Many hunters say that this old cartridge is still the best for hunting big game, but how does it fare compared to other modern cartridges?

The .30-06 is a caliber from a bygone era, where horses were still commonplace. It was hatched as a military cartridge back in 1906, making it a century old. For perspective, that would be 2 years before the Ford Model T was commercially available, 14 years before commercial radio, and 48 years before Elvis Presley’s first hit record.

With a cartridge this old, you would think that it would pale in comparison to some more modern caliber such as the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum, the .308 Winchester, or even the tiny 6.5 Creedmoor. But before we start comparing all these calibers, here’s a short history lesson.

History of the .03/06 Springfield

It was after the Spanish-American war in 1898 that the US military realized that they were in a dire need of an upgrade. Many American soldiers, including Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, felt the bite from the 7x57mm Spanish Mausers in Cuba. The US military wanted to have a rifle and cartridge that had the same power.

The result? The Model 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle and .30-03 cartridge were born. The 1903 can throw 220-grain round-nose bullets at 2,300 feet per second (fps), but the US military wanted something even more powerful. So, they continued to refine their weapon by shortening the case length and switching to the 150-grain spire point bullet capable of going 2,700 fps. This cartridge is the .30-06 we see today.

Fun fact: The US government had to pay royalties to Mauser in Germany because the 1903 rifle and .30-06 cartridge were very similar to the Mauser and its 3x57mm cartridge.

So, how effective was this new caliber?

History from the first and second World War told us that they held up pretty good. But, for the purpose of this video, we won’t be looking at war applications. In hunting scenarios, the performance was pretty impressive. After the end of his presidency in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt himself took the sport variant of the Springfield .30-06 out on his African safari. The ex-president was a poor shot, but the .30-06 did the job nonetheless.

In fact, the .30-06 was so effective that his friend and Stewart Edward White started using the cartridge in 1911. Earnest Hemingway himself used the .30-06 on his 1933 safari and managed to down a large lion as well as scoring a one-shot kill on a running rhino at 300 yards.

Around the mid-20th century, the .30-06 became known as the standard “light” caliber, meaning that the performance of other calibers was compared to that of the .30-06 to test their viability. The cartridge was used widely, from dispatching rodents to downing rhinos. It has seen action from the Arctic all the way to the tropical jungles. The .30-06 was the reigning king even when there were competitors from the likes of the .270 Winchester, the .300 H&H, and the .300 Weatherby Magnum.

However, all things must come to an end. The popularity of the .30-06 Winchester began to fade when the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum were introduced in 1962 and 1963 respectively.

The .30-06 Performance Today

That’s enough history lesson. The .30-06 today is no longer the century-old cartridge from a distant past. Modern technology brings about new powder and bullets that amplifies the effectiveness of the .30-06. Nowadays, most ammunition can push a 150-grain bullet at 3,000 fps, or a 180-grain at 2,800 fps.

Whether the .30-06 is an ideal cartridge depends on what you want. Do you value ammo variety more? Do you care much about ammo cost or availability? What about the recoil, downrange energy, drop, deflection, wind, and length of your rifle’s action?

I’ll simplify things for you and give you my take on the .30-06 Springfield’s performance based on each of these categories.

Ammo Variety

Here, the .30-06 is still the best cartridge since it comes with about 100 different combinations of bullets from a wide variety of brands in the market. It is safe to say that every ammo manufacturer loads the .30-06.

The lightest .30-06 cartridge you can find right now is the 55-grain Accelerator Pointed Soft Point from Remington, rated at 4,080 fps. The heaviest is the Federal’s 220-grain Sierra Pro-Hunter SP Round Nose. Even handloader rounds can easily beat the old -06 with everything such as the 100-grain plinking pills to the 225-grain Match bullets, and the velocity can go as high as 3,500 fps.

