What is the .30-06 cartridge and what keeps it one of America’s most popular hunting and competition rounds? We examine this .30-caliber military classic, break down why it has endured for over a century, and provide a selection of great “Aught Six” rifles.
In This Article:
.30-06 Rifle Comparison
Below is my list of the best .30-06 rifles for 2021. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of rifles.
|Bergara B-14 Hunter|
|Browning BAR Mark III|
|Springfield M1 Garand|
|Springfield Armory Model 1903|
|Mauser M18 in .30-06|
|Noreen Firearms BN36X3|
|Remington 700 ADL|
|Remington 783 Walnut 30-06 Bolt Action Rifle|
|Ruger American 30-06 Composite Stock Rifle|
|Ruger Hawkeye Hunter 30-06 Rifle|
|Savage Axis II XP 30-06 Rifle w/ Bushnell Scope|
|Winchester Model 70 in .30-06|
What to look for in a .30-06
1. Name Recognition
With a cartridge that has been around for so long, you want to look towards mature designs that, like the venerable 30-06, have passed the test of time.
It is not a surprise to anyone that the best rifles in this caliber have been around for almost as long, if not longer than, the round. Steer clear of those brands you haven’t heard of and make the smart choice to go with those who have long held a close association with the big Aught Six.
The rifle that the 30-06 was designed for, the M1903 Springfield, used a 24-inch barrel, and, literally, millions were made.
Doubling down on that, the infantry arm that replaced the M1903, the famed M1 Garand, also ran a 24-inch barrel. It was so accurate, reliable, and effective that Gen. George S. Patton wrote the Army’s Ordnance Department to tell them the M1 “is the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
Today, National Match competitions still use these same rifles.
Meanwhile, the almost de facto length seen on hunting rifles chambered in .30-06 run 22-inches. With that in mind, it is advisable to remain in that 22-24 inch “sweet spot” with 26-inchers an option for target/precision marksmanship guns. Running shorter risks losing velocity and sacrificing performance, so eschew so-called “Tanker” or “Bushmaster” length .30-06 builds.
When it comes to twist rates, both the M1903 and M1 used a 4-groove, 1:10 right-hand twist and this same rate has become common on the market for the caliber.
Be advised, however, that this was for 150-grain military ball rounds which is a good middle-ground, and some companies that make specialty barrels such as Krieger produce pipes with slower twists such as 1:11, 1:12, and 1:14 for use with lighter/shorter bullets.
Ever since the Mauser 98 style turn-bolt action was introduced, which cocked on opening via a camming effect and produced a rock-solid lockup when closed, variants and improvements of the action have abounded. The first production rifle that used the .30-06, the M1903 Springfield, was an unlicensed clone of the Mauser. Most of your popular bolt guns today– the Winchester 70s, Ruger 77s, Remington 700s, and so forth– are direct descendants of the same, with a strong lockup and cock-on-open design. There is a reason for this as such actions are reliable and tend towards great accuracy. We’ve picked out the best of these below.
When it comes to semi-auto 30.06s, the field narrows. The best-known of these is John Garand’s M1 Rifle, first introduced in 1936 and still much sought after these days. Lesser-known would be semi-auto 1918A3 BAR-style guns such as those made by Ohio Ordnance.
Other than that, there is Noreen, the only practical maker of an AR-style Aught Six.
The Best .30-06 Rifles Reviewed
World-renowned for their barrels, European-based rifle maker Bergara makes some of the finest hunting and competition guns on the planet.
When it comes to .30-06, their B-14 Hunter model, which weighs just over 7-pounds, comes standard with a 22-inch 4140 CrMo steel barrel with a 1:10 twist and is mounted in a molded synthetic stock.
All B-14 rifles are guaranteed to produce groups of 1.0 MOA or less at 100 yards with quality factory match-grade ammunition.
Browning’s current Autoloading Rifle, the BAR Mark II, has been around since the 1960s.
Other than the M1 Garand, it is possibly the best semi-auto .30-06 ever made in terms of reliability and has the benefit of a detachable magazine, something the Garand doesn’t.
Further, the BAR surpasses the utilitarian M1 in terms of looks, with the Safari models being particularly beautiful.
For those who prefer a more modern aesthetic, you can opt for the MK 3 series which uses alloy receivers and ergonomic synthetic stocks in a variety of flavors. All .30-06 BARs use a 22-inch barrel with a 1:10 twist rate.
3. M1 Garand
Over 5.4 million Garands were made for the U.S. military from 1936 through the 1950s, and the rifle remained in at least second-line service with the National Guard and others into the 1980s.
While most of that number has long ago been melted down, donated to overseas allies, sold via Guns.com or as surplus, the Civilian Marksmanship Program has stocks of these historic rifles on hand that they sell to the public. Although there is a bit of red tape involved, the CMP remains the best way to get one of these veteran guns in good condition.
