I was recently making a list of gear to take with me on upcoming deer hunts this November, first to Texas and then to northwestern Ontario. For both hunts, I debated between at least a couple of different rifle options. Interestingly, I realized that although I own two different rifles chambered in .30-06 Springfield, either of which would be suitable for either hunt, I found myself overlooking this venerable old caliber in my deliberation. I don't have any hard data, but I think more and more other hunters are doing the same, and that's a shame because this cartridge deserves just as much respect today as it did when our fathers and grandfathers roamed the woods.
The .30-06 Springfield uses a .30 caliber bullet — hence the ".30" in its name — and was adopted by the United States Army as its service chambering in 1906 — hence the "06" — remaining its primary rifle cartridge for nearly 50 years, with limited military use into the 1970s. Used in both World Wars, as well as Korea and Vietnam, countless army surplus rifles and rounds of ammo found their way into the hands of North American hunters following these conflicts, and made the .30-06 arguably the most popular big game cartridge in North America for much of the last century.
The .30-06 is one of the most versatile cartridges of all time, suitable for just about any small or large game found on the continent, with appropriate loads. Factory loaded ammunition with bullets ranging from 150 to 220 grains is readily available, including high performance loads with ballistics that rival many "magnum" calibers. Handloaders have an even greater variety of bullet choices available, including 110 grain bullets for use on varmints and predators.
Ironically, this same versatility may lead some hunters to conclude that the .30-06 is a "jack of all trades, but master of none". In addition, the huge popularity of the various "short magnums" and even "super short magnums" over the last decade or so has also certainly contributed to the reduced standing of this fine old round.
When I was a teenager, my grandfather decided he was going to buy me my first centerfire rifle. He left it up to me to choose the make, model and caliber. I chose a Ruger in .30-06. I debated the choice of caliber for quite a while before deciding on the "aught six". My reasoning was this: If I was in a small town in northern Ontario (but it could have been just about anywhere in North America) and I found myself with no ammunition for my hunting rifle and my trip in jeopardy, chances were pretty good that if the local hardware store had just one caliber of ammo available, it would likely be the .30-06.
If you've got an old .30-06 in your gun safe that hasn't seen the field in a while, consider it the next time you reach in there for an upcoming hunt. If you're in the market for a new rifle, give the grand old Springfield a serious look. You really can't go wrong.