The 30-06: A Hunting Classic

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Versatile and forgiving, the .30-06 is synonymous with North American big game hunting

Over the years I’ve owned a fair number of rifles, in a variety of chamberings, but for some reason I’ve never had a .30-06 Springfield I could call my own. That’s not to say that I don’t have any experience with the venerable Springfield, quite the opposite in fact. Vanessa currently owns a Tikka T3 chambered in one that we took to South Africa this past spring and to Namibia in 2009. We took over a dozen animals that ranged in size from a tiny steenbok to a statuesque kudu, and on both trips our professional hunters not only approved of our choice of a plains game rifle, but also owned rifles in this chambering. I’ve been along on several sheep hunts where the .30-06 was used and I’ve seen 1,800 pound Yukon moose fall to one well-placed bullet from the ’06. It is unquestionably one of hunting’s most versatile cartridges.

It’s not surprising that the 30-06 is so popular worldwide. It’s been around for 108 years and it shares a military background with many of the other classics. While many of the modern cartridges of today have nifty names that illicit thoughts of hyper sonic killing machines, the 30-06 earned its moniker quite simply from the fact it utilizes a .30-calibre bullet and it was developed in 1906. Among real aficionados, there’s no need to even refer to the .30 part of the name. All you need say is “aught six” and people know what you mean, despite there being countless other calibres that utilize the .30-06 case.

Certainly many of the new offerings have taken some of the spotlight away from the .30-06, and truthfully the .30-06 can be described as boringly dependable. It doesn’t offer up magnum velocities. It isn’t offered in a short/fat case. It doesn’t have a huge marketing team behind it. But at the end of the day, it will do everything that the average North American hunter wants it to. Heck, I’ve seen a .30-06, shooting a diminutive 165-grain bullet, drop a 2,000-pound bison in his track and I’ve seen it drop a warthog on the spot at just shy of 500 yards.

If there are two recent advancement in the hunting industry that have really brought the .30-06 back to the forefront, it’s better quality bullets and optics capable of compensating for trajectory at longer ranges.

With earlier bullet styles, weight was the only way to achieve adequate penetration on larger game, but due to the modest velocities produced by the .30-06, this limited it to shorter ranges. But now with bonded and mono-metal bullets, the high weight retention allows for the use of lighter bullets, resulting in superior trajectory. If there were ever a projectile designed for the .30-06, it would have to be a 165-grain bullet. Vanessa shoots the 165-grain GMX out of her .30-06 and at ranges to 500 yards it offers more than adequate penetration for even very large game. These bullets retain virtually 100 per cent of their weight, so what it lacks in original weight it more than makes up for in retained weight.

While the 165-grain bullet definitely flattens out the trajectory in a .30-06, it’s still only a 300-yard cartridge with standard optics. But, with the addition of a ballistic reticle scope or one with externally adjustable turrets, the venerable .30-06 becomes very capable of shots in the 500 to 600-yard range, in the right hands of course. The 30-06 still packs plenty of punch at these ranges, with a premium bullet. While definitely not a long-range choice a decade or so ago, new bullet and scope technology has revitalized what some shooters describe as a boring old cartridge.

The .30-06 Springfield was a creation of Winchester and remained in use by the US military from 1906 right up until the early 1970s. It was used both in infantry rifles and in machine guns almost exclusively for 50 years and saw service in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. It’s no wonder, with the number of these rifles around, that it became very popular with US sportsmen as well. I’d venture to say that the .30-06 has killed more animals in North America than any other cartridge and this could be true world wide. Nearly every rifle manufacturer still offers the .30-06 in their line up and all of the major ammunition makers offer numerous loads each. It’s hard to walk into a gun shop or hardware store anywhere in the world and not see a box of .30-06 shells on the shelf.

With muzzle velocities approaching 3,000 feet per second with a 165-grain bullet, impact velocities at 500 yards are still in the neighbourhood of 2,000 feet per second – sufficient to get adequate expansion from even the toughest bonded and mono-metal bullets. For those that don’t handload, the 30-06 is a perfect choice, as there are quite literally hundreds of ammunition options to choose from, and with manufacturers like Hornady offering added performance in their Superformance line of ammunition, factory ammunition shooters can enjoy virtually the same terminal performance as handloaders. And, for re-loaders, the 30-06 is very forgiving, performing well with a variety of powders, although IMR4831 and Varget are definitely two of my favourites.

The .30-06 can also be loaded all the way down to 110-grain bullets, producing in excess of 3,400 feet per second at the muzzle and all the way up to 220-grain bullets for those looking for a load for very large game. Some very aerodynamic bullets in the 178 to 180-grain range are also offered for those interested in shooting at longer ranges. It is the fact that the 30-06 can handle this wide range of bullet weights that has also added to its popularity. In the days before bonded and mono-metal bullets, weight played a much more significant role in penetration and heavy bullets were the norm for large game.

Recoil is also fairly modest with the 30-06, especially with lighter bullets, and it’s a great chambering for those looking for an all-round rifle that won’t beat you up like the .30-calibre magnums will.

I’m sure there have been a thousand magazine articles written touting the .30-06 as the perfect all-round North American big game rifle and far be it for me to disagree. I just returned from a tur hunt in Azerbaijan with my good buddy Pat Garrett. Pat was the youngest hunter ever to complete the North American 29 and most of his animals, including brown bear, fell to the 30-06. And what did he bring on the tur hunt? Why the 30-06 of course.

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