Rambling Thoughts on the 30-30 Winchester
by Greg Ritchie
The rimmed cartridges have always held a special allure for me. Probably because I have always liked single shot rifles. A 22 Hornet, 30-30 Winchester, a 45-70 Government and a H&R Handi Rifle and I was ready to take on the world, or at least any critters in my home state of North Carolina!
Of the three cartridges mentioned, the 30-30 Winchester is my favorite. Loaded with the 100 grain half jacket bullet, the 30-30 made an acceptable varmint cartridge, a 180 grain round nose was the ticket if deep penetration was desired, and the good old 150 grain bullet worked for everything else.
The 30-30 responds well to reloading. Mater of fact it is a very popular rifle caliber to reload. According to 2015 sales, the 30-30 Winchester ranked number four in rifle dies sold by one die manufacturer, behind the 223 Remington, 308 Winchester, and 30-06 Springfield. The 30-30 has been around long enough that the ammunition manufacturers pretty much have it right. Reloading can duplicate factory performance but generally can not exceed it , or can exceed it only a very small amount. But the reloader has other advantages. For example, two of the bullet weights I listed above, the 100 grain half jackets and the 180 grain round nose are not found in any factory rounds I am aware of. The 150 grain bullet I mentioned is a 150 grain spire point. I get away with using spire points only because I shoot a Single Shot rifle. *** Note, the spire point is not to be used in a tubular magazine. The pointed tip against the primer of the next round in the magazine is a worrisome thing. The spire point can safely be loaded with one in the chamber and one in the magazine only.*** Hornady does sell a 160 grain flex tip that is safe to use in a tubular magazine.
[Lee Precision 4-Die set]
IMR 3031 has always been a popular powder for use in the 30-30 Winchester. With it and the 100 grain half jacket bullet a carefully assembled handloads can achieve 2800 feet per second. The 150 grain spire point reaches almost 2400 feet per second, and the 180 grain round nose gets 1900 feet per second. All out of the 22 inch barrel of the Handi Rifle.
Hornady Leverevolution powder, specifically designed for the 30-30 Winchester has given the over 100 year old sporting cartridge a new life. I don’t have extensive experience with this powder. I have used just over a pound of it and only loaded the 150 grain spire point, but it is giving me a bit more than 100 feet per second velocity increase over the same bullet pushed by IMR 3031 powder.
The 30-30 is a somewhat difficult case to load for. It is an old case design with thin walls. Cases are easily buckled when seating and crimping bullets. This makes seating and crimping in separate steps an attractive option. Cases are also prone to stretch and full length resizing can work the brass to where its only good for two or three firings. One way to increase case life is to headspace off the shoulder and not the rim. Neck sizing only. This may not work so well in the lever action, but is a fine option with the single shots and bolt actions. To neck size only, the full length sizing die is backed out and incrementally turned back in until the shoulder of the die just kisses the shoulder of the case. Another accepted way to adjust your die for neck sizing only is to simply place a nickel on the shell holder, raise the ram, and screw in the full length sizing die until it touches the nickel. An even better method, in my opinion, is to use the Lee Collet Sizing die. The Lee Classic Loader is another tool that neck sizes only and will appeal to the most frugal of the reloaders.
The weak case is the main reason that velocities can only marginally be increased over the factory cartridges by the reloader. Rifles such as the Handi Rifle can handle cartridges that generate much more pressure than the 30-30 produces. There is a fix for this. The 30-30 Ackley Improved. This cartridge is simply the 30-30 Winchester with the case walls blown out and the shoulder sharpened and moved forward. A modern looking cartridge that is at home in the Handi Rifle, although it may experience feeding problems in some lever actions. The 30-30 Ackley Improved is a very easy conversion. And a fairly economical conversion as well. Most gunsmiths will charge a nominal fee and cost of the reamer rental. The more adventurous can rent the reamer and cut the chamber themselves. It is easily done by hand. Cases are formed for the 30-30 Ackley Improved by simply firing factory rounds in the improved rifle.
A somewhat controversial subject is using 375 Winchester brass to form 30-30 AI brass. 375 Winchester brass is thicker walled than the 30-30 Winchester brass and addresses the thin walled, weak brass issue of the 30-30. Many will ask why improve a case only to take the improvement away by using thicker brass? I live on the opposite side of the fence and prefer the thicker walled brass. I will admit that I have not seen any issues with 30-30-AI brass formed using 30-30 cases, although there is some attrition from case necks splitting when fireforming.
Forming 30-30 AI from 375 Winchester can be done in various ways. Some use numerous dies to form the cases. This will generally form brass without fire forming. Some run the 375 Winchester brass through a 30-30 AI die and fireform. Either way will usually require neck reaming. Regardless of brass used, 30-30 or 375, the straight walls of the Ackley Improved cartridge does not produce as much bolt thrust as the tapered 30-30 case does which increases case life dramatically.
P.O. Ackley claimed a 300 feet per second increase in velocity over the standard 30-30 with the Ackley Improved design. I have not seen that, but have been able to approach 2600 feet per second with the 150 grain spire point bullet. I like to load to around 2500 feet per second and just enjoy the longer case life.
[30-30 Ackley Improved left, 30-30 Winchester right - By Derek280 - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8847407]
Henry Repeating Arms recently announced the release of the Henry Single Shot rifle chambered in 30-30. The Henry rifle is a very good upgrade of the H&R Handi Rifle I think, and has kindled a want of another 30-30 break barrel single shot to pair with my H&R Handi Rifle. The Henry and the Handi, a perfect pair!