In just a few months from this writing, it will have
been 110 years since Winchester introduced what would become
the most popular American deer hunting cartridge of all time; the
.30 Winchester Center Fire (WCF), later to become better known as
the .30-30 Winchester. While the new cartridge boasted pretty impressive
velocities for the time, it most likely would have faded into obscurity
had it not been introduced in Winchesters then new Model 1894 lever
action rifle. If there has ever been a more perfectly matched sporting
rifle and cartridge than the Model 1894 and the .30 WCF combination,
I have not heard of it.
One could present the argument that the cartridge
became so popular because of the rifle in which it is chambered.
The .30 WCF does owe much of its success to the Winchester and Marlin
lever guns in which it is chambered, but that still does not explain
its popularity. The Model 1894, later to be called the Model 94,
has also been chambered for several other cartridges that are just
as or more powerful than the .30-30, such as the .38-55, the .32
Special, .32-40, and others. These other cartridges have not enjoyed
a fraction of the popularity of the .30 WCF. Other cartridges that
were contemporary with the early years of the .30 WCF, such as the
.303 Savage and .30 Remington, which bettered the ballistics of
the WCF in the Savage and equaled it in the Remington, have long
since become obsolete. Yet the .30-30 charges on 110 years later.
Todays shooters enjoy a tremendous choice in rifle
cartridges. There are several thirty caliber cartridges currently
chambered by rifle manufacturers that greatly exceed the ballistics
of the old .30-30. There are thirty caliber magnums, short magnums,
shorter magnums, ultra magnums, and a few standard cartridges such
as the .30-06 and .308 Winchester, the latter two owing much of
their success to being military cartridges.
What got me to thinking on the subject of the old
.30-30 occurred a couple of weeks ago at a pawn shop in a town about
thirty miles from home. I was looking at a Model 94 carbine that
had been greatly mistreated when an expert happened by to inform
me of what a useless cartridge the .30-30 is. Seems that he had
owned one a few years earlier, and could not manage to hit anything
with it. He was sure, however, that the cartridge was totally inadequate
for deer hunting. It has been a long-standing policy of mine to
never argue with idiots and women, and he fell squarely into the
first category. This incident started my mind to recalling that
I had heard similar experts all of my life telling me that the old
.30-30 was inadequate as a deer rifle. Some seemed to be of the
belief that the bullets would just bounce of deer and tumble harmlessly
to the ground. Others had shot a running deer somewhere in
the leg, and the animal did not lay down and die right on the spot,
so they concluded that the rifle and cartridge were at fault. I
have known many hunters who have bought a new .30-30, carried it
deer hunting, either missed or wounded an animal, and went immediately
to trade it in on a new .243 or some other high-stepping number.
I suppose that it is easier to blame the gun than to admit to being
a lousy marksman. The trouble with their theory is that millions
of Winchester and Marlin rifles have taken countless numbers of
deer, hogs, and black bear shooting the old .30 WCF, and will continue
to do so as long as hunters go to the woods after game.
Many seasoned hunters who get their winters meat
every year rely on the old .30-30, and with good reason. It works,
and it works well. I am constantly shooting other peoples rifles
in fulfilling my duties here at Gunblast.com, but I make a point
to take a .30-30 lever gun into the woods at least a few days each
year. The attributes that make these guns so popular begin with
their handling qualities. A lever action carbine handles like a
good bird gun. It comes to the shoulder without thinking about it,
and points naturally. The guns are light and handy, easy to carry
and easy to shoot. The .30 WCF in a Marlin or Winchester carbine
has relatively light recoil, yet plenty of power to cleanly and
quickly dispatch game, that is of course unless one is an "expert"
that knows that the old cartridge is too weak to do the job. The
trouble is, deer do not know any better, and go ahead and quickly
expire when a round or flat nosed thirty caliber bullet traveling
along at around two thousand feet per second slams into their vital
Last year, my new son-in-law decided to go deer hunting.
