Cartridge Discussion: The .30-06

This is a discussion on Cartridge Discussion: The .30-06 within the Reloading forums, part of the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics category; Here's yet another old retread. Hope the fans and detractors of the .30-06 will speak up about their impressions of the round. Just passed the ...

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    Cartridge Discussion: The .30-06

    Here's yet another old retread. Hope the fans and detractors of the .30-06 will speak up about their impressions of the round.

    Just passed the anniversary of the centenary of its introduction to the world of riflery, the great .30-06 is a cartridge that is so dependable and well balanced that its performance is taken for granted. If I’ve heard it said once, I’ve heard it said a hundred times that the .30-06 is BORING. Over the years several prominent gun writers have been willing to commit this opinion to print. A critical examination of this cartridge belies this accusation and calls into question the accuser’s discernment. This is an exciting cartridge! It comes closer to being that mythical “all around” rifle cartridge than any other round. The more specialized rounds that exceed .30-06 performance capabilities in some specific category give something else up to it in one or more other categories. If it fills one up to hunt with a whiz-bang, ____(fill-in-the-blank) magnum then go for it. Just don’t think that one’s favorite cartridge is somehow essential and the .30-06 is chopped liver because it just ain’t so!

    A Legendary History of Fine Performance

    The .30-06 originated in 1906, the year of which the last two digits form the suffix of its name designation. It was a modification of the .30-03; the original cartridge adopted for the U.S. Model 1903 Springfield. The original round was very similar to the .30-06 but featured the 220 grain round nose bullet of the .30-40 Krag at a velocity of 2300 fps. In 1906 it was deemed advantageous to utilize the ballistic performance afforded by a 150 grain spitzer bullet launched at the significantly higher velocity of 2700 fps. The cartridge’s dimensions were modified by shortening the neck and slightly altering the shoulder as an accommodation to this new bullet shape. The resulting cartridge armed our military for the next 51 years, and in sporting guise provided a benchmark big game cartridge for hunters the world over. The .30-06 has been available in every type of rifle action: single shot, bolt, lever, pump, and semi-automatic. To say that a cartridge is in the .30-06 class is to label it as suitable for all species of North American big game. In its 101 years of service it has also been successfully used on every species that walks the planet, including the “Big Five”: elephant, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, lion, and leopard. Though demonstrably capable of taking such large game animals, the .30-06 lacks the stopping power necessary to break down these species in an emergency situation, exposing the hunter to the possibility of a mauling.


    The .30-06 is at home in the game fields of North America and for African plains game. Teddy Roosevelt was enthused to take his custom stocked 1903 Springfield on his famous 1909 safari and by doing so was one of the very first hunters to employ the .30-06 as a sporting round. The cartridge will shoot a wide array of .30 caliber bullet weights with enough velocity to take most any of these species out to 300 yards. Though I shoot the .30-06 competitively at distances out to 600 yards, I feel that shots taken at game animals farther than 300 yards are a stunt regardless of the cartridge used. The .30-06 is a flat shooting round and provides a useful trajectory for 99% of distances that a prudent hunter is likely to engage his quarry. A .270 Weatherby Magnum using a 130 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 3300 feet per second has long been considered an extremely flat shooting big game round. When sighted to be dead on at 300 yards, this cartridge/bullet combination drops an additional 8 1/2 inches at 400 yards. A .30-06 with a 150 grain bullet and an initial velocity of 3000 feet per second, sighted to be dead on at 300 yards, drops an additional 11 inches at 400 yards. If a rifleman isn’t skillful enough to compensate for this piddly 2 1/2 inch difference in bullet drop at the extreme range that 400 yards represents, then he should have enough respect for game animals to refrain from taking long shots with any round. Another way to consider the relative trajectory of the .270 Weatherby Magnum and the .30-06 is that if each cartridge/bullet weight mentioned is sighted for 300 yards, the .270 Weatherby Magnum will be 3 inches high at 100 yards and 3 2/3 inches high at 200 yards, while the .30-06 will be 3 inches high at 100 yards and 4 2/3 inches high at 200 yards. When comparing the old ’06 to such a hot number, we’re not talking the rainbow trajectory of the .45-70 or .30-30. The .30-06 is a very capable long range round that provides the same effective reach for its user as the hotter round and with less expense.

