The calibre hunter

Returning to a widespread yet still underrated calibre, Byron Pace assesses the ‘30 aught 6’

As I sat down to write this column, I was phoned by a friend who was trying to decide on a new rifle. He had a .243 Win already, and was trying to ‘up gun’, but make the addition worthy in terms of capabilities. That got us to talking about the great .308 Win alternative, the ‘30 aught 6’.

The 7.62mm projectile was adopted in Springfield service rifles in 1906; back then it was the .30-06 Springfield that was used, and its applications included long-range sniping. During the Second World War, America also supplied arms and ammo in .30-06 to many allied countries, including Great Britain. The 7.62 NATO (a .308 Win in the Civvy world) was also widely used by the British military until it was replaced by the arguably less effective .223 Remington. I believe there are now moves to go back to the 7.62 owing to inferior performance experienced while fighting in Afghanistan.

As far as sporting calibres go, the .308 is one of the most popular of all, leading to a vast array of weights and designs to browse and tickle your reloading fancy with. The .30-06 has, however, been left behind in the modern world of calibre choice. Seen as dated and less effective than updated 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 every major manufacturer offering rifles chambered in .30-06.

The extensive history and multitude of reloading options makes this an exciting calibre to tinker with, and capable of covering a wide spectrum of game. 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 first introduction into a bolt-action rifle: the Remington model 30 in 1921.

Seen for decades as the standard by which all other big game cartridges were judged, its maybe surprising to find that it performs well today, even when pitted against more modern rounds. For all antelope, deer, goats, sheep, black and brown bear, the 180gn offering is able to cope with virtually any hunting conditions encountered. It was also used successfully for dangerous game in Africa, including lion, buffalo, and leopard, on a fairly regular basis in the past (though the 220gn offering was more widely used here). Despite this, hunting regulations in many countries would prevent its use on dangerous game today – probably a sensible move for all but the most experienced hunter.

A 175-yard zero probably proves the most useful for the 180gn bullet, equating to a 1.4in high zero at 100 yards. Coincidentally this is also the zenith, or the highest point of the trajectory above line- of-sight (using Federal ammo with a Nosler partition bullet). According to Federal data, 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 (not taking into account accuracy). Very respectable!

The trajectory data also shows virtual mirroring of the 150gn .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 projectiles used, the BC and SC is obviously identical, but the extra 100fps plus muzzle velocity from the .30-06 means a marginally flatter trajectory at the extended distances. On the other hand, the larger case packs more powder – around 4-5gn for the 150gn load – making for a more expensive shooting experience and accordingly greater recoil.

So what use does it present for the UK hunter? It just about covers all bases. The 110gn projectile will adequately take care of any deer on offer in the UK, while heavier options give scope for varying conditions, foreign travel and wild boar.

Despite this, it doesn’t actually do anything the .308 Win can’t do cheaper, and more accurately. Though both were used for NRA competitions, competitors soon changed to the more efficient burning, shorter-cased .308 Win because of its consistently superior accuracy – as much as 2-3 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 choose an old favourite, embrace a long heritage, and salute an outstanding calibre by choosing the .30-06.

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