Craig Boddington

In America, above .30-caliber, cartridge popularity drops like a thrown rock. This is as it should be. Little on this continent that can’t be done with a .30-caliber and good bullets. Millions of American deer hunters don’t even need a .30, filling their freezers and trophy walls just fine with lighter calibers.

Boddington and Jack Atcheson Jr. with a Montana mule deer taken with a .338 Win Mag. Atcheson is a huge .338 fan, rarely using any other cartridge…anywhere. For deer-sized game, Boddington usually uses lighter cartridges. But, as Atcheson says, the .338 “numbs them.”

Still, we do have larger game: Elk, moose, the big bears. Hunters who pursue them—and those who dream of such hunts—love to argue around the campfire about the best and most perfect cartridges. Calibers and cartridge choices are legion. I’ve had long affairs with 8mms, diameter .323. Few cartridges and, ultimately, not enough bullets. Friend and mentor Colonel Charles Askins was the ultimate 8mm guru. Askins begged for a 250-grain 8mm bullet, but 220 grains has been the limit. Whether .325 WSM, 8mm Remington Magnum (or one of Askins’ myriad 8mm wildcats), a fast 8mm with 220-grain bullet is a wonderful thumper on elk. However, in my opinion, available bullets aren’t heavy enough for the largest bears.

Pound for pound, Boddington doesn’t believe moose are as tough as elk, but moose are much bigger. This bullet was taken at about 300 yards with a .338 RUM, firing 250-grain Swift A-Frame.

I also love the .35s. There are bunches of older .35s: .35 Remington; .348, .358, .356 Winchester. Also new: .350 Legend and .360 Buckhammer. Great for black bears and feral hogs, but either marginal in power for larger game, or not enough velocity for versatility in open country. The .35 Whelen and .350 Rem Mag are almost there in both power and velocity. Wonderful for elk and moose, just a bit on the mild side for anything bigger. Oddly, there have been almost no fast .35s. The .358 Norma Magnum is rare; the .358 Alaskan (7mm STW necked up) never made it into factory form.

In October ’23 Boddington used a .338 Win Mag barrel on his Blaser R8 on a brown bear hunt on the Alaska Peninsula. Didn’t get a bear, but he was ready.

Tough to make a case for bigger. The 9.3mms (.366-inch) are popular in Europe, used for driven boar, also by Africa-bound Europeans as alternative to .375. The two most popular—the rimless 9.3×62 in bolt-actions and rimmed 9.3x74R in single-shots and doubles—are just slightly less powerful than the .375 H&H, so plenty for North America’s largest game…but maybe don’t shoot as flat as optimum for our conditions. The faster .370 Sako and 9.3×64 Brenneke are similar to the .375 H&H in bullet weight, velocity, energy, and trajectory. Like the .375s themselves, this means they are overpowered for almost everything in North America except our biggest bears.

I’ve used various 9.3s on African buffalo, and in North America for hogs and black bear. Over here, I’ve used .375s for elk and moose, and for big bears. Awesomely effective…but more powerful than absolutely necessary. Truth is, for North American hunters on home turf, there’s little justification for a 9.3mm, .375, or larger. Fun to own, limited utility.

Left to right .325 WSM, .8mm Rem Mag, .338 Win Mag, .338 RUM, .340 Wby Mag. As a group, the “medium magnums” are extremely effective on game larger than deer. Boddington has hunted with all these and more but believes the .338 Win Mag is the most useful: Fast enough, without excessive recoil, and available in the greatest variety of loads.

If you’re looking for a cartridge with more knockdown power for North America’s large—and largest—game, it seems to me the caliber to pick is .338. Bullet selection is rich, standard at about 180 to 250 grains. There are numerous good cartridges using this bullet diameter at various velocity levels, including: .338 Federal, .338 Marlin Express, .338-06, .338 Ruger Compact Magnum (RCM), .338 Weatherby Rebated Precision Magnum (RPM) .338 Winchester Magnum, .340 Weatherby Magnum, .338 Remington Ultra Magnum (RUM), .338 Lapua Magnum, and .338-378 Weatherby.

All are adequate for elk and moose, and all are fast enough for at least medium ranges. However, if we include the biggest bears—and want the utmost in versatility—then we probably want a cartridge with enough case capacity to propel heavy bullets at meaningful velocity. I think the place to start is in the middle of that cartridge list, with the .338 Winchester Magnum.

