July 17, 2012
A while back I wrote a piece on rifle cartridges and in it I kinda dissed the venerable .30-06. Specifically, I called it boring. Now I want to apologize to the cartridge and its legion of fans.
Why the change of heart? It started with my experience at FTW ranch and the launch of the Ruger American, which I detailed here a few weeks back. I gained a new appreciation for the cartridge down there in the Texas Hill Country. But it was a job-related decision I made a few weeks ago that made me realize I was becoming a convert.
Once or twice a year I request test ammo from manufacturers, stuff I use to test new rifles and scopes — and, of course, the ammo itself as I always try to get the newest loads. After looking in my cabinet, I realized I was nearly out of .30-06, and since I have a couple '06s in the safe that I use to varying degrees for testing and for the occasional hunt, I realized I needed more.
That's when I dove into various ammo firms' websites and started looking at loads. And while I always knew the .30-06 has probably the widest array of load options of any cartridge, man, once you really jump into it, you don't realize how extensive that is.
Over the next few weeks the ammo arrived, and at about the same time I got an excellent opportunity to test the new Nosler 48 Professional. Now here was a chance to shoot some cartridges I'd never shot extensively before or even at all — cool stuff like the 7x57, .280 Ackley, 6.5-.284 Norma, .257 Roberts — along with old favorites of mine such as the .308 and .25-06.
But what I requested was the .30-06 because I've come to realize the .30-06 is the perfect test platform for a hunting rifle. One, it's going to be one of the most-ordered cartridges in any offering, so if the manufacturer can't get its '06 right, well, that doesn't bode well for the gun. Two, and probably more important, the .30-06 has just the right amount of recoil. Now don't get me wrong: I'm a recoil wimp, and I much prefer cartridges such as the .25-06, 7mm-08 and 6.5 Creedmoor for shooting off the bench and in the field when they're an appropriate choice. But you can tell a lot more about stock design, balance and overall handling with a cartridge with a little more oomph. Not being a masochist, I see no need to step up to a 7mm mag or a .300 to judge this. The .30-06 allows me to get a sense of a rifle but still enables me to break good shots over the two days it takes me to accuracy- and function-test a rifle.
Will I always pick an '06 when I order a test rifle? No. That would indeed get boring. But when push comes to shove, it's always going to be one of the first options I consider.