A gunsmith friend of mine recently told me he was considering not renewing his NRA membership. It wasn’t because of the NRA or NRA-ILA’s political posturing. He was reacting to a recent opinion piece in the American Hunter titled “The .30-06 Sucks.”
In the article, Mr. Mann argues that it is purely emotion that sustains the .30-06; the caliber’s time has come and gone. In his opinion, if you hunt with the .30-06, that’s OK, but it’s only because you just aren’t “savvy” enough to know any better.
Apparently, Mr. Mann does. Bless his heart.
Mr. Mann notes that “using Hornady’s Precision Hunter ammunition, the .30-06 will deliver about 9 percent better performance than the 308.” What he fails to mention is that this is measured at the muzzle. For some reason I’m ever lucky enough to hunt at quite that close a range.
Still, if you’re confident that you’ll only be hunting at fairly close ranges, he’s pretty much on target. There’s not even a ten percent gain in energy to compensate for a larger gain in recoil (we’ll get to how much recoil that is in a minute) out to 100 yards. But what happens past 100 yards?
Using the exact same data provided, comparing a 178gr ELD for the .30-06 vs. the 155gr ELD in the .308, the gulf in energy delivered widens the farther out we push the round. By 300 yards, there’s a 13 percent advantage to the .30-06. At 400, it’s 16 percent. And at 500 yards, we see an 18 percent advantage in the long action vs. the short action cartridge.
If we take a look at the same round vs. the 140gr ELD in 6.5 Creedmor, the advantage of the old warhorse is even more pronounced: 29 percent more energy at 100 yards, 24 percent at 300, and 20 percent at 500. Around the 900 yard mark the 6.5 Creedmoor catches up to the “antiquated” .30-06. The .308 never does.
The author’s argument is ultimately that the .308 and other less energetic, more modern cartridges are simply more efficient than the .30-06. They give you more bang for the recoil buck. Maybe. But in automotive parlance, “there’s no replacement for displacement.”
At short ranges and all the way out to about 350 yards, there is, in fact, more recoil by percentage for energy delivered from the .30-06 than the .308. After that, though, the advantage shifts to the .30-06. Why? Because, all other things being equal, the .30-06 will be ever so slightly heavier. That very small change in weight translates a big difference in recoil. Don’t take my word for it. Grab your reloading books, check the specs on your favorite rifles, and do the math yourself.
But that increased weight is presented as a negative in the American Hunter opinion piece. And it’s true. The short action is a lighter rifle than the long action, and theoretically easier to carry. But just how much of a difference are we talking about?
Let’s take a look at a modern rifle — and a good one — the current Savage 110.
Compare the weights and you will find that the difference in the same rifle, with the same barrel length, will weigh literally half a glass of water more in .30-06 than .308. Is it worth sacrificing the power and versatility for 4oz of weight?
There are so many things on the rifle that can make up that weight, if you so choose. As for me, I’d rather keep the rifle as is and take two good drinks of coffee from my thermos if I want to reduce that amount weight, because that’s about how much we are talking about.
Of course, the argument can be made that the .30-06 is just too much bullet. That, however, depends entirely on what you expect to use it for.
The author offers up W.D.M. Bell’s exceptional record of taking over 1,000 African elephants with a 7X57 Mauser and Bell’s speculation on how well the .308 Winchester would work on large game. I see Bell’s hunts used as justification of smaller calibers for larger animals quite often. It’s an extremely poor argument , and there are good reasons why such a small caliber is illegal to use when hunting dangerous game in Africa.
I will quote to Bell himself about the December 1954 article he wrote for the American Rifleman. Speaking on the 7X57, he said that is was “an inspiring little rifle, requiring knowledge of anatomy and exact pointing”…a “scientist’s rifle.” He only took brain shots, and taking advantage of the elephant’s particular anatomy, shot through a soft spot in their skulls to reach his target.
He insisted on non-expanding rounds of solid hard cast lead with steel jackets. Even so, not only was a perfect understanding of their anatomy crucial, but only certain angles were acceptable. When shooting into the head from behind, he said the likelihood of the round reaching the brain was only one in three.
Bell was shooting herds, often a dozen at a time, purely for the sale of their ivory. His shots were from extremely close ranges, often 20 yards or less. Since the herds weren’t pressured, they would mill about, making so much noise that the report of his rifle would often go unnoticed by the rest of the herd, allowing him to take multiple animals.
My point is simple. Bell’s experience ivory hunting has no relevance to wild game hunting in North America or, in this day and age, in Africa either. That is, unless you’re supremely confident that you will only be taking shots directly into the brains of deer and elk at extremely close ranges, leave your rifle at home and pack a sling shot.
Beyond purely the ballistic advantages of a heavier, higher ballistic coefficient round being pushed at the same or faster speeds as a lighter round, the .30-06 has other significant advantages over the .308 and other relatively lower energy cartridges. First is the wide availability of the .30-06 round. Here in the US, you’re likely to find the .30-06 anywhere bullets are sold. But that’s virtually the same when it comes to the .308.
Head outside of the US, though, and that changes dramatically. In most other countries, you can still find the round that helped storm Normandy just about anywhere guns and ammo for hunting are sold. The same can’t be said for the .308.
Second, the extreme versatility of the cartridge cannot be overstated. Check out J.Y. Jones’s book, One Man, One Rifle, One Land where he uses a single Winchester model 70 in .30-06 to take every game animal in North America. And I mean all of them.
For the hand loader it’s a dream come true. There’s a full 100 grains of play in bullet choice for the .30-06, depending on what you want to do with it. Recipes abound, with an extremely wide choice of components available, and available all over the world.
Don’t get me wrong, the .308 is a great round. It’s extremely useful, efficient, and sufficient for most game at the ranges most people will shoot them. But that doesn’t take anything away from the .30-06. The older cartridge can do anything the short action can do, and then some.
If I had a mule deer tag and an elk tag, I certainly wouldn’t be walking out the door with my .308, but I wouldn’t hesitate with any of my .30-06 rifles.
America’s cartridge is no less relevant today than it was over 100 years ago when it was invented. Its components have changed a bit over the years, serving to improve and expand on an already great design. It remains the king of the American hunting rounds, and the savvy shooter understands why.