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The battle rages on between iconic rifle cartridges, keeping hot, especially for the giants of the cold war era. These rounds have historically found themselves on opposing sides of conflicts worldwide. But for the modern shooter on a newfangled platform, is the 7.62×39 the same as .308?
They aren’t the same. One is an intermediate, while the other is a full rifle cartridge. The 7.62x39mm symbolizes unadulterated ruggedness and pure dependability. At the same time, the .308 Winchester is the most prevalent North American big game hunter. They’re both excellent hunting cartridges but aren’t interchangeable on any platform.
The .308 Winchester is a watered-down civilian version of the 7.62x51mm cartridge, the standard-issue NATO rifle round. But 7.62x39mm cartridges, also known as 7.62 Soviet, are rimless and bottleneck, sharing the success of their preferred platform, the ubiquitous AK4. Let’s quickly compare these rounds to note differences and similarities.
Background Differences of the 7.62×39 and .308
The 7.62×39 Is an Intermediate Offshoot of the 7.62x51mm NATO
As one of the most used cartridges the world over, the 7.62×39 is poignantly a cold war child. The Russians needed around that delivered intermediate power while being decidedly flexible on semi-auto SKS carbines as well as machine gun suppressive fire. Later, a longer boat-tailed bullet meant a shorter, 39mm casing, finalized in 1947.
Since then, the 7.62×39 has seen little change, although refinements like heat-treated steel core bullets improve penetration. Subsonic and armor-piercing rounds and lacquered and bimetallic c have been developed cases. Several designs are available for the 7.62 Soviet, including soft-points and full metal jackets, and bullets hang between 122 and 150 grain.
.308 Winchester, a Civilian Version of the NATO Cartridge
The .308 Winchester was similarly developed soon after the Korean War when threats of communism gave America shivers. Military brass saw shortcomings in the frontline 30-06 Springfield cartridge in semi and automatic platforms, retiring the long-serving M1 Garland soon after. The next evolution of warfare would consist of select-fire battle rifles like the widely successful AK47.
Thus, it began developing the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, which the Winchester Corporation released as the civilian version .308. The Model 70 bolt action hunting rifle was initially offered, giving hunters and long-range shooters a hard-hitting and versatile cartridge. Unlike the 30-06 Springfield, this round fits into short actions with its shorter case length and identical ballistic performance.
Specific Cartridge and Performance Difference of 7.62×39 vs. .308
With its excellent track record for power, accuracy, and combat effectiveness, the .308 Winchester has survived the test of time. It’s a popular marksman hunter, military, and law enforcement cartridge that offers excellent ballistics. Only overshadowed recently by the 6.5 Creedmoor, its 147-grain round offers 2,800 fps and is effective to ranges of 800 yards or beyond.
While there are differences in specifications, its military version, the 7.62x51mm cartridge, was adopted by NATO in 1954, seeing limited use in Vietnam. However, it’s been used extensively as a battle rifle caliber by snipers and machine gunners. Let’s make a head-to-head comparison of the .308 with the 7.62×39 to help you choose the best round for your rifle.
Cartridge Specifications of 7.62×39 and .308
To glean information on any cartridge, it’s good practice to take a look at the case itself. From the top, one of the issues you’ll notice with the 7.62×39 is that it fires a 0.312-inch diameter bullet instead of a .308-inch round. The capacity also differs because Winchester holds 56-grain compared to the 35.6 grain of the Russian, almost 40% less.
That’s because the .308 is at least half an inch longer than the 7.62x39mm, offering extra powder that affects range, trajectory, and recoil. Therefore, a pressure difference arises, as the Winchester cartridge can handle 17,000 psi more than its Russian counterpart.
Recoil Comparisons of the 7.62x39mm vs. .308 Winchester
Many experienced shooters look at recoil as affecting follow-up shots and shooting comfort. Felt recoil buckles the muzzle off target and slows your reload, and it’s directly related to rifle and bullet weight, pressure, powder capacity, and your firing stance. As such, the .308 offers 2.5 times more felt recoil than the 7.62x39mm.
In general, the .308 is the more accurate cartridge, although much depends on the rifle platform and your shooting skills. That’s because Winchester offers better ballistics than the 7.62×39 Russian. Other than brass instead of steel casing, this round offers higher muzzle velocity, a flatter trajectory, a better ballistic coefficient, and higher supersonic limits.
How far a bullet drops at a given distance is the measurement for trajectory or a round’s path in flight. For instance, let’s take the 123-grain slug for the 7.62×39 and 150-grain option for the .308 with a 200 yard zero. Out to 300 yards, performance is quite similar, with the Winchester dropping less than 8.5 inches compared to 14 inches for the Russian.
It’s at the 400-yard mark where the .308 utilizes the extra muzzle velocity due to more powder charge capacity. You’ll note a drop of approximately 26 inches compared to the 44 inches the 7.62×39 crashes at. The Soviet goes subsonic at 500 yards while the Winchester only does so when it hits 1000 yards.
There’s a numerical representation of how streamlined and aerodynamic a bullet is, and it’s called the ballistic coefficient. It’s the .308 again that dominates this cartridge battle, scoring a coefficient of 0.434. That’s against an average of 0.27 for the 7.62x39mm because the Russian loses velocity at longer distances while the Winchester is more streamlined.
Availability and Price
Most shooters, me included, buy their ammo in bulk, so cost-effectiveness trumps over consistency, especially when you can get your hands on large quantities. You can’t beat the 7.62×39’s price, where you can pick up the non-corrosive variety for less than 32 cents per round. The .308 is more expensive, seeing as the cartridge is bigger, with a larger bullet, and more powder.
The cheapest .308 ammo is at 60 cents a round for the steel-cased. That almost doubles the cost of the Russian. Prices climb from there, as you can pick up high-quality Winchester ammo at around a dollar per round. The majority of the 7.62×39 comes with the 123-grain slug in Full Metal Jacket or FMJ and soft point.
Winchester offers more options, including hollow point match-grade, ballistic tip, partition, spritzer, and other specialties with a wide range of bullet weights.
When you hear uninformed shooters asking, ‘is 7.62×39 the same as .308?’, you can now give them a solid evidence-based answer. Both cartridges are good options for medium to large game hunting, but the Russian bleeds velocity faster than the Winchester. The intermediate soviet round lacks knock-down power for effectiveness and is limited to a few semi-auto rifles.
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.