British 303 vs 308 Winchester: History & Differences Explained

When it comes to iconic rifle cartridges, the rimmed British .303, developed in 1888, takes the cake. However, so too is the rimless .308 Win, which many know as the 7.62x51mm NATO. Both have storied histories and have been used in various applications, so which one do you choose? In this article, we discuss the differences between the 303 and 308 and also answer which one of these cartridges is best.

308 Win vs British 303

What Is The British 303?

The British 303 is a rimmed, centerfire rifle cartridge. The cartridge produces enough energy and velocity to make it a good hunting rifle cartridge. It was the primary cartridge of the British forces from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. With the title of “the world’s oldest military cartridge that’s still on active duty,” this cartridge is ripe with history.

British 303

What’s The History Of The British 303 Cartridge?

The .303 British’s history dates back to 1888 when it was introduced for the Lee-Metford rifle as a replacement to the .450 Martini-Henry cartridge. Originally, it was a black powder round, but as the firearm world evolved, so too did the 303, transitioning to smokeless powder.

The .303 played a pivotal role in both World Wars and various other conflicts as the standard ammo for British and Commonwealth troops. Today, it still sees some military action but is mostly used for hunting and target shooting.

What Is The 308 Winchester?

The .308 Winchester, also known as the 7.62x51mm NATO, is a rimless, bottlenecked rifle cartridge. The cartridge is known for its exceptional versatility.

It was introduced in the 1950s and quickly became one of the most popular hunting cartridges in the world, specifically for hunting big game.

Win 308 ammo

What’s The History Of The 308 Winchester Cartridge?

The .308 Winchester’s history begins in 1952 when it was developed by Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It was designed to be a commercial version of the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge used by the military. The cartridge was developed for the Winchester Model 70 rifle and quickly rose in popularity as a fine deer cartridge due to its efficiency and versatility – differentiating it from other cartridges such as the .303.

What Are The Differences Between 303 vs 308?

When we compare cartridges, we mainly look at the following differences.

  1. Use Case
  2. Ballistics
  3. Stopping Power
  4. Size & Shape
  5. Price & Availability

1. Use Case

Historically, the .303 British was used as the main cartridge in military rifles for British conflicts. Today, it’s mostly a collector’s item or used by re-enactors and some hunters. I mostly use my .303 British for hunting whitetail deer and the occasional black bear.

In comparison, the .308 Winchester is widely used for hunting, target shooters, and military and police sniping roles. Its incredible ballistics make it one of the best medium game cartridges that can also take down large game animals when you use heavier bullet weights.

2. Ballistics

While the .303 British had superior ballistics in the early 1900s, it had to make way for modern bolt gun cartridges, such as the .308, which redefined what we can achieve in a rifle-chambered cartridge.

For a 180-grain bullet weight, the .303 British produces:

  • 2,460 feet per second of muzzle velocity,
  • 2,418 foot-pounds of muzzle energy,
  • -6.2 inches of bullet drop at 200 yards when zeroed at 100 yards.

In comparison, a 180-grain bullet of the .308 Winchester produces:

  • 2,620 feet per second of muzzle velocity,
  • 2,743 foot-pounds of muzzle energy,
  • -5.3 inches of bullet drop at 200 yards when zeroed at 100 yards.

The .308 Winchester offers a higher muzzle velocity. It also has a flatter trajectory and is overall a more powerful and versatile cartridge.

3. Stopping Power

Much like the .30-06 Springfield, the .303 British has an effective stopping power; otherwise, it wouldn’t have seen such an incredibly military service term. But to capitalize and make the most of this stopping power, I recommend using heavier bullet loads.

The .308 Winchester has an even better stopping power. Even though the ballistic coefficient is only .001 better than that of the .303 British, it does have better ballistics, particularly muzzle energy. Therefore, the .308 is ideal for use in machine guns, sniping roles, and hunting a wide range of game from deer to moose.

4. Size & Shape

The .303 British has a rimmed case, while the .308 Winchester features a rimless, bottlenecked design. The .303 British has an overall length of 3.075 inches, whereas the .308 only has an overall length of 2.8 inches.

However, both cases have more or less the same case capacity – 56 gr H20 – meaning the .308 is more efficient as it produces better ballistics for relatively the same gunpowder amount. This can be justified due to its innovative design and the fact that it is a modern high-pressure cartridge – producing almost 8,000 psi more pressure than the .303 British (60,191 psi vs 52,939 psi). And just like we saw in our analysis of the 6.5 PRC vs 7mm PRC cartridges, ammo size is a major factor.

5. Price & Availability

Nowadays, it’s quite hard to find a .303 British rifle in peak condition. Most often, it’ll be neglected and subject to years of dust and moisture exposure. However, the ammo is abundant and will cost you around $1 – $4 per round, depending on the type of ammo you’re looking for.

.308 Winchester rifles are readily available due to their widespread use. Its ammo is also abundant – chances are very good that your nearest gun dealer or online shop will have .308 Winchester ammo in stock. You can expect to pay in the range of $1 – $5 per round.

Which Is The Best: 308 vs British 303?

The best cartridge depends on your use case – the .308 is better for hunting and target shooting, while the 303 British is better if you’re a collector or enjoy partaking in historical re-enactments. But this doesn’t take anything away from the .303’s competence – it’s more than capable of taking down medium-sized game.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the British .303 ammo interchangeable with .308 Win ammo?

No, the British .303 ammo is not interchangeable with .308 Win ammo. Their case design and dimensions differ and should not be used interchangeably, as you'll only damage your rifle or injure yourself.

Is the .303 British primarily used in military applications?

The Bottom Line

The .303 British and 308 Win are two popular cartridges. However, their use cases mostly differ. The .308 is used for hunting small to big-sized game and target shooting, whereas the nostalgic .303 British is mainly a collector’s item due to its venerable status. Both these two cartridges have their strengths and weaknesses, and the choice between them ultimately comes down to personal preference.

About the author

Charles Neser

I'm a life long hunter & gun lover. Currently pursuing my Master's Degree (M.Sc.) in Animal Nutrition at University of the Free State.

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