Any written discussion of the .30-06 Springfield is potentially a mammoth task — to say the very least about it. So I’ll not even make an effort to go down that road. Rather, I’ll give some personal impressions based on awareness of how and where it has proved itself in hunting (versus it’s military use). In addition, I’ll discuss it’s factual ballistic capability and my personal use of a couple of them in serious load development for hunting purposes. My admittedly somewhat limited hunting experience of white-tailed bucks in Eastern Canada — compared to some others who have used this rifle cartridge for most of their hunting experiences — will shed further light on personal impressions of the famed .30-06 Springfield.
The first big-game rifle that I actually owned — versus borrowed rifles — was a mint military Brazilian Mauser chambered for the 7 x 57 Mauser cartridge. The first gun that I actually owned, other than a .22 rimfire, was a 12ga shotgun that was employed for birds as well as big game. The Brazilian Mauser in 7 x 57 was still in its original grease. When cleaned up it turned out to be the best well-made AND beautiful rifle to this day that I’ve ever owned! And that’s not any exaggeration! The blueing of the metal parts — and there were many — the walnut stock and the polished bolt were absolutely gorgeous! Today, only a very expensive custom rifle could compare.
When it was traded at the same shop where purchased, at the huge sum of $75, for a comparatively ugly, used military M98, rechambered to .30-06, a friend in New Brunswick who was a big buck guide, thought I was nuts! Maybe he was right. He had never seen that beautiful 7 x 57, nor the ugly .30-06 — his estimation was based solely on the capability of each for big buck hunting — he favored the 7 x 57!
The reason the strikingly handsome rifle got traded was due to it’s straight bolt handle that went 90* from the action prohibiting the installation of a scope — which my handicap dictated. The M98 had a “bent” one. Immediately, I purchased a simple Lee handloading device in .30-06. Thus, my handloading “career” commenced. Sometime later that gun was traded (plus cash) for a nearly new Winchester M70 in .30-06. I owned the M70 for several years and took some deer with it making use of handloads expressly designed for large eastern bucks.
That rifle was never specifically loaded (handloads) for either bear or moose as I had hunted neither to that point in time. Bullets loaded for bucks that could go to 400 lbs were 165’s of the era. They proved to work well enough, but I had a serious failure with one that left a bad taste in my mouth for both the .30-06, the bullet and the bolt action. Yes, I know bullet failure is not necessarily the fault of the cartridge or rifle. But the cartridge MAY be at fault if it pushes a “deer bullet” too fast into the shoulder of a 350 – 400 lb whitetail buck and “blows up”! And that’s exactly what happened. The .30-06 is more than sufficient for the largest whitetail, but in that situation it was too “sufficient”.
My loads for the 165s were designed to match factory advertised ballistics of 2800 fps at the muzzle. I didn’t own a chronograph in those days, so I ASSUMED that to be their approximate speed. Since I was mostly hunting private property where trails potentially allowed up to 450 yards straight away, with heavy bush and woods on each side, I set up behind deadfalls on the edge of trails permitting a view to the full extent possible. That is, I wanted loads that had potential for shots to 400 yards, if need be, on really big whitetail bucks.
During a particular fall season in Nova Scotia, on private property allowing a potential shot to 400 plus yards, I was using the M70 with a load as described above. Sitting on the corner of a trail that to my left permitted a clear view for about 160 yards(paced off), and to my right a wide open vista for 450 yards (paced off – that was long before I owned a range finder), I felt confident that the context could be fully exploited by my .30-06. My load was a 165gr Nosler SBBT (Solid Base BT), the precursor of the Ballistic Tip BT. Muzzle velocity was assumed to be approximately 2800 fps. To this day, I have no assurance of it’s actual MV.
