You want some serious firepower, for example for hunting? Then the .30-06 is always the right choice for you, the do all and be all iconic cartridge. A whole generation was introduced to it in there M1 Garands and many more followed them over the years and decades. They all learned that when you need to rely on a cartridge to do the job no matter what it is, choose the .30-06, as it never disappoints.
This hammer of a round has been with us since 1906 and gained more and more popularity every since. You might even find it stupefying how one round of such age can still be the one go to cartridge for every problem. The fact that there are more than 250 commercial loadings available for it is testimony for its greatness and popularity even today. It is the only cartridge that even beats .308 and .223.
Billions of these rounds have been produced for WW II, and the run goes on and on. That brings us to the question: Why? How has this cartridge managed to be the number 1 for so many years and still be at the top today after all the developments that the industry has seen while the age of it just increases. You might attribute it to its military use that in itself is a guarantee for a long production run and success in the shooting community, but that is not all. There is so much more that keeps this round from disappearing.
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It just does all
The most important reason for the .30-06 to be at the top and stay there for the foreseeable future is simple. This round just can do it all. It does not matter what you want to use it for, it just performs well and gets the job done.
On the face of it, it is too big for varmints, but if you hit them with it, they are just as dead. It is too small for a dangerous game, and while this is right compared to other cartridges, if you know what you are doing and hit the right spot, you still get it to drop. In other words, there might be more specialized cartridges for the one or the other task, but the .30-06 gets them done as well without having to be specialized.
You can also put it in a different way: Aim at an animal and shoot, and you can be sure it will drop dead. There have been examples over and over in the old days when scopes ware a rarity, and hunters just used their iron sights.
Pair this awesome power with a recoil that the average shooter can handle, and it becomes quite obvious why this round became the go to cartridge for hunters. Looking closer, you will see that this tame recoil is more or less an accident. At the time of its introduction, recoil was the last thing somebody thought about if at all. What they focused on instead was the 7.92×57 mm, the German service cartridge at the time. The .30-06 was meant to compete it, so all it matters was its power, not its kick. It fires a bullet with a weight of 165 grain at a muzzle velocity of 2800 fps (feet per second). In a rifle with the weight of 8 pounds, this gets you a recoil of 20 foot pounds. This can still be handled by the average hunter without any specialized practice.
Apart from the recoil, carrying an 8-pound rifle is always acceptable for hunters. If you go for more power, you need a heavier rifle to at least mitigate the recoil a little bit. Choosing for example the .338, you need a 9-pound rifle. The kick will still be quite much, and on top of it you schlepp the heavier gun around. Here, wisdom comes from sweat, and you very fast settle for an 8-pound rifle chambered in .30-06.
Also for long range shooting, it is nothing to sneeze at. The original Springfield .30-06 with a 150-grain spire point bullet fired at 2,700 fps managed extreme ranges of 4.75 miles. For the average shooter, it had an effective firing range of 1,000 yards. The point-blank range at a man-sized target was 500 yards.
Then there are the Magnums
To put it mildly, shooting a .30-06 allows for better recoil management and more accuracy than trying to do the same with a .30 caliber or even larger magnum round. While those heavy hitters do come with some appeal, this is limited to some hardcore hunters who also like the pain that comes with them.
For all others, .30-06 brings the performance they need without kicking to much in the shoulder. Add to this the fact that the .30-06 is an all-around cartridge. This means, with just one rifle, you can do it all. You do not need one rifle and one cartridge for this task and another rifle with another cartridge for another task. Instead, you avoid this duplication of effort in which you invest in different rounds, different guns, maybe different reloading tools if you go into that as well, and different training. You stick to one gun with one caliber and become super proficient in it. You have a really tough target, switch to a stronger round. You have a lighter target, use a lighter load. However, for each one you use the same rifle, same set of loading tools, and same training.
In this equation, you should also not forget the hunter himself. As a human, it is better to use the same too, aka gun, again and again instead of switching for each task. This way, you also grow with your experience. You know exactly were to place the sights to get the hit your want. You get a feeling for your rifle, and do not need to start with lengthy calculations or risk a miss. Instead, you just aim and then you get the result you want.
The .30-06 Is Still at the Top
This brings us to the question why the .30-06 is still the top cartridge today. With all the other rounds and all the gimmicks rifles come with, it is a surprise that this old round is still the one that beats them all. Add to this the fact that the military has fell in love with other rounds long ago.
The answer here is as plain and simple as the guns that use this rifle. You do not need the x-iteration of a rifle with a specific scope, special ammo, and a laptop to calculate your shot. You need only grandpa`s rifle, a little bit of experience, and you get the hit you want. This round is not for play or show off. It is a workhorse that you can rely on.
Instead of breaking your bank trying to look cool on the range, you just flatten what you shoot, no questions ask. And the military? They have different requirements. They are playing with .308 and 5.56×45, but they also look for heavy hitters, like the .338 Lapua Magnum. Why not switch back to the .30-06? Some might think that this is a good idea, but the military does not hunt game. They go after enemy soldiers for whom these calibers are more than enough while, especially for the 5.56×45, do not put such a strain on logistics.
Also, do not forget the fact that the technology did not advance only for all other cartridges, also .30-06 profited from the developments. This allows for newer and ever greater bullets that doe not only keep this cartridge alive but make it more and more versatile, and thereby ahead of the field. Use a 150-grain bullet, and you get a flat trajectory. With it, hunting deer even at longer ranges is no problem as well as hunting whitetail and mule deer. Looking for something heavier, take the 180-grain bullet. With it, black bear, elk, and moose are no challenge. Not sure what you shoot today, take the 165-grain bullet. This is a super compromise giving you a trajectory that is flat enough and a performance you cannot complain about.
There are still newbies who shoot this round for the first time. Being young and convinced about the awesomeness of the rounds of today, they fall in love with this old cartridge. Here, they get the choices the need and the performance they are longing for while this round is still easy to handle. This keeps the old rule still valid today, with the .30-06 it is impossible to go wrong. There is nothing this round cannot handle while you can handle this round.
There you have it guys, the .30-06 that was and is a top cartridge. It convinces with its simplicity, power, and versatility. What more can you want?