Compared: .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington
By Chuck Hawks
This article will probably be most useful to those pondering the purchase of a Marlin 336 rifle, as it has been offered in both calibers for as long as I can remember. However, a fair number of other rifles have also been offered in .35 Remington caliber at one time or another, and scores have been offered in .30-30 Winchester, so there are alternatives to the Model 336 rifle in both calibers.
Historically, the Remington rimless line of cartridges in .25, 30, .32, and .35 caliber were a response to Winchester's very successful line of rimmed cartridges offered in the famous Model 1894 rifle (and elsewhere). These Winchester cartridges included the .25-35, .30-30, .32 Special, and .38-55. All were popular, all are still available, and the .30-30 became the all time best seller among big game hunting cartridges.
The .30-30 has been offered in Marlin, NEF, Savage, Thompson/Center, Winchester, and other brands of American rifles. It also became popular in Europe for use in combination guns and drillings. While it has been adopted to box magazine fed repeaters, like all rimmed cartridges, the .30-30 is most useful in tubular magazine fed repeaters such as the famous Marlin and Winchester lever action rifles, and break-open and falling block designs.
Remington's .25, .30, and .32 rimless versions of these famous Winchester cartridges were ballistically (not physically) identical. Even the same reloading data could be used for both sets of cartridges, caliber for caliber.
Except, that is, for the .35 Remington, which is based on an entirely different case than its .25, .30, and .32 caliber brethren. This unique case of somewhat greater capacity may be why the .35 Remington is still around, while the other Remington Rimless cartridges of yesteryear are long gone. The .35 Rem. has appeared primarily in various bolt actions, pumps, and autoloaders offered by Remington, but was also chambered by Stevens and has been successfully adopted to the T/C break action and the Marlin 336 lever action.
I can remember reading that, once upon a time, the .35 Rem. was favored over the .30-30 for use on elk and moose at woods ranges. It was, in fact, considered a combination cartridge for deer, elk, and moose before the onset of magnum mania. On the other hand, the .30-30 has generally enjoyed a reputation for quicker kills on deer size game. We will explore the validity of these claims later in this article.
For those who want to read in depth articles about both cartridges individually, I refer you to the Rifle Cartridge Page of Guns and Shooting Online. Both cartridges are also covered on the Reloading Page.
We will compare the .30-30 and .35 Remington in terms of ballistic coefficient, velocity, energy, trajectory, bullet cross sectional area, bullet sectional density, killing power, recoil, availability of ammunition, and availability of rifles. And we will look at the suitability of these calibers for their intended purpose of big game hunting.
Recently, high performance--premium--loads have been introduced for the .30-30 Winchester, but I know of no similar loads in .35 Remington. So, to keep it fair, we will compare the most common (not premium) type of factory loads for each caliber. Since Remington offers loads for both calibers in their (standard) Express line, it is convenient to compare their 150 and 170 grain Core-Lokt .30-30 factory loads to their 150 and 200 grain Core-Lokt factory loads for the .35 Rem. That also eliminates the variable of bullet design. Both the .30-30 and .35 Rem. are about 200 yard big game cartridges, so that will be the maximum range we consider in most of the sections below.
Ballistic coefficient (BC) is a measurement of how efficiently a bullet passes through the atmosphere. It matters because the higher the BC number, the better the bullet will retain its velocity as it flies downrange. As you will see in the "Velocity" section, the bullets with the lowest BC shed their velocity the fastest. Here are the BC figures for the bullets in question:
From the above BC numbers, we can expect that the 150 grain .35 bullet will shed its velocity quite rapidly. The 150 grain .30-30 and 200 grain .35 bullets are about equal, and the 170 grain .30-30 bullet is, in terms of air drag, by far the best of the four.
Velocity is important for two reasons. First, velocity is a major component of energy. So, other things being equal, a faster bullet has the potential to do greater damage to the target. Second, other things being equal, higher velocity means less bullet drop over any given distance--a flatter trajectory. A flatter trajectory makes it easier to hit the target over greater distances. Here are the Remington catalog velocities at the muzzle (MV), 100 yards, and 200 yards for the loads we are comparing:
The .30-30 loads both start faster and retain their initial velocity better than the comparable .35 loads. The .30-30 definitely wins the velocity comparison. Note also that at 200 yards the 170 grain .30-30 bullet is actually traveling faster than the 150 grain .30-30 bullet. That is a practical illustration of the benefit of superior BC.
