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If you're new to hunting or shooting, or were at one point in that position, I'd wager you wouldn't make it three minutes into your research without coming across a library of articles and videos mentioning the 30.06 Springfield. Years back I found myself in that very position. As a guy who lucked out and married into a hunting family, I received a quick education on what's become my favorite passion from my now wife and her family. However, something was wrong. There was something unacceptable about borrowing a rifle. It dimmed the shine of pride having to admit you took your first deer with your girlfriend's rifle.
So, I did what many other new hunters have done and continue to do. I did a bunch of research and off to the gun store I went. And as someone who was primarily planning to hunt deer but had hopes of mixing in some larger big game and smaller game as well, I was led to a caliber that none of you would be surprised by. When I left that gun store, I walked out with a smile on my face and a new 30.06 in my hand.
Introduced to the United States Army in 1906, the 30.06 Springfield is a .30 caliber rifle round and the stepson of the 1903 military rifle based on the same footprint. The 1903 version was a slow moving, heavy-weight package that was quickly outpaced with better technology. Three years in, being embarrassed by the German Army's faster and farther reaching .323, the Army called for a redesign to handle a faster, lighter grain bullet and bingo. The 30.06 was born.
The caliber remained a staple in the US Military until the middle of the century when it was replaced by the 7.62 NATO and the 5.56 NATO. That didn't stop the spreading ripple effect of popularity for the caliber. Much of what made the ol' aught-six a great military rifle 100 years ago is still true. Lighter bullets are fast as snot. Heavier rounds buck wind with ease and hit like a Mack truck. And you can find the ammo on any corner store shelf all year round. But with all the other options out there today, is that still enough?
An argument could easily be made that the .308 (7.62) is a better long-distance option. It's also a shorter and lighter round. And what’s not to love about stockpiling ammo that can be used in both bolt-action and an AR platform. The flexibility of the 30.06 caliber is one of its greatest features, but the only options I’ve seen in semi-auto look like unattractive mutant cousins of the AR. Besides, it's an incredibly safe bet that any game animal you'd want to go after with the 30.06 could sufficiently meet its end with a .308 instead.
And speaking of larger game, who wouldn’t feel confident shouldering up a 7mm Rem Mag staring down an elk through a Vortex scope, or toting a 300 Win Mag around the backcountry looking for moose? The list of 30 caliber and larger bullies that have capable options and approachable budgets seems to be growing by the day.
On the lighter side there are a number of capable contenders as well. What about the 260 Remington? Or the new 26 Nosler? How about the ever capable .270 Winchester? Or the popular 6.5 Creedmoor? Heck, even the 30.06’s athletic little brother, the 25-06, is worth a look. With these you have a team of fast and physical little calibers that make tossing rounds down range all day a breeze and the 30.06 look like your uncle with a dad bod. And the whole lot of them would be capable of filling deer and black bear tags or clearing pesky predators.
But it's that fit in the middle, the universality of it all, that leads so many people to hang on to lore of the 30.06. In fact, you'd likely be hard-pressed to find a gun case that didn't contain one. Is that an error in gunowner judgement? Who knows? I mean, the military did stop using it in 1957. By my quick math that means the technology was considered obsolete over 60 years ago. But to each their own.
I’m not saying it’s a bad caliber. In fact, if I only have room or budget for one long gun, I’d still make that same decision. But as the limited slots available in my gun safe continue to fill up, I’m having a harder time hanging on to it. When there are so many sexier, duty specific rounds to choose from, the 30.06 continues to work its way to the back of the safe.
I took my first three deer with that Howa 30.06. It hasn't moved much since. When it does it might be right back off to the gun store again.