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The .30-40 Krag

The .30-40 Krag
This Modest Cartridge Still Offers Fine Performance.

The development of practical smokeless powders in the 1880s led to rapid changes. As usually happens with firearms, the fastest changes occurred with military rifles, and the United States was a little slow on the uptake. By 1892, when the US Army approved a smokeless cartridge and rifle to replace the .45-70 “trapdoor” Springfield, they were already behind many other countries. The result was a bolt-action rifle designed by Norwegians Ole Krag and Erik Jorgensen, and a rimmed cartridge strongly resembling Britain’s .303 Enfield.

Variously called the .30 US, .30 Army and .30 Government, the cartridge eventually became known as the .30-40 Krag, listing the caliber and powder charge. The rifle didn’t feature clip loading, like either the British Lee-Enfield or the 1892 Mauser, and when a higher-velocity load was introduced in 1899, the single-locking lug often cracked, leading to the Krag’s replacement with the 1903 Springfield. However, there was never anything fundamentally wrong with the cartridge itself; as evidence, Britain’s almost identical .303 defended the Empire through two world wars.

The .30-40 Krag was the first smokeless cartridge to appear in any Winchester rifle, first in the 1885 single-shot and later in the 1895 lever-action rifles, and also appeared in the Remington Rolling Block single-shot and Remington-Lee bolt action. Due to its moderate velocity, the .30-40 quickly acquired a fine reputation for hunting big game even with the cup-and-core bullets of the day, with the 220-grain roundnose favored for animals larger than deer.

After 1903, half a million Krag-Jorgensen military rifles and carbines started making their way into the civilian market. Far more recently, the .30-40 has been nostalgically chambered in a few rifles, including the Ruger No. 3 single-shot and reproductions of the Winchester 1885. It remains popular enough that both Remington and Winchester offer factory ammo and, occasionally, empty cartridge cases.

My first .30-40 was a reproduction Winchester 1885 “High Wall” made by the C. Sharps Arms in Big Timber, Mont., and I still don’t know why I sold it, since with an Axtell tang sight it was capable of 1-1/2-inch groups at 100 yards. After that I owned both an original Krag-Jorgenson rifle and a “sporterized” carbine with an old Redfield aperture sight, and today have a Ruger No. 3 and an over-under double rifle built by an unknown gunsmith on a Ruger Red Label 20-gauge shotgun frame. (The double was purchased years ago at a gun show by my friend Tim Crawford. The seller had no idea who made it, and Tim couldn’t tell me anything more when I acquired it from him.)

The .30-40 case has slightly more powder capacity than the .308 Winchester, so it could theoretically match .308 velocities, but in Krag-Jorgensens, Remington Rolling Blocks and any other relatively weak action, pressures should be kept mild, which is the reason the limited amount of today’s published .30-40 Krag handloading data maxes out at around 40,000 psi.

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This mule deer doe was taken with a 180-grain Winchester Power Point
from a reproduction Winchester High Wall from C. Sharps.

Some .30-40s, however, can take more pressure. Evidently quite a few have been made on Siamese Mausers, since they were originally chambered for the a rimmed 8mm round and have a slanting magazine box allowing rimmed cases to feed. A Winchester High Wall made of modern steels or the Ruger No. 3 are very strong actions, and even my Ruger Red Label is probably stronger than an original Krag-Jorgensen. But there’s no sense in trying to “magnumize” the .30-40 Krag. Its virtues arise from moderate velocity, and if you want more zip the world is already full of .308 Winchesters, 30-06s and .300 magnums.

There’s a definite consensus in most published .30-40 powder charges. Muzzle velocities, however, are all over the place, due to wide variations in barrel length, and probably condition as well, even in the 21st century when most test barrels have been standardized at 24 inches. In fact, old Krag-Jorgensens are still often used to test-shoot data. The rifles had 30-inch barrels and the carbines had 22-inch barrels, but many had their barrels shortened because of worn muzzle crowns or when “sporterizing” for hunting. The Speer manual lists a 21-inch barreled Krag as their test rifle, while both Hornady and Nosler used 30-inch barreled rifles.

All the sources I found list 46 grains of one of the 4350s as maximum for 180-grain bullets, and that load has shot well in every one of my rifles—except the double, where bullets from the top barrel landed 6 inches above bullets from the bottom barrel at 100 yards. The standard procedure when a double’s barrels shoot apart is to add powder, and at 48 grains the two barrels shot together, averaging a little over an inch apart. This load also shot very well in the C. Sharps High Wall, and is extremely accurate in the Ruger No. 3, very handy since I can use one load in both my present .30-40s. (Not so coincidentally, 48 H4350 and a 174- to 180-grain bullet is also the load I’ve found most consistent in the .303 British, where it gets the same 2,400 to 2,500 fps.)

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The Ruger No. 3 is one of several relatively recent rifles chambered for the .30-40 Krag.

The double rifle has 21-inch barrels and the Ruger No. 3 a 22-inch, but modern powders provide about as much zip from short, new barrels as originally possible from the 30-inch military rifle. I assure you that a typical cup-and-core 180-grain spitzer at 2,400 to 2,500 fps will slay deer nicely at any range a hunter might use such a load.

If somebody wants to use a 220-grain roundnose today, however, the Nosler Partition might be the best choice, not because a “premium” bullet is needed but because today’s cup-and-core 220s have pretty hard cores, since they’ll most likely be used in a .30-06 or a .300 magnum. The front core of the Partition is a softer lead alloy, so will be far likelier to expand at typical Krag velocities. Some sample loads with lighter bullets have been included as well, and would probably be the best choices for shooting beyond “woods” ranges.

Original Krag-Jorgensen military rifles and carbines bring a pretty good price among collectors these days, which is the reason I no longer own my original rifle. My altered carbine wasn’t worth nearly as much, but eventually an old friend who had one in his youth talked me out of it. Both shot very well, and if you find an original or sporter Krag-Jorgensen they well worth playing with, as is any other .30-40 Krag I’ve ever fired. The old cartridge may not be anywhere near the 21st-century ideal of a big-game cartridge, but it will still do the job for those who like to wander around the woods with rifles chambered for historical cartridges.
John Barsness

C. Sharps Arms, Inc.
P.O. Box 885
Big Timber, MT 59011
(406) 932-4353
www.gunsmagazine.com/c-sharps

Hodgdon
6430 Vista Dr.
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455
www.gunsmagazine.com/hodgdon

Hornady
3625 West Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68803
(800) 338-3220
www.gunsmagazine.com/hornady

Remington Arms
870 Remington Dr.
P.O. Box 700
Madison, NC 27025
(800) 243-9700
www.gunsmagazine.com/remington-arms

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry St.
Sedalia, MO 65301
(888) 223-8799
www.gunsmagazine.com/sierra-bullets

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee St.
Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442
www.gunsmagazine.com/ruger

Winchester Ammunition
600 Powder Mill Rd.
East Alton, IL 62024
(618) 258-2000
www.gunsmagazine.com/winchester-ammunition

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