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A New Ruling for the .30-06 Sprg.

Loaded with today’s 150-grain bullets, the .30-’06 Sprg. is ready for big game from antelope to elk.


Every hunter who packs a .30-’06 Sprg. into the game fields knows that the traditional rule is to shoot 150-grain bullets while hunting game the size of deer and pronghorn antelope and to switch to 180-grain projectiles for larger game. However, with today’s controlled-expansion bullets, that rule may have to be changed to shooting only 150-grain bullets at big game from antelope to elk.

The result of my son’s elk hunt two years ago sealed the switch to lighter bullets for me. At first light, Brian spotted 20-plus elk moving across a sagebrush flat toward the timber above. As he hurried across the flat to intercept them, the elk crossed 200 yards below, and a six-point bull at the back of the bunch stopped to change directions. The boom of Brian’s first .30-’06 Sprg. shot was followed by a crack of the bullet hitting the elk in the shoulder. The second shot also hit the bull in the shoulder, and it fell.

The two Barnes 150-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullets had plowed through the lower part of both of the animal’s shoulder bones and stopped under the hide on its far side. Few obstacles are tougher on a bullet than elk bones. Yet both the recovered Triple-Shocks weighed 128 grains, shearing off two of their four petals. Their expanded frontal diameters were 0.575 inches and 0.770 inches with slightly more than half an inch of their shanks remaining intact—perfect!

The Benefit Of 150s
Shooters are obsessed with numbers because figures help make sense of the mystery of the variation between different bullets’ trajectory and terminal performance.

The trajectory advantage goes to 150-grain bullets in the contest between 150- and 180-grain bullets fired from the .30-’06 Sprg. The highest velocity I ever attained from a 150-grain bullet from a .30-’06 Sprg. with a 22-inch barrel was 3,080 fps. The top speed from a 180-grain bullet was 2,770 fps. At those speeds, and with both bullets sighted in 2-inches high at 100 yards, the difference in drop between 150- and 180-grain bullets is 2.82 inches at 300 yards, 5.73 inches at 400 yards and 9.69 inches way out at 500 yards. That’s a significant advantage for the 150s at 400 yards. At 500 it’s more theoretical because nobody should shoot at an unwounded big-game animal that far away.

The 150-grain bullets also pretty well carry the same energy as 180-grain bullets. The 150s actually pack about 100 ft.-lbs. more energy at the muzzle than do the 180s. At 200 yards, the 180s do nudge ahead in the energy department; however, at 500 yards that additional power is only 87 ft.-lbs. in the 180’s favor.

But foot-pounds of energy do not kill big game. A bullet’s ability to halt the function of an animal’s vital organs is what dependably kills big game. That’s where today’s 150-grain bullets shine.

As You Like
An assortment of 150-grain bullets is available to provide a lethal punch. Ordinary bullets with lead cores and copper-alloy jackets work just fine on deer and antelope. Bullets like the Sierra flat-base spitzer (Pro-Hunter), Hornady InterLock, Remington Core-Lokt and other similar cup-and-core bullets fired from the .30-’06 Sprg. have filled freezers with venison for decades. I put a .30-’06 Sprg. Winchester factory-loaded 150-grain Power Point bullet clear through an antelope buck last fall, and with minimal meat damage.

A bullet design that controls and/or limits upset upon impact is a good idea for shooting larger game. Bullet manufacturers achieve this performance several ways.

Swift’s A-Frame and Nosler’s Partition incorporate a dividing wall in the bullets to stop expansion about halfway down their length. Plus the A-Frame’s front core is bonded to the jacket.

If maximum expansion and high weight retention are desired, bullets with the lead core and copper or copper-alloy jacket bonded together are the best choice. Examples of this include the Hornady InterBond, Nosler AccuBond and Swift Scirocco. I shot a bull elk broadside through both lungs a few years ago with my .30-’06 Sprg. loaded with 150-grain Swift Sciroccos. The elk staggered a few steps on rubbery legs and fell over. The Scirocco had destroyed both lungs and stopped against the hide on the far side. The bullet had mushroomed nearly flat to a diameter of 0.715 inches, yet retained 135 grains of its original weight.

