Some time back, I stumbled across a column about the gun issue by a scribe I read regularly and always enjoy. But in a comment regarding the relative power of rifle rounds, he described the venerable .30-06 as “one of the most powerful rounds in existence.”
Now, I’m not going to name the columnist nor link to the column here; that’s not my purpose. He has, though, fallen afoul of something that a lot of Tacticool aficianados trip up on, and that’s focusing solely on the AR and AK platforms, the M-1A and M1 rifles, and sometimes the various military bolt guns like the Springfield, Mosin-Nagant, SMLE and the various Mausers. In other words, current and recent military-style and military-inspired, or as I’m fond of describing them, “Tacticool.” That’s all great, if that’s what you’re into, and I can see why having that as your primary experience would lead to one thinking that the wonderful, versatile .30-06 is “one of the most powerful (rifle) rounds in existence,” when it probably isn’t even in the top 50%. There are plenty of sporting rifle rounds that are far, far more powerful than the .30-06; I have a couple in my own safe. So, in today’s post, let’s look at some of these rounds, and compare relative power levels.
Disclaimer: I have a .30-06 in the safe now, and have owned several more. I dearly love this round; it’s versatile, easy to shoot well, easy (as anything is nowadays) to find ammo for, and properly loaded and handled, is adequate for any critter on the North American continent.
First, let’s look at the basic stats for the AR-15 platform’s usual load, the 5.56mm round, and compare it to the AK’s 7.62x39mm and the venerable .30-06. Note: MV = Muzzle Velocity, ME = Muzzle Energy.
|5.56mm 55 grain M193||3240||1282|
|7.62×39 123 gr spitzer||2300||1445|
|.30-06 150 gr spitzer||2910||2820|
Looking at that, if the first two rounds are your primary basis of comparison, I can see how you might think that the .30-06 rolls out some pretty impressive power levels, and in this perspective, it does; the standard mil-spec loads for the venerable old Cartridge, Rifle, Caliber .30, Model of 1906 are pretty tough stuff put up against a typical AR or AK-platform round. And, yes, most standard police/military vests are weaksauce when taking on an ’06 round. But how does the ’06 stack up against some sporting cartridges that are in wide use? And bear in mind I’m not comparing the latest, hottest Eargesplitten Loudenboomer Ultra Magnums that the gun magazines seem to monthly tout; these are rounds that have been in wide use in the game fields for decades.
Let’s compare that to a couple rounds that I shoot and load for regularly: The .338 Winchester Magnum and the .45-70 Government.
|.338 Win Mag 265 Grain LRX||2800||4200|
|.45-70 Government 405gr FN||1680||2274|
Note that the .45-70 load I cite here is the standard, original black-powder spec load, and so the velocity and energy are low, lower than the .30-06, although I can tell you from personal experience that those big, flat-nose bullets pack a pretty good wallop inside of 150 yards or so and will put down a big, corn-fed Midwestern whitetail right the hell now. But look at the .338 load, this being the load I’m running through my own Thunder Speaker right at the moment; that one comes pretty close to matching the .30-06 on velocity but, due to the heavier slug, produces almost a ton more muzzle energy, almost quadruple the 5.56 round.
To finish up, let’s really turn up the pressure: Here are the stats for the grand old .375 Holland & Holland Magnum and the .458 Winchester Magnum.
|.375 H&H 270-grain solid||2690||4340|
|.458 Win Mag 500 gr solid||2090||4850|
While the .375 H&H is a rung or two up the ladder from my .338 handloads, it’s in the same ball park. But the .458 Win Mag? That’s an elephant-stopper, made as a dangerous game round, turning in almost two and a half tons of energy at the muzzle.
Sporting rifle cartridges, as you can see, routinely turn in some pretty impressive ballistics, compared to the 5.56mm and 7.62x39mm rounds, and if you consult the benchmark work on such things – that being W. Todd Woodward’s annual Cartridges of the World –you’ll see that there are many, many such cartridges in standard production, and even more in the obsolete, proprietary and wildcat realms.
There’s a good reason for this. Mil-spec rifle cartridges aren’t necessarily designed to kill, RHEEEEing by would-be gun-grabbers notwithstanding. They are primarily designed to allow the individual soldier to carry a good supply (I wouldn’t prefer to carry around seven thirty-round mags full of .45-70 loads) and, when applied as intended, to take an enemy soldier out of action.
Sporting rounds, on the other hand, are designed to kill – animals that are, quite often, bigger and tougher than humans. And those kills are often made at some distance; shots out to 300 yards are not all that unusual. (My personal record is a 280-yard shot on a Colorado mulie, and yes, that was with Thunder Speaker.) More to the point, sporting rounds are designed to deliver a quick, clean, humane kill, which means one must, as Robert Ruark so famously put it, “use enough gun.”
Modern military cartridges are not in the same ball park as anything much past mid-range when it comes to sporting rifle cartridges. It’s very nearly a difference of kind, rather than a difference of degree; the difference when you’re comparing some of the tougher loads is in orders of magnitude.