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30-06 Springfield

30-06

Standardized by the U. S. Military in 1906, after modifications to the earlier 1903 version and chambered in the Model of 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle; the 30-06 Springfield was and still is among the most powerful of Military battle-rifle chamberings.

Having been outclassed in both Military cartridge and rifle developments through the previous decades, at least some folks in the U. S. were determined to do better.  So, evidently lacking the money or expertise to do so on its own, Springfield Armory copied every important detail of the Mauser Model-98 rifle when developing the 1903 Springfield rifle.  And it copied the basic design of the 8mm Mauser cartridge.

In fairness to those involved, the potential of the U. S. Military to develop a competitive battle rifle and chambering had long been hampered by Congress, which, for many decades, had steadfastly refused to allocate any meaningful funding toward improving that portion of the U. S. arsenal.


So, an alternative view is entirely valid: The U. S. and folks at Springfield Armory realized just how nearly perfect the Mauser rifle design was and (especially after encountering the 7×57mm chambering in Cuba, in 1898), just how woefully behind the U. S. was in cartridge development.  They realized something had to be done.  But, also realized any significant deviation from what Mauser had done in both gun and cartridge design would likely be steps in the wrong direction.

So, while adopting the M-98 rifle design with few meaningful changes, the U. S. Military looked for a way to duplicate 8mm Mauser performance.

In a failed effort to equal 8mm Mauser performance the U. S. deliberately designed a case that was significantly longer than the 8mm Mauser case.

Mauser had used an existing blackpowder case of Swiss origin.  Mauser turned off the rim, possibly shortened the case, and necked it down to use a heavy round-nosed bullet.  The U. S. followed suit.

Starting with an existing blackpowder case of extremely similar diameter (it was entirely serendipitous that such a case existed), and making the same alterations, but necking it to 30-caliber — so it could use the same bullet used in the 30 U. S. Army round — almost certainly another example of a cost-driven decision — Springfield Armory ended up with a round it named the 30-03 Springfield* (30-caliber, adopted in '03, and Springfield Armory design).

Because Germany and much of Europe had access to significantly superior propellants in that era, the U. S. had to use a case with more capacity, to duplicate ballistics of the original 8mm load.  Then, in 1905, Germany adopted a 154-grain Spitzer load for the 8mm Mauser and used a newer, more efficient propellant.  With better propellant and a longer barrel on its rifle, the 1905 version of the 8mm load far outclassed the 30-03 load.  Once again, the U. S. was badly outgunned.

The performance advantage of the 8mm Mauser is easily explained: Germany had access to better propellant.  Better propellant meant better ballistics.  The same still holds.  For example, with the best propellant now available, I can load my original 30-06 Springfield to launch the 210-grain Nosler AB-LR bullet at 2700 fps without exceeding SAAMI specification pressure.  Compared to the original Military load, I am launching a 40% heavier bullet at the same velocity, essentially 100% of that advantage results from improved propellant efficiency.

The diamond-cut sheet propellant Germany used in the early 1900s was not quite as good as the best propellants we have today but it was close.  I do not know why those propellants were never used in the U. S. but I do know why propellants of that type fell out of favor in Europe: the system required to manufacture those involved significant mechanical handling.  That required more motors, more bearings, and more powered devices overall.  Each of those represented several locations where heat could build and temperature could rise; as such, each was a potential source of spots hot enough to ignite the inevitable propellant residue that would accumulate.  With enough such potential hot spots, predictably, this combination of factors resulted in the all-too-common disappearance of propellant factories.

(Today, we have the technology to monitor such procedures both directly and indirectly, which could well allow the return of propellants with this type of granule, while maintaining sufficient production safety to justify bringing these back into the mainstream because a potential performance advantage still exists.  For those who understand how progressive propellants work, the issue is, with this type of granule, it is dead-simple to deter the granules so progressivity reaches nearly 100% of granule combustion, which is infeasible with either ball-type or extruded propellants.  Progressivity through a greater percentage of granule combustion results in greater muzzle velocity, simple as that.)

Realizing it was, again, lagging ballistically, the U. S. followed Germany’s lead.  In 1906, it modified the 30-03 cartridge by shortening the neck and loading it with a 150-grain spitzer bullet at 2700 fps.  The case modification was necessary so the bullet with the longer ogive could be loaded to the same overall cartridge length without driving the base of the ogive below the case mouth.  Modification to the rifle involved only setting the barrel back one thread and rechambering to use the shorter case.  The designers dubbed the new cartridge, the 30-06 Springfield (30-caliber, '06 standardization, and Springfield Armory design).  They retained the ’03-Springfield name for the rifle.

Component improvements have allowed the 30-06 to continue to shine as an outstanding all-around hunting cartridge throughout its history.  When loaded with the best bullets and propellants, the 30-06 is still an excellent choice.

The 30-06 has won many long-range target matches.  While little considered today, when loaded with the best bullets and propellants, it is still a viable choice for long-range target shooting.  Click the following link to see a video showing the impact of a shot fired at 2046 yards from an original ’03 Springfield:

This shot was not a fluke.  With favorable wind conditions, it is no trick to keep shots inside a zone that would represent potentially terminal hazard to any combatant foolish enough to present a target at that distance.

* Mauser modified a Swiss blackpowder cartridge case, Springfield likely modified the longer of two versions of the 40-70 Ballard-Everlasting blackpowder case.  That case had the needed strength and was long enough.  Entirely by the vagaries of completely independent historical cartridge developments, base diameter was indistinguishable from the 8mm Mauser.

That nonsense you might have heard or read about Springfield literally copying Mauser’s case is another in an endless litany of campfire legends that started off as ignorant pontifications and grew into well-known and unassailable facts.  Yes, they looked for a way to do what Mauser had done; no, they did not simply stretch the 8mm case and neither did they make tooling to make such a case during the gun and load development phases.

Following the lead of Peter Paul von Mauser before them, the folks at Springfield Armory used an existing case they could easily modify for rifle testing and development.  This was far more logical: it was faster, easier, and potentially less expensive than designing a case and making tooling to produce such a case without knowing if that case design would do what needed to be done.

Base diameter of the two distinct case bodies being almost identical is nothing more than an historical accident; had either test case been somewhat larger or smaller in diameter, the resulting standardized cases we all know and love today would also be significantly different in diameter.

The 30-06 case has been the basis for perhaps more factory-standardized and wildcat chamberings than any other.  The case has been shortened to at least three common lengths.  Full-length factory-standardized versions exist in almost every caliber from 25 to 35.  Full-length wildcat versions exist in every caliber from 22 to 40.  Shortened versions of both wildcat and factory chamberings exist in every caliber from 20 to 35.

Heritage of the 30-06 case dates to the 1870s with the introduction of the 40-70 Ballard case.  Had that case been unavailable to the folks involved, likely they would have modified the oh-so-similar 40-90 Ballard case and the 30-06 would have a base diameter of 0.476-inch, instead of 0.470-inch — this merely highlights the vagaries of history.


The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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