.30-30 Winchester history and use
Henry’s .30-30 not only borrowed from the Marlin’s design but duplicated its fine accuracy

Every hunter worth their salt should own a .30-30


Cowboys on the Western prairies called it the good ol’ thutty-thutty; to Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries below the Mexican border it was the triente-triente; and the majority of hunters know it simply as the .30-30 Winchester. To survive as long as it has, it’s gotta be one helluva good cartridge. 

But there’s no middle road with this venerable woods cartridge; you either love it or heartily detest it.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
Mossberg 464 and Hornady’s LEVERevolution 160gn FTX bullet dropped this billy from about 200 yards, shooting from the treeline in the background

Those modern shooters weaned on a steady diet of ultra-high velocity magnum cartridges either emphatically condemn it or ignore it. Others voice the opinion that most other .30s have what this old timer sadly lacks, and that in an era of powerful, flat-shooting calibres, the .30-30 is an anachronism.

Yet this relic continues to enjoy widespread popularity and doesn’t look like calling it quits.

Despite all the criticism levelled at it and all the bad-mouthing it gets, the .30-30 has probably slain more game of all kinds than any other cartridge you can think of. The partnership of the Winchester Model 94 rifle and the .30-30 has lasted for 130 years and sold more than six million copies.

The Model 94 was the first lever-action repeating rifle placed on the market that was designed especially for cartridges loaded with smokeless powder. It is unquestionably the most successful centrefire lever-gun ever produced by the Big Red W.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
The Winchester Model 94 is 130 years old. Conversion to Angle Eject allowed a scope to be mounted centrally over the bore

Every hunter worth their salt should own a .30-30. It is not a gun for the accuracy nut, rather it is the top choice for the person who likes to go pussyfooting around the side of a hill or up a gully with Old Betsy cradled in their arms, patiently stalking a wary deer in early morning and late evening. It is a saddle-gun par excellence. As a pig gun in thick lignum, it takes a lot of beating.

Many hunters wouldn’t be caught dead with a .30-30, but for brush and woods shooting at game at ranges up to about 150 metres, the .30-30 has plenty of power. 

Most of the time when the .30-30 gets blamed for losing a deer, the fault lies not with the cartridge but with a poorly placed hit or with ranges that are too long.

The .30-30 has enjoyed tremendous success. Winchester, Marlin and Savage rifles in this calibre sold like hotcakes. 

.30-30 Winchester history and use
As well as a short, handy carbine, the previous Marlin 336 was also made in a full-sized rifle with 24” barrel

The first Model 94 had a nickel steel 26” octagonal barrel and sales were slow, but when the handy-dandy carbine model with 20” barrel appeared it took off like a rocket. It rapidly eclipsed all the other rifles because it was so short, light and handy.

My first .30-30 was presented to me at a Winchester seminar for gunwriters in 1978. Using the iron sights, it shot groups measuring four to six inches at 100 yards (about 10-15cm at 100m), but when I fitted a Williams aperture sight, it cut the groups nearly in half. 

Mostly, my .30-30 saw use as a pig gun and for goat hunting in wooded country.

The .30-30 sees use by all kinds of hunters. Some of them are good, careful shots who take care to stalk within sure killing range to place their bullets in a vital area. Others, alas, are poor hunters and worse rifle shots who tend to blaze away at game that is hopelessly out of range. They have no idea of trajectory and when they shoot beyond point-blank range they either miss or wound the game.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
All major ammunition makers load .30-30 cartridges with bullets ranging in weight from 125 to 170 grains

The best testimonial I’ve ever read to the effectiveness of the .30-30 in skilled hands was by an old sourdough in the Yukon who made his living shooting moose and caribou with the .30-30. It was his practice to shoot moose once in the lungs and he said they always ran off 75 to 100 yards before they died. Caribou, he said, were the easiest animals of their size to kill, far les durable than elk.

These days many consider the .30-30 inadequate even for deer, but I think of the Eskimos who used them on Barren Ground grizzlies and polar bears. Frank Golata, the famous Stone sheep guide and outfitter, used the .30-30 on many grizzlies and owned no other rifle until 1946 when he got a .30-06.

This is not to say that the .30-30 is an ideal rifle for grizzly or even an ideal wapiti rifle. It isn’t. 