Newer guns are also around, as Springfield Armory, Inc. produced assorted commemorative and shortened “Tanker” models that incorporated GI surplus parts with new furniture (both walnut and fiberglass camo), new barrels, and new receivers between 1979 and 2007. Maryland-based Fulton Armory currently makes similar rebuilds with USGI surplus receivers coupled with new furniture and parts. However, as such receivers have dried up, Fulton recommends picking up a high-mileage CMP gun and sending it to them for restoration.
4. M1903 Springfield
Upwards of 3 million M1903 variants were made from the 1900s through World War II. While some models were still in use as sniper rifles into the Korean war and others were kept around for use with honor guards and as line-throwing guns with the Coast Guard and Navy, much like the M1 Garand, stocks of these have long ago been liquidated.
The CMP doesn’t even have anymore, having sold the bulk of these old bolt-guns for around $349 in the 1990s.
As the days of this classic have come and gone, leaving most of the survivors in the hands of collectors, a few companies still market refinished models of the M1903. This includes James River Armory and Fulton Armory, both of which make guns largely using all new parts except for the actions, which are vintage USGI.
Gibbs even made a chopped-down M1903 they called the “Pig Buster,” complete with a flash hider and camo finished synthetic stock, which was sadly discontinued a couple of years ago. In the end, the M1903 in any format may be more of a safe queen than a useable rifle these days.
5. Mauser M18
While most of the bolt-action centerfire rifles on the market these days owe some sort of influence to the Mauser 98, the German-based gunmaker is still around and offers an affordable update to sportsmen around the world– the M18.
Featuring a cold-hammered barrel and an ultra-robust synthetic stock for hunting in extreme places, Mauser bills it as “The People’s Rifle” (Volksrepetierer) so it is only right that they have it available in .30-06, which by and large in the U.S. is the people’s champ.
6. Noreen Firearms BN36
Light and maneuverable for the most extreme tasks, Montana-based Noreen Firearms makes a modern .30-06-chambered AR-style battle rifle that weighs 8-pounds– coming in lighter than the famed M1 Garand.
Featuring a 1:10 twist 16-inch barrel in its carbine format (20-inch on rifle models), this direct gas impingement, side charging semi-automatic is also much more familiar to users born after 1945 than the old Garand, not to mention lighter on the thumb.
Finally, as Noreen offers a 20-round mag with the BN36, they are ready to rock with the same capacity as the old M1918 BAR.
7. Remington 700
With a legacy of Remmies like the M1917, Model 30, and others in the rearview the company’s evolution of the bolt action rifle eventually led them to the Model 700 by 1962 and, since then, something on the order of 8 million of these guns have been made– with .30-06 being one of the primary chambering running across all those guns.
Although Remington Outdoors went belly up last year, a respawned RemArms has arisen from the ashes, and “Big Green” in its latest format has six different .30-06 Model 700s in their pared-down catalog. These include the 700 CDL and CDL SF, the 700 SPS and SPS Stainless, 700 BDL, and 700 Long Range with the latter being our pick.
The Long Range comes standard with a 26-inch heavy-contour barrel, X-Mark Pro adjustable trigger, and a Bell and Carlson M40 tactical stock.
8. Remington Model 783 Walnut
An update of the Model 700 that Remington had developed in the 1980s to become the next evolution in their bolt gun lineup, the 783 is back in production and the American Walnut variant includes a 22-inch magnum contour barrel, a CrossFire user-adjustable trigger, and a detachable 3-round magazine.
9. Ruger American
Introduced a decade ago to offer an excellent modern bolt-action rifle design that comes standard with a two-stage Marksman adjustable trigger that is user adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds, a 4140 chrome-moly cold hammer-forged barrel, and a one-piece three-lug bolt with a 70-degree throw, the Ruger American series are also affordable.
The standard .30-06 model includes an ergonomic synthetic stock that keeps the weight down to 7.1-pounds, a one-piece Picatinny rail for optics, and a 22-inch 1:10 twist barrel. Ruger offers it with an included factory-installed Vortex Crossfire II scope as well.
10. Ruger Hawkeye Hunter
It doesn’t get much better in a factory .30-06 rifle than Ruger’s Hawkeye Hunter. Standard with an American walnut stock, stainless steel receiver with a hinged solid-steel floorplate and 20 MOA Picatinny rail; and a 22-inch 1:10 twist free-floated, cold hammer-forged stainless steel barrel with 5R Rifling, there’s not much left to ask for here.
11. Savage Axis II
One of the best values when it comes to a .30-06 that can deliver, the Savage Axis II series brings a 22-inch button-rifled barrel with a 1:10 twist to the field along with a rugged composite stock and user-adjustable AccuTrigger.
Known for their tack-driving accuracy despite an asking price in the $500 range, the Axis II also has “nice to have” features like a detachable box magazine, easy bolt removal for maintenance, and a light 7.3-pound weight.
12. Winchester Model 70
First introduced in 1936, the Winchester Model 70 has been in near-continuous production almost as long as the .30-06 itself.