    A Uniquely Flexible Big Game Cartridge

    The secret to using the .30-06 is to match the bullet to the game pursued. A tremendous variety of bullet weights and styles, from 100 grains to 250 grains, are available for the .308 bore diameter, most of which are handled with aplomb by the ’06. That means bullets that more than double in weight through the range of weights available, a feature not available in component bullets of any other rifle bore diameter. The .30-06 handloader can customize his loads to do most anything that may be asked of a rifle, from varmint shooting to moose along with target shooting.

    Years ago 110 grain and 125 grain spitzer bullets made a competent varmint round out of the ’06 with high initial velocities of up to 3400 fps. Of course these shed their velocity more quickly when compared to the hot .22’s, .24’s, or .25’s, and they have a mite more recoil than most modern varmint shooters would wish to put up with. Unless one were intending to sit down and wear out the prairie dogs over a long afternoon, the light .30 bullets would still serve well for coyote or other open country varmints where a number of shots are not anticipated.

    I consider the .30-06 to be a bit much for our Texas whitetail deer, but many are taken with it each fall. The 150 grain bullet is a real stem winder when used on small Texas whitetails or antelope. The 180 grain is less destructive and I’ve used it quite a bit for my deer hunting. The 165 grain bullets may be the very best choice for deer, sheep, goat, black bear, or caribou. 180 grain bullets are generally considered good medicine on elk. The heavy 200 and 220 grain bullets would be useful for the heaviest species of North American game, such as moose or the big bears. The weights heavier than 180 grain are frequently forgotten here in the lower 48 states but would be suitable for Alaskan or African heavy game species. The .30-06 becomes a bit of a chore to shoot from the bench rest when the heavies are fired, with noticeably heavier recoil than a typical 150 grain load. Loads have been published over the years using 250 grain bullets but I have not tried them. About 2200 fps is all that can be managed with this weight, so it would have limited application in the ’06.

    What this weight selection means, is that the fellow who desires to be a one-gun hunter, using the same rifle for all of his hunting needs, will be well served with the .30-06. He can feel confident that he has chosen his rifle wisely when he becomes involved with the inevitable cartridge discussions around the campfire in hunting camp.

    Much is made of the ballistic coefficients and sectional density of the .284/7mm bullets but, for those who like to peruse such things, take a look at some of the .308 bullets (Sierra bullet data).

    180 grain spitzer boat tail
    B.C. .501 S.D. .271
    200 grain spitzer boat tail
    B.C. .560 S.D. .301
    220 grain spitzer boat tail Matchking
    B.C. .629 S.D. .331

    Heady stuff! Not picking on 7mm because I like it really well, however it seems that 7mm is touted for it's bullets. It ain't the only efficient bullet diameter available.

    Performance Characteristics

    I’ve played with this cartridge for many years. It is my favorite rifle round. My first centerfire rifle was a U.S. Military Smith-Corona 1903-A3 .30-06, and my first deer were taken with that rifle. The .30-06 has been my choice for high-power rifle competition which, since the 1980’s average 700 rounds per season. I began my personal handloading guide by thoroughly testing many bullets and powders in the .30-06. This has turned into a lifetime’s work as I’m always looking for a load that is just a little more accurate or wish to try out the latest and greatest powder introduced by any of several makers. Listed below are selections from my handloading data that have given me top performance in my rifles. I am always available by email if more detail is desired, as I won't publish exact loading data on this web site.

    110 gr. spitzer: Reloder 11, 3440 fps, 2891 me, 1 1/2 inches/100 yds,

    125 gr. spitzer: IMR 4064, 2719 fps, 2047 me, inch/100 yds.
    125 gr. spitzer: H380, 3178 fps, 2797 me, 1 inch/100 yds.

    150 gr. spitzer: IMR 4350, 3010 fps, 3012 me, 7/8 inch/100 yds.
    150 gr. spitzer: IMR 4895 2668 fps 2729 me 1 inch/100 yds. (Low number Springfield load)

    165 gr. spitzer boattail: H414, 2811 fps, 2895 me, 1 inch/100 yds.

    168 gr. spitzer boattail: IMR 4895, 2561 fps, 2447 me, inch/100 yds.

