Rambling thoughts on the 30-30....again!
by Greg Ritchie
A few years ago I decided to downsize, upgrade, and standardize. I chose the 308 Winchester as my round of choice. Good decision and a good choice of cartridge. It just is not my favorite.
My favorite has always been the 30-30 Winchester. My first 30-30 was the Winchester Model 94. It was a "in between" model. It had the angle eject but did not have the cross bolt safety. Lost it in the great fire of ‘99. After the fire I replaced the Winchester with the NEF Handi Rifle chambered in 30-30.
It is one of the Handi Rifles I kept. I call it the "poor mans" Contender. Always wanted a Contender just could not afford one.
I lucked on the Davidson’s Exclusive Mossberg 464 Brush Gun a year or so ago.
Lots of hate toward this trapper style carbine, but you will not hear any from me. It has been a good one.
There is one more 30-30 I want to add to the stable. The Marlin 336 XLR.
I just think it is a good looking rifle. I am just afraid to order one. Especially since the Remlin fiasco. They are getting better I think, I looked at a Marlin Big Loop carbine the other day and the only thing I found wrong with it was the stock sling swivel stud was installed off center. Still, if I am going to pay 8 C-notes for one I don’t want the swivel stud to be cockeyed. Maybe I will find one at a shop one day where I can look it over.
The cartridge itself is adequate for anything I would hunt with it. Deer, Pigs, maybe Black Bear, and yes, even groundhogs. The cartridge is also one that benefits from handloading performance wise. Granted, I am using data from some older manuals, the newer one are a bit more conservative, but I have been using these loads for years and they have given me no problems. I can push the 110 grain bullets to within 300 fps of the elusive 3000 fps mark. 130 grain bullets at 2700 FPS, 150 grain bullets at over 2500 FPS and 170 grainers at 2300 FPS. This is from the 22" barrel of the Handi Rifle. The 16" barreled Mossberg 464 gives up velocity in exchange for muzzle blast.
There are lots of good powders for the 30-30 Winchester. IMR 3031 is a favorite and is at the top of the list of recommended powders. I have long used Reloader 7 for bullets from 110 to 130 grains and H335 for bullets from 150 to 170 grains. I get better velocity figures than I do with IMR 3031. I have burned up about 2 pounds of Leverevolution powder. I get similar velocities with it as I get with H335, but using today’s published load data. I do think I like H335 better though. It just seems to be more accurate for me.
Bullets designed specifically for the 30-30 generally perform very well, after all the makers have had nearly 125 years to perfect them! I like the spire point bullets in 110 and 150 grain weight in my Single Shot Handi Rifle. Single loaded only in the Mossberg 464! !!! I say again !!! Single loaded only in the Mossberg 464, or any other tubular magazine 30-30 rifle! The Speer 110 grain Varminter flat point bullet is great for varmints. The Speer 130 grain flat point has been accurate in every 30-30 I have fired it in. It’s a heavier constructed bullet, more suitable for deer than whistle pigs. One of my favorite bullets in the 464 Brush Gun is the 170 grain Hornady flat point. It’s an excellent bullet for the platform and performs well at woods ranges. If I had to choose only one bullet for my 30-30’s, it would likely be the 130 grain flat point put out by Speer.
A lot of people say the 30-30 is no good much past the muzzle. I say it’s a good 200 to 250 yard with the right bullet, load, and rifle. Its an accurate cartridge as well. Again, the rifle plays a big part in accuracy. The typical lever action with its 2 piece stock, barrel bands, and full length tubular magazine was never destined to shoot MOA or less, mine is no exception. It will shoot into 2 to 3 inches at 100 yards. Adequate for its intended purpose. I expect the 336 XLR with its half magazine, laminate stock, and no barrel bands would shoot considerably tighter. My Handi Rifle with loads it likes and rested on the receiver will shoot into an inch at 100 yards easily.
I will concede that the 30-30 Winchester is a somewhat difficult cartridge to reload for. The cases are of an old design and thin. Most of the rifles that chamber the cartridge do not have the best lockup. Cases tend to stretch. Lever actions generally like their cases to be full length resized. Cases will likely need to be trimmed after every firing. Watch for case head separation. 3 to 5 reloads and expect to toss the case. The thin cases will buckle when crimping if the reloading dies are not set up just right for the crimp. Sometimes it might be a better idea to seat the bullet and crimp in separate steps. There are remedies. Set your dies for neck sizing only if you are shooting a rifle that will accept neck sized cases. Another option is to go Ackley Improved. The straight walls of the 30-30 AI grip the chamber wall better and that alone will reduce case stretching. I also believe the sharper shoulder helps. But again, the lever action rifles that normally house the 30-30 cartridge may not like the shape of the AI case.
The 30-30 is a grand old cartridge and I hope that it’s here for another 125 years for my great, great grandkids to enjoy. I wonder if Mossberg just might be on to something with its abomination of the classic platform for the 30-30 Winchester?