In his excellent handbook, “Cartridges of the World,” Frank C. Barnes describes the .30-06 Springfield with the kind of reverence usually reserved for religion, mom’s cooking, and secret hunting spots.
“The .30-06 is undoubtedly the most flexible, useful, all-around big game cartridge available to the American hunter,” he says. “For many years, it has been the standard by which all other big game cartridges have been measured.”
The 7mm Remington Magnum, by contrast, he describes as simply, “a fine long-range, big game cartridge.”
Most American hunters can understand the difference in Barnes’ attitude towards these two calibers. The .30-06 is an absolute legend. After winning two world wars, it quickly became one of America’s most popular hunting cartridges, and it’s been used to take virtually every game animal on the continent.
But if anything can unseat America’s favorite cartridge, it’s the 7mm Rem. Mag. Despite Barnes’ lukewarm endorsement, the 7mm Rem. Mag. is a powerhouse in its own right and it has become increasingly popular since its introduction in 1962.
Putting nostalgia aside, we want to know which caliber is a better choice on your next big game hunt. When it comes to ballistics, shootability, and versatility, which caliber emerges victorious?
In a head-to-head footrace, the 7mm Rem. Mag. has the .30-06 beat—but just barely. Using bullets of the same weight, the 7mm Rem. Mag. is usually 100 to 200 feet-per-second (fps) faster at the muzzle than the .30-caliber pill. At close ranges, this added velocity likely won’t make much difference in a real-world hunting scenario. Both calibers can push a 150- to 165-grain bullet about 3,000 fps at the muzzle, which is always devastating at ranges inside of 200 yards.
The 7mm Rem. Mag. usually starts to pull away at longer ranges. Generally speaking, the 7mm is loaded with bullets with higher ballistic coefficients, which allows it to shoot flatter and maintain velocity at longer distances. That 200-fps advantage at the muzzle can turn into 500 fps at long range, which translates to a significant difference in knock-down power.
But what about when we match bullet types? Federal’s Trophy Copper line, for example, features a 150-grain 7mm moving about 3,025 fps at the muzzle, while the line’s 165-grain .30-06 travels at 2,800 fps at the muzzle. At 500 yards, that 225 fps difference has actually shrunk to 176 fps, and both calibers have retained enough speed to reliably expand.
But at 600 yards, the .30-06 has reached a velocity too slow for reliable expansion (1,800 fps) and has dropped about 86 inches. The 7mm, on the other hand, only drops 72 inches at 600 yards and is still travelling above 1,800 fps at 700 yards, making it a better choice for long-range work.
Advocates of the .30-06 will argue that the older caliber can be loaded with heavier bullets (up to about 220 grains), which gives it the edge on heavier game at closer distances. Barnes makes exactly this point when he dismisses the 7mm Rem. Mag. as “an open-country plains or mountain cartridge, rather than a woods or brush number.”
This is a fair point, and I’d go with the .30-06 for animals like moose under 200 yards. But the heavy bullet argument was more effective 30 years ago. With all-copper bullets, a 20- or 30-grain weight difference matters less than it used to. It still matters, but hunters over the last decade have proven that excellent hunting bullets in the 140- to 150-grain range are more than capable of taking the largest North American game.
Winner: 7mm Rem. Mag.
Shootability describes how comfortable a caliber is to my shoulder and my wallet.
As a magnum cartridge, the 7mm Rem. Mag. has a reputation for producing stiff recoil, especially in lightweight hunting rifles. That reputation is warranted. According to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table, the 7mm Rem. Mag. produces about 20 foot-pounds of energy, which, he points out, is enough for most shooters to develop a flinch.
The .30-06 produces a similar recoil impulse, but it is slightly less than the 7mm.
Ammo availability and cost go to the .30-06 as well. Both calibers are popular, but Federal lists 35 varieties of .30-06 and only 22 kinds of 7mm Rem. Mag. The cheapest 7mm Rem. Mag. from Federal costs $1.95 per round for a box of 20 while the .30-06 is only $1.30 per round for 20. For quality hunting cartridges, the .30-06 is also $5 to $10 cheaper for a box of 20. This is one of the easier matchups I’ve had to call in the Caliber Battle series.
If we look at the range of bullet weights commonly chambered in these two calibers, the .30-06 is more versatile (but barely). Federal offers .30-06 options ranging from 125 grains to 220 grains, and ammunition can be found with bullets ranging from 100 grains to 250 grains. Bullets in the 100- to 130-grain range can be used for varmints and predators, 150 to 165 grains for deer, antelope, goats, sheep, and black bear, and 165 to 220 grains for elk, moose, and brown bear.
The 7mm Rem. Mag., by contrast, is chambered by Federal in bullets between 140 grains and 175 grains, and other companies load 100-grain projectiles. This range is ideal for medium to big game, including all the animals listed above.
The .30-06 also slightly edges out the 7mm Rem. Mag. when we look at types of firearms available in these chamberings. Both calibers are overwhelmingly chambered in bolt-action rifles, but the .30-06 can also be had in Remington’s Model 7600 pump and Browning’s BAR semi-auto (not to mention the M1 Garand).
Technically, the .30-06 wins the versatility battle. But in terms of real-world application, this contest could damn near be called a tie. Except for a few outliers, the majority of hunters will use these calibers in bolt-action rifles to pursue the same medium to big game category of animals. But, if I have to choose a more versatile caliber, the winner is the .30-06.
And the Winner Is…
In last week’s caliber battle, I gave the nod to the .308 Win. over the .270 Win because I liked the .308’s versatility and shootability. I could make that same argument here, but I’m not going to. For most hunters, I don’t think the .30-06’s other good points are enough to outweigh the 7mm Rem. Mag.’s ballistic advantage.
There are caveats to that. If you’re going after very large game at short distances, the .30-06 is the way to go. Also, if you take the time to find high-quality, high-BC .30-06 cartridges, the 7mm’s advantage shrinks. But if I’m recommending a big game cartridge to a new hunter for a wide variety of game at both short and long distance, I’m going with the 7mm Rem. Mag.
Overall Winner: 7mm Rem. Mag.