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Donít Give Up On the .30-30!

By Randy D. Smith

.30-30 Rifle
Mossberg .30-30 rifle. Photo by Randy D. Smith.

Few realize what a practical cartridge this old timer is. I believe that owning at least one iron sight deer rifle should be important to any serious hunter. Yes, everyone can shoot more accurately with a scope, but there are times when the weather, hunting circumstances, or the terrain make an open sight rifle very desirable. Iron sights greatly improve the balance of a rifle, function in any weather condition and are rugged. When a person examines the rifles with iron sights available on the market today, it quickly becomes evident that a lever action carbine in .30-30 Winchester is not only an excellent choice, but the cartridge itself is perfect for hunting deer size game at open sight ranges.

I needed to reduce my gun inventory and sent a number of decent rifles and shotguns to the auction. In my haste and imprudence, I let most of my open iron sight rifles and all my .30-30ís go. I hadnít taken a deer, feral hog, or a coyote with a .30-30 in two seasons and I was using a shotgun for home or camp defense. At the time I felt I wouldnít use a .30-30 for anything. I had .223, .22-250 and 7.62X39 rifles for predators and .243, .30-06 and .45-70 rifles for big game hunting.

Now I donít know about you, but a gun cabinet without a .30-30 lever action in it seems downright abandoned to me. I rectified that situation when I found a mint condition Model 464 Mossberg. I had field tested a 464 two seasons ago (the last deer I took with a .30-30) and let it go back to the company. I always regretted that decision, because I really liked that little carbine, but I told myself that I canít buy all the rifles I write about. I feel better now. I think I am going to recover from the trauma. I certainly wonít let something so foolish happen again.

 

I got to thinking about why I felt that I had to have a .30-30 in my gun vault. I wonder how many of you reading this have managed a similar piece of foolishness, or are looking to buy a first deer rifle and have not considered an open sight lever action carbine chambered in .30-30 Winchester? If you have or if you are, you need to think again. I quote Chuck Hawks from his article "The Classic .30-30 Winchester," which can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page of this web site:

 

ďThe .30-30 is the great North American deer cartridge, and for good reason. It is a virtually ideal compromise between power and recoil. A 7.5 pound .30-30 rifle shooting the standard 150 grain factory load generates about 11.7 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. For comparison, a .30-06 rifle of the same weight shooting a 150 grain factory load generates about 21.7 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. Most hunters can shoot the .30-30 well, as its recoil is below the 20 ft. lb. upper limit for sustained use and the 15 ft. lb. maximum that most hunters can shoot comfortably..Ē

 

I couldnít say it better. My own situation and logic argues for support for the .30-30 lever action carbine. First of all, I built my gun inventory with the .30-30 as the foundation. It was the first centerfire cartridge I owned. I worked down or up in bore size to refine my cartridge choices for specific game. Iíve hunted a lot of deer with 8mm Mauser, .30-06, .243 and .45-70 cartridges, for instance. They are excellent rounds, but of the group Iíve always felt that the .30-30 was the most efficient. Iíve never witnessed a kill where I felt that the heavier rounds put deer down any better.

 

A lot of .30-30 criticism has to do with the gun media and the nonsense that is often pumped out regarding the .30-30. In the haste to generate markets for various new cartridges and rifles, the .30-30 has been shoved into journalistic obscurity. The .30-30 isnít necessarily bad mouthed. It is simply ignored.

 

Nobody jumps to their feet at the deer hunting camp fire and exclaims: ďWow! Is that a .30-30 youíve got there?Ē They donít, but they probably should, because even in todayís world of short, fat and magnum cartridges, super-duper range finders, ballistic reticle wonder scopes and synthetic stocked, bolt action economy rifles, none of them are more practical or economical deer rifles than a good lever action, open sight .30-30 carbine shooting a 150-grain soft point jacketed bullet.

 

There are those who talk about how much more accurate bolt action rifles are than .30-30 lever actions. Poppy Cock! It is the person shooting the rifle that creates accuracy and a quarter-inch group improvement is of little consequence in the deer hunting world. I have never fired a .30-30 lever action that wonít shoot a hundred yard group of around 3Ē with iron sights on my good days, or minute of barn door on my bad days. I can make the same claim about muzzleloaders, bolt actions, single shots, pumps and semi-autos. Every lever action .30-30 I have been around was an intrinsically accurate rifle.

 

Consider my favorite .30-30 cartridge, the Federal Power-Shok, 150 Grain Soft Point. I say it is my favorite, because I have a half-dozen unopened boxes of them in my ammo vault. (The result of a sale at the San Antonio Cabelaís outlet a few years back.) They were a bit less than $8 a box that day and I made a pig of myself. A box of Winchester Power Points or Remington Core-Lokt cartridges is just as good. Anyway, that load will send a 150-grain bullet at 2390 fps with 1902 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. If the rifle is sighted 3Ē above the bullís eye at 100 yards, it has a point blank range of 225 yards. The Hornady LeverEvolution 160 grain spitzer round will add about 30 yards to that figure.

 

How many of you regularly make a shot at anything over 200 yards away? How many of you can? Iím not trying to make fun of anyone. Iím simply asking what your most common big game shot distance is.