He had never been hunting before, so one afternoon we decided to
head out into the woods deer hunting. Having no rifle of his own,
I grabbed a lever action Marlin off the rack, loaded the magazine,
and we quickly went over the manual of arms for that particular
firearm. I placed Sebastian in an elevated stand overlooking
a small clearing and a section of power line, and I went about a
quarter mile through the woods away and climbed up into another.
No sooner than I had dozed off for a nap when I heard him shoot.
In about two seconds I heard him shoot again. I figured he had missed,
and resumed my efforts to enjoy a comfortable autumn nap. Soon he
appeared in a full run, heading my direction. He had two deer on
the ground, and needed my assistance in getting them back home.
Seems I failed to explain that deer hunting doesnt necessarily
mean that we are going out to actually kill deer! I measured the
distance from his stand to where the deer laid, and it was just
over 180 yards. Two deer, two shots. Not bad for the first time
hunting. The ammunition that he used I had handloaded with the Barnes
150 grain flat point X bullet. These have quickly become my favorite
bullet for the .30 WCF. They have a deep hollowpoint and were designed
to expand at thirty-thirty velocities, yet still penetrate like
theres no tomorrow. I have never recovered one from a game animal.
They kill like no .30-30 bullet that I have ever seen. On one of
the deer, Sebastian shot it in the chest, and the bullet exited
the rear ham on the opposite side, after traveling the length of
the deer through bone and muscle. The other deer had turned to leave,
and he shot it just behind the ribcage, with the bullet exiting
the deers skull, leaving a sizeable crater. Complete penetration
and excellent bullet performance, at over 180 yards, from a cartridge
that should have been obsolete a century ago with the introduction
of the .30-40 Krag. Neither Sebastian nor the two deer knew that
the old .30-30 was too weak and inaccurate to kill at that range.
This has been typical of my experience with that bullet, and I just
loaded up sixty more rounds of the stuff this afternoon.
Another good thing about the old thirty-thirty is
that just about anywhere that sells ammunition in North America
will have a few boxes on hand. The ammo makers have gotten pretty
good at making the ammo for the .30-30, with over a century of practice,
and most any brand of ammunition will do the job. Power Points,
Core-Lokts, and Silvertips have taken deer year in and year out
for hunters who do not load their own ammo. The carbines and rifles
chambered for the cartridge are plenty accurate for big game hunting,
and some of these leverguns are surprisingly accurate, shooting
right along with a good bolt action rifle, and handling much better
While the .30-30 has been chambered in most all other
action types, including pistols, it lives and breathes in the levergun.
I must admit that I have an unusual fondness for the lever action
rifle. It is all about the handling. Nothing carries as well, nor
points as naturally. I am somewhat happy that many shooters sell
off their leverguns for "better" weapons. It makes the
Winchesters and Marlins plentiful on the used market, and therefore
very affordable. I have several, but never quite enough. Just three
weeks ago I acquired another Winchester at the Tulsa gun show. It
is an 1894 Model rifle that was built in 1897, and is chambered
for the good old .30 WCF. It has a half octagon/round barrel. Most
of the finish is gone, but the bore is pristine! I have several
modern rifles that have superb scopes and sport much better ballistics,
but they have nothing like the character of that old Winchester.
It will go hunting with me in a few days.
Looking at the ballistics of the .30 WCF, most new
shooters are unimpressed, to say the least. However, the cartridge
and the guns are more than the sum of their parts. These rifles
impart a different experience to the user. Somehow, the whole hunting
experience is better with a thirty-thirty levergun. It defies explanation,
but the meat tastes better and the trophy looks better on the wall
when taken with one of these old fashioned and often derided leverguns.
Some readers will understand what I mean, and others will think
that I am nuts. However, in the hands of a good hunter, the .30
WCF kills the game every bit as dead as the latest and greatest
ultra short fat belted magnum.
To quote my friend and fellow Shootist Mic McPherson,
who by the way is a genuine, credentialed, and well-published ballistics
expert: "Those who cannot cleanly dispatch their game using
a .30-30 are either shooting too far, hunting inappropriate (too
large) game, or are simply incompetent." I think that
he summed it up rather well.
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