The Logical .30-06
by Germán A. Salazar
by Germán A. Salazar
Photo: Fort Barry (San Francisco bay area) soldiers, on the front porch of their barracks, showing off their Model 1903 Springfield rifles (photo circa 1908).
Photo: John D. Martin, winner of the Cavalry Cup, 1955 National Matches, Camp Perry, Ohio. 149-17V
My Garand went into storage and I kept shooting the .30-06 in a Model 70, but only as a long-range cartridge, eventually forsaking it even for that limited use as newer and shinier cartridges caught my eye. I had joined the masses and adopted their opprobrium for the grand old cartridge. But, mid-range and long-range prone matches were growing in popularity, the NRA eventually recognized this by instituting separate classification systems for those disciplines – and therein lay the seeds of the .30-06’s return to competitiveness. Prone matches, which are all slow-fire, eliminated the .223's singular advantage of low recoil and emphasize accuracy, ballistics and reliability, all of which are the .30-06's strengths.
At about the same time, something unexpected happened which gave the .30-06 its current misbegotten Highpower identity. In 1996 the DCM was killed off by Army in a cost-cutting drive, and from its ashes, arose the Civilian Marksmanship Program. The CMP became an aggressive marketer of Garands, Springfields and anything else it could get into its inventory. Then the CMP developed a whole series of matches for these unaltered rifles and suddenly, Springfields, Garands and the .30-06 were a common sight on the range again. Unfortunately, the military surplus ball ammo issued for these matches, with its 150 grain FMJ bullet was hardly up to serious accuracy standards. The CMP matches are a very accessible introduction to competitive shooting for many, and in the process they have given the .30-06 its modern identity as an introductory cartridge of limited accuracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The CMP’s Garand and Springfield matches are a wonderful activity for those who enjoy such things, but I’m not one of them. For me, nostalgia has its place, and I’m a devoted student of history, but I prefer state-of-the-art equipment and very accurate ammunition for rifle matches – just my preference. In any event, those CMP matches and the ball ammo used in them have created an unwarranted misimpression of the .30-06’s capabilities and that may be stopping some newer competitors from taking advantage of this very useful cartridge.
Photo: 1941 manufactured Winchester Model 70, stocked by Roy Dunlap, Tucson, Arizona.
What is it that makes the .30-06 a logical choice? In a few words: accuracy, ballistic performance, adaptability to various uses, barrel life, and a broad range of components and tooling. We will examine each of these from the perspective of a Highpower competitor who is interested in winning, not merely making noise on the firing line.
Let’s establish some basic terms of discussion: accuracy in my small slice of the world is defined by scores on NRA Highpower targets fired from the prone position with iron sights. Benchrest shooting methods and the standards of accuracy used in that form of shooting sports have no relevance to our application so please don’t ask what the distance between my two worst shots was – I don’t know or care! We shoot about 70 shots from position with no cleaning and with long delays between shots – sometimes very long. I do not use and will not apply the methods and standards of Benchrest competition to our sport any more than I would evaluate a 6PPC Benchrest rifle by how well I can shoot it prone at 600 yards.
I realize that there are many people who lack the confidence in their shooting ability to use their prone scores as a relative measure of accuracy – they are wrong to think that. As long as you can shoot with a reasonable degree of consistency, then your scores will accurately reflect the positive or negative effect of a change in your system, whether it is a change in position, load, rifle or cartridge. Scores are the numerical representation of the capabilities of the shooting system and that system includes the rifle, the ammunition and the shooter. Trying to evaluate one without the other is futile and counterproductive; we live in a world of systems and shooting is no exception.
Let’s have a look at the data from those 28 mid-range matches (a detailed table is at the end of the article). I think Highpower competitors will find this a lot more useful than what magazines typically report for accuracy data.
The average 20 shot score was 198-11X and interestingly, the average was the same for each of the three strings fired in a match, so we can see that accuracy was not affected by fouling or heat or wind, all of which tend to increase as the day wears on.
