .22s and Pistol Caliber Carbines. I used the SCAR-H to keep testing the CAV-MFG P-Mag compatible lower. Not the most competitive rifle at close range against much higher capacity, lower recoil .22s and .223s carbines, but I still placed 25th/90 Shooters.
.308 rifles are inherently larger than .223 rifles, even if they have the same length barrel. Using the SCAR-H inside the car in the video above was more difficult. You’ll see the same with the Windham SRC-308 in a video below. Both have 16″ barrels but are several inches longer than an equivalent rifle in .223.
20 round magazines are the standard in .308 rifles. For some of the stages you see me shoot in these videos if I was using .223 I would not need to reload, or certainly reload less running with 40 round mags. With .308 I have to be much more conscious of how much ammo is in my rifle and reload proactively. It’s similar to the difference in stage planning between shooting a double stack 9mm with 20+ rounds and a 1911 with 8 round magazines.
I’ve found sometimes that carrying enough ammo for a stage along with pistol and shotgun ammo was difficult. Magpul’s 25 round LR PMAGS definitely helped. The AF Weapons Magazine coupler with 25 round mags was even better to start with in the rifle.
Recoil Costs Time
Every miss with .308 costs more time for a follow up shot. This may be imperceptible for some people, but for me it is a noticeable amount of time longer waiting for the sights to settle. Recoil is higher and it takes longer to restablize shot to shot. Sometimes I could get split times close to shooting .223, but only from a standing position on close range paper where I could muscle the gun more; doing this over time is more fatiguing. When stabilizing off barricades, techniques that would be solid with .223 require more readjustment with .308 shot to shot. All these fractions of a second add up. It is impossible to beat a peer level shooter time wise using a .308 even if capacities are equal.
Brake or no brake, flash hider or bare muzzle, .308 always has more muzzle blast than .223 with an equivalent muzzle device. Why does this matter in a match environment? Shooting prone kicks up more dirt. If there is too much dirt in the air it can be impossible to see the targets down range. This happened to me several times while shooting .308 and I had to consciously pause for the dust to settle or spent more time hunting for the targets. I have had this happen with .223 rifles as well, but it is much less common in the same conditions. Using .308s in confined spaces is not pleasant. Even with muffs and plugs ear protection. The muzzle blast is much more capable of damaging props and barricades.
How is this relevant?
You may be thinking “I’ll never shoot matches, so why should I care”. Here is why. I never would have been able to categorically understand the liabilities of using a .308 had I not been forced to solve a wide range of shooting problems using one. .308 no doubt has significantly better barrier penetration and terminal effect than .223, but is that worth the negatives? That’s a question you have to answer for yourself by testing your rifle and yourself in practical conditions and considering your operating criteria.