GOING ALL IN ON THE .30-30
Whatever you call it, arguably no other round has taken more deer than the . 30-30 Winchester.
The world is a crazy place. Dangers lurk around every corner. Or do they? The media, in all its forms, does nothing to stop the spread of fear. Threats are out there; they have always been. Those who came before us faced many risks, but they didn’t let the concern for those dangers control their lives.
Neither should we. The growing paranoia has opened up an entire firearms market geared to the prepper, the survivalist and those just looking to protect their home and family. This is a really big business. Still others believe they can’t protect their property and their lives with anything less than an AK or an AR.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. One only needs to look back at our country’s turbulent history to see that. A few hundred years ago, people defended themselves with the same firearms they used to put food on the table. Believe me, a hunting rifle you use to hunt deer, bear and boar will put a world of hurt on someone looking to do you harm.
Don’t get me wrong; ARs and AKs are great firearms. I spent 12 years of my life in the military, where I had to familiarize myself with many different firearms—ARs and AKs being only a couple of them.
With that said, I’ll take a person who can use a hunting rifle efficiently any day over someone armed with an AK but who can’t hit the broad side of a barn. It is not the rifle but the person using it.
THE RIFLES THAT WON THE WEST
In the late 1850s, Benjamin Tyler Henry, a gunsmith working for Oliver Winchester at the New Haven Arms Company (later to become Winchester Arms), made improvements on a repeating rifle. Henry was granted a patent for his design in 1860. Thus was born the lever-action repeating rifle; at that point, it was chambered in .44 caliber. These new rifles allowed the shooter to fire up to 45 times per minute.
While 10,000 Henry rifles saw action in the American Civil War, it was during the Westward Expansion that these rifles really shined. Those pioneering men and women used the Henry for hunting elk, deer and bison and also defended themselves from some Native Americans, as well as thieves and bears. Indeed, it was the rifles produced by Henry (and later, Winchester) that won the West.
ADDRESSING A NEED: THE .30-30 WINCHESTER
This article is about the .30-30, so why discuss the lever-action .44? Well, it was this rifle that paved the way for all the lever-action rifles we see today, including the .30-30. Henry introduced the world to the lever-action repeating rifle, but it was John M. Browning and Winchester Arms that brought us the .30-30.
In 1893, Winchester produced the first smokeless .30-caliber round to be used in the company’s Model 1894 lever-action rifle (today’s Model 94 is the direct descendant of the 1894). There was a need for a smaller-caliber hunting round to be used in areas of dense cover, as well as a rifle to shoot it. The Model 1894 was that rifle. Both the round and the rifle were introduced to the world in 1895.
Not to be outdone, Marlin chambered its Model 1893 to take this new cartridge. The original Winchester cartridge was known as the .30 Winchester Centerfire or the .30 Winchester Smokeless. The “.30-30” designation came about because Marlin didn’t want the Winchester name on anything to do with its (Marlin’s) product. The second “30” stands for the 30 grains of smokeless powder used in the rounds at the time. Today, we know the round as the .30-30 Winchester. Whatever you call it, arguably no other round has taken more deer than the .30-30 Winchester.
About 30 years ago, I bought my first .30-30 rifle, a Marlin 336. I loved that rifle, and I fell in love with the .30-30 round. It was perfect for the woods here, in New Hampshire and Vermont, where I do most of my hunting and where most shots are in the range of 75 yards or fewer. Due to financial reasons, I ended up selling that rifle. Since then, I have gotten myself a Henry Model H009B, and all is good in the world once again. My friend and hunting partner, Mark, bought a Winchester Model 94AE about 30 years ago, and it is still going strong.
The .30-30 is not the heaviest-hitting round out there, and it is not the fastest. With an effective range of about 150 yards, it drops faster than other rounds, such as the .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield. It doesn’t have a real heavy payload, especially compared to the .308 or the .30-06.
So, what makes the .30-30 the perfect round for both hunting and defense? It is very simple: You don’t need an overly powerful round to be effective. As with hunting in the woods, in a personal survival/defense situation, most of your shots are going to be well under that 150-yard mark. It is much better to hit and bring down your target at 75 yards than it is to shoot and miss or wound at 200 yards. It is not the amount of lead you can throw down range that counts, but shot placement.
When it comes to ammunition for the .30-30, the rounds you would use for hunting work perfectly well for home- and self-defense. There are no “special” rounds for this gun. The theory is that if it will drop a deer, bear or boar at 75 yards, it will drop anything.
With that said, the right ammunition for your rifle might or might not be the same stuff that I use in mine. Every rifle is different, so you will need to experiment.
Many companies manufacture .30-30 ammunition, and all of them are good. My Henry happens to work best with either Federal Premium 150-grain Trophy Copper or Federal Fusion 170-grain rounds. My Marlin 336 liked Remington, and my friend, Mark, likes to use Winchester ammunition in his Winchester Model 94.
According to the people at Henry, “Once you find the ammunition that functions best, keep with it.” I have to agree. Most .30-30 rounds come in either 150- or 170-grain bullets, although there are some 160- and 165-grain bullets out there. Both the Fusion and the Federal Premium rounds retain a lot of energy after they leave the barrel. At 100 yards, the Fusion rounds are at 1,950 fps, and the Premium are at 1,943 fps—more than enough to knock down a deer or a threat.
LESS KICK, LIGHT WEIGHT
I recently paid a visit to Manchester Firing Line, an indoor shooting range near my home. I was there with my friend, Stan, to put a few rounds down range. With a couple of feet of snow on the ground, the range was the perfect place to do this.
