Our All- American-est Thirty Caliber

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1
Updated .30-30 Loads Enhance The Workmanlike
Credentials Of This Lever-Action Classic

By Payton Miller

In its original incarnation, the .30-30 Winchester (.30 WCF) featured a 160-grain bullet at a bit over 1,900 fps, and ultimately settled on a 170-grain and a 150-grain. In factory trim, these two eventually stayed at around 2,200 and 2,400 respectively—although generally not quite that from the usual 20-inch barreled Winchester and Marlin carbines. Be that as it may, the .30-30 was a sensation in its day (see Roger Smith’s feature on page 50).

Although light-recoiling, reasonably flat-shooting and powerful enough for most North American game at real-world yardages, “It is what it is” has generally described the .30-30, at least among worshippers at the altar of velocity. But there are some newer loads out there which now boost its potential significantly. Although it can’t reach “.308-ville,” it can shade the 7.62×39—and with heavier bullets.

With me as with (I suspect) most guys, a .30-30 isn’t something you just go out and buy new on a whim. It’s something that’s been part of the family, handed down, even horse-traded for (even if not true, it oughta be). That’s how the coolest ones seem to show up anyhow. Of course, we’re talking about lever-actions here—with maybe the occasional bolt-action sleeper thrown in, such as the Savage Model 340, or the late great Remington 788.

In terms of ammo, a lot’s happened since I was shooting 170-grain Remington Core-Lokts out of my uncle’s Marlin during Nixon’s tenure in the Oval Office. What I came up with in terms of inventory was this: Hornady’s LeverEvolution 160-grain FTX, Full-Boar 140-grain Monoflex, 150-grain Custom Lite InterLock and 150-grain American Whitetail InterLock; Buffalo Bore’s 150-grain Barnes TSX and Heavy 190-grain JFN; Grizzly’s 170-grain Nosler Partition and Federal’s 150-grain Trophy Copper V-Shok. Both Buffalo Bore’s Barnes TSX and Federal’s Trophy Copper should be of particular interest to those hunting in “lead-free” zones.

This assortment represents some pretty high-tech doings for a 121-year old cartridge. But never fear—the rifles we had on tap were vintage all the way. They included a Winchester Model 94 rifle with a 26-inch octagonal barrel (D.O.B. 1897), an M94 20-inch barreled carbine (D.O.B. 1948), and a 20-inch barreled Marlin 336 (D.O.B. 1950).

OK. The obvious question. Why two 20-inch barrels? First, I wanted a Winchester for the Hornady Flex-Tip and Monoflex loads (it’s been my experience they just aren’t cut out for the Marlin’s Micro-Groove barrel). Second, the Marlin’s XS peep could give me a fighting chance at a reasonably tight group or three. I could just take my chances with my old eyes and the buckhorn sights of the old—and older—Winchester. That was the theory of course, even if the exercise didn’t quite work out that way.

Why the 26-inch? I wanted to see what velocity difference a half-foot of barrel might have with a couple of off-the-beaten-track loads that intrigued me—Hornady’s new 140-grain Full Boar, 160-grain LeverEvolution and Buffalo Bore’s thumping 190-grain Heavy. OK, I know. Who’s gonna hunt with a 26-inch octagon barreled .30-30 these days? Well, you never know…

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Stuffing .30-30’s into a tube-magazine levergun is about as American a
hunting ritual as there is. Left to right (below): Hornady’s 140-grain
Full-Boar and 150-grain Custom Lite offer enhanced ballistics and less
kick respectively. Buffalo Bore’s 190-grain Heavy delivers just what
its name implies.

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Anyway, as fun as it was to enlist the services of my buddy Thomas’ old 26-inch M94, the velocity gain really didn’t justify all the extra barrel. It turned out to be 82 fps (LeverEvolution), 80 fps (Full-Boar) and 92 fps (Buffalo Bore Heavy). This averages out to a gain of about 14 fps per inch, which speaks well for the efficiency of the “modern” .30-30.

