If you don’t want to follow the crowd, and don’t mind paying a little extra for the ammo, then embrace an old favourite with a long shooting heritage, and choose the .30-06.
More 7.62mm – or .308 – bullets have been fired than probably any other calibre. Not only is it used currently by the US military in the 7.62x51mm NATO round, it was also used in the .30-06 Springfield service rifles adopted in 1906 for many combat roles, including long-range sniping. During World War Two America also supplied arms and ammo in .30-06 to many Allied countries, including Great Britain. The British military used the 7.62 NATO until it was replaced by the arguably less effective .223 Remington. I believe plans are now in motion to go back to the 7.62 due to Remington’s inferior performance in Afghanistan.
As far as sporting calibres go, the .308 is one of the most popular of all, leading to a vast array of bullet weights and designs. The .30-06, however, has been somewhat left behind in the modern world of calibre choice. Seen as dated and less effective compared to modern Magnums, this hugely successful calibre deserves serious consideration from hunters in every country, including the UK. Indeed, the usefulness of the calibre is reflected in the fact that every major manufacturer offers rifles chambered in .30-06.
The extensive history and reloading options for the .30-06 make this an exciting calibre to tinker with. Seen by Frank C. Barnes as “undoubtedly the most flexible, useful, all-round big game cartridge available to the American hunter”, its hunting credentials extend back to its introduction via a bolt action rifle, the Remington model 30, in 1921.
Seen for decades as the standard by which all other big game cartridges should be judged, it’s perhaps surprising to find that it performs very well even when pitted against more modern rounds.
For all antelope, deer, goats, sheep, black and brown bear, this 180-grain offering is judged by experienced hunters to be able to cope with virtually any hunting conditions. In the past it was used for dangerous game in Africa, including lion, buffalo, and leopard, on a regular basis (although a 220-grain bullet was more widely used for the biggest and most dangerous game). Despite this, many countries ban its use on big game today – probably a sensible move for all but the most experienced hunter.
A 175-yard zero proves the most useful for the 180-grain bullet, equating to a 1.4in-high zero at 100 yards. Coincidentally, this is also the zenith (highest point) of the trajectory above line-of-sight (using Federal ammo with a Nosler partition bullet). According to Federal, this drops a 200-yard shot 1.2in below the aim point, with all shots out to that range within a 2.6in kill zone. This is very respectable.
The trajectory data also shows virtual mirroring of the 150-grain .30-06 and .308 Win out to 200 yards, with the 06 falling less rapidly beyond the zero range, gaining 1.6in on the .308 at the 400-yard mark. With exactly the same bullets used, the BC and SC are obviously identical, but the extra 100fps muzzle velocity of the .30-06 carries the bullet marginally flatter at the extended distances. On the other hand, the larger case is packing more powder, around four or five grains, for the 150-grain bullet load depending on powders – making for a more expensive shooting experience and greater recoil.
What is not shown on the graph is how the super-fast (3,400fps) 110-grain bullet load compares to similar bullet loads from other calibres. Running it alongside the widely used .270 Win shows that the .30-06 only starts to noticeably drop off from the .270 after about 300 yards. This despite the .270 packing an extra 100fps muzzle velocity.
So what use is the .30-06 to the modern-day UK hunter? Well, albeit at a stretch, it covers all bases. It is a little heavy for foxing, and can’t boast the laser straight trajectory of a .220 Swift, but on other hand you can’t hunt a bear with a 50-grain bullet, not if you want to stay alive. The 110-grain bullet will adequately take care of any deer in the UK, while heavier options give you scope for varying conditions, foreign travel and wild boar. In spite of this, it doesn’t do anything the .308 Win can’t do cheaper, and in some cases more accurately. Although both were used for NRA competitions, competitors soon changed over to the more efficiently burning, shorter-cased .308 Win, because of its consistently superior accuracy (as much as two or three times better).
For hunting, however, this is largely irrelevant. So if you don’t want to follow the crowd, and don’t mind paying a little extra for the ammo, then embrace an old favourite with a long shooting heritage, and choose the .30-06. BP