The old .30-06 Springfield seems to have become the Rodney Dangerfield of centerfire rifle cartridges. If you are one of the many who “don’t give it no respect,” you might want to study its potential and reconsider.
Recently a young hunter in camp shot a mule deer at 250 yards with what many consider the ultimate .300 magnum, the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. This massive cartridge burns 96 grains of powder to push a 165-grain bullet 3,400 fps. This results in a trajectory most would call “laser flat.” Zeroed at 250 yards, that bullet would peak 2.2 inches high at 150 yards and fall just 2.7 inches low at 300 yards, 11.6 inches low at 400 yards. At 250 yards, it would be carrying 2,670 ft. lb. energy, as much as the .30-06 packs at 50 yards. Despite this, the young hunter fired at the buck five times and struck it four times before finally bringing it down.
In contrast, another young hunter in another deer camp fired at his deer 452 yards away—and dropped it with one shot. He was using a .30-06 Springfield.
Of course comparisons like this don’t mean much, but they illustrate an important point: The .30-06 is more than capable of doing 90 percent, perhaps 98 percent, of what hunters want a deer cartridge to do—if the hunter is capable of operating it properly.
When it comes to hunting, ballistic performance alone is not enough. Rifles, cartridges, bullets, horsepower, and velocity must be paired with experience, knowledge, training, and discretion. A great shooter with a .30-06 will be more successful than a poor shooter with a .300 RUM, 26 Nosler, .338 Lapua or .408 Cheytac. Anyone who shoots a .30-06 has an easier time becoming successful for many reasons. Here are some of them:
- Ammunition is 2X to 4X less expensive. This means you can afford to train more.
- Recoil is significantly less. This means you’ll want to train more—and not flinch while doing so. (In 8-pound rifles, .300 RUM = 32 ft. lb. free recoil energy; .30-06 Springfield = 18 ft. lb.)
- Ammunition is available with a wider variety of bullet weights and velocities. Handloaders can work with bullets from 100 grains to 220 grains in styles from round-nose to flat-nose to hollow tip/boattail VLD. Factory ammo can be found from 125-grain to 220-grain.
- Rifles can be more convenient in .30-06 Springfield because performance can be maximized in 22- to 24-inch barrels, while the bigger magnums require longer, heavier barrels of 26 to 28 inches. The lighter recoil level of the -06 also means lighter-weight rifles can be carried on tough hunts involving considerable hiking and climbing.
- .30-06 Springfield rifles are usually much less expensive than any super magnum. The Ruger American, Savage Axis, and Mossberg Patriot are three examples of bolt actions available in .30-06 Springfield for less than $450 MSRP.
Another way to put the .30-06 Springfield into perspective is to consider the current popularity of the .308 Winchester as a long-range hunting rifle. Many consider the .308 excellent for hunting out to 600 yards, yet the .308 is nothing but a shorter, weaker, slower modification of the .30-06 Springfield. Yup. In the early 1950s Winchester took the .30-06 case, shortened it from 2.494 inches to 2.015 inches, and called it the .308 Winchester. It shoots the same bullets as the .30-06, just 100 to 150 fps slower.
Check the ballistic tables of any of today’s larger ammunition manufacturers and the ballistic performance of the .30-06 will come into clearer focus. With similar-weight bullets, the old -06 comes within an inch or two of the trajectories of the .25-06 Rem., .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 WSM, and .300 Win. Mag. at 300 yards.
Now be honest. How much game do you really engage at 300 yards or more?
I’m not saying the .30-06 Springfield is better than any .300 magnum. I’m not saying you shouldn’t own and shoot any .300 magnum. I’m just suggesting you research and understand the full performance potential of the .30-06 before writing it off as an old dog that can no longer perform any tricks.