I started my handloading adventures with a .30-06 in 1978 and continued with another until the end of 1985, a total of seven years. So apart from more and better bullets and powders available on today’s market, and the purchase of my first chronograph in 1988, I’m confident that I know what handloads in 2020 could give me from any ordinary 22″ .30-06.
Yet from a 24″ .30-06 I’d expect somewhere between 2800 and 2900 fps from several 180gr bullets, and between 2900 and 3000 fps from 165s, and 3000 to 3100 fps from 150s (Nosler’s manual #6 confirms all that). In my view, however, if I’d be hunting moose, elk or bears, I’d choose one of Nosler’s 200 grainers – the Partition as my first choice, or the Accubond if I felt the need for a longer range shot.
There’s little doubt that with today’s handloading components one could make the venerable .30-06 in a 24″ approximately what the .300 H&H was in times past (nominal 2880 fps from a 180gr). It’s that close to “magnum punch” of a bygone era, and as such it could be successfully used on most big game of North America under most conditions. That’s “most”, not “all”. But someone armed with a handloaded .30-06, who is very familiar with it, and practices, or uses it regularly for most big game hunting would not be under-gunned if it were used with some discretion. Range and angle of presentation of the game being of primary consideration — as in all hunting regardless of firearm — and in using premium bullets.
While I like a versatile cartridge and rifle, such as a .458 Win Mag (see recent pic of the Ruger #1 in .458 WIN above while hunting bear this past fall.), I prefer to use a single load (bullet + powder + velocity) for most BG hunts from the same rifle. For instance, a premium pointed 400gr in .458″ would be my first choice as a single bullet for most thin-skinned animals from a .458 WIN.
<(Is that a .30-06 in hand?) It seems that most who use a .30-06 do so for small to medium game and choose a 150gr or 165 in “premiums” at 2900 fps and 2800 fps respectively — sometimes thinking that is so without actually checking their loads over a chronograph. Those would be more than adequate for whitetails under “normal conditions” — i.e., range and angle. But the .30-06 is capable of far more, as I think we all know. Using 180s, 200s and 220s, it has brought to bag the likes of Alaskan bull moose and brown bear, as well as a multitude of African fauna. And it is better than ever employing today’s powders and premium bullets. For instance, the 200gr Partition at 2700 fps looks like this:
SD = .301
BC = .481
MV = 2700 fps/ 3237 ft-lbs
100 = 2517 fps/2813 ft-lbs
200 = 2340 fps/2431 ft-lbs
300 = 2172 fps/2095 ft-lbs
400 = 2009 fps/1792 ft-lbs
500 = 1854 fps/1526 ft-lbs
*Nosler’s Reloading Guide #6 shows 2688 fps for their 200s from a 24″.
Back-in-the-day, when I went to pick up my moose license at an MNR office in Toronto, I dropped in on a class of wannabe moose hunters and listened to a CO giving a lecture on adequate ballistic requirements — a .30-caliber was inferred as most often a .308 Win to a .300 Win Mag was the number used for illustration, including the .30-06 — for the termination of a bull moose, assuming “a good hit”. The lecturer stated that under “normal conditions” 2 ft-lbs of energy for every 1 lb of moose would be adequate at impact. Therefore, using the data above from a “premium load” as a guide for a .30-06, if the bull weighed 1050 lbs, 300 yards would be the absolute limit to meet such criteria.
Of course, most moose are shot closer than that and are not necessarily that heavy, but some are farther and heavier. So, whatever we might think of such advise, and of course there are exceptions, I personally have chosen a rifle and load in hunting moose that exceeds what might be considered “normal” or average simply because few situations actually turn out to be “average”, because “average” takes in large differences in both range and physical conditions in hunting BG anywhere from “in your face” to 500 or more yards. And the same is true of angles of shot and weight or size of game.
(A .458 Win Mag for a moose hunt? Yup!)>
As I age, and if I had a serious case of arthritis or other physical impairments that limited what I could shoot and handle with comfort and confidence, I wouldn’t complain too much if all I had was a .30-06. I’d be thankful that I could endure it’s 22 to 26 ft-lbs of recoil and hold it steady! But so far, and thanks to the Almighty, I can still manage a .458 Win Mag and its 10.75 lbs of weight. But I surely don’t expect that from many 84 year-olds! In all of North America, I may very well be the only hunter at 84 years who still hunts with a .458 Win Mag! However, if I were 50 to 60 again, where most N.A. hunters seem to be these days, something like a .300 WIN or .338 WIN would not be a second-rate recommendation !
Let’s, then, have a look at the .300 Win Mag as it is today in prime form using the best of handloading components. Employing the same Nosler 200gr Partition, a 24″ barrel will fire that projectile at a top MV of 2960 fps employing RL-22, which was my pick for several .300 Win Mags. From a 24″ Savage I actually exceeded that. But we’ll use that as a realistic MV from the 200gr NP (SD=.301; BC = .481)
MV = 2960 fps/3890 ft-lbs
100 = 2772 fps/3412 ft-lbs
200 = 2592 fps/2984 ft-lbs
300 = 2419 fps/2599 ft-lbs
400 = 2253 fps/2254 ft-lbs
500 = 2093 fps/1946 ft-lbs
However we may choose to judge matters, there’s no denying that the .300 Win Mag has a 150 yard advantage over the .30-06 by developing the same velocity and energy at 400 yards as the .30-06 does at 250 yards. However good it is, the .300 Win Mag is better.
Recoil? That’s a matter of taste. Some like plain vanilla ice cream. Me? I like Carmel-Chocolate-Fudge! (But I shouldn’t have it – not good for my diabetes! But then, neither is plain vanilla!)
Seriously, as my young hunting buddy (younger than I) exclaimed the first time he fired my M70 XTR in .300 Win Mag, “That hardly kicks at all!” Then he went out and bought a new Browning A-Bolt in .338 Win Mag! Before all that, his favorite BG rifle was a BLR in .308 Win. Yes, he too was (and is) a handloader. (He shot a good bear at one of my sites employing his new .338 Win Mag. < Bullet was a 210gr Nos. Partition at 3000 fps/4196 ft-lbs. That’s a good moose load as well!)
210gr 3000 fps/4196 ft-lbs
100 = 2763 fps/3559 ft-lbs
200 = 2539 fps/3005 ft-lbs
300 = 2325 fps/2520 ft-lbs
400 = 2122 fps/2099 ft-lbs
And the AccuBonds would improve all those numbers.
500 = 1929 fps/1735 ft-lbs
So, while there is not a lot to complain about if all one has is a .30-06 (using the best handloads), it’s fairly obvious that it can’t keep up with the .300 magnums or the Mediums.
And, of course, I’m convinced that the cross-section-area (CSA) of a bullet adds or detracts a further dimension of effectiveness at bullet impact. All else equal (i.e. – construction, shape and energy), a larger diameter bullet will produce a larger cavity than a smaller one, thus greater effect.)
Seven years hunting and handloading experience with America’s favorite rifle cartridge has not persuaded me that it’s the “best” all-around cartridge for BG, including black bears and moose under all conditions. There are better, and yet “best”.
Next: How to determine what rifle is “best” for the game we hunt, and for any future plans.
Til the next…
< That’s my 9.3 x 62. One and done using the 250gr/9.3 AccuBond at an MV of +2700 fps. Range was 85 yards.