Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ammo Spotlight: The .30-06 Springfield

104 years and over 10 million rounds can't be wrong: the .30-06 rules.

This is a tale of a cartridge that has been in the United States for over a century, and will remain for many more to come. I'm talking about none other than the .30-06 Springfield.

The ,30-caliber cartridge was developed directly against German ordnance, who had their successful 7x57mm and 8x57mm Mauser cartridges. It was preceded first by the introduction of the 6mm Lee-Navy, in 1895 and the .30 U.S. Army (.30-40 Krag) in 1892. The Krag had a rimmed shell casing and was fairly accurate. The Krag-Jørgensen rifle that fired it is renowned for a butter-smooth action and an ingenious feeding system, but the bolt wore only a single locking lug. This kept the .30-40 round from being loaded over a certain pressure to keep from breaking the action. In 1903, the .30-40 was replaced by the .30-03 (pronounced thirty aught-three) cartridge, which was chambered in the new Springfield Rifle, Model of 1903. The .30-03 had a 220-grain round nose projectile, similar to the bullet of a 6.5mm Carcano or very early 7.62x54R.

The round was well-constructed and worked just fine, but there was one slight problem: by this time, the entire world had switched to the lighter and more accurate spitzer-type bullets. The United States needed to upgrade, and fast. Three years later, enter the .30-06.

Basically a wild-catted .30-03, the case neck was shortened by a few hundredths of an inch, the powder charge was slightly reduced, and the 220-grain RN was replaced with a 150-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) spitzer bullet. And there you have it, folks: the .30-06 Springfield, realized. The metric measurement is 7.62x63mm, although that name didn't really take off. Since it was a smaller size than the .30-03, it could be chambered and fired in the same rifles without any modifications, but accuracy and precision would suffer greatly. So, the U.S. military recalled all the current .30-03s, re-rifled the barrels to optimize the new bullet's performance, re-chambered the bores, and beefed up the actions.

So, what were the guns that were chambered for this round? For starters, there was the Browning Model 1895/14 "Potato Digger" machine gun; the Springfield Rifle, Model of 1903; the Model 1917 Enfield Rifle; the Browning M1928 BAR, the M1 Garand rifle, the Model 1941 Johnson, the Browning Model 1919A4 and A6 machine guns, some Gatling Guns with the hand cranks, the Benet-Mercie 1909 Machine Rifle, the 1917 Chauchat, and the Lewis Gun. The .30-06 had a great run as a military cartridge until 1954, when the U.S. Army decided to play with it some more. With a shorter shell casing and a modernized bullet, from the .30-06 was born one of the best intermediate centerfire rifle calibers ever made: the .308 Winchester, or 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge.

The .30-06 Springfield was the U.S. military's main cartridge for over 50 years, so naturally it was designed to perform more duties than simply anti-personnel use. Among the many versions of cartridges that were made were ball (FMJ), armor-piercing, incendiary, tracer, dummy, blank, rifle grenade launching rounds, explosive targeting rounds for marking areas of fire for artillery, and match rounds, which are highly accurate.

After the .30-06 cartridge was officially retired from military service and replaced by the .308 Winchester, it was already the favored hunting caliber of the country, well-suited for deer, elk, and other medium game. Several attempts to create new cartridges through wild-catting have produced four popular rounds still available today: the .25-06 Remington, the .270 Winchester, the .280 Remington, and the .35 Whelen. But it doesn't end there. This cartridge is being made continuously by nearly every major ammo manufacturer out there, in all sorts of bullet weights, powder charges, bullet types and velocities for everything from super-accurate match ammo to bonded hunting rounds designed to take down the toughest game. If you are an avid shooter, you are guaranteed to shoot a .30-06 Springfield at least once in your life. I have, and it is an awesome round, and I guarantee you will like it, too.

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