Incidentally, one of these new loads, Hornady Custom Lite, is tailored for the recoil sensitive, yet remains powerful enough to handle deer at reasonable yardages. Featuring a 150-grain bullet, it clocked 1,892 fps out of a 20-inch barrel and 1,973 out of the 26. And, yes, the recoil difference between it and the full-house load was noticeable, particularly so in the M94 carbine. Probably the most “traditional” load was Hornady’s fairly recent American Whitetail, featuring the same 150-grain InterLock as the Custom Lite but bumping it along a couple hundred fps faster (see velocity chart). It’s an economical load (certainly in relation to the other high-zoot stuff) and yielded 3-shot, 1-inch groups at 50 yards from the Marlin.

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Hornady’s Full-Boar 140-grain Monoflex load delivered this 5-shot,
50-yard group from this vintage (1948) Model 94 carbine.

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Our 1897-vintage Model 94 rifle delivered this 3-shot 100-yard group
with Hornady’s Custom Lite (above)—quite a bit better than “spec”
with buckhorn sights at that distance for this particular shooter.

Accuracy evaluation was limited by the fact I was using original buckhorn sights on both Winchesters as well as a small “ghost ring” XS aperture on the Marlin. All the loads were certainly fine for deer/black bear/hogs out to at least 100 yards or so. What would most likely influence your ammo choice more than anything—particularly if you were using “bottomed out” as-issued buckhorns—would be your point-of-aim/ point-of-impact relationship.

Me? For my aging eyes, 50-yard results fell approximately between 1 and 2 inches with the Marlin and 2 to 3-1/2 inches with either Winchester. At 100 yards, results roughly doubled. Normally, for rifles, I shoot 3-shot groups. Here I mixed in some 5-shot ones as well—I simply couldn’t bring myself to throw away two while trying to get a 5-shot chronograph read at the same time. Groups I was inordinately pleased with, of course, would have gotten yawns from a guy with a scoped .270. But iron sights—particularly open ones—have always been the limiting factor for those who simply can’t abide a scope on a .30-30 levergun. This philosophy is totally fine with me, although I am beginning to think about the possibilities of a small red-dot optic.

.30-30 Factory Ammo Velocity *
Load Velocity ES SD
(Brand, Bullet Weight, Type) (fps) (fps)
Hornady 160 LeverEvolution 2,291 26 12
Hornady 140 Full-Boar 2,400 64 25
Hornady 150 Custom Lite 1,892 39 49
Hornady 150 American Whitetail 2,245 21 17
Buffalo Bore 150 Barnes TSX 2,283 48 20
Buffalo Bore 190 Heavy 2,154 173 71
Grizzly 170 Nosler Part. 2,215 60 28
Federal 150 Trophy Copper 2,149 13 5

Notes: *Fired from a 20-inch barrel over a Shooting Chrony F1 chronograph
(www.shootingchrony.com) with screens set 12 feet from the muzzle. E
S= Extreme Spread. SD=Standard Deviation.

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The Marlin 336 (above) performed well with Buffalo Bore’s potent 190-grain
Heavy load. Results at 100 yards would have been outstanding had the shooter
not “pulled one” while punching this 3-shot group! The company’s 150-grain
Barnes TSX load (below) was very impressive as indicated by this 5-shot
cluster at 50 yards.

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Buffalo Bore
366 Sandy Creek Rd.
Salmon, ID 83467
www.buffalobore.com

Federal Premium Ammunition
900 Ehlen, Anika
MN 55303
(800) 379-1732
www.federalpremium.com

Grizzly Cartridge
P.O. Box 1466, Rainier
OR 97048, (503) 556-3006
www.grizzlycartridge.com

Hornady Manufacturing Co.
3625 W. Old Potash Hwy., Grand Island, NE 68803, (800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

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