View Full Version : The Best Cartridge Ever

Mac Seafraidh
Monday, January 3rd, 2005, 09:10 PM
The Best Cartridge Ever

How to stay wildly popular for 98 years.

by David E. Petzal

If you were to count up the big-game cartridges available today, starting at .243 and ending at .45/70, you would come up with no fewer than 95. (Personally, I don’t recommend doing this, as it’s boring. You’d be better off reading Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War in the original Greek, or watching some good-looking babe swallow a cobra headfirst on a TV “reality” show.)
It was not always thus. If you had made the same list in the early 1950s, it wouldn’t have included more than 20 or so big-game rounds. They now exist in almost unimaginable profusion. But the big-game cartridge that was most popular in the repressed ’50s, and is today, and probably will be 20 years from now, is an ancient number developed three years after the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

The .30/06 was originally “U.S. Cartridge, Model of 1903,” loaded with a slow-moving 220-grain bullet, and designed for the Springfield Model 1903 bolt-action rifle. However, in 1905 the Imperial German Army came up with an 8mm (.323) round, which fired a lighter, faster bullet that badly outranged the ’03. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army modified the ’03 to take a 150-grain bullet that could reach out to where the Huns were and renamed it “U.S. Cartridge, Model of 1906.” Because that was a mouthful, people have called it the .30/06.

What the Army achieved in the ’06 was a cartridge that struck an ideal balance between power and recoil. It has killed every kind of big game in North America, but its kick can be managed by just about everyone. The ’06 can also handle a wider range of bullet weights than any other cartridge. At the light end, you can go as low as 110 grains, whereas at the upper, 220-grain slugs are available. This will take you from mice to moose.

Moreover, the ’06 is now a lot more powerful than when it first appeared, because the slow-burning gunpowders we have today produce much higher velocities than the propellants that were available before World War I. For example, the standard muzzle velocity for the Army-issue 150-grain bullet was 2700 fps, but most current factory loadings will chronograph at 2900 or so. The velocity increase is even more pronounced with handloads. This occurs right through the range of bullet weights.

Because there are so many bullet weights available, ’06 users often snort and fart in confusion over which to use. Here’s a brief guide: 125- and 130-grain: These light weights are suitable for varmints, but the ’06 kicks too much for high-volume shooting, and anyway it would be like swatting flies with a sledgehammer. 150-grain: For my money, this is the best of all the deer-shooting weights—it travels fast, expands violently, and puts them down in their tracks more often than not. 165-grain: A number of very knowledgeable shooters think this may be the best all-around weight, combining relatively high velocity with enough heft to take on most critters. 180-grain: It’s the consensus favorite for best all-around weight. There is very little out there that a good, tough 180-grain bullet can’t handle. 200-grain: For big beasts only: A 200-grain .30-caliber bullet is not the fastest thing around, but it bucks wind well, retains plenty of impact downrange, and provides incredible penetration. It’s my choice for elk, moose, bear, or the bigger African plains game.

I would not want a .30/06 that weighed less than 71/2 pounds with scope. A lighter gun can be built but will knock your block off.

Lastly, there are a lot of ’06s that have been out there for a long, long time, and some of them are not up to handling the high pressures of modern loads. If you have an old gun and have any doubts about it, take it to a gunsmith for a checkup.