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Levergun loads .30-30 Winchester: Taffin shares a host of good loads for one of our most-used, but least-praised rifle cartridges.

I was recently taken to task by an individual on my Website ( He accused me of being intolerant, and further suggested there is a whole new world out there I need to see. I freely admit to being intolerant. One of the major problems with our world today is we are overloaded with tolerance. I'll stay intolerant, thank you.

I've also seen the "new world" and I don't like it all that much. Daytime television is part of this new world, and I have found if I want a break in the middle of the day, the only way to enjoy television is to plug in a videotape -- preferably a classic western movie.

I learned this lesson when I surveyed the current content of daytime television programming, which seems to consist mainly of two types of shows. The first are the infamous infomercials (does anybody really watch these things?), and the second, which are loosely referred to as "talk" shows (how can anybody watch these things?).

When I was a kid in a galaxy long ago and far, far away, I actually had parents who felt it was their duty to teach me certain things. One of those had to do with talk. There were certain things that were not discussed in polite company, and other things that were never discussed at all.

All such barriers are down on daytime TV. No subject is taboo, and there is no subject so gross, so obnoxious, so embarrassing, it cannot be paraded in front of everyone. It seems to me that most of us would want to hide these things if they occurred in our family. Perhaps, the participants are a different species.

Taboo Subject?

Certainly, shooters like to talk. We love to talk about our guns, about hunting, about shooting, just about anything and everything connected with firearms. Except one. In polite company it seems that the .30-30 Winchester cartridge is a taboo subject.

It's rare to find anyone who will admit they shoot one, let alone own a rifle chambered in .30-30, and even harder to find is someone who will admit they actually reload for the .30-30. After all, for years we've been told by several different experts that the .30-30 is a difficult cartridge for the reloader.

What are the facts? Both Marlin and Winchester have been producing .30-30 leverguns for more than 100 years, millions of them in fact. This means either one person has stockpiled all these leverguns in a huge warehouse, or a lot of people have purchased and continue to purchase .30-30s without talking about it.

If they do talk, it's usually to point out they really bought the .30-30 levergun as their kid's first hunting rifle. A task it fills admirably, with excellent performance combined with mild recoil.

Perhaps it is taken home in a plain brown wrapper and only shot when no one is around. As to reloading, the .30-30 is the 13th most popular set of rifle reloading dies sold by RCBS, outselling the 7mm Remington Ultra Mag, 7-08, .22 Hornet, .338 Winchester, .300 Weatherby, 8x57, 6.5x55, .280 Remington, .222 Remington, .260 Remington, .338 Remington Ultra Mag, and .220 Swift.

No one is reluctant to talk about any of these cartridges, so what's the problem with the .30-30?

It's time for all the .30-30 users to come out of the closet and let the world know they shoot this grand old cartridge, and they do it with great enjoyment and success.

Personal History

The .30-30 occupies both a soft and a sad spot in my heart. A Winchester Model 94 chambered in .30-30 was one of my first rifles in the 1950s. Then in 1963, I was faced with the prospect of being able to pay my college tuition that quarter or feed my three little kids, but no way to do both.

That, of course, was no contest, so to be able to stay in school I had to sell three very special firearms, a second generation, 7 1/2 inch barreled .45 Colt SAA, a S&W 1950 Target .44 Special, and a pre-64 Model 94. I had no choice, but it still hurt.

That's the down side, but the upside is all of these guns have been replaced many times over. Currently, I have at my disposal for testing and shooting enjoyment five .30-30s, all lever guns, as well as a T/C Contender with both 10- and 14-inch barrels.

The leverguns consist of three Winchesters: one of the current trapper models, a pre-'64 Model 64, and a pre-World War I Saddle Ring Carbine; from Marlin comes one of the current 336 Cowboy leverguns and it is mated up with a "homemade" trapper.

By the way, "trapper" refers to lever-actions with shorter barrels than the traditional 20-inch carbine length. Winchester built a fair number of these, with barrels as short as 12 inches. These extra-short, fast handling guns were popular for many uses, as well as for use along the trap-line.

