The .30-06 is one of the most widespread mid-power rifle cartridges in the world, most popular now amongst hunters of mid to large sized game it started it’s life as the cartridge of choice of the US military.
The ‘06’ in it’s name comes from the year 1906 which is when it replaced the .30-40 krag and the .30-03 cartridges which had been in use by the American services until then. It was introduced at a time when other militaries around the world were adopting cartridges suited to faster, flatter shooting bullets and were also making a move to spritzer, pointed, bullets instead of the round nosed variety that had been the norm until then. To meet these requirements as well as to introduce a rimless cartridge the .30-06 was brought in. The M1903 Springfield rifle was the first service rifle chambered for the .30-06 which would see action in The First World War but the cartridge would remain in service in machine guns and the M1903’s successors, including the M1 Garand for decades to come.
It was only until NATO adopted the 7.62x51mm cartridge that the 30-06 was side-lined by the military but it has never lost popularity as a hunting cartridge. Not only is it popular in the states for deer but it is great cartridge for large deer, elk and boar in Europe and even for smaller plains game in Africa.
Despite it’s credentials as a military cartridge and as an effective long range round in the sniper role; the M1903 served in the sniper rifle role through the Second World War and during Korea and Vietnam, it is now considered obsolete as a military round and for that reason we will only be considering scopes suitable for hunting here. Yes it will perform at range and could be pressed to use on the range even out to 1000 meters but there are better cartridges for that now and you won’t find many people doing serious target shooting with a .30-06 except perhaps to use collectible firearms. That doesn’t mean it isn’t capable just that there are other cartridges that are more popular today.
It's popularity for hunting though has never waned and it is very capable on larger deer, elk and even moose. Commonly loaded with bullets between about 150 and 220 grains it can produce muzzle velocities up to almost 3000 feet per second and similar energies, a 180 grain core-lokt soft point round for example, which would be an excellent choice on an elk or moose will produce 2913 ft/lbs of energy.
Given the power of this cartridge you will need a robust scope so do make sure that you rule out rim-fire scopes strait away, they just won’t survive the recoil of the .30-06. Also consider the ranges you will be shooting and the fact that the .30-06 really isn’t a varmint calibre, although loaded with very light bullets it produces incredible muzzle velocities and can be very flat shooting. With calibres like the .204 Ruger and others so popular now though the varmint market is saturated and the .30-06’s niche is really more traditional hunting, so we will pick out 10 scopes for traditional hunting;
- Choosing a scope for traditional hunting
- Best 10 Scopes for hunting with the .30-06 - Comparison Table
- 1 Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm Rifle Scope
- 2 Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Multi-X
- 3 Bushnell Trophy Xtreme X30 2.5-15x50 Scope
- 4 Vortex Diamondback 4-16x42
- 5 Trijicon RS22 AccuPower
- 6 Steiner GS3 Game Sensing Rifle Scope
- 7 Burris 3-9 x 40mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Rifle Scope
- 8 Zeiss Conquest 3-12x50 Illuminated
- 9 Schmidt and bender Klassik
- 10 Trijicon RS24 AccuPower
Choosing a scope for traditional hunting
Hunting on foot, possibly with the use of calls to lure your quarry but relying primarily on your ability to move stealthily and be vigilant to spot your targets has been the mainstay of subsistence and recreational hunting since the dawn of the human species. We have relied on our ability to hunt weather singly or in groups or to use traps, nets, dogs and other aids to get game but one of the most satisfying styles of hunting is getting out there on your own whether with a bow, modern rifle or muzzle loader and bringing bag some game and spending some time in solitude amongst nature. The .30-06 is a cartridge you can rely on when hunting in this manner and is also powerful enough that it will give you confidence in chance encounter with a dangerous bear.
For this style hunting you can often dispense with the more powerful scopes, much more than about 15 power won’t give you any considerable advantage, nor will complicated range finding reticles and ones with lots of subtensions, they might be great for very precise target shooting or varmint shooting at long range but shooting mid to large sized deer at ethical ranges doesn’t require that sort of complicated equipment. In fact a smaller, rugged scope will be far more useful, lighter and easier to maintain and protect in the rugged terrain you will be traversing while you hunt.
Illuminated reticles might be useful and larger objective lenses will also be a benefit to gather light and dusk and dawn but otherwise the fewer features the better.