Ammo availability and cost

Any gun shop would have .30-06 in stock unless the owner has no idea how to run a gun shop. And there is nothing to worry about cost, either. You can find .30-06 rounds for sale for as cheap as 50-cent each. A box of 20 costs a measly $10. To give you a perspective, it is considered that a decent hunting load costs at least $15. Premium rounds may cost you upward of $60.

Rifle Availability and Variety

It is the same story here. Almost every rifle maker uses the .30-06, except for the AR-15 and AR-10 for obvious reasons. The first commercial rifle to chamber the .30-06 is the level-action M1895 Winchester. Since then, many rifles have followed suit. Nowadays, virtually every new rifle model is offered in .30-06 regardless of price point, from cheap $300 rifles to premium, cutting-edge firearms that cost $20,000 a pop.

Rifle size and weight

The first Springfield rifle that chambers .30-06 weighted at 8.6 pounds unloaded. It produced recoil energy of 17.81 foot-pounds at a recoil velocity of 11.54 fps, which is manageable for your average soldier for daily use with extended action. Most modern rifles that chamber .30-06 weigh about 7-8 pounds, and you can even find some that are only 5 pounds. An average 7-pound gun shooting a 150-grain bullet produces recoil energy of 25 foot-pounds at 15fps.

Trajectory and Ballistics

The original .30-06 with its 150-grain spire point bullet at 2,700 fps velocity can reach as far as 4.75 miles but the effective range is 1,000 yards. With the flip-up rear leaf sight, the range is 2,850 yards. Any man-sized target at a range of 500 yards is considered point-blank.

Accuracy

As for the accuracy, many champions in shooting competitions use the .30-06, regardless of range. Most modern rifles, if carefully tuned, can achieve true 1/2 MOA performance or even 1/4 minute precision. Rifle or cartridge accuracy relies more on a balanced and concentric rifle and bullet than the shape of the cartridge itself.

External Ballistics

For many hunters and shooters, external ballistics is the true measurement of a cartridge’s worth. The entire reason for rifle, scope, brass, powder, and primer is for the flight of the bullet itself. There are three things to consider: muzzle velocity, ballistic coefficient, and mass.

A bullet with high muzzle velocity, ballistic coefficient and mass achieves a relatively flat trajectory, retains more energy regardless of ranges, and is less likely to be deflected in the wind.

However, that does not mean that a lighter caliber is worse than a heavier one. Every combination of cartridge and bullet is a careful balancing act. If you increase muzzle velocity and mass, you need more powder. This increases recoil energy as well as production cost.

So, how does the old .30-06 fare against other general-purpose, mid-sized hunting cartridges today? Take a look at the table below.

Keep in mind that, in the test, each cartridge is zeroed in for its maximum point-blank range (MBPR) on an 8-inch target. In other words, the bullet impact is zeroed in as high as needed at 100 yards to ensure that bullets strike is at most 4 inches higher than the aiming point at peak trajectory.

In addition, the distance where the bullets drop 4 inches below the point of aim is the maximum point-blank range for that cartridge. The bullet weights used for each cartridge are appropriate for hunting deer while ensuring that the ballistic coefficient. is as high as possible.

Finally, keep in mind that ballistic performance varies depending on the ballistic coefficient. and mass of the bullet itself. If you want heavier bullets, you would need to sacrifice muzzle velocity.

Trajectories

Finally, let’s talk about trajectory. For this, check out the table on the screen right now.

Keep in mind that muzzle velocities depend on the rifles and using bullets with higher ballistic coefficient. will change the downrange performance drastically. In this test, commonly-used hunting ammo was put to the test. As you can see, bullets with higher ballistic coefficient.  have better ballistics since they minimize drag, allowing them to retain more energy.

Other Popular Alternatives to the .30-06

Throughout the video, I’ve mentioned other cartridges such as the .308 Winchester and the 6.5 Creedmoor. These are the more modern cartridges that are widely used today. How do they compare to the .30-06?

.308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester is a civilian variant of the 7.62 NATO cartridge. This is the ideal rounds for the law enforcement agents and snipers. Though popular, one can say that this is basically a shorter .30-06. It has the same head, rim, and body diameters. The only difference is the length, which is only half an inch. The difference is minuscule, except in the places where it counts.