Because Manchester Firing Line is an indoor range, the maximum distance was 20 yards—good enough to put a few rounds down range and see what the Henry .30-30 could do. It is also approximately the range you would probably be in during a defensive situation. I didn’t use a bench rest to make my shots, because this is not how I hunt, and it definitely wasn’t what you’d be doing in a defensive situation. I put three rounds of 150-grain and then 170-grain down range from the standing position. After 20 rounds (10 of each), I consistently put the rounds in the red. This is what I would expect at 20 yards. What I didn’t expect was that I was able to do it with the factory-set sights. There was very little recoil—which translates to the .30-30 being the perfect gun for the new shooter.
Most .30-30 rifles weigh in at about 8 pounds. My Henry weighs 8.3 pounds. This is important: A .308 or a .30-06 is great at long distances, and they carry more knock-down power than the .30-30. However, they are also heavier and give one heck of a kick when discharged.
The light weight of the .30-30 allows the shooter to carry the rifle all day and bring it instantly to the shoulder when needed. The minimal kick is a blessing, especially when making continuous shots. This is extremely important when you have to bug out. A larger, heavier rifle will slow you down.
Being able to move fast and defending yourself at the same time is the name of the game. You can do that with a .30-30.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE .30-30
The late 1800s brought about the advent of smokeless powder and numerous new firearm calibers. The .30-30 was just one of them. With new designs in both cartridges and rifles, it was possible, and desirable, for there to be a smaller, lighter combination for the hunter venturing out into the dense brush.
Winchester came out with the .30WCF, and John M. Browning designed the Model 94 rifle. He based it on the design developed by Benjamin Tyler Henry while he, too, worked for Winchester. Marlin soon jumped on the bandwagon. Finally, Henry Repeating Arms did the same. Today, Winchester, Marlin and Henry produce the top three .30-30 rifles available. I have shot them all, and I like them all.
While we all like to shoot—and that is the fun part of gun ownership—in order to keep doing so, we need to clean and maintain our firearms. Some firearms can be a real chore to take care of, but that’s not the case with the .30-30. With few moving parts, you can have this firearm cleaned and put away very quickly.
Henry Repeating Arms claims that you don’t need to disassemble its rifle to clean it. Simply open the action and run a cleaning rod from the muzzle to the breech. With the action open, the bolt is exposed, so all you need to do is wipe it down with a rag and then re-oil it.
I like to use really good quality products to clean my firearms. Products such as Hoppe’s #9, Shooter’s Choice MC#7 bore cleaner or Outers Bore Cleaner will all make short work of the fouling in the barrel. I will then use Quick Scrub by Shooter’s Choice or Crud Cutter by Outers to clean the inside of the receiver.
MOVING PARTS—LESS IS MORE
When it comes to my firearms, I follow the “K.I.S.S.” principle (“keep it simple, stupid”). The fewer moving parts (springs and such), the better. When out in the bush or at night, I don’t want to be fumbling with small parts in the off chance that I do need to break down the firearm.
Lose a small spring or a screw, and you are pretty much sunk. No gun parts are available in the woods or when you could be holed up in a survival situation. There are no small parts on the .30-30 that you need to worry about. The lever-action .30-30 is very simple. It is fully mechanical and has very few moving parts. With moderate maintenance, my Henry functions like new every time.
Most .30-30 rifles are fed using a tubular magazine. Due to laws, most lever-action .30-30s will only hold five rounds (although some hold six, and older models hold more). Ammunition used in .30-30s has a round or flat nose, thus allowing it to be loaded into the tubular magazine without the fear of an accidental discharge.
The beauty of the .30-30 is that ammunition is usually readily available. It is a very popular hunting round, and thus, most stores that carry ammunition usually have it on the shelves. It is also affordable.
The same can’t be said for 5.56 NATO or .223 ammunition. It isn’t that there is not plenty of it out there; it is a matter of getting your hands on some before it is sold out. On a recent trip to Bass Pro Shops to pick up .30-30 rounds, I watched box after box of 5.56 and .223 ammo fly off the shelves. And, due to the demand for this ammo, dealers can charge a pretty penny for it.
BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
There is an old adage: “You get what you pay for.” This applies to firearms. We all want to get the most bang for our buck, and if you price rifles, you will soon realize that with the .30-30—no matter what make—you get just that.
I researched many sources, both stores and online, and this is what I found: A Marlin 336 will run between $400 and $700. A newer Winchester Model 94 runs between $450 and $825, and the Henry will run between $700 and $800. Of course, all these rifles go on sale periodically, and you can always pick up used ones, sometimes at really good prices.
While some may think that these prices are high, you need to take a good look at all gun prices. Even .22 rifles can get a bit pricey. Take a good look at the prices for ARs and AKs. Most of them run anywhere from $800 to well over $1,000. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to pay that price for a rifle whose only purpose is for “self-defense.” When you weigh everything out, the .30-30 is the best deal around.
Because it is a fully mechanical operating firearm, there are very few things that can go wrong with a lever-action .30-30; that is what makes it so reliable. With proper care, it will keep going and going.
Whether I am putting food on the table or defending my family from danger, I want a firearm that will do the job, and the .30-30 is that firearm. From the very beginning of our country, people have been using hunting firearms for personal defense, and there is no need to stop now. If you want an AR or an AK, go right ahead, but I will stick to those firearms I have come to rely upon … and my .30-30 is one of them.
HENRY REPEATING ARMS (WWW.HENRYUSA.COM)
MARLIN FIREARMS (WWW.MARLINFIREARMS.COM)
WINCHESTER REPEATING ARMS (WWW.WINCHESTERGUNS.COM)
FEDERAL PREMIUM AMMUNITION (WWW.FEDERALPREMIUM.COM)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.