The average aggregate score was 595-32X (rounding of average string and aggregate scores causes the aggregate average not to be exactly equal to three times the average string score). The high aggregate score was a 599-37X; the low aggregate score was a match winning 589-15X on a particularly blustery day. I shot 30 or more X’s in 20 of the 28 matches with a high of 42 X’s.
The high string score was 200-15X which occurred four times. The low string score was 194-8X which occurred one time. The 84 strings fired consisted of:
21 scores of 200,
23 scores of 199,
22 scores of 198,
12 scores of 197,
3 scores of 196,
2 scores of 195,
1 score of 194.
In summary, 79% of the mid-range scores fired were 198 or better. In those 28 matches, I finished in first place 17 times, second place 7 times, third place 3 times and fourth place 1 time. As most of you know, prone matches in Phoenix are always competitive and often quite windy; those weren’t easy scores or wins. I don’t know how to better demonstrate that the .30-06 has all the accuracy you might need than those figures.
Update 1: Nov. 28, 2010 - During the past year, I've increased my percentage of mid-range matches fired with the .30-06 to over 50% and the scores are increasing. If time permits, I'll create a new table of scores
Update 2: Nov. 28 2010 - Long-Range Scores
Over the past year I've fired the .30-06 in seven 1000 yard matches for a total of 20 stages (one rain-out). As with all long range shooting, conditions are very variable and scores fluctuate more than in mid-range matches. Accordingly, the scores aren't quite as high, but they were generally competitive, usually in the top three for the match, with some wins. As with the mid-range scores, all were fired with iron sights. Here is the breakdown of the 20 stage scores which I will update further as the 2010-2011 winter season progresses:
3 scores of 199
4 scores of 198
1 score of 197
4 scores of 196
1 score of 195
3 scores of 194
1 score of 193
1 score of 191
1 score of 190
1 score of 188
Average score for the .30-06 at 1000 yards was 97.75% (195.5) over this period. During that same time, I shot 16 Palma matches (800, 900 1000 yards with a .308) and the average 1000 yard stage score during those matches was 97.5% (146.2). So we see a slight edge in score percentage for the .30-06 over the .308 at 1000 yards. (Palma matches have 15 shot strings versus the 20 shot strings of 1000 yard matches, therefore the percentage comparison is more useful than raw scores).
If you’ve been around Highpower for a while, you’ve certainly heard that the .30-06 is not as accurate as the .308. Without turning this article into a comparison of the two cartridges, I will simply say that those statements correctly reflect the difference between an M1 and an M14 firing Lake City Match ammunition, but are not correct when comparing handloads in a bolt-action rifle. The .30-06 does not play second fiddle to the .308 in the accuracy department – or any other.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement and we are fortunate to have a number of very useful new bullets from Sierra and Berger. If you don’t already have it saved, the JBM Ballistics website provides what is arguably the most complete ballistics calculations and bullet database you can find, and it includes Brian Litz’s updated BC figures. We will use JBM generated figures for any calculations presented here. Phoenix winter conditions of 65 degrees, 25% humidity and 1640 ft. elevation (at the Ben Avery range) are used for calculations.
As a standard of comparison, the 190 Sierra, fired at 2800 fps will drift 23.7” at 600 yards and 76.1” at 1000 yards in a 10 mph crosswind. Following is a brief chart showing the ballistic performance of some of the modern bullets available for the .30-06 and also some of the old standards. You can play all night on JBM Ballistics comparing these figures to any other realistic numbers for other cartridges and I think you’ll conclude that the .30-06 provides adequate ballistic performance for anyone with enough sense to turn the windage knob before pulling the trigger when a blast of wind hits him in the face!
While long barrel life is not the primary a reason to select a cartridge for competitive shooting, it is always a consideration for those of us who don’t do our own barrel fitting or have the resources to get a new barrel fitted at about $500 to $600 at the drop of a hat; not to mention the time it takes to get the job done. With that in mind, a cartridge that will give you 5,000 accurate shots is much easier to deal with than one which only gives you 1,000 or 2,000 good rounds. Compared to a 6.5-284, for instance (admittedly, the extreme example), a .30-06 barrel will cost you about $0.10 per shot versus $0.50 per shot for the 6.5-284. One of our club members, Oliver Milanovic, recently shot out a Krieger barrel in .300 Winchester Magnum in fewer than 750 rounds – ouch!