    173 gr. spitzer boattail: IMR 4895, 2668 fps, 2729 me, 1 inch/100 yds,

    180 gr. spitzer: IMR 4831, 2769 fps, 3065 me, 1 inch/100 yds.
    180 gr spitzer boattail: IMR 4895, 2658 fps, 2818 me, 7/8 inch/100 yds.

    200 gr. spitzer boattail: IMR 4831, 2609 fps, 3016 me, 1 inch/100 yds.

    220 gr. round nose: IMR 4831, 2549 fps, 3168 me, 3/4 inch/100 yds.

    Velocities taken with an Oehler Model 12 chronograph
    Smith-Corona Model 1903-A3 used for velocity testing
    Winchester Model 70 (pre-64) standard weight w/6x Leupold used for accuracy testing
    Five-shot groups fired at 100 yards

    One will notice that 1 inch groups or even less may be had with the .30-06 with all bullet weights except for those pesky 110 grain spitzers. They give reasonable results, but the rifling twist rate of 1 turn in 10 inches doesn’t give optimum accuracy with these bullets in my experience. I had set a goal of collecting inch or less five-shot groups with bullets of each weight in my old Winchester Model 70 but those 110 grain slugs just haven’t yielded the required results.

    A full-sized .30-06 represents the upper end of recoil toleration for most shooters. I can and have fired all manner of rifles for group from the bench rest, including .375 H&H Magnum, .378 Weatherby Magnum, .405 Winchester, and .458 Winchester Magnum but don’t profess to find it much fun to test the heavy artillery. In a summer weight shirt I can enjoy about 20 rounds of .30-06 fired off the bench from my Winchester Model 70, but will have a difficult time shooting quite as tight groups upon opening the second box of ammo.

    The cartridges that whip the .30-06 in power generally must burn copious amounts of powder to do it and are punishing to shoot. The cartridges that tout flatter trajectories frequently give up bullet weight and down range punch for some larger species, and may also be powder burners as well. The .30-06 is economical, whether one purchases factory ammunition or handloads. It represents good value on the range or in the hunting field. I will go out on a limb and say that I don’t consider any magnum rifle cartridge under .308 inch bore diameter to be superior to the .30-06 for any game animal, at any range, or under any conditions. Assuming good hits, what game animal will shake off a .30-06 but will collapse when a magnum of smaller bore is used?

    I’m not through experimenting with this unique cartridge. Shilen, the supplier of custom barrels, is only about 45 minutes east of where I live. I intend to have a 26-inch, bull barrel .30-06 made up on a suitable action just for fun. Fitted with a high-powered target scope, such a rifle would be a real treat for me.

    The .30-06 offers a tradition of performance and utility unmatched by any other cartridge. For those about to choose their first big game rifle, the .30-06 has to be near the top of the list of possible choices. The rifle aficionado who has one of everything else to play with might choose this excellent multi-purpose round to add to the rack. It might just become his favorite.
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    Can't really fault such a classic round Bryan and it'll be around long after we are gone. I have nothing against it all but it so happens my direction went .308 Win long ago and so I inevitably compare the two at times.

    There are those that think the .30 is even better served in the .308 - can't say I have proved that or can ..... and anyways, for me at least, a non benchrest rifleman - it'll be hair splitting!

    I confess to minimal experimentation with my .308 - I load a standard (for me) load using 165's .. always have - doubt I'll change ... way too little time nowadays to do all the experimenting I used to like.

    Only reason I never got my M1 - I still desire one - is simply that I have enough cal's .. don't need more. I'll bet - certainly in PA I know - there will be more deer taken with 30 aught 6 than any other 30 cal, even tho the other venerable round, the ''thuddy-thuddy'' still does its bit.
    Chris - P95
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    Great read, thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe you've already tried this, but it seems to me that if the twist rate in your barrel is too fast for the 110 grain bullets, you might try lower pressure/velocity loads and see what kind of results you get. I wouldn't know really, it just seems like an idea that has some potential.

    Austin

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    I love my ought sixes. They are deer killing machines. I have yet to recover a bullet from a deer...in every case it has shot right through them with various bullets over the years...mostly in the 150 to 180 grain category.

