Compared: The .30-30 Win. and .44 Rem. Mag.

By Chuck Hawks

The .30-30 Winchester and .44 Remington Magnum are quite different cartridges with similar applications. Both are most commonly chambered in lever action rifles such as the various Marlin and Winchester models. Both are used primarily as woods cartridges for hunting medium size big game, especially the various species of North American deer. These inoffensive animals average about 125 to 200 pounds in weight. Both the .30-30 and .44 Mag. have also been used successfully on much larger game, including Alaskan and Canadian moose that can run over 1000 pounds, but the sportsman has better choices for shooting large game.

The .30-30 Winchester

.30-30 Win.

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .30-30 Winchester is one of the most successful, popular, and useful hunting cartridges ever devised. The .30-30 Winchester has been at or near the top in centerfire rifle cartridge sales almost since its introduction. It is estimated that more North American big game has fallen to .30-30 bullets than any other caliber, and .30-30 rifles such as the Marlin Model 336 and Winchester Model 94 are the best selling sporting rifles in history. The .30-30 cartridge has also been offered in bolt, single shot, pump and, of course, lever action rifles of various sorts from virtually all of the major North American rifle makers. The .30-30 has also been adapted to single shot hunting pistols such as the T/C Contender and Encore models, where it has become quite popular.

The .30-30 was introduced in the Winchester Model 94 rifle in 1895. It was the first sporting rifle cartridge designed for use with the then new smokeless powder, which explains the cartridge's nomenclature. In the fashion of the time, the first ".30" refers to the cartridge's caliber and the second "30" refers to the amount of early smokeless powder used behind the original 160 grain bullet.

Winchester designers had a clean slate from which to work, and they got it right the first time. The .30-30 is a typical rimmed, bottleneck rifle cartridge and uses standard .308" diameter (.30 caliber) bullets. In rifles optimized for accuracy it has proven to be an extremely accurate cartridge. The case length is 2.0395" and the base diameter is .4215". Most .30-30 rifles (but not all!) have tubular magazines and require the use of flat point bullets to eliminate the possibility of a magazine chain fire due to recoil.

All major and most minor ammunition manufacturers load .30-30 cartridges, and the caliber is probably the most widely distributed centerfire rifle cartridge in North America. It is also in general use world-wide, and factory loaded ammunition can be purchased on every continent where big game is hunted.

Typical modern factory loads offer a 150 grain bullet at a MV of about 2400 fps and a 170 grain bullet at a MV of approximately 2200 fps. Other bullet weights are also sometimes offered, including the Remington Accelerator with a 55 grain PSP sabot varmint bullet at a MV of 3400 fps and a Federal 125 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet at a MV of 2570 fps.

The .44 Remington Magnum

.44 Mag.

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .44 Remington Magnum started life as a revolver cartridge intended for big game hunting. It was based on pioneering work done by shooters such as Elmer Keith, who developed high pressure .44 Special loads in Colt SA revolvers. Remington was finally persuaded to introduce a commercial version of these experiments in a lengthened and strengthened .44 Special case in 1956. In 1961 Bill Ruger designed an autoloading carbine for the .44 Remington Magnum cartridge, which (as far as I know) was its first application in a commercially manufactured rifle. Soon Marlin, Winchester, and others adapted their lever action rifles to the big .44, and it was on its way as a combination pistol and rifle cartridge.

The .44 Remington Magnum was designed for flat point bullets and, like the .30-30, most .44 rifles use tubular magazines. It is a typical rimmed revolver cartridge with a straight case 1.285" in length with a base diameter of .457". Like the .44 Special on which it was based, the actual bullet diameter for the .44 Magnum is .429". It should properly have been named the ".42 Magnum."

.44 Mag. factory loaded cartridges are available from the big three U.S. ammunition manufacturers plus several of the smaller outfits, and are widely distributed. Rifle ballistics tables show a typical muzzle velocity (MV) of 1760 fps for the common 240 grain bullet from a 20" test barrel. Remington and Winchester also offer 210 grain JHP bullets at MV's of 1920 fps and 1580 fps respectively, and Remington offers a heavy 275 grain Core-Lokt JHP at a MV of 1580 fps.


