In any discussion of centerfire rifle cartridges, you can expect the 30-06 Springfield to make an appearance. Whether the topic is military or sporting use, the old ought-six usually has a part to play — and with good reason. It’s a fine cartridge with a rich history, and it’s still going strong after more than 107 years. Let’s take a look at where the ’06 began, and how it became the standard by which big game hunting cartridges are measured.
Not long after the transition from black powder to modern “smokeless” propellants began, the USA went to war with Spain. Spanish troops did well against them with their Mauser rifles, using a modern 7×57 cartridge. The USA had been stuck in the past with the 30-40 Krag cartridge and rifle, and the country decided to do something about it.
The first result was a faltering step in the right direction. Adopted in 1903 for the Springfield bolt-action rifle, the 30-03 (.30 caliber, adopted in 1903) round featured a large, relatively slow round-nosed 220-grain bullet. Original specs called for a muzzle velocity of 2300 fps (feet per second) and maximum of 48,000 psi chamber pressure.
It soon became clear that this wouldn’t do, as Germany (home of the ingenious and enterprising Mauser brothers and therefore the clear leader at the time) soon moved on to lighter, faster, pointed bullets. Before long, the USA followed suit, with a barely-shortened cartridge case (30-06 case length = 2.494″) and a shorter, lighter, more aerodynamic bullet. The new cartridge, adopted in 1906, was rated at 60,000 pounds of chamber pressure, sported a 150-grain pointed bullet, and boasted a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps. From there it went on to become a world standard of rifle cartridges.
What’s in a name?
The 30-06 Springfield gets its name very simply: it’s a .30-caliber round, adopted in 1906, and the standard (and only) rifle chambered for it at that time was the 1903 Springfield.
As early as 1908, commercially-made rifles were offered in 30-06, and that hasn’t changed in more than a century. Almost every commercially-available centerfire rifle can be had in ’06. Other cartridges come and go in any given line of rifles, but in almost every case, the ought-six stays in the list of available chamberings . That’s because this cartridge has been proven to be one of the most versatile cartridges around.
30-06 ammunition has been offered commercially in bullet weights ranging from 55 up to 220 grains, and with bullets of just about any shape you can imagine. It can be — and has been — used successfully on every big game animal in North America, making it an extremely flexible all-around cartridge.
Bullet selection and military use
The key to the ’06’s versatility is the wide array of ammo available for it, and that variety must not be ignored. You shouldn’t depend on any one loading for all your hunting needs. A 150 or 165 grain bullet will do well on whitetails, but 180s and 200s are best used on larger critters such as elk. When it comes to the largest game, big 220-grain bullets should be used.
Pay attention, too, to bullet construction and jacket thickness; this plays a large part in any bullet’s performance on game. As a rule, read the manufacturer’s information for a given bullet, or simply ask the manufacturer, before you depend on it for a particular type of game. With more than 100 commercial loadings available for the ’06, if you can’t find one suitable for the game you’re hunting, you’re probably not trying hard enough.
The ’06 has seen plenty of military use, as well, and continues to do so today. Its modern military moniker is 7.62x63mm NATO, and it’s been used in bolt-action and semi-automatic shoulder-fired rifles as well as in a number of fully automatic machine guns. As with commercial use, the 30-06 has been loaded in a wide array of types for military use, including (but not limited to) FMJ/ball, armor piercing, incendiary, tracer, explosive, frangible, blank, and more.
The thirty ought six is a fine all-around cartridge, and if you want one big game rifle with which you can do just about anything, the ’06 will let you get ‘er done. It is certainly not perfect, but nothing is. And while any particular situation may be better suited to the use of a different cartridge, there’s no other rifle cartridge that can claim the flexibility and staying power of the 30-06.