After trekking through the bush in Africa, Byron Pace turns cowboy and looks at the .30-30 Winchester
I had always disregarded under-lever rifles as a plinkers: they shoot a centrefire cartridge and put plenty of lead down range, but who would really would take an under-lever hunting? They see much more use in the States though, and unless you are some sort of wannabe cowboy, surely buying an under-lever was only for the curious. Well, that’s what I used to think. However, it wasn’t a Yankee experience that changed my mind, it was a trip to Africa.
With a day spare, some friends gathered for a session at the range. We burnt a lot of gunpowder, shooting everything from a .45 pistol to a .300 Win Mag at 600 yards. Among the lot was a newly-acquired under-lever rifle chambered in .30-30 Winchester. It was my first time using one, and what tremendous fun it was. Surprisingly accurate, I was slowly converted to the idea of using it for hunting. It would definitely make a superb rifle for pigs, whether warthogs and bushpigs, or even driven boar.
The .30-30 calibre I used dates back to 1895 where it first appeared in Winchester’s catalogue. It was America’s first smokeless powder hunting cartridge, loaded with a jacketed bullet. Originally chambered in the under-lever Winchester model 94, it was advertised as the .30 Winchester Centrefire (.30WCF). When the same calibre was chambered by Marlin, the name was changed to the .30-30 smokeless, with the extra ‘-30’ referring to the standardised load of 30 grains of the early smokeless powders. Later, these variations were combined to leave the name .30-30 Winchester.
It became apparent that this new cartridge offered superior ballistics to the black powder cartridges hunters had been using. The flatter trajectory made it a more reliable killer than the bigger, more popular calibres, simply because it was easier to place the bullet where you wanted it. It was not without critics though, as many saw the relatively light 160-grain bullet as too light for America’s bigger game.
Part of its success was undoubtedly due to the easy shooting under-lever platform it was available in. This provided a compact, fastshooting, lightweight rifle, producing comfortably moderate recoil. Perfect as a saddle carbine, it was a calibre that could be used by men, women and children alike.
The performance of the .30-30 is unlikely to impress many hunters on home soil, especially in the trajectory department. Zeroed at 200 yards, a 150-grain bullet from a 30-30 will rise over 3.5in at 100 yards, whereas the equivalent .308 Win would be less than 2in. The drop at 300 yards would be a full 16in, whereas the .308 drops less than 8in. Energy delivery is also lacking by comparison, with a ME of just 1,900ft/lb compared with almost 2,700ft/lb from a .308 Win.
Initially I couldn’t see the .30-30 as having much application. It worked in the past, but then so did a spear and blow pipe, and few people use those now. I was, however, too hasty to dismiss it completely, as although I can’t see anyone jumping to the .30-30 Winchester as a first choice for deer, it makes a superb close-range pig rifle where quick shooting is required from a compact, manoeuvrable platform.