The deep-penetrating bullets are of uniform composition constructed with a hollow forward section with lengthwise scores and a solid shank. When the petals on these bullets peel open along their path through an animal, their expanded front portion is quite large; however, their long shank remains intact to keep the bullet plowing through the animal. A few of these bullets include the all-copper Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet, and the gilding metal (95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc) Hornady GMX and Nosler E-Tip.

Preston Bunker of Barnes Bullets says many hunters are choosing the Barnes Tipped Triple-Shock X-Bullet because its plastic tip helps initiate bullet expansion at longer range somewhat better than the original Triple-Shock’s hollow point. “Besides,” he added, “that sharp plastic tip looks cool.” Not to mention, the tip increases the ballistic coefficient for flatter trajectories and less wind deflection.

A variety of propellants work well for handloading the .30-’06 Sprg. with 150-grain bullets. Propellants listed in the Select Loads chart fairly well-filled the Nosler cases and were compressed when the bullets were seated. Holding a propellant charge in a fixed position like that provides a more even burn to the powder that results in lower variation in velocity. The velocities of the loads recorded in the chart had standard deviations of 20 with IMR4350, 16 with Norma URP, 10 with W760 and 9 with Ramshot Hunter. Relatively fast-burning propellants such as IMR4064 and H-4895 fail to completely fill a case and slosh around, settling any which way and resulting in a wider spread of velocity.

Because of the Nosler E-Tip’s long bearing surface, Nosler states the E-Tip bullets should be initially loaded with the starting load listed in the “Nosler Reloading Guide 6” and to not exceed the middle load given for other Nosler bullets of the same weight. Using a middle load of 55.0 grains of Ramshot Big Game, the 150-grain E-Tips had an average velocity of 2,864 fps at a distance of 9 feet from the muzzle of the 22-inch-barreled Browning X-Bolt rifle. That speed is about 70 fps slower than other Nosler bullets and the same powder charge fired from a 24-inch barrel.

I usually seat bullets for hunting rounds about 0.05 inches from contacting the rifling. That bullet seating depth typically provides good accuracy and always assures that an unfired cartridge will easily extract from the chamber. Barnes suggests that amount of bullet setback for its Triple-Shocks. Nosler suggests seating E-Tip bullets in cases 0.050 to 0.100 inches short of contacting the rifling lands for the best accuracy. I split the difference and seated the E-Tip 150s 0.070 inches from contact. That cartridge length—3.28 inches—provided good accuracy with the E-Tips.

Hunters should amend the unwritten law they’ve obeyed for years and try 150-grain bullets in the .30-’06 for all big game. They’ll be glad they did when they see how effectively these bullets work on game from antelope to elk.

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10 Responses to A New Ruling for the .30-06 Sprg.

Cameron Welch wrote:
September 27, 2014

Maybe someone can answer this, using the same brand of ammo in 30-06 but with 3 shots of 150 grain and 3 shots of 180 grain in a Marlin XL7 at a target at only 50 yards I had the following results. Two overlapping clover leafs holes intersecting. Both ran vertically on a centerline running straight through the bull, however the 150 were dead on the bull and the 180 were 5' lower, yes 5' lower at 50 yards. Later I repeated and got virtually identical results why the huge differential at only 50 yards, am I going mad?

Edward wrote:
August 04, 2014

I like what Dan wrote. The 30-06 normally does not shoot the 180 fast enough. My minimum load in my magnums for the 180 nosler partition is 2925 fps. Long range shooting takes a lot of skill which most shooters do not have. My range has 200 yard targets from concrete benches and I see the average results that are often not good. My average long shot in Texas is 245 yards. The 180 knocks the game down like a tank in one shot and this includes large hogs. I have helped several hunters track and kill their wounded game. I have fired so many heavy rounds that I do not notice the recoil anymore.