Handloaders can duplicate all of the .30-30 and .44 Magnum factory loads, and have a wider range of bullet weights and styles with which to work. However, a perusal of the popular reloading manuals shows that the factory loads for both calibers are representative of typical performance with bullets of big game hunting weight.

The typical loads are a good place to begin this comparison of the .30-30 and .44 Magnum cartridges. Here is a side by side velocity comparison (caliber, Mfg./bullet weight - velocity at the muzzle, 100 yards, and 200 yards).

  • .30-30 (Fed./125 grain) - MV 2570 fps, 100 yd. 2090 fps, 200 yd. 1660 fps
  • .30-30 (Fed./150 grain) - MV 2390 fps, 100 yd. 2020 fps, 200 yd. 1680 fps
  • .30-30 (Win./150 grain) - MV 2480 fps, 100 yd. 2095 fps, 200 yd. 1747 fps
  • .30-30 (Rem./170 grain) - MV 2200 fps, 100 yd. 1895 fps, 200 yd. 1619 fps
  • .44 Mag. (Win./210 grain) - MV 1580 fps, 100 yd. 1198 fps, 200 yd. 993 fps
  • .44 Mag. (Rem./210 grain) - MV 1920 fps, 100 yd. 1477 fps, 200 yd. 1155 fps
  • .44 Mag. (Fed./240 grain) - MV 1760 fps, 100 yd. 1380 fps, 200 yd. 1090 fps
  • .44 Mag. (Rem./275 grain) - MV 1580 fps, 100 yd. 1293 fps, 200 yd. 1093 fps

Clearly, the .30-30 offers consistently higher velocity, as its lighter bullets and greater powder capacity would suggest.


Higher velocity usually means flatter trajectory. Here are the maximum point blank range (+/- 3") trajectory figures for the most typical big game hunting loads for each caliber. These numbers are taken from the "Rifle Trajectory Table," which can be found on my Rifle Information Page (caliber, bullet weight at MV - maximum point blank range).

  • .30-30 (150 grain at 2390 fps) - 225 yards
  • .30-30 (170 grain at 2200 fps) - 211 yards
  • .44 Mag. (240 grain at 1760 fps) - 159 yards
  • .44 Mag. (275 grain at 1580 fps) - 149 yards

As can be seen, the .30-30 easily out ranges the .44 Magnum by an average of some 64 yards. No surprise there. You could summarize the two by saying that, in terms of trajectory, the .44 Mag. is about a 155 yard big game cartridge and the .30-30 is about a 220 yard big game cartridge.


Velocity is also a key ingredient in kinetic energy, one of the important factors in killing power. It is the energy carried by the bullet that makes expansion and penetration possible. Here is a bullet energy comparison of the same .30-30 and .44 Magnum hunting loads (caliber, bullet weight - muzzle energy [ME] in foot pounds, and energy at 100 yards and 200 yards in foot pounds.).

  • .30-30 (150 gr.) - ME 1900 ft. lbs., 100 yd. 1355 ft. lbs., 200 yd. 945 ft. lbs.
  • .30-30 (170 gr.) - ME 1827 ft. lbs., 100 yd. 1355 ft. lbs., 200 yd. 989 ft. lbs.
  • .44 Mag. (240 gr.) - ME 1650 ft. lbs., 100 yd. 1015 ft. lbs., 200 yd. 640 ft. lbs.
  • .44 Mag. (275 gr.) - ME 1524 ft. lbs., 100 yd. 1020 ft. lbs., 200 yd. 730 ft. lbs.

The greater bullet weight of the .44 Magnum fails to negate the higher velocity of the .30-30, which retains about a 15% advantage in kinetic energy at the muzzle (comparing the 150 grain .30-30 load to the 240 grain .44 Mag. load). Due to the superior ballistic coefficient of the .30-30 bullets, this energy advantage increases to about 33% at 100 yards and to almost 50% at 200 yards.

Bullet cross sectional area

Kinetic energy is a good indication of potential killing power, but it is certainly not the whole story. Bullet frontal area and sectional density (SD) are also important factors. So, of course, is bullet terminal performance (especially expansion), but bullets of similar types can be loaded in either cartridge.