The Maruader Lives Again

Several years ago, a fellow traveler gave me a barrel and magazine tube from the old Marlin Marauder, a short-barreled .30-30 that I drooled over as a kid. For the past several years I have been looking for an older Marlin that was neither drilled and tapped for a scope mount nor had a hammer block safety.

My original search was for a straight grip stock, however as my wrist has given me more and more trouble, I've found the pistol grip stock is much more comfortable to use. A few months back, I stopped in Shapels and found just what I was looking for.

Gunsmith Mike Rainey installed the 16-inch barrel and magazine tube. I added a Lyman receiver sight, and I had my long-awaited Marauder. If there's anything better for deep-woods, close-range hunting of deer or black bear, I haven't seen it yet.

Actually, any of the short-barreled leverguns -- .30-30, .35 Remington, .356 Winchester, .375 Winchester or .38-55 -- will make excellent woods guns. We will be talking about the other calibers in future installments. Before anyone asks, I would certainly add to this list any of the short-barreled big-bore leverguns chambered in .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .444 Marlin, .45-70, and even the .44-40 properly loaded.

With this working battery of .30-30 1everguns, I have short, handy trappers that are just the ticket for use in close quarters. The long sight radius of the 24-inch, octagon-barreled Marlin Cowboy makes nice tight groups when testing ammo. My ancient Model 94 SRC literally personifies slick and smooth when it comes to leverguns, while the sleek Model 64, with its two-thirds length magazine, adds finesse to the .30-30 line up.

Origin Of The .30 WCF

Most shooters believe the .30-30 and the Winchester Model 94 entered the shooting world hand-in-hand. No, not quite.

The Winchester Model 94, the most successful of all Winchester's lever-actions and still in production well over 100 years later, was first chambered in two black powder cartridges, the .32-40 and the .38-55.

One year later, barrels were changed to nickel steel to handle the extra friction caused by jacketed bullets at then unheard of muzzle velocities. The .38-55 was basically trimmed from 2.085 to 2.040 inch, and necked down to .30 caliber to arrive at the .30-30. Known early on as the .30 WCF, Winchester had entered the smokeless powder age.

No levergun cartridge has ever caught the shooting public's attention as did the .30-30. Very few will admit to its effectiveness today. All discussion seems confined to the various magnum cartridges, and we have a new wealth of super-magnums and short-magnums, all of which can be found in the best bolt-action rifles ever manufactured. However, in the late 1890s, the .30-30 left the .38-55 with its 250 grain bullet at 1,300 fps, and the .44-40 with its 205 grain bullet a few feet faster, far behind as it offered a superior bullet at a startling 2,000 fps.

This velocity meant flatter trajectory and extended range, and the .30-30 soon became the deer cartridge of choice. Not only was it highly effective, it was chambered in possibly the slickest levergun ever conceived for carrying in a saddle scabbard, pickup truck rack, or simply carrying through the woods.

Marlin lost no time chambering their Model 1893 for the new cartridge. When scope sights became widely available, Marlin was way ahead of Winchester. The Marlin was designed to eject to the side as opposed to the top ejection of the Winchester Model 94, and was thus much better adapted to mounting a telescope.

Even today, iron sight shooters are more likely to select the Winchester Model 94, while those preferring scopes will more often opt for the Marlin 336, which still retains the side ejection as well as coming already drilled and tapped for a supplied scope base.

For my use, I normally equip both the Marlin and the Winchester .30-30s with receiver sights. Four of my .30-30s carry a Lyman sight, and the fifth wears a Williams receiver sight. Other than for testing loads for accuracy, it seems almost blasphemous to place a scope on any of these trim carbines.

Changing Role For The Frontier Rifle

Winchester's first centerfire levergun, the Model 1873 .44 Winchester Centerfire (.44-40) was designed basically as a fighting weapon. The West was still a very dangerous place and there's a reason why the Winchester 1873 is regarded as The Gun That Won The West. Simply stated, it did.

Lucas McCain may have used a Model 1892 as television's The Rifleman, however had the show been authentic it would have been a Model '73. Of course if they were concerned about authenticity, he would not have been twirling it (someone would have shot him with a Colt Single Action while the rifle was going in a circle), and he certainly would not have been using a trip lever trigger.

