(Editor’s note: Today I’m pleased to bring you another Ed Harris article – this time all about the .30-06 cartridge. As you’ll soon learn, Ed is a HUGE fan of the ’06 and has probably done more experimenting with it than any ten people you’re likely to find. In it are Ed’s recommendations for bullets and loads for an incredibly wide variety of uses. As always, any reloading data is used at your own risk; always start 10% below the listed charges and work your way up, watching carefully for pressure signs.)
America’s Greatest, The All-Around .30-’06
By C.E. Harris (Rev. 7-8-94)
The most popular deer camp discussion for generations has been that of the proverbial “All-Around Rifle”. What would be YOUR choice if you could have only one rifle? Forget the apocalyptic, “Red Dawn” scenarios and consider only the present, and the realistic future. For me, the answer is plainly obvious. A .30-’06 bolt-action, because there’s not much a skilled rifleman and handloader can’t do with it.
Some years ago I was invited with a group of gun writers to a “bring your own rifle” hunt in Texas. One of the scribes was intent on doing a survey of what the “experts who could pick anything their heart desired” did, in fact, choose. The fellow doing the survey had built his own wildcat, just for the occasion. Of the dozen or so “experts” in attendance besides our wildcatter, one was a fancier of the .270 Winchester, and the rest of the rifles in camp were all .30-’06 boltguns. Now THAT would have made an interesting article, but the wildcatter, who had embarked with other ideas, never wrote it, a shame to be sure.
My gun rack currently holds six .30-’06 rifles, if you don’t count the half-dozen or so extra barrels for my switch-barrel silhouette, target and bench rifles. My first .30-’06 was a DCM M1903A3. My second was an M1 Garand. My third was a custom Winchester Model 70 target rifle with Hart barrel and stock by Roy Dunlap. I’m sure my early exposure to highpower rifle competition, ROTC, handloading, DCM ammo, a particularly fine lot of TW54 Ball, and some even better LC63 National Match ammo had something to do with my love for the .30-’06. But, 30 years later, as I inspect and care for the brass I’ve hoarded, it still makes sense.
The variety of factory loads in .30-’06 is greater than for any other American cartridge. When handloading options are added, the possibilities are simply staggering. To keep it simple, five classes of .30-’06 loads cover all possible uses for a rifle. These are: small game and gallery loads; light varmint and target loads; service rifle loads; long range loads, and big game loads. There is, understandably, some overlap, as a “service rifle” load with match-type bullet becomes a fine “big game” load, with the substitution of a hunting-type bullet.
I recommend the .30-’06 handloader keep a limited selection of powder and bullet types which have flexibility for multiple purposes. One “reduced load” powder, one “service rifle” powder and one “long range or big game” powder will do it all. Similarly, for bullets, one light cast bullet plinker, a 160-180- gr. gas-checked target bullet, a “general purpose” 150-168-gr. jacketed hunting or match bullet, and a heavier 180-200-gr. target bullet for the serious hunting or long range shooter rounds out the whole menu. This enables you to produce economical, safe, and effective ammunition without accumulating odd lots of components which cause problems for storage or disposal later.
With this goal in mind, I’ll describe each load class, and make some recommendations based upon my experience.
SMALL GAME AND GALLERY loads are quiet and low-powered, intended for use at 25 yards or less. I use them for indoor target shooting, and camp meat for the pot. They are also fine for easing the transition of youngsters from a .22 rimfire to a big game rifle. Cast bullets are best for this purpose. Light, jacketed bullets may be used, but require caution, to ensure that the bullet’s bore-exit is totally reliable.
Most rifles produce 3/4″ groups or less at 25 yards or in proportion to 100 yards. A few shoot ragged holes at 50 yards after load refinement. Light .32 revolver bullets can be used, but more satisfactory are heavier bullets from 130-170-grs. I cast these of soft backstop scrap, and shoot them tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox, without sizing or gascheck. I use the same NEI-52A, Saeco 322, or Lee .312-155-2R bullets I normally use, but without the gascheck. The Lyman #311291 and RCBS 30-150FN also work well for these light loads. Typical charges for plainbased loads are 5-6 grs. of Bullseye, SR-7625, W231, Red Dot, Green Dot or 700-X.
You can safely increase these charges up to 2 grains as needed to get best accuracy, but they will lead above 1300 f.p.s. unless gaschecked. Some individual rifles with smooth barrels shoot quite well up to 7 or 7.5 grs. of these powders, but best accuracy is usually obtained when velocities are kept subsonic.
I generally look for a velocity of 1080 +/- 30 f.p.s. These loads will usually shoot 2-1/2″ to 3″ groups at 100 yards using minor visual defect culls, which is OK for practice. The minimum safe load which will always exit the barrel for indoor gallery work is about 4 grs. of the above powders.
More caution is required when assembling subsonic loads with jacketed bullets, because there is some risk of the bullet becoming lodged in the bore at near-subsonic velocities. You should not attempt to use less than 6 grs. of the above pistol or shotgun powders when loading jacketed bullets unless you check the bore after every shot and keep your hammer and ramrod handy!