So accurate that it was used by the Marines as a sniper rifle in Vietnam before the M40 was fielded, today’s Model 70 is “considered by many the superlative bolt action rifle of all time.” Current production long-action models chambered in 30.-06 include the Alaskan, the beautiful Super Grade, the light carrying Featherweight, and the rugged Extreme.
The latter includes a Bell and Carlson synthetic stock, a Pre-64 action, and a Tungsten Cerakote finished free-floating 22-inch 1:10 twist barrel.
History of the 30.06
Developed by the U.S. Army’s Springfield Arsenal as its first smokeless cartridge with a spitzer-type bullet for use with its then-new Mauser-style M1903 bolt-action rifle, the high-tech military round was officially dubbed “cartridge, ball, caliber .30, Model of 1906” when adopted.
This was soon shortened in use to the more lyric .30-06 Springfield, or just commonly the “Aught Six.” It remained Uncle Sam’s primary small arms cartridge for infantry rifles and light machine guns until the 7.62 NATO started to come online in the late 1950s.
With all those Great War Doughboys and WWII/Korean War GIs quickly falling in love with the powerful cartridge, and military surplus M1903s and M1917s then common on the market, game ranging from varmints to bear as well as targets out to 400 yards and beyond were soon being harvested by sportsmen freshly out of uniform.
Likewise, when Remington started selling consumer versions of the M1917, the Model 30, through their catalog and via local hardware stores in the 1920s, competitors soon jumped on the .30-06 bandwagon and the rest is history. Despite its age– over 115 years young at this point– the Aught Six remains one of the most popular sporting rounds in the country today.
The great thing about the 30-06 is that just about every ammunition maker in the world makes loads for the caliber. These range down to 100-grain light varmint style bullets to 220-grain solids meant for dangerous game. This effectively puts everything on the table, provided you have the right load.
The standard commercial loads, using 150-grain and 180-grain bullets in assorted hunting profiles, hit a velocity of 3,000 fps and 2,800 fps respectively.
While each load is different, the basic ballistics of those two most common ones, fired from 22-to-24-inch barrels, provide that the round shoots roughly flat to about 200 yards, then drops a foot by 300 and almost three feet by 400.
Accordingly, the military long considered the 450-yard mark as the practical envelope for accurate and effective hits using off-the-rack rifles and bulk pack ammo. There is a reason that the Garand Matches held across the country typically use a 200-yard maximum.
Skilled shooters who know their “dope” can run 600 yards or better in a chip shot, especially with match rounds, while 1,000-yard shots (that push almost two seconds to impact) are possible with practice, a talented marksman (ideally with a spotter) and dialed-in optics.
The 30-06 also has a lot of power, especially when compared to .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO, the round that replaced it in military service. With 150-180 grain bullets the Aught Six typically offers 100 fps more velocity than the .308 Winchester and only 200-250 fps less than the .300 Winchester Magnum.
Black-tipped .30-06 armor-piercing rounds penetrate 0.42 inches into 7/8 inch homogeneous armor at 100 yards, a standard that is still used for military plates today. At 300 yards, common bullet sizes still carry about 1,800 ft./lbs. of energy, comparable to most 5.56 NATO loads at the muzzle. That’s big medicine.
The .30-06 cartridge and the rifles that fire it are renowned as being one of the most versatile in the world when it comes to hunting applications.
Dialed down with lightweight bullets, it is capable of being a varmint gun or pest-control tool (think: feral hogs) while at the same time, with heavy loads, it can harvest any large game in North America.
Some, such as esteemed firearms writer and expert Colonel Jim Crossman, vouched for the Aught Six as a safari rifle back in the day. In military service, the cartridge was the standard rifle and light machine gun round for Uncle Same throughout both World Wars and the Korean War, proving itself three-fold.
While its days as the preferred cartridge at DCM and Service Rifle matches are waning, it is still popular.
Come to think of it, there is probably a shorter list of things the .30-06 can’t be used for.
The .30-06 may be popular and widespread, both in terms of ammo and rifles, but it is dated.
A lot of things have happened in terms of bullet theory since Teddy Roosevelt was President. Lots of light, unbelted magnums produce better energy transfer in a smaller package.
At the same time, the 6.5 Creedmoor and similar rounds have a much better ballistic coefficient than the downright chunky by comparison .30-06, which translates to exceptional, almost laser-like accuracy at distance.
Whereas you must work for a 1,000 yard shot with an Aught Six, you can pull down the same 1K standard with a generic $300 6.5CM running a $200 optic package right out of the box.
To many, the .30-06 is seen as an old man’s round whose day has come and gone.
With over a century behind it, the .30-06 may seem dated but it only seems that way. Since 1906, the evolutionary nature of bullet technology has kept the loads for the caliber competitive, and rifles chambered in it have never been out of production. It is still very relevant and can deliver, especially at ranges under 400 yards where it brings a lot of energy to the fight.
In conclusion, the famed hunter, soldier, and rifleman Townsend Whelen, who said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting,” also observed that, “The .30-06 is never a mistake.”
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