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Three-Oh-Eight or 7.62mm

by Hap Rocketto

One of my passions is aviation. It is often said among true aviators that, even in these days of jet powered stealth aircraft; that real airplanes have axles. This harkens back to the early days of flight and fabric covered aeroplanes flown by leather clad airmen peering out from behind goggles as their white silk scarves snapped behind them in the slip stream. It was an era when flying was young, untamed, and dangerous.

So dangerous that, perhaps the most famous pilot of all time, “Slim” Lindbergh had long been acknowledged as the Caterpillar Club record holder with four emergency parachute jumps to his credit. Membership in the Caterpillar Club is open only to persons who have made an emergency parachute jump to save one’s life. Lt. David J. “Goose” Lortscher, USN a Radar Intercept Officer tied Lindbergh with a record four ejections-all from F-4 Phantoms, in about ten years spanning the mid 1960s through 1973. Unfortunately Lortscher’s luck did not stretch to a fifth entry into the club rolls. He and his pilot were lost at sea after a mid air collision between two F-14 Tomcats in December of 1979 off the coast of Puerto Rico.

While the pioneer pilots of those early days have long gone west many of their faithful steeds still exist, carefully groomed and stabled by a generation that understands its roots. These pilots, aware of the past, have preserved the cough and the gout of smoke of a rotary engine coming to life, the singing of the wind in the wires, and the adventure of a groundloop. The days of the glass cockpit and flying by wire may be here to stay but there still exist real aviators who defy gravity and the Federal Aviation Administration just as the forbearers did.

There are riflemen who, like pilots, look back upon an earlier era when things were simpler. In this age of 22 caliber centerfire rifles, and that particular abomination, the range cart, there are still iron men, who shoot 30 caliber wooden rifles, carry their gear over their shoulders and in a simple shooting stool and are still with us passing down the wisdom and tradition of our sport.

There are still a precious few around who remember the days of the campaign hat, O’Hare micrometer, a 1,000 yard stage in the National Match Course, and the hand cranked and comely United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903. More still are those who worked through the teething problems of the first semi-automatic service rifle and the last United States .30-06 service rifle, John Canasius Garand’s shoulder fired, air-cooled, gas-operated, clip-fed, semiautomatic M1.

The last 30 caliber battle rifle in general United States service also had the shortest service life in that capacity. The United States Rifle, 7.62mm, M14, entered service in

1959 and was replaced by the end of 1970 with the M-16, which uses a 5.56mmX45mm NATO cartridge.

My high power competitive career began with an outdated ’03 in a 1922 style stock but I soon graduated to an M1. I hit pay dirt in 1973 when I joined the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Rifle Team and was issued a brace of National Match M14s and as many cans of Lake City M118 ammunition as needed to keep them well fed.

As noted in its nomenclature the M14 fired the 7.62X51mm cartridge. The cartridge has similar ballistic performance to the .30-06 that it replaced. And, while the M-16 platform is the dominant rifle in use, the 7.62 lives on in the M-14s that are used by Squad Designated Marksmen as well as special operations and some crew served weapons.

High power shooters are inveterate scroungers and military team brass is a particular obsession for civilian competitors. While brass scrounging is pretty much confined to civilian service rifle shooters today there was a time when a service team’s expended 7.62 match brass was hoovered up by the bolt gun crowd.

When the Winchester .308 was developed and fielded in 1952 it quickly superseded the venerable .30-06 in the bolt gun community. The relatively short case makes the .308 Winchester especially well adapted for bolt gun shooters as it has less recoil and with a short bolt throw takes less time to reload than the longer .30-06 case. It has since far surpassed the ’06 as the most popular all around cartridge in use. It the commercial cartridge from which the 7.62X51mm NATO round was derived.

The 7.62X51mm NATO and the commercial .308 Winchester cartridges are very similar but they are not identical. This has lead to an involved, convoluted, and lengthy discussion about the interchangeability of the cartridges that would make even a Talmudic scholar’s eyes cross.

I have used, without hesitation but always wearing safety glasses, M118 in my Winchester Model 70 Army Rifle chambered for .308 Winchester. There seems to be no appreciable change in performance from handloads in commercial brass, the cases show no tell tale signs of strain such as flattened primers, case separation at the base, excessive stretching, or split necks. Not only does it appear to be safe but, let’s face it, it had a feature that sets a high power shooter’s heart all a flutter-it was free. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute which sets industry standards concerning ammunition and chamber specifications, and acceptable chamber pressure considers it safe and who am I to argue with them.

By the way, if you are wondering why I have taken so much time to discuss the 7.62/.308 controversy I have to tell you that I have followed an earlier theme: this is also Hap’s Corner number 308.

Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career,

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