Skip to main content

Boddington's Take: .30-06 Springfield Cartridge

With all the new and exciting rifle cartridges being introduced of late, it's easy to overlook legacy loads like the .30-06 Springfield. My advice, don't sleep on the “Dirty-Ought-Six.”

Boddington's Take: .30-06 Springfield Cartridge

Boddington has rarely seen accuracy problems with the .30-06. This Kimber Mountain Ascent, a test rifle, easily produced sub-MOA groups right out of the box with the first factory load tried. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Steven Bennett was sitting at the stand we call “Below the Corral.” Just before sunset a tall, heavy eight-pointer came out. Nice buck, tempting. Bennett rolled the dice, let him walk. Past sunset, cloudy, light going fast. Another buck marched into the clearing, this one a good ten-pointer. He raised his rifle, whistled for the buck to stop, was ready when it did. The buck took the bullet hard, tried to run, went down. In the open pasture, not in the dark woods beyond.

The rifle was a new, modern Tikka bolt-action. The cartridge was neither new nor modern. It did its job well, as it had done for more than a century. It was one of the best and most versatile cartridges ever developed, what we call .30-06 Springfield. It was America’s standard service cartridge for 50 years, through both World Wars, Korea, and countless smaller actions. It was also America’s most popular hunting cartridge for at least 50 years, from the 1920s well into the 1970s.

2023 Harvest
Still getting it done! Steven Bennett with his fine 2023 Kansas 10-pointer, dropped cleanly in fading light with his Tikka .30-06. The .30-06 is needlessly powerful for deer-sized game, but it drops deer like the hammer of Thor, never a bad thing. (Photo by Craig Boddinton)

Today, with so many cartridge choices, it’s not as popular as it once was, but most American hunters and shooters of all ages know of the legendary .30-06. In the arcane and inexplicable world of cartridge nomenclature, younger readers may not know exactly where its name originated. In 1903, America’s Springfield Armory developed a new, rimless .30-caliber cartridge for the also-new 1903 Springfield rifle, its action such a Mauser clone that Uncle Sam paid royalties to Mauser — that is, until we went to war with Germany in 1917.

Cherry 1903 Springfield
Boddington’s son-in-law Brad Jannenga on the bench with an exceptionally cherry 1903 Springfield. At one time, there were millions of surplus rifles on the market and almost everyone had a 1903 Springfield or 1917 US Enfield. Today rifles like this are getting scarce. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

That initial cartridge, dubbed “.30-03,” used a long, heavy 220-grain bullet. Following European militaries, in 1906 we redesigned the cartridge to use a lighter, faster, more aerodynamic sharp-pointed bullet. The neck was shortened slightly, the new cartridge designated “Cartridge, ball, caliber .30, Model of 1906.” We quickly shortened this to .30-06. For some years, both .30-03 and .30-06 versions were commercially loaded. Technically, a .30-06 cartridge will fit and fire safely in a .30-03 rifle but, depending on chamber tolerances, a .30-03 cartridge may not chamber in a .30-06 rifle.

Boddington Kudu
Boddington with a fine lesser kudu, taken on his first safari in Kenya, 1977. He’d never hunted with the .30-06 until then. Its performance on the full range of African plains game made him a lifelong believer. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Kind of a moot point today. 1903 Springfield rifles were easily modified by screwing in the barrel one revolution, and the .30-03 has been obsolete since 1911. The only .30-03 rifle I’ve ever had in my hands (wearing white gloves) was one of the Springfields carried by Theodore Roosevelt on his 1909 safari. That rifle was never modified, so was technically a .30-03, Teddy using .30-06 ammo on his epic nine-month safari.

Although the .30-06 cartridge is awesome on its own merit, part of the reason for its huge popularity was the millions of surplus Springfields and 1917 US Enfields available after WWII. With almost all commercial actions chambered to .30-06 for a century, neither Springfield nor US Enfield actions are seen much today, but when I was young everybody had at least one. My own first centerfire was a surplus Springfield, sloppily sporterized by ham-handed me.

