Some things simply stand the test of time, and that becomes glaringly apparent in the world of firearms. Specifically with the iconic Winchester .30-30, a cartridge that dates all the way back to 1895 and is still in heavy use by hunters today. Unlike other old cartridges, this one has changed very little in all that time. Although, to be fair, something this effective doesn't really need to change all that much.
You'll often hear people tout that the .30-30 has killed more deer and other big game than any other firearm in North America. There's probably some hint of truth to that given just how many hunting rifles chambered for it are out there.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's take a brief look at the history of this cartridge and mention some of the rifles that helped shape America into a hunting community that loves it. Then we'll look at some of the modern .30-30 gun offerings on the market today.
A Brief History of the .30-30
While Winchester Repeating Arms Company is responsible for many famous guns, one can argue it was the Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle that put the company on the map. Legendary gunmaker John Browning was the designer, and he originally intended the rifle to be chambered in .32-40 and .38-55. However, Model 94 was quickly adapted to fire the new round only a year later. At the time, it was called the .30 Winchester Center Fire or .30 WCF. Back then the round was the first centerfire cartridge to use smokeless powder here in America.
The Model 1894 in .30-30 quickly became a huge hit and a symbol of the American West. It didn't take long for shooters to discover it was a deer killing machine. The gun was also famous for its use in many gunfights and frontier battles over the years. In either case, the rifle and the cartridge quickly developed a good reputation and they've both been popular ever since.
The .30-30 Cartridge, and Why It Hasn't Changed Much
There's nothing too fancy about the .30-30 itself. It's a rimmed, bottlenecked round that uses the .38-55 Winchester as a parent case. It takes a 7.8mm bullet, but don't go thinking this is just like the .308 Winchester. There's a massive difference in speed and that's mostly due to the traditional design of the .30-30. Because the round was designed with lever guns in mind, it's almost always going to be fed into a tubular magazine. This brings up the obvious safety concerns about a tipped bullet hitting the primer of the cartridge ahead of it. As a result, .30-30 ammo is often soft point or flat nose.
As you probably already guessed, that affects the longer range capabilities and overall speeds of the bullets. For something like Federal Premium's 170-grain Power-Shok, projectiles achieve a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps, and that bullet slows to a little under 1,900 fps at 100 yards and only 1,619 fps at 200 yards. Most .30-30 hunters like to keep things in the 100- to 150-yard range. Beyond that, the .30-30 loses much of its effectiveness.
It's a similar story for factory ammo like Remington Core-Lokt, where a 150-grain bullet is doing 2,390 fps at the muzzle, but only 1,974 at 100 yards and 1,607 at 200 yards. A 170-grain Winchester Super X has a 2,200-fps muzzle velocity that quickly slows to 1,879 at 100 yards and 1,591 at 200 yards.
That said, ammunition manufacturers are finding new ways to squeeze more potential out of the .30-30. A prime example would be Hornady LEVERevolution factory ammo. The designers gave these rounds new modern powders that increase speed and energy. More importantly, they have managed to design a pointed tip bullet that's safe to use in a tubular magazine without worrying about accidental discharge. The result is rounds like their 160-grain offering. It has a 2,400-fps muzzle velocity that's still doing 2,150 fps at 100 yards and 1,916 fps at 200. It also manages to retain more energy, 1,643 and 1,304 foot-pounds for 100 and 200 yards.
Hearing this, you may be wondering why anyone would bother with a .30-30 when there are much faster and harder-hitting rounds available in the 21st century. Well, if you're not planning on shooting at longer ranges, there's not much more you need. The .30-30 has been effectively used on everything from whitetails and mule deer to black bears, wild hogs, and bull moose. The bullets from a .30-30 do an excellent job expanding once in an animal's vitals, leading to a quick, humane kill. Most rifles chambered for this cartridge are short rifles that are easy to swing and lead, making them ideal brush guns, or great for hunters who do a lot of pushing or driving of deer.
There's also the factor of easily-manageable recoil. The .30-30 is a true joy to shoot. To cap it off, .30-30 ammo is quite affordable, and it's available almost everywhere. Even when there's ammo shortages, there's often still a few boxes of .30-30 left on the shelves. When a round is this accessible, this effective, and this much fun to shoot, it doesn't need to change too much to remain popular.
Best Hunting Rifles Chambered in .30-30
Now, let's have a look at what's currently on the market in regards to top-notch .30-30 rifles. We should note we didn't include a Marlin on this list simply because they were acquired by Ruger a while back and the status of guns like the Marlin 336 appears to be a bit up in the air at the moment. Marlin's website lists that rifle as currently not being in production. We hope it's added back to the lineup eventually.
Winchester 94 Carbine
We'll begin this list with the gun that started it all. This Winchester Model 94 is a Carbine model and features a 20-inch barrel with a 1:12 twist rate. It has a great classic look thanks to the brushed polish finish on the receiver and barrel and black walnut stock and forend. At only 38 inches of overall length, it's short and easy to swing for running shots at hogs and deer in the thick stuff. The magazine tube holds seven rounds. Model 94s are pricey these days, but this is a firearm that will hold its value should you choose to pass it down to a child or grandchild.
Henry Lever Action X Model
While the .30-30 may be older than dirt, the rifles around have evolved quite a bit over the years. The Henry Lever Action X packs a lot of modern firearm innovations into a traditional lever action design. This rifle features a synthetic stock and forend, a cushy buttstock, a short picatinny rail, and even M-Lok accessory slots. Henry brought the sighting mechanism into the 21st century with some fiber optic sights for quick target acquisition in low light. They even threaded the barrel for a suppressor. Plus, this gun just looks cool with its blued steel finish and black furniture. The 21-inch barrel has a 1:12 rate of twist and is ready to go hunting for hogs, deer, or just about whatever else you choose to pursue in North America with an old design that's been updated for modern times.
The one problem with modern lever-actions in .30-30 is that many of them are extremely expensive. The Mossberg 464 can sometimes be found for under $500 if there's a sale, giving hunters on any budget the chance to own a classic deer rifle design. This rifle has a 16.25-inch barrel and features a matte blued finish and wooden stock and forend. Mossberg also makes a variant with a synthetic stock and more modern features like fiber optic sights. The receiver is also drilled and tapped for a scope mount using weaver bases. We have read some people have experienced feeding issues with it. Many people report it does need to be broken in thoroughly, but once you do that, you have a nice lever gun at a fraction of price of other offerings on the market.
Henry .30-30 Side Gate
There's something to be said for a gun being built around a cartridge. That's exactly what Henry did with the side gate .30-30. This rifle was created specifically for this old school round, and Henry builds two variants. One has a standard loop and the other has a large loop. Both guns come in at seven pounds and have a 20-inch blued steel barrel with a 1:12 rate of twist. The furniture is American Walnut, and the iron sights include an adjustable semi-buckhorn rear and a brass bead front. It's a great-looking rifle that's sure to fill the freezer season after season.
Winchester Model 1894 Trails End Takedown
The .30-30 is traditionally considered a brush gun cartridge, so it only makes sense that Winchester would introduce a takedown model that is easier to stow. This rifle breaks down into two components, the barrel assembly and the stock and receiver. That makes it easier to stash in a pack, into a small brush plane, or even on a boat or ATV. The rifle has a 20-inch barrel with a 1:12 twist rate and weighs only 6 pounds, 12 ounces. Even though it's easier to transport, it doesn't skimp on the classic looks with its brushed polished finish and Grade I satin black walnut furniture.
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