There are important safety considerations for all reduced loads. I don’t recommend heavier charges with pistol powders (even though some manuals list them) unless the particular powder is bulky enough (like Red Dot), that an inadvertent double-charge fills or overflows the case so an error is immediately obvious on visual inspection. Extreme caution must be used with dense powders such as W-W231 in reduced loads, because even a double charge is hard to see with all that airspace, so an error is not apparent. If you use fast pistol or shotgun powders in reduced loads, ensure the charge is light enough that a mistaken double- load will only blow primers, rather than destroying the rifle!
Spitzer bullets generally give poor accuracy below about 1600 f.p.s. due to gyroscopic instability, blunt round- or flat-nosed bullets are best. The 100-110-gr. .32-20, .32 H&R Magnum and .30 M1 Carbine bullets are often suggested for small game loads, but in my experience won’t produce 1″ groups at 50 yards, my accuracy criteria. Any decent .22 rimfire will shoot 1″ groups at 50 yards, and a center-fire small game load should do as well, right?
The most satisfactory jacketed bullet reduced loads are assembled using my standard 200-yard target charges used with gaschecked cast bullets. Accurate boltgun practice loads which will shoot “on” at 200 yards close to your normal 600-yd. sight dope with either 150-175 gr. pulled GI bullets or 150-200 gr. cast, gaschecked bullets are: 12-13 grs. of Red Dot, Green Dot or 700X, 15-16 grs. of #2400, 18-20 grs. of 4227 or 21-23 grs. of 4198.
My favorite jacketed bullets for reduced .30-06 loads are the bulk Remington 150-gr. .30-30 soft points. This is because I keep them around to load .30-30s, but they are highly accurate at minimum velocities and are also suitable for mild ’06 deer loads with 35 grs of 3031 or RL-7, which approximates .30-30 ballistics.
The 123-gr., 7.62×39 spitzer FMJ bullets give good plinking accuracy above 1600 f.p.s., using the above listed “200-yd. Target” charges.. Grouping is improved by increasing the charge, not to exceed 27 grs. of #2400 or 30 grs. of 4227 which approximates 7.62×39 ballistics. With 150-gr. .30-30 bullets, do not exceed 25 grs. of #2400, which gives 2100 f.p.s., a nice deer load for youngsters, women, or elderly hunters with pacemakers who can’t take the recoil of a full ’06.
“SERVICE RIFLE” loads approximate the performance, and accuracy of military “ball” or “match” ammunition for target shooting over the National Match Course. It is important that the powder charge, bullet type, and ballistic parameters not vary significantly from arsenal ammunition, in order to ensure they function as intended in semi-automatic, quasi-military arms.
The ballistics of Ball M2 service ammunition, (2740 +/- 30 f.p.s.) with a 150-gr. spitzer, flatbased bullet are approximated in GI cases with a charge of 47.5 grs. of current Hodgdon or IMR 4895, or 50 grs. of IMR-4064 or Olin’s W-W748. Accurate Arms 2015BR and 2495BR are also suitable using the charges recommended by them. In commercial brass these powder charges intended for GI cases may be increased 1 grain. These are fine match loads for offhand and 200 rapid in the M1 using the 150-gr. Sierra MatchKing or the new 155-gr. “Palma” bullets.
Prior to the introduction of the 168-gr. Sierra MatchKing, the 125-gr. spitzer was favored for 200-yd. offhand and sitting rapid-fire stages of the National Match Course. These are highly accurate, and ideal for the reduced scale courses for use by junior shooters, to reduce costs and minimize recoil. The charges for 150-gr. bullets, listed above, function the M1 rifle and are accurate. They also make dandy woodchuck loads.
WITH 168-SIERRA OR PULLED GI MATCH BULLETS a charge of 46 grs. of 4895; or 48 grs. of 4064 or 748 approximates .30-’06 M72 match ammunition (2640 +/- 30 f.p.s). With 168-gr. match bullets, these charges may be increased 1 grain, but if the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing is used (a GREAT 600-yd. bullet for the M1) they should be REDUCED the same amount. I do not recommend slower powders or heavier bullets for the M1, because heavier charges of slower powders operate the mechanism with more force than service ammunition, and may damage the operating rod or other parts. You are free to use the “long-range” loads below in your Springfield or M1917, and they also work well for hunting loads in bolt- action rifles, using soft point bullets of the same weight.
“LONG RANGE” loads are heavy target loads for bolt-action match rifles, intended for use at the 600-yard stage of the National Match Course, and for longer ranges, such as 1000 yard events. The loads which follow are for use in bolt-action rifles only. (Semi-auto and slide-action rifles should be used with the “service rifle” charges listed above).
I consider it routine for all long-range target loads in boltguns to uniform the flash hole diameters with a No.2 long center drill, and the primer pockets, using the Whitetail Match-Prep tool. In addition, I neck turn all cases to 0.011-0.012″ neck wall thickness, and check-weigh all cases to +/-3 grains to ensure uniform powder capacity. I used to check cases to +/- 1 grain, but while this is appropriate for a small case like a .223, in the ’06 it is “measuring with micrometers while cutting with axes! Uniforming flash holes, primer pockets and neck wall concentricity gets you the most improvement. Weighing cases is only used to isolate the extremely “heavy” or “light” ones.
