308 vs. 7.62x54R Complete Guide: Is Newer Better?

308 vs. 7.62x54R Complete Guide: Is Newer Better?
August 8, 2022 Edited March 28, 2023 8448 view(s)
308 vs. 7.62x54R Complete Guide: Is Newer Better?

There has been a discussion, if you can call it that, for decades now over which caliber is more suited for hunting, for up-close and far-away target competitions, and for just about any other pursuit a .30-caliber round can be used for. Each round has its advantages, to be sure. Let’s take a little deeper dive into each one and then maybe see if one is superior to the other in terms of the uses I named. But first, let’s look a bit at their history – their backstory, to put it in modern parlance. We’ll start with the older one first, the 7.62x54R.

 

7.62x54mmR

I’ll hit this right up front in case you’re wondering what the numbers mean. 7.62 is the fairly generic .30 caliber designation in mm (this cartridge uses a .311-inch diameter bullet, which is actually 7.9mm); 54mm is the case length; and R stands for rimmed case.

This venerable Russian caliber has been around for a very long time. Matter of fact, it is still used by different militaries – it’s still chugging along. Introduced in 1891, it is one of very few rimmed cartridges to be successfully used in bolt-action (Mosin Nagant), semi-auto (SVT 40), and full-auto (Dragunov sniper rifle) weapons. I am consistently amazed that rimmed cartridges can be made to perform well in semi- and full-auto weapons, but it can be done.

The only other rimmed cartridge that has been around longer is the .303 British. It pre-dated the Russian .30 by just a couple of years, with an introduction date of 1889. That round is still used primarily by Commonwealth countries.

This caliber was going strong in the Mosin-Nagant rifle (introduced in 1891 as well) by the time WWI fired up, and was the main battle rifle caliber for Soviet forces during WWII and beyond. It was so popular that the Soviets introduced new versions of it for specific purposes. As of 2003, there were five different variations of this popular cartridge:

  • 57-N-323S: This uses a conventional steel-core bullet, designed to engage personnel and weapon systems.
  • 7N13: This was designed to defeat body armor.
  • 7T2: This uses a green-tipped tracer bullet designed for fire adjustment and target designation that can burn for 3 seconds.
  • 7BZ3: This is an armor-piercing/incendiary black and a red-tipped bullet designed to defeat lightly armored targets.
  • 7N1: This one is a sniper round designed for improved accuracy.

So, the old-fashioned 7.62x54R is still going strong and is in demand to this day. I have a good friend who had a plain-jane, B-flat Mosin-Nagant rifle, about 800 rounds of ammo, and a few other accessories who sold it for (shall we modestly say) a very decent profit at my friend Duane’s gun shop. The buyer was very glad to get it.

Buyers are varied and do not include just military collectors… I’ve known guys to hunt deer with them in my home state of Indiana, with the proper bullet of course. They are legal here. And why not? Ballistically, they are all but equivalent to the fore-mentioned .303 British, .30-06, and 7.92x57mm Mauser. I will touch more on ballistics later. A note about reloading for this caliber – it can be done, using modern cases. The original cartridge (and almost all the surplus ammo out there now) was Berdan-primed… not so great for us reloaders. It can be done, but there’s no reason to since new, Boxer-primed cases are available.

7.62x54R Ammo

 

Now, let’s look at the .308.

 

.308 Winchester

Before we look at its history, a question arises: Why is the .308 so darn popular? The .308 shares a couple of benefits that have endeared it to many hunters and shooters. First, it fits in a short-action rifle. Its older, larger sibling the .30-06 is probably the most popular long-action round, but the .308 can be chambered in rifles that use a shorter, more convenient (to some) action.

Secondly, it comes close to duplicating the .30-06’s ballistics. Matter of fact, it comes within 25 f.p.s. of equaling the older cartridge’s velocity, with 125-grain bullets . Having been designed around the turn of the century, the old “aught-six” needed a larger case to stuff the right amount of the powders they had available then to get the bullet up to speed. When the .308 came around, propellants had progressed and had become more efficient. The result was that a smaller case could provide close to the same velocities that the .30-06 did. Now, for its history…

The .300 Savage was one very popular civilian round in the 1940s. The military became interested in it to the point where they developed the T65 cartridges. These experimental rounds were made using regular .30-06 cases that had been cut down. They worked until they’d gotten a round that provided most of what the .30-06 did in terms of ballistics. As mentioned above, progress in powder development was key to the success of the new cartridge.