Best 10 Scopes for hunting with the .30-06 - Comparison Table
Options for duplex, MOA crosshair and MIL-square
There are a range of options but the 2-10 or 3-15 options would be my preference for a .30-06
42-56 dependant on model
SL or S7 Plex
‘plex’ or ‘ballistic plex’ options
Zeiss scopes are available in a range of reticle styles including ‘reticle six’ which would be my choice for most hunting scenarios but also mil-dot and moa reticles for target shooting. They can even produce customised reticles and turrets to match.
The Klassik range features a lot of options including fixed and vary power models, this link will take you to the 2.5-10 power variant.
A whole range are available include bullet drop calculator options, standard duplex reticles are also available and the best option for hunting with your .30-06.
Top 10 Scopes for hunting with the .30-06:
Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm Rifle Scope
Leupold are one of the best choices for world class optics and their lineup includes products suitable for all types of hunting as well as for tactical applications. This particular member of the VX product line features 3.5-10 power variable magnification which is adequate for hunting out to a few hundred yards which is all that is ethical anyway. A lot of people overestimate their ability to shoot at 300 meters but not only that they forget that at 300 meters it’s easy to forget how much energy a bullet looses. The weighty projectiles that the .30-06 can handle doesn’t suffer as much from this as some other cartridges and it is certainly still lethal up to 1000 meters under the right conditions but it’s not fair or ethical to take a large deer much beyond that range despite the fact that a .30-06 bullet might start with almost 3000 ft’lbs of energy at 300 meters it will have lost about a third of that energy, consider that when risking long shots.
The lower end of the magnification on this scope will be great if a close range shot presents itself and I would leave it set around six for most situations. The duplex reticle is great for normal hunting situations and allows for some range estimation and offers at least one useful additional aim point. It also isn’t too badly affected by the fact that this is a second focal plane scope. Second focal plane scopes with complicated reticles are almost worthless as the scale of the reticle changes as you zoom in and out and they only accurately represent their intended intervals at one magnification setting. A duplex though is so simple that zooming shouldn’t throw you off too badly. The lower duplex is also a great point of aim. While mine is set on six power the distance between the crosshair and duplex is twelve inches and gives me an almost perfect hold over point for a 300 yard shot.
The simplicity of this scope is what makes it perfect for this task and the supreme Leupold quality helps too.
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Multi-X
Another 3-9x50mm scope, this offering from Bushnell is another great choice to top your .30-06 rifle. The 3-9x50, or x40 has been a popular specification for hunting scopes for a long time, the 50mm objective offers a slight advantage in terms of light gathering over the smaller 40mm but the bigger front end means the scope is higher above the bore than a 40mm equivalent would and makes it slightly less stable, harder to get a cheek weld and slightly heavier, but I would normally consider that sacrifice worthwhile especially if you are expecting to shoot a lot at dusk and dawn when light levels are poor.
This Bushnell also offers side focus adjustment which is a great feature often reserved for more expensive scopes, and this one comes in at under $200 from most retailers which makes it a perfect companion to budget rifles such as the Remington 783 or Savage axis.
Bushnell Trophy Xtreme X30 2.5-15x50 Scope
Bushnell has already featured in this list, and for good reason, they are one of the world’s largest sporting optics manufacturers and their scopes can be found on the shelves of budget stockists to the showcases of the finest hunting outfitters. Many of their models are purpose driven to do a specific job in the field, this scope is one of them and its purpose is long distance shooting.
With it’s 15 power magnification and bullet drop calculating reticle this scope alows you to stretch the range of your shots if you need to or at least place very precise shots if your are hunting smaller game and vermin.
As well as being a great scope for using in the field and made to a high standard with all that you would expect from a scope such as coated lenses and fogproof construction the added benefit of going with a Bushnell optic is the great customer service and the lifetime warranty that will give you confidence in your scope.
Vortex Diamondback 4-16x42
I’ve said already that a 50mm objective gives a light gathering advantage over 40mm front ends but also that it does so at the expense of weight, manoeuvrability and a comfortable cheek weld. The perfect middle ground are the scopes available with 42 or 44mm objectives. That is offered by this Vortex Diamondback with it’s 42mm objective and variable 4-16 power.
When you consider that the 30-06 cartridge is 113 years old and as effective today as ever Vortex Optics are young in the firearms industry but since their establishment in 2004 they have rapidly become one of the most respected optics makers in the market. This scope from their diamondback range would be an excellent choice for your .30-06 hunting rifle.
