Perhaps, no cartridge in history has accounted for as many deer as the grand old man of deer cartridges, the 30-30. Introduced in 1895, it was originally deemed the 30 WCF, and first chambered for Winchester's new lever-action rifle, the 1894 Winchester. When Marlin began producing the cartridge, they attached the "-30" to designate 30 grains of the new "smokeless" powder rather than using the Winchester name on their guns. The moniker "30-30" stuck and today, it is still one of the most popular cartridges used by deer hunters throughout the United States.
Rimmed Cases & Round Nose Bullets
The 30-30, like other cartridges of that period, headspaces off the rim of the cartridge. Whereas, cartridges like the 30-06 headspaces off the shoulder. This rim while effective on most lever action and single shot rifles creates somewhat of a problem on bolt action, semi-automatics and most pump-action rifles. The extractor is not able to jump or grasp the rim of the cartridge due to its large diameter.
The rim on the 30-30 also prevents rounds from passing one another without interference causing feeding problems. There are some exceptions: the Remington 788, Savage 340 and Winchester Model 54 come to mind. These bolt guns combated the feeding problem by using a spacer to allow the rounds to be loaded in a slanted manner inside of the magazine.
Most 30-30's use a tubular magazine. The cartridges are loaded into the magazine end for end; the bullet tip rests against the rim of the previous shell. Because of this arrangement, 30-30 shells for the most part are loaded with round nose or flat nose bullets. This school of thought suggests recoil from firing could cause spire point bullets to act like a firing pin — setting off the shell and causing a chain detonation inside of the magazine tube. Backwoods myth or otherwise, I don't want to be the guy to try to prove this theory wrong, so when I use a tubular magazine I use either round nose or flat nose bullets. I've grown quite fond of my eyes and ears.
Hardly Losing its Luster
The 30-30 loaded with a 150 grain bullet carries enough energy to dispatch of deer sized game up to and including black bear up to 200 yards or so, modern cartridges like the 270, 30-06 and 7mm Rem Mag does this with ease, so why hasn't the 30-30 fallen into obscurity, in a word — handloading. RCBS, the company that leads handloading equipment sales, annually compiles a list of their top selling dies used to reload ammunition — the 30-30 has never dropped from the Top 20 list.
Becoming a Pistol Round
As good a rifle round as the 30-30 is, it is a better pistol round, at least in a single shot like the Thompson/Center Contender or the Magnum Research BFR, a revolver, both of which are able to utilize the wide variety of 30 caliber bullets available including the aerodynamic spitzer bullets — wringing out the 30-30's full potential.
Platform for Wildcatters
The 30-30 also spawned an entire generation of wildcats. The now nearly extinct, 22 Hi-Power and the ever-popular 7-30 Waters are just two of the wildcats but dozens of others based off the 30-30 were created for and by shooters. Many of these cartridges were developed to improve the 30-30, but did little to do so.
Raising the Bar
Historically, factory ammunition was limited mainly to 150 grain or 170 grain bullets for the 30-30 because of the round nose or flat nose configurations. However, Remington offered the Accelerator, a 22-caliber bullet surrounded by a 30 caliber plastic sabot, these Accelerators are not designed to be used in a lever gun or any other tubular magazine rifle but Hornady has introduced an offering made specifically for lever action rifles -the LEVERevolution. These cartridges use a rubber- tipped spitzer bullet, which is safe for use in all lever guns. By slightly increasing the velocity and by using a flatter shooting, aerodynamic bullet the 30-30 becomes a 300-yard deer gun.
Rethinking the 30-30
Many who scoff the 30-30 may want to rethink this cartridge. Using today's technology, Hornady's LEVERevolution offerings, the 30-30 retains nearly 1000 ft. lbs. of energy at 300 yards -this isn't your grandpa's 30-30. Sighted 3 inches high at 100 yards, the bullet drop is just 12 inches low at 300 yards. A Marlin 336 or '94 Winchester equipped with a low-powered scout scope or conventionally mounted scope is the perfect prescription for heavy brush hunting or watching an open field. The 30-30 has been given a boost and once again has become a contender as a legitimate deer rifle.
Combine this with the fast handling of a lever action rifle, quick follow up shots at the flick of a wrist, this may be the only rifle a hunter will ever need, but don't tell my wife.