The calibre hunter

Should the 7mm 08 have beaten the .308 Win in the quest for global calibre dominance? Byron Pace investigates

I don’t really know why, but recent weeks have seen quite a lot of online chatter about the 7mm-08. I have covered it before, but almost a decade ago, and I felt it deserved another look. What was all the fuss about.

It was introduced by Remington in the 1980s, but they could hardly lay claim to ownership, as the 7mm/08 wildcat had been in use since before 1958. There is nothing fancy about the commercial offering either, being quite simply the original .308 Win case necked down to take the 7mm bullet. Though Remington claimed that “it was the first 7mm round designed for use in short actions” (Frank C Barnes ‘Cartridges of the World’), this overlooked the fact that the .284 Winchester had been on the go since 1963.

Although originally only chambered by Remington, today most manufacturers offer a handful of models in this ballistically impressive round. It was quickly taken up in the early days by silhouette shooters, keen to take advantage of the superior ballistics over the .308 Win. At the heavier end of the projectile spectrum, the 7mm-08 exhibited a flatter trajectory and less wind drift, while benefiting from the same inherent accuracy and long barrel life of the .308 Win. Pleasantly it also offered reduced recoil for comparable BCs, which was important when intending to put multiple shots down range in a short period of time with optimum accuracy.

The 7mm-08 is most definitely one of those calibres that will only come close to its full potential in the hands of home loaders (unless using Hornady’s Superformance loads). Indeed, one of the reasons the 7mm calibre is so versatile, is due to the vast array of superb bullets that have become available through hunting, target shooting, and military applications over a life span exceeding a century. But what of the other 7mm rounds?

We could not talk about the 7mm-08 without mentioning the 7×57 Mauser. Though the two are commonly seen as producing very similar ballistics to one another with lower to middle weight projectiles, the slightly larger case capacity of the old 7×57 does make it more versatile than the relatively new kid on the block. Once we get to 170gn and above, seating has to be quite deep in the 7mm-08, further reducing case capacity. The 7mm-08 just doesn’t have the grunt required to shoot those heavier rounds to the same standard as the 7×57, with MVs 100-180fps less. Having said that, up to 160gn the two cartridges are pretty much on par; the one notable exception being that the more efficient case of the 7mm-08 makes for arguably tighter long range groups.

The 7mm is without a doubt my favourite all round calibre. Choosing the case to send that fantastic projectile down range is where it becomes a matter for serious contention. For me, the short action and accuracy benefits over the 7×57 don’t quite make up for the reduced performance in the heaviest weights. However, that may be because my rifle sees extensive use in Africa as well as the UK. Does it mean that the rein of the .308 Winchester should now be over? Probably not, but if factory rifle and ammo production was equal, and they had been launched around the same time, I would bet that most hunters would have reached for smaller 7mm-08 off the rack in the gunshop.

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