With half an inch shorter round, you might a very slightly shorter cycle time and about 4 ounces of weight saved. A lot of people say that the .308 Winchester has better ballistic coefficient., and they are right because it uses less powder. However, you would sacrifice velocity, at about 100-200 fps. The deer won’t feel the difference, but you will feel the pain when your shot lands short or drift off target.

That said, the .308 Winchester is “fine” since it is suitable for most large game. However, it cannot outperform the .30-06. The only area where the .308 Winchester does better is the barrel life, at 8,000 rounds compared to the 5,000 of the .30-06. But this doesn’t matter much since barrels are like tires. You just change it out when it’s worn out.

.270 Winchester

The .270 Winchester is also a .30-06, with the only difference is that the .270 houses a .277” bullet. So you have a smaller bullet which translates to better ballistic coefficient bullet. It has better drag resistance compared to the chubby .308” bullet as well. For this reason, the .270 Win. Is known for its flat trajectory, especially if a 120-grain projectile is used.

The downside is that the .270 Win. rounds with bullets heavier than 150 grains are hard to find. Moreover, it carries less energy, meaning it does not hit as hard nor penetrate as deep as the .30-06. So, the .30-06 wins again.

7mm/08 Rem and .280 Rem

Both of these cartridges use .284” bullets. Similar to the .270 Win. They have higher ballistic coefficients. even though they have the same weight/form bullets as the .308. Still, these are very similar to the .30-06 with certain compromises that just put it under the .30-06.

The 7mm-08 is the .308 Win. necked down. The .280 Rem. is just the .30-06 necked down. When you consider only the ballistic performance, the 280 Rem. easily wins using 150-175 grain bullets. But when it comes to the terminal impact on a target, the .30-06 loaded with 190-220 grain bullets wins again.

A lot of people consider the 7mm-08 to be the best cartridge for hunting whitetails. However, it suffers the same problem as the .308 Win. because it uses less powder. Using 140-150 grain bullets, its performance is similar to the .30-06. If you go any heavier, the .30-06 is better.

.300 Winchester Magnum

This one is a clear winner. It’s not just the .300 Win. Magnum. Literally every 300 Magnum outperforms the .30-06 because it uses more powder. In this case, the .300 Win. Magnum has 20 grains more powder. The .300 Remington Ultra Magnum? 30 grains. The .30-387, 40 grains.

The drawback is that you have to deal with reduced barrel life, stronger recoil, expensive ammo, and heavier, bulkier rifles. So, before you commit to the 300 Magnums, ask yourself whether you want to deal with all of these problems. If you don’t shoot your game farther than 400 yards, then it’s not worth the trouble. At that range, the .30-06 does only 101 foot-pounds less impact, while still being affordable and accurate.

6.5 Creedmoor

Finally, let’s look at the 6.5 Creedmoor. Now, you might think that the tiny 6.5 Creedmoor does not even deserve to be in this comparison since it spits a 143-grain bullet at a measly 2,700 fps. However, a lot of hunters use this to take down the same game commonly hunted with the .30-06.

If you look at the trajectory table again, the 6.5 Creedmoor can keep up with more powerful rounds and even outperform some others at longer ranges. This is possible because of its high ballistic coefficient. Its ballistic performance is better because it resists drag better and can deliver more energy into the target.

Again, there is an upper weight limit for this caliber, making this caliber not as versatile as the .30-06. Think of it this way. When faced with a charging boar, what bullet would you rather have? A 143-grain or a 220-grain?

Conclusion

In short, the .30-06 is still the king of hunting cartridges. To be clear, all of the above cartridges are not bad. It is just that the .30-06 is the jack-of-all-trades with good performance across the board. Keep in mind that it was powerful to stop lions and rhinos 100 years ago. Nowadays, with modern ammo and powder, it has even more velocity and stopping power. It is certainly powerful enough to put a moose down.

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