Trijicon RS22 AccuPower
Trijicon might be best known for their tactical optics such as the ACOG but they also have a fantastic range of scopes including this one from their accupower range. They benefit from the same rugged construction as their products aimed at military and law enforcement and a simplicity that makes them a perfect complement to a traditional hunting rifle.
The massive 56mm objective on this scope will gather every available scrap of light at dusk and dawn for making the most of those best times of day to be out hunting. It also features a very low power option on it’s variable zoom which can be very useful if you are stalking through close brush, scrub and woodland.
One of the best things about trijicon scopes in general and particular ones which you might want to mount on a hunting rifle that will have to survive the rigours of travel and hunting in the backcountry is their supreme quality and ruggedness, this scope will not let you down in that regard.It also features a range of options for your reticle so you can pick one with subtensions in MOA or mil-dot intervals or illuminated options which will make hunting at dusk and dawn that bit easier.
Steiner GS3 Game Sensing Rifle Scope
Steiner scopes, and optics in general including binoculars but also their hardware such as scope rings all have a fantastic reputation. Their range of GS3 scopes have options for any hunting scenario and the 4-20 power options would also be great for targets and very precise varmint shooting. My pick for pairing with a .30-06 though would be the 2-10x42 or 3-15x50mm option.
As well as all the quality you would expect from a maker with Steiners reputation these scopes feature special CAT (colour adjusted transmission) coatings on their lenses which help game stand out by amplifying contrast, hence the ‘game sensing’ element of their name. The S1 plex reticle features a few additional aim points and makes it one of the most complicated reticles in this lineup, but it is very intuitive and not needlessly complicated like some others. It will give you a bit of extra help when adjusting for range and wind without being too complicated for hunting.
The great quality and very rugged construction of Steiner Optics is backed up by their lifetime ‘Heritage Warranty’ and there is no reason you won’t be able to pass this scope on to your kids.
Burris 3-9 x 40mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Rifle Scope
Another scope in the 3-9x40 range and at around $150 this is a bargain, it also offers the option for a ballistic plex reticle not too dissimilar from the one offered on the Steiner scope featured in this list. You won’t get quite the quality or performance from this scope but it also won’t sting your wallet as much and could be a great option if you are hunting on a shoestring. A .30-06 is a great choice if you are shooting on a budget as the ammunition is so readily available and cheap, certainly much more affordable than something like the .300 win mag or the more modern ballistically advanced cartridges like the 6.5 creedmoor. This scope if a perfect companion to the .30-06.
Zeiss Conquest 3-12x50 Illuminated
Zeiss, Swarovski and Schmidt and Bender produce some of the best scopes in the world and this model is just perfect for hunting and would be the perfect companion to a .30-06 rifle. It offers sboth low power magnification for close shots and stalking through brush where a good field of view is useful for close range work and fast target acquisition and higher power for those longer shots on open terrain. It also features an illuminated reticle and a huge choice of reticles so you can pick the best one for your style of shooting.
Schmidt and bender Klassik
Another entry on our list from one of the masters of optics, Schmidt and Bender, a lot of the very best scopes come out of Germany and in fact we owe a lot of what we take for granted from our scopes and binoculars to companies like Leica and Zeiss who have been around for well over a century and who still produce excellent optics.
The Klassic range from Schmidt and Bender are specifically aimed at hunters and lack some of the extreme features of the military and tactical oriented models like the PMII series and this scope not only offers a great variable zoom range but a 56mm objective and the L7 reticle which is a great all round hunting reticle and which has particular advantages when shooting running game such as boar.
Trijicon RS24 AccuPower
Another entry from the Trijicon AccuPower lineup this might not be the kind of scope you typical would put on a .30-06 but the .30-06 cartridge is great for running boar and driven battue style shooting. This is a discipline commonly practiced in some parts of Europe and scopes with small objective lenses allow you to easily shoot with both eyes open and easily track targets.
Any of these scopes will serve well on your .30-06 for hunting, if money were no object the Schmidt and Bender or Leupold would be my top picks, I have used the fixed eight power model from this range for several years and currently have a Leupold on my .243 Winchester which has taken more deer than I can count, both scopes are fantastic and I have no complaints at all about either of them.
For the budget conscious the Burris or Bushnell products might be a better choice, and for some specific hunting styles the Trijicon RS24 would be hard to beat. Any of these scopes will serve well on top of your .30-06 though, take your pick, get it zeroed and get out hunting with it.