Boddington has found most .338s to be accurate and non-finicky. His .338 Win Mag barrel for the Blaser R8 is simply amazing, producing sub-MOA groups with 250-grain bullets

 Winchester started their line of .30-06-length belted magnums in 1956 with the .458. In 1958 the family grew with two new cartridges in versions of their beloved Model 70 bolt-action: The .264 Win Mag in the “Westerner;” the .338 Win Mag in the “Alaskan.” The .338 Win Mag was intended for the largest Alaskan game, which includes elk, moose, and our biggest bears. Most common factory loads are 200, 225, and 250-grain bullets. Respectively, velocities are around 2950, 2800, and 2650 fps, all producing about 3900 ft-lbs of energy.

.33-caliber has deeper roots among British cartridges. The .333 Jeffery, available in both rimless and rimmed (.333 Flanged) versions, was loaded with 250 and 300-grain bullets. The .318 Westley Richards was more popular. Its designation comes from the inconsistent British convention of naming cartridges by the smaller land vice groove diameter: The .318 uses a .330-inch bullet, so also a .33. In the days before caliber minimums were instituted, both the .333 Jeffery and the .318 WR were used to take game up to elephant (with non-expanding solids). WDM “Karamoja” Bell, best known for preferring the .275 Rigby (7×57), wrote that his largest one-day bag of elephants was taken with a .318, using 250-grain solids.

PH Cliff Walker and Boddington with a Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, taken with a .338 RUM. Although not especially common in Africa, all the faster .338 cartridges are adequate for the full run of large African antelopes.

Gunwriter Elmer Keith (1899-1984) hailed from Idaho and hunted elk in black timber. He became a lifelong believer in larger calibers with long, heavy bullets. Working with Charles O’Neil and Don Hopkins, he used the .30-06 case and .333 Jeffery bullets to create the wildcat .333 OKH.

Winchester’s .338 used a literal .338-inch bullet. In 1902 Winchester introduced the .33 Winchester in their M1886 lever-action, using a 200-grain .338-inch bullet at 2200 fps. The .33 predated the British cartridges, but why Winchester chose the .338-inch diameter isn’t known. Although Winchester quit loading .33 Win in 1940, it’s natural that Winchester used the same diameter for their .338 Win Mag. All “.33s” that have followed, including Elmer Keith’s later wildcats, use .338-inch bullets.         

The .264 and .338 Winchester Magnums were introduced together in 1958. The .264 debuted in a version of the Winchester Model 70 called “Westerner;” the .338 was brought out in an M70 dubbed “Alaskan.”

Like most new cartridges, the .338 got a lot of buzz, but initial sales were slow. Probably because the word spread about sharp recoil. Duh! Although the lighter bullets kick less, you cannot produce nearly 4000 ft-lbs of energy without recoil, and not everyone needs this level of power. Over time, those who do discovered the .338 is wonderfully effective on large game. Lighter cartridges work fine on elk, but elk are tough, and many hunters want more. The .338 has become a standard “big gun” for elk, excellent for moose, and a sensible, fully adequate minimum for our largest bears.

Although lighter cartridges certainly work, Boddington believes the several .33-caliber cartridges are ideal for elk. This Roosevelt elk was taken with a .338 Win Mag using a 210-grain Nosler Partition.

Let’s go back to that list of current .33-caliber cartridges. The .338 RCM and Weatherby’s new .338 RPM are ballistically about the same as the .338 Win Mag, with more modern case design: The short, fat, unbelted RCM is a short-action cartridge; the RPM is unbelted. Despite its out-of-fashion belted case, the primary advantage of the .338 Win Mag is its greater popularity, offering a wider selection of loads from more manufacturers.

The last four cartridges on that list–.340 Wby Mag, .338 RUM, .338 Lapua, and .338-.378 Wby Mag—all have greater case capacity and are considerably faster than the .338 Win Mag. Energy yields approach or exceed 5000 ft-lbs.  Trajectories are flatter, thus extending effective range. These are valuable attributes, but it depends on what you need, and how much recoil you’re comfortable with. I haven’t spent much time with either the .338 Lapua or .338-.378 Wby Mag…and probably won’t. I used the .338 RUM when it was new, also did a lot of hunting with the .340 Wby Mag. Both were wonderfully effective, hard-hitting and flat shooting.

