The Springfield .30-06 is my favorite rifle cartridge. Yes, there are plenty of cartridges that are bigger and faster. Many of those bigger and badder cartridges will tear up your shoulder pretty quick too. When I was a kid, compliments didn’t come around too often. One of my fondest memories was when my Dad told me what a good job I did reloading a big pile of aught sixes! The .30-06 was the caliber of my Dad’s deer rifle (Springfield 1903A3) and that is what we primarily loaded for. To this day I get a satisfying thrill out of churning out a custom batch of cartridges.
The .30-06 cartridge (7.62x63mm) was born in 1906 at the request of the U.S. Army and was known as the M1906 cartridge. The thirty-aught-six’s case was based on the earlier .30-03 rimless bottleneck case. It replaced all of the armies previously used .30 caliber cartridges. During the first decade of the twentieth century, most of the world’s armies began using the aerodynamic spire point bullet (Spitzer). By shortening the case neck of the .30-03, the .30-06 could achieve higher velocities and longer effective ranges using the boat-tailed Spitzer bullet. It turns out that machine guns liked this design change as well! The military used the Springfield cartridge for almost a half a century before being replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge (.308 Winchester)…”Grumble, grumble.” During the .30-06s service to our country, it was fired from such weapons as the Springfield 1903A3 rifle, the M1941 Johnson rifle, the M1917 Enfield rifle, the Lewis gun, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), the Browning M1919 machine gun, and the M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle! That’s a pretty damn good cast of characters that spit out lead from the good ole Springfield cartridges!
The .30-06 was our country’s sniper round for many wars, right into the 70s. The cartridge was developed for its .308″ bullet to reach out to 1,000 yards. The recoil and muzzle flash is moderate (compared to magnum cartridges) and when loading bullets between 150-180-grains, velocities of 2900 to 2700 feet per second can be achieved. These ballistics will ruin a two-legged predator’s day for sure (unless your enemy is larger than a deer or an elk)! In the Vietnam War, Carlos “White Feather” Hathcock’s weapon of choice was a Winchester Model 70 chambered in .30-06, which put an end to many enemy combatant’s lives. With such a good track record, many folks wonder why the military would switch to using the 7.62 NATO (.308 Winchester) cartridge. I guess it is because the 7.62 NATO round utilizes a shorter action, and has less recoil, which in turn has weight and cycling benefits. The .308 case also uses less propellant to achieve the same velocities.
The Winchester 1895 lever action was the first commercial rifle to be chambered for the .30-06 cartridge (circa 1908). Winchester had a good idea using that cartridge, as the .30-06 is still one of the most popular hunting rounds in North America! Like my Dad’s rifle, many Springfield 03A3s were sporterized for hunting purposes. Depending on the charge that the cartridge is loaded for, it is good choice for almost all types of small and large game in the United States. When I think deer or elk, the .30-06 always comes to mind. If you are after bear, loading a heavy 200 grain bullet would be preferable, as it would give you deep penetration. The cartridge is not a bad choice for much of the game found on the African plains too.
The aught six is a versatile cartridge. It has been manufactured for various uses over its many years of service, for example; armor piercing, armor piercing incendiary, ball, explosive, rifle grenade cartridges, tracer rounds and Match cartridges for competition shooting. Many large cases do not perform very well with reduced loads, however the .30-06 can still maintain good accuracy when the charge is reduced. If you are teaching someone to shoot a centerfire rifle, you can use a lighter 100 to 130-grain bullet at 2000ft/sec to make a good training round with low recoil. The .30-06 was the first centerfire cartridge I fired. We used to blow up milk jugs, watermelons and unfortunately an entire collection of G.I. Joes at the range when I was growing up. Now that I am all grown up, the .30-06 is the cartridge that I hoard away for the apocalypse. Why?, you may wonder… because the .30-06 cartridge is still produced by every ammunition manufacturer that I can think of , there is still plenty of surplus ammo out there to be found and .30-06 reloading dies are purchased more than any other die set on the market, plus I already own a Springfield and a Garand. The popularity of the cartridge is not limited to the U.S.A., it has been a successful cartridge worldwide and can be purchased just about anywhere that ammunition can be found. The next rifle on my list is a left-handed Remington 700 SPS chambered for .30-06. I’ve got a Leopold VX-3 and a Harris bipod sitting on the shelf eagerly awaiting my next purchase…whitetails and zombies be scared!