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America's Best Deer Cartridge: .30-06

The .30-06 has also proven itself to be very accurate in many different rifles, and is chambered by the major riflemakers in everything under the deer hunting sun.

8/3/2010AHI Exclusive

Choosing the best overall deer hunting cartridge is like asking a man if he prefers blondes, brunettes or redheads. The proper response, of course, is “Yes!”

So, too, it is when choosing the ultimate deer hunting cartridge in America. There are so many good answers, and so few wrong ones. However, we can choose only one, and so there are many factors to consider. Does the cartridge have enough power to cleanly kill a deer? Is it accurate enough to consistently hit the animal where you want it to? Is the recoil manageable? Can you find ammunition easily and at reasonable cost?

While there is a truckload of cartridges that will cleanly take deer-sized game, there is a reason the top six deer cartridges in America, in terms of factory ammunition sales, for decades have been the .30-06, .270 Win., .30-30 Win., .308 Win., .243 Win. and 7 mm Rem. Mag.

The biggest factor in selecting the right cartridge is where you hunt the most. If you hunt in thick woods country, a short-barreled rifle offering a quick second shot chambered for a cartridge shooting a relatively slow .300-.358-inch bullet just might be the ticket. Conversely, someone who hunts the open prairies of the West, large bean fields or steep canyon country may be best served by a long-barreled bolt-action rifle chambered for a cartridge shooting a fast .243-7 mm bullet designed for long-range sniping.

That’s why my choice for the top overall deer hunting cartridge in America remains what is has been for nearly four decades—the timeless, versatile .30-06 Sprg. Here’s why.

Ammo for the ’06 can be found in virtually every store in America that sells rifle ammunition, at a reasonable cost. All the major ammunition makers offer several different .30-06 loads. The range of available bullets is amazing, going all the way from 110- to 220-grains. Most deer hunters choose between 150-, 165- and 180-grain bullets ranging from the old-style Remington Core-Lokt and Winchester Power Point, to some of the “improved” old-style bullets like the Core-Lokt Ultra, to one of today’s wide array of “premium” bullets that feature polycarbonate tips, partitions, bonded core construction or homogenous construction of solid copper. And .30-06 recoil is manageable for virtually all deer hunters.

The ballistics of the .30-06 are also ideal for most deer hunting, from thick woods and brush to the open country of the West. Essentially, if you sight in a 150- or 165-grain bullet to hit 2.5-3-inches high at 100 yards you can hold dead on any deer from one hiding just a few steps away to standing broadside at 300 yards, and hit the vital zone while generating more than our baseline of 1,000 ft./lbs. of kinetic energy delivered at the target. The .30-06 has also proven itself to be very accurate in many different rifles, and is chambered by the major riflemakers in everything from fast-handling semi-autos and lever actions, to bolt-action rifles designed for precision long-range shooting.

Thankfully, I do not have to do all of my hunting with just one rifle or one caliber. Over the years, I have taken deer with cartridges ranging from the .223 Rem. to the .375 H&H Mag. But if I had to choose just one and hunt with it from Alaska to Alabama, California to the Carolinas, it would be an accurate bolt action topped with a 2.5-10X scope chambered for the .30-06 Sprg.

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18 Responses to America's Best Deer Cartridge: .30-06

Joe Lincecum wrote:
December 29, 2014

30-06 is THE caliber tohave for the one gun hunter. I have rifles in various calibers with 3 06's. The 30-06 is never a mistake.

loren wrote:
November 04, 2014

The 3006 is indeed one of the greatest cartridges ever. Of course many more great cartridges exist, but the classic 3006 cab be relied on by even the most novice hunter to get the job done. Grab some bonded 180s and your good for virtually all of the Americas.

Fl.Neil wrote:
November 29, 2013

At 70Yr-o I have used just about every Caliber from 25/35 to 30/06 luv it but, I found the 7mm/08 to be the best choose for Fl, Deer. The 06 is just the ticket for our Hogs with the 165Gr Rem Core-Lokt out of my Rem 742, If your a one Gun Hunter the 30/06 is the way to go.