As expected, the 150 grain .35 bullet sheds its velocity quickly. It started with a 220 fps velocity advantage over the 200 grain bullet, but at 200 yards it is traveling only 130 fps faster.
Energy is an important factor in killing power. It powers bullet penetration and expansion. The more energy a bullet is carrying when it hits the target the more damage it can, potentially, do. Here are the Remington figures for energy at the muzzle (ME), 100 yards, and 200 yards:
This is an interesting, and revealing, part of the comparison. Note that in both calibers the heavier bullets hit harder than the lighter bullets as the range increases. That is to be expected, as the heavier bullets are retaining their velocity better. Also expected, the 150 grain .30-30 bullet maintains an advantage in energy over the 150 grain .35 bullet across the board.
What is less expected is that the 150 grain .30-30 bullet, slightly behind the 200 grain .35 bullet in energy at the muzzle, is carrying slightly more energy by the time both bullets reach 100 yards. And the 170 grain .30-30 bullet, endowed with 159 ft. lbs. less energy at the muzzle, is carrying 75 ft. lbs. more energy at 100 yards and 148 ft. lbs. more energy at 200 yards than the 200 grain .35 bullet. Perhaps surprisingly, the .30-30 wins the energy comparison with both bullet weights.
Trajectory is important because bullets do not fly in a straight line. Their flight path is a parabolic curve. So the "flatter" a rifle shoots (the less curved the trajectory) the easier it is to hit with as the range increases.
Both the .30-30 and .35 Remington are best described as medium range big game cartridges. They are at their best when used within about 200 yards of the target. The trajectory of the four loads we are comparing is not radically different over 200 yards, as we shall see. Here are the Remington trajectory figures, based on a 150 yard zero:
Again, the .30-30 is the clear winner, shooting flatter than the .35 Rem. with both bullet weights. Among all loads, the .30-30/150 has the longest Maximum Point Blank Range (+/- 3"). Zero that load to hit +3" at 100 yards and the bullet hits 3" low at about 225 yards. The 200 grain .35 load is the least desirable for long range shooting, with a MPBR (+/- 3") of about 186 yards.
Bullet cross sectional area
Bullet cross sectional area (frontal area) is important because the fatter the bullet, the bigger the hole it makes in the target. Of course, hunting bullets are designed to expand as they penetrate a big game animal, dramatically increasing their wounding effectiveness, so even a fairly small bullet can make a pretty big hole. But it should be obvious that, given equal expansion rates, a bigger diameter bullet will still make a bigger hole. Bullet cross sectional area is unaffected by bullet weight or other factors. Here are the cross sectional areas (in square inches) for the .308" diameter .30-30 bullets and the .358" diameter .35 Remington bullets:
There can be no doubt that a .358" bullet makes a bigger diameter hole, other factors being equal, than a .308" bullet. The bigger the area of the wound channel, the greater the tissue damage to the game and (hopefully) the quicker the kill. Advantage, .35 Rem.
Sectional density (SD) is calculated by dividing a bullet's weight (in pounds) by the square of its diameter (in inches). It is important because, other things being equal, the higher the SD, the better the bullet's penetration. The principle is simple: a longer projectile with less frontal area penetrates better than a shorter projectile with more frontal area. The longer the wound channel, the more tissue is destroyed and (hopefully) the quicker the kill. The total area of the wound channel and the total amount of tissue destroyed are a function of both the cross sectional area of the wound and the depth of the wound. Here are the SD numbers for our four bullets:
Generally, a SD in excess of about .204 is considered desirable for light framed game (small deer and antelope), and a SD of about .225 is excellent for almost all CXP2 game. Larger and tougher animals require more penetration, so higher SD numbers are desirable for animals like European wild boar, elk and moose. The .30-30 may not make as big a hole, but it is likely to make a deeper hole than the .35 Rem.