Superformance 30-06 velocity
Standard .30-06 velocities are not slow, but faster loads exist. This was a chronograph reading from an early batch of Hornady Superformance with 165-grain bullet. Over 3,000 fps, this is deep into .300 Winchester Magnum territory. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

The .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge ever adopted for standard issue by a major military. Generations of recruits complained about the brutal recoil, but its success in combat and in hunting fields is legendary. As propellants evolved, current .30-06 loads are considerably faster than original military. Factory loads have included bullets from 110 to 220 grains, but most common standard loads are: 150-grain bullet at 2,910 fps; 165-grain at 2,800; and 180-grain bullet at 2,700. All three deliver around 2,900 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle — devastating power. Handloaders can extract at least 100 fps extra in any bullet weight, and there are faster factory loads, such as Hornady’s Superformance.

Sporterized Springfield
Although he didn’t hunt with it when he was young, this was Boddington’s first centerfire rifle, a surplus Springfield acquired in the '60s, clumsily sporterized. Mounted with Williams aperture sight, it accounted for this fine boar in the early 1990s. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

However, whether standard velocity or juiced up a bit, the .30-06 is not slow. Its velocity is surpassed by numerous .30-caliber magnums (which kick even more), but it is fast, flat-shooting, and powerful. Best-known for championing the .270 Winchester, gunwriting great Jack O’Connor (1902-1978) had just three all-time-favorite cartridges: 7x57 Mauser; his beloved .270; and the .30-06. Although he never exactly said this in print, I have O’Connor letters where he conceded the .30-06 was “more versatile” than the .270.

Depends on what you intend to do. Although devastatingly effective, the .30-06 is needlessly powerful for deer-sized game. It also doesn’t shoot as flat as might be desirable for mountain game. For wild sheep and goats, O’Connor’s .270 is a better choice. For game larger than deer, the .30-06 starts to shine.

CO Elk 30-06
This Colorado six-by-six was the first elk Boddington took with a .30-06. Since then, quite a few more; he believes the .30-06 is a superb elk cartridge. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Further, it’s a fantastic elk cartridge and, with the right bullets, adequate for the full run of North American big game. As with mountain game, we could argue that the .30-06 is a bit light for the largest bears. However, because of its widespread use back when multiple bears were “on license,” the .30-06 with heavy bullets has probably accounted for more Alaska brown bears and grizzlies than all other cartridges put together. In the 1950s, New York ad man Grancel Fitz was the first person to take all varieties of North American big game, including all the sheep and big bears. He did it all with a Griffin & Howe Springfield in .30-06. A generation later, my friend JY Jones accomplished the same feat with a battered Remington .30-06.

Granule Fitz Dall Sheep
Grancel Fitz used his Griffin & Howe Springfield .30-06 to take this fine Dall ram in 1935. Twenty years later, he would be the first person to take all varieties of North American big game, all with this .30-06 rifle. (Photo courtesy of Craig Boddington)

Although you could, I’ve never hunted any serious mountain game or big bears with a .30-06. I have taken more elk with an ’06 than any other cartridge, plenty of gun…out to considerable range. Another place where its great versatility shines is on African plains game. There, great variety is a daily thing. You leave camp with a plan, but you don’t know if you’re going to encounter a 125-pound impala, a 600-pound kudu, or an 800-pound zebra. Leave camp with a .30-06 and you’re ready for everything.

In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt’s .30-06 was likely the first to see Africa. He found it “bully.” So did Ernest Hemingway on his 1933 “Green Hills” safari, using his Griffin & Howe Springfield. Likewise, Robert Ruark in 1952, using a Remington .30-06 on his “Horn of the Hunter” safari.

Recommended


G&H 1903
Tony Lombardo at the bench with a fine Griffin & Howe Springfield .30-06, fitted with G&H side mount. Made in the 1930s, this rifle is similar to Ernest Hemingway’s famous Griffin & Howe Springfield. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

I didn’t hunt with my sporterized Springfield until much later. Fueled by these great writers’ books, when I got ready for my first African hunt in 1977, I had to have a .30-06. I bought a Ruger M77 at the Camp Pendleton PX, topped it with a 3-9X Redfield, and off I went to Kenya. Nervous, trying too hard, I had embarrassing misses at first. I came around, completing the safari with an amazing string of one-shot kills at all ranges. I thought the .30-06 was magic, still do.

