When does a .30-06 do a thirty-thirty?

When it has a spectacularly successful bullet failure.Perhaps an explanation is in order.

I went deer hunting on Saturday, opening day. Brought the trusty old .30-06. Got up early, headed to a good spot while it was still pitch black (and raining, and blowing). The other guys I was hunting with headed for their respective starting spots, trying to get there before first light so we could watch for first movements, to be ready at first legal shooting time (6:40). My spot was a hillside overlooking a saddle that is a regular deer highway. It has logs from an old forest fire to hide behind, and lots of scrub Oregon white oak and some pines. I’d been sitting there cross-legged in the rain, trying with marginal success to keep the scope dry, waiting for something to happen down in the draw. It was only a little after seven when I heard something up on the hillside behind me. I turned around to my left and looked: a doe was passing behind me, headed further to my left, perfectly silhouetted against the skyline between a couple of oaks. Then another, and another. I started to bring the rifle around, when a buck stepped into the opening and stopped, looking at me because I was moving. I figure there was no good way to stalk or do anything fancy, so I just continued my awkward counterclockwise turn as smoothly as I could while I brought the rifle up. I got a good view of his antlers in spite of the raindrops on the lenses and generally poor light because of the silhouette, checked to make sure there were the three point minimum, and figuring he was close and I likely had only seconds (if that), I got the crosshairs on his chest and touched it off. BLAM. He jumped and ran, out of sight over the ridge crest, toward one of my hunting partners. I got up, secured my stuff, and went to find him. I thought that if I hit him where I thought I was aiming (low chest by the left foreleg) he shouldn’t go far.

No blood trail, but clear tracks in the freshly damp earth. (That is, they were clear when it got lighter, but under a heavy overcast early in the morning, I didn’t see squat.) I only knew the general direction he headed, so I headed that way, and I found him right out in the open on his left side. His right side looked pristine. I measured the distance from where I sat to where he stood: thirty yards. I measured to where he stopped, dead as a doornail; another thirty yards. So a .30-06 gave me a thirty (yard shot)-thirty (yard run).

I looked him over. Small mule deer buck, looking fat and healthy, with three nice and well-defined points on each side – no measuring eye-guards for counting this year! I looked at his right side closely, looking for an exit wound. I poked and prodded a bit, and saw one small bump. I pushed at it, folded the hair away, and revealed a reddish bruise-colored, hairless bump that felt like there was a hard lump underneath. I made a minute slit, and retrieved the remains of my bullet, caught under the skin. It weighs a mere 85 grains, and it started out as a 180 grain bullet. Can’t say that’s good, but I also can’t fault the overall effect in this case (dead fast).

When I gutted him out and butchered him, I found something weird that I’ve never seen before. The bulled entered his left from shoulder just behind the leg bone, went through his rib cage, grazed his heart, passed through part of his liver, went through the rear section of his rib cage at mid-height, and got stopped by the skin. The entry hole was normal size in the skin, but the shoulder behind is was blown up. It looked like a small explosive charge went off. Not just bloodshot tissue, but it sucked in a bunch of crud like hair and packed wads of it in between the muscle layers. I lost a five inch wide patch of muscle in the leg, and the hole in the rib cage was more than three inches across, with two separate ribs getting an inch long hunk vaporized out of them (well, not vaporized, but small fragments all over inside the chest cavity). The left lung was jelly. There was massively bloodshot lymph and fat a foot away. On the other side, the exit hole in the ribs was small, with no blood-shot tissue or waste. They thing that surprised me the most was the shear quantity of stuff that obviously wasn’t deer internal tissue that was packed in between muscles; there was so much I gave up trying to scrape it away and just cut away a fair bit of the gnarly-looking meat.

I think what happened is that the non-premium bullet (I think it’s an old Core Lokt) failed dramatically because of the close range. At thirty yards, it’s still moving faster than it’s designed for impacting at, and it acted like a high-velocity varmint bullet that blew up, causing a massive temporary stretch cavity that sucked in loads of hair, and the small bullet fragments dumped their energy in the first four or five inches of penetration, leaving only the smaller remaining core to sail on its merry way across to the other side. Trying a pink mist on a hundred fifty pounds of deer doesn’t work like it does on a groundhog, but the effects right around the impact point were pretty impressive.DeerHunt2013 017sm

You can see the little pucker where the bullet bulged out and was caught at eight o’clock from the orange of my hunters vest.

Yet again, it is shown that hunting, shooting, and technical rifle accuracy may overlap, but they are NOT the same things. This shooting was more like high-intensity than the normal long-range boomer thumping. Only one shot, but it’s fast, close, awkward positions, poor light, and not a lot of time to ponder. In this case, “minute of deer (heart)” was more than 12 MOA.

The pictures and “autopsy” are here. Pictures include recovered bullet and bloody meat.


12 thoughts on “When does a .30-06 do a thirty-thirty?

  1. I hunted deer (and later, cow elk) with an ’06 for more than 30 years. Based on my experience, a 180 or 165 grain bullet from an ’06 should not detonate on impact, and should penetrate clear through a deer-sized animal. That bullet should have made a clean, .30 caliber entry hole and a quarter-sized hole through the rib cage, made jelly of the lungs, and then made a second quarter-sized hole on exit. You should not have been able to recover it.

    I used a Sierra 165 grain boattailed spitzer for decades with never a bobble in performance. Beginning about 2002, I switched to the 165 grain Nosler Solid Base, then Ballistic Tip, then Accubond. A 165 grain Accubond in that situation should work perfectly.

    Ain’t reloading fun?

