What? Fast 308 Winchester Loads?

This story was written by Guy Miner

A fast 308 – who ever needed that? What started out as a search for a low-recoil hunting load ended up as a flat shooting deer load, with great accuracy and high velocity. In this story, we get into it!


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How I came up with the Load

Why a Fast 308 Winchester Load?

About ten years ago I was mentoring a new shooter and hunter who had a lightweight 308 Winchester rifle that was beating her up with my standard 165 grain hunting handloads. I decided to work up a lighter recoiling load using the lightweight 125 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets.

I have considerable experience with the 308 Winchester cartridge. I’ve used it in competition, as a hunting cartridge, and I used it as my SWAT rifle for 12 years. Normally a 308 Winchester gives accurate barrel life for 4,000 – 8,000 rounds, and I’ve worn out a few barrels. This however was my first experience with handloading such light bullets for it.

My normal match load at the time was a 168 grain HPBT Sierra Matchking over 45 grains of Varget, in a Federal Gold Medal match case, with the Federal 210 match primer. I assembled those loads on Wilson dies, using a small RW Hart arbor press for neck sizing and seating. For hunting I simply substitute a 165 grain hunting bullet, usually either the Nosler Ballistic Tip or the Nosler Partition. The load develops right around 2700 fps with good accuracy and excellent results on game.

The Fast Load:

Above: Arbor press, using Wilson Dies

Above: Neck sized 308 Case

For this light-recoiling, light bullet load, I worked up to the book maximum of 50 grains of Varget with the 125 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. Recoil was reduced from 15.6 to 12.2 ft lbs in my rifle. What was of considerable interest to me was that the velocity hit 3,130 fps! That’s 400+ fps faster than my usual 308 Winchester loads and produced excellent accuracy. For comparison, with a 200 yard zero, the little 125 grain bullet drops 6.6” at 300 yards, and my 165 grain Partition load drops 8.9” at that distance.

Above: Nosler 125 gr Ballistic Tip “stubby” bullets

After we zeroed the new shooter’s rifle at 200 yards, we went hunting for whitetail deer in eastern Washington. Sitting in a ground blind, overlooking an apple orchard, we watched a fat young buck walk in from about a quarter mile out. There may have been some “buck fever” going on because the first shot was a complete miss at about 120 yards, but the buck just seemed confused, not frightened, and in a few minutes he reappeared. The rifle cracked again, this time breaking both shoulder blades and dropping him instantly with that classic “high shoulder” shot. I recovered the flattened bullet from just under the off-side hide.

Although I haven’t used that particular load often, I kept it in the back of my mind as I loaded more of the same for this story. It proved just as accurate and fast as I remembered, and I’d forgotten how nice it was to shoot from my rifle which has a 24” 1:12 twist Krieger barrel turned to the Remington varmint contour. If you’re seeking a light recoiling, accurate and effective deer load for a 308 Winchester, consider using one of the 125 – 130 grain bullets and pushing it out at over 3,000 fps.

About the Rifle

I purchased it used in 1995 for use as my SWAT sniper rifle. It started life as a Remington 700 VS (varmint synthetic) with a 24” 308 Winchester varmint contour barrel and the HS Precision stock. Once worn out, I had the barrel replaced with a 24” 1:12 twist Krieger, chambered with the 95 Palma reamer for the 168 grain Federal Gold Medal match ammo that was my duty ammunition. The trigger was set at three pounds, the scope rings and base are by Badger Ord, and for years I used a 4.5-14x Leupold which belonged to the police department. After retiring from law enforcement I replaced that scope with a surprisingly good 6x SWFA “Super Sniper” scope. The sling is from Turner Saddlery, and for several years I used it to teach sling-supported position shooting at the Washington State SWAT Sniper course.

With good handloads I can generally keep my groups in the neighborhood of ½ MOA. The rifle has been used in practical/tactical type competitions (before PRS) and also in NRA 600 yard prone competitions. My standard match load was the 168 grain Sierra HPBT Matchking, 45 grains of Varget, Federal Gold Medal Match 308 brass and the Federal 210 large rifle match primers. I’ve also hunted varmints, coyotes, deer and bear with the rifle, using 165 grain Nosler Partitions and 165 grain Ballistic Tips.

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