How to Choose The Best Barrel Length for 308

Are you a passionate hunter? Do you like pursuing and hunting down wildlife in your leisure? As they say, a craftsman can only be as good as his tools. This applies to hunting, too. You should carefully choose the right product for your needs when you are looking for hunting gear.

Speaking of the right tools, the guns you use can only be used to their full capacity if you select the right cartridges, barrel length for the type of gun.

Barrel is the circular part of the gun through which the bullet is fired. Its size is crucial as different sized cartridges warrant different sized barrels. The 308, also known as .308 Winchester, is a smokeless cartridge used in rifles.

We will take a look at different barrel sizes and determine the ones best fitted to use with it.

Relation Between Cartridge and Barrel

Before we delve into the best barrel length for a 308 cartridge, let us go over what these parts do and why they are related and interconnected. This will help you better understand why choosing the right barrel length is so important.

Cartridge and Barrel

The cartridge is the housing that includes the bullet, a case, gunpowder as well as the primer. In layman’s terms, this is a unit of ‘ammo’. Cartridges come in many different sizes, each size bearing its own characteristics.

The particular cartridge we will be discussing in this article is the 308, more commonly known as .308 Winchester cartridge. As you may already know, it is one of the most renowned rifle cartridges used by hunters. It is widely used to hunt medium-to-large animals.

On the other hand, the barrel is the tube or circular part of the rifle through which the cartridge bearing the bullet is ejected and shot. It is hollow and surrounded by high strength, high density metal.

The barrel length is absolutely crucial and must match the cartridge you are using. Depending on a longer or shorter barrel, the velocity of the bullet will be different.

When you are out hunting, these small factors make a world of difference.

Using the wrong barrel length with a certain cartridge can be detrimental to your hunting efforts. That is why, we will be going over different barrel lengths to use with a .308 caliber cartridge and determine which one happens to be the best.

Let’s take a look at different barrel lengths that can be used with a .308:

Considerations of Range and Distance

Choosing the barrel length for your .308 caliber rifle will more often than not, come down to the required range. What will be the proximity of your target when you are using the rifle? Will the target be too close or too far? These are some of the questions you will need to answer before fixating on a barrel length.

For example, a .308 Winchester caliber rifle with 20-inch barrel length will shoot a bullet at approximately 2800 ft/sec. The same caliber rifle, when fitted with a 27-inch bullet will be fired at close to 3000 ft/sec. This difference in velocity makes a big difference based on how far you’ll be shooting. Here we will discuss three different ranges.

Short Range Shooting

If you are shooting in a relatively close range, you should ideally opt for a shorter barrel length. A shorter barrel length is significantly lighter, easier to carry around and easier to maneuver.

When you are hunting an animal in the short range, it is essential that your responses are very quick and precise. Having an overall lighter rifle will help you make quick adjustments too, as well as shift position.

Short Range Shooting

The extra velocity you lose by opting for a shorter barrel is not that significant in case of short ranged shootings. A .308 Winchester equipped with a 20-inch barrel can shoot at 2500-2550 ft/sec, which is still plenty.

Thus, for shorter range, you should take a look at shorter range barrels in the spectrum. 20-22inch barrels can strike a good balance between low weight and ideal velocity.

Medium to Long Range Shooting

We reckon that most hunters, in their hunting pursuits, encounter medium to long shooting scenarios. This is applicable if you are on the hunt for bigger animals.

The term ‘medium to long range’ amounts to some subjectivity based on the weapon type itself. However, for an average shooting rifle equipped with .308 Winchester caliber, 300 to 800 meter is considered medium to long range. Anything above that falls into the ultra-long-range spectrum.

When you switch from short range to the medium range, you gain some advantages and lose some too in the process. You can carry and maneuver a comparatively heavier weapon, and have more reaction time. The drawback is that you will need more accuracy from the barrel and higher velocity to make up for the added distance.

A very important factor is deflection and accuracy. Almost all experiments by experts and users alike show that the shorter the barrel, the more the deflection. This essentially means that the shorter the barrel, the less accurate it will be.

The hit in accuracy is not very detrimental if you are in the short range. As soon as you get into medium range or longer ranges, you will need your rifle to be more and more precise and accurate. A longer barrel length comes in very handy in those cases.

Based on our previous estimates, the medium to long range is between 300 to about 800 meters. Taking into consideration the range and accuracy, you should opt for a 24-inch barrel length. Almost all use cases show that a 24-inch barrel, paired with .308 Winchester, shows great performance across this range.

A 24-inch barrel is light enough to be reasonably carry-friendly for this sort of range, while also being accurate. Tests show that a 24-inch barrel has minimal deflection and around 2700-2800 ft/sec average velocity. That strikes a good balance between accuracy as well as velocity, even from a distance.

Thus, for medium to long range, you should opt for 24-inch barrel barring special requirements.

Ultra Long Range

There is slight debate amongst hunters about what can truly be considered ‘very long range’. Some say that anything beyond 750 meters falls into this category; others set the bar as high as 1000 meters. Based on most common grounds, we can consider anything beyond 800 meters to be ultra long range/ very long range.

