The .308 cartridge began life in the primordial swamps of… If you are reading this article, I really don’t need to tell you about the .308 round. You already know that it pulls triple duty as a machine gun round and a mid-length sniper round, and as the cartridge a few guys in the platoon use for those times when the 5.56 just isn’t enough. It was built (kinda sorta) to duplicate the .30-06 but in a much shorter action. It mostly succeeded and certainly took the .30-06 out of most military usage. What else do you need to say about the .30 caliber?
When the U.S. military adopts a cartridge, the citizens of this country also adopt it. As the saying goes, if it is good enough for the military, it must be good enough for me. There are tens of thousands of deer each year that quietly agree. I don’t have any hard numbers, but from anecdotal experience at hunting camp, the most popular calibers are .270 and .308.
For those who felt the need for longer range, more velocity, or greater terminal energy, the .308 crowd has always moved up to .300 Win Mag. For several decades, this has been a very choice and many antelope, elk, and others have been harvested by the flatter shooting thumper at 500 yards and beyond. Even the military has chosen to use the .300 Win Mag for sniper shots well outside the reliable range of the .308. Having said all that, there are distinct limitations to both of these .30 caliber platforms. From attempts to address these shortcomings, lots of cartridges have been born. The list includes .300 RUM, .30 Nosler, .30 Norma Ultra mag, and .30-378 Weatherby.
The .308 is limited by case size, as to how much performance can be wrung from it. There just isn’t enough powder capacity to enable a bullet to remain supersonic much past 800-1,000 yards.
That doesn’t mean that people don’t shoot accurately past 1,000 yards with a 308; but it does mean that wind drift is brutal, and the transonic transition is always a huge question. Whether your target is long-range steel, deer, or an enemy combatant, that uncertainty is not welcome. The .300 Win. Mag. is a decided step up. The much larger case provides ample powder capacity to stay supersonic well past 1,000 yards. However, it does not have the throat / leade to accept newer, heavy-for-caliber bullets. This means it cannot effectively use the +200-grain bullets and their significantly better ballistic coefficients.
Someone at Hornady decided that a .300 Win. Mag.-like cartridge designed to take +230-grain projectiles would be a wonderful thing to bring to the market. With that, the .300 PRC was born. The last 50 years of ballistics has proven out a few things and this cartridge capitalizes on most of those discoveries.
This cartridge uses a standard magnum bolt face at .532”. This greatly simplifies the manufacture process for rifles in comparison to say a .300 Norma magnum with its .338 Lapua bolt face. It also means that rechambering is a straightforward task from most any current magnum rifle. In most cases, it is a simple barrel swap.
The parent case is a .375 Ruger. This capitalizes on the realization that magnums do not need a belt to hold in the +60,000 psi of pressure. By not having a belt you can’t headspace on the belt. This alone increases the accuracy potential of the round. Belts on brass are not a precision component and can vary headspace by well over 0.005”. That is not an amount of slop visible to the naked eye; but extrapolating that degree of misalignment out to 1,000 yards is an entirely different animal and greatly degrades the ability to make repeated distance hits.
The 30-degree shoulder angle hits the midpoint between maximum powder capacity and easy chambering and extraction. It is also better at reducing brass stretch than the 20-degree angle of its .308 ancestor. This is very important from the reliability standpoint as well as maximizing the amount of powder space. The other component to powder space is keeping the cartridge short enough to allow heavy-for-caliber bullets to be seated out of the powder column at standard magnum magazine lengths. Both decisions also help to keep barrel life to a reasonably-high round count. How you load, and how you shoot, will greatly affect that, but this cartridge will not be a barrel burner. For those who attempt to reliably hit at 1,000+ yards, there is nothing worse than finding the sweet spot only to have the barrel give it out within a few hundred rounds.
To summarize, the .300 PRC is not a miracle cartridge that conquers all frontiers. There are certainly .30 caliber choices that will provide more velocity with the heavy-for-caliber bullets. Most of those choices require an Ultra Magnum action, need to be loaded well past standard mag length, pay a steep recoil penalty, or run a rebated / belted case. In some cases, more than one of the above applies. The .300 PRC is the best current .30 caliber (compromise) cartridge for long distance shooting. Even the Department of Defense has awarded contracts in this caliber for their ASR (Advanced Sniper Rifle) program. They felt this was the best all around choice for up to 1,500-yard sniper engagements.
While it isn’t the best at any given aspect, being solidly second place in almost every category makes it the overall winner. In the long-distance game, consistency is the real key, and the .300 PRC is consistently at the top in all important categories.
I have had the privilege to shoot several of these rifles. With a well-designed brake or a suppressor, the recoil is marginally higher than the venerable .308 without one. At a recent shoot, I put +/- 70 rounds down range over three hours and had zero shoulder discomfort or flinch. I am certain of the lack of flinch, as I was consistently making hits on one MOA targets at 750 and 1,000 yards. The rifles I have shot all came from the same manufacturer, Don Fraley at Advanced Weapon Technology.
From firsthand knowledge, I know his rifles capitalize on all the advantages this new cartridge offers. In a recent conversation with Don, I asked what his all-around 1,000+ yard caliber was. Without hesitation, “if you are not opposed to some recoil, .300 PRC. If the shooter is recoil sensitive, then the 6.5 PRC or a couple of the other 6.5 and 6mm cartridges. I have much less exposure to 6.5 PRC, but if it performs like its larger sibling; it would be a great small to medium game, distance hunting rig. With the .300 PRC, I would be quite comfortable taking thin skinned, medium and larger game past 500 yards. The caliber and rifles I have shot are capable well past that. As noted above, the DoD is willing to expand that out to 1,500 yards.
Share your favorite .30 caliber in the comment section.
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