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There was a time when many shooters and hunters had to get by with one centerfire rifle. Calibers for varmint hunting such as the .222 Remington and the numerous others based on that case did not exist. A rifle chambered for a small-bore wildcat cartridge cost more than the budget could spare and required reloading as a source of ammunition. In such situations, the same rifle might well be used for hunting deer or other larger species but would also serve as a recreational tool and varmint and predator eradicator. For a lot of years, such chores were handled by none other than a rifle chambered for the good old .30-06 Springfield.
Except in strange times like the recent past, ammunition in .30-06 caliber has been widely available. Moreover, for many years, factory ammunition was available with bullets weighing from 110 grains to 220 grains. I have not seen any 110 grain loads for many years and the lightest now available seems to be 125 grain bullets. The formerly available 110 grain loads made the .30-06 a varmint rifle with a blast and plenty of recoil but remember the plethora of smaller calibers and even the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, and many others were not available during the early years of the .30-06. Loads having 220 grain bullets are still listed for the shooter who wants to take the cartridge to the upper limit of game size. The most popular bullet weights in .30-06 ammunition have always been 150 and 180 grains, but numerous loads now feature 165 grain bullets. The effectiveness of the .30-06 as a caliber for use on game has been demonstrated all over the world.
My intent here is not to stress the obvious applications of the .30-06 Springfield caliber for any specific purpose, but to emphasize the characteristics that made it so popular for so many years. The fact that it was a military caliber for about 60 years starting in 1906 assured its popularity. In military designation, it is the 7.62 x 53mm and it has been loaded with several types of projectiles over the years.
Current ammunition offerings include some that feature premium bullets of the polymer-tipped variety or others having partitions that result in reliable expansion and deep penetration. The result is that the .30-06 is even more effective today than when bullets were only of the cup and core variety. Consequently, if the .30-06 could be labeled as “never a bad choice” or “never a mistake” by Townsend Whelen many years ago, that label is even more appropriate now.
There is a trend now for ultra-long-range cartridges in rifles that weigh a lot and have large scopes attached. A bipod and rangefinder are considered necessities as are reticules that can almost function as computers. With modern loads, an accurate .30-06 will anchor game as far as most people have any business taking such shots. The trajectory is flat enough, especially with 150 grain bullets having high ballistic coefficients, for the .30-06 to be a legitimate 300-yard cartridge.
For the .30-06 shooter who handloads ammunition, the versatility of the cartridge is impressive. The range of weights and styles of bullets in .308” diameter makes it possible to use a .30-06 in many situations. In the truly monumental book, Complete Guide to Handloading by Phillip B. Sharpe, one can discover just how versatile the .30-06 is. Sharpe describes how one of his favorite varmint loads consisted of a 115-grain bullet ordinarily loaded in the .32-20 Winchester with a powder charge to give a velocity of approximately 2000 ft/sec. That load is roughly the equivalent of the .30 Carbine in performance. I have produced several similar loads using currently available powders and bullets, and I can attest that the accuracy at ranges of 100 -125 yards would give predators the shakes. One can load the 90 grain Hornady XTP bullet that is actually intended for use in handguns, but it makes a good varmint bullet in a variety of .308 caliber rifles. Most bullet manufacturers produce 110 grain bullets in .308 diameter, and they can be very effective on varmints. When preparing such loads, the powder chosen is sometimes one of those normally used in pistol or small rifle cases, and great care must be taken not to get more than one charge in a case! Reports of careless loading with fast burning powders describe the condition of the rifle after firing a cartridge holding a multiple charge. Specific loads will not be listed here, but they are easy to find in reloading handbooks or on the internet. Be careful!
The .30-06 case is rather large so when loading cartridges of normal power in the .30-06, the appropriate powders are those in the medium to slow burning rate category. I have had excellent results with powders such as IMR 4064, 4350, and 4320, Winchester 760, and Alliant ReLoader 17 with bullets ranging from 150-180 grains. Loading manuals give a wide range of loads for this durable old caliber.
For the shooter who still wants to get by (or must) with one centerfire rifle and still be able to dispatch varmints, predators (small and large), and big game, a good rifle chambered for the .30-06 Springfield is a sound choice. Perhaps a little too big for small species, it is just about right for a lot of applications, especially with carefully prepared handloads. It has long been one of my favorite calibers.
The versatility of the .30-06 Springfield was well understood and explained by Philip B. Sharpe.
The .30-06 case (right) led to the .25-06 Remington (left) and .270 Winchester (center).
A wide variety of bullets can be loaded in the .30-06 and they make the cartridge versatile.
These are some of the powders having medium to slow burning rates can be used in the .30-06.
To make the .30-06 a varmint rifle, light bullets such as these 110 grain types are good choices.
My current .30-06 is a Remington 700 ADL and I do not need another.
As shown by this 0.7-inch 5-shot group obtained at 50 yards, the .30-06 performs well with 110 grain bullets.