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In this age of magnums, short, ultra-short, and otherwise, can a cartridge that has been around for over 125 years still have any relevance? If the consideration deals with the .30-30 Winchester, the answer is yes. Why, you may well ask? The simple answer is that it performs quite well, at least for many purposes. A .30-30 lever action has probably ridden in more saddle scabbards and truck racks than any other rifle.
My fondness for the .30-30 started almost 70 years ago when an older shooting buddy picked up a box that had a considerable number of handloaded .30-30 cartridges and his Winchester 94 and said “Let’s go shoot these.” His Winchester had been customized with a lot of polishing of metal parts and the addition of special sights. That short, handy little rifle shot marvelously well. Eventually my older brother got a lever action .30-30 before I did.
Even though I long had a fascination for the .30-30 Winchester cartridge and Winchester 94, one did not come my way until many years later. When one did, it was a Christmas gift from my wife. I was already involved in reloading so all I needed were a shell holder and dies. I have probably had more fun loading .30-30 ammunition than any other caliber.
Factory .30-30 ammunition is likely to be available almost anywhere centerfire ammunition is sold. In fact, many .30-30 users are hunters who shoot only a few rounds per year. I know such a deer hunter for whom a box of ammunition is sufficient for four or five deer seasons. A .30-30 can be that kind of rifle.
Most factory .30-30 loads feature 150 or 170 grain bullets and have nominal muzzle velocities of 2390 and 2200 ft/sec giving muzzle energies of 1900 and 1825 ft lbs, respectively. The trajectory and retained energy make a .30-30 adequate for shots at medium game to 175-200 yards, which is not a serious limitation for many hunters. Lever action .30-30 rifles have tubular magazines which cause the point of a bullet to be positioned behind the primer of the cartridge in front of it. As a result, bullets for the .30-30 normally have flat or round noses. At the modest velocity given by the .30-30, this is really not much of a handicap. Factory loads have improved greatly over the years making the .30-30 more effective than in its early years.
Several approaches have been taken to improve ballistic performance of .30-30 ammunition. Hornady produces bullets known as the FTX that have flexible polymer inserts at the point. Such bullets not only provide a spritzer shape, but also have better velocity retention and provide greater energy at longer ranges. The advertised data for the Hornady 160 grain FTX load are 2400 ft/sec and 2046 ft lbs at the muzzle. Regardless, the .30-30 is best used when the ranges do not exceed approximately 200 yards.
A .30-30 lever action is a good hunting rifle, but it can be much more. With a capacity of six rounds, a fast operating action, and good handling characteristics, such a rifle can also be effective as a defensive tool. That use has been demonstrated since its origin. Such a firearm might not be the best defensive implement, but it is by no means the worst choice.
The versatility of the .30-30 can be enhanced by judicious handloading. Bullet diameter is 0.308 inch so light weight bullets intended for use in such cartridges as the .30 Carbine can be loaded for the .30-30. For loading the .30-30 for plinking or use on varmints, Hornady and Speer produce 100 grain bullets that have short jackets and a lot of lead exposed. Known as the Short Jacket and Plinker, respectively, from these manufacturers, such light bullets can be loaded to produce short range varmint and pest loads. Also, there are numerous 110 grain bullets in .308 inch diameter that include full jacketed, hollow point, and round nose varieties. When loading light weight bullets, I use a powder such as Alliant Unique or 2400 and keep the velocity to around 1800 ft/sec. Such loads are pleasant to shoot, surprisingly accurate, and quite effective on predators called in. A personal favorite of mine is the Sierra 125 grain hollow point that I load almost to full power. Powders suitable for full power loads in the .30-30 include IMR 3031, Aliant Reloder 7 and 10X, Hodgdon H332 and H335, Winchester 748, and Hodgdon LeveRevolution. I have had excellent results with all of these.
When it comes to using cast bullets, the .30-30 cartridge is a natural. Being a rimmed cartridge, reduced loads do not result in cases being forced into the chamber by the firing pin causing case shortening. Most cast bullets in .308 inch diameter are in the 125-150 grain range. Such bullets can be driven at 1200-1500 ft/sec by small charges of relatively fast burning powders. However, such charges do not fill the case so it is essential to avoid introducing multiple charges! This can be avoided by inserting a bullet in the case immediately after dispensing the powder. Light loads are so much fun to shoot and perform so well that I shoot a lot more of them than I do factory loads or full-power handloads with jacketed bullets.
The .30-30 Winchester is a versatile cartridge that has an honored place in the history of shooting sports. If I had to start letting go centerfire rifles, my Winchester 94 .30-30 might not be my last to go, but because of its versatility and iconic status, it would be around longer than most others.
The Winchester 94 outfitted for hunting.
A side mount must be used for attaching a scope to a Winchester 94 with top ejection.
Factory loads for the .30-30 come in many forms including the Remington Accelerator (left) with a 55 grain bullet in a sabot.
Bullets for reloading the .30-30 are produced by all major bullet makers.
For preparing handloads, bullets ranging from 90 to 170 grains demonstrate the versatility of the .30-30