Guest writer, Dale Valade, talks about the mighty .30-06
Who doesn’t like swapping hunting stories? Better yet, the age old debate about rifles and calibers that never gets settled. I suspect it never will! In this article, my buddy Dale Valade shares his love of the aught-six, and a mule deer hunt that he’ll never forget.
It was homecoming at Grant Union High School, 1958. My grandfather Duane Turner, then only 18, was on the football team. At halftime, his homeroom teacher, Mr. Baucum came into the locker room carrying a long narrow box. “Congratulations Turner, you won the halftime raffle,” he said as he handed the box to my young grandfather. Inside was a brand new Remington model 721 hunting rifle in .30-06 Springfield caliber. For the $5.00 he paid for the raffle ticket I would say he has gotten his money’s worth several times over. Since then, hundreds of hunts and miles shared together, it’s still Grandpa’s absolute favorite of his many rifles. Over the years he fitted a custom walnut stock, tuned the trigger and mounted a Weaver K4 scope as he could afford to. With it he has hunted here in Oregon, in Alaska and Wyoming. At 79 years old, he still goes deer hunting when he draws a tag and of course the .30-06 always comes along.
When I was 19, I had been working all summer on the Corncob Ranch near Spray, Oregon. I had decided it was time to buy myself a serious hunting rifle. I found myself at Nydam’s Ace Hardware admiring Darren Pettyjohn’s extensive gun selection. There in the glass case stood the first rifle I had ever seen of its kind. It had a stainless steel matte finish but with a walnut stock. Although slightly used, it couldn’t have looked more shiny with a golden halo around it. When I first shouldered the Winchester Model 70 Classic, it fit like a glove. The legend on the 24-inch barrel was stamped “.30-06 Sprg.” Needless to say, it followed me home that day and we have been an indivisible team ever since. With that rifle I’ve taken coyotes, Mule Deer in Oregon and Idaho, Whitetail Deer, and Elk. I too have made improvements as I could or needed to, all the while making my favorite rifle even that much better.
Nowadays it seems like the .30-06 Springfield is a lot like one of my favorite comedians, “he can’t get no respect.” All joking aside, those who have done much hunting or shooting know well the capabilities of the old warhorse turned hunting cartridge. Much ink has been spilled trying to dethrone the Lord’s cartridge and although ammunition sales charts don’t always reflect a number one seat, I have yet to see one where the .30-06 didn’t at least make a spot in the top three. You can find rifles thus chambered and hundreds of varieties of ammunition for them just about anywhere in the world. I have enjoyed excellent accuracy and reliable, consistent performance with my “aught six.”
Last fall it seemed as though I was destined to eat tag soup. On opening day of deer season my mother tagged out on her personal best buck to date using another classic, the 7x57mm Mauser, her preferred rifle. I hunted hard turning down a few smaller bucks throughout the season. I was starting to wonder if I was getting too greedy in my old age. On the last day of the season, I was accompanied by a young friend whom I’ve known since he was just in three-cornered pants. Now 25, Zarom told me on our way out that morning that he had never killed a buck. Right then and there it was decided that he would take first shot at anything we might see, no matter what. We hunted all morning and saw a couple of smaller forked horn and bucks but neither of us felt like dropping the hammer on something so young. Now was no time to weaken. It wasn’t until we dropped down into Juniper Gulch that we began to see some mature bucks.
At about noon Zarom spotted a 3×4 buck bedded in some high sage on the next ridge across the draw. I ranged him at 210 yards. Being as there was nothing exposed besides his head and neck we knew it would be a tricky shot. My friend is no amateur, he is a great marksman who practices regularly. Easing the scope covers off of his Browning X-bolt 6.5 Creedmoor, Zarom took extra careful aim and squeezed off a shot. The buck crumpled, having been hit squarely in the throat patch. Instantly thereafter, two more bucks we hadn’t previously seen, stood up and looked around. I grabbed my rifle and chambered a round. Flicking my Butler Creek scope caps and getting on target, Zarom reported, “the one on the right is the biggest.” Both bucks stood perfectly still quartered towards us slightly. I took aim and squeezed off a shot, sending a 165 grain Nosler Partition bullet squarely into the buck’s onside shoulder and angling through the vitals. He jumped and kicked, and ran two strides before piling up. Two bucks down within mere yards of each other. Mine was an old 4×4, without a doubt the oldest and biggest buck I’ve taken thus far. We punched our tags, took pictures and were on cloud nine for several days.
Yep, the .30-06 Springfield is like a bottle of wine, it only gets better with age. With all of the many choices out there today it’s tough to decide which one is right for you. Even though fads will come and go, true classics endure forever. While the .30-06 Springfield is my favorite classic cartridge, there are several others for which the same could be said to apply, the .243, .270 and .308 Winchester cartridges for example. The 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag also enjoy extensive popularity. Why? Because they work very, very well. At the end of the day any cartridge that fills our freezers with delectable comestibles is going to be a favorite. Suffice it to say, when I’m 79, you know which rifle I will be taking to go hunting!