Killing power is the result of several factors. The most important factor is bullet placement, but for the purposes of this part of the comparison we are going to assume the same bullet placement--in the heart/lung area of the intended game animal. Bullet terminal performance is very important. In this case we are comparing Remington Core-Lokt bullets, so we are going to assume equal rates and percentages of expansion. Some of the factors we have already examined, such as remaining energy, bullet cross sectional area, and penetration (SD) are also important factors in killing power.
The two primary guides to killing power available on Guns and Shooting Online are the "Expanded Optimal Game Weight Table" and the "Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula." Optimal Game Weight (OGW) was devised by Edward A. Matunas and is a way to compare the killing power of various rifle cartridges and loads in terms of the distance and weight of the animals for which they are optimum.
I devised the Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula in an attempt to balance equally the factors of energy, bullet weight, SD, and cross-sectional area. (Velocity is the prime component of kinetic energy and therefore does not need to be included separately.) Frankly, I was tired of formulas that seek to "prove" that one factor (velocity, for instance, or bullet diameter) is the Holy Grail of killing power. Note that the Rifle Cartridge Killing Power numbers are simply comparative, they represent no actual quantity (such as energy, momentum, etc.).
Here is the Optimum Game Weight (in pounds) at 100 yards for our selected loads, as taken from the Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook:
And here is the same four loads as they appear in "The Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula" list:
Take these results as you see fit. The OGW formula shows that the .30-30/170 and .35/200 are virtually equal in killing power at 100 yards. The Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula shows that all four loads are within a reasonable range, putting the .35/200 grain load in first place with the .30-30/170 grain load second. According to both formulas, the .35/150 grain is predicted to be the least effective load.
Recoil is important because anyone can shoot a rifle more accurately if it kicks less. And remember, bullet placement is by far the most important factor in killing power. Shooting is supposed to be fun and less recoil means more fun when practicing at the rifle range. Here are the approximate recoil figures (in foot-pounds), taken from the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table," for our four loads when fired in 7.5 pound rifles:
Once again, the 150 grain .35 Rem. load does not seem to be a bargain. It kicks more than either .30-30 load while delivering less performance almost across the board. The .35/200 grain load kicks the worst of all four loads, but that is understandable given its heavier bullet. And its killing power is at least equal, or perhaps slightly superior, to the .30-30/170 grain load.
The winner in recoil, where less is more, is the .30-30, and particularly the 150 grain load. It is an effective CXP2 game load and the best choice for anyone concerned about recoil.
The nice thing about both the .30-30 and .35 Rem. is that all loads are well below 15 ft. lbs. That is regarded as a good practical limit for a rifle that will be shot regularly by a person with an average tolerance for recoil.
Availability of ammunition
Federal, Remington, Stars and Stripes, and Winchester all offer .35 Rem. factory loaded ammunition with 200 grain bullets. Only Remington regularly offers a 150 grain alternative. Stars and Stripes offers custom .35 Rem. loads.
Every major and several of the smaller ammunition companies including Federal, Fusion, Hornady, PMC, Norma, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, and Winchester load .30-30 cartridges with 150 and 170 grain bullets at velocities similar to the loads compared in this article. Federal, Hornady, Stars and Stripes, and Winchester, among others, offer premium (high performance) .30-30 loads.
Beyond the usual 150 and 170 grain bullet weights, Federal offers a 125 gain bullet at a MV of 2570 fps, Remington offers a 55 grain PSP Accelertor sabot load at a MV of 3400 fps, and Hornady offers a 160 grain soft-pointed bullet.
For those who primarily shoot factory loads, there are two other important considerations. First, the .30-30 is one of the top selling big game cartridges in North America, and a store that sells any centerfire rifle ammunition at all probably carries .30-30 cartridges. I have, for example, been in tiny general stores that sold .22 LR, .30-30, and .30-06 cartridges, period. Second, because it is so popular, .30-30 ammo is frequently available at sale prices, sometimes as an advertised loss leader. .35 Remington cartridges typically sell for a considerably higher price than .30-30 cartridges of identical brand and type (Remington Express Core-Lokt, for example).
Availability of rifles
While several rifles have been offered in .35 Remington in the past, today only the Marlin 336C lever action and Thompson/Center Encore break action single shot are readily available in the caliber. And most dealers stock neither, although I suspect that the Marlin is distributed more widespread than the T/C.
