The .25-35, .30-30, .32 Special and .38-55 with standard and LeverEvolution Factory Loads
By Chuck Hawks
These are the Winchester cartridges that ushered in the modern era of smokeless powder, high velocity hunting cartridges in North America. All became best sellers and the versatile .30-30 remains so today.
They were introduced in the handy, smooth, quick firing and immensely popular Winchester Model 1894 rifle, which certainly did not hurt their popularity. Of course, they were soon offered in many other rifles, including the Marlin and Savage lever actions, pumps, single shots and bolt actions.
Remington went so far as to clone ballistically identical rimless versions called the .25 Remington, .30 Remington and .32 Remington for use in their pump and autoloading rifles. In the Remington rimless cartridge line, only the .35 Remington is ballistically unique. It was devised to compete with the .38-55 Winchester and ultimately found an enduring home in the Marlin 336 lever action.
The .25-35, .30-30 and .32 Spec. are all based on necked-down versions of the .38-55 case. The official SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) is 38,000 CUP for the .30-30 and .32 Special, and 37,000 CUP for the .25-35. The .38-55 was introduced with black powder in 1884, preceding the Winchester Model 1894 rifle and the smokeless powder era by 10 years. For this reason, it is still held to a MAP of 30,000 CUP. Any action that is long enough to accept the .30-30 can be adapted to all of them.
This brings us to the reason for this article. Hornady developed their FlexTip (FTX) bullet technology for their LeverEvolution cartridge line to allow spitzer (pointed) bullets to be used in the .30-30. It was quickly adapted to other cartridges used in tubular magazines and now there are Hornady LeverEvolution loads with FTX bullets in .25-35, .30-30, .32 Winchester Special and .35 Remington, among other calibers. (These are boat tail spitzers in .25-35 and .30-30 and a flat base spitzer in .32 Special.)
As I write these words (02/2018), among the calibers that concern us here, only the .38-55 so far lacks a Hornady FTX factory load. However, it has a Buffalo Bore Heavy (+P) load to elevate its performance with a conventional flat point bullet.
Hornady LeverEvolution loads handily out perform standard factory loads downrange, due to the superior ballistic coefficient (BC) of their spitzer bullets. In addition, unlike traditional factory loads, the Hornady LeverEvolution ammunition is loaded close to the SAAMI MAP limit.
Single shot and even double barreled rifles of various sorts, past and present, are offered for these four cartridges, but of primary interest for this comparison, due to their mass appeal, are traditional, tubular magazine, lever action rifles. Among the manufacturers of these rifles, Winchester has taken the lead with their latest Model 94 line. At present, the new Model 94 is offered in .25-35, .30-30 and .38-55. Marlin's Model 336 is at present offered in .30-30 and .35 Remington, although at various times it has been offered in all four Winchester calibers. Henry's H009 series is .30-30 only, as is Mossberg's Model 464. The Rossi Rio Grande model is available in .30-30.
The .30-30 is a fine, versatile cartridge and one of my lifelong favorites. However, if you are going to manufacture a .30-30 rifle, why not expand its horizons and also offer it in .25-35, .32 Special and .38-55? They are all fine cartridges, each with its own benefits, as we shall see.
To illustrate the previous point we are going to look at the ballistics of these four cartridges, with both standard and high performance factory loads. (All of which can be approximately duplicated by reloaders.)
In .25-35, .30-30 and .32 Win. Special, we will compare the standard Winchester Super-X Power Point jacketed flat point (JFP) factory load to the Hornady LeverEvolution factory load. In .38-55 we will compare the Super-X Power Point JFP factory load to the Buffalo Bore Heavy JFP load, a "+P" cartridge loaded to the same 38,000 CUP level as SAAMI spec. .30-30 loads. Following are the specific loads we will compare in each caliber.
.25-35: Win. S-X, 117 grain Power Point JFP bullet at 2230 fps MV; Hornady L-E, 110 grain FTX bullet at 2425 fps MV.
.30-30: Win. S-X, 150 grain Power Point JFP bullet at 2390 fps MV; Hornady L-E, 160 grain FTX bullet at 2400 fps MV.
.32 Spec.: Win. S-X, 170 grain Power Point JFP bullet at 2250 fps MV; Hornady L-E, 165 grain FTX bullet at 2410 fps MV.
.38-55: Win. S-X, 255 grain Power Point JFP bullet at 1320 fps MV; Buffalo Bore Heavy, 255 grain BBA (bonded core) JFP bullet at 1950 fps MV.
