A gun cartridge developed by Springfield Armory for the M1903 bolt action rifle.

The cartridge carries a 7.62 millimetres (0.30 inches) bullet in a 63 mm long case.

With the adoption of the M1903 rifle, a new cartridge was also adopted. The cartridge designed for the rifle featured a rimless bottlenecked case, and a round nosed 220 grain bullet, advertised at 2,300 feet per second muzzle velocity.

In 1906 (hence the -06 -- a cartridge carrying a .30 inch bullet adopted by the army in 1906), the United States adopted a lighter spitzer bullet of 150 grains and a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second. The maximum range for the new cartridge, now designated the M1906, was found to be between 3,300 and 3,400 yards, with the muzzle of the rifle at an angle between 29 and 45 degrees.

The .30-06 is well suited for larger game like elk / moose and even bear.

Aka the Thirty Aught Six Springfield, this cartridge was the thirty caliber cartridge that was adopted for use in the M1 Garand back in 1906, hence the '06. Aught Six came from "Naught Six" which meant the numbers zero and six.

It is a semi-rimmed cartridge that fired a 166 grain bullet at about 2850 fps. Different bullet weights and load levels are also available.

Now no longer a NATO adopted round, the 30-'06 continues to serve as a fine hunting round and all purpose big bore rifle caliber.

Some high powered rifle matches even have a special category for people who like to compete using a M1 Garand which fires the 30-'06.

The 30-'06 is much more powerful than the current NATO 30 caliber round which is the 7.62mmx51 and has a NIJ threat level rating of IV which is the highest threat level. The 7.62mmx51 is rated at threat level III.

Be aware that caliber nomenclature does not make any sense and that the cartridge 30-30 means something else entirely. The first 30 does mean the caliber but the second means that it is a cartridge that is loaded with 30 grains of black powder. Like I said, caliber nomenclature does not make any sense.

We all have the 30-'06, the M1 Garand, and the brave men who wielded them to thank for the freedom (well, at least we aren't under Nazi rule or jap rule for that matter) that we have today.

Up to the early 1890's, there had only been two cartridges designed (and deployed) by the United States Army. This first was the .50-70 Government (1868), the second was the .45-70 Government (1873). Both were black powder rounds -- the .50-70 mainly seeing use in Trapdoor Springfields and the .45-70, in addition to the Trapdoors of its day, seeing use in single shot black powder rifles, such as the (Browning designed) Winchester "High Wall" and Remington "Rolling Blocks".

And then there was smokeless powder. Advances had been made in chemistry such that we no longer needed to use the rather dirty burning and corrosive black powder anymore. When there is such an advance in the propellants used for cartridges, it is time to make a new cartridge. No army wants to be left using yesterday's toys. Even so, there were some cartridges that could cross the gap and become smokeless cartridges (such as the .45-70 and the .30-40 Krag, for instance), but the majority fell by the wayside. The working pressures of smokeless v. black powder is such that even if you can still use the same dimension case as previously with black powder, you will most often need a new gun to fire it; else, the pressure is too great and will force an explosion from the weaker steel which was appropriate for black powder.

The first smokeless powder round designed for the Army was the .30-40 Krag (1892). And it was fairly successful, but something still better was needed. That something better was the .30-06. This is the cartridge that would one day kill Martin Luther King Jr.

Development was put underway by the military to come up with a new round for its armed forces. The Springfield Armory was given the task of coming up with a new round that used the new smokeless powder in a .30 caliber (really .308") that would kill quickly and with a minimum amount of recoil. One of the weaknesses of the Krag was that the velocity was not significant enough, and not enough velocity means not as many sure kills. So that was the one thing to work on. Initially, it seems, the cartridge was designed to emulate some of the German Mauser cartridges- notably the 7mm version, seen by the Americans during the Spanish American War. The American version differed from its German brother in that it had a rimless case (meaning the case head, or where the firing pin strikes the primer in the case to make it go "boom" was no larger than the body of the case) and an extracting ring was cut into the grove of the base of the cartridge body to facilitate the quick removal and reliable feeding in the firearm. This first attempt was dubbed the "1903" and in fact, many rifles were chambered for it. It worked well, though it was loaded with too heavy a bullet which in turn generated too much pressure. More testing was needed. The bullet weight was reduced from 220 grains to 150 grains and the case was augmented slightly. The speed increased to 2,700 fps (up from 2,200) as a result of these changes. Recoil was minimized. These finishing touches were completed in 1906. Hence the name: .30 caliber, model 1906. Or, as we know it today, the .30-06 Springfield. In the vernacular, it is simply called the "aught six".

Having stood the test of time nearing a century of usage, two World Wars, a host of other military actions and a strong fan base in the civilian target and hunting market, it is quite possible that it is the .30-06 which can account for the most death and destruction of any cartridge produced. A strong title for something so small.

Specifications:

  • Overall Case Length: 2.494".
  • Bullet Size Accommodated: anywhere from 150-200 grain bullets can be used.
  • Standard Load: A 165 grain bullet can travel up to 2,800 fps.
  • Known uses: hunting medium to large game, long range ("fullbore") target matches, machine gun ammunition. Was once standard rifle ammunition for the US Army.


Source:
Reloading Manual #10, For Rifle and Pistol. Speer. 1979.

The .30-06 cartridge continued to evolve in U.S. military use after the period described by minnow's excellent writeup above. When it was first introduced into military service, the cartridge was designated the M1906. This served up until the mid 1920s. At that point, several U.S. machine guns had been deployed which used the .30-06; however, it was found that the range of the M1906, fired from machine guns, was short of most other nations' frontline machine guns. As a result, a new variant of the cartridge was developed which had a different bullet. The new round, designated M1 Ball, had a boat tailed spitzer bullet of 174 grains, which fired at approximately 2,700 feet per second. The improved aerodynamics and increased weight of the bullet pushed the maximum range of the round out to approximately 5,000 yards. However, the rapid firing of the new round in machine guns also exposed the fact that the jacket metal, which was the same as on the M1906, a mixture of nickel and copper, was found to cause bore fouling. Accordingly, a new 'gilding metal' was used to jacket the bullet - a mixture of copper and zinc - which reduced fouling significantly.

As new stocks of M1 Ball were built up, older M1906 rounds were preferentially used for military training. Eventually, in the 1930s, M1 Ball began to be issued for training purposes, and it was discovered that the M1 Ball's long range was in fact too long for use on most training ranges. As training ammunition consumption began to rise with the introduction of the semi-automatic M1 Garand, a new round was ordered.

The M2 Ball round lowered the bullet weight to 152 grains (almost back to the 150 of the original M1906) and reverted to a flat base bullet rather than the boat tail. Although it had a higher muzzle velocity of approximately 2,810 feet per second, these changes reduced the maximum range of the bullet from 5,000 to approximately 3,500 yards, which was deemed an improvement.

World War II was fought with the M2 Ball round and its variants (tracer, armor piercing, incendiary). Surplus ammunition from this period can still be found and purchased on the open market, although for shooting, it is better to seek out later production years of M2 Ball (after approximately 1952) as the military switched from corrosive primers to non-corrosive chemicals around that time, and it is easier on your rifle. To determine the headstamps of 'safe' ammunition, see this guide at the Civilian Marksmanship Program.

Sources:

Thompson, Leroy. The M1 Garand. Osprey Publishing: Oxford UK, 2012.
Johnson, Melvin Maynard and Haven, Charles Tower. Ammunition: its history, development and use, 1600 to 1943. William Morrow: New York, 1943. p. 109.

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