One-hundred twenty-three years ago the .30-30 Winchester was launched.
In August of 1895, the first Model 1894 Winchester rifle appeared in the Winchester catalog. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The .30-30 was the first commercially available small-bore rifle cartridge in the US designed for use with smokeless powder. By today’s standards, the .30-30 should have faded from the shooting scene long ago.
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However, the 30-30 lives on and in recent surveys looking at sales of centerfire rifle cartridges the .30-30 still rank number four in annual sales.
How can that be? The ‘94 Winchester set the stage long ago for lightweight and handy rifles. With the then new .30-30 cartridge hunters had a quick-handling rifle with adequate power for any deer or black bear inside of 150 yards.
With only 10 foot-pounds of felt recoil, the handy little .30-30 is an ideal way to introduce young shooters to the world of centerfire rifles. The perfect combination!
Arguably, the two most popular rifles for the .30-30 are the Winchester Model 94 and the Marlin 336.
I love packing my Model ‘94 Trapper in the whitetail woods of northeast Washington. At only six pounds I can carry it all day and know I am adequately armed for any opportunity at a whitetail, black bear or mountain lion that may occur.
However, I still need a couple more .30-30’s in my accumulation; a Marlin 336CS has long been on my list and someday I’ll find the right one.
I’d also like to delve into the world of specialty handguns and the .30-30 in Thompson Center Contender with a Super 14 barrel seems like just the ticket for sniping at ground squirrels, coyotes, deer and maybe even antelope.
So what kind of ammo is available today to feed a .30-30 for sportsmen?
Keep in mind that all ammo that is being fed from a tubular magazine needs to be flat or round-nose to prevent detonation in the magazine tube due to recoil. The exception is with Hornady’s LeverEvolution Flex Tip ammo and if you single load spitzer bullets.
For the most part, .30-30 ammo is available in 150- and 170-grain round-nose and flat-nose loads. There are a few exceptions and hand loaders will find there are some options available for single loaded and lightweight plinking bullets.
Best .30-30 Factory Ammunition for Hunting
Walk into any rural hardware store or mini-mart and you are likely to spot a green and yellow box of Remington .30-30 ammo on the shelf.
Available in 150- and 170-grain CORE-LOKT Soft Point bullets this ammo will serve you well for any deer or bear hunting trip you take with your trusty .30-30. These bullets are designed for uniform expansion and weight retention.
Like the Remington ammunition above, the Super-X offering from Winchester is likely to be found just about everywhere you can purchase centerfire rifle ammo.
Super-X ammunition is available in 150 and 170-grain loads and has been helping hunters harvest deer, bear, and other big game since 1922.
This load features a protected hollow point and bonded construction. With the bonding, the bullet core and jacket stay together to provide deep penetration and controlled expansion.
These cartridges are available in 150- and 170-grain loads and are specially designed with the deer hunter in mind.
This ammunition is loaded with the Hornady 160 grain Flex Tip (FTX) bullet. The bullet has a patented flexible tip that allows a spitzer-type bullet to be used in tubular magazines.
The FTX bullet allows up to 250 feet per second more velocity than the traditional round or flat-nose bullets we have been discussing. With increased velocity comes a flatter trajectory and more downrange energy.
Hornady’s website indicates the 160-grain FTX is suitable for up to elk-size game. As always, correct shot placement is key.
Federal .30-30 ammo is available in 150 and 170-grain loads. The Fusion ammo features an electrochemically bonded jacket and core.
In addition, the bullet is a boat-tail design to provide greater accuracy at all ranges. The fusion offers extreme expansion and great weight retention.
What’s your take on the Fusion?
Plinking and Long Range Shooting
All of the ammunition listed above would work just fine for hunting deer, black bear, hogs, and in the right circumstances, game as large as elk and moose.
Because the .30-30 is such a light recoiling cartridge, you may find yourself just plinking or even doing a little ground squirrel sniping or coyote hunting with your favorite lever gun. The 150-grain offerings will work just fine and you’ll learn about longer-range trajectory with your hunting rifle.
Things begin to get interesting if you are a handloader. Pick something like a Nosler Ballistic Tip 125-grain bullet. Then dive into the reloading manual and load up some rounds found in the handgun section.
You will have to single load these rounds as they are a spitzer design and have a hard polymer tip. Now you have a much more aerodynamic bullet for reaching out a bit further.
On the Leverguns.com site, you can find load info with Hornady 100-grain varmint bullets with muzzle velocities approaching 3,000 feet per second. With a zero of three inches high at 100 yards, your lever gun is now on at 300 yards and only 20 inches low at 400 yards.
Who says that long-range shooting isn’t possible with an old-fashioned lever gun?
If you push the same 100-grain plinking bullet at around 2,000 feet per second you now have a great round with very little recoil for teaching new shooters.
The .30-30 can be a very accurate cartridge in rifles that are in good condition. My little ‘94 Trapper easily put 3 shots in one hole when I was preparing for a mountain lion hunt in 2014.
My gun prefers 150-grain round-nose bullets. At 100 yards the rifle is capable of sub-MOA groups, I just don’t know if my eyes are that good anymore.
In my humble opinion, everyone should have a lever action .30-30 in their collection. The guns are fun, accurate and capable of putting meat in the freezer year after year.
If you want more lever-action awesomeness, you’ll want to read about the Henry Lever-Action rifles that we’ve reviewed.
Tell us about your favorite loads and experience with your .30-30! Have many deer have you taken with it? Plan on using it on the next season’s hunt? Check out more caliber load suggestions in our Ammo & Reloading section.