ONE-HUNDRED YEARS AND STILL GOING STRONG

Mic McPherson

Synopsis: Though oft' berated, and even derided by modern elitists, for hunting smaller species of big game where conditions limit shooting range, the 30-30 Winchester cartridge and lever-action rifle system classes among the all-time great combinations. What has led to this success; do opportunities for improvements exist; and what kind of performance can we expect from modern 30-30 loads and rifles?

Although penned in 1999 (after weeks of trials and more than 1400 shots fired), the author hopes the data provided here will prove useful as a long-term reference but realizes any such value could never persist like the basis of its theme.

Products that endure for many generations are exceedingly rare. Those that achieve such a lofty goal deserve our respect – consider the following account.

An Historical Aside

Shortly after the turn of the century, prospectors plying the sands of the desert thirty miles east of Phoenix, Arizona discovered gold under the shadow of Superstition Mountain's North Peak. There, in the following months, the tent city of Goldfield, Arizona (Territory) sprang from the desert. Soon, as many as five thousand prospectors, miners, merchants and their family members established residence in tents located in the desert near those nascent mines. As far as historians can tell, every one of those bought their tent of tests (perhaps 3000) from the, then newly established, Phoenix Tent Company, Phoenix, Arizona.

More recently, Goldfield has reemerged from its ashes (reminiscent of the legendary Phoenix!). Each day (excepting the summer months) thousands of tourists visit the reconstructed commercial center of the original town. In guided underground tours, many of those people learn how early gold miners lived, worked and prized riches from Mother Earth. It is an interesting point that many of these tourists arrive at Goldfield bedecked in gold and silver adornments, precious metals which miners might very well have drilled, blasted, shoveled, scraped and pried from the earth under their very feet, almost a century before!

Located on Main Street in this new town of Goldfield we find McKenzie's Gold Emporium, a tent-structure establishment – just as many of Goldfield's original businesses were. Perhaps amazingly, McKenzie's Gold Emporium is housed in a new Phoenix Tent Company structure, purchased and erected in 1993! Thus, the circle is complete.

Why Has the "30-30" Rifle Prospered?

Just as the Phoenix Tent Company has persisted, so has the "30-30 Winchester." Obviously, each serves an enduring purpose. However, we are not concerned with tents here, our question is: "Why has the classic lever-action, 30-30 rifle been so ever popular?"

Two similar cartridge developments, Savage's 303 – introduced contemporaneously with the 30-30 in 1895, and Remington's rimless 30 (originally called the 30-30 Remington) – which was invented a decade later, were still with us as this was written but have both since entered the custom-load-only status. However, one can hardly refer to these two chamberings as "booming successes." In fact, it surprises this writer that either of those held on so long in the face of "modern" magnums and "the bottom line." A subtle warning, if you own or are lined-up to inherit a rifle chambered for either of those cartridges, you might want to stock up on ammunition, if it is not already too late – even empty cases are no longer generally available.

Conversely, we can safely assume that as long as we are able to maintain our hunting heritage and rights, the 30-30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) will be a ubiquitous member of a short list of commonly available non-militarily derived chamberings – other North American civilian chamberings that are similarly likely to endure include the 270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, 357 Magnum (actually derived from an earlier military development), 35 Remington (maybe) and 44 Magnum – a rather short list, indeed!

To get some idea of what the ubiquitous 30-30 Winchester-chambered lever-action rifle does right, let us consider the aforementioned similar chamberings and the rifles for which Savage and Remington originally offered those numbers. First, we will consider the 303 Savage.

In 1895, Mr. Arthur Savage, who also invented the radial tire and the horizontal blade lawn mower (among other things!), introduced a revolutionary rifle and cartridge to an unsuspecting and largely unappreciative sporting audience. In that era of blackpowder hunting cartridges, his 303 Savage was revolutionary in the fullest sense of that term. Savage chambered their 303 in the Model-1895, predecessor to Savage's Model-1899 lever-action rifle (which was later renamed and which became famous as the Model-99). That company's founder developed both rifle and cartridge with military sales in mind. Earlier in the 1890s, Mr. Savage had presented his rifle and cartridge system for consideration in U.S. Army trials.

