Nosler .308 Winchester HPBT Ammo: A Range Review

Immediately following World War II, there wasn’t a lot of quality hunting ammunition available to the civilian market. John Nosler discovered this fact while hunting moose. To his chagrin, the rounds that he was using were not doing the job as he’d hoped; they’d either punch a small hole through the game animals, or they’d expand wildly, leaving a massive, but shallow wound channel.

What he wanted was something that would expand while penetrating far enough to reach the animal’s vital organs for a clean, humane harvest. After a short time, he figured out that if he wanted it done the right way, he was going to have to do it himself. So he did just that.

Nosler began turning bullets by hand on his lathe. Pleased with the results, he began selling them commercially in 1948. At first, he sold components to reloaders, but eventually, things took off well enough that he began selling loaded rounds.

To this day, Nosler, a family-owned business still sells top-shelf reloading components and ammunition.

The History of the .308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester cartridge was designed in 1952, eventually becoming the standard US service rifle caliber for a time. In fact, it’s still widely used today by the US military as a machine gun caliber and with certain select-fire guns.

When the .308 Winchester came to market, the military wanted a round that approximated the ballistics of the .30-06 Springfield, but in a shorter package so it would fit into rifles with shorter actions. The .30-06’s case length is 2.484 inches (7.62x63mm) versus the .308’s case length of 2.015 inches (7.62x51mm).

The .308’s velocity is typically about 100 feet per second slower than the .30-06 with similarly weighted projectiles. So, while the .30-06 has a ballistic advantage, it’s not huge for our purposes here. There’s more to the story, but for what we’re covering here, that’s plenty of history on the .308 round.

M1A 20-round magazines and .308 ammo.
Happiness is a few full M1A magazines. Nosler’s .308 Match 168 grain ammo is a great combo to the M1A. Photo: Jim Davis.

Nosler Match-Grade 168 Grain HPBT

Nosler loads their Match-Grade ammunition with Custom Competition bullets. These bullets have a very small meplat, better known as a hollow-point. This particular hollow-point design really isn’t intended to help the bullets expand. Instead, it’s there for aerodynamics, allowing the bullet to cut through the air more efficiently than a bullet with a solid tip. I’m not sure precisely why, but that’s aerodynamics for you. Ask a physicist if you want to know more.

The boattail design of the bullet means that it tapers toward the base, which allows better aerodynamics in flight. Simply put, it helps the bullet slip through the air better, with less resistance and helps to retain velocity over distance.

These bullets are meant more for target and match shooting than hunting despite the hollow-point design. On game animals, they will likely not expand very much.

Nosler .308, M1A Mags, and Maglula loader/unloader.
Nosler includes a ballistic chart on the back of their ammo boxes, which is a welcomed touch. The author used a Maglula M1A magazine loader/unloader at the range for this project. Nosler’s ammo is extremely clean and it’s obvious that they take the utmost pride in their ammunition. Photo: Jim Davis.

Nosler includes a ballistic chart on the back of each box of bullets, which I consider to be a nice addition. According to their website, the velocities are achieved using a 24-inch long barrel.

The velocity breaks down as follows:

  • Muzzle –     2750 feet per second.
  • 100 yards – 2555 feet per second.
  • 200 yards – 2368 feet per second.
  • 300 yards – 2,189 feet per second.
  • 400 yards – 2018 feet per second.
  • 500 yards – 1,855 feet per second.
  • 600 yards – 1701 feet per second.

So we can see that after about 400 yards, velocity starts falling off pretty quickly.

They also include a couple of charts that indicate the drop in inches for various distances. Let’s take a look at how the round performs with a 200-yard zero:

  • 100 yards – +1.9 inches.
  • 200 yards – Zeroed.
  • 300 yards – -8.1 inches.
  • 400 yards – -23.5 inches.
  • 500 yards – -47.5 inches.
  • 600 yards – -81.6 inches.
  • 700 yards – -127.7 inches.
  • 800 yards – -188.1 inches.

We can see that as the 1,000-yard range approaches, the rounds are doing quite the nosedive.

Finally, we’ll take a look at the energy chart that is included by Nosler:

  • Muzzle –     2820 foot-pounds.
  • 100 yards – 2434 foot-pounds.
  • 200 yards – 2091 foot-pounds.
  • 300 yards – 1787 foot-pounds.
  • 400 yards – 1519 foot-pounds.
  • 500 yards – 1283 foot-pounds.
  • 600 yards – 1080 foot-pounds.

So we can see that, at 600 yards, the .308 has more foot-pounds of energy than most pistol rounds have at the muzzle. And that will be true for the .308 out to around 1,000 yards or so.

The Platform

Unfortunately, I don’t have a .308 caliber precision rifle at my disposal at the time of writing. If I did have one, I’d have used it for this test to squeeze out every bit of accuracy I could for the Nosler .308 round.

The best I could muster up was the Springfield M1A Scout Squad rifle, which is far from a precision rig. Its 18-inch barrel and iron sights aren’t going to win any sniper competitions, especially with your author’s aging eyesight. However, the rifle is certainly capable of respectable accuracy, given its excellent sights. This particular rifle wears a Walnut stock.

We retired to the range to see what sort of groups we could attain with the M1A.

M1A Scout Squad Rifle.
Springfield Armory’s M1A Scout Squad rifle with an 18-inch barrel is an excellent host for Nosler’s .308 ammunition. Photo: Jim Davis.

At The Range

Reliability, as expected, was 100% perfect. Given the impeccable materials used in the making of this match ammo and the fact that the M1A was made for the .308, this came as no surprise.

I got all settled into the shooting bench, including resting the rifle across my shooting bag. I rested another small pack underneath the buttstock to gain as much stability as I could.

Author firing M1A Scout Squad Rifle.
Nosler’s ammo performed flawlessly in the M1A. Photo: Jeremy Charles.

The recoil was extremely tame. Every time I shoot the Scout Squad rifle, it amazes me how little recoil the rifle has. I’m not sure if it’s the muzzle brake being so effective or the recoil system doing its job. My guess is some of each. Suffice it to say, the recoil comes across to the shooter as a gentle push against the shoulder. In my opinion, it’s about as much recoil as you get from an AK-47, except that the M1A platform is far smoother than the AK’s recoil impulse.

So, was the ammo accurate? Yes, I’d say it was. Was your author accurate? I’d say not as much as I should have been.

Groups came in around 3-4 inches. In my opinion, that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t the ammo that fell short; it was me. As mentioned, my aging eyes are finding open sights to be a little more difficult to use than they once were. To make matters worse, the sun was going down directly behind the target that I was shooting, which meant it was shining in my eyes. Talk about a difficult circumstance to get accurate shots!

Of course, I can use all sorts of excuses, but at the end of the day, I’m convinced this ammunition would turn in sub-MOA groups at 100 yards with a scoped rifle. As it is, the groups that I shot weren’t horrible, but I was frustrated that I didn’t do better.

In Conclusion

As always, this ammo from Nosler is very high quality. You can tell by the consistency of everything, including the hollow points, which are perfect. Everything is highly polished and looks great. It’s evident that Nosler takes great care in the production of their ammunition. And not just this ammo, all of it.

Nosler has always delivered at the range and this ammo is no exception.

As this is written, Nosler’s 168-Grain Hollow-Point Boattail Match-Grade .308 ammo sells for $39.99 per box of 20 at GunMag Warehouse. Grab some today.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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