You can reasonably expect 5,000 accurate rounds from a .30-06 fired in mid-range matches which are, of course, slow-fire. As barrels wear, accuracy deterioration becomes noticeable at the longer ranges first and after many more rounds at the shorter ranges. Accordingly, I’m not at all certain the .30-06 will maintain accuracy at 1000 yards for the same 5,000 rounds, but if you use a throating reamer to clean up the throat at reasonable intervals it probably will. While that’s certainly not a basic level procedure, it is a useful way of maximizing accuracy life and a cartridge with a long neck like the .30-06, and long bullets like the 210 Berger or Sierra that you might use for 1000 yard shooting make it a practical consideration. Frankford Arsenal conducted tests in the early 1960’s that showed competitive 600 yard accuracy life of over 10,000 rounds for the .30-06 with National Match ammunition despite considerable barrel erosion. A lot of this depends on the bullet and the pressure at which the cartridge is loaded, however, so don’t take those figures as an iron-clad guarantee, just a good indication of longer than average barrel life for a target cartridge.
Components and Tooling
That tolerance for a large variety of powders and bullets is one of the .30-06's great virtues. When supplies are short as they have been all this year (2009), the ability to get good performance out of whatever happens to be available is highly appreciated! Apart from being able to use a broad range of components, the most basic component of all – brass – has been much easier to find this year for .30-06 than for other cartridges such as the .308 which really dried up fast. I was able to buy .30-06 brass during the summer and fall at big chain stores as well as Bruno’s when shelves were essentially bare of most other reloading components.
Speaking of brass, and we should, Winchester brass is not only all you need for this cartridge, but it’s also as good as can be. I bought 200 pieces of Lapua to try out and it is certainly fine brass, but so is the Winchester. I base these statements not only on scores fired with both types, but on case wall concentricity (click here for article) which is as good on the Winchester as on the Lapua. I have enough Federal and Remington brass on hand to check and test, but have done little with it so far; however, the few matches fired with those brands were in line with the Winchester and Lapua. Once I test those, I’ll add the data to this article. In fact, I’m working on a brass table covering about a dozen types of .30-06 brass but that’s not ready yet as the work is slow and other things seem to always get more priority. I can say at this point that my old favorite, Lake City Match, comes off quite poorly in comparison to commercial brass, as it consistently has more case body thickness variance and neck thickness variance than Winchester or Lapua.
Did I forget anything? Oh yes... recoil. No doubt a lot of you have been reading this and thinking “What about the recoil?” Well, all I can say is that with a typical modern prone rifle in the 14 lb. to 15 lb. range, recoil from the .30-06 is no more objectionable than from a .308 Palma rifle. I use heavy Palma or MTU contour barrels to put some weight up front. The only real detriment to recoil is what I described as “barrel movement during barrel time” in my article about .30 caliber shooters (click here for article). Overcoming that is mostly a matter of developing very good shot execution skills.
Photo: Borden Tubegun Special action.
Just think, great accuracy and ballistics, long barrel life, ease of loading and an opportunity to improve your basic skills – who could ask for more? Well, OK, I’ll give you one more benefit, are you ready? When you shoot the .30-06 you’re part of the oldest tradition in American Highpower shooting, you’re doing it the way it was done before anyone even heard the word millimeter, the way it was done with the Springfield and the Garand, you're doing it with the cartridge that won two World Wars, the cartridge Dad Farr fired all afternoon and into the night pounding the V-Ring right out of the 1000 yard target at Camp Perry, you're doing it the way six generations of Riflemen have done it before you. Well, I said we'd avoid nostalgia, but it kind of sneaks up on you, doesn't it? Have fun and consider the perfectly logical .30-06 the next time you chamber a barrel.
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Accuracy Secrets of the .30-06 Part 2
Sibling Rivalry: .308 vs. .30-06
A Short History of the .30-06
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