The .30-06 Springfield started life as a combat round for the U.S. Military, but it has fully etched its place in history as the ideal big game hunting cartridge. The round has the speed, range, and power to bring down most North American big game animals quite efficiently. Modern rifle ammunition manufacturing techniques have only increased the effectiveness of the round here in the 21st century. We’ve already talked about the best .30-06 rifles on the market, and how it stacks up against inevitable comparisons between this round and the short action .308. Today we’re focusing solely on our top picks for .30-06 Springfield ammo.
Because we know that .30-06 ammo is suited well for reloading enthusiasts, but there are also hunters out there who don’t have the time or the extra funds to invest in that type of a setup. Therefore, these are the best factory .30-06 rounds offered by manufacturers today.
Ballistics and Performance of the .30-06 Springfield
Before we get into the best rounds available, we’ll do a short primer on just what you can typically expect from factory .30-06 Springfield ammunition. And for sake of clarity, we’re talking only about hunting rounds today and not the .30-caliber ball ammunition that was popularly used in famous firearms like the M1 Garand. Most hunters tend to stick with cartridges loaded with 150-180-grain bullets for whitetails, mule deer, and elk these days. Hornady does make a 220-grain Interlock in their Custom International Line. Sure, you could take an elk or a moose with it, but that round is targeted more for someone planning a safari to Africa than a trip into the backcountry in North America.
In any case, the .30-06 fires a bullet with a diameter of .308 inches at velocities varying from just over 3,000-fps for smaller, lighter offerings to about 2,700-fps for heavier bullets of 170 grains and above. The smaller bullets often produce a muzzle energy of just over 3,000-foot pounds while the heavier bullets are still producing about 2,900-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. We’ll get more into the velocity with each round we recommend.
The .30-06 carries its speed and velocity well to ranges of 200 to 300 yards, which makes it a great long range hunting round. Most factory ammo is zeroed at 200 yards, and you’ll see a drop of about six to seven inches at 300. It’s only out to 400 and more you’ll start to see a drop of over 20 inches. We think most hunters are going to be most comfortable in that 150 to 250-yard window, which is where the .30-06 excels. Now, let’s have a look at the best factory ammo on the market right now. We’ll give you our ideal scenario for each round so you’ll have a better idea what to pick for the upcoming seasons.
Winchester Super-X Power-Point
Our first recommendation is a great choice for anyone who wants a quality hunting round that’s not going to break the bank. These rounds go for about $33 a box from most retailers. Winchester produces a 150, a 165 and a 180-grain version of these rounds. These rounds feature an alloyed lead core bullet with a hollow point that helps the rounds expand quickly on impact. Expect 2,920-fps of muzzle velocity and 2,839-foot pounds of energy from the 150-grain version. The 165-grain version is doing 2,800-fps and delivering 2,872-pounds of energy while the 180-grain version is doing about 2,700-fps and 2,913-foot pounds of energy. They’re not fastest or the tightest grouping rounds we’ve ever tried, but they will be more than adequate for hunters who expect most shots in the 100 to 200-yard range on medium-sized big game like mule deer or whitetails.
For the hunter who wants to get the maximum speed and range from their .30-06, the Superformance might be just what you’re looking for. These rounds utilize either the company’s Super Shock Tip (SST) or Copper alloy expanding (CX) bullets. The SSTs feature a polymer tip and boattail profile which helps these rounds cut through the wind. They also have Hornady’s signature InterLock ring which helps keep the core and jacket together as the bullet expands, making for great wound channels. The CX bullets are a one-piece, non-toxic option that’s perfect for public lands. They feature a heat shield tip to keep a high ballistic coefficient. Hornady makes a 150, 165, and 180-grain version of the SST and a 165-grain version of the CX. The CX does about 2,940-fps at the muzzle with 3,167-foot pounds of energy from a 24-inch test barrel. The 150-grain SSTs are doing 3,080-fps and deliver 3,159-foot pounds of muzzle energy. The 165-grain variant is doing 2,960-fps and 3,209-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Finally, the 180-grain version has a 2,820-fps muzzle velocity and hit with 3,178-foot pounds of energy. Expect to pay around $44 a box, which still makes them rather affordable for hunters on any budget.
