Is it wrong to worship a deer cartridge?
By Larry Weishuhn
Wanna shoot it?" asked Mr. Bennett, who then quickly added with caution, "It's a .30-06!"
I turned and looked up at my dad standing behind me. He smiled and nodded his approval.
I could not believe it. For most of my 8 years of life, I'd dreamed of shooting a .30-06. For as long as I could remember, I'd heard campfire discussions between my dad, uncles and their friends about the best whitetail round in all of North America. Two calibers had always been mentioned: the .30-30 Winchester and the extremely powerful .30-06.
Some considered the .30-06 far too much gun for our small local whitetails. On the other hand, some of the top hunting writers of the day were '06 fans. I knew that because of the articles my mother read to me from the pages of Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and Sports Afield. While other mothers told their youngsters bedtime stories, my mom read to me from the pages of the best hunting and shooting publications of that era. I strongly suspect there was an innate interest in hunting not only in my mother, but also in me. I came by it honestly!
When Mr. Bennett handed me the Remington autoloader, he explained how to hold it, where the safety was and to remember not to jerk the trigger but to gently tug it. I carefully followed his instructions. From a reasonable rest, I sent a 180-grain Remington Core-Lokt just off center of the target, a 6-inch-square piece of tin nailed to a tree 100 yards distant.
Although the gun kicked quite a bit, I was not about to admit it. I'd finally shot a .30-06, and not only that, I'd hit the target! The next day, I retrieved the tin that proved it. I hid it under my bed for quite awhile before my mom found it and asked me to take it outside. She said I could nail it on the smokehouse door. I did and showed it to everyone I could and explained how it came to be.
During my career as a "gun writer," I've shot and hunted with a tremendous variety of calibers and guns. After all, it was part of my job to do so. I enjoyed the various calibers:small, large and super large.
One day, the editor of Shooting Times called. "We'd like you to take a .30-06, hunt pretty much everything you can with it in North America, and some with it outside the country as well. We want you to try a variety of ammo and bullet makes. Interested?" The same old feeling came over me as it had when I first shot Mr. Bennett's rifle and became convinced that it was the perfect hunting gun. Thus began a journey of hunting with a .30-06 that continues today.
I used the .30-06 to take moose, caribou, elk, pronghorn, bear and especially whitetails in several states as well as in Mexico and Canada. If I did my part and placed shots well, there was no need to pull the trigger more than once.
There was something else I liked about the various .30-06 rifles I hunted with: They were extremely forgiving in terms of what I ran through them, from 125- to 220-grain bullets and loads. All bullet weights and styles grouped well, with most three-shot groups staying within 1 1/2 inches. True, the different bullet weights and styles grouped in different areas of the target at 100 yards. But when measured in a super group, any of the bullets weight and styles would have quickly dispatched a white-tailed deer out to at least 150 yards.
Something else made an impression on me: Anywhere ammunition was sold, .30-06 Springfield rounds were available. That's not true of other cartridges, especially some of the new "zip-zam-zoomers."
The .30-06 is no youngster. In 2006, the round will celebrate its 100th birthday. Interestingly, it got its start as a military cartridge, adapted from the .30-03 by using a lighter bullet and making some very minor changes to the parent case. The '06, in fact, was developed because of the damage Cuban soldiers using 7x57 Mausers inflicted on U.S. troops during the Spanish-American War. Our military decided a more powerful and longer-range round was needed, so the .30 Government M'06 was introduced. In 1906, the new round was adopted in the Model 1903 Springfield service rifle. It quickly became known as the .30-06 Springfield. The cartridge served our military well for many years thereafter.
Soldiers returning from two world wars and various skirmishes fell in love with the round. When they headed home, they held a deep affection for the cartridge that had helped them make it through through hell and back.