Donna Boddington used a Proof Research .338 Win Mag and a single 225-grain InterBond to take this big Alaskan brown bear on Admiralty Island.

I took the .340 to Africa a couple of times. I’m not especially sensitive to recoil, but that’s where I learned my limit. In the context of shooting plains game almost daily, I decided the .340 was more fun than needed. I circled back to the .338 Win Mag. It kicks, but I’m comfortable with that level of recoil. The faster .33s come back a bit too hard and too fast for my taste, especially on a sustained basis. Like everything else, they can be tamed with muzzle brakes. I prefer not to use brakes because of the blast and, anyway, I’m not an extreme-range shooter on game. The .338 Win Mag shoots flat enough for my purposes, with acceptable recoil.

A good black bear from southeast Alaska, taken with a Proof Research .338 Win Mag. There are many great cartridges for black bear, but the .338 is adequate for the largest bears that walk.

My old friend Jack Atcheson Jr. is a major .338 fan. Great sheep hunter and Montana elk hunter, he uses almost nothing else…all over the world. On deer-sized game the fast .33s speak with authority, but they are needlessly powerful. Trajectories are flat enough for great versatility, but I prefer lighter, faster cartridges for mountain game. For me, the .33s are fantastic for elk and moose, devastatingly effective on our largest black bears, and fully adequate for the largest bears. Perhaps oddly, I’ve used the .338 relatively little in Africa. Not sure why. It is unquestionably fully adequate for the full run of large plains game. I’ve often stated that a .338 matched up with a .416 makes the most perfect African battery.

For big bears, moose, and in Africa, I’ve usually loaded up with 250-grain bullets. It’s important to understand that the 250-grain .338 bullet has slightly higher Sectional Density (SD) than 300-grain .375 or 400-grain .416 bullets. So, if construction and velocity are similar, it will penetrate at least as well as these famous bullets. For elk and smaller game, I usually use lighter bullets from 200 to 225 grains, increasing velocity, flattening trajectory, and reducing recoil. Not everyone needs a .338, but if you want more power for larger game, I’m convinced a fast .33 is the way to go.



Craig Boddington

A writer friend was in black bear camp this past spring, shooting a .30-06. At the sight-in range, younger hunters gathered to admire his rifle. They’d heard of the .30-06…insisted they’d never seen one.

By about 1930 the .30-06 reigned as America’s most popular hunting cartridge, holding this position for at least 40 years. Times change, but I’m shocked there are grownup hunters who have never seen or given passing consideration to the .30-06.

46 years after his first safari, Boddington still believes the .30-06 is among the best and most versatile choices for Africa’s non-dangerous game. This fine waterbuck was taken in 2019, using a left-hand Ruger M77 with 180-grain Hornady Interlock.

In 1903 the United States military adopted the Springfield bolt-action rifle, mated with a rimless bottleneck cartridge firing a .30-caliber (.308-inch bullet). Rifle and cartridge were so close to Peter Paul Mauser’s designs that Uncle Sam paid Mauser a royalty until WWI. The original 1903 cartridge used a 220-grain round-nose bullet. In 1906 the case was modified slightly, the bullet changed to a lighter spitzer with greatly improved aerodynamics. The new cartridge was called “Caliber .30 US Government Model of 1906.” We soon shortened that to .30-06.

The first sporting use of the .30-06 doesn’t seem recorded. Well-known is that Theodore Roosevelt swore by his Springfield throughout his epic nine-month 1909 safari. At that time the lever-action was America’s most popular sporting rifle. There were no domestic civilian bolt-actions at all until 1920.

.30-06 velocities vary considerably among manufacturers. With 165-grain bullet, Hornady’s Superformance load yielded 3016 fps…that’s edging into .300 magnum velocity.

The Savage M20 was America’s first bolt-action sporter, Sort of a mini-Springfield, it was sized for the short .250 and .300 Savage cartridges and could not house the .30-06. The first American sporter that could was Remington’s M30 in 1921, based on the big 1917 US Enfield action. Winchester followed in 1925 with the M54, forerunner to the M70 (1936).