Nosler’s Reloading Manual 3 lists the 165gr Spitzer Solid Base as leaving the muzzle of a 23.5″ Wiseman test barrel at 2830 fps from using 57 grains of IMR4350. From that load, I therefore assumed the 165gr Nosler to be leaving the muzzle of my 22″ M70 at about 2800 fps. They rated that bullet with a ballistic coefficient (BC) of .428. Sighted at + 3.00 at 100 meters — about 110 yds (my sight-in was at a military range — but we were limited to 100 meters only, even though the range extended to 600 meters). So the projected ballistics, based on the Nosler Manual 3, translated into yards would look something like this, assuming the MV WAS 2800 and the BC was correct:
MV = 2800 fps/2872 ft-lbs/sight-in = -1.50″
100= 2588 fps/2454 ft-lbs/sight-in = +2.80″
200= 2386 fps/2085 ft-lbs/sight-in = +2.00″
300= 2193 fps/1762 ft-lbs/sight-in = -4.90″
400= 2009 fps/1478 ft-lbs/sight-in = -19.0″
150= 2491 fps/2272 ft-lbs/sight-in = +3.10″
The previous year, I’d taken a good buck on the same trail at a mere 65 yards. The gunpowder load was similar but the bullet was a 165gr Sierra BT at around 2800 fps. A couple of other important details were different as well. As the buck was spinning away from me, I hit it a bit far back in the ribs. It quickly went down on it’s offside rump, bounced back up and made a few steps into the woods that bordered the trail. It didn’t go far. I found it in a “going to sleep” position and applied a finisher. That initial shot went through some ribs, the gut and into the offside ham, breaking the hip and turning 90* down the leg where parts made exit at the knee joint. The ham was ruined, of course. It’s amazing that the 165 Sierra BT accomplished all that without coming apart long before it hit the hip joint. It was a fat eastern eight pointer, that didn’t compare in mass with the one I took a poke at one year later from the same location. It was that latter deer that interrupted my thought processes regarding appropriate bullets and cartridges for big, I mean REALLY big, whitetails.
One year later, I was at the same location with the same rifle load as detailed in the Nosler Manual 3: a 165 Spitzer Solid Base leaving the muzzle at a presumed 2800 fps. I had been informed by a friend of the owners of the 400 acre property, that a large 400 lb buck (in his estimation) was living on the property. The managers of the property had planted and cared for several vegetable gardens that deer seemed to think were for their benefit, including the monster buck that had been sighted several times by “the friend”.
Around 7 am, on opening day of that season, I was at “my blind” on the corner of the trail that allowed a view of 160 yards to the top of a hill on my left and 450 yards straight away to my right. That year, there was no snow or ice, only bare ground with moderate temps.
No deer were sighted on the trail in either direction until exactly noon time, when I broke out a sandwich and poured a cup of coffee. I bowed my head to give thanks. On raising my head, I looked intuitively up the hill to my left, and standing there at 153 yards (later paced off), quartering toward me, and with eyes fixed on me was that “400 lb monster buck”! No, I hadn’t made a long-winded prayer of thanks, just about 6 seconds worth — enough time for that buck to appear out of nowhere. I put the coffee cup and sandwich to one side on the ground (I was sitting on my hunting seat- back-pack), slipped off the seat into a prone position amongst some ferns, took careful aim while the buck stood transfixed still looking in my direction. The crosshairs were planted about 1/3 up the frontal chest, slightly to the right so the bullet would transverse the big body diagonally, taking out heart and lungs, and perhaps the rear offside hip bone. Remember, the buck was up hill (not a big one) from me at about 150 yards. Trigger squeezed and “THWAPP!” was clear and loud at bullet impact! The big whitetail didn’t falter, instead he swung broadside and in one bound he left the center of the trail, disappearing into heavy brush and mixed woods. I was shooting from my left side a right-handed bolt action rifle. So, I let fly a second shot just as his hind quarters were vanishing in the thick brush. Anyway, no cause for panic, I got to my feet and began a slow pace toward the top of the hill, fully expecting to find “my buck” about 20 yards inside the tree line. Instead what I found were a few pin pricks of blood that ultimately led over deadfalls and piles of brush taking me to an impassible swamp. On the far side of the swamp was the border of the property I was on. Soon, I was hearing a barrage of gun fire that ended abruptly. And so also ended my dream of a monster whitetail buck! I didn’t sleep well that night, but reviewed the scene from start to finish, including the pool of blood on top of the hill and the few bone fragments scattered around it — which was the only part of the buck brought home.
Some less emotional, clear-headed analysis of that drama over time has resulted in these conclusions:
1) The sight-in of that M70 was not what I believed it to be. As mentioned, it was sighted at the Bedford Military Range outside Halifax, NS. At 100 meters there was a bunker with an aid in it. Targets were put up by the assistant, after a certain number of shots they were pulled down where he put an approximate 3″ square piece of yellow paper signifying where the group was hitting the targets. I was using a scope of course, that was cranked up to 9x. So, when it looked like my “group” was about +3″, I settled on that as “good enough” — plus being influenced by the fact of 200 hunters turning out that day for sighting in their deer rifles. We had little time to check matters. And none to walk to our targets to see first hand what was really going on. Consequently, I came to be convinced that my rifle was actually shooting higher than the presumed +3″ at 100 meters.
