Reloading the .30-06: Versatile and Reliable
August 01, 2012
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.
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.
I 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!"