Reduced Recoil .30-30 Winchester Loads

By Gary Zinn

Lee Pacesetter .30-30 three Die Set
Lee Pacesetter .30-30 three Die Set. Illustration courtesy of Lee Precision.

Recently, I studied sixteen commercial reduced recoil rifle loads, to determine whether they generate enough downrange power to be effective in dispatching game animals at reasonable hunting ranges. The results were reported in Reduced Recoil Ammunition: How Effective Is It?

I evaluated these loads by determining the range at which each has a Killing Power Score (KPS) of 15, calculated via the Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula. I call the distance at which a given load has a KPS of 15 the Effective Killing Range (EKR) of the load for hunting deer and other Class 2 game. (The Killing Power Formula and Effective Killing Range concepts are explained more fully in the Appendix, below.)

One thing I concluded was that the commercial .30-30 Winchester reduced loads currently available are not very suitable for actual hunting use, because they do not carry enough killing power far enough downrange. I calculated that the Remington Managed Recoil .30-30 load (125 grain RN bullet, MV 2175 f.p.s.) has an EKR of only 60 yards (Remington claims an effective range of 100 yards for deer hunting), while the Hornady Custom Lite.30-30 Win. load (150 grain RN bullet, MV 2100 f.p.s.) has an EKR of 115 yards. To me, the short EKRs of these loads make them unsuitable for much deer hunting.

I was of two minds about this conclusion. The .30-30 Winchester is a mild recoiling cartridge with full power loads in rifles of normal weight. The practical need for .30-30 reduced recoil loads is therefore somewhat questionable. Conversely, some hunters might benefit from .30-30 loads that are milder in recoil than the norm, provided that these loads have enough range and power to be truly useful for hunting.

I wondered if better reduced recoil .30-30 loads could be identified by consulting reloading data. I define better reduced recoil loads in two ways. I would like the load to have an EKR of about 175 yards, with recoil that is 25 percent or more lower than the recoil of a commercial full power load with a 150 grain bullet.

I built some preliminary trajectory tables that convinced me that these objectives could be met, provided that I used relatively heavy (160 to 170 grain) .30-30 bullets with high ballistic coefficients, to carry energy downrange better than would light weight, lower BC bullets. Light powder charges are needed to significantly reduce recoil, meaning that bullets will be driven at relatively low velocities. The balancing act involves getting a useful EKR from a load, while reducing powder charge and velocity enough to get the desired reduction in recoil.

With these points in mind, I looked for bullets and load recipes that might work. A good source of load recipes over a range of muzzle velocities is the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading (10th ed., 2016). The load tables in this manual show, for given cartridges and bullet weights, powder charges needed to achieve specified MV levels. These are generally shown for several powders, in 100 f.p.s. increments of MV over a range of several hundred f.p.s. (All velocities quoted in this article are for 20" barrels.)

Reduced recoil load w/160 grain bullet

The first load that meets my criteria uses the Hornady 160 grain FTX bullet (BC .330), driven at a sedate 1900 f.p.s. by 26.4 grains of Ramshot TAC powder in a 20" barrel per the Hornady Handbook. (The maximum charge of Ramshot TAC powder listed for this bullet is 29.7 grains.) This heavy, high BC, boat tail spitzer bullet sustains energy well, so this load has an EKR of 175 yards.

.30-30 Win: Hornady 160 gr. FTX bullet, MV 1900 f.p.s. with 26.4 gr. TAC powder; MPBR = 185 yds., Zero = 160 yds., Sight-in 2.91" high at 100 yds.

    100 yards: KPS = 18.1 (Energy = 1008 ft. lbs.)
    150 yards: KPS = 16.1 (Energy = 892 ft. lbs.)
    EKR = 175 yards: KPS = 15.1 (Energy = 839 ft. lbs.)

    Recoil = 7.5 ft. lbs. (8 lb. rifle), 30% less than full power load (10.8 ft. lbs.)

The figures in the data workup show the MPBR, far zero (Zero) and 100 yard sight-in elevation for the load. The next three rows show the KPS values of the load, along with the bullet energy, at the ranges indicated. The most important result is the load has an EKR of 175 yards, as that is the distance at which the KPS falls to 15.0, the baseline KPS that I use to evaluate the effective range of a load for hunting Class 2 game.

