Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What About The 30-30?

The 30/30 certainly has been more popular than it is now, but it does seem to hang in there…

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Rifle

When most people say "30/30" they mean the Winchester Model 94 chambered for the 30 WCF cartridge.  Over seven million of them were made.  The ergonomics of the M94 are legendary, but the Winchester’s delightful handling is important primarily to the hunter who needs a snap shot while hunting on foot. Other layouts are as good, and some are better, when shooting from a stand or a blind or from formal positions. The Winchester 94 was discontinued a few years back, which certainly a problem for those who don’t care for the Marlin 336 and haven't heard of the Mossberg 464. While its modest recoil makes the 30/30 a reasonable cartridge for a new hunter, there have never been many youth model 30/30s. Marlin made one for a while. Older Contender carbines could be fitted with a factory-made youth stock. The HandiRifle can be purchased with a short stock but not wearing a 30/30 tube. Even then, all these rifles require a young shooter learn to master an exposed hammer and buck fever at the same time. None of these rifles came with decent recoil pads to shield tender shoulders from recoil.  There have only been a few bolt action 30/30s, the classy Winchester 54, the accurate Remington 788, and the inexpensive Savage 340. Savage made the pump action Model 170 in 30/30; it didn't last. Savage made the Model 24 combination gun in 30/30 over 20 or 12 gauge for many years, but no longer catalogs it. They made their Model 219 single shot in 30/30 too. They even chambered the 99 lever action for the 30/30, even though their 303 Savage cartridge (.308 190 @ 2000) was a direct competitor. Hadn't thought of it until now but Savage may have offered the 30/30 on more platforms than any other single maker.

The classic 30/30 cartridge flanked by the lighter 223 Remington and the full-power 308 Winchester
image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Cartridge

Unless things have changed since I last checked, 30/30 ammunition is still a top seller. For most of its illustrious career the 30/30 has been offered as either a 170 gr bullet at 2100 fps or a 150 at 2300.  That sort of performance was regarded as pretty snappy in 1895, but it was outclassed a quarter century later when the 300 Savage (150 @ 2600) was introduced in the Savage 99. Equal in performance to the 30/30, the 35 Remington (.358 200 @ 1900) has long since faded into honored memory.  When I was kid 35 Remington meant Marlin 336, just like 30/30 still means Winchester 94. The Russian 7.62x39 cartridge delivers almost the same punch (.311 123 @ 2300) as the 30 WCF, making the SKS the most affordable deer gun around (unless you count WWII surplus bolt actions). A 44 magnum carbine (.429 240 @ 1600) is arguably as good at woods ranges, and a 45/70 (.458 300 @ 1800) is better. Likewise, Marlin’s other pretenders to the throne – the 444 and 450 – may be popular in Alaska, but they do nothing the “box or two a year deer hunter” needs done. I expect the upstart 308 Marlin will come and go, just like Winchester’s unlamented 7-30 Waters, 307, 356, and 375 did.

The affordable and adaptable Mossberg ATR Bantam Combo

The Alternatives

There was a time when a lever action Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 was the least expensive big game rifle a new shooter could buy.  Those times have passed.  If you own a 30/30 and all your shots are this side of 200 yards you need not seek a replacement.  But if you have not yet purchased your deer gun there are more capable cartridges and more generally useful rifles available to the average deer hunter. As more states permit the use of 22 center-fires for deer hunting, I predict the M4 will be what most Millennials think of when you say the word “carbine.” It is no powerhouse, but fed the right bullet and shot carefully, a 223 will deliver the venison. A 243 Winchester is a fine little deer round that kills better than most care to admit, shoots much flatter, and kicks even less than the good old Treinta-Treinta. Better yet, a hunter can buy a 260, 270, 7mm08, 308, or 30’06, then feed it Remington Managed Recoil or Federal Low Recoil ammunition to makes his or her full-power rifle into a mild-mannered 30/30 whenever “just enough is plenty.”