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Reloading the .30-06: Versatile and Reliable

by Lane Pearce   |  August 1st, 2012 14
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In an attempt to confirm the .30-06’s great versatility, the author loaded and fired almost 400 handloads with bullets ranging in weight from 90 to 220 grains. From left to right: Hornady 90-gr. XTP-JHP; Speer 125-gr. TNT-JHP; Nosler 150-gr. AccuBond; Speer 165-gr. Deep Curl; Barnes 168-gr. TSX; Remington 180-gr. Ultra Bonded; Swift 180-gr. A-Frame; Hornady 190-gr. Interlock BTSP; and Sierra 220-gr. JSP-RN.

Not long ago I found a treasure trove in the form of a bunch of old gun magazines destined for the trash heap. I rescued them and soon was reliving the memories.

One piece I found interesting—for this second time around (I had first read it back in 1966)—was Warren Page’s report on “The All-American Game Rifle.” He commented that the first person to bag Boone and Crockett’s 25 typical North American species had hunted with a Griffin & Howe custom Remington Model 30 chambered in .30-06. Page listed multiple bullet weights and types suitable for taking everything from varmints to heavy game and generally made a good case for the ’06 as the universal game cartridge.

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From left to right: Hornady 90-gr. XTP-JHP; Missouri 165-gr. Cast RNFB; Barnes 168-gr. TSX; and Sierra 220-gr. JSP-RN.

I must confess to having little regard for the ’06 until just a few years ago. When I started shooting in the early 1970s, magnum fever was already running rampant. I thought only old-timers shot .30-30s, .30-06s, .35 Remingtons, and such. My first centerfire was a .270 Winchester Model 70. During the next 30 years as my arms battery grew, I owned three or four .30-06s, but they were always the first to be sold or traded off if something more exotic caught my eye. I didn’t realize what I’d been missing until soon after I became Shooting Times’ reloading editor and featured the .30-06 in a column focusing on how to develop a good handload six years ago. After that initial project enlightened me to the virtues of the .30-06, I later enhanced my newly acquired appreciation by investigating how switching different brands and types of the same weight bullet affected ballistic performance.

After completing both exercises, it was obvious that the .30-06 could handle most any shooting or hunting scenario. That’s especially true if you’re a handloader.

Learning to Appreciate the ’06
Sometime ago I acquired another .30-06 rifle, a Sako A7, and while I had fired it a few times with factory loads, I had gotten only so-so results before other reloading projects crowded my schedule. After recently rereading F.C. Ness’ Practical Dope on the Big Bores, I was fascinated by the versatile performance attributed to the .30-06. So I decided I should explore the .30-06’s varied capabilities myself. I had several boxes of once-fired Black Hills brass and an extensive assortment of bullets, primers, and powder. I eventually fired about 400 handloads topped with bullets weighing from 90 to 220 grains.

The actual loading process was uneventful. I tumbled the brass before lubing and full-length resizing on an RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme press. I’ve tried other tools, but I prefer Hornady’s New Dimension full-length sizer die with the tapered expander decapping rod. After wiping the residual lube off, I trimmed and deburred the case mouths before cleaning/uniforming the primer pockets, which I do each time I reload a batch of brass.

When loading a spherical or short-grain, stick propellant, Redding’s volumetric powder measure will throw precise charge weights repeatedly after it’s adjusted. However, if the recipe calls for a stick propellant, like IMR-4350 or H1000, the RCBS Chargemaster electronic powder measure/scale combo gets the nod. Of course, I periodically check the charge weight (every 10 or so rounds) on a separate scale to ensure that I’m loading safe and reliable ammo. And I double-check after charging a batch of cases by shining a small flashlight into every case—every time—to make sure there’s powder in each one and the propellant level looks “right” compared to the ones I’ve already weighed.

The various load recipes were determined after carefully comparing data provided in several current edition load manuals. I purposely biased propellant charge weights in accordance with the specific bulletmaker’s recommendations.

30-06_003I seated the different bullets tested to the maximum length possible that allowed the round to fit and feed reliably from the magazine and also not jam the bullet ogive into the A7’s chamber throat leade. The lead-free bullets were seated so that they were at least fifty thousandths of an inch off the rifling, per the makers’ recommendations.