    One of my favorite rifles is the Rem. 7400. Its quick and accurate and just the ticket for running deer being chased by dogs...the classic southern deer hunt in the thickets and pine forests...the kind of hunt that makes Northerners scream bloody murder.

    Its an easy cartridge to reload, its very versatile.

    The 1942 Springfield Garand that I have was a fearsome weapon back in its day when all the other armies of the world were using bolt action rifles. It hit hard and was fast and accurate.

    They say that duplication is the sincerest form of flattery. I've always thought it interesting that most of the battle cartridges of WW2 were very close in bullets size and speed. When you look at the rounds used, such as the Russian 7.62X 54r, the Swiss 7.5x 55, the Brit .303, the German 8MM Mauser,the French 7.5 and the Jap 7.7 and place them side by side, there just isn't that much difference in them.

    It just flat out works.
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    .30-06 is a great cartridge for what it does.

    [The Hornady 7mm 162gr A-Max has a BC of .685.]

    The Accelerator rounds in the 30-06 are fun. Ever try any?

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    The Accelerator rounds in the 30-06 are fun. Ever try any?
    Yep. Sierra 60 grain .223 HP's moving out around 4000 FPS.
    You ought to see what they do to an armadillo.

    Did you know that an amardillo has around 5 gallons of blood in it?
    At least that what it looks like anyways...
    I would rather stand against the cannons of the wicked than against the prayers of the righteous.


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    I went the way of the 308 but I love the 35 Whelen in my Rem 700. 35 Whelen is just a 35 cal bullet in the 30-06 case but I love it for deer hunting.
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    I have my Grandfathers old 30.06 Springfield and i love it to death. Thanks for the great info, a really nice read.

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    I'm almost sad (and a little ashamed) to say, I don't even have a rifle chambered for 30.06 any more.

    You can't really say anything bad about the cartridge though. It's always gonna be the king.....even when it's not necessarily the best.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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    No flies on the .308 Chris. It's a great choice for a general purpose centerfire round. Almost as good as the '06. Hah.

    No, the .308's one accurate round and plains game wouldn't know the difference with between the two. It kinda sags off with the real heavies in the .308 diameter bullets (or so they say) and is not generally considered suitable for shooting bullets much over 180 grains. But then, how many times will most of us need to employ such bullets? Perhaps Alaskan or African shooters would have a regular need. Part of the reason it is said not to handle them is the 1 in 12-inch twist isn't suppose to stabilize them. Another reason is suppose to be that the long heavy .30 bullets intrude too far into the case and limit the charge weight of powder that can be used. A 21-year old with a handloading set-up is a dangerous thing and way back yonder I read all this business about .308 Win. and heavy .30 bullets. So I determined that I'd fly in the face of this and attempt to shoot 220 grain round nose bullets from a 1 in 12 twist. Didn't have a .308 at the time so went one better and used my .300 Savage. Came up with a decent load that put the 220 grain bullets inside 2-inches at 100 yards in 5-shot groups. The bullet holes in the paper appeared to show that the bullets were "going the right direction" with no sign of yaw or outright keyhole. Don't know if they'd have still been stable if they'd been tested at 200 yards or more but they worked for short yardage. One could do a lot worse than a good 180 grain .30 caliber bullet in the .308 Win. for larger game. A fellow on another forum just made mention last week how he'd managed to get 220 grain .308 diameter bullets to shoot well in his .308 and at 2350 fps.

    I only have a solitary .308, a Springfield Armory M1A. It's an exceptional rifle off the bench and 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch 5-shot groups are easy to collect with it's best handloads when I'm in the right mood (I'm not the world's most consistent shooter). My old M1 will best it though by about 1/4 inch. Still, the .308 is considered to be more accurate than the '06, in fact many consider it to be the most accurate centerfire cartridge larger than .22 bore.

    I've been around some other brilliant .308's. A close friend has a 30 year old Remington Model 700 Varmint Special in .308 that he bought new. Wearing an old Weaver T10, it will bring tears to your eyes to see the groups it will shoot with him at the controls. Cast bullets too; it's been his favorite cast bullet tinkering rifle and he's got some great performance out of it with cast bullets. Another gun club buddy has a Remington 788 .308 that he can make "walk and talk" with good handloads. Another good friend, now deceased, had a Remington 40X .308 that was his pride and joy. Remington seems to be a common thread that ties all these accurate .308 rifles together.
    Last edited by bmcgilvray; December 21st, 2007 at 11:13 AM.