  2. You hit the bone. Hit something hard like that, especially when you’re using an older style bullet like the core-lokt and it blows up. If it’s going fast enough, it has the momentum to go inward. If too slow, it doesn’t. Example, I hunt cow elk with a 7mm RUM. One year I hit an elk broadside in the front leg at about 100 yards with a Speer 160g BTSP. Blew up just like you describe (small entry, massive bone and rib destruction, heart and lungs eviscerated, no true exit wound and in my case, I never found any significant pieces left). Next year I took an elk at about 750 yards. First shot, I heard it hit, but the elk just stood there and looked around. Second shot I heard it hit again. Elk didn’t move. Third missed but fourth hit again. Nothing. Finally it turned it’s head to lick where I’d been shooting it. I held the same hold and hit it in the head. Dropped on the spot. When we got to it, all 3 of my hits hit the front leg bone, within inches of each other. All of them blew up, but they blew out, not in. The skin blew off, but the bone was only fractured, not blow’d up. I changed my bullet that year.

    • I don’t think it did hit bone. The edge of the wound in the shoulder was all meat. It was close to the bone, but not in it. It did get ribs. I’ll have a more complete post tomorrow with pictures.

  3. Here’s a bit more insight, in a similar vein to Scotty’s post above.

    I have been using a .270 WSM since the fall of 2005. Given that nearly all .277 rifles shoot the ordinary .270 Winchester round and so nearly all .277 bullets are made for its muzzle velocity, the obvious question was, “What bullet to use?” Answering that question has been interesting.

    After much experimentation, the rifle itself is extremely accurate, but only with three Nosler bullets: the 140 grain Accubond, the 130 grain Accubond, and the 130 grain Ballistic Tip.

    To cut to the chase, the 140 grain Accubond, at a muzzle velocity of 3120 f/s, works beautifully. It will expand immediately on something as lightly constructed as a broadside lung shot on a coyote, and it penetrates clear through on a quartering shot through the shoulder and chest on a cow elk. I have recovered only one 140 Accubond, a quartering shot on an elk from behind that raked through five ribs on entrance and fetched up under the skin on the off-side shoulder. It was intact, just spent. It is extremely effective on hogs, even through the armor over the shoulder of a boar.

    The 130 grain Accubond and Ballistic Tip are a different story. At a muzzle velocity of 3260 to 3300 f/s, they simply detonate right after impact. The wound cavity is internal, but it resembles an explosion. I recall one deer, a medium-sized whitetail doe, who veered to the side just as I squeezed off on a quartering-away shot at about 80 yards. Instead of hitting the boiler room, the bullet hit the big football-shaped muscle of the rear quarter, which simply exploded into a mass of separated muscle fibers as if it had been combed. The bullet broke the bone and stopped in the leg just before it would have exited into the abdomen. About 30% or so of the weight remained, all in the base. I recall one small piglet, no more than four pounds, that was hit broadside through the chest at about ten yards (surprises are like that); the off-side shoulder and ribcage simply disappeared.

    I’m not harping on the Nosler Accubond here. I’ve simply found out the hard way how critical bullet selection can be at higher velocities, and this is what has worked for me.

    • Yup, should penetrate. Didn’t. Came close to the bone, but didn’t hit it. Same bullet that I used years ago to shoot a deer mid-leap over a bush that was running right toward me: the bullet in that case penetrated high on the neck, down the neck and through the chest cavity, out the abdomen, into the thigh, and ended on his back knee joint. Range was about 15 yards on impact, penetrated between five and six feet total. Weird things happen. I’ll have a more complete post with pics tomorrow.
      If you have a gun that is going to be picky about its food, liking Noslers is good.

      • “Same bullet that I used years ago …”

        Odds are you found one with an internal defect, a thin or weak spot in the side wall.

        “If you have a gun that is going to be picky about its food, liking Noslers is good.”


        The gun has a long, thin barrel, and the whole intent is that it be fairly light. Thus, barrel flex during firing plays a big role in accuracy. The 130 and 140 grain Nosler bullets, with a properly set Limbsaver de-resonator, are quite accurate, 3/4 MOA or better. Every other bullet I have tried in it would not group smaller than about nine MOA, and the de-resonator made no real difference. Fortunately, the one bullet that works well, the 140 grain Accubond, works extremely well.

  4. That deer’s too small, you shouldn’t have taken it. I hope your excuses about time of day made it look bigger than it was.

    • He’s the perfect size. It’s a three-point minimum area. He’s legal, and easy to drag out. The spouse doesn’t like venison, so I’m eating the whole thing pretty much by myself. He’s nice and tender. I was hungry 🙂 Seriously, ribs and backstrap for dinner tonight, seared and grilled with a bit of salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Very tasty. most of it will be burger, backstrap, or jerkey; not many stakes this year.
      As I think about it, he has about an average rack for the bucks I shoot, but has about the smallest body of any mule deer I’ve ever whacked. But then, I have never been a picky hunter – first legal one I see that I have a shot at, I take the shot. Never have got any monsters, though I know several have come out of that spot. *shrug* I like tasty and easy over hard-to-pack-out and tough.

      • I’m a meat hunter. I’ll choose tender and tasty over tough and stringy any day, and I don’t eat antlers. I wouldn’t choose a steak from an old buck any more than I would choose a steak from an old Holstein bull, and I’ve had both.

  5. I have had similar experience with 140 grain Remington core lokts out of my 7mm mag on close range shots. I shot one medium sized doe at like 12 yards while in a tree stand. Bullet entered right behind the front shoulder but was no exit on far side. After looking the deer over I noticed several small exit holes out of the front of her chest. Like you I hypothesized that the thin jacketed bullet was not designed to be used that close and that fast, and simply “blew up” inside the animal.

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