For rifle shooters, the venerable .30-30 Winchester stands test of 125 years

Published 7:36 am Monday, June 15, 2020

Many rifle cartridges come and go. What’s all the rage one day can easily fade away as it falls into disfavor among hunters. But one that has withstood the test of time and done so with more success than almost all of them is the humble .30-30 Winchester.

Originally named the .30 Winchester Centerfire, the .30-30 was among the first cartridges utilizing smokeless gunpowder. It was introduced by Winchester in 1895 in its Model 94 lever action rifle which was the product of famed gun designer John Browning. Shooting a 160-grain jacketed bullet at almost 2,000 feet per second, it was a speed demon at the time.

However, in coming decades, the little .30-30’s performance would be eclipsed by popular calibers such as the .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester and too many others to count, but the .30-30 kept chugging along.

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According to Winchester, the light, fast-handling Model 94 has sold more than 7 million copies and when sales of other rifles chambered in .30-30 are thrown in, it is one of the most successful cartridges ever.


And 125 years after its introduction, it’s still enjoying success. According to gun writer Chuck Hawks, the .30-30 ranked fourth in centerfire rifle ammunition sales in the U.S. in 2015. According to Todd Sarotte, manager of Van’s Sporting Goods in Brandon, .30-30 ammunition sales are still strong at his store.

“Centerfire rifle, in a year when there’s not a lot of .223 selling, it’s definitely in the top 10,” Sarotte said. “I’d say we sell at least 500 boxes a year, that’s 20 rounds to the box.”

While sales of new .30-30 rifles these days are greatly eclipsed by other offerings, Sarotte said hunters are fairly loyal to the .30-30.

“It’s relatively low recoil,” Sarotte said. “A lot of people, that was their first rifle and they think it’s a good rifle for their kids. Stuff gets passed down.”


Michael Turnage of Purvis said his first rifle was a .30-30 and he’s still shooting it today.

“I bought my first Marlin 336 at 12 years old,” Turnage said. “I used it for several years with perfect performance until I thought I needed something more powerful.

“I graduated to a .30-06 and used it for several years. Added ammo cost, barrel length, recoil, and muzzle blast were the only real difference. I’ve killed deer with many different guns and cartridges over the last 35 some odd years, including some of the ‘newer, better’ cartridges and the deer just didn’t end up any more dead.

“So, several years ago I pulled out that old 336, dusted it off, and it has been the only rifle I have used since. I don’t need anything more powerful for the areas I hunt where a 150-yard shot is almost unheard of.

“My old 336 is short, light, maneuverable in the tight places I hunt, and does exactly what it is supposed to do every time with no fuss. Whitetails just really aren’t that hard to kill, and after many years of chasing them I have come to realize it is about the perfect rifle for me and the way I hunt.”


Bobby Graham of West Point is also a fan of the old cartridge.

“I’ve been in the .30-30 business a long time,” Graham said. “In fact, I’m not sure how many I’ve got.

“That .30-30 Contender I have has killed a pile of deer. In the places I hunt it will take the majority of deer. If I’m on a power line I’m going to take my .270, .30-06 or 7mm magnum because as soon as I take my .30-30 a deer is going to step out at 300 yards. In my other places where shots aren’t much outside 100 yards, I’m taking my .30-30. It’s very pleasant to shoot, ammo is available and it does the job.”

However, Graham said it’s not just about performance. It’s about the history of the cartridge and if others feel the same, the .30-30 will see decades of use in the future.

“That’s a big part of it,” Graham said. “This one, as far as nostalgia goes, it still works just as good as it did in 1895.

“It’s a nostalgia thing, but it works. That’s a good combination. I won’t ever be without one.”