By the time the 1894 arrived, most of the West had been tamed, and deer rifles were more necessary than battle rifles. The 1894 Winchester and the 1893 Marlin both fit into the hunting category very nicely. If there is a more perfect no-nonsense deer cartridge than the .30-30 I do not know what it is.

No, it's not a shoot from 300 yards away type of cartridge, however at reasonable ranges, it's still does the job quickly and cleanly. The last deer I shot with the .30-30 was a meat doe for the cowboys on the ranch. One well placed shot and it did its job perfectly, just as it has done over and over again for the past century.

Easy-Loadin' Cartridge

Not only is the .30-30 a no nonsense type of cartridge, it is mostly found chambered in no frills leverguns. When trying to squeeze the best possible accuracy out of a bolt-action rifle chambered for a long-range cartridge, it may be necessary to weigh all the charges, trim all the cases, neck turn the brass, and whatever else those caught up in the accuracy trip do.

By contrast, when it comes to loading the .30-30, I treat it exactly as I do my sixgun cartridges. Cases are separated by head-stamp, placed in a shallow cardboard box (I use the 2-inch deep cardboard trays my preferred brand of dog food comes in), given a light coating of spray-on lube, and always full length re-sized.

I have enough .30-30 brass in rotation that trimming brass has not been necessary, but that may change as cases are used more and more. When I was a regular competitor in long-range silhouetting, my Unlimited handgun was a T/C Contender, Super 14, chambered in .30-30. It was not unusual for me to come up with tougher .30-30 brass for the Contender by running .375 Winchester brass through a .30-30 full-length sizing die. A good trick you may wish to know.

Tools And Components

Dies for the .30-30 on my loading bench include RCBS and Hornady, primers are almost exclusively CCI No. 200 Large Rifle, and powder charges are dropped from an RCBS Powder Measure. Brass assortment used is mainly Federal, Remington, and Winchester.

Reloaders have many excellent powders to choose from for the .30-30. I have pretty much settled on Hodgdon's H4895, H335, and H322, and Alliant's Reloder 7.

Neither the .30-30 cartridge nor the lever-guns chambered for it have a reputation for accuracy. They both should. In fact, with either factory loads or handloads, the Marlin 336 Cowboy, when scoped, will make it tough for many a bolt-action rifle to stay in the race.

Great bullets abound for the .30-30. When I have time to cast my own, I prefer the RCBS No. 30-180 FN, however, now that Oregon Trail is offering a 170-grain FNGC (Flat-Nosed Gas Check), I don't find it as necessary to heat up the melting pot. Casting time becomes shooting time.

And very pleasant shooting time it is, when using the 180 grain Oregon Trail Gas Check bullet over 15.0 grains of H4227 for a mild shooting 1,557 fps and a 3/4-inch group for three shots at 50 yards. Makes a great rabbit load and should work equally well on turkeys where rifles are legal for use on big gobblers.

A Few Favorites

The chart will show you a wealth of great loads for the .30-30, but let me share a few favorites. With 150-grain bullets, the .30-30 Marlin Cowboy seems to especially thrive on loads in the 2,100 to 2,200 fps category. The Hornady 150 grain RN over 29.0 grains of H322 develops 2,181 fps, and three-shot 50-yard groups ran 3/4 inches. The same bullet and 31.0 grains of H335 develops 2,178 and shows 1/2 inch groups.

The 150-grain bullets will handle just about anything I want to accomplish with a .30-30 levergun. If more weight is desired, it is hard to beat the Hornady 170 grain FP over 28.0 grains of H322 for 2,204 fps and a group of 3/4 inch. Just to prove how accurate the .30-30 can be, a 4x scope was added to the 336 Cowboy with result being a 3/8-inch, three-shot 50 yard group using Speer's-170 FP over 30.0 grains H322 for 2,203 fps.

The .30-30 probably will not make many lists of Most Favored Cartridges. It doesn't seem to mind. It simply stays its intended course and does it without fanfare. Given its performance to date, I wouldn't be surprised if the little .30 has another 100 years ahead of it.