We will compare these various cartridges/loads in ballistic coefficient (BC), velocity, energy, trajectory, sectional density (SD), cross-sectional area, killing power and recoil. We will use the Winchester, Hornady and Buffalo Bore published ballistics to represent all loads. For clarity, the standard Winchester Super-X loads are in bold typeface and the higher performance Hornady LeverEvolution and Buffalo Bore loads are in regular typeface.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC)
Ballistic coefficient is a representation of a bullet's ability to overcome air resistance (drag) in flight. The higher the BC number, the better the bullet retains velocity downrange and "bucks" the wind.
In all cases, the Hornady FTX spitzer bullets achieve a substantially higher BC than the round nose/flat point bullets. This will help to flatten their trajectory and retain energy down range. Only the .38-55 does not have the benefit of a Hornady FTX spitzer bullet, both the Winchester Power Point and Buffalo Bore BBA bullets being of conventional JFP shape.
Velocity is important, because it flattens trajectory, reduces wind drift and is the most important factor in computing kinetic energy. Higher velocity is almost always an advantage, at least until you get into the area of greatly increased barrel erosion from over-bore cartridges and impact velocity so high it causes bullet failure. None of these cartridges operate at such inflated velocities. Here are the velocities in feet-per-second (fps) of our comparison loads at the muzzle (MV), 100, 200 and 300 yards.
Only in the .30-30 is the MV of the standard load close to that of the "hot" load. Remember, all of the Hornady LeverEvolution FTX bullets are spitzers. In every case their superior BC helps them retain velocity downrange, compared to the Flat Point design of the conventional Winchester Power Point bullets.
The bullet's remaining kinetic energy at impact powers penetration and expansion. Energy delivered on target, bullet cross-sectional area and bullet penetration are the keys to killing power. Kinetic energy is essentially a function of mass and the square of velocity. Here are the energies in foot-pounds (ft. lbs.) of our comparison loads at the muzzle (ME), 100, 200 and 300 yards.
If we accept that about 800 ft. lbs. energy at impact is desirable for Class 2 game (deer, pronghorn, black bear, etc.) and about 1200 ft. lbs. is desirable for Class 3 animals (elk, moose, etc.) one can clearly see the optimum range advantage conferred by the Hornady LeverEvolution (FTX) and Buffalo Bore Heavy (BBA) loads.
Trajectory is important, because a bullet that shoots flatter is easier to place accurately as the range increases. Bullet placement is, by far, the most important factor in killing power and statistics clearly show that when hunters start "holding over" to hit the vitals the percentage of wounded and wasted animals increases dramatically. NEVER attempt a shot beyond the maximum point blank range (MPBR) of the cartridge and load.
The following trajectory figures are based on scoped rifles with the line of sight 1.5 inches above the center of the bore. For comparison purposes, each load is zeroed to take advantage of its maximum point blank range +/- 3 inches. Here are the trajectory figures for our comparison loads at 100, 200 and 300 yards, followed by the MPBR of the load, which is the distance at which the bullet hits the target three inches below the line of sight.
It is easy to see the difference the sleek FTX spitzer bullets, as well as an increase in velocity, makes in the trajectory of the .25-35, .30-30 and .32 Special. In the .38-55, the difference is not in bullet shape, but entirely in MV. Regardless, the "hot" loads usefully increase the MPBR of all four cartridges.
The sectional density (SD) of bullets is calculated by dividing a bullet's weight (in pounds) by the square of its diameter (in inches). Note that the shape, material or ballistic coefficient of the bullet has no bearing on SD, only weight and diameter count.
Sectional density is important, because it is an important factor in bullet penetration. All other factors being equal, including bullet construction, the bullet with the greatest SD will penetrate deepest. A simple example is that a long and slender shape, such as a needle, penetrates better than a blunt shape, such as a round ball of the same weight.
The larger the SD number, the better the sectional density of the bullet. SD numbers around .200 or higher are considered desirable for Class 2 game. For example, 150 grain .30 caliber hunting bullets, proven to be highly effective in the field, have a .226 SD.
The deeper the wound channel (of any given diameter) in a game animal the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. The actual bullet diameters for our four calibers are .25-35 = .257 inch, .30-30 = .308 inch, .32 Special = .321 inch and .38-55 = .377 inch. Here are the SD numbers for our selected bullet weights.
Bullet cross-sectional area is important, because the wider the wound cavity (of any given depth), the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. Bullet cross-sectional area is independent of bullet weight or design, so it is the same for all bullets of any given caliber.
The actual bullet diameters of our various calibers are .257", .308", .321" and .377". Here are the bullet cross-sectional areas for our calibers in square inches.
Killing power is crucial for any hunting cartridge, but it is the most difficult performance parameter to estimate. Innumerable methods have been devised to estimate the killing power of cartridges and loads. A few have shown a positive correlation with results in the field, while most have proven to be worthless.
