FROM THE TRENCHES OF WWI TO THE HUNTING GROUNDS OF YOUR HOME STATE, .30-06 IS READY FOR IT ALL
Although the .30-06 Springfield has been around for almost 120 years, this capable cartridge isn’t ready for retirement just yet. With an impressive military pedigree and the ability to put down any game animal in North America (and a fair number in Africa), this versatile cartridge still deserves a spot of honor in the modern shooting world.
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If you’re looking for a rifle chambered in this quintessentially American cartridge, we’ve got you covered. From vintage military to practical modern ranch guns to luxury works of art, here are a few options to help you scratch your “aught six” itch.
WHY THE .30-06 IS STILL RELEVANT
The .30-06 Springfield was first introduced in 1906 (which is what the “-06” stands for). Lovingly referred to as the “thirty aught six,” the cartridge and the rifles designed to shoot them were both originally built for war and were used in US military service until the mid-1970s when they were replaced by the 7.62×51mm NATO.
The .30-06 Springfield was cutting-edge in the early 20th century. The cartridge fed smoothly and reliably in both semi-auto and bolt actions, produced superb ballistics (for the time period), and delivered deadly results on target. All these characteristics made the .30-06 ideal for combat.
All those qualities also made the .30-06 perfect for deer hunting. Its unprecedented popularity in the civilian market was largely fueled by men returning home from the war front. Those same servicemen who had carried aught six rifles on foreign battlefields reached for the weapons they were already intimately familiar with when they headed into the woods during hunting season.
Dozens of newer, faster cartridges have flooded the market since the .30-06 was in its prime. However, the cartridge still continuously makes the best seller list. This venerable cartridge still has all the attributes that earned your great-grandfather’s respect, plus some. Modern advances in both firearms and ammo technology have kept this cartridge relevant, and it has plenty to offer modern shooters beyond pure nostalgia.
The .30-06 provides serious long-range power in a package that won’t brutalize your shoulder. Plus, with modern ammo .30-06 cartridges cruise at around 200 fps faster than the ones Grandad loaded in his deer rifle. Even back then, Teddy Roosevelt was dropping African game with his aught six. With a little extra heat, there’s no reason modern .30-06 loads aren’t a practical choice for North American elk, moose, and black bear.
BEST .30-06 RIFLES
Springfield M1 Garand
There is no better rifle to kick off the list of best .30-06 rifles than the trusty old M1 Garand. It was the first semi-auto widely adopted for military use and was famously called “the greatest battle implement ever devised” by the legendary General George S. Patton. These battle-tested warhorses proved their worth, from the American invasion of Guadalcanal to South Korea’s Battle of Bloody Ridge.
While they are easily the most famous and recognizable rifles to ever sport a .30-06 chambering, M1 Garands ultimately made this list for their legendary dependability. The battle-proven action with its rotating bolt and long-stroke piston can handle heavy abuse and some of the harshest climates on Planet Earth without skipping a beat. Snow, ice, freezing cold, rain, sweltering heat, stifling humidity, the M1 Garand will work in any environmental condition humans can survive, plus a few they can’t.
These rifles are also pretty freakin’ accurate. While an optic is a nice addition, it isn’t necessary. An iron-sighted Garand, when held in capable hands, can get the job done even on targets out to 800 yards.
Although the M1 Garand stopped rolling off assembly lines in 1957, they are surprisingly easy to get your hands on. The government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program regularly offers M1s of different conditions, from near-pristine previously unshot to “serviceable.” However, even after all these years, the M1 is in pretty high demand, so be prepared to drop a few grand on one in excellent condition.
We just have one word of caution for M1 Garand lovers – choose your ammo carefully. While these old war rifles are some of the most reliable semi-autos ever produced, they aren’t built to handle modern loads. Pick ammo specifically marked as safe for the M1, or grab an aftermarket adjustable gas plug and tune your gas system to be safe with modern ammo.
The Remington 700 has been around for more than 60 years. It’s the best-selling American bolt-action rifle of all time, and the .30-06 Springfield is one of its most popular chamberings. If you want to follow the crowd on this one, it’s a good crowd to follow.
Although Remington has made countless versions of the 700 over the years, they all share the iconic “Three Rings of Steel” cylindrical receiver. The design provides a better bedding surface than previous bolt-action designs, which translates into repeatable downrange accuracy.
Like the fashion sense of the ever-popular jocks and cheerleaders back in high school, the Model 700 has been copied by pretty much everybody. These “R700 footprint” rifles are often excellent.