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    Must say Bryan my old Rem 760 'Gamemaster' is one darned good platform for the .308 .... always been my deer rifle tho these days all but given up hunting .. too much back trouble to keep still anywhere! It is tho nice because a tad smaller and lighter and so easy to tote, and also love the pump action.

    Thinking of super accurate, our mil shooting team boys sure wring out the 300 WinMag with good results - plus of course the help of the behind-the-scenes guys who load for them. Would not mind one of their custom rifles
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    Hey Austin: I tried to throttle back on those 110 loads a bit but that made things worse in my limited experience. Don't think I've tried but a single box of Winchester 110 grain spitzer component bullets and a box of Hornady's 110 grain spitzer. Perhaps using Reloder 7 or 3031 or similar powder in moderate charges would have helped.

    Yeah Hotguns, the application of the .30-06 to whitetail deer always achieves the desired effect.

    Have a friend who's had a Remington Model 742 that he got from his grandmother for his birthday when we were kids. Some years ago we were at a public range that had a rangemaster overseeing things. He wandered by and made the crack that one could never get good accuracy from the Remington semi-automatic or pump models of centerfire hunting rifles. No one had ask for his opinion mind you. It was most gratifying to see the rifle shoot several sub 2-inch groups over the next hour or so. Of course he had "no comment" though he came over to see the targets we'd prominently spread out on the bench next to ours. Those Remington autoloaders sometimes get a bad rap that is undeserved.

    I too hold the M1 in high regard. It's still an amazing rifle after over 70 years.

    "...When you look at the rounds used, such as the Russian 7.62X 54r, the Swiss 7.5x 55, the Brit .303, the German 8MM Mauser,the French 7.5 and the Jap 7.7 and place them side by side, there just isn't that much difference in them..."

    Exactly, and I'd prefer a rifle with the ballistics of these rounds if I had to go into battle over a a middle-of-the-road .224 bore varmint round. Only my opinion.

    The Accelerators really work. I didn't know if they were still marketed. I tried a box at the range once. Same friend with the Remington 742 swore by them. Claimed they were just as accurate as the standard .30 bullet out of his rifle. Functioned it too. I did see him kill a crow in a far field from the back door of his parents house once. No way to know how far but 300 yards+. Of course he shot crows in that field from the back porch on a regular basis.


    Tubby; I'll see ya' ol' 7mm 162 grain A-Max w/ B.C. of .685 and raise ya' a Sierra .308 dia. 240 grain Match with its B.C. of .711.

    Not that I'll be firing those in my .30-06's any time real soon. But I could if I wanted to. If I had the money that is. Bit pricey for my tastes.

    Duisburg; I've got a double heat-treat Springfield 1903 action squirreled away that I've been threatening to turn into either a .35 Whelen or a .358 Winchester. Leaning towards the .35 Whelen. .35 caliber rifles look like good hunting rounds and would be gratifying to handload.

    Thomas; The 1903 Springfield is my sentimental favorite military rifle. They're great whether original or sporterized.

    Hey David, what kind of .30-06 rifle did you have?

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    Chris, one almost never sees a Remington 760 in Texas. I'd sorta like to have one just to be different.

    My Yorkshire friend had a great T24 .308 that he brought over a few years back for a deer hunting trip. It was fun to shoot off the bench. Nice to see that the rear locking lug action would easily handle the .308. He recently sold it. He's still vexed over September of 1997 when he lost his modest handgun collection. Pretty bad when an ex-Royal Marine and a career fireman with HM's fire brigade can't have handguns.

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    The first center fire I actually purchased, at 14 (lets you know my age) was a Remington 700 30-06. Mowed a lot of lawns and bucked a lot of bales for that gun.150gr speer boattails for deer, 180's for elk, and sub-minute groups with the 150's at 100 yards. Still can't convince me there is a better all around cartridge. Although I do enjoy playing trying to find one.
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    Member Array Agape's Avatar
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    I currently do not own a rifle other than an old springfield .22. My dad has always hunted with a .30-06. Come to think of it I do not have a shotgun eather. MAN!!! I need a long gun!!! I am really interested in hunting with handguns though.

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