.243 vs .308: Which One Is Better For Deer Hunting and Why?

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whitetail deer standing in snow while hunter debates .243 vs .308 for deer hunting

When it comes to the .243 Winchester vs .308 Winchester debate… the battle of the two most popular cartridges has been ongoing.

The two cartridges have been around for decades, and have gained wild popularity not only in the US but also the entire world.

So, which of the two cartridges is better than the other?

With every competitive shooter and hunter airing their opinion on which of the two handgun cartridges they think is the best, you’ll only get more confused on which one to go with.

In today’s article, I want us to compare these two cartridges closely.

We’ll focus on the most important aspects of each of them— like the ballistics performance, recoil, stopping power, accuracy, availability, and even the cost.

Isn’t this all the information you need to make an informed decision on which cartridge is more suitable for your specific needs and applications?

Discover more details below…

As usual, we’ll start our post with a specification chart showing how the two cartridges vary from each other…

Specification.243.308
origin & year of designUSA 1955USA 1952
TypeRifleRifle
Bullet diameter.243 in (6.2 mm)0.308 in (7.8 mm)
Neck diameter0.3433 in0.276 in
Overall length2.7098 in (68.83 mm)2.800 (71.12 mm)
Case length2.045 in (51.9 mm)2.015 (51.18 mm)
Case capacity52 or 53 to 54.8gr H2O56 gr H2O (3.64 cm³)
Primer typeLarge RifleLarge Rifle
Rifling twist1-10 to 1-81:12 in (305 mm)
Maximum pressure60,000 psi (410 MPa)62,000 psi (430 MPa)

.243 vs .308—A brief background

woman hunter with a .243 rifle and blaze orange cap

The .308 Winchester was introduced in 1952. Though a predecessor, the cartridge acts as the civilian version of7.62×51 NATO round that was briefly used in Vietnam before being replaced.

The cartridge has gained wild popularity among hunters the world over. It’s loved due to its excellent stopping power and range. It’s a great medium to long range rifle cartridge that you can use to fell just any large game out there.

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Besides hunting, the round has also enjoys usage in the police sharpshooting units. And this is based on its high power, speed, and distance.

Judging from the amount as well as the type of ammo available out there, it’s easy to tell that this round is quite popular. You’ll come across a wide range of bullet weights, bullet designs, and powder charges.

The .243

Surprisingly, the .243 was a created following the modification of the .308 cartridge. This particular round was introduced in 1955. Despite being a descendant of the .308, significant differences show up when the two are compared.

For instance, its case is necked down .308. This smaller diameter enables the .243 to take smaller243-inch diameter bullets. This is just one of the most significant differences existing between the two cases (you can see more on the comparison table above).

Like the .308, the .243 takes a wide range of bullet weights—ranging from 50 to 100 or more. Due to its light recoil, trajectory, and velocity, this round has become a standard for the long range varmint hunting (though you can use it hunt larger game as well, e.g., deer).

Thanks to its incredible versatility, this cartridge is relevant and popular in today’s world despite the stiff competition from the modern rounds.

Ballistics

Let’s start our comparison with the ballistics performance of the two cartridges.  To get a better understanding of this particular factor, we’ll focus on the velocity, trajectory, and ballistic coefficient. These will make it easier for you to determine which cartridge will fit your needs.

(i). Velocity

Why should we discuss the bullets’ velocity? Well, that’s because it plays a major role in trajectory, which then determines the number of adjustments required when shooting at extended ranges.

Also, the velocity plays a major role in the terminal ballistics of any round as it influences the energy of the bullet as well as how it’ll expand on impact.

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After studying the velocity of different rounds of each cartridge, I discovered that the .243 rounds exhibit higher speeds from muzzle all the way to 500-yard mark.

All the averages support this; though .308 close the difference as the rounds travel downrange.

This can be attributed to the extremely high velocity (around 4,000ft.sec) they come out with, and their ability to maintain the advantage until they hit the 500-yard mark, where they all start grouping much more tightly.

The two cartridges maintain incredibly high speeds all the way to the 500-yard mark, and might probably do it for additional 100 yards.

(ii). Trajectory

Trajectory is another important factor to discuss concerning the ballistics of any given cartridge.

Before we get into any further details, check the graph below indicating the trajectory of the two cartridges:

(Note: I generated this graph using the ballistics calculator at gundata.org. I compared two rounds from each cartridge, with the same ballistic coefficient, bullet weight (it differs slightly due to the nature of the two cartridges), and bullet design).

Looking at the graph, it’s easy to tell that the two round show less than 1 in bullet drop out to 350-yard mark. Beyond this mark, the difference starts slightly widening—with the .243 round continuously showing a slightly less pronounced trajectory drop than the .308 round.

The biggest difference in the path of the two rounds is witnessed when they hit the 500-yard mark.

Now;

We’re just dealing with only a single round of each cartridge. What if we could increase the number of bullets for each cartridge? Will we get different results?

Let’s find this next…

We’ll discuss the various rounds when shot to a short range trajectory of up to 300 yards and extended range of 500 yards.

SWGGUN did an excellent job at analyzing up to 10 rounds (5 of each cartridge) at both short and long-range, and compiled useful data as indicated below:

Long-range trajectory:

.243 vs .308 long range trajectoty

(Image courtesy: swggun)

Hopefully, this data will give you insights on how various rounds from each cartridge will perform when shot at the short and long range.

 (iii). Ballistic coefficient

The final aspect I want us to discuss concerning the ballistics of .243 and .308 is the ballistic coefficient (BC). I know I’ve explained what bc is in our previous articles, but let me repeat it for the same of those who can’t remember.

Ballistic coefficient refers to a rating obtained from an equation that uses multiple variables of bullet/cartridge.