Kurtu wrote:
August 01, 2014

There's little doubt that a well constructed 150 grain bullet put in the right spot CAN do the job. The question is WHY would you choose to use a 150 instead of a similar quality 180? The 180 will penetrate farther, especially when encountering heavy bone. The only argument for the 150, 'it shoots flatter', is more theoretical than practical and any advantage is offset by training!

Jeff wrote:
June 28, 2014

I think with today's bullet technology in factory ammo like the barnes triple shock, federal fusion, or nosler partition, we have a greater range of caliber selection to choose from on deer and elk size game and we get back to what's most important in hunting, good marksmanship which insures clean kills, not calibers.

Dan wrote:
May 21, 2013

As an outfitter, I can not condone hunting elk with a 30-06 with 150 grain bullets. The 180 grain bullets have greater sectional density and thus considerably better penetration for cleaner kills. The trajectory between the 150 grain bullets and 180 grain bullets is mute at responsible hunting ranges. If you are shooting at elk past 300 yrds with a 30-06, you need to get an education in ballistics... and ethics. The poster that stated that 180 grain bullets for elk "is junk" is clearly ignorant in the dynamics of terminal performance... and hopefully has not influenced any novice hunters.

Jeff wrote:
September 12, 2012

That stuff about 180 grain bullets for elk and big game like that is junk. The 150 grain bullets give you the best ballistics out of the .30-06 (easily rivaling a lot of 7mm Rem. Mag loadings), with lighter recoil than the 180 and 220 grain bullets.

RL wrote:
July 14, 2012

I have a Remington model 7400 that was my high-school graduation gift. Although I have killed more bucks than I can remember using 150 grain core locked remington ammo. The best I could ever get on paper was basically 10 inches with hits all over inside that 10 in. Circle. It was when doing research for an AR 15 that I learned about barrel twist and bullet weight. Than I bought some 165 grain ammo federal fusion to be exact. It was an eye opener and the first time I was able to hit multiple bullseyes. I was in awe and after a couple of shots I got the gun to shoot 1.5-2 in. groups. I always shot the 150s with success while hunting but at the range it was an embarrassing experience. I agree with the article however with my gun its 165s for now on. Hopes this helps any model 7400 owners out there that have a hard time getting on paper.

Bill Miller wrote:
January 24, 2012

I live in Alabama, with most shots being under 100 yds. I load accelerator sabots with 55 gr. 243 bullets for target, loaded for under 3000 fps. And 30-30 bullets at specs for that round. I don't need all the power a std. 30-06 round has, and it shoots about like a .243 or 30-30. For varmints and deer it is adequate. Almost like having three different rifles.

GP wrote:
November 19, 2010

I have developed super accurate and excellent hunting loads for the 06 using the Speer HotCor 150gr with H4895 in 3 rifles. My Dad's 03A3 can shoot 1/2" 5 shot groups at 100 yds and have had one shot kills since 1976. A 1971 Model 70 has shot 9/16" center to center at 185 yds. A Rem. 700BDL (vintage 1975) has shot 1.25" 5 shot groups at 100 yds. Lots of different powder/bullet combinations have been tried, but this combo has been best by far. Also, expansion tests with competitors lead core bullets resulted in almost 100% separations, while the Speer HorCor suffered not one. These recoveries numbered approximately 100 total between Speer, Hornady, Sierra, Power Point, and Corelokt. I assume this is the reason for the bullet revolution amongst the manufacturers.

Hopalong - OK wrote:
October 04, 2010

I shoot the 30-06 Springfield exclusively, and have that 150 gr round in 2 different rifles: Rem 700 BDL and Rem 760. Both do very well on Whitetails, & have been totally sold on the 150 gr for what ever I hunt. I feel the only advantage is with elk, to use a different bullet, like the Triple-Shock X that was talked about could be best there vs a Horbady Interlock that I like to use for Whitetails. However, I am going to use the Triple this year on Whitetials, so I'll get to see if it's any different than the 225 yd drop-in the tracks with the Interlock that I got a few yeats ago. Thanks for the story on the elk, and it has told me what to use if I ever get to hunt them - For Sure!!