Bullet frontal area is entirely a function of bullet diameter. Obviously, the .44 Magnum's .429" diameter bullet has a big advantage in cross sectional area over the .30-30's .308" diameter bullet. The actual figures are .0745 square inch for the .30-30 bullet and .1445 square inch for the .44 Magnum bullet. The implication is a wider wound channel for the .44 Magnum bullet.

Sectional density

Bullet sectional density is important because a bullet that is proportionally longer and skinnier for its weight will penetrate deeper, other factors being equal. The higher the SD number the better. The sectional densities of typical .30-30 and .44 Magnum bullets are as follows (bullet diameter and weight - SD)

  • .308" 150 grain - SD .226
  • .308" 170 grain - SD .256
  • .429" 240 grain - SD .185
  • .429" 275 grain - SD .213

The .30-30 can be seen to possess a considerable advantage in SD. .30-30 bullets can be expected to offer deeper penetration, and thus a longer wound cavity, than .44 Magnum bullets of similar expansion characteristics.

Purely in terms of tissue destruction, I would guess that the wider wound channel of the .44 Magnum and the deeper wound channel of the .30-30 pretty much cancel each other out. Both calibers, for example, have proven deadly on deer.

Penetration becomes critically important when hunting large and/or tough game. A bullet must penetrate deep into the vitals to effect a quick, humane kill; any bullet that fails to do so may grievously wound, but not bring down, large game.

Optimum Game Weight

One indication of killing power is the "optimum game weight" (OGW) formula devised by Edward A. Matunas. I would not take these (or any other) figures as Gospel. In many cases (including both of the cartridges compared here) I find the OGW figures to be pretty conservative. But OGW does make an interesting way to compare the killing power of these two rifle cartridges. Matunas credits the .30-30/150 grain load with an OGW of 259 pounds at 100 yards and 140 pounds at 200 yards. For the .44 Mag./240 grain load the OGW is 227 pounds at 100 yards and 119 pounds at 200 yards.

The "Maximum Optimal Ranges for Big Game" table on the Rifle Information Page, which is based on Matunas' formula but organized differently, shows that the maximum optimal range for taking a 200 pound animal with the 170 grain .30-30 load is 230 yards; the maximum optimal range for taking the same 200 pound animal with the 275 grain .44 Magnum load is 140 yards. No matter how you look at it or which loads you compare, judging by the OGW figures the .30-30 has a substantial advantage over the .44 Magnum in killing power.


One factor that is always important when comparing rifle cartridges, although it has nothing to do with killing power or ballistics, is recoil. Everyone has a limited tolerance for recoil. Some shooters can handle more recoil than others without flinching, but all can shoot more accurately at a recoil level well below their maximum. Here are free recoil energy figures for the .30-30 and .44 Magnum loads we have been comparing, based on a rifle weight of 7.5 pounds. These numbers are taken from the "Rifle Recoil Table," which can be found on my Rifle Information Page.

  • .30-30 (150 grains at 2400 fps) - 10.6 ft. lbs.
  • .30-30 (170 grains at 2200 fps) - 11.0 ft. lbs.
  • .44 Mag. (240 grains at 1760 fps) - 11.2 ft. lbs.
  • .44 Mag. (275 grains at 1580 fps) - 11.4 ft. lbs.

These are moderate recoil energy figures. When you consider that a typical .30-06 rifle shooting a 180 grain factory load generates about 20 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, it can be seen that most shooters will be able to handle any of the loads above. While the .30-30 has slightly less recoil it is not a significant factor in this comparison.


Since it shoots flatter with no increase in recoil, it is fair to say that the .30-30 makes hitting easier, particularly as the range increases. This is important, as bullet placement is by far the most important factor in killing power. The .30-30 is also superior in every measure of performance and killing power except bullet frontal area. Given this, it must be concluded that the .30-30 is the superior deer cartridge, and further that its advantage on larger game is even more pronounced. Anyone embarking on a mixed bag hunt would be wise to select a .30-30 over a .44 Magnum rifle.

Although the results of the comparison make it clear that the .30-30 Winchester is the generally superior big game hunting cartridge, this is not intended to belittle the .44 Remington Magnum. It is a fine short-range deer cartridge that has proven effective within its MPBR.

Back to the Rifle Cartridge Page

Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.