The .308 Winchester might just be the most popular and universally available rifle cartridge in the world. It was first released in 1952 and derived from the .300 savage cartridge which had been released some thirty years previously as a short action alternative to the .30-06 cartridge. The .308 offered improvements over the .300 savage while retaining the short case length and making it perfect for short action rifles.
Just two years after the release of the .308 by Winchester the cartridge was adopted by NATO and designated the 7.62x51mm. This came after a long process or trial, experimentation and competition to determine which round the whole of NATO would adopt for their service rifles to replace the variety or rounds that had been in use by the member countries until that time. A common calibre was required to make cooperation possible between countries who had previously been using a range of incompatible calibres. Britain had been using the .303 in their service rifles since 1889, Germany the 7.92x57 since 1903, the USA the .30-06 since 1906 and the introduction of the 7.92x39mm kurz cartridge during the later stages of the Second World war demonstrated the effectiveness of an intermediate cartridge which gave rifle performance but was still controllable when fired full auto led to testing of a range of cartridges with the 7.62 being finally adopted over the arguable better .280 which had been the choice of the Canadian, British and other European nations due to American pressure to retain a .30 calibre projectile and to keep performance as close to the tried and tested .30-06 as possible.
The service life of the 7.62x51 was short lived, at least in the US service, with the M14 chambered in 7.62 being adopted in 1957, it was already being replaced by the M16 chambered in the smaller 5.56x45 (.223 remington) by 1964. This lighter round allowed soldiers to carry more ammunition and reflected the falling ranges that infantry combat was taking place at as well as facilitating controllable full-auto fire, all things that the .280 offered from the very start. The 7.62 has stayed in service to this day though and excels in heavier rifles designed for section marksmen, for sniping and in heavier battle rifles such as the SCAR and of course in medium machine guns.
It’s impossible to talk about the .308 without considering the 7.62x39 and as they are actually interchangeable in almost all respects, the commercial .308 is loaded to higher pressures than 7.62 and is generally loaded into thinner cases but SAAMI considers the rounds to be interchangeable and does not consider it unsafe to fire the commercial cartridges through weapons chambered in 7.62x51 it’s often better to be safe than sorry, using 7.62 through a .308 will certainly be OK but it might be better to err on the side of caution and not put .308 through a weapon proofed for 7.62.
Considering a Scope for your .308
While it was introduced as a sporting cartridge first its adoption by the military makes the .308 popular in semi-automatic platforms for range shooting and practical disciplines as well as for hunting so it’s worth looking at optics that will meet the needs of the field sportsman as well as the practical shooter.
For Practical Shooting
For this style of shooting, red dot sights, miniature scopes, or reflex styles might be a good option as will low magnification scopes. This is primarily so you don’t strain your eyesight when shooting. After all, nobody wants to go blind after working their eyes too hard. Thankfully, most scopes are built with this in mind--as well as the idea of inclement weather raining on your parade (pun totally intended).
While semi-automatic platforms are generally the popular pick for this style of shooting nowadays the ‘scout rifle’ as described by Jeff Cooper would also use a similar style scope but also be fitted with iron sights. This makes it ideal for hunting and combat chambered in .308 and is designed as a lightweight, fast handling bolt action firearm. Ruger and Steyer produce specific ‘scout’ rifles which are very popular.
It should be recognised that the .308 is one of the most popular intermediate calibres for sniping, target shooting and marksmanship. It doesn’t pack the punch of the .300 Win Mag or .338 Lap Mag or the destructive capability of the .50 anti-material rifles but it is a very capable round for soft targets and has been used for decades in 1000 meter competitions.
While it is inferior to the 6.5 cartridges in the long distance role due to the superior ballistic performance of the 6.5mm projectile .308 ammunition is generally far more affordable and accessible. Scopes suitable for long range suitable will often feature larger tubes than other scopes, although this might also be a feature of other scopes to make them more rugged. They often also have target turrets although for bench rest shooting at known ranges they strictly aren’t necessary.
Ballistic reticles such as those featuring Mil dots or MOA lines or other features to give additional aiming points can also be useful for shooting at a variety of ranges.
While the .308 performs well out to 1000 meters, ethical shots on deer and other large game should never really exceed about 300 meters. Fortunately, there are plenty of scopes which will fill that niche and offer the right kind of performance. In this scenario, you want a scope that relies more on precision and accuracy than anything else. Think along the lines of well-defined reticles and you’ll be fine!
Practical Shooting and competitions
Driven hunting, practical shooting
Long range target
Hunting but it can also be used for practical shooting at range.
1 Trijicon ACOG 4x32
As far as practical optics go, there’s few that can match the efficiency of the Trijicon ACOG. Trijicon officially supplies the ACOG to the United States Government, Marine Corps, Army, SOF and state and local law enforcement agencies as well as the militaries of countries all over the world.
The impressive 4x32 optic meshes well with the lit reticle, which can also be adjusted. This will not only improve your aim, but it will allow you do fire with such ease that you almost forget you’re using a scope! You can thank this lovely technology on Trijicon, themselves. The Trijicon ACOG isn’t cheap though and this model retails around $1000, it is supremely high quality though and certainly more durable than any other scope mentioned on this list. When it comes to three gun competitions, you don’t want anything less than durable!
2 Trijicon RS24 AccuPower
Trijicon offers fast target acquisition and the small objective bell allows it to be easily used with both eyes open but offers more precision than reflex and red dot style optics which might only offer 2 or 3 MOA accuracy due to the style of reticle. This style of scope offers far more precision and is also perfect European style ‘battue’ driven hunting for deer or boar. It’s LED illuminated reticle assists with this style of shooting especially in low light conditions.