In simpler words, bc shows how easily the bullet resists wind drift and wind drag when on flight. The higher the bc, the less drag/resistance a bullet will experience when traveling in the air.

If we compared the bc of these two cartridges, we can see that most of the .308 rounds have a higher bc. For the .308 rounds with lower bc, they share similar characteristics to the .243 rounds (though some rounds have near double the bc value of some of the .243 rounds).

Overall, you can expect the .308 rounds to show higher ballistic coefficients.

Recoil

There exists a high variance in the recoil energy felt between the two cartridges, though they fall within the same ft.lbs of energy.

Because some of these rounds might have been loaded with less/more powder, it’s possible to find their recoil varying a little.

All in all, the .308 rounds produce greater recoil velocity (above 20 ft. lbs). This is more than enough energy to affect your shots if you don’t have any experience with the round.

Regarding the .243 rounds, they come with lower recoil energy (ranging from 8 and 12ft.lbs)

Stopping Power

When hunting, you’d want to be sure that the bullet you’re firing will reach your target and still produce sufficient amount of force to make a clean, quick kill.

To determine the stopping power of these two rounds, we’ll discuss their kinetic energy as well as how they penetrate a target.

(i). Energy (KE)

The energy (ft.lb) associated with a given bullet gets transferred to the target on impact, causing massive damage to the surrounding organs and tissue.

Going with the loose guidelines indicating how much energy is needed to fell various games, a medium sized game will require 1000ft.lbs of energy. This value will increase as the game gets larger.

Now, the two cartridges tend to tightly cluster together through 500 yards—with the .308 rounds showing significantly higher energy than .243 rounds.

The .308 rounds get out of the muzzle with bullet energies of over 2,500ft.lbs, and they maintain the 1,000 and 1,400ft.lbs all the way up to 500 yards. The .243 rounds, on the other hand, shoot out of muzzle with energy falling between 1,700 and 2,000ft.lbs, and drop below 1,000ft.lb on hitting the 400-yard mark.

(ii). Penetration

So, how well do the two cartridges penetrate a target? To answer that, we need to take into account the sectional density (SD) of both rounds. SD is derived from the diameter and weight of a bullet.

The higher the SD, the deeper a bullet can penetrate.

Again, Swgun did a good job analyzing the SD of the same 10 rounds (5 from each cartridge) to help you understand how the penetration of the two cartridges compare).

Check the results below:

.243 vs .308 sectional density

(Image courtesy: swggun)

Following these results, we can easily see that there are apparent differences between the .243 rounds—i.e., the lighter rounds have quite smaller SD compared to the heavier ones.

Also, the heavier .243 rounds don’t show much difference with the .308 rounds. Though all the .308 rounds show higher SDs, they’re only 1 to 3 hundredth higher.

The penetration capability of a bullet should play a central role in helping you determine which cartridge should suit your specific hunting applications.

Accuracy

I know you’ve been waiting to hear which of the two cartridges—.243 vs .308—is more accurate than the other, right?

The real truth is that the accuracy of any given cartridge usually relies on the type of firearm, optics, and your ability. In addition to that, the ballistics can make some notable difference when the two cartridges are in the hands of experienced hunters.

So, what do you need to know about the accuracy of the two cartridges?

When they’re shot within 200 yards, they’ll deliver excellent accuracy due to their trajectory at these ranges.

As you advance to greater ranges, the .243 rounds show a slight advantage over the .308 rounds, with slightly small bullet drop. The lightweight .243 round have an even greater advantage, but if you can’t use them certain situations, you can count on the .308 rounds that we said perform similarly to the heavier .243 rounds.

Remember we also saw a slight advantage in the bc of the .308 rounds. This is to mean that, while they might have a significant bullet drop their heavier weight and bc might help them easily resist wind and other environmental factors during long-range shots than the .243 rounds.

The heavy recoil of the .308 rounds can seriously affect the accuracy of the novice shooters.

A quick reminder… the accuracy of the two given cartridges will heavily be influenced by the user skill as well as the current environmental conditions.

Availability

The best thing about the two cartridges is that they’re readily available on the market. Most retailers will have both cartridges’ rounds in stock. You’ll also get varieties of options for the two cartridges.

Cost

The .243 rounds are usually cheaper than the .308 rounds.

That said, the cost of the two cartridges will depend on the quality factor. Finding cheaper versions of both cartridges in bulk is possible. Still. However, the cost of high-end rounds will still be high regardless of the cartridge quality.

If we were to compare the cost of the two cartridges, we’ll all agree that they don’t show significant differences, so buying one over the other might not save you a considerable amount of cash.

The Bottom Line: .243 vs .308

That’s all you need to know about the two most popular cartridges among the hunters— the .243 and .308 rounds.

The .243 and .308 are both highly effective up to a whitetail deer-sized animal, though we wouldn’t want to go bigger than that with a .243. Also, a determining factor for us was the recoil, for smaller hunters, the kick back with a .243 is less than a .308, making it more comfortable to shoot.

Depending on what you are hunting, and who’s doing the shooting, either is a great choice. But, for smaller hunters, or hunters who don’t like to take the kick of the .308, the .243 is a clear winner.

However, if you are going after game larger than a whitetail deer, like elk, or simply love feeling a gun when it fires, the .308 is for you.

Our in-depth comparison above has focused on the most important aspects of a cartridge meant for hunting purposes. So, I’m pretty confident that you’ll be in a better situation to choose which of the two will blend well with your needs and expectations.

One thing we can all agree on from this comparison is that both cartridges are highly versatile when it comes to application in various hunting scenarios.

By factoring in the circumstances you’ll be shooting in as well as your personal preferences, choosing the perfect cartridge for you becomes quite simple.

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