PA Mike wrote:
November 03, 2013

Bought a Winchester model 70 Featherweight 30-06 10yrs ago put the Nikon Buckmaster on it and love it, use for deer in the national forest have dropped deer at 20 to 200 yards no thoughts on changing great cartridge

derek wrote:
October 31, 2013

I killed my first deer with a marlin 30-30 lever action but now that I am older I shoot a remigton model 7600 30-06 pump and I have never had a deer take another step my buddy shoots a 300 win mag I mean it blog ws the deer off there feet but it kicks like a mule I would choose a 30-06 over any gun any day and I shoot the 150 grain remigton core loks there the badest mushroom in the woods

Wayne wrote:
August 18, 2013

I have a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight chambered in 30-06. I love it and its always going to be my favorite go to deer rifle.

Jaeger62 wrote:
February 23, 2013

Have had my Browning A-Bolt .30-06 for over 20 years. It's killed more more deer than I can count and also showed versatility with an elk and antelope. Great round.

bradley colley wrote:
February 18, 2013

ii think the 3006 pump is the best deer hunting rifle it is accurate and powerfull if u use 1 I think the best bulletsto use for it is 150 grain core lokt

Kevin wrote:
February 15, 2013

I've been using the 150 grain 30-06 ammo to take down deer in upstate NY most of my life. Love the '06!

Charlie wrote:
January 01, 2013

I ordered my new Winchester Model 70 in 30-06. It'll be topped with a Nikon Buckmaster 3x9 BDC. Really looking forward to taking some deer this November in Missouri.

Paul wrote:
December 28, 2012

I just biught. Weatherby vanguard 30-06. Can not wait to take ir hunting . I have used a .243 last fo. Years taken two small deer that biyh droped but I'm un kansas now and deer are huge.

steven mccreight wrote:
August 08, 2012

As a kid I hunted with the 308 my dad always used the 30/06. I have taken two nice bucks and they drooped in there tracks. This year Im putting down the 308 and picking up the old 06 again and its safe to say its the gun I'm sticking with.

Eagle Rider wrote:
June 27, 2012

Love the 30-06. Its a timeless round and the standard by which all else is judged. I deer hunt in the northeast. My favorite combo's are RL19 with a 180 Speer HotCor in a semi-auto 7400 or 150 gr Nosler BT's in a bolt or single shot Encore Rifle. I've never had a deer take a second step with either. The 30-06 with the 180 gr Speer's is such a sweet deer round you can eat right up to the entrance wound.

Dillion wrote:
October 12, 2011

I shoot a 35. Marlin lever action, but i would like to have a 06 mostly because i live in wisconsin and i'd like to have a gun with longer range.

Bob wrote:
March 18, 2011

150 grain bullet over 45 grains of H414. I have never had a deer run after getting hit with that formula. My choice for just one deer rifle or just one hunting rifle in general. Thank you Mr. Robb for reminding us that at the very least the .30-06 is still a most excellent round in spite of the plethora of newer fad ammo.

Rick wrote:
February 01, 2011

I hunt with .308 but have no problem with the view expressed about the 30-06. There are other choices but none really better than the 06

Dale wrote:
November 18, 2010

The .308 would be my choice for a one gun for deer. Less recoil (then a 30-06) but, plenty of power and can be chambered in a short action rifle. Single shot, bolt action, semi-auto, or pump action you have a wide choice. Also you can shoot military (7.62X51) surplus ammo.

Mike wrote:
September 06, 2010

While the 30-06 is a very good cartridge it woulnd't be my choice for an only rifle for deer. If I could have only one rifle for all hunting the 30-06 would probably be my rifle of choice though. I currently have 2 deer rifles, a .270 Winchester and a 7x57 Mauser. I use 130 grn in the .270 and 140 in he Mauser. If I had to choose between my .270 and my 7x57 the 7x57 would win that battle.