At Guns and Shooting Online we tend to use the G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula, which can be calculated for any distance and corresponds rather well to reality. This formula multiplies kinetic energy (at the chosen impact distance) by SD by cross-sectional area to arrive at a Killing Power Score (KPS). (For more information about KPS, see the article The G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula and LIst.)
The KPS is a comparative number, not a scientific unit of measurement. It is intended to be useful for comparing cartridges and loads at a given range and it has proven to be successful. Here are the KPS scores for our various cartridges and loads at 100 yards.
We estimate, based on considerable research on actual results in the field, that a KPS of at least 12.5 is desirable for quick, humane kills on Class 2 animals at whatever range the bullet impacts. A KPS somewhere in the 30s is probably reasonable for most Class 3 game. A KPS of 30 corresponds well with a Hornady HITS score over 901, which the experts at Hornady consider the minimum for use on large animals, so we are in the same ballpark.
Judging by the KPS scores above, the .25-35 is a marginal 100 yard deer cartridge with the Super-X 117 grain load, while the Hornady LeverEvolution load with the 110 grain FTX bullet at considerably higher velocity makes the .25-35 an adequate 100 yard deer cartridge. The other three cartridges are good 100 yard deer cartridges with both loads, although the "hot" loads are considerably better and will usefully extend the lethal range of the cartridges.
For hunting Class 3 game, the LeverEvolution .30-30 load is about a 100 yard cartridge and the LeverEvolution .32 Special is a little better. Vastly superior to the other cartridges and loads in killing power is the Buffalo Bore Heavy .38-55 +P load. At moderate range this load is a pile driver, more than adequate for all Class 3 game and also for Class 4 (dangerous) predators, such as grizzly bear. The SD and cross-sectional area of the big bullet when driven at greatly increased velocity (compared to the standard Super-X load) really becomes evident with this load.
Increased killing power is all well and good, but if the hunter does not put the bullet into the vitals it is wasted. By far the most important factor in quick, humane, one shot kills is bullet placement. This is where recoil comes into play, for anyone can shoot more accurately with a rifle that kicks less. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly.
A reasonable maximum recoil energy for beginning and recoil sensitive shooters is about 10 ft. lbs., which is about what you might expect from a 7.5 pound .243 rifle shooting a typical 100 grain factory load. A reasonable maximum recoil energy for the average hunter is about 15 ft. lbs., while an experienced shooter might be able to tolerate loads developing a maximum of about 20 ft. lbs. of recoil energy before developing an accuracy destroying flinch.
Here are the approximate recoil energy figures in foot-pounds for our various loads, calculated for 7.5 pound rifles.
Peruse these figures and suddenly the modest .25-35 looks pretty good. Perhaps its effectiveness as a deer cartridge is based more on the ease of accurate bullet placement than its modest energy and KPS figures suggest.
Another winner in the recoil sweepstakes is the standard .38-55 load, which kills comparably to the famous .30-30/150 grain load at 100 yards and kicks noticeably less. Actuality, all of these cartridges and loads are good choices for most hunters.
Only the Buffalo Bore Heavy .38-55 +P load, which generates recoil energy about like the full power .270 Winchester in a typical hunting rifle, should be reserved for more experienced shooters. However, its recoil is considerably less than most medium bore cartridges and its killing power is excellent, making it a good choice for big animals at moderate range.
Summary and Conclusion
These results show that the Hornady LeverEvolution loads deliver worthwhile increases in performance over standard loads in all categories, without exceeding SAAMI pressure standards or greatly increasing recoil. Anyone with a .30-30 or .32 Winchester Special rifle would be well advised to switch to LeverEvolution ammunition, if they haven't already. (Provided, of course, that their rifle shoots it accurately.)
The LeverEvolution .25-35 load gets this cartridge up off of its knees in terms of trajectory and killing power. Anyone with a .25-35 should find out for themselves what the 110 grain FTX bullet can do.
The Buffalo Bore Heavy .38-55 +P load is in a different category. It massively increases the killing power of the .38-55 cartridge, but also substantially increases recoil and it is loaded to a MAP 8000 CUP over the SAAMI 30,000 CUP MAP for the .38-55. However, since most modern .38-55 rifles are also offered in .30-30, which operates at 38,000 CUP, and the two cartridges are based on the same case, this increase in pressure should not be a problem.
This is a +P load intended for use ONLY in modern, strong rifles. Buffalo Bore specifically recommends this load for use in post-'64 Winchester Model 94 commemorative rifles and all .38-55 rifles made with modern metallurgy for smokeless powder. This would include all Angle-Eject Model 94s, the Henry H009 series and the Marlin 336. This ammunition also works in all .375 Winchester caliber rifles (specifically including all Marlin, Savage and Winchester models).
Note: This article is mirrored on the Rifle Cartridge Comparisons index page.
Copyright 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.