Can You Shoot Elk With a .308? All You Need to Know about a .308 in Elk Hunting


Hunters sometimes gather around a wild campfire and discuss everything game-related, including the perfect cartridge for your rifle. The debate also circles the best round for stopping specific kinds of game animals. You will hear different opinions around the center of the discussion as some favor .30-06 over the .270 Winchester. A chatter about .300 Win Mag vs. the 7mm round is also popular. But can you shoot elk with a .308?

Of course, any ammunition is lethal (Including .308) depending on the parameters that govern the shoot.

Read more to find out why and how a .308 is a perfect choice for elk hunting.

Is a .308 Suitable for Elk Hunting?

The elk population keeps rising, which presents hunters with more opportunities to test their weapons during hunting. Every hunter has their preferred weapon of choice because it’s among the pieces of equipment considered personal to carry around hunts.

The best weapon is the one you are familiar with and can trust to stop any animal regardless of size. But if you live in an elk country, this choice can be taken away. The question everyone wants to be answered is, can a .308 kill an elk?

Of course, a .308 has enough stopping power to down big-sized animals like the elk. However, it’s not clear to most people if it’s a humane way to down an elk considering its size and skin toughness of the elk.

If you are a .308 enthusiast, you will probably answer affirmatively. And, indeed, .308 performs well in hunting other big games like moose, black bears, and elk.

But if you own a rifle that chambers the .308 rounds, the drawback is that it comes with other responsibilities when hunting elk.

Why a .308 is Suitable for Elk Hunting

Generally, short-action and medium-sized cartridges have numerous advantages. They are readily available, cheaper, fit more rifle options and give less recoil. Regarding the .308, you probably own one, shot one at some point, or know somebody that owns and shoots it.

The .308 is a typical rifle round. These are the reasons why;

Size and Weight

Long cartridges need more rifle weight and length, while fat cartridges reduce the magazine capacity. If you are using both fat and long cartridges, then you suffer all the two disadvantages.

What makes the ideal weight and size of ammo?

Most hunters prefer something in the range of eight pounds for a field rifle, and the length can be 40—inches. The idea is to have a cartridge to give you a grace period to shoot again if you miss the first time.

No one wants an empty rifle; therefore, capacity plays a significant role. Meaning you should have at least four or more round capacity rifles.

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The .308 is a short action round that also gives a soft recoil. Other perks include ultra-weight, as we know too well that we carry our guns more than we fire them.

Using the .308 cartridge gives you balance around short barrels in the range of 20—inches as it doesn’t lend or overbore itself as you fire.


The .308 doesn’t give a hard kick when you shoot compared to magnum rifles. It makes it the perfect round for introducing new shooters who are still honing their hunting skills.

Because of its lightweight properties, you can enjoy range shooting for a long time and have fun while at it. But despite its weight, the .308 is still lethal and kills anything within a reasonable distance.

If you are looking for a prolific cartridge that fits well in every situation, consider the .308. The most significant advantage, as stated earlier, is affordability and variety. There are over 50 factory loads for the .308, meaning that you can get it on any local or online gun store.

It’s the cheapest way to hunt big game humanely.

Shoot-ability also refers to practice time. For instance, the .338 is a 7lbs Win mag that results in high recoils when firing. The only way you can get used to so much power is by firing your rifle regularly.


Hunting is a preference that deviates from one human to another. The rifle we adore and carry in hunts vary because we have different preferences and tastes.

Some people prefer modern rifles with high-tech capabilities, while others will always have the hand-me-down rifles that gave them their first elk kill.

When you see people hunting with a .308 in all events, the reason is that hunting is a recreational activity, and we should be happy with what we have.

Understanding Ballistics of the .308

In the effort to determine the best big game cartridge, there have been many myths. Some are true and others false, all to justify what worked best for you on an isolated incident.

The belief that it’s the cartridge you choose, or matching the round to the rifle and then to the animal, brings perfection is a wild assumption. From experience, there is no perfection over the choice of cartridge, and there is no faultless round.

Therefore, because we have a vast choice for cartridges and rifles, identifying one perfect for hunting big game like elk can be difficult.