Shortage of commercial rifles didn’t deter the .30-06. Surplus US Enfields and Springfields were cheap and available. The supply from both world wars lasted through the Sixties. My own first centerfire, purchased in 1964, was a surplus ‘03 Springfield. I think it cost $39.95. I didn’t hunt with it until years later, but I shot it a lot, and lovingly “sporterized” it.

We hear about new cartridges being inherently accurate, but don’t sell the ’06 short. This lightweight Kimber Terminal Ascent produced sub-MOA groups right out of the box with the first load tried, Federal 180-grain Trophy Tip bonded bullet.

Starting in 1925, the flatter-shooting, softer-kicking .270 gave the .30-06 competition but never overtook it. Even Jack O’Connor, high priest of the .270, conceded that the .30-06 was more versatile. The first magnum craze of the Fifties and Sixties eroded the .30-06. I bought into that stuff; I had a .264 and a .300 Winchester Magnum before I hunted with a .30-06.

Although she later switched to a .270, Donna Boddington did most of her early hunting with a left-hand Ruger M77 .30-06. She used a 180-grain Hornady Interlock to drop this excellent Mozambique sable with one shot at sundown.

I read my Roosevelt, and my Hemingway, and my Ruark, so when planning my first African hunt I knew I had to have a .30-06. I trotted down to the PX and bought a Ruger M77 and worked up handloads with 180-grain Nosler Partitions. Even though I’d been a confirmed magnum maniac (“magniac”), I was amazed at how well the .30-06 performed. All ranges, all sizes of plains game. Became, and have remained, a .30-06 fan.

The flood of unbelted magnums at the turn of the millennium gave us new choices. Recent cartridges designed for maximum efficiency (PRCs, Noslers, Westerns) give us more options. Today we have plenty cartridges to choose from. It’s easy to overlook the .30-06.

The .30-06 probably isn’t an ideal mountain cartridge, but it shoots flat enough. Grancel Fitz took his first sheep, a Dall sheep in Alaska, in 1935 with his Griffin & Howe Springfield. 20 years later, he was the first person to take all varieties of North American big game…all with this same .30-06.

Old, but not tired. The .30-06 is a powerhouse. Standard issue for our forces for 50 years, the .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge adopted by a major military. Not as fast as our many magnums, it is not slow. Standard velocity for a 180-grain bullet is 2700 fps. In perspective: The same speed as the 6.5mm Creedmoor…with a 140-grain bullet. With 180-grain bullet, the .30-06 offers 28 percent more bullet weight…with .044-inch more frontal area. There is no comparison in hitting power.

Wife Donna did her early hunting with a Ruger M77 .30-06. Not the same one. I was doing a lot of hunting with a left-hand action M77 .30-06. Also a lefty, she’s shorter, so I took a sliver off the butt and reset the recoil pad so we could both shoot it comfortably.

Sadly, not all new rifles are chambered to .30-06. This is Chapuis’ new ROLS straight-pull, made in France…with .30-06 among its many chamberings. So far, out of the box accuracy is about one MOA…not unusual for good rifles in .30-06.

Now, let’s be clear. The .30-06 is not a low-recoil option. Generations of recruits complained about the brutal recoil. They were not wrong. Donna is one of those people who is uniquely impervious to recoil. In general, I don’t recommend the .30-06 for youngsters, for women of smaller stature, or for anyone with aversion to recoil.

To this day, the (nominally) 2.5-inch of the .30-06 defines “standard-length” actions and cartridges. Factory cartridges based on the ’06 case include, left to right: .30-06, .270 Win, .280 Rem, .25-06, .35 Whelen, .370 Federal, .280 AI. Boddington believes the .30-06 is still the most versatile of all.

The .30-06 is a big gun, needlessly powerful for any deer hunting. It is a far better elk cartridge than deer cartridge! I still have magniac tendencies. I see the medium magnums, typified by the .338 Winchester Magnum, as the most ideal elk cartridges. Yes, but the .30-06 is plenty of gun for any elk, especially with today’s great bullets. I’ve taken as many bull elk with the .30-06 as with magnums. None have gone farther, most down in their tracks. Because of heavier bullets with more frontal area, I think the .30-06 is more effective on elk than any of the 7mms.