When you are shooting ergo hunting at that long range, the accuracy as well as velocity become crucial. During long distance shooting, you will likely never need quick snap reactions. You may often get time to set up your rifle and aim. Since you can do that, the main factor that’ll matter is how accurate you can be.

It is no coincidence that most long-range guns have longer barrels. Firstly, it is well established that longer barrels can project the same .308 Winchester cartridge with noticeably higher velocity.

Ultra Long Range

There is a tendency of seeing diminishing returns by switching to longer and longer barrels. But as a rule of thumb, a 27-inch barrel will help attain much higher velocity than a 20 inch one.

The higher the velocity of the bullet, the less likely it is to suffer wind deflection. This especially matters in very long range, as there is more scope for deflection. A longer barrel length simply helps you achieve more projectile stability. What that means is that you are more likely to hit your target.

For .308 Winchester, you can go as long as upto 30-inch barrels, but it is better if you stick to 27-28 inch barrels. They offer optimum projectile stability, allowing you to reach upto 3000 ft/sec. The loss of velocity is also minimized.

Considerations of Weight and Size

While the accuracy and the performance of a weapon is certainly important, so is its maneuverability. A weapon is useful as long as you can use it optimally.

The length of the barrel in the gun also determines its weight. A longer barrel in a gun is going to be heavier than a shorter one. It is also going to be physically bigger. This makes carrying the weapon more cumbersome.

One important thing to consider as a hunter is that you need to be reasonably quick. The animal will not hold the same position for long. Often, you may find only a few seconds to set your sight, get your rifle in place and take a shot.

People who have used both short and long barrels have often commented that the shorter barrel is easier to maneuver. They can get to position and take their shot more quickly, and in short to medium range, the projectile stability is perfectly adequate.

There is also the matter of carrying around a heavy rifle attached to a long barrel. The added weight can feel like a burden if you’re covering long distances on foot. You may often have to trek a lot before getting to your desired spot.

Considerations of Weight and Size

Considering those aspects, it seems wiser to just opt for a shorter barrel and sacrifice some projectile stability. However, you should at first analyze your shooting habits. Are you planning to use the rifle as a bench rifle? Or do you plan to move around frequently? These considerations are to be made before you take your final decision.

You will have to evaluate your needs, shooting style and come to a decision. A nice middle ground will be going for a barrel that is not too short or not too long. A 24-inch barrel, for example, could be a very good pairing with .308 caliber that’ll fulfill most of your needs. It won’t be too big or heavy, and it will also provide high velocity and projectile stability.

Coming to A Decision

With a clear idea of different barrel lengths and what they do best, you can take an informed decision. We considered different aspects of hunting, including the shooting distance or range, portability etc. For each one of you, these factors will undoubtedly vary.

You must keep your own requirements in mind before pulling the trigger and investing in a barrel. It’s now time to make your decision.

We took into consideration a variety of users and their specific needs or wants. Here are some recommendations to help you choose the best barrel length for 308:

  1. If you are specifically looking to shoot targets that are long distance, e.g., big game animals like elks or bears, you may want to look at long barrels. Our recommended barrel length will be 27 inches. Anything bigger than that is not well suited for .308 caliber.

A 27-inch barrel paired with .308 Winchester will give you great long-range coverage. It’ll allow you to reach velocity up to 3000 ft/sec. The projectile stability is also high, ensuring you don’t mistake a long-distance target.

  1. On the other hand, you may want something that is a lot more portable. Lugging around a heavy and big rifle is not easy. Another big disadvantage of a big weapon is that you might miss a close-up target because you cannot get to position and shoot as swiftly. 

This is where you should look for a shorter barrel. Our recommendation would be to go for a 20-inch barrel for these needs. Anything below that is not very well suited for this caliber, leading to bad projectile stability.

A 20-inch barrel is comparatively lightweight and agile. It will help you shed off a big amount of weight, making it less of a chore to carry. The velocity is still respectable at roughly 2600 ft/sec. There is more scope of deflection, but it matters a lot less in this kind of range.

  1. Last but certainly not the least, this one’s for the average hunter. You want to get a barrel that will serve you well in nearly all situations. Maybe you don’t want to compromise too much on either long-range performance or portability and convenience.

If you fall into this category, then we highly recommend a 24-inch barrel. This is a very versatile size. On one hand, you can attain up to 2800 ft/sec velocity, leading to strong projectile stability. That ensures you won’t easily miss distant targets.

Meanwhile, a 24-inch barrel is not too big or too heavy. The size and weight, while not petite, remain manageable. This is the recommended barrel length for most users, and most use cases.

Last Words…

The world of hunting and hunting weapons is often chaotic. You have so many options to choose from, which might often be confusing. It is hard to quantify one best barrel size for 308, as they all offer something different.

Taking almost all use cases, pros and cons into consideration, we recommend you to go for a 24-inch barrel. Based on reports by numerous satisfied users and applications, it seems to fit the needs of the majority.

Every hunter has specific needs and preferences, and you should always evaluate yours carefully before deciding. Hopefully, you will be able to become the prolific hunter you always aspired to be!

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