HSM Trophy Gold
This is a great pick for any hunter who has just drawn a tag in a difficult area and is looking at the hunt of a lifetime. The HSM uses Berger VLD hunting bullets. They have a slightly thinner jacket that Berger says allows two to three inches of penetration before the bullet really starts expanding. The shock of that extreme energy dump is going to drop many animals where they stand. These bullets are also great for longer ranges thanks to a boat tail and secant ogive that help these rounds cut through the wind. HSM makes a 210, 185, and 168-grain version of this round. The 210-grain rounds have a muzzle velocity of 2,534-fps but hit with 2,995-foot pounds of energy. The 185-grain rounds hit with 2,942-foot pounds of energy and have a muzzle velocity of 2,721-fps. The 168-grain version is doing 2,808-fps and hits with 2,942-foot pounds of energy. You’re looking at about $60 a box for these rounds, but for a special hunt, the little extra splurge is worth it.
This round is only available in a 165-grain size, but it’s a solid option for anyone expecting shots out to 300 yards since the trajectory is only -7.56 inches at that distance. Plus, the rounds are still doing 2,291-fps and are delivering 1,923-foot pounds of energy, which means you can harvest an elk at that range with these. The reason they cut through the wind with so little drop is thanks in part to the boat tail hollow point design which gives these rounds a high ballistic coefficient of .517. The bullets have a lead alloy core that is jacketed in copper, giving them excellent expansion for bigger and more dangerous game like bears too. At around $55 a box, shooters will find these slightly more affordable than other premium factory ammo options too.
Browning Long Range Pro Hunter
We like these Browning rounds for elk hunters who plan to take shots in the 100 to 200-yard range at maximum. There’s a 180 and a 195-grain version of this round that delivers optimal energy for getting through the tough hides of these large animals. This is at the sacrifice of some speed, but these rounds have a 100-yard drop of zero, and it’s only -3 inches at 200 yards. The muzzle velocity is 2,850-fps and the muzzle energy is 3,516-foot pounds for the 195-grain version while the 180-grain version is doing 2,745-fps and hitting with 3,011-foot pounds of energy. These rounds are loaded with Sierra Tipped Game King bullets, which expand extremely well to transfer all the energy for a quick, ethical harvest on larger game. These rounds go for about $48 a box.
Nosler Trophy Grade
For anyone looking for the very best premium factory ammo on the market, Nosler Trophy Grade makes a strong argument. We like their 165 and 180-grain AccuBond options best for most big game hunting scenarios where you need a reliable round for that hunt of a lifetime. These bullets feature a boat tail design, lead-alloy core, and a taper copper alloy jacket for optimal flight and expansion upon hitting a target. Nosler says these rounds can be zeroed at 100 or 200 yards, so they’re perfect for hunters who hope to keep most of their shots in that range. The 165-grain versions are doing 2,749-fps and 2,768-foot pounds of energy at 100 yards while the 180-grain versions are travelling 2,572-fps and hitting with 2,643-foot pounds of energy at the same distance. These rounds are expensive at $70 to $80 a box, so we recommend saving these for special hunts in hard-to-draw hunt areas.
Buffalo Bore Barnes Lead-Free
This is our top pick for a premium lead-free option for public lands. Buffalo Bore uses premium quality Barnes Tipped TSX bullets for these rounds. They have a polymer tip and all-copper construction that the company says results in 28 percent deeper penetration. The only option here is a 168-grain option, but Buffalo Bore advertises this round as a “do it all” type of option. Looking at the data, it’s hard to argue. That bullet weight should handle almost every form of big game that walks North America’s wilds. Buffalo Bore puts the muzzle velocity at 2,900-fps and the muzzle energy at a whopping 3,137-foot pounds. The only real downside we see to this round is the fact that it costs nearly $65 a box, which is what you’re going to pay for this level of quality in your factory ammo.