One of the advantages to the .30-06 is lots of loads…and lots of handload recipes. This Savage 110 .30-06 grouped variously with different loads…and then shot quarter-inch groups (bottom center) with Federal factory with 180-grain Barnes.

The .30-06’s strongest suit is versatility. Awesome for larger game, such as elk and moose. I still can’t think of anything better for the full run of non-dangerous African game. The .30-06 kicks but lacks the bone-jarring recoil velocity of the fast magnums…and it works.

Versatility isn’t just about size of animals. Today’s newest cartridges use faster rifling twists with extra-heavy bullets with super aerodynamics. The .30-06’s traditional 1:10 twist stabilizes bullets from 150 to 220 grains. How much versatility do you need? For deer, a 150-grain bullet zips along at 3000 fps. For elk, and for Africa’s variety, I’ve always been a 180-grain bullet guy. I’m not keen on using the .30-06 for big bears, but more grizzlies and brown bears have fallen to the .30-06 than all the rest put together. Old-timers relied on the long, heavy 220-grain slug, which can be loaded to 2550 fps, credible velocity for such weight, offering wonderful penetration. I also don’t recommend the .30-06 for extra-large beasts. However, in the days before minimum legal calibers, the .30-06 with 220-grain solids had a great reputation for reliable penetration all the way up to elephant.

The .30-06 is probably needlessly powerful for deer…and also dramatically effective. This big Colorado buck was dropped in its tracks by a single 180-grain Fusion bullet from an ’06 made by Kenny Jarrett.

Maybe it’s also not the best choice for mountain game. As with deer, .30-caliber bullet weight and power aren’t essential for sheep and goats. I’ve taken both with the .30-06, but I’ve usually chosen cartridges that shoot flatter. Not because I needed them, but because they seemed a better “fit.” Once you get to the point where you must either hold over or start dialing your turret for range, trajectory is just a number. Know the number and you can solve the problem.

I’ve done a lot of 1000-yard shooting on steel with various .30-06 rifles and loads…as have long-range competitors for 120 years. Once you start adjusting, a few more clicks is a matter of knowing how many. I’m not an extreme range shooter on game. If I were, then there are better tools. However, because that’s what I was carrying—and because I knew the trajectory—I’ve made some of my longer shots in the field with the .30-06.

Boddington believes the .30-06 is a wonderful elk cartridge…and better for elk than deer. This bull dropped in its tracks to a single 180-grain Barnes TSX at about 150 yards.

Many of our newer cartridges offer great versatility on game, at varying levels of recoil, and are often touted for accuracy. Cartridge design matters, but rifle, barrel, and ammo are more important. It’s an article of faith that the .308, with its shorter, more efficient case, is more accurate. Maybe, but the margin is slim. I’ve rarely seen accuracy problems in a .30-06 rifle. With higher velocity, the .30-06 is more powerful, thus more versatile.

So many choices, so many conflicting and confusing cartridges. Here’s one good reason why the .30-06 may be worth your consideration. Availability. Everybody loads .30-06. It is no longer our most popular centerfire…but it’s still in the top handful. There are hundreds of factory loads, from all manufacturers, throughout the world…offered with just about any bullet you can think of. No, these days, we can’t get them all. But the .30-06 is not a one-company wonder, as new cartridges must be until they catch on. For handloaders, we have a century of loading data to fall back on. Can’t get this powder or that bullet? Plenty of choices.

Willem van Dyk, trackers, and Boddington with a big fringe-eared oryx, taken in Kenya in 1977 on Boddington’s first African hunt. This was the first time Boddington hunted with the .30-06; impressive performance made him a lifelong fan.

Just yesterday, I went to the range with a new Chapuis ROLS, a fine, state-of-the-art straight-pull rifle. Made in France…chambered to .30-06. Finding the best load for this rifle is still a work in progress, but the loads I grabbed randomly from my garage grouped within one MOA. That’s performance I expect—and usually get—from a good .30-06. 

Not all great new rifles are chambered in .30-06. I suppose that’s a sign of the times. Explains why some younger folks consider it a curiosity. For sure, it’s not as sexy as the hot new numbers. It’s still an accurate, powerful, and versatile choice. And the .30-06 is still out there, hundreds of loads, jillions of rifles…of all vintages.