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Is the .308 the best caliber for hunting Kudu?


Introduction

 

You will regret not being prepared for hunting season as it only comes around once a year. You need to be ready for that moment when the kudu bull you heard two valleys over is now making an appearance from the thick brush just three hundred yards away from you. You have waited an entire year for this moment. Looking down at your .308 rifle, you are going to think to yourself, “Is my .308 capable of getting the job done?” Now let’s try and answer that for you.

 

The History of the .308 Caliber

 

Born out of the US military, the .308 was developed to repurpose the .30-06 Springfield. It was not developed to replace the .30-06 or even try to redefine it, in all honesty, it is basically impossible to replace a rifle that served its country through two World Wars.

 

Instead of failing to try to redefine the world-class caliber the firearms manufacturers and engineers wanted to build on the solid reputation of the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Savage by using a shorter lighter cartridge that fired the same projectile, while using less powder, effectively a “Dynamite comes in small packages” type caliber. We will be comparing the .308 and .30-06 later in the article.

 

While the military version of the .308, the 7.62x51mm NATO, would not be released until 1954, Winchester took it upon themselves to market the .308 as a commercial hunting rifle. This was received very well by the public and very quickly became the most popular hunting caliber in North America. The bullet itself ranges in weight from 100-grains to 185-grains and is manufactured by most leading manufacturers such as Hornady, Norma, Barnes, Federal Fusion, Remington and Sierra.

 

The Kudu Bull

 

If the .308 can be viewed as a short-bodied, compact rifle that is quick and easy to maneuver, then a kudu bull can most certainly be described in the opposite manner.

 

A kudu is one of the largest antelopes in Africa, with the bulls easily weighing in at a whopping 400-pounds and standing over 5-feet tall at the shoulder. They have large round ears and beautiful spiral horns that can grow as long as 60 inches.

 

Just because this animal may be big does not mean it can’t run an impressive distance in a very short time span. Not having the correct equipment or placing that shot in the right spot will have dire consequences.

 

The rule of thumb for the minimum amount of kinetic energy needed to kill a mature kudu is 1500 ft-lbs.

The size of the “kill zone” on a kudu bull ranges from 16 to 18 inches. Essentially then, any caliber and bullet capable of producing the required kinetic energy with a minimum drop of around 12 inches at specific distances should be enough to kill an kudu.

 

Parameters for Success

 

In order for the .308 to be officially declared suitable to hunt a kudu with, it must first meet a certain set of parameters and criteria. A worthy caliber must achieve the following on a mature kudu bull standing broadside at a distance of at least 300-yards.

 

  • Achieve deep penetration through both lungs
  • The bullet needs to travel fast and flat enough to minimize trajectory, holding a kinetic energy above 1500 ft-lbs.
  • Balance both internal and external ballistics for minimal recoil that does not affect the hunter’s ability
  • Must hold accuracy to within an 8-inch radius of center out to 300-yards
  • The bullet must achieve sufficient expansion upon impact, which is done at a velocity above 2000 fps

 

.308 Winchester’s Capabilities

 

Specifications

 

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.308 in (7.8 mm)
  • Neck Diameter: 0.3433 in (8.72 mm)
  • Shoulder Diameter: 0.4539 in (11.53 mm)
  • Base Diameter: 0.4709 in (11.96 mm)
  • Case Length: 2.015 in (51.2 mm)
  • Overall Length: 2.800 in (71.1 mm)
  • Maximum Pressure (C.I.P): 60,191 psi

 

 

 

 

 

Ballistics – From Three Recommended Hunting Brands

 

Velocity (Feet Per Second)

 

Ammo

Muzzle

100 yds

200 yds

300 yds

Hornady 178gr Precision Hunter

2700

2511

2330

2156

Barnes 168gr VOR-TX

2890

2658

2439

2229

Federal 175gr Gold Medal BTHP

2700

2503

2314

2133

 

Energy (Ft. Pounds)

 

Ammo

Muzzle

100 yds

200 yds

300 yds

Hornady 178gr Precision Hunter

2720

2352

2025

1734

Barnes 168gr VOR-TX

2782

2354

1981

1655

Federal 175gr Gold Medal BTHP

2719

2336

1997

1697

 

 

Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)

 

Ammo

Muzzle

100 yds

200 yds

300 yds

Hornady 178gr Precision Hunter

-1.5

2

0

-8.4

Barnes 168gr VOR-TX

-0.57

0

-3.4

-12.8

Federal 175gr Gold Medal BTHP

-1.5

2

0

-8.5

 

 

Comfort of the Rifle

 

You may have heard that recoil energy determines just how hard the recoil is and that the recoil velocity determines how abrupt the blow to the shoulder will feel to the hunter. Weight is unarguably an important factor of a rifle’s recoil. However, this theory is not true when trying to chamber a lightweight rifle with a powerful cartridge. Do not forget this when you are choosing a .308 that has a shorter barrel length and weight when compared to other calibers.

