Sunday, December 1, 2013

The .30-06 Project or….Eating Celery, Pt.1

I received a correspondence the other day that basically took me to task for ignoring (in the author's opinion) the greatest hunting cartridge of the twentieth century….the .30-06 Springfield. The author then enumerated all the various uses of the cartridge and how wonderfully versatile it is for a worldwide hunter and particularly, a North American one. After a few emails back and forth, I determined the author was a fairly young man, a 25 year old hunter, and his enthusiasm for the old '06 was certainly ardent and technically, spot on.

I do admit, I have largely ignored the '06 in the annals of this blog through no malice on my part. The couple of times I've tread close to the '06 have generated several comments about the cartridge and even though it's over a century old now, it is still one of, if not the single most popular hunting cartridge in America and perhaps, the world.

The main issue with the .30-06 is that as an outdoors writer there's just not much to say that hasn't been said many, many times before by figures with more experience and authority on the subject than I'll ever have. There's also the fact that as a hunting cartridge the '06's standard defining ballistics are well….boring. The '06 has defined the standard for the N. American big game cartridge for ages and no new cartridge in the category survives long without being directly compared to it. So much so in fact that any new cartridge that merely replicates those ballistics doesn't stand much chance in the marketplace. The .308 Winchester survived due to military adoption- that virtually guarantees commercial acceptance- but the very similar .30TC never achieved any market share at all and was born with a toe tag on. The .280 Remington just lingers for some reason or other and the .270 needed Jack O'Connor's gilt edged typewriter to manage a Number 2 finish- despite being a "technically" better cartridge. I've even gone so far to say that if the '06 were introduced as a 21st century cartridge we'd all yawn. A 180 grain bullet at 2700 feet per second in today's marketplace is basically ballistic celery. Only standing out in it's blandness.

That said, however, the .30'06 is a cartridge I've used quite a lot and the record I've had on game with it   is every bit as bland as the ballistics chart. For instance-  "Saw a deer, shot it, it died." I don't like talking numbers, but the journal entries like that are numerous enough to get the sense that the '06 is in no way a marginal cartridge for shooting medium sized big game animals. All of that experience happened many years before I started this blog though and reaching back into history to tell such a mediocre story seems like a proverbial Grand-dad showing the kids vacation slides from the world's second largest ball of twine. Most of the old photos are long since misplaced, including the one showing me kneeling by 4 whitetails taken with 4 shots from my Sig SHR 970- but I digress. Looking forward is what counts.

The fact that I consider the '06 "ballistic celery"in no way detracts from its value as a hunting cartridge. Among people who couldn't care less about such things as ballistics charts and having a unique and powerful cartridge- the '06 does duty year after year and generation after generation; knocking critters spinning and putting meat on the table before going back into the closet to live until next fall where it will come out and do it all over again. One of my good friends, a wizened old geezer (his words, not mine) has hunted for 50 straight years with the '06 and the 180 grain Remington Core Lokt. Elk and bears, deer and moose, and sheep and goats- they've all fell to his battered rifle, the bulk of them from a single shot behind the shoulder. I would wager to guess the bag for that hunter and rifle goes well into the triple digits and is now providing a fourth generation with wild protein on the plate.

So it's now at the urging of my new, young acquaintance that I plan on embarking upon something of a project- to explore the .30'06 once again. A couple of things happened- the first being that my deteriorating neck vertebrae have rebelled against recoil and recoil above the '06 level now gives me fits that frequently outlast the hunt. My beloved .375s and my newly acquired Rigby all went to other homes with younger hunters and I suspect after reading the careers of other gun and hunting writers that perhaps the condition isn't so unusual since I see many of them transitioning to milder cartridges as the odometer racks up a few miles. I, for one. plan on continuing this outdoor lifestyle as long as possible and at the urging of my doctor will limit the recoil I expose myself to. Since I'm not that old and have a good long while yet to hunt (God willing, I hope) then I consider it prudent advice. I won't even rule out the much maligned muzzle brake if that's what it takes.

The second event, a good friend offered me one of his rifles- an unfired Kimber Montana in .30'06. It's one of the older ones built on the magnum action that holds 5 down and has enough magazine length to seat long bullets way out to the lands. It also has a 24" barrel which will allow me to get the full potential of the '06 cartridge in every bullet weight. The rifle weighs 7.6 pounds with the Leupold scope mounted and that should be enough to keep the kick from belting me from under my hat but light enough to pack up the mountains.

And speaking of feeding the rifle- the catalog of ammunition for the old cartridge now lists some 200 entries. More than I ever thought possible. Many of the bullets and performance levels simply didn't exist back in the day I carried the '06 in the field, so that at least may add a little flavor to the blandness. A quick check reveals that factory loads run from the 55 grain Remington Accelerator all the way up to 240 grain Woodleigh Weldcore. For a "one gun" sort of hunter this will take the rifle from replicating a 220 Swift (55gr @4000fps) all the way to the loads that simulate what Hemingway used to pot a rhinoceros with every conceivable variation in between. We've come a long way from the choices being- "Remington or Winchester, 150 or 180 grain?" down at the local hardware store. I hope to be able to talk a bit about the newer ammunition that is reportedly making the cartridge better than it's ever been. In that vein, I'll try not to hand load for the rifle given the overwhelming variety of factory loads available and the moderate price point that millions of units in production brings with it. Even in these economic times- $20 a box is still readily found. It's one of the few rifle cartridges that make reloading look like a worse deal than it actually is.

So there you have it- a new project to embark upon. Hope you'll enjoy.


Phillip said...

New projects with new guns are ALWAYS worthwhile. But I think celery may be a little too generous. The -06 is more like the iceberg lettuce of the gun world. At one time, it was much celebrated (because any place that could even serve fresh, green veggies was noteworthy), but now it's scoffed at by those who "know better". Nevertheless, it still graces the tables of homes and restaurants across the country. And sometimes, even the highbrow palates enjoy a well-made wedge salad.

Boy, I stretched that metaphor as far is it would go. Good luck with that Kimber. It's a really nice rifle, and it should serve you well.

And as always, you can count me as one ardent supporter of the muzzle brake clan. My neck and shoulder thank me, and with decent hearing protection, my ears don't complain... or if they do, I can't really hear them.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Great case for the 06, i know a couple of ardent fans, both reloaders funnily enough.

For the Adult Onset Hunters in the audience how about a piece on bullet choice? Taking us from softs, through tips to solids, lead free and those Barnes X's ?

Love to hear your thoughts