The .30-40 Krag

By Chuck Hawks

Back in 1892 the US Army adopted its first bolt action service rifle and its first smokeless powder cartridge, the .30-40 Krag (.30 US Army). The rifle was a slightly modified version of the Danish 1892 Krag-Jorgensen infantry rifle. Denmark and Norway also adopted the basic Krag-Jorgensen rifle.

A Norwegian officer, Captain Ole Krag, designed the Krag action. It is a rather unusual looking bolt action that locks with only one lug and is consequently relatively weak. It uses a fixed magazine that protrudes from the right side of the rifle, not from the bottom as is customary, and is rather slow to reload. The Krag-Jorgensen is, however, a very smooth action and quite reliable with the 220 grain round nose bullets for which it was designed. I have read that some Krag rifles are not so reliable at feeding bullets lighter than 180 grains, particularly the lighter spitzer bullets.

The Krag-Jorgensen rifle remained service standard with the US Army (it was never adopted by the Navy or Marine Corps) for only 11 years. It was then replaced by the much superior 1903 Springfield rifle, which was based on the Mauser 1898 design. At that time the rimmed .30-40 Krag cartridge was replaced by the rimless .30-03 cartridge, soon to be re-named the .30-06 Springfield when, in 1906, a 150 grain spitzer bullet replaced the previous 220 grain round nose bullet.

The US Army version of the .30-40 cartridge, so named because its bore diameter was .30" and the case was charged with 40 grains of the new smokeless powder, used a 220 grain RN bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of about 2200 fps. As usually happens, the .30-40 cartridge was quickly adapted to civilian sporting rifles (the most famous of which was probably the Winchester Model 1895 lever action), and ammunition with a range of hunting weight bullets was produced by the major loading companies including Peters, Remington, Western, and Winchester.

The .30-40 cartridge uses a rimmed bottleneck case with a shoulder angle of just over 21 degrees. It uses standard .308" diameter bullets. Case length is 2.314", with a .457" body diameter at the head. This adds up to a respectable case capacity, but the relative weakness of the Krag action limits the maximum average pressure to 40,000 cup.

Because it is a rimmed case, the Krag found a home in the popular single shot rifles of the time, including the Remington Rolling Block, the excellent Winchester 1885 High-Wall, and in the 1970's the Ruger Number 3. Remington also chambered their Remington-Lee bolt action rifle for the .30-40, and Winchester the aforementioned Model 1895 lever action. After the US military re-equipped with 1903 Springfield rifles, surplus Krag-Jorgensen Army rifles became common on the civilian market and were widely used by American hunters between the great World Wars.

The .30-40 Krag proved a worthwhile hunting cartridge, and was used on all North American game. As with many moderate velocity rifles using bullets with a high sectional density (SD), good bullet placement and deep penetration translated to good killing power. The .30-40 was and is a fine deer cartridge, and with careful bullet placement will take large animals like elk and even moose. The heavy 180 grain (SD .270), 200 grain (SD .301), and 220 grain (SD .331) bullets favored for use in Krag-Jorgensen rifles give good penetration even in large animals.

Modern factory loads for the .30-40 are still available from Remington and Winchester, both with 180 grain bullets. Remington loads their pointed soft point Core-Lokt bullet and Winchester their reliable Power Point (soft point) bullet. Both have a MV of 2430 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 2360 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the Remington figures show 2007 fps and 1610 ft. lbs.

Handloaders can find reloading data for the 30-40 in practically any reloading manual, and there are a huge selection of .308" bullets with which to work. Because the Krag-Jorgensen rifle prefers heavy bullets, I will limit this discussion to typical reloads using the 180, 200, and 220 grain bullets. Note that it is wise to be conservative when reloading for elderly rifles.

According to the Sierra Reloading Manual, Second Edition their 180 grain bullets can be driven to a MV of 2300 fps and 2114 ft. lbs. of energy with 40.8 grains of IMR 4895, 41.9 grains of IMR 4064, or 42.4 grains of IMR 4320 powders. The trajectory figures for the Sierra Pro-Hunter spitzer bullet fired from a scoped rifle at 2300 fps look like this: +3.1" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -12.19" at 300 yards. I would regard that as a good all-around load for a .30-40 rifle, for game ranging in size from deer to elk (approximately 100-500 pounds live weight).

The Sierra 200 grain GameKing boat tail spitzer bullet can be driven to a MV of 2200 fps with 2149 ft. lbs. of ME by 40.2 grains of IMR 4895, or 40.9 grains of IMR 4064 powders. The trajectory tables for this sleek bullet show that if zeroed at 200 yards it will strike +3.33" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -12.64" at 300 yards. It would probably be a fine choice for elk or Scandinavian moose.

The heavy Sierra 220 grain Pro-Hunter RN bullet can be driven to a MV of 2100 fps and ME of 2154 ft. lbs. by 38.3 grains of IMR 4895, or 39.5 grains of IMR 4064 powders. The trajectory for this bullet looks like this: +1.33" at 50 yards, +1.94" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, and -4.82" at 200 yards. The folks at Sierra used Remington cases and primers, and a Krag-Jorgensen rifle with a 22" barrel for all testing.

If the only rifle available were a .30-40 Krag and I had to take a crack at a moose, that is the load I would use. The funny thing is, even though I own far better rifles for the purpose, if that scenario were somehow to occur I would not feel at a great disadvantage.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.