An old saying goes, “There is not very much that a man can’t fix, with 500 bucks and a .30-06!”
For more than a century, the caliber .30, year of 1906, has been America’s cartridge. From the trenches of World War I, to the battlefields of World War II, to the Korean War, the deer stand, and the rifle competitions at Camp Perry — the ’06 has been there.
The story of the versatile .30-06 actually goes back to the 1890s, a decade before its introduction. The US military was desperate to get away from black powder and the trap door, single shot Springfields that fired the massive .45-70 cartridge. At the time, nations all over the world were adopting smokeless powder and bolt-action rifles for their respective militaries, and there was no reason for the US to be left behind.
After a few years of trials and much political haggling, the US Army adopted the .30-40 chambered Krag-Jorgensen rifle, a Norwegian design. The rifle was obsolete from the get-go. It had to be loaded one round at a time, and it had a magazine cut-off. These two features encouraged the rifle to be employed as a single shot, with the magazine held in reserve if needed. This was utterly foolish, and proved just as stupid as it sounded on the battlefield during the Spanish-American War.
Another weakness was the ammunition. It was a short-ranged round and did not have the power equal to the ammunition used by the Spanish and their fine Mauser rifles. The US suffered enormous casualties at the Battle of San Juan due to the superior Spanish rifles and ammo.
After the war, the US copied the Mauser, in the form of the M1903 Springfield. It was a beautiful rifle and was originally chambered with a .30-03 cartridge. This was updated in 1906, much to the credit of then President Theodore Roosevelt. The new cartridge was based on the 8mm Mauser round used by the German army and was just as powerful. Thus, the .30-06.
The cartridge saw its first action in the Philippines, Mexico and France during WWI. After the war, soldiers brought back their Springfield and US Enfield rifles (also chambered in .30-06). Many were sporterized by hunters and taken afield, where the .30-06 proved a very capable hunting cartridge. The ’06 could handle any game animal in the US, and most other game around the world.
Another World War came, and afterward millions of rifles and billions of rounds of surplus ammunition flooded the civilian markets. By now, civilian hunting rifles chambered in .30-06 became more and more common. Deer, elk and moose hunters especially carted .30-06-chambered firearms into the woods to bash their hoofed quarry into submission and fill the freezers back at home. In fact, the .30-06 was the most popular sporting cartridge after the venerable .30-03 in the post-war years in America.
The .30-06 also has served as the parent cartridge for many equally successful loads, especially the .270. In fact, between the .270 and .30-06, more elk have fallen to these two cartridges in the past 70 years than any other chamberings, other than perhaps the .30-30.
In the 1960s, Remington introduced the model 700 hunting rifle, millions of which are chambered in the ’06. The age of mass-produced, relatively cheap hunting rifles had arrived and has not stopped. Today, the .30-06 maintains its place as the king of American hunting cartridges, long after its military service has ended.
The .30-06 can be found in many different bullet weights and powder loads. There are loads tailor-built for whitetail or mule deer hunting. There are loads for elk and larger game. There are even loads for sportsmen to take to Alaska and Africa to take dangerous game such as the coastal brown bear. Just about every gun shop or sporting goods center carries .30-06 cartridges. While more expensive than it has been in years past, it is still affordable. Cheap import ammunition still is available and makes the price much more affordable for the budget-minded shooter.
More than 100 years after its introduction, it’s clear why the .30-06 remains one of America’s favorite calibers.
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