It was the aftermath of the Spanish American War, the US Army had some bad luck against the 7mm Spanish Mauser with those .30-40 Krags. The Reserve outfits and the Black Regiments were desperately out ranged with those old Trapdoor Springfields in .45-70. Those Buffalo Soldiers got a disproportionate share of the casualties, too. Another raw deal in our history, but a separate post, if I could ever do it justice (which I doubt).
The men of Teddy Roosevelt's First Volunteer Cavalry were no slouches, of course. Westerners in a day where life in the west was tough, they were hard men with a life on the saddle behind them, they were not the only tough men going up to Kettle and San Juan Hills, the men of the 9th and 10th Calvary and 24th and 25 Infantry were just as tough. They didn't get the same publicity, of course, they were the Buffalo Soldiers.
At any rate, the Spanish troops with their 7mm Mausers outranged the US troops and killed and wounded many before they could manage to shoot back accurately. The search was on.
First came the .30-03 a cartridge with a neck a tenth of an inch longer than what we have now and a 220 grain round nosed bullet at around 2200fps, just about matching the trajectory of the 175 grain round nose of the Spanish Mauser. Just about that same time the Germans changed their 8mm Mauser from a round nose heavyweight bullet to a somewhat lighter pointy or "Spitzer" bullet at a higher velocity.
We would have been again outclassed but for a shooter in the White House, Teddy Roosevelt. The Army went back to the drawing board and came up with the finest general purpose rifle cartridge on this planet, the .30-06. With it's 150 grain spitzer at 2700 fps the round was the equal of every battle rifle in the world. Also used in Machine guns the Army discovered that with a few changes to the round they could add a lot of range to the round by going to a 172 grain spitzer boattail bullet. In those days they thought that by massing machine guns they could use them like artillery, point 'em up and let fly. The new round could deliver aimed fire at 1500yards and "barrage fire" at up to 5500 yards. Of course, by the next war we had given up on that, after all, one field artillery piece could do just as much as a couple-three dozen machine guns at those (and longer) ranges.
Those were the days of the battle rifle. A rifleman could kill a man or a horse, or a truck as far away as he could hit him. Try not to get me started on those poodleshooters our troops are saddled with these days.Seems some real smart people decided it's better to wound a bad guy than to cancel his ticket. Oddly, some of these smart people wear uniforms, one would think they'd notice all those Corporals ans Sergeants, not to mention officers, with one, tow or even three oak leaf clusters on their Purple hearts.
A wounded enemy can sometimes still shoot. A wounded enemy may recover from wounds and return to the fight. Nor can these M4 Carbines and M16s be depended on to stop a car or truck, but, I digress. At any rate I've been a civilian for a lot of years now so let's talk about hunting. Er, wait. One last thing. A trooper armed with a rifle can draw a circle around himself, everything within that circle lives because that is the way he wants it. The guy with an M1 rifle or the M14 can hit and kill an enemy at four hundred yards, the expert rifleman can reach out a couple hundred yards more. The guy with the 5.56? Not so far.
The .30-06 has benefited by improvements in powder technology since it was a new cartridge, the 150 grain bullet doesn't have a muzzle velocity of 2700 feet per second anymore although that is the velocity of the 150 gr. slug from the .308 Winchester/7.62 Nato.That is because the .308 was designed around modern powders to match the early '06 ballistics.
The .30-06 is still the premier hunting round in the continental United States. It's a little more than is needed for Deer and is just fine for Elk and Moose. It is just about the most powerful cartridge the casual shooter can handle, recoil-wise. If I had an unlimited budget the aught six would not be my first choice for Grizzly or Alaska Brown Bears, with the right premium bullet I wouldn't hesitate, if I was mad at a big Bear, which I'm not.
With the lighter bullets, the 110-130 grain bullets the '06 can be pressed into service as a varmint rig or those Remington Accelerator rounds with the 55 grain .22 bullets in the discarding sabots at 4100 fps.
The hunter after deer, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain goats, that sort of critter will do well with bullets in the 150-165 grain range. If I were after Mountain Goat or Bighorns I'd use a premium bullet, it's not that those critters are so tough but they live in such difficult terrain, why take a chance. Elk, Moose and suchlike will get the 180-200 grain bullets. I would not use anything less than the Nosler Partition on those, plain Jane bullets can and do work but few of us live in Moose country, when the average hunter has to go that far, the cost of the bullet is such a small percentage that it simply does not matter.
There is one more bullet weight, a holdover from the days before the Barnes Triple Shock, the Swift A-Frame and the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, the 220 grain bullet. These are the bullets from back when if you needed penetration, you had to go to a heavy bullet. This weight is no longer needed except for the deep woods hunter. In the woods the ranges run a lot shorter, if only because we cannot see as far. This is where the traditional woods cartridges shine, the .30-30, the .32 Winchester, the .35 Remington and the grand old .45-70. The advantage to these old cartridges is their lower velocity. A deer hit with a .30-06 or worse, one of the magnums, will have a lot of blood shot meat. This is where that old 220 grain round nose shines, the velocity is low enough to where there is little blood shot meat. In the phrase made famous by that grand old man of shooting, the late Elmer Keith, "you can eat right up to the bullet hole." While of lower velocity those old bullets have weight, enough weight to reach the vitals from any angle. One thing few people know about those long round nosed bullets is that they are often the most accurate bullets a rifle can shoot in the first couple hundred yards. It has to do with those long straight shanks, the bullets start their flights true. Of course the better areodynamics of the spitzer bullets means that thy have the advantage at longer ranges.
The handloader has even more choices. Lead .32 handgun bullets are great for small game and plinking. There is simply no other way to gain shooting ability than to shoot. A big box of Hornady 90 grain semi-wadcutters over eight or ten grains of Unique or around seven and a half grains of Red Dot makes for an almost recoil-less load that will flatten a bunny or tree rat. Or ventilate tin cans and paper targets.
The big game hunter who handloads can do pretty much everything with three powders. Hodgdon's 4895 for the lighter bullets and practice ammo using their 60 per cent rule: Take the max load for any bullet and multiply it by sixty per cent, that's the minimum load. This is enough for close range light big game if we have a beginning hunter. Use the bullets designed for the .30-30. As our new shooter gets accustomed to the recoil, work up toward normal maximums.
The other two powders are H4350 and H4831, The 4350 is for bullets up to 180 grain, the 4831 is for over 180. There are many other powders of course. I love these two because a maximum load is just about all we can get into the case and still seat a bullet. This probably kept me from blowin' my fool head off back before I gave up beer. There are at least a dozen of other powders that work very well in the aught six, and a couple of dozen others that will work for one or another purpose. Unless your rifle is either something along the lines of the old M-1 Garand with a gas system that requires a somewhat faster burning powder, the only real reason to try these other powders is to satisfy curiosity and, of course, to search for that last teeny-tiny crumb of accuracy. Be warned, though. The handloader willing to try every bullet, powder and primer in the .30-06 had best have very deep pockets. Not only for bullets, powder, primers and cartridge cases but for new barrels. I would wager that it would take two or three new barrels to exhaust all the possibilities.
The aught six cartridge case is parent to a bunch of other cartridges, both factory and wildcat, the .270 Winchester, .25-06, the .35 Whelan to name three adopted by the factories, along with the .280 Remington. The newest slow powders make the .22-06 Easling almost practical. The 6mm-06 is a beltless copy of the .240 Weatherby for the feller that wants to shoot Antelope at impossible ranges, and on and on. Millions of words have been written about this cartridge and now I have, too.