Finally, the recoil of this load in an eight pound (field weight) rifle is 7.5 ft. lbs., which is 30 percent lower than the 10.8 ft. lbs. recoil of a full power load with 150 grain bullet. (The full power comparison load is the Hornady 150 grain InterLock RN factory load at 2350 f.p.s. MV; estimated powder charge 34.0 grains of H4895.)

Reduced recoil load w/170 grain bullet

I wanted to see what could be done with a 170 grain bullet. The highest BC 170 grain bullets available as reloading components are the Sierra flat point and Nosler Partition, with BCs of .248 and .252, respectively. Over 26.3 grains of VIHT N-135 powder, either of these bullets has a MV of 1900 f.p.s. and an EKR of 170 yards. Recoil is 8.2 ft. lbs., 24 percent less than a full power load with a 150 grain bullet.

.30-30 Win: Sierra 170 gr. FP bullet, MV 1900 f.p.s. with 26.3 gr. VIHT N-135 powder; MPBR = 180 yds., Zero = 155 yds., Sight-in 2.88" high at 100 yds.

    100 yards KPS = 18.8 (Energy = 988 ft. lbs.)
    150 yards KPS = 16.0 (Energy = 839 ft. lbs.)
    EKR = 170 yards: KPS = 15.0 (Energy = 786 ft. lbs.)

    Recoil = 8.2 ft. lbs. (8 lb. rifle), 24% less than full power load (10.8 ft. lbs.)

With slightly less killing range and more recoil, this load does not quite measure up to the previous load. Its virtue is that it generates slightly higher killing power (KPS values) at ranges within 150 yards.

Note that I calculated the EKRs above based on a minimum KPS of 15.0. I feel this is a reasonable minimum KPS for Class 2 game (animals weighing up to 300 pounds). However, Chuck Hawks believes that a minimum KPS of 12.5 is adequate for deer and similar sized game (up to about 175 pounds). Both of the loads listed above have KPS values greater than 12.5 at their MPBR distances, so they can be judged to have effective killing power on deer out to their +/- 3" MPBRs.

A practice and plinking load

As a bonus, here is a reload for training and plinking. A Hornady 110 grain round nosed bullet over 21.9 grains of VIHT N-130 powder will follow a trajectory very close to the hunting loads above, out to 175 yards. With recoil at a meager 4.6 ft. lbs., this would make an excellent load for training a neophyte shooter and for relaxed practice and plinking sessions.

This load does not generate enough energy to have any practical deer hunting capability, although it is effective on varmints the size of jack rabbits and coyotes. At the muzzle it generates 1077 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy and the KPS = 13.3. The recoil is 4.6 ft. lbs. in an eight pound rifle, which is 57% less than full power load (10.8 ft. lbs.).

.30-30 Win: Hornady 110 gr. RN .30-30 bullet, MV 2100 f.p.s. with 21.9 gr. VIHT N-130 powder; MPBR = 180 yds., Zero = 155 yds., Sight-in 2.93" high at 100 yds.

An important note about this load is that the bullet has no cannelure. Special measures must be taken to crimp the bullet in the case mouth, so that cartridges can be loaded in tubular magazines without having bullets push back into the case. The best tool for this is the Lee Precision Factory Crimp Die.

Briefly, the crimping process involves using a regular reloading die to seat the bullets to spec, without attempting to crimp the case mouths around the bullets. Then, run each cartridge through the factory crimp die to crimp the case mouths against the bullets.

The Factory Crimp Die is included in the Lee Pacesetter .30-30 three Die Set (illustrated above). This die can also be bought separately, and is relatively inexpensive. I have used the Factory Crimp Die when loading .308 Winchester and 8x57mm Mauser cartridges and found it to be effective and trouble free for crimping bullets without cannelures.

Alternative bullets for building light practice/plinking loads include the Sierra #2020 125 grain HP/FN, Speer #1805 100 grain RNSP (Plinker), Speer #1835 110 grain JHP (Varminter) and Speer #2007 130 grain SPFN. None of these bullets require the use of a Factory Crimp Die and it would be easy to find a powder charge recipe that would get ballistics and recoil results similar to the 110 grain bullet load listed.