But here are the parameters that you should base your decision upon:

  • The ideal cartridge should be powerful enough to push the bullet flat and fast to limit its trajectory as best as it can.
  • An ideal cartridge has enough penetration power to pierce tough elk skin and hit its vitals. It should also expand to cause maximum tissue destruction.
  • The round should have excellent internal and external ballistics without causing excessive recoil.
  • Lightweight cartridges that fit in repeat rifle compartments give you an easy time to carry around and a decent magazine capacity.
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Penetration/Expansion (terminal ballistics)

To successfully hunt elk with a .308, the bullet must hit the vitals and penetrate between 18-20 inches. Also, ensure that you use ammo with a 1.5 to 2 times expansion of the original bullet diameter.

A humane kill maximizes tissue destruction.


The general rule of ballistics is that smaller rounds will have more energy transfer to the bullet, and therefore this limits the effect on the shooter’s shoulder. It makes sense to consider the .308 cartridge as it has only 50 grains of powder space.

Compared to the .300 Remington Magnum with more than double the .308 grain powder space, the difference is hardly significant.

Because the .300 has 180 grains of powder space, does this mean it will have double the speed of .308 when it comes out of the muzzle barrel?

The answer is NO. Despite having more grains, it only adds about 25% of the velocity. It’s because more of the powder is released at the muzzle barrel, causing loud and fast gas that adds to recoil.

The recoil of a rifle is determined by its design. Most hunters understand that a cartridge/rifle combination leading to recoil energy of more than 25 pounds leads to uncomfortable shooting.

Some hunters mistake higher recoil with killing power, and this makes them dismiss the .308 cartridge. In reality, the kick from the shoot doesn’t signify killing power. It’s just hot air leaving the muzzle barrel.

The .308 Feet-Per-Second Advantage

Here we compare the industry-standard muzzle velocity of the .308. If you are using a 180-grain bullet, you will get 2,620 fps.

Some factory loads can achieve up to 2700 fps.

In contrast, the industry-standard muzzle velocity of the. 300 Win Mag and the .300 WSM ammo of an equal 180-grains gives a velocity of 2,960 fps. Despite the slight difference in velocity, most hunters still believe a .300 Win Mag will kill an elk at 500 yards and .308 won’t

The extra velocity of the .300 Win Mag cartridge falls to 2700 fps after only 100 yards. It’s difficult to understand how a.300 Win Mag is lethal, but a .308 cartridge is ineffective at killing elk at the same speed.

While other cartridges provide more power and can kill elk at further distances, the .308 is also practical because of its high velocity.

.308 Accuracy

Most experienced hunters find the .308 more lethal for hunting big game because while it gives out fewer recoils, it’s also fundamentally accurate.

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Some people might find this statement controversial and claim that accuracy comes from the cartridge’s quality and how the rifle is built. Yes, the arguments make sense, but how do they explain why the companies that test bullet ballistic attest that the .308 is accurate?

Shooting the .308’s in an indoor range gives tiny shot groups compared to other big game cartridges.

Why is the .308 inaccurate after 1000 yards when target shooting? Most shooters dispel the .308, forgetting that beyond 500 yards, other factors come into play. There is the wind drift.

But under 500 yards, the .308 is as effective as any other big game cartridge.

How to Kill an Elk?

The most challenging part of elk hunting is finding one. As for killing it, all you have to do is hit one of the following three things.

  • Hit the spine or brain. This is the central nervous system and decapitates the elk instantly.
  • Target the major veins and arteries. Targeting the cardiovascular system is effective.
  • Hit the lungs. Disrupting the respiratory system means that elk will not breathe and hence die.

Hitting any of these vital body systems means that the elk will eventually die. But what’s more important is what the elk goes through before it dies.

Elk have tough and thick skin, but they are not bulletproof. If you shoot them, like humans, they will bleed and succumb to their mortal wounds.

You must give the elk a humane death that is clean and fast whenever possible.

When hunting elk using a .308 cartridge, consider the following aspects.

  • Distance between you and the elk
  • Size of the elk
  • Shot placement. You can improve on your shots by firing your rifle regularly at the range.


It’s possible to hunt and kill elk successfully using a .308 cartridge. But it’s not simple if you are an inexperienced hunter.

To gain a hunting experience, you can increase your shooting time at the range or start by shooting a small game. Pick your shots carefully so that the elk feels as little pain as possible before becoming a delicacy at your table.

The ethics of hunting shifts from one individual to another. However, the bottom line of hunting anything is that you must understand your rifle, cartridge, and the animal you are shooting.

Before setting out to hunt elk, improve your marksmanship, and maturity by seeking counsel from experienced hunters. Also, choose the best rifle and ammo so that you always get a 100% advantage when firing.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>