It sat on military supply shelves until 1952 when Winchester thought it might make a decent hunting round and introduced it as the .308 Winchester, named simply for the bullet’s diameter and the host company. In a rare turn of events, the civilian version pre-dated the military one. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1954, that the military adopted it as the 7.62x51mm NATO .

In the civilian world, it has become the most popular short-action round for hunting worldwide, with target shooting (silhouette, bench rest, long-range. etc.) right up there as well. Its military uses include all the typical tasks that a battle rifle would be used for, up to and including sniping. Its popularity continues to the present. My son sure likes his Savage .308 – he has taken deer with it – and the caliber’s usefulness and versatility is readily apparent to rifle shooters and reloaders everywhere.

 

Ballistics

Let’s look at the comparative ballistics for a similar bullet weight between these two cartridges. Remember that the 7.62x54R uses a bullet diameter of .311 inch, unlike that of the .308’s .308 inch. I compared two 180-grain loads, both FMJ, from Sellier & Bellot. I thought this would be representative of both loads. I know that bullet weights can vary greatly for either of these loads, but I wanted something that would be “apples to apples”, and the 180-grain load works for that. I’d say the next-most-popular load would use a 150-grain bullet but that chart would be similar to this one in terms of comparison between the two.

The rim at the base of the case is barely noticeable, but it’s there for sure. The round headspaces against it, provided the shoulder is where it ought to be in the chamber.

Popular bullet weights in the 7.62x54R include 125, 147/150, 180 and 200 grains. Here is the trajectory chart for this cartridge with a 147-grain bullet, 100 yard zero, at 2880 f.p.s. (All charts and tables are from https://shooterscalculator.com/ ).

7.62x54R Ballistics Chart

… and, the numbers:

Range

Elevation

Elevation

Elevation

Windage

Windage

Windage

Time

Energy

Vel[x+y]

(yd)

(in)

(MOA)

(MIL)

(in)

(MOA)

(MIL)

(s)

(ft.lbf)

(ft/s)

0

-1.25

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

2708

2880

50

-0.06

0.12

0.03

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.05

2549

2794

100

0.01

-0.01

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.11

2399

2711

150

-1.11

0.70

0.20

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.16

2255

2628

200

-3.48

1.66

0.48

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.22

2119

2548

250

-7.19

2.74

0.80

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.28

1989

2468

300

-12.33

3.92

1.14

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.34

1866

2390

350

-18.99

5.18

1.51

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.41

1748

2314

400

-27.28

6.51

1.89

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.47

1636

2239

450

-37.30

7.91

2.30

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.54

1530

2165

500

-49.17

9.39

2.73

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.61

1429

2092

550

-63.03

10.94

3.18

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.68

1334

2021

600

-79.02

12.57

3.66

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.76

1244

1952

650

-97.29

14.29

4.16

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.84

1159

1884

700

-118.01

16.10

4.68

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.92

1078

1817

750

-141.37

18.00

5.24

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.00

1003

1753

800

-167.55

20.00

5.82

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.09

932

1690

850

-196.78

22.10

6.43

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.18

866

1628

900

-229.29

24.33

7.08

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.28

804

1569

950

-265.33

26.67

7.76

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.37

746

1512

1000

-305.17

29.14

8.48

0.00

0.00

0.00

1.47

693

1457

As we look at the chart, let’s pick out a comparison range for our two cartridges. Looking at the 500-yard marker, we see this 125-grain bullet drops close to 5 feet (49 inches), with a total drop of 305 inches at 1000 yards. Given the right scope, you could hunt deer or other four-legged-freezer-fillers from waaay back there and the bullet would still have the oomph necessary to make your vertical animal horizontal… just don’t forget the hold-over. Using guidelines that a lot of folks who know more about these things than I do use, I’d put the maximum range for hunting deer or similar critters at 400 yards. That still gives you a bit over 1600 ft./lbs. of energy.

