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One Cartridge to Rule Them All: The .30-06 Springfield

Updated on December 28, 2016
LJ Bonham profile image

LJ Bonham is an author, historian, hunter, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.

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Why the .30-06?

Is the .30-06 the world’s most versatile hunting cartridge? Many hunters say yes. Adopted by the U.S. military in 1906, the .30-06 served for over five decades and through three wars. This jack of all trades has been used to hunt game on every continent for over a century. It is the most popular big game cartridge in the world. Factory ammunition can be found anywhere—from Palmer, Alaska, to Mozambique and everywhere in between. There are more powerful cartridges and flatter shooting cartridges, so why has this old veteran not just survived, but thrived?

Everything a Hunter Needs

The answer is balance. Thirty caliber bullets strike a good balance between the aerodynamic efficiency and deep penetration offered by six through seven millimeter bullets, and the wide wound channels created by larger calibers. Thirties also have good sectional densities—the ratio between bore diameter and bullet weight, which dictates how well a projectile penetrates a target. The higher the SD, the deeper penetration, in general. Thirties have flatter trajectories than big bores, as a rule. These are the qualities which attracted the American military to the thirty bore and have satisfied hunters ever since.

How The .30-06 Stacks Up.   (L-R) 9.3x62mm, .30-06, 8x57mm, 6.5x55mm, .308
How The .30-06 Stacks Up. (L-R) 9.3x62mm, .30-06, 8x57mm, 6.5x55mm, .308 | Source

Better in So Many Ways

There are other thirty caliber hunting cartridges, but the .30-06 remains at the top. It generates one hundred feet per second greater velocity than the .308 Winchester, its leading competitor, for any given bullet weight. It is more available world-wide than either the .303 British or 7.62x54R, its two contemporaries. It just works well, no matter the climate or game.

.30-06 vs. .308 and .300 Win Mag.  Velocity By Bullet Weight
.30-06 vs. .308 and .300 Win Mag. Velocity By Bullet Weight | Source

A World Beater

American soldiers learned to love the .30-06. Since many vets also shot the .30-06 in target matches after their service days, it made sense to use a familiar round for hunting as well. As the United States prospered after both world wars, American hunters flocked to Africa, South America, Alaska, Canada, and Europe. The .30-06’s effectiveness impressed non-American hunters and they soon adopted it as well. By the 1980’s, the .30-06 had become as prevalent around the globe as American fast food, soft-drinks, and rock and roll.

If It Walks, There's a .30-06 Load for It

The .30-06 can take game from rabbits to elephant with the right load. Available bullet weights range from 110 grains to 250 grains. Ammunition is manufactured in Western and Eastern Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Africa, and makers offer loads for every possible application.

For varmints and small predators such as rabbit, coyote, and fox, the 110 grain through 130 grain bullets are best. Deer sized animals are well served with 150 – 180 grains. For large or dangerous animals such as elk, moose, bear and African plains game, 180 – 250 grains are appropriate.

North American Elk
North American Elk | Source

.30-06 By The Numbers

Average factory ammunition performance by bullet weight is as follows:

  • 110 grain: 3500 fps/2990 ft-lbs
  • 130 grain: 3150 fps/2860 ft-lbs
  • 150 grain: 2950 fps/2800 ft-lbs
  • 165 grain: 2800 fps/2870 ft-lbs
  • 180 grain: 2700 fps/2900 ft-lbs
  • 200 grain: 2550 fps/2890 ft-lbs
  • 220 grain: 2400 fps/2810 ft-lbs

Hand loaders can improve further on those nominal figures. Also, some bullet weights are only available as reloading components, not as loaded ammunition.

A Magnum Without the Kick

While the heaviest bullets appear to travel at low velocities compared to magnums, their high SD’s allow them to penetrate deep into large, heavy-bodied animals. Used at appropriate range, they are just as effective as magnums but without as much recoil.

Many Grizzly Bears Have Been Taken Over The Years With 30-06's Loaded With 200 Or 220 Grain Bullets
Many Grizzly Bears Have Been Taken Over The Years With 30-06's Loaded With 200 Or 220 Grain Bullets | Source

The Golden Mean

Mid-weight thirty caliber bullets have good ballistic coefficients (BC). High BC bullets have flatter trajectories and lose less energy down range. At .30-06 velocities, these bullets will hit about 2.5 to 3 inches high at 100 yards and the same distance below line of sight at 250 to 280 yards depending on weight. This means a hunter does not need to adjust their scope for bullet drop at the most common hunting ranges. A real advantage since animals often do not stand still for long, and every second counts.

Smaller-bore bullets have higher average BC’s than thirty caliber bullets and drift less in cross winds, but inside three hundred yards, this is a minor consideration. Beyond that range, the small bores and thirty caliber magnums come into their own, but for most hunters, in most situations, the .30-06 gets the job done.

Conclusion

The .30-06: America’s all-rounder and gold standard hunting cartridge. It shoots flat enough, hits hard enough, doesn’t beat up the shooter, and is available in every ammunition store around the globe. Long live the king!

© 2016 LJ Bonham

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