The first sporting arm chambered for the .30-06 Springfield was the Winchester Model 1895 lever-action rifle back in 1908. The Model 1895 was made famous by Theodore Roosevelt. My dad owned a Model 1895 before I was born. He hunted with it for several years and then, unfortunately, sold it. It was the only gun he ever sold. Remington added the cartridge to their line of rifles in 1921 in their Model 30. Winchester followed suit by adding the '06 to their Model 54 five years later.
In the 8th Edition of "Cartridges of the World" (DBI Books, 2000), Frank C. Barnes wrote, "The .30-06 is undoubtedly the most flexible, useful, all-around big game cartridge available to the American hunter. For many years, it has been the standard by which all other big game cartridges have been measured." Plenty of hunters share my opinion that the .30-06 is the finest whitetail cartridge of them all.
The best '06 deer load is one that uses a controlled-expansion bullet in the 150- to 165-grain range. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference which bullet design you choose as long as it is made for use on deer-sized game. I happen to like the bullets produced by Hornady, Winchester and Nosler. A 150-grain factory load (no need to handload here unless you simply like doing so) generally leaves the barrel around 2,900 to 3,100 fps. At 400 yards, the same bullet will still be traveling at a velocity of 1,700 to 2,100 fps.
Those same loads produce between 2,400 and 2,700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, but retain 1,200 to 1,800 foot-pounds at 400 yards. Sighted-in dead-on at 200 yards (approximately 11/2 to 2 inches high at 100), the bullets will drop about 7 or so inches at 300 yards and 21 to 24 inches at 400 yards.
For years, I have sighted-in my .30-06s 1.5 inches high at 100 yards. Such a zero meant I could essentially hold on a target out to 300 yards. Then, if a 400-yard shot was presented and it was an animal I really wanted but could get no closer, I would get into a solid rest, hold 24 inches above where I wanted the bullet to strike and gently touch the trigger.
Sound complicated? It really isn't. For years, after sighting-in my rifle, I would set up a balloon inflated to about 8 to 10 inches on a 400-yard target. Using a 3-9x scope with duplex crosshairs, I simply cranked the scope up to 9, positioned the lower vertical post where the broad reticle becomes a finer reticle in the center of the balloon, and gently tugged the trigger. If I did my part and held the rifle steady, I could break a balloon with every shot fired. With most variable scopes at that distance and at that magnification, the distance between where the crosshairs intersect and where the fine portion of the lower post reticle turns broad is about 24 inches. That's the same amount of drop a 150-grain factory .30-06 load sighted-in 1.5 inches high at 100 yards has at 400 yards.
Hunting experts tend to agree that once a bullet produces less than 1,200 foot-pounds of energy, it's no longer considered a "deer" round. Using this arbitrary figure, the .30-06 is easily effective on deer out to at least 400 yards.
I have lost count of the number of whitetails I have taken with my .30-06 rifle and pistol in the T/C Encore. I know the round's capabilities and know my capabilities with the guns I shoot. I have absolute confidence in my guns chambered for the '06, to the point it almost seems as if they have magical powers.
I recall one hunt where I was shooting my .30-06 Encore rifle loaded with a 165-grain controlled-expansion load. I'd shot the rifle at varying distances out to 450 yards and knew exactly where the bullet would strike with various "holds." We were headed back to camp when we spotted a distant deer. A quick check through the binocular proved it was a mature buck and one we wanted to take, but the animal was 400 yards away and there was no way to get closer. Quickly, I set up my Stoney Point shooting sticks, got a solid rest, held the crosshairs the appropriate height over the deer's back, took a deep breath and gently squeezed the trigger.
At the shot, one of my two companions standing behind me proclaimed, "You missed. Shot over him! Saw dust fly just over his back."
I simply broke open the single-shot, removed the spent case and started to get up.
"You missed him. Shoot again!"
I just stood, gathered my things and walked back to the Jeep. "I don't think I missed him," I responded with great confidence.
I watched the expressions of my hunting partners change with the announcement, "He's down!"
That, I never doubted. I knew my .30-06 would do its part if I did mine.
Reprinted from the October 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.