There’s a reason the M24 and M40 sniper rifles used by the United States Army and Marine Corps are both based on the Model 700. It has nothing to do with unwarranted popularity, either. It’s because the Model 700’s action is strong, reliable, and capable of tack-driving consistency.
A Remington bankruptcy briefly pulled the plug on Model 700 production, but the company (under new ownership) is again cranking out these bolt guns. The jury is still out on how these new-production true Remingtons will perform, but early reports are encouraging. However, if you can find a pre-2012 Remington 700, you’ve found one from the golden years. Snatch that baby up quick.
Bergara B-14 Ridge Rifle
Based on the Remington 700 and built to be compatible with most R700 parts, Bergara is a Spanish brand that has been building some outstanding rifles.
With Remington’s fall from grace in the past decade, Bergara has stepped up to fill the void. Delivering quality rifles in great options, these are some of the best value rifles on the market right now.
The Ridge is a solid hunting rifle coming in at just under 8lbs. Its 24” threaded barrel is a little on the thick side for hunting, but the added rigidity is excellent for precision. Guaranteed to be 1 MOA or better at 100 yards, this is an R700 pattern rifle that you can trust to treat you well in all situations.
If you don’t want to roll the dice on Remington’s new owners, I would highly recommend the Bergara B-14.
Browning BAR Mark III
The brainchild of John Moses Browning’s grandson, Bruce, the BAR first hit the market in 1966, and they haven’t stopped rolling off the assembly line since. The BAR (which in a genius stroke of creativity stands for “Browning Automatic Rifle”) is one of the most prolific autoloaders in the civilian world.
The Mark III is the third generation of BAR and features a gas-operated system with a multi-lug rotary bolt. This booger is built like an absolute tank. In fact, that stout rotary bolt was one of the first made tough enough to handle modern magnum cartridges.
Despite its sturdy construction, the BAR Mark III is also quite the looker. Stunning walnut furniture and rich, blued steel make this a model you’ll be proud to hand down to your grandkids. Probably while muttering something about how “they just don’t make them like they used to”. Only Browning still does.
The BAR Mark III shoots fast and accurately and makes one helluva deer rifle.
Benelli is best known for its shotguns, but the company also puts out some top-notch rifles. The Benelli R1 is based on the same design as their M4 military shotgun. It features a gas-operated “short punch” system. The gas cylinder is positioned to accommodate a short operating rod.
Not only is the semi-auto design super reliable, but it also reduces felt recoil. If you find a .30-06 rifle a bit punchy in the recoil department, this gun will ease some of the hurt on your shoulder.
The smooth-as-butter action and reduced recoil allow you to fire off rapid-fire strings with surprising accuracy. If you need to pop a slew of wild swine congregating at a feeder, this rifle is a fine tool for the job.
In classic Italian style, the Benelli R1 perfectly blends the curves and angles of a modern autoloader into a fine piece of sophisticated craftsmanship. There is no more stylish way to bring home the bacon.
Ruger focuses on engineering everyday firearms for everyday Americans. Like the hardworking citizens of the good old U.S. of A, the Ruger American bolt-action rifle is an absolute workhorse.
First released in 2011, the American is a relative newcomer to the bolt-action scene, but like all things Ruger, it is rugged, reliable, and priced for the average Joe.
The Ruger American isn’t exactly dripping in sex appeal, but it is dripping in practicality. What it may lack in looks it more than makes up for in performance, featuring a customizable trigger, lightweight free-float stock, and a cold hammer-forged steel barrel.
While it’s hard to pin down the exact stats, somewhere between 91 million and 125 million Mauser M98 bolt-action rifles have been manufactured since 1898, most of them for military use. The only other rifle that even comes close to repping those numbers is the AK-47.
Mauser is still rolling these rifles off their assembly lines, and the modern versions aren’t all that different from the originals. There are also a ton of clones floating around out there, and since imitation is the highest form of flattery, that should speak volumes for the M98’s design.
In an age where we tend to worship progress and technology, the Mauser M98 endures for one very good reason – it freakin’ works.
Its controlled round feed bolt-action is super robust and easily handles high-pressure loads while offering well-above-average accuracy at longer ranges.
Not only are the Mauser M98s practical performers, but they are also exquisite works of art. Sure, a factory-fresh M98 will set you back five figures, but elegant lines, black plasma-nitrided steel, a stunning high-gloss wood stock, and an ultra-reliable firearm make these beauties worth every single penny.
While the .30-06 Springfield is definitely a classic, we don’t think this cartridge will ever go out of style. If you weren’t lucky enough to have one handed down by your grandad, you can set things right by handing down one of your own to your own grandkids. These rifles are sure to be relevant for at least the next 120 years.
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