Hornady American Whitetail
We like Hornady American Whitetail as a solid mid-priced option for deer hunters. Hornady makes a 150 and 180-grain variant of this round. These cartridges are tipped with a traditional style lead core bullet with an InterLock ring that helps keep the jacket and core locked together upon expansion. Meanwhile, the exposed lead soft point tip helps start that expansion as soon as the bullet strikes the animal. Hornady puts the trajectory on both variants at zero for 200 yards. The muzzle velocity for the 180-grain version is 2,700-fps with 2,913-foot pounds of muzzle energy. The 150-grain version is a little faster, doing 2,910-fps while delivering 2,820-foot pounds of energy. Most deer hit with these rounds don’t go anywhere after the shot. We also love the fact that they sell for only around $33 a box, making them highly affordable for most hunters regardless of budget. For the average deer hunter who only goes out a few times a year, this is all you really need.
The Remington is our top pick for a budget round. You can get Core-Lokts for as low as $30 a box. These bullets are simple, yet effective on most big game. They feature a tapered copper jacket over a solid lead core. Remington offers both a soft point (SP) and a pointed soft point (PSP) variant of these rounds. This also the round for the hunter who wants options because they make these rounds in bullet weights varying from 125 grains, which we like for smaller game and feral hogs, up to 220-grains for more dangerous game. The 125-grain PSP version is doing a blistering 3,140-fps in muzzle velocity and 2,743-foot pounds of muzzle energy. The 150-grain PSPs are doing 2,910-fps at the muzzle and deliver 2,820-foot pounds of energy. The 180-grain soft points are doing 2,700-fps and deliver 2,910-foot pounds at the muzzle. There’s really something here for everyone. These make for solid practice rounds while getting your rifle’s sights dialed in too.
Another affordable rifle ammo option. These lead core bullets feature jacketed soft points and start around $35 to $50. These are the choice for anyone who likes to keep their setup simple and to the point. We like them for hunters who are keeping their shots inside of 200 yards since the ballistic coefficient isn’t the highest. Expect 2,910-fps muzzle velocities from the 150-grain version. Those bullets are hitting with 2,820-foot pounds of energy. The 180-grain version is doing 2,700-fps and hits with 2,913-foot pounds of energy. Federal Premium also makes a 220-grain version for dangerous game. It’s only doing 2,400-fps at the muzzle, but it’s delivering 2,813-foot pounds of energy. Federal also makes a hollow point copper variant that’s perfect for public lands. The 150-grain version of that round has a 2,910-fps muzzle velocity and hits with 2,820-foot pounds of energy for quick, efficient kills.
The 150-grain Norma is an excellent mid-priced point for whitetails and mule deer. These start at about $40 a box. These rounds create some excellent wound channels and penetration thanks to the pointed soft point bullets. You’re looking at a muzzle velocity of 2,887-fps and a muzzle energy of 2,776-foot pounds with these rounds. The one downside is they aren’t the most aerodynamic rounds on the market. We prefer these in the 100 to 150-yard range since they have five inches of drop at 200 yards. However, we love the simplicity of the flat base and thin jacket on these rounds. There’s not a lot that can go wrong once one of these strikes an animal.
Winchester Deer Season XP
These may be our favorite .30-06 Springfield 150-grain options on the market for most deer hunting scenarios. Winchester makes two variants. One features an alloyed lead core and extreme point polymer tip. The other is a lead-free, pure coper construction with a polymer tip and hollow nose cavity for optimal expansion. At $40 a box, they’re not cheap, but not expensive either. A solid in-between option for serious deer hunters. Winchester says to expect identical ballistics from either version. You’re looking at 2,920-fps in muzzle velocity and 2,839-foot pounds of energy. From an accessibility standpoint, these are probably the most widely available rounds on the market at most retail stores. You’ll be hard pressed to find a store that doesn’t have these in stock in the run up to hunting season.
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