 

OK, Iíll go first and Iím not ashamed of the answer. Iíve hunted for over 55 years. Iíve hunted all over the world on three continents for game from bunny rabbits to Asian water buffalo. The longest big game shot Iíve made is roughly 200 yards and that was a particularly stealthy Gemsbok that I wanted very badly. By the way, that shot was made with a .50 caliber muzzleloader. Everything else Iíve taken has been during a flush, at the end of a stalk, or when I waited in ambush. I made a shot on a mule deer several years ago that probably was close to that distance, but I didnít measure it. My rifle on that shot? My old 479 Mossberg .30-30 with open sights.

 

If the Hornady LeverEvolution round had been available then, I might be claiming how wonderful it is, but it didnít exist and I made the shot anyway. I used the Hornady round for a season and it produces some impressive long range groups, but I was never in a hunting situation where I needed the extra 30 yards it offers. A friend of mine got his new stainless steel Marlin 336XLR all tuned up for the LeverEvolution round and ended up shooting his whitetail buck at 30 yards. The irony is that he has never shot a whitetail buck at a greater distance than 150 yards.

 

Iíve hunted big game with .300 Weatherby, .300 Win. Mag., 375 H&H, .375 Ruger, .338 Win. Mag., .30-06, .308, .308 Marlin Express, .243 and Iím sure some long range calibers that I donít remember right now. They were fine cartridges and rifles. The problem was that I didnít get in a hunting situation where I really needed their range or power.

 

I recall a recent Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Aoudad hunt. I was using a 4X4 Mossberg rifle in .300 Win. Mag. that I bought specifically for that hunt. When I finally got in a position to take my sheep, he was only 60 yards away and I wondered why I hadnít just taken my old Ruger '06. More for the purpose of this article, I could have taken that sheep with an open sight .30-30. I THOUGHT I needed more gun when I planned the trip, but in reality I didn't. I wasnít able to take advantage of the greater range or power of the .300 Mag.

 

I also took a 100 ATR Mossberg and a Traditions Outfitter in .243 on the same hunt for feral hogs and shot several with both rifles, all well within the .30-30ís capability. In fact, I could have taken every big game animal Iíve ever hunted with a good .30-06 load and over 90% with a 150 grain .30-30. With recoil, accuracy, range and everything else considered, the .30-30 is a very practical and efficient cartridge. Most of us just THINK we need more.

 

Have you priced a new rifle or ammunition lately? What happened? Right now the average price of a 20-round box of .30-30 ammunition seems to be in the neighbor of $16. Thatís $3 a box cheaper than most big game hunting ammunition and $10 a box cheaper than a lot of it. Cost of shooting a .30-30 is about 80 cents a round. There isnít anything out there that will do better for less money per round than the .30-30. I use a 7.62X39 for coyotes and an occasional deer. It is considerably cheaper to shoot and it is a decent medium game round, but it isnít in the same league as the .30-30 for any animal over 150 pounds. I cringe at the thought of taking a mature whitetail buck at 200 yards with a 7.62X39.

 

Ok, letís try rifle economics. At this writing a new Mossberg 464 can be bought for somewhere around $400 and a new Marlin .336 for around $500. If you are careful you can get into a new Marlin, Mossberg, or Stevens bolt action with a polymer stock and rough metal finish in anything from .22-250 to .338 Win Mag for around $350 to $450. Most bolt actions with the same metal and wood stock finish levels of the lever actions will run $600 at least with many of them now going for over $700. A new .30-30 is not inexpensive, but both the Mossberg and Marlin lever action models are nice rifles for the price. A decent (perhaps just old) used .30-30 Marlin or Winchester 94 can be had for around $250, if you shop hard. Good luck finding a decent bolt action big game rifle for that price in todayís market.

 

A lever action .30-30 is quicker for backup shots than a bolt action by a good margin. I know what some writers claim about how fast they can operate a bolt action. Iím pretty fast myself. Iím faster with a .30-30 lever action and no matter how hard I practice, I can always stay on target better levering the next round than while cycling a bolt. Iíve hunted with .30-30, .243, and .30-06 pump actions and they are a bit quicker, but they feel odd to me and are not nearly as compact as a .30-30 lever gun. I enjoy hunting with a pump action shotgun, but pump rifles just donít do it for me. Iíve also hunted with semi autos in .243, .30-06 and .300 Win Mag. They were nice rifles: quick shooting, heavy, boring, bulky and they work most of the time if the ammunition is right. My .30-30 lever actions were also nice rifles: quick, light, fun, smooth handling and Iíve never had one fail in the field with any ammunition.

 

I have some grandsons coming along and I may get the chance to take them on their first deer hunts, if they hurry to grow up a little and I donít hurry too fast to my grave. It might be a close race. Anyway, I canít think of a better first deer rifle than a lever action .30-30 carbine. It will be easy to carry and operate. It will be reliable and accurate. The recoil will be not loosen molars. Backup shots, if they are necessary, will be quick and accurate. It will be more than powerful enough for any deer they see at the range they will shoot at. With a bit of training, the boys wonít be the least bit afraid of it and they will be able to shoot it better than almost any other deer caliber. I guess that grandson thing alone is one of the better reasons to keep a .30-30 lever action carbine handy.

 

The .30-30 is the perfect North American deer rifle and a heck of a lot more. It is an excellent, medium range cartridge capable of taking nearly all medium to large game at typical shooting ranges. There are cartridges that shoot farther, flatter and harder. There are few, if any, that are more efficient at realistic hunting ranges.




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