Not bad for this little guy, eh?
3 Steiner 5201 P3TR P4Xi
Steiner have a fantastic reputation for producing quality optics and this model is aimed at law enforcement use and as practical shooting disciplines replicate the kind of shooting that might be required in tactical or combat scenarios it makes this scope perfect for disciplines such as three gun. It’s always worth looking for scopes from quality manufacturers such as this one from Steiner and the trijicon scopes already shown above as they will always be made to the appropriate tolerances to withstand the robust recoil of the .308 cartridge.This scope will serve you well on the range though on steel targets or other practical disciplines and will stand up to the rigours of hard use as well as offer you good precision and fast target acquisition with an illuminated central dot as well as a fine crosshair with additional aiming subtensions.
Scopes for long range shooting
4 Schmidt and bender 5-24x56 PM II Riflescope
Schmidt and Bender scopes are perhaps the pinnacle of quality and precision engineering when it comes to optics. They are known around the world for their exceptional quality and are amongst the very best optics in the world. The PM series of scopes are aimed at marksmen and serve in warzones around the world on a range of specialist rifles. It would be out of place on calibres much smaller than .308 but would be a perfect fit for more powerful cartridges such as .300 Win Mag and the .338 Lapua Magnum.
This scope will perform at any range you choose to engage targets at and is about as close to perfect as you could hope to get. It also features an illuminated reticle and dial in windage and elevation turrets features which identify it as a long range tool.
5 Monstrum Tactical 4-14x44
Monstrum tactical offer some great affordable optics, they are not in the same league as the Schmidt and Bender PM series or other top end optics but they offer you a much more affordable option if you are on a budget. They are rugged and well-built and will certainly withstand the recoil of the .308. This model offers many of the typical features of a target scope such target turrets and a first focal plane reticle. A first focal plane reticle is a real advantage on a target scope as it allows any subtensions and aiming aids in your reticle to function at any magnification setting.
I would actually consider a first focal plane objective essential in a scope that has variable magnification and a reticle which features any subtensions whether they are mil-dots or any other rangefinding, or aiming aid and wont normally buy a second focal plane scope with adjustable magnification which features anything other than a standard reticle. Even a standard reticle such as a duplex can cause confusion in a second focal plane scope as if you are used to using your duplex to measure targets at known ranges it will change size as you vary the magnification.First focal plane (FFP) scopes are the best choice for target scopes with variable magnification and this offering from Monstrum is a very affordable as FFP scopes are often more expensive.
6 Burris XTR II 5-25x50
Coming with a whole range of fantastic optics, Burris is perfectly suitable for shooting out to 1000 yards. It features a 50mm lens for ruggedness and excellent light transmission. Despite its large objective lens and massive tube, the scope is still relatively small; making it nice and manoeuvrable. This isn’t just a scope for bench rest shooting and it would suit a practical rifle suitable for variable ranges and even for hunting.
Plus with the mighty fine warranty, how could you say no?
7 Vortex Optics Golden Eagle
20 years old being established in just 2004 but they have quickly become competitive with some of the very best optics companies on the market. The Golden Eagle HD is a competive shooter’s best friend, as it will never shy away from your target--unless you just jerk then gun away in a rush to see the cheering crowd behind you! While cartridges such as the 6mm BR and .220 PPC might be the mainstay of bench rest shooting nowadays the .308 is still a spectacularly capable long range target round.
The 52 mm objective might be a nice feature on a hunting scope but on this scope it is absolutely essential to ensure enough light is gathered to make the most of the 60 power magnification.
Scopes for Hunting
8 Sightron S-Tac
I have used a Sightron S-tac on my Remington 700 SD chambered in .300 blackout, although it currently wears an ATN x-sight for night time shooting. The Sightron though proved very capable and offered excellent performance for a modest price. Coming in at $400-$500 from most retailers it offers excellent value and performance but not the first focal plane reticle that I prefer in variable magnification scopes.
While it does have finger adjustable turrets for ease of zeroing it doesn’t have the target turrets so useful for target shooting making it more useful in a hunting role.
9 Vortex Diamondback 4-16x42
While the larger objective lenses on some of the other scopes in this list are great for offering a good field of view and for gathering plenty of light somewhat smaller objectives are often perfectly adequate and also allow you to mount your scope closer to the bore of your rifle allowing for an easier cheek weld and a lower profile rifle. This offering as part of the diamondback range of scopes by vortex is not only affordable but is just about perfect for hunting out the the effective, ethical range of the .308.
9 Trijicon RS22 AccuPower
The Trijicon range of sporting scopes really compliment their tactical optics and the accupower range has something for every occasion including this with it’s 56mm objective which will gather every available scrap of light at dusk and dawn as well as the variable power offering a nice low magnification for closer range work or for winding down the power in close woodland or scrub habitat hunting while the upper ten power magnification is about as powerful as practical for most hunting scenarios.
One of the best things about trijicon scopes is their supreme quality and ruggedness and one thing you will never have to worry about is how they will stand up the rigours of hunting and backcountry use. While you will probably never need it they are also protected by a lifetime warranty.
Any of these scopes will serve you well if you use them within their intended design parameters as will any number of other scopes by manufacturers such as Leupold, Swarovski and Zeiss but with the .308 being such a popular calibre there are so many to choose from it is difficult to list just a few. I would have confidence in any of the products listed here though and have a particular preference for the trijicon scopes for their durability and simple effective design.