Gun Digest

Reloading The Old Reliable .30-06 Springfield

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reloading the springfield
The .30-06 case can easy handle the longer monometal bullets, such as the 180-grain Barnes TTSX.

Easy like Sunday morning, reliable as a well-aged Labrador, the .30-06 Springfield continues to serve reloader well.

Why The .30-06 Springfield Is Among The Best Cartridges To Reload:

As if it weren’t already potent enough with its various factory loadings, handloading for the .30-06 Springfield is one of the easiest — and most rewarding — tasks a new handloader can take on. The initial cartridge, carrying many of the attributes of the 7×57 Mauser, popped onto the scene in 1903, and it received an immediate revision in 1906, when the Army shortened the case length from 2.540 inches to 2.494 inches.

In addition, they lightened the bullet from the 220-grain slug of the .30-40 Krag to the 150-grain spitzer bullet. The military history of the .30-06 Springfield is evident: It had the starring role in a pair of World Wars, but the hunting and civilian shooting history is equally important.

The Springfield represents what might be the most well-balanced case design in the most well-balanced bore diameter available, at least as it matters to the hunter. Firstly, the .308-inch bore diameter has an awful lot to offer the reloader, with bullets weighing between 100 and 250 grains.

Secondly, the Springfield case — in addition to being the benchmark for all .30-caliber cases — is of a nearly perfect size, in that it delivers a velocity range that makes all sorts of sense for common animals at sensible ranges. Is the .30-06 a cartridge designed for ultra-long ranges? Probably not, yet when mated to a good bullet, it does make a viable 1,000-yard target cartridge. The ought-six has been used for all sorts of game species, from rabbits to rhinos. While the African heavyweights might not be the best use of a good .30-06, they are about the only species that the old cartridge doesn’t handle well.

A good 165-grain bullet and IMR4350 make a lethal combination in the .30-06 Springfield.

Thirdly, the shooting characteristics of the Springfield are such that nearly anyone can learn to shoot it … and shoot it well. In a properly stocked rifle, the recoil of the Springfield is completely manageable, and it can be further mitigated by handloading the cartridge.

Ease Through Versatility

In addition to having that excellent choice of projectiles, the .30-06 Springfield can digest a wide variety of powders, from the faster rifle choices like IMR3031, across the spectrum to the slow-burning Reloder 25 and 26. The case has a neck length of 0.385 inch, giving plenty of tension, even with the longest bullets. And, the 1:10 twist rate of most .30-06 rifles will stabilize all but the longest target bullets.

Though it isn’t exactly new and shiny, the Springfield can be seriously accurate, as USMC Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock proved. I have cooked up more than a few handloads for clients headed around the globe, which printed ½-MOA, and those were built around hunting bullets.

The .30-06 Springfield is still extremely popular, with ammo and reloading die sales still ranking in the Top 10. I have found that the Springfield makes an excellent cartridge to teach a new reloader because it’s large enough to avoid the numerous compressed loads that the .308 Winchester has, and it doesn’t have the associated case stretching issues that the belted .300 Winchester Magnum does.

The 220-grain Hornady InterLock is a great choice for large game at closer ranges in the .30-06 case.

The Springfield is a simple and effective design, allowing a reloader to learn the effects of various combinations rather quickly. For example, while the .30-06 has plenty of room in the case to load the longer monometal bullets, the faster-burning powders show a definite advantage in both accuracy and velocity. It was in the .30-06 case that I first came across this phenomenon, and it has saved me quite a bit of time and heartache in other cartridges.

The Reloading Process

The reloading process is as simple as the case design itself. The .30-06 runs on a standard large rifle primer, and I’ve used just about every one on the market, all with success, though I prefer the Federal Gold Medal Match GM210M and the CCI 200. I’ve had good results using many different brands of cases, though as with most cartridges, the match-grade cases have given the best results. The 17½-degree shoulder is an excellent blend of good headspacing and smooth feeding, and the .30-06 has been adapted to just about every rifle action type ever conceived.

For bolt-action rifles, you have much more latitude than with most other actions. You can choose to neck size your cases — giving more concentricity and therefore better accuracy — as the bolt guns have the camming power to handle the slightly larger case body. I do prefer to use full-length resized cases for those hunting trips that might require a rapid follow-up shot, as the neck-sized ammo can be a bit difficult to feed quickly. The autoloaders, pumps and single-shots require a full-length resized case to operate smoothly, and a small base resizing die can really make a difference.

Load Up On Reloading Info:

I don’t really crimp my .30-06 cases, no matter what bullet I’m using — unless it’s for target shooting in a military autoloader, and then I use a taper crimp, and just enough to make sure the bullets won’t “pull” during the cycling process. My buddy, Robin Sharpless, at Redding Reloading has done some extensive testing, and he’s found that some rifles can cause the overall length of the cartridge to increase as much as 0.009 inch once slammed into the chamber.

Premium cases, like these from Nosler, will certainly help keep things as uniform as possible.

A reloader who has a .30-06 can custom tailor their ammunition to their own hunting situation, whether it’s for coyotes or deer, elk or bear. I highly recommend resisting the temptation to try and turn your .30-06 into a .300 Magnum; in spite of what some folks would have you believe, the velocities of the .30-06 are more than adequate for almost all of your hunting shots, out to sane distances. I do enjoy hunting with a .300 Winchester, but I’ve never felt handicapped when hunting with a .30-06, nor do I want to beat the snot out of an ’06 rifle trying to make it into something it isn’t.

For an all-around hunting load, I like either a 165- or 180-grain bullet at 2,800 fps or 2,750 fps, respectively. I’ve had excellent results with the 180-grain Nosler Partition over a healthy charge of IMR4350, as well as the 165-grain Partition over a charge of Reloder 19. The 180-grain Barnes TTSX over a charge of IMR4166 makes another sound all-around load, especially for those traveling hunters who hunt in many different climates.
For those who like the upper and lower ends of the bullet weights, the 220-grain Woodleigh Weldcore or Hornady InterLock make excellent bear medicine, and there are many 130-, 140- and 150-grain bullets that will handle deer and antelope across a hayfield or on the prairie.

The .30-06 can be a good candidate for cast bullets; they are cheap to make and a great way to have a new shooter become familiar with their rifle, without the recoil of full house loads. Another excellent attribute of the .30-06 case is the sheer amount of data available for it, with the option of using those loads on the slower end of the spectrum. Here in the Northeast, where our deer shots rarely exceed 100 to 125 yards, or for those situations in the South where a feeder is employed, a reduced velocity load will still be very effective.

I’ve included a list of some of my favorite .30-06 loads, and I’ll still give you the standard caveat: Work up from the bottom of the published data. You’ll see some fast powders, some slow powders, light bullets, heavy bullets and a few middle-of-the-road loads; that’s just a testament to the versatility of the .30-06 case. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but I’d say I’ve had an easier time developing loads for the .30-06 than for any other rifle cartridge.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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