These can still be used for load development, or for slow-fire standing stages. Don’t pitch them. In boltguns cases should be fire-formed in the particular rifle they will be used in, and then neck-sized only, using a Jones sizer with .330″ ring or Lee collet and dead-length seater.
It is entirely unnecessary to weigh every powder charge if you use a good powder measure and consistent technique, but you should always verify the measure setting with a scale when you set up. My favorite powders for long range loads in the .30-’06 are either IMR or Hodgdon 4350. Accurate Arms has their own brand of 4350, which works well using the loads they recommend. With Hodgdon or IMR 4350 powder, using commercial cases with an average weight of 185 grs., and either Winchester WLR or Federal 210M primers, I use 56 grs. with the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing, 54 grs. with the 185 Lapua, or 53 grs. with the 190s at 600 yards. For windy days at 600 and for 1000 yards I use 52 grs. with a 200-gr. Sierra MatchKing.
Overall cartridge length is 3.40″, or adjusted to clear the lands upon chambering by 0.010″ to 0.030″. You should avoid “jamming” bullets into the rifling, but “jump” should not exceed 1/10 of the bullet diameter. These cartridge exceed magazine length and are intended for single-loading only. If using these charges for hunting loads with softpoint bullets, to be magazine fed, reduce the charges 1-1/2 grains. Powder charges should also be reduced 1/2 grain for each 5 grain difference in average case weight to compensate for heavier military brass.
Some people like slower powders such as 4831 for long-range loads in the .30-’06. While I have found that 58 grs. of H4831 works well with a 200-gr. bullet, it doesn’t group as well for me as 4350 with the lighter 180-190-gr. bullets. Always pick the best grouper over whatever the chronograph says. If grouping is equal, for matches pick the bullet which is the better wind bucker. The 200-gr. Sierra Matchking is the best choice in .30- ’06 boltguns for 1000 yards or for windy days at 600.
“GAME LOADS” for deer and larger game can be based on the target charges above, with seating depth and powder charge adjustments for magazine feeding of hunting-type bullets. While heavy bullets are preferred for elk, moose or bear, the average hunter after deer will be best served with one load, which he knows well. I want my hunting loads to approximate factory ammunition, so if I run out and must buy a box somewhere, I’ll not have to check my zero, and scare all the game away.
With a 150-gr. spitzer soft-point, 52 grs. of IMR-4064 or W-W 748 in commercial cases approximates the factory 2800 f.p;.s. velocity. With a 165-gr. boattail, 56 grs. of 4350 is a dead ringer for Federal’s Premium load. With the 180-gr. Nosler Partition, 55 grs. at 3.30″ overall cartridge length, in commercial brass, approximates the 180-gr. Federal Premium load. With either load reduce charges a grain if using GI cases. For larger game such as moose, elk, or bear, the “long range” loads above work well with premium big game bullets of the same weight.
In semi-auto or slide-action .30-’06 hunting rifles the “service rifle” charges listed above should be used. These are somewhat less than maximum, and provide very satisfactory game loads with a hunting bullet of the same weight.
Summing up, the .30-’06 is the most versatile American center- fire cartridge, and has not been improved upon. If you have leftover pistol or shotshell powders around, you can load .30-’06 practice loads with it and have alot of fun for not much money. If you keep Red Dot or 700-X around for loading skeet and trap loads for your 12-ga., or if you have #2400 or 4227 around for loading .410 skeet loads or a magnum caliber handgun, you don’t need to buy another powder for reduced loads. The same is true if you keep 4198 around for your .222 Rem.
Of all the rifle powders, 4198 is the best reduced load powder for the .30-’06, from 1300-2000 f.p.s. because it bulks up well, and is not position sensitive. If you don’t load need to make minimum subsonic small game or gallery loads (4198 doesn’t work for these) and you don’t already have other suitable powders available, and want to buy the best rifle powder for moderately reduced rifle loads, 4198 is my recommendation.
The “Real .30-’06 powders” for full loads are 4895, 4064 and 4350. IMR-4895 replaced IMR 4676 for military ball ammunition about 1944 and was the standard propellent for military .30-’06 Ball and Match ammunition. It is adaptable to a variety of cartridges. If you want just one rifle powder to use for everything 4895 is “it”. Some target shooters feel that “long grain” powders like 4064 and 4350 give better grouping than “short cut” powders like 4895, which are preferred for machine loading. Even though coarser powders don’t measure as well, they are highly accurate. If this is your choice, substitute 4064 for the 4895 and you won’t be disappointed. For maximum loads in .30-’06 boltguns it’s hard to beat 4350. I’ve tried other powders, but I keep coming back to 4350, because its consistent and always predicable, just like my .30-’06.
That’s why I like the .30-’06. It’s like an experienced old horse that always knows its way back to camp, so you can just do the job and relax. What else do you want in a rifle?