Generally, as the gun’s weight increases, the recoil should decrease by a comparative percentage. A rifle’s reaction will equal the momentum of the bullet and those gasses created being ejected from the barrel.

 

The British Textbook of Small Arms which was released back in 1909, proclaimed that 15 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy were the maximum allowable for a military service rifle. Anything over this measurement would create sufficient discomfort to the shooter in a negative way, i.e., developing a recoil flinch. The .308 Winchester has a maximum recoil velocity rating of 12.5, meaning the recoil is sufficient for two or three successive shots, but there after the hunter may begin to feel the effects of the recoil on their shoulder.

 

The shorter and lighter frame of the .308 makes it much easier to maneuver through the brush and thicket where you are most likely to find kudu. This is especially helpful when the hunter needs to move or adjust quickly into a better shooting position.

 

The Accuracy of the .308

 

One cannot simply say that a rifle caliber is accurate or not, because there is an almost endless number of factors that go into the actual pinpoint accuracy of the rifle.

Factors such as:

  1. Skill level of the hunter and their technique
  2. Ammo type
  3. Cartridge loads and bullet weights
  4. Wind and other environmental factors

 

Pros and Cons

 


Pros

  • Very popular caliber that has been used and trusted by many hunters
  • Very good velocity up to 300 yards
  • Shorter more compact rifle
  • Large variety of bullet manufacturers to choose from
  • Tolerable recoil

Cons

  •  Not considered a long-distance shooting caliber
  • Lacks sufficient penetration at distances greater than 400 yards
  • Has a poor trajectory when compared to similar calibers at distances greater than 300 yards


 

 

Comparing .308 vs .30-06 for Kudus

 

Both calibers have many similarities and the difference between the two will come down to fine details. The focus needs to remain on which caliber is best suited for hunting kudu and in those common kudu hunting scenarios. That generally means performance of the round at average distances of between 280 to 400 yards.

 

As mentioned above, it is difficult to accurately label a caliber as being accurate or not because of many external factors. So you must focus on the velocity, energy and trajectory of each caliber.

 

Both cartridges are extremely close in specifications with an identical bullet diameter of 0.308” and similar neck diameter. The real difference comes in the overall length of the cartridge with the .30-06 being 0.5” longer. This extra length means a higher case capacity producing better ballistic coefficients and allowing the .30-06 to be loaded with heavier projectiles up to 220 grains, in contrast to a .308 that is rarely loaded to above 180 grains.

This additional cartridge space effectively gives the .30-06 a little more punching power with an additional 100 to 150 fps. That makes quite the difference when you plan on reaching out and tagging a big kudu standing at 400 yards.

 

It is tricky to decide between the two calibers, as either one are effective under certain conditions. But for your own sanity with that added bit of power, we would suggest the .30-06 Springfield for hunting big kudu bulls out in the African bushveld.

 

Best .308 Rounds

 

For those that won’t budge on using the .308 for hunting kudu, there is a variety of rounds to choose from. That is one of the best features the caliber has to offer.

 

We have determined that kinetic energy, velocity and trajectory are all important factors when it comes to hunting kudu. A quick reminder, the rule of thumb for a fully-grown kudu is a minimum kinetic energy of 1500 ft-lbs., a minimum drop of 12” (at desired distance) and achieve sufficient expansion upon impact through a velocity greater that 2000 fps.

 

For this section of the article, we will use the scenario of a mature kudu bull standing broadside at 300 yards, as this may be the most common situation the average hunter will find themselves in while hunting in Southern Africa.

We will then compare six different .308 rounds with their ballistics and see how they perform at 300 yards in the table below.

Round

Distance yds

Velocity fps

Energy ft lbs.

Drop inches

Suitable for Kudu

Federal Matchking 168 Gr.

300

2103

1650

-8.9

YES

Barnes VOR-TX 168 Gr.

300

2156

1734

-8.4

YES

Remington 150 Gr. FMJ

300

2009

1344

-8.8

NO

Winchester Super-X 150 Gr.

300

1960

1279

-9.1

NO

Hornady Precision Hunter 178 Gr. ELD-X

300

2130

1792

-8.9

YES

Fiocchi 150 Gr. FMJBT

300

2229

1655

-12.8

NO

 

 


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