In those days I was shooting handloaded 180-grain Nosler Partitions at 2,800 fps. I used that rifle and load exclusively for several years, then drifted away from the ’06. Decades later, when I was hosting the “Tracks Across Africa” TV series, I bought another Ruger M77 .30-06, this time in left-hand action. Wife Donna is also left-handed, so I took a sliver off the butt and reset the recoil pad. We used that rifle all over Africa for several seasons. Mostly we used Hornady Interlock 180-grainers at 2,700 fps. Just a plain old bullet, but no animals seemed to notice the loss of a 100 fps. Once again, it worked like magic on the full run of African plains game, small to large, close to far.

Donna and Sable
Donna Boddington with a fine sable antelope, taken at last light in Mozambique with a Ruger M77 .30-06 and a single 180-grain Hornady Interlock. The .30-06 has more recoil than some are comfortable with, but it’s a fine mix of power and shootability. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Donna is one of those people unusually impervious to recoil. I can’t recommend the .30-06 for recoil-sensitive folks or inexperienced shooters, especially of smaller stature. And, although dramatically effective, the .30-06 is overpowered for deer hunting. For larger game, where extra power makes sense, it’s a wonderful choice. Even in times of ammo shortages, the .30-06 remains popular enough to be available. Everybody offers multiple .30-06 loads. For handloaders, its .308-inch bullets are common, with a full century of loading data.

Today, the .308 Winchester is probably more popular. Based on the .30-06 case shortened, the .308 is more efficient, about 93 percent of .30-06 performance. Again, no game animal is likely to know the difference. With its 2.5-inch case, the .30-06 came to define what we call a “standard-length” action, while the .308 similarly defines a short-action cartridge. There are advantages to short cartridges and short actions, but the .308 is neither as powerful, nor as flat shooting, as the .30-06.

308 and 30-06
The .308 Winchester (left) and .30-06 Springfield (right). The .308 is based on the .30-06 case, shortened. It’s widely believed that the .308, though slower and less powerful, is more accurate. Sometimes, but Boddington doesn’t believe this is consistently true. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

We take as a given that the more-efficient .308 Winchester is more accurate, likewise newer cartridges like the Creedmoors and PRCs. Maybe, maybe not, depends on the rifle and barrel. I’ve rarely seen a .30-06 with accuracy problems, more rarely a .30-06 that was finicky about the loads it digested. Many .30-06 rifles have come and gone, test guns of all makes, rifles of all vintages I‘ve picked up, traded, passed along. Some have been spectacularly accurate, almost all accurate enough for the .30-06’s purposes. Although long used in service rifle 1,000-yard competition, perhaps the .30-06 isn’t ideal for the extreme range shooting so popular today. Short of that, it will do everything most of us need to do, at all sensible distances. It isn’t as flashy as some of our brave new cartridges, but it can still do just about anything. Not just a fine old cartridge, a fine and versatile cartridge that shouldn’t be overlooked.




Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Optics

HIVIZ FastDot H3 Handgun Sights

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Optics

Meprolight's M22 Dual-Illumination No Batteries Reflex Sight: Video Review

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Other

Ballistic Advantage Continues Excellence in Barrel Design

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Rifles

Winchester Ranger Returns! Now In .22

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Rifles

Latest Name In Lever Guns: Aero Precision

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Rifles

SAKO 90 Quest Lightweight Hunting Rifle

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Optics

Warne Scope Mounts New Red Dot Risers

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Accessories

New Warne Scope Mounts Skyline Lite Bipods

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Handguns

Smith & Wesson Response PCC: Now Taking SIG Mags

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Optics

Mark 4HD Riflescopes: The Latest Tactical Line From Leupold

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Rifles

Show Stopper: Smith & Wesson 1854 Lever-Action Rifle

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...
Suppressors

FN 509 Pistol Updates and New Suppressors!

Guns and Ammo Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now