Sighting in a .30-30 rifle

All of the bullet types, weights and loads covered in this article can, in theory, be zeroed to the same point of aim at 100 yards. The ShootersCalculator point blank range calculator shows 100 yard sight-in elevation for these loads falling within a range of +2.88 to +2.97 inches.

As a practical matter, if a rifle is sighted in three inches high at 100 yards with any of these loads, any other load can be used without adjusting the sight. The fact that one can potentially switch from one load to another without having to re-sight the rifle is a great convenience.

However, individual rifles may not throw bullets of different weights to the points of impact indicated by computer trajectory tables. Always range test when changing loads and adjust the sight settings as needed.

The three inches high at 100 yards sight-in also works for full power .30-30 loads, with the caveat just stated. The loads I featured in The .30-30 Winchester: Its Capabilities as a Deer Cartridge have 100 yard sight-in elevations within a range of +2.94 to +2.98 inches. Far zero and MPBR distances will be longer for the higher performing loads, of course.


The hunting reloads I have outlined above are clearly superior in performance to the available commercial reduced .30-30 loads. Further, reloads in .30-30 (or any caliber) can be tuned to get whatever feasible balance between killing power and recoil the shooter might prefer. In addition, reloads can be tweaked to further tune their performance in a specific rifle. Thoughtful reloading can customize .30-30 loads to meet the needs and preferences of the shooter, including significant recoil reduction while still achieving useful hunting range.

Appendix: KPS and EKR explained

The Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula was developed by Chuck Hawks, Owner/Managing Editor of Guns and Shooting Online. This formula calculates index values of the killing power of hunting loads, using downrange impact energy, bullet sectional density and cross sectional area as the input variables. Calling the output variable of the formula KPS (Killing Power Score), for a given load the formula is:

KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x frontal area)

    or simply KPS = E x SD x A

For instance, consider the following factory load.

.30-30 Win: Hornady 150 gr. Interlock RN, MV 2350 f.p.s. (20" bbl.), BC = .186, SD = .226, A = .0745

This load produces 1232 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards. The 100 yard KPS of this load is KPS = 1232 x .226 x .0745 = 20.7.

If any of the independent variables in the KPS equation should change, the KPS number changes proportionally. For instance, between 100 and 175 yards the energy of the 150 grain .30-30 load decreases by 27.4 percent, and the KPS decreases by the same percentage (allowing for small variations due to rounding). Therefore, KPS numbers generated from different data inputs (E, SD, or A) are directly comparable. This comparability can be applied not only to different loads for a particular cartridge, but also can be extended to comparisons of different cartridges.

Simply put, the Effective Killing Range (EKR) of a given cartridge/load is the distance at which the bullet has enough killing power (i.e., an adequate KPS value) to dependably dispatch a particular size/type of game animal (assuming a proper vital area hit).

Using deer and similar size game as an example, some popular cartridges, such as the .270 Win. and .308 Win., are so powerful that there is no question that they will dependably fell Class 2 game out to their MPBR range (or beyond). However, for milder cartridges, such as the .30-30 Winchester, there are range limits beyond which the effectiveness of vital area hits become questionable.

Chuck Hawks and I have studied and discussed the issue of using KPS scores to evaluate the effective killing range of cartridges and loads used to hunt Class 2, as well as larger, game animals. Chuck considers a KPS of 12.5 the minimum score for any deer cartridge at a given range, while I prefer a 15 KPS minimum for Class 2 game in general.

I realize that setting a KPS of 15 as a baseline power standard for the .30-30 load is a judgment call, but I am comfortable with it. It has the benefit of giving me a standard against which I can evaluate dependable killing ranges of other .30-30 loads, and of other cartridge/load combinations that might be used for hunting deer and other Class 2 game.

Anyone who disagrees with the baseline KPS I established and used here may change the analysis to use any cartridge, load and ballistic parameters that they feel accurately reflect effective killing power and range for deer or other game. The point is that KPS and EKR can be very useful tools for shooters who want to evaluate the killing performance of different cartridges and loads.

See The G & S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula: Implications and Applications and Determining the Effective Killing Range of Rifle Cartridges for a fuller discussion of the killing power formula and effective killing range concepts.

Back to Reloading Information

Copyright 2018 by Gary Zinn and/or All rights reserved.