Fifty years ago it seemed every second rifle in the woods was a lever-action .30-30 Win. Now I rarely see one.
We have become a nation of power-hungry, long-range shooters. By the standards of today's super .30 calibers that generate upwards of 3,600 fps velocity and 4,333 foot pounds of energy with a 150-grain bullet, the .30-30 is a wet noodle. This old cowboy cartridge is lucky to push a 150-grain slug 2,400 fps and churn up a measly 1,900 foot pounds energy.
But the .30-30 remains deadly, and it's easier to shoot than the macho magnums. In hunting, shot placement beats speed, power and benchrest accuracy. A deer hit in the heart/lungs with a .22 Long Rifle will expire faster than one struck in the paunch with a .30-378 Wthby.
As a kid, I put my first two deer in the freezer with a Winchester M94 lever-action .30-30. It was easy to carry, quick to swing and easy to shoot. I was reminded of this while bear hunting with a Mossberg Model 464 lever action this spring.
My Mossberg isn't as light as my old Winchester M94 because aging eyes suggested I mount a little 3-9X36mm Swarovski riflescope on it rather than trust open sights. In the potentially dim light of the bear woods, I didn't want to take a chance at wounding anything. My Mossberg cycles smoothly and looks great thanks to some pretty nicely figured walnut and an unusual, nickel-and-MarineCoat finish, which makes metal parts weatherproof and silver. I fired Hornady's 140-grain, flexible-tip MonoFlex bullet when it came time for the rifle to perform, and a single shot dropped a 6-foot bear in its tracks. Later, my partner, Rob, heart-shot another 6-footer with the same load. It dashed about 25 yards before expiring. I don't know what more you could want from a .30 caliber rifle.
The legitimate complaints against the lever-action .30-30 are just two, in my mind. Foremost is the flat- or round-nosed bullets necessitated by the tubular magazine, which stores cartridges nose to primer. Jarring during recoil could result in a pointed bullet nose detonating the primer in front of it, initiating a messy chain reaction.
Unfortunately, blunt bullets bull—rather than slip—their way through the air, wasting their kinetic energy. After 200 yards they begin falling like meteors. Hornady has fixed this somewhat with the sharply pointed flexible-tip bullets (FTX and MonoFlex in LEVERevolution ammunition) that will not detonate primers. This improves aerodynamic shape and extends .30-30 range while saving kinetic energy.
But parsing the .30-30 for long-range performance misses its true talents. The attributes that made it the former king of deer rifles—and keep it in the Top 10 of ammo sales each year—are its deadly effectiveness in the types of cover and shooting conditions under which most of us bag our deer each year. Instead of flinching with a magnum and missing at 100 yards, we calmly aim and squeeze with the mild-shooting .30-30 and score. It's rather like shooting a .22 Long Rifle at squirrels. The mild kick lets you concentrate on the sight picture and a smooth trigger pull.
Inside 250 yards, the .30-30 rifle doesn't have to shoot sub-MOA. At that range any rifle that can put its bullets within a 2-inch circle (and most lever actions can) at 100 yards will park them in a deer or black bear's boiler room every time out to 300 yards.
Oddly, many hunting guides these days fear the .30-30 hasn't enough power to kill whitetails, let alone black bears. (More evidence of bias and perhaps self-induced brain washing from seeing too many super-magnum commercials.) Over the years, the "puny" .30-30 has been hired to terminate thousands of deer, elk, moose, caribou, grizzlies and even brown bears and polar bears. The simple truth is you don't need 3,000 foot pounds of energy to punch a hole through any of these animals. And when a bullet carrying as little as 600 foot pounds of energy strikes at 1,475 fps (1,005 mph!), trust me ... it isn't going to bounce off. And that's roughly the velocity of a round-nose .30-30 bullet at 300 yards.
So, if you hunt where shots are rarely beyond 200 yards and you don't wish to endure the stiff recoil of today's magnums, consider the old .30-30 Winchester. It's old. It's not flashy, not heavy, not super powerful, not tactical, not long-range, not shock-and-awesome—just darn effective.