The accompanying chart depicts the better ballistic performance results I obtained. As you can see, the venerable .30-06 is still quite versatile.

Muzzle energy ranges from 1,000+ to 3,000+ ft-lbs, so there’s plenty of power available to pound prairie dogs, coyotes and rockchucks, or dispatch any deer, elk, moose and most bears. Reduced-recoil, specialty handloads are readily assembled that will help the novice rifleman learn how to shoot without being battered.

I’ve belatedly learned to appreciate this 100-plus-year-old cartridge. Page simply described the .30-06’s only apparent fault as, “It just ain’t so very sexy!”

  • Alan_T

    “It just ain’t so very sexy!” ? …….. That's ok , neither am I .
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • The Scotsman

    .30-06 a great all-around cartrige. I use it in the only .30-06 rifle I own. The M1 Garand. A great rifle. I used an M1 Garand while serving in Korea during the war. I carried a M1 Garand while stationed in Germany (after the war).

    • NuSparkey

      Thank you for your service Scotsman! God bless you!
      The Garand, while not ''sexy", is a great rifle to shoot.
      It feels like a gun!

    • dennis

      Did you hear lately? that your President Obama stopped the importation of one million M1 Garands from Korea, which was also approved by Sec of St Hilary Clinton, she saying…….."We don't need to let them
      fall into the wrong hands".

  • Gary

    I didn't see a complete shooting chart. Just the partial, one load. Is that all. Would love to see results of all the different loads.
    Hope Scotsman is not shooting store bought ammo in that Garand, only rounds approved for Garand. I took qualified with a Grand and now own and shoot one. The thing has gotten much heavery in 48 years.

  • Roger Holl

    After 50 years of big game hunting in the West, Alaska and Africa, I have a great admiration for the 30/06. Like the .308, my military experience showed that it could reliably and routinely make hits at long ranges. A few years ago I took my Griffin and Howe Springfield '06 to Africa and took 6 head of game with it. Many shots were near to 300 yards on smaller antelope and I was amazed at its accuracy. I have also used it on moose with good effect and dall sheep and caribou. It truly is the all-around rifle

  • DetroitMan

    Give me a .30-06 any day over the expensive wildcats that are designed to kill one specific animal. I own two: my hunting rifle and an M1 Garand. I upgraded the M1 with an adjustable gas plug, and it will happily digest any factory load. Both of my "ought sixes" will shoot a wide range of bullet weights with little change in group size, unlike some more modern cartridges. No fussing with barrel twist rates, bullet design A vs. bullet design B, or other nonsense. Just pick the most appropriate load for the job and head out. I don't need a different rifle for all the game species I hunt because I have a .30-06 in the safe. That leaves me more money for ammo, gear, and hunting trips.

  • Starky

    Some years back Col. Jeff Cooper in Coopers Corner may have summed it up the best, "If you can't get it done with a .30-06 it probably doesn't need to be done."

    • Guest

      Cooper was, I think, usually dead on when he spoke. Being of the old school, that is thinking before you speak, still serves one well, The '06 has been used to kill everything on the face of the earth, and will still do so, with the proviso that the shot is properly placed. It is true that the .22-25AI and .505 Gibbs are best in their specialty niches, but the '06 can still do anything asked of either of the cartridges. Thanks fo bring back the wisdom of The Colonel. We tend to forget the wisdom of those gone on to the Great Range, and reminders like yours are, from time to time, necessary.

  • Sunshine State

    Sometimes the very best,and plenty adequate has been with us for a long time.

    30-06 teamed up with handy Ruger No.1 International has been great for me.

  • BrokenArrow

    Useless article without the chart! Where is the chart?!?!

  • JMassie

    The chart's definitely in the July issue of Shooting Times magazine I'm sure. I loaded a couple dozen rnds. of the 180 gr. Remington PSP he had listed and also got the same results from a 180 gr. Sierra Pro-Hunter (spitzer) PSP using 56 grains of Superformance powder at 3.250 C.O.A.L., which makes for a "super" hunting round! In my humble opinion, the .5" groups I shot at 100 yards with a Remington 700 were pretty damned sexy!!!

  • guest

    the 06 is like a good horse u just cant get rid of it

  • Dale

    that article didn’t tell me anything. It was more like an add for reloading gear.

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