There are few calibers that occupy the American imagination as much as the storied .30-06. This is the cartridge that Americans used to fight both world wars, firing it from legendary weapons like the 1903 Springfield rifle, the M1919 machine gun, and the M1 Garand.
It’s also the cartridge of choice for famous hunters and adventurers like Hemingway and Robert Ruark. Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit used the .30-06 in one form or another over their long and prolific hunting careers. So what does a beginner need to know about what may be the best rifle cartridge of the last 100 years?
There are many boutique rounds out there these days that seem to be all the rage. They tend to come and go. Today’s 6.5 Creedmoor is yesterday’s .300 WSM and so on and so forth. These new cartridges tend to have short but spectacular lives…lasting only until the next best thing comes along.
There are those who will debate me on this point, but I ask you this: In the next 100 years, do you, in your heart, think that there will still be rifles made in .30-06 or 6.5 Creedmoor? .300 WSM? 6mm Creedmoor? .224 Valkyrie? I dare say that the .45-70 will outlast them all, save the .30-06. Why is that?
The answer is simple in that the .30-06 Springfield (or .30 Gov’t ’06 by Winchester) works as well as it did on Day One, with Day One being 1906 (earlier, if you count the .30-03, the first version of the cartridge tested at Springfield Armory aresenal repair shops). It replaced the .30-40 Krag.
The beginner has something special with the .30-06 in that it’s an extremely well-rounded and versatile cartridge that allows one to experience the entire world of riflecraft without ever having to look elsewhere.
It’s a jack-of-all-trades…and master of all, unlike so many pretenders. To offer a complete list of the uses of the .30-06 would take far too long so I’ll sum it up with a few highlights:
Competition The .30-06 has a long and legendary history in match shooting. Names like George Farr come up when talking about the cartridge. Farr made his mark on shooting history when he fired 71 consecutive bullseyes at 1,000 yards at Camp Perry. Most impressively, he was an unknown at the time who walked in and picked out a random 1903 rifle. Today the .30-06 is still heavily used in longer range CMP matches, including those at Camp Perry. I will be firing my 1903A3 this year there, but many people choose other .30-06 rifles such as the M1917 and M1 Garand.
Hunting The .30-06 in a hunting rifle is one of the single best game-takers in the world. It can and has been used as ammo on just about every big game animal in existence, including African game, the common whitetail, and the largest black bears in North America. The cartridge boasts an impressive resume of use and many famous hunters have fired it across the last century. Unlike some of today’s smaller bore target rounds that only seem like good hunting calibers, the .30-06 boasts impressive power, large and heavy bullets, and relatively moderate recoil.
Collecting The .30-06 has the honor of being a historically significant cartridge and thus there are many collector’s items that chamber it. There are the aforementioned M1903, M1 Garand, M1917 and many others on the U.S. military side, while rifles such as the Winchester Model 70, Winchester 1895, and many others are very desirable.
Reloading Hand loaders know that there are few cartridges that are as forgiving as this one. I’ve been loading .30-06 for years and have fired about 1,000 this year alone from my 1903A3. I use a light 125gr flatbase with a mild powder charge to shoot my 10s and Xs while target shooting. The .30-06 is a dream to load because it has generous case volume, lots of neck for any size bullets, and has great brass life and availability. You can use any .30 caliber projectile you want in this cartridge, from high velocity sub-100gr varmint bullets to 220-grain bullet weights with a lot of muzzle energy.
There are very few downsides to the .30-06 for most users. Yes, it has more recoil than a .22LR, but it’s not at all punishing or terrible with most loads. Again, most.
It is true that the .30-06 is a bonafide African game hunting cartridge, having a century-long presence on the continent that continues today. Large, heavier bullets that have great sectional density can kill almost any large game with little problem. That performance comes at the price of recoil, but it can be easily tamed with good technique, practice or a good muzzle brake.
Other than some recoil, there really isn’t much to complain about with this cartridge. It has great trajectory, a huge market following, there are plenty of readily available cartridges, rifles (except lever actions), and reloading supplies, and it can be found just about anywhere.
Some makers of great .30-06 ammunition include the likes of Hornady, Federal, Winchester, Buffalo Bore, Nosler, Remington, PPU, S&B, Wolf, Weatherby and many, many others. Bullet styles include round nose, soft point, standard flat base, boat-tails, and many more choices with varying ballistic coefficients.
Quality rifles chambered in .30-06 can be had from just about any company that makes rifles. A partial list includes Ruger, Remington, Winchester, Savage Arms, Browning, Mossberg, Bergara, CZ, Barrett, Mauser, Howa, T/C, and lots more. Surplus rifles such as the 1903, 1903A3, M1 Garand, M1917, and various Mauser and foreign rifles can also be had.
The .30-06 Springfield cartridge is one of those cartridges that will likely never die. Sure, some cynic that celebrates the Creedmas every June 5 may come at me with stats about modern sales figures and such, but he’s wrong and he knows it. The .30-06 is part of the American spirit in a way that no other modern cartridge is.
It’s been the trusted tool of the soldier, the long-range hunter, and the enthusiast. Owning a nice, wood-stocked .30-06 never feels like going backwards, but it does feel like going back in time to those warm, red flannel hunting trips with Grandpa and his trusty bolt action rifle and his old pipe in hand. Those were simple times. It is that memory that will always make the .30-06 immortal in the American mind.
More information from The Truth About Guns:
State Your Case: .308 Winchester vs. .30-06 Springfield:
(M1 Garand and Remington 1903A3 loads, Springfield rifle performance.)
(Covers development prior to World War I by U.S. Army of .30-03 .30-caliber round with 220-grain round-nose bullet, then 150-grain bullet (spitzer) as .30 caliber bullet diameter, model of 1906. Also, Federal Ammunition .270 ballistics for 130-grain Nosler Partition, muzzle velocity (fps) comparisons, value as hunting cartridges.)
(use in single-shot lighter-weight rifle; tested with Hornady American Whitetail 150-grain soft point, Nosler Trophy Grade 180-grain Accubond, Federal 150-gr SP Non-Typical, Hornady Superformance 150-grain SST, Hornady 168-grain ELD Match, Federal 150-grain Vital Shok, and Winchester 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip).
(promoted by Col. Townsend Whelen; case length; Barnes X, Winchester Fail Safe and XP3, and Swift A-Frame bullets.)