At that time, U.S. Army Brass were (belatedly) looking for a cartridge and gun to replace the venerable 45-70 Government, Trapdoor Springfield. That rifle was a blackpowder, single-shot relict adapted and converted from even older muzzle loading arms.

Mr. Savage's offering was a handy, fast operating rifle. The 303 Savage chambering (original loading, a 190-grain bullet at 2000 fps!) was revolutionary by contemporary U.S. military standards. Nevertheless, ballistics of British and European military chamberings so overshadowed Mr. Savage's 303 that the latter never had a chance in competition against the 30-40 Krag, which could launch a significantly heavier bullet considerably faster (220 grains at 2200 fps) and the Krag rifle was more typical of what was becoming the standard contemporary military design – the turn-bolt. Those same Brass, who rejected the Savage rifle, soon realized that the Krag lacked several worthwhile features and despite the Krag having the smoothest operating bolt-action ever made, it was soon replaced with a thoroughly modern rifle.

Nevertheless, Savage's 303 chambering offered considerable big game hunting performance. Sagely, Savage Arms remodeled their basic rifle and offered it to the sporting public – as originally produced by Marlin Firearms. My personal, biased, opinion is that the Savage lever-action rifle chambered in 303 failed to achieve a considerable measure of success due more to poor marketing strategy than to anything else! Quite simply, anything the 30-30 Winchester could (or can now) do, the 303 Savage could (and can now) do far better. Further, Savage's lever-action rifle has numerous design advantages, compared to Winchester's Model-94. Finally, Mr. Savage's development is considerably handier in the hunting field, especially for the mounted hunter using a saddle scabbard.

This latter point explains why Savage Firearms has, for so long, been associated with the War-Chief headdress logo. Leaders of the Cheyenne nation were so taken with the Savage rifle – they considered it the ideal hunting rifle for a horseman – that they asked Mr. Savage for a consideration on a large purchase. Arthur Savage, recognizing a marketing advantage, offered a better deal. The Cheyenne (and later the Apache and Navajo) received free rifles in trade for use of the patented Savage symbol and their participation in trade shows as representatives of the Savage firm – this might have been the single truly successful marketing ploy attempted by Savage during its first one-half century of operation!

In closing this discussion on the 303 Savage, I believe it is fair to say that this cartridge and rifle failed more as a result of poor marketing than for any intrinsic comparative disadvantage to the 30-30 Winchester and its standard rifle, the Model 1894 Winchester. Had Savage offered loads with modern 150-grain spitzer bullets at more than 2300 fps, which were feasible circa the late 1890s, the 303 would have so far eclipsed any feasible 30-30 loading as to make it a whole different animal! Any loading with a spitzer bullet would have made hunting range ballistics so far superior to the 30-30 that everyone would soon have heard of the 303s advantages. Alas, Savage never figured this out and instead of loading the 303 to advantage, they simply offered the rifle chambered in 30-30.

Now let us consider Remington's rimless cartridge series (25, 30, 32 and 35 calibers). This family originated with the 30 Remington in 1906. Each chambering (excepting the 35 Remington) entirely duplicated ballistics of a same-caliber Winchester offering in an otherwise indistinguishable rimless version.

Why did Remington invent this new line of cartridges, you may ask. The answer is simple: Leaders at Remington were painfully aware of Winchester's success with the 38-55 Winchester Center Fire (WCF) based series of cartridges chambered in various versions of the handy John M. Browning designed, Model-1894 rifle. Understandably, Remington wanted a piece of the pie! Who could blame them? Browning's lever-action designs (1886, 1892, 1894 and 1895) had helped Winchester forge a strong position in the hunting-rifle market while Remington simply held on.

The 38-55 WCF cartridge was essentially unchanged from the 38-55 Ballard hunting and target chambering, which was introduced in 1884. The 38-55 Ballard was practically indistinguishable from the, circa 1876, 38-50 Ballard. In more than a century since the original version of this cartridge was invented, various manufacturers have altered this basic case to produce the following more-or-less familiar factory numbers: 375 Winchester, 32-40 WCF, 32 Winchester Special, 30-30 Winchester, 25-36 Marlin, 25-35 Winchester, 22 Savage High Power (Imp), 225 Winchester, and 219 Zipper! Moreover, the list of wildcