The .30-30 Winchester: Its Capabilities as a Deer Cartridge
By Gary Zinn
The .30-30 Winchester cartridge, introduced in 1895, was a marvel. It was the first American sporting cartridge designed from the ground up to use nitrocellulose (smokeless) powder. It is, arguably, the progenitor of all modern, high velocity, centerfire sporting rifle cartridges.
In terms of ballistic performance, the .30-30 may seem overmatched by many of the cartridges that have been introduced since it came along. Yet, the .30-30 is used around the world and it is still one of the best selling centerfire rifle cartridges in the USA, ranking fourth among the best selling centerfire rifle cartridges.
The top five cartridges on the list are the .223 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .30-30 Winchester and .270 Winchester. Thus, although the .30-30 may seem quaint, it is still one of the most highly regarded sporting cartridges.
Capabilities of traditional loads
I will start with what I am sure is the most widely used traditional .30-30 load, as sold by Hornady, Federal, Remington, Winchester and others. This features a 150 grain flat point bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2390 f.p.s. (fired from a 24 inch barrel). In the data summary below, the first line specifies the brand of cartridge, bullet weight and type, muzzle velocity (f.p.s) from a 20 inch barrel, muzzle energy in foot-pounds (ft. lbs.), and the ballistic coefficient (BC) of the bullet.
The remaining lines of the data summary are key outputs of the ballistics analysis. First, I used the point blank range calculator at www.shooterscalculator.com to calculate a +/- 3 inch MPBR for the load. The resulting MPBR (205 yards in this case) gives me an unambiguous measure of the practical range of the load. I also noted the far zero (zero distance) of the load. (MPBR and Zero distances are rounded to the nearest five yard increment.)
Next, I developed a trajectory table for the load using the ShootersCalculator trajectory calculator. From the trajectory table, I recorded the muzzle energy, energy at 100 yards and energy at other relevant distances (zero range and MPBR). The downrange data are needed to do hunting capability index calculations. (The explanation of these indexes is abbreviated here, but is discussed more fully in the Appendix, below.)
.30-30 Win: Hornady 150 gr. Interlock RN, MV 2350 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.) / ME 1840 ft. lbs., BC .186 (Zero = 175 yards, MPBR = 205 yards)
The first index is the "Hornady H.I.T.S." score. Using bullet weight, diameter and 100 yard impact velocity as inputs, the Hornady online HITS calculator produces a numerical score for a given load. A HITS score between 500 and 900 denotes that a cartridge/load is suitable for medium game (50 - 300 pounds). The .30-30 load above has a HITS score of 652, which verifies that this load is suitable for deer-sized game at 100 yards.
The second index is the "Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula." The formula uses downrange impact energy, along with bullet sectional density and frontal area, to calculate the killing power of hunting loads. I call the output variable of the formula KPS (for Killing Power Score). For a given load, the formula is:
KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x frontal area), or simply:
Thus, the 100 yard KPS of the load above is 1232 x .0168 = 20.7. I also calculated KPS values at 175 yards (zero) and at 205 yards (MPBR).
Finally, I noted what I am calling the "Effective Killing Range" (EKR) of this load. This is at 175 yards, where the KPS = 15.0. Although Chuck Hawks, who invented the G&S Online Rifle Killing Power Formula considers a KPS of 12.5 the practical minimum for hunting Class 2 (50-300 pound) game, I will use the somewhat higher and more conservative KPS value of 15.0 as a baseline for evaluating the effective killing range (EKR) of other loads. (The EKR concept is explained in the Appendix, below.)
There is a second traditional .30-30 factory load, featuring a 170 grain bullet at a MV of 2200 fps (24 inch barrel). Here is the data workup for this load.
.30-30 Win: Federal 170 gr. SP, MV 2160 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.) / ME 1761 ft. lbs., BC .254 (Zero = 175 yds., MPBR = 200 yds.)
This load generates a HITS score of 809 (high in the medium game range on the HITS scale) and a 100 yard KPS of 24.9. The MPBR is 200 yards and the KPS is 18.2 at that range. This is above the baseline KPS of 15.0 previously established as defining the effective killing range of the 150 grain .30-30 load. Thus, this load has an EKR out to its MPBR. (I refuse to calculate the EKR or endorse shooting beyond the +/- 3\'94 MPBR of a load.)
Bottom line: the traditional 170 grain load is stronger than its 150 grain counterpart. The traditional 150 and 170 grain bullet loads from other manufacturers (Remington, Winchester, etc.) will show ballistic performance virtually identical to the loads I have detailed above.
Federal Fusion .30-30 loads
Federal offers two interesting .30-30 loads in their Fusion ammunition line. These are like the conventional loads above, in that they are offered in the same bullet weights, at the same velocities. However, these loads feature Fusion bonded bullets, shaped to get higher BC values than conventional .30-30 round nosed or flat point bullets. The 150 grain Fusion load achieves a MPBR of 220 yards, with a KPS of 16.5 at that range. The 170 grain load has a KPS of 20.0 at its MPBR of 210 yards. Thus, these are both solid 200 yard loads for hunting deer and other Class 2 game.
Browning BXR load
Browning has introduced a new line of centerfire hunting ammunition, featuring new bullet designs that are called the BXR and BXC. One offering is a .30-30 load with a 155 grain BXR bullet. Fired at 2350 f.p.s. MV, this load has a MPBR of 215 yards and a KPS of 16.7 at that range. This load has downrange performance that is similar to the 150 grain Federal Fusion .30-30 load.
Hornady LEVERevolution loads
In 2005, Hornady introduced its LEVERevolution ammunition line. Initially offered in .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington and subsequently expanded to include all of the common lever action rifle cartridges, this ammo line features higher BC, soft polymer-tipped spitzer bullets and new powder formulations. Together, these innovations significantly improve the ballistic performance of the .30-30.
Currently, Hornady markets two .30-30 LEVERevolution loads, using 140 and 160 grain bullets.
.30-30 Win: Hornady 140 gr. Monoflex, MV 2425 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.) / ME 1828 ft. lbs., BC .277 (Zero = 195 yds., MPBR = 225 yds.)
Although the HITS score for this cartridge is lower than that of the 150 grain traditional load (629 vs. 652), the 100 yard KPS is higher, due to greater energy of this load at 100 yards. Further, the higher BC bullet results in a KPS of 15.6 at 225 yards. This exceeds the 15.0 baseline KPS for the 150 grain load, so I judge the EKR of this load to match its MPBR (225 yards).
.30-30 Win: Hornady 160 gr. FTX, MV 2360 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.) / ME 1979 ft. lbs., BC .330 (Zero = 195 yds., MPBR = 225 yds.)
This load has a HITS of 815 and a 100 yard KPS of 28.5. KPS is still over 21 at 225 yards, so that EKR extends to the 225 yard MPBR of the bullet. This load has as much performance as can be attained with the case capacity and pressure limits of the .30-30 cartridge and rifles for which it is normally chambered. It is the .30-30 load routinely used by most of the G&S Online staff.
Sighting in is simple
All of the bullet types, weights and loads covered in this article can be zeroed to the same point of aim at 100 yards. The ShootersCalculator point blank range calculator shows 100 yard sight-in elevation for these loads falling within a range of +2.94 to +2.98 inches.
As a practical matter, if a rifle is sighted in 3.0 inches high at 100 yards with any of these loads, any other load can be used without adjusting the sight. Far zero and MPBR distances will be longer for the higher performing loads, of course. The fact that one can switch from one load to another without having to re-zero the rifle is a great convenience. (As long as the rifle in question shoots different bullets weights to the same point of aim; unfortunately, mine don't. -Editor)
This analysis verifies that the traditional 150 grain .30-30 load is what we thought it was, with an effective deer killing range of about 175 yards. The traditional 170 grain load is stronger, with an effective killing range out to its MPBR (200 yards). This load, along with the 170 grain Federal Fusion load, has enough power out to 200 yards to be very effective on Class 2 game larger than deer (e.g., black bear).
The numbers indicate that the 150 Federal Fusion and 155 grain Browning BXR loads have 215 - 220 yard MPBR and effective killing power ranges on deer-sized game.
Finally, the Hornady 140 grain Monoflex and 160 grain FTX loads have plenty of "deer power" out to 225 yards, making them adequate for all Class 2 game at that range.
Anyone who claims that a .30-30 is a good 250 yard big game cartridge is stretching it, literally. However, the numbers show that the .30-30 is an effective tool for hunting deer and other Class 2 game at ranges within which the vast majority of game animals are taken. This is why, more than a century after its introduction, the .30-30 is still embraced by so many knowledgable and experienced hunters.
Appendix: HITS, KPS and EKR explained
The Hornady H.I.T.S. classification system uses an online calculator to produce a numerical HITS score for rifle cartridge loads. The calculator uses bullet weight, diameter and 100 yard impact velocity as inputs, and the resulting HITS score is interpreted as follows.
Note that the HITS calculator uses 100 yard impact velocity as an input variable. Thus, HITS scores are keyed to that distance. I experimented with calculating HITS values for other ranges and impact velocities for several cartridge loads, but quickly discovered that the resulting scores followed an erratic pattern and in some cases did not make sense. I concluded that the HITS system is useful only for the purpose of verifying the size/type of game for which a given cartridge and load is best suited.
Killing Power Score (KPS)
The Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula uses downrange impact energy, bullet sectional density and bullet cross sectional area as input variables. Calling the output variable of the formula "KPS" (Killing Power Score), for a given load the formula is:
KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x frontal area), or simply:
For instance, consider the following .30-30 Winchester factory load: Hornady 150 gr. Interlock RN, MV 2350 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.), SD .226, A = .0745 sq. in.
This load produces 1232 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards. Thus, the 100 yard KPS of this load is:
This is merely an example, as KPS can be calculated for any range. This capability is important in ways I will demonstrate.
The KPS formula makes a lot of sense to me. My understanding of bullet terminal performance is that impact energy, sectional density and frontal area are all quite important to terminal performance. The KPS formula combines these variables in a direct, easy to calculate way.
Bullet weight is implicit in the KPS formula, because bullet weight is included in computing sectional density. (SD is the ratio of a bullet's weight in pounds to the square of its diameter in inches.)
Bullet velocity is not neglected, because velocity is the most important factor in calculating kinetic energy. Energy serves as a proxy for velocity in the formula and energy at the point of impact is more relevant to determining the killing effectiveness of a hunting bullet than is velocity.
Whenever any of these variables change, the KPS number changes proportionally. For instance, between 100 and 175 yards, the energy of the 150 grain .30-30 bullet decreases by 27.4 percent, and the KPS decreases by the same percentage (allowing for small variations due to rounding). Therefore, KPS numbers generated from different data inputs (E, SD, or A) are directly comparable. This comparability can be applied not only to different loads for a particular cartridge, but also can be extended to comparisons of different cartridges.
Effective Killing Range (EKR)
Simply put, the Effective Killing Range (EKR) of a given cartridge/load is the distance at which the bullet has enough killing power (i.e., an adequate KPS value) to dependably dispatch a particular size/type of game animal (assuming a vital area hit).
Using deer and similar size game as an example, some popular cartridges, such as the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester, are so powerful that there is no question that they will dependably fell Class 2 game out to their MPBR range or beyond. However, for milder cartridges, such as the .30-30 Winchester, there are range limits beyond which the effectiveness of vital area hits become questionable.
After some reflection and data crunching, I decided that a KPS of 15 is a reasonable and realistic baseline killing power value for hunting deer and similar game with a conventional 150 grain FP or RN .30-30 load. This translates to an effective killing range of 175 to 180 yards.
I realize that setting a KPS of 15 as a baseline power standard for the .30-30 load is a judgment call, but I am comfortable with it. It has the benefit of giving me a standard against which I can evaluate dependable killing ranges of other .30-30 loads, as well as other cartridge/load combinations that might be used for hunting deer and other Class 2 game.
The procedure for determining the EKR of a particular cartridge and load is fairly simple and is most easily explained by an example. My example is a Federal Premium .243 Winchester load with a 100 grain soft point spitzer bullet. This is a standard 100 grain .243 Winchester factory load at a MV of 2960 f.p.s. from a 24 inch barrel. (I adjusted this to a more normal 22 inch barrel length for a .243 hunting rifle.)
.243 Win: Federal 100 gr. JSP, MV 2920 f.p.s. (22 inch bbl.), BC .355; (SD x A) = (.242 x .0464) = .0112
I started with the baseline KPS for the .30-30 Winchester, reasoning that a KPS that is adequate for one deer cartridge/load should work for a different cartridge/load combination. Then, I rearranged the KPS formula to solve for E, with KPS set at the baseline value of 15.0 and (SD x A) = .0112 for the 100 grain .243 bullet.
E = KPS / (SD x A) = 15.0 / .0112 = 1339 (ft. lbs.)
The result means that the KPS of the load in question will be equal to 15.0 at the range where the energy of the bullet falls to 1339 ft. lbs. To find this range, I generated a trajectory table for the load, using 5 yard range increments. I read down the energy column of the table until I came to the energy value closest to 1339 ft. lbs. This was 1346 ft. lbs. at a range of 180 yards. Thus, 180 yards is the Effective Killing Range of this load.
Anyone who disagrees with the baseline KPS I used here may change the analysis to use any cartridge, load and ballistic parameters they feel accurately reflect effective killing power and range, for deer or other game. The point is that KPS and Effective Killing Range can be very useful tools for shooters who want to evaluate the killing performance of different cartridges and loads.
See The G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula: Implications and Applications and Determining the Effective Killing Range of Rifle Cartridges for fuller discussion of the killing power formula and effective killing range concepts.
Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.