2) The hard “thwack” distinctly heard was into hard bone, not soft tissue, confirmed by the evidence of bone fragments on site, several of which were a fair size. I am now satisfied that the 165gr Nosler SBBT hit shoulder bone that caused fragmentation of the bullet as well as splintering some bone.
3) As an aftermath, I traded the M70 in .30-06 for a new BAR in 7mm Rem Mag with a 3 – 9 Leupold scope. The reason? I knew I was a bit too slow with a RH bolt rifle on my left side, but I still wanted something in the class of the .30-06.
4) That experience taught me not to send a “kid” to do a “man’s job”. The “kid” being the 165gr Nosler SBBT. For a very large deer (estimated at 400 lbs) I should have been using at least a 165gr Nosler Partition or a 180gr as best yet in a Partition.
I was duped by the propaganda machine found in the writings of the “rags”. Back in those days, bullets made for deer were assumed to be adequate if they “cleanly” killed Texas whitetails, in which a really big one might go 200 – 250 lbs.
5) The .30-06 is generally not needed for the average whitetail. Especially is that so with modern premium bullets.
Some typical maximum handloads at the muzzle of a 24″ .30-06 Springfield
150gr = 3100 fps
165gr = 3000 fps
180gr = 2800 fps
200gr = 2700 fps
220gr = 2600 fps
And, all that has brought me to some conclusions about, arguably, the most popular deer rifle… the .30-06 Springfield.
> While in it’s heyday, the .30-06 was most popular because it had been a military cartridge that many hunters become familiar with during two world wars.
> It was also conceived as superior to anything else as a general purpose firearm for not only smallish deer but the largest and meanest game that could ever be encountered in North America, including the 49th State!
> Then, there’s no denying the fact that it has been successful in the hands of excellent riflemen in the harvesting of the bulk of big game throughout the world.
I suppose that I chose a .30-06 as my first rifle to be handloaded because of its reputation. But the Winchester M70 was the last I’ve ever owned, and I have no regrets because in my view there are better for anything up to whitetails, and better still for anything really tough, big and possibly dangerous under all conditions.
For an example: As a moose rifle in Alaska where a mature bull could attain 1500 lbs, the .30-06 has probably taken more than it’s share. However, there is always the possibility of an encounter with a grizzly having a bad day, so the trend for quite some time has been to go larger, namely to the .338 Win Mag and even the .375 H&H. Today, the .375 Ruger is coming on strong not only due to it’s ballistics (on par with the H&H) but also the fact of being no more expensive than a “regular” .30-06!
(.375 Ruger Alaskan)
That reflects my thinking when it comes to domestic moose and bears where conditions may become extreme in short order. I’ve adequately covered exactly what is meant by that in former blogs, I have little doubt. But in case someone now reading this has missed it, let me refresh those points very briefly:
Assuming a solo hunt (DIY), which has occupied much of my hunting career, I’m not depending on anyone else to bail me out if I get into trouble with a moose or bear, except God himself! It seems to be a matter of wisdom and pragmatism to go prepared for the worst case scenario, NOT the best! Since I perceive the .30-06 to be stuck somewhere in the middle, not the best for whitetails (too much of a good thing), nor the best for potentially mean beasties in unforgiving conditions, I’ll choose at least a .300 magnum (which I have done) with heavier premium bullets than normally put to use in a .30-06, or better yet a medium, such as a .35 Whelen, a .338 magnum, a 9.3 x 62 Mauser, or even possibly a .375 Ruger or H&H. I’ve owned several in this class, and they give great confidence under the terms mentioned — IF one can shoot them straight. I feel coming another series on “Why fear recoil?”. As someone has succinctly put it: “If someone is unable to handle the recoil of a .375 H&H, then there is a lot of hunting they will have to forego.”
Exactly my sentiments.
Therefore, as stated, I view the .30-06 as adequate for most things, but not the best for anything.
Do you own a .30-06? If so, ask yourself, “Why?”. Whatever it can do, something else can do it better in my estimation.
However, if you like yours, and it does what you want, enjoy it, and I wish you well in your pursuits of whatever the game tag in your wallet permits you to squeeze the trigger on.
Next up: The .300 Winchester Magnum. You either love it or hate it… why?