Fifty years ago it seemed every second rifle in the woods was a lever-action .30-30. Now I rarely see one, through no fault of the rifle or cartridge.
We have become a nation of power-hungry, long-range shooters. By the standards of today’s super .30 calibers that generate upwards of 3,600 fps velocity and 4,333 foot pounds of energy with a 150-grain bullet, the .30-30 Winchester is a wet noodle. This old cowboy cartridge is lucky to push a 150-grain slug 2,400 fps and churn up a measly 1,900 foot pounds energy.
But the .30-30 is still deadly because it’s a lot easier to tote and shoot than the Macho Magnums. While speed, power and benchrest accuracy sound critical on paper, basic shot placement is what matters when hunting. A deer hit in the heart/lungs with a .22 Long Rifle bullet will expire faster than one struck in the paunch with a .30-378 Wby.
As a kid I put my first two deer in the freezer with a Winchester M94 lever-action .30-30. Carrying it made me feel like all the cowboy heroes I’d watched on TV and at the movies. But the light, trim, quick, saddle carbine .30-30 was no Hollywood prop. The thing worked because it was easy to carry, quick to swing into action, and easy to shoot. I was reminded of all this while bear hunting with the relatively new Mossberg Model 464 lever-action last spring.
Mossberg began building the 464 shortly after Winchester stopped making the M94. My Mossberg isn’t as light as my old Winchester because aging eyes suggested I mount a little 3-9x36mm Swarovski scope on it rather than trust open sights. In the potentially dim light of the bear woods, I didn’t want to take a chance at wounding anything. My Mossberg cycles smoothly and looks great thanks to some pretty nicely figured walnut and an unusual, nickel-and-MarineCoat finish, which makes metal parts weatherproof and silver. I fired Hornady’s new 140-grain, flexible-tip MonoFlex bullet when it came time for the rifle to perform, and a single shot dropped a six foot bear in its tracks. Later my partner, Rob, heart-shot another 6-footer with the same load. It dashed about 25 yards before expiring. I don’t know what more you could want from a .30 caliber rifle.
The legitimate complaints against the lever action .30-30 are just two, in my mind. Foremost is the flat- or round-nosed bullets necessitated by the tubular magazine, which stores cartridges nose to primer. Jarring during recoil could result in a pointed bullet performing like a firing pin, its sharp nose detonating the primer in front of it, initiating a messy chain reaction. Bullets must be blunt to prevent this. Unfortunately, blunt bullets push a lot of air, wasting their kinetic energy. After 200 yards they begin falling like meteors. Hornady has fixed this somewhat with its sharply pointed, flexible tip bullets (FTX and MonoFlex in LEVERevolution ammunition) that will not detonate primers. This improves aerodynamic shape and extends .30-30 range while saving kinetic energy, as this chart shows. Both bullets are zeroed for 100 yards and launch at 2,400 fps:
|Drop at:||200 yd||250 yd||300 yd||Energy at 300 yd|
|160-gr RN (B.C. .241)||-6.8″||-14.3″||-25||776 f.p.|
|160-gr. FTX (B.C. 330)||-6.1″||-13″||-22||1,023 f.p.|
The trajectory difference is minor, but the energy savings at 300 yards are significant.
But parsing the .30-30 for long-range performance misses its true talents. The attributes that made it the former king of deer rifles and keep it in the top ten of ammo sales each year are it’s deadly effectiveness in the types of cover and shooting conditions under which most of us bag our deer each year. Instead of flinching with a magnum and missing at 100 yards, we calmly aim and squeeze with the mild shooting .30-30 and score. It’s rather like shooting a .22 long rifle at squirrels. The mild kick lets you concentrate on the sight picture and a smooth trigger pull.
Inside 250 yards the .30-30 rifle doesn’t have to shoot sub-MOA. At that range any rifle that can put its bullets within a two-inch circle (and most lever actions can) at 100 yards will park them in a deer or black bear’s boiler room every time out to 300-yards.
Oddly, many hunting guides these days fear the .30-30 hasn’t enough power to kill whitetails, let alone black bears. (More evidence of bias and perhaps self-induced brain washing from seeing too many super-magnum commercials.) Over the years the “puny” .30-30 has been hired to terminate thousands of deer, elk, moose, caribou, grizzlies and even brown bears and polar bears. The simple truth is you don’t need 3,000 foot pounds of energy to punch a hole through any of these animals. And when a bullet carrying as little as 600 foot pounds of energy strikes at 1,475 fps (1,005 miles per hour!) — trust me, it isn’t going to bounce off. And that’s roughly the velocity of a round-nose .30-30 bullet at 300 yards.
So, if you hunt where shots are rarely beyond 200 yards and you don’t wish to endure the stiff recoil of today’s magnums, consider the old .30-30 Winchester. It’s old. It’s not flashy, not heavy, not super powerful, not tactical, not long-range, not shock-and-awesome — just darn effective.
# # #