(For use only in modern .30-30 rifles in excellent condition)

Test Rifle: Marlin 336 Cowboy 24 inch Barrel


Bullet Load Velocity Group

Oregon Trail 170 gr. FNGC 15.0 gr. H4227 1,557 3/4"
Oregon Trail 170 gr. FNGC 17.0 gr. #2400 1,862 1"
Oregon Trail 170 gr. FNGC 26.0 gr. IMR3031 2,028 1 3/4"
Oregon Trail 170 gr. FNGC 13.0 gr. XMP5744 1,287 1 1/4"
Oregon Trail 170 gr. FNGC 20.0 gr. XMP5744 1,798 1 1/2"
RCBS #30-180FN 13.0 gr. XMP5744 1,241 1 1/2"
RCBS #30-180FN 18.0 gr. XMP5744 1,654 7/8"


Bullet Load Velocity Group

Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 33.0 gr. H4895 2,202 1 3/8"
Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 35.0 gr. H4895 2,356 1 1/8"
Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 31.0 gr. H322 2,376 1 3/8"
Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 33.0 gr. H322 2,613 1"
Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 33.0 gr. H335 2,421 1"
Sierra 125 gr. FPHP 35.0 gr. H335 2,546 1 3/8"
Hornady 150 gr. RN 31.0 gr. H4895 2,080 1 5/8"
Hornady 150 gr. RN 33.0 gr. H4895 2,094 1 1/2"
Hornady 150 gr. RN 29.0 gr. H322 2,181 3/4"
Hornady 150 gr. RN 31.0 gr. H335 2,178 1/2"
Speer 150 gr. FN 27.0 gr. Reloder 7 2,208 3/4"
Speer 150 gr. FN 29.0 gr. Reloder 7 2,330 1 1/8"
Speer 150 gr. FN 29.0 gr. H322 2,194 1 1/4"
Speer 150 gr. FN 31.0 gr. H322 2,335 1 3/8"
Winchester 150 gr. Silver Tip 31.0 gr. H4895 2,094 1 3/4"
Winchester 150 gr. Silvr Tip 33.0 gr. H4895 2,215 1"
Winchester 150 gr. Silver Tip 29.0 gr. H322 2,180 1 1/3"
Winchester 150 gr. Silver Tip 31.0 gr. H335 2,162 7/8"
Winchester 150 gr. Silver Tip 33.0 gr. H335 2,282 1 1/2"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 27.0 gr. Reloder 7 2,085 5/8"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 28.0 gr. H322 2,204 3/4"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 28.0 gr. H335 2,029 1 5/8"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 30.0 gr. H335 2,135 1 3/4"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 28.0 gr. H4895 1,912 1 3/8"
Hornady 170 gr. FP 30.0 gr. H4895 2,017 1 5/8"
Sierra 170 gr. FP 26.0 gr. H322 1,855 1 1/4"
Sierra 170 gr. FP 28.0 gr. H322 2,090 7/8"
Sierra 170 gr. FP 30.0 gr. H335 2,105 1 1/2"
Sierra 170 gr. FP 25.0 gr. Reloder 7 1,939 1"
Sierra 170 gr. FP 27.0 gr. Reloder 7 2,025 1"


Bullet Load Velocity Group

Federal 170 gr. Hi-Shok Factory 2,030 7/8"
Hornady 150 gr. RN Factory 2,350 5/8"
Hornady 170 gr. FP Factory 2,220 3/4"
Remington 170 gr. Core-Lokt Factory 2,199 3/8"
Speer Nitrex 150 gr. FP Factory 2,310 3/4"
Speer 170 gr. FP 30.0 gr. H322 2,203 3/8"


[1] Fast handling leverguns for close quarters, Trappers from Winchester and Marlin.

[2] Some favorite bullet choices for the .30-30: Sierra 125 FPHP, Hornady 150 RN, Speer 150 FN, Winchester 150 Silver Tip, Hornady 170 FP, and Oregon Trail's 170 Gas Check Flat Point.

[3] The wide variety of available jacketed and cast bullets equate to versatility for the .30-30 handloader.

Winchester's 1892 -- chambered for pistol-class cartridges -- was an instant success, but the flat-shooting and hard-hitting Model 1894 took American woodsmen and hunters by storm.
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Author:Taffin, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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Next Article:Versatility, thy name is Warne: a new quick--change sighting system for the hunting revolver puts J.T in a poetic mood.

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