The .30-30 Winchester, on the other hand, is available in the Marlin 336C and all other 336 variations. Winchester has sold over 6.75 million Model 94 lever actions, most in .30-30, and the Model 94/.30-30 combination is still going strong today in several variations. Then there are the T/C Contender and NEF break action single shot rifles, with the latter being widely distributed. Thousands of Savage Model 340 bolt action rifles in .30-30 are available on the used market, and additional thousands of Savage Model 99's. Among less well known .30-30 rifles are the Lone Star rolling block and the Dakota Arms Little Sharps, both single shot rifles.
Big game hunting
Today, both the .30-30 and .35 Remington are considered CXP2 game cartridges, particularly useful for deer and black bear. However, this was not always the case. When both were reasonably new, they were regularly used on much larger game, especially elk, and the .35 Remington used to be considered entirely adequate for moose at short range. Many Native American hunters still rely on their .30-30 rifles to put elk and caribou steaks on the family dinner table.
With the improved bullets available today to reloaders and in premium or custom factory loaded ammunition, the game getting capability of both cartridges is improved beyond what it was when the .30-30 was a popular elk cartridge and the .35 Rem. was considered a moose cartridge. In the hands of a careful marksman these "deer" cartridges will still reliably take CXP3 game.
It has been my observation that the .30-30, particularly with a 150 grain bullet, seems to provide quicker kills on deer size game than the .35 Remington. I think that this is because the .30-30/150 grain soft point bullets open quicker than most of the 170 grain .30-30 bullets or the 200 grain .35 bullets. Deer are not tough animals and a lot of penetration is not required, so a bullet that expands rapidly provides faster kills. The standard .30-30/150 grain has long been my preferred deer load out to about 225 yards.
On the other hand, for CXP3 game within 100 yards, I would probably prefer a .35 Remington rifle shooting the 200 grain bullet. I think that this is usually a tougher bullet that expands more slowly, and therefore penetrates deeper. Beyond 100 yards, I'd prefer the superior SD and energy of the 170 grain .30-30 bullet to the 200 grain .35 projectile. Keep in mind that these are just my personal opinions, not established scientific facts.
Notes for reloaders
When loads are tailored specifically for a good rifle, the .30-30 can be a very accurate cartridge. For this reason it has sometimes been used in bench rest rifles. And there are many different types of .30-30 bullets available, ranging roughly from 100-170 grains, including premium numbers such as the Nosler Partition and Barnes X-Bullet. Flat point or blunt round nose bullets must be used in tubular magazine fed rifles such as the Winchester Model 94 and Marlin 336, but spitzer (pointed) bullets are a viable option for hunters with a single shot .30-30 who are seeking the flattest possible trajectory. Medium burning rate rifle powders such as H335, W748, and IMR 3031 generally give good performance in the .30-30.
Two bullet options for the .35 Remington not available in factory loads are the 180 grain Speer Hot-Cor bullet (BC .245, SD .201), which can be driven to a MV of about 2200 fps and may be the best deer bullet available in the caliber, and the heavy Speer Hot-Cor 220 grain bullet (BC .316, SD .245), which can be driven to a MV of around 1900 fps. This may be the best bullet around for large game due to its superior SD and deep penetration. These two bullets are worth investigating for the reloader with a .35 Rem. rifle.
As with the .30-30, only flat point or blunt round nose bullets should be used in the tubular magazines of Marlin lever action rifles. Even in single shot rifles, .358 spitzer bullets are generally too long for use in the .35 Remington case.
Our comparison shows that the 30-30 is superior in ballistic coefficient, velocity, energy, trajectory, bullet sectional density, recoil, availability and variety of ammunition, and availability and variety of rifles. The .35 Remington has the advantage in bullet cross sectional area and (perhaps) killing power on large animals with a 200 grain bullet.
The .35/150 is inferior to both the .30-30/150 and .35/200 and should probably be avoided except for use on the smaller species of CXP2 game. In addition, this load has developed a rather spotty reputation for accuracy, although it seems to shoot okay in some rifles.
While both the .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington are good medium range big game cartridges, especially for deer and black bear, the .30-30 is a better general purpose cartridge. The .35's niche seems to be larger animals at short range when using a 200 grain bullet. Otherwise, the more versatile .30-30 gets the nod.
Copyright 2005, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.