 

.308 Winchester Ballistics

Popular bullet weights for the .308 include 110, 125, 150, 165, 180 and 200 grains. Here we see the drop chart for a .308 shooting a 150-grain bullet, same 100 yard zero, at 2750 f.p.s.:

.308 Ballistics Chart

.308 Trajectory

Comparing the .308 to the 7.62x54R, we see that the .308 drops 56 inches at 500 yards, just 7 inches more than the faster-out-of-the-muzzle 7.62x54R. At 1000 yards, the drop is 372 inches, which is more than the other round but I have a feeling that B.C. and sectional density might have an influence there.

At any rate, the two are very close in terms of velocity and energy. That is notable, considering that we are comparing a long-action round (holds lots of powder) with one that uses a short-action (not quite as roomy). Using the example I used above about the maximum range that delivers at least 1600 ft./lbs. of energy, that would be 300 yards with this bullet and load.

I’m not sure how you’ll want to process this information, but there you go. Given that the velocity figure for the .308 was probably a bit slow for that bullet weight, its numbers might even be closer to the Russian rounds’ figures.

 

Will This Dog Hunt?

That’s my Hoosier redneck way of asking if these cartridges are good for hunting, their main civilian usage. Yep, that dog will hunt. More deer have probably been taken with both of these rounds than many others put together. Think about it…

I’m not just talking myself and my friends walking my local cornfields and woods. What about all those millions of Soviet soldiers who carried this round during (what the Russians call) the Great Patriotic War, not to mention WWI and the other conflicts it was used in? How many of them supplemented their sometimes-meager rations with a deer, cow, or hog that wandered across their sights?

How about all those G.I.s in far-flung places who used their M14s for purposes other than national defense? You think any of these folks had any problem putting down game with their issue rifle? I doubt it. In Indiana, we’ve recently legitimized the .30 caliber (plus many more rifle and handgun calibers) for hunting, with a JSP or HP bullet. (Speaking of .30 caliber, I took a nice doe last November with my Bear Creek Arsenal 7.62x39 AR – there’s another sleeper of a deer cartridge!).

Both rounds are in the same boat – proven over the decades. I know that the idea of soldiers supplementing their diets with local protein is an off-the-wall example of cartridge effectiveness, but you know it happened.

But… what if you don’t hunt? There is always the target game. That covers some pretty big ground, including paper, metallic, silhouette, long-range, tactical… the list goes on. I don’t think you could find two more versatile .30s to shoot than the two we’re discussing. Action shooting is yet another way to keep your rifle out of the gun safe for a longer period of time. Considering their military usage, both calibers would be fine for more serious purposes, if you catch my drift. Battle-tested and proven, either of these would serve you well.

 

Which is Better?

I’ve had some experience with both of these rounds, and my experience has shown that the .308 is more versatile. There are more loadings out there in that caliber, with more guns to shoot them in. Will the Russian round take game? Ja sure, you betcha! Being the near-twin of the .308 means that (with the proper load), the 7.62 is good for just about anything that grows in the lower 48. Would I purposely choose it over the .308 or other, more modern, cartridges? Heck, no.

It’s just that, if you have a rifle in the Russian caliber, do not feel under-gunned. I’ve seen some surplus Mosin-Nagants that have been “played with'' in terms of accuracy that are the equivalent of more modern rifles. Plus, you M-N owners have the advantage of grabbing cheap surplus ammo when you can find it. Just remember that a lot of the military stuff used corrosive primers, so be sure to clean everything well. (I used Windex with ammonia for that purpose when I owned a milsurp Mauser. It works great, followed by bore oil. Or, use plain water – you want to dissolve the corrosive salts left behind. Be sure to oil your bore, etc, when finished).

Whether you shoot old ammo or new, either one of these cartridges should fulfill your rifle needs. Hunting varmints with light bullets or elk with heavy bone-breakers, you should be good to go no matter which way you turn. After all, one of these has been around for 70 years and the other, 131 … I’d say that’s proof enough that the things work as advertised. Be sure to relay your adventures with these calibers below!

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Patrick Hensley
August 11, 2022
This is a very good comparison. I believe we are on the same page. I love my old mosin, but I also have a couple ar-10's in .308....both are great in my opinion. Thank you for sharing. The ballistic comparison were an awesome touch..
CHSuser
August 12, 2022
25
Roger Lamoureux
November 20, 2022
Hmmmm.... Would it be possible, to see an AR10, in 7.62x54?
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