Dust rose in thin clouds from the arena where I worked, the horses I was training weaving an age-old dance around me. My 80-something boss shuffled up to the rails and motioned me over through the haze. After shaking my hand he said, “When I die, I want you to come get my guns”. My 18-year old heart made a bound bigger than a colt under his first saddle, and swallowing subdued excitement I replied, “Yes Sir.” Who was I to argue with an order like that?
One of those guns was an old semi-sporterized Springfield 30-’06. My brother reshaped and streamlined the stock, I installed a Timney trigger and a modified bolt with a scope-clearing handle, and had the action drilled and tapped for scope mounts. One 3-9×42 Leupold later, and the rifle printed little groups with almost anything I stuffed into the magazine. I had my first real hunting rifle.
A couple years later I shot my first big bull elk, deep in a backcountry wilderness, with that old 30-’06 rifle. Several more years later I killed my best-ever mule deer buck – a 215-inch 8×9 behemoth – at 324 yards. The only shot I had was at the base of the buck’s ear, and I made one of the best shots of my life, shattering the atlas joint with one prone shot from that Springfield. My best-ever whitetail also fell to the old rifle, along with too many other elk and deer to count. The barrel is shot out now and the groups it prints are a bit bigger, but just last year I carried my old favorite into Africa on the tracks of Theodore Roosevelt. With it, I harvested gemsbok, warthog, and Zebra, and with a 30-’06 Winchester lever-action model ’95 (another rifle carried by Teddy on his legendary 1909 – 1910 African safari), I shot a grand old Kudu bull, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
The 30-’06 Springfield was originally introduced as a military round, adopted in 1906 – hence the name. The .30 designates projectile diameter, and ’06 referring to 1906, the year the military started using it. The cartridge was used in a vast array of firearms, including the legendary 1903 Springfield, the M1 Garand, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and many machine guns. Soldiers returning home from war brought stories of the efficient new round, in some cases bringing rifles home as well. Popularity spread like wildfire and a legendary cartridge was born.
Modern Day Cartridge
Now, there are multitudes of wonderful cartridges out there, and I’ll confess to having a love affair with many of them. But for sheer versatility mixed with get-’er-done authority, my vote still goes to the venerable 30-’06. It doesn’t posses the smashing capabilities of the magnums, but neither does it pack the kick. It can’t keep up with the 7mm Rem. Mag. or the .280 Ackley Improved, but ammunition is more available and in much better variety. The 6.5 Creedmoor and other 6.5s maintain energy better, but don’t possess the inside-300-yards authority of the 30-’06. It recoils a bit more than the .308 Win., and necessitates a full-length action as opposed to the short action of a .308, but it also strikes with more authority. (If you want a short-action cartridge that doesn’t kick but still eats dragons for supper, the 6.5 Creedmoor walks all over the .308.) Consider the following statistics, arrived at via my “Ballistic” App. Let’s compare apples to apples, each cartridge using Hornady Precision Hunter ammo featuring ELD-X bullets.
As you can see, the .308 offers a couple hundred foot-pounds in energy over the 6.5 Creedmoor at the beginning, but at 800 yards has lost pretty much all of its margins. The Creedmoor starts out faster (with far less recoil, I might add) and stays that way, in fact gaining about 12 fps per hundred yards on the .308.
The 30-’06 versus the Creedmoor is a much closer race. The 6.5 maintains speed and energy better, but the ’06 starts out with a speed and energy advantage. At 800 yards the two cartridges sport almost exactly the same drop (fully 20 inches less than the .308), the 30-’06 carries an energy advantage of 186 ft.-lbs. of energy, while the Creedmoor now has a 58 fps speed advantage.
The upshot of this is that were I offered three identical rifles in these three different calibers – 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win., and 30-’06 Springfield, I would choose either the Creedmoor for its low recoil, short action, and aerodynamic projectile, or, if I wanted more authority, the 30-’06 for its higher energy and speed inside 300 yards, which is where 98 percent of game is harvested. The .308 Win., while being a great cartridge and thoroughly capable in its own right, gets left in the proverbial dust. If I had to choose one of the three to use for the rest of my life it would be the 30-06 every time. Here are some (more) reasons why:
Why the .30-’06?
Thirty-caliber projectiles are readily available in weights ranging from 110 up to 225 grains, and in a myriad of profiles from flat-based round-nosed bullets to super streamlined high BC (ballistic coefficient) pointed boat-tailed bullets. Factory ammo is available in almost as many iterations. The handloader can have a field day with his 30-06, loading 110 gr. Varmint bullets for coyotes, 150-grain projectiles for deer, 180-grain partitions for elk, 225-grain match bullets with a G1 BC of 777 (that’s high) for long range shooting, and stuff all of them in the same rifle.
Walk into a sporting goods store anywhere from Alaska to Africa, and the most common ammo on the shelves will likely be good ol’ 30-’06. Should you find yourself abroad on the adventure of a lifetime while your ammo takes a flight to parts unknown courtesy of baggage handlers at the last airport, you can always find something to turn your rifle from a fancy club into a lethal tool.
So, is the 30-’06 Springfield the best cartridge out there? The simple answer is no. There are cartridges better at almost any one thing. The magnums are better when something is trying to eat you. The super-aerodynamic calibers are better at long range. Lighter recoiling cartridges are better for sensitive shooters. But the ’06 is, to my way of thinking, perhaps the best all-around cartridge out there – that’s where it shines. It does everything well.
The 30-’06 Springfield has fought for our freedom through two world wars and several smaller ones. It’s been a favorite of hunters for the past century, and used wisely it is adequate for any game on the North American continent. It possesses a noble history, commands widespread respect, and is a favorite of America sportsmen and shooters. Just like my favorite old rifle, the 30-06 is here to stay.
To purchase Hornady ammunition in .30-’06, click here.
To purchase Federal ammunition in .30-’06, click here.