- Published: Friday, 01 January 2016 00:00
The .30-'06 Springfield
The history of modern metallic centerfire cartridges is a long and diverse one; filled with many cartridges we can call “classic.” At the top of that list, seated comfortably upon its throne, you will find the .30-’06 Springfield. As a gun writer, I am afforded the opportunity to use and experiment with many different cartridges, from the small varmint calibers to the behemoth safari guns. However, I can’t name another cartridge with a longer list of credentials or with a stronger following than the venerable ‘ought-six’, and I don’t believe that fact is going to change anytime soon. From the Alaskan tundra, to the plains of Wyoming, from the Northeast deer woods to the mopane thickets of Zimbabwe, the .30-’06 gets the job done on 95% of the worlds big game. All from a cartridge bred for war over a century ago.
The Spanish-American War showed the flaws of the U.S. Army’s chosen cartridge – the .30/40 Krag – and demonstrated the superiority of the 7x57 Mauser. The U.S. Army decided it was time for an upgrade, and they answered the call with the .30-’03, a cartridge with the same case head design as the Mauser cartridge, but firing the round nose .308” diameter 220-grain bullet. That design would be modified three years later, shortening the case by 0.07”, and changing the powder charge and bullet weight. The .30 caliber, Model of 1906 cartridge was born, and the shooting world would never be the same. It uses a case measuring 2.494” long, with a cartridge overall length of 3.340”. It headspaces off of the 17.5° shoulder, and the rimless design allows for easy feeding from a box magazine or stripper clip. The .30-’06 has served its country in two World Wars as well as other military exercises that resembled war, no matter what label was put on them. Want a ringing endorsement for the dependability of the .30-’06 Springfield? Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock relied on a pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 and a Unertl riflescope to make some of the most legendary sniper shots in military history.
From a hunting perspective, the .30 caliber represents one of the most useful choices in regards to bullet weight and diameter, and the .30-’06 case represents an ideal blend of velocity, tolerable recoil and striking energy. It was a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Grancel Fitz and many other famous hunters. Dr. J.Y. Jones used the same .30-’06 rifle to hunt all of the huntable species and subspecies of North America; that alone should stand as a testament to the effectiveness and versatility of the cartridge.
It is a cartridge that can be housed in a wide variety of rifles, from bolt actions to autoloaders to levers and pumps, and is equally at home as a long-range cartridge as it is a woods gun. Simply put, in this day of uber-magnums and squat cartridges, the ’06 still reigns supreme because it works. To be honest, I can’t think of a single company that produces a bolt-action rifle, that doesn’t chamber for the .30-’06. It is not just an American favorite though, as it is equally accepted in Europe, Africa, Australia, South America and Asia. It makes a fantastic choice for the light rifle on an African safari, doing the lion’s share of the work while your big bore handles the heavyweights. The .30-’06 is one of the few cartridges that you could bring to just about any hunting camp, anywhere, and not get those awkward looks from your hunting companions.
The .30-’06 Springfield made its bones with the traditional cup-and-core bullets, but when you mate it with some of the modern developments, it becomes even more potent. Norma has a fantastic pair of bullets which serve the ’06 very well. The Norma Kalahari is an all-copper hollowpoint, covered in a proprietary coating to reduce barrel friction, with a rather unique shape designed to maximize velocity and flatten trajectory. The tip of the bullet is designed to break into six petals, for lots of impact trauma, while the rear of the bullet gives deep penetration. Norma loads a 150-grain Kalahari for the .30-’06, at 2,990 fps. Using a 200-yard zero, you’ll hit 1.7 inches high at 100 yards, yet only be 7.8” low at 300 yards. This will make a great deer/antelope load, giving lots of hydraulic shock. The Norma Oryx is a bullet that has become a particular favorite of mine. It’s a semi-spitzer design, which has the rear portion of the jacket chemically bonded to the core, yet the jacket gets thinner toward the nose, and that portion of the bullet is not bonded, to give good expansion at the front end, without the risk of jacket/core separation. My field experiences with the Oryx bullet have been nothing but positive, giving both excellent accuracy and fantastic terminal performance. Bear, elk, moose, and larger African plains would all be handled just fine by the Norma .30-’06 load with either the 165 or 180-grain Oryx bullet. Weight retention is usually very high – over 85% - if you recover the bullet at all. The 165-grain load leaves the muzzle at 2,960 fps, while the 180-grain load moves at 2,700 fps, so - depending upon your particular hunting situation - you could tailor the ammunition to the job at hand.
Norma’s component brass, as always, will provide an excellent basis for your handloaded ammunition, and I’ve made many clients happy by loading their ammunition in Norma cases.
These days we have more different cartridges that will launch a .30 caliber bullet than we’ve ever had (or need for that matter), but mark my words, the .30-’06 Springfield isn’t going anywhere, especially when it’s paired with fine Norma bullets. The long, drug-out debate about the .308 Winchester vs. .30-’06 Springfield will never be resolved (because it’s a waste of time), and those magnum fans (author included) will continue to justify the need for the additional muzzle velocity, but with all that said, I’d very happily grab an accurate ’06 and go hunting just about anywhere. 110 years of field experience counts for something, after all, and the .30-’06 has signed on for many more.
Questions / Comments? Let us know your thoughts on this Cartridge of the Month: