In recent years it seems like we’ve seen an explosion (pun intended) of new rifle cartridges. Some of these are commercial adoptions of popular wildcat rounds, some are purposely developed by gun and/or ammunition manufacturers. I’m not immune to the wildcatting bug myself; I’ve long thought of having my favorite .30-06 rechambered to the .30-06 Ackley Improved, which gives .300 H&H Magnum ballistics while still allowing use of regular .30-06 factory loads.
For the most part, though, I’m a practical kind of guy, and most of my rifles are hunting rifles. While plenty of folks love to play with custom calibers, or line up to buy the first examples of the latest Eargesplitten Loudenboomer Magnum, I’m pretty content to stick with cartridges that have been around a while.
Now, admittedly, I’ve got quite a few more rifles than I need for just hunting North American big game, like buck mulies or big bull elk. I load for and shoot rifles in the .22 Hornet (developed in the 1920’s and adopted by Winchester in 1930), the .45-70 (developed 1873), the .338 Winchester Magnum (developed 1958), and the .30 WCF (developed 1895.)
Most of these cartridges are readily available in any large gun or sporting-goods store; hell, you can buy many of them in Wal-Mart, at least some kind of ammo to get you shooting. But when it comes to availability of ammo, you still can’t really beat the old .30-06 Springfield. The ’06 may be 109 years old, but it’s still one of the best big-game rounds going; if I know someone interested in learning the ins and outs of hunting and shooting who wants to buy a single rifle for North American big game, I advise them to buy a .30-06. It will easily handle anything from antelope to moose, although it may be a bit on the light side for big Alaskan bears and the largest bull Alaska-Yukon moose. But the ’06 has a huge advantage for those packing one gun across long distances, perhaps in airline checked baggage: If you lose your ammo supply somewhere en route, you can walk into almost any gas station, bait shop, or general store (there are still some around) and buy at least some kind of ammo that you can re-zero and get to work with.
The only other rifle cartridge that you can say that about it perhaps the old .30 WCF (.30-30, for those not familiar with the original name) and the trienta-trienta is popular enough from the Yukon to the Canal Zone, but not quite up to game like elk or moose. It’s strictly a 150-200 yard cartridge for deer-sized game.
I reckon the .30-06 will be around at least as long as I am. Rifle and cartridge design hasn’t changed all that much, overtly, in the last 100 years; most modern bolt-action rifles are adaptations of the 1898 Mauser, and scores of cartridges, wildcat and otherwise, are still based on the .30-06 case. What has advanced in the shooting world is metallurgy, ammunition propellants and projectiles, and optics. But a good case design is a good case design, which is why the .30-06 remains one old dog that’s learned lots of new tricks.