Nevertheless, the good, careful shot who uses ammunition with a properly constructed bullet can knock off almost anything with a .30-30.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
The .30-30 loaded with two good game bullets — the 150gn Speer Hot-Cor and Hornady 160gn FTX

An experienced hunter who is aware of the cartridge’s limitations is justified in using it, even though, theoretically, they may be under-gunned.

BULLETS FOR THE .30-30

The bullet that made the .30-30’s reputation on game was an old-fashioned 170gn soft-point with a thin jacket and a lot of soft lead exposed at the nose. These bullets opened up quickly on soft-skinned game and killed like lightning, but often lacked penetration on larger animals.

When controlled-expansion bullets for the .30-30 first came on the market, they were too stiffly jacketed to open up properly at the round’s moderate velocity. Most of the time they went right through with little expansion and the game ran a long way before it dropped. 

This gave the .30-30 an ill-deserved black eye, but the ammunition companies listened to all the complaints and remedied the problem.

For larger deer, the 170gn Nosler Partition or Barnes were top choices, while for smaller species 125 to 150gn bullets gave adequate penetration.

Bullets and ammunition today are a vast improvement on those of yesteryear and ammunition is also more powerful. There’s certainly no flies on either Winchester’s Surpreme loading of a 150gn bullet at 2480fps or Hornady’s LEVERevolution load with a 160gn Flex Tip bullet at 2400fps — velocities taken in a 24″ barrel.

Traditionally, bullets used in tubular magazines have been flat or round-nosed to ensure they don’t ignite the primer of the cartridge ahead, setting off a disastrous chain reaction. Hornady’s .30-30 ammunition boosts the cartridge’s performance by using Flex Tip bullets with a soft polymer tip that gives the bullet the in-flight characteristics of a spitzer type, yet is soft and pliable so as not to indent the primer ahead.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
The Aimpoint Micro H1 red dot sight is fast to aim with for shots at close range or on running game

SIGHTING OPTIONS

The Marlin 336’s side ejection and the Winchester Model 94 XTR’s Angle Eject feature (which modernised the old but popular action) allows a scope with standard eye relief to be mounted low and centrally over the bore. Options include a peep sight, but my preference is for a red-dot sight that’s quicker to aim with and more easily visible in poor light conditions.

That’s fine for close range work, but a compact variable, like a 1.5-6x or similar, is better all-round, and a 2-7×32 may just be ideal.

RELOADING THE .30-30

I’ve always found the .30-30 is an easy cartridge to reload and I favour Hornady’s 160gn FTX because it can always be relied upon to give rapid, controlled expansion with deep penetration. 

Most 150gn flat-nosed bullets for the .30-30 have a BC of .255 and the 170gn .298 compared with .330 for the 160gn FTX, which extends the range of lever-guns with tubular magazines. 

My pet load uses 30gn of AR2219 to drive the 160gn FTX at 2320fps from a 20” barrel, which equals the Hornady LEVERevolution ammunition.

Since the .30-30 is a short- to medium-range cartridge, I recommend sighting in a scope-sighted rifle with my reloads to zero at 175 yards. Then the bullet will be 1.34” high at 50yd, 2.35” high at 100, 1.34” high at 150, drops 2” at 200 and 8” at 250, at which distance it retains 1000ft-lb of energy.

.30-30 Winchester history and use
The Marlin 336 has a very smooth working action. Solid-top receiver and side ejection make it well suited for scope use

The old timer has been around. She’s led quite an active life. She’s been in Mexican revolutions. She’s shot polar bears and moose. She’s appeared in countless western movies and in her old age she’s frequently showing up on TV. 

Many younger shooters are bedazzled by the newer and sexier super magnums, but those handy .30-30 carbines are ideal for carrying in a scabbard on a 4×4 or a four-wheeler.

The old .30-30 is still pretty useful an I’m predicting the old girl will be around for a long time to come.

 

 

 


Like it? Share with your friends!

What's Your Reaction?

super super
23
super
fail fail
10
fail
fun fun
9
fun
bad bad
6
bad
hate hate
4
hate
lol lol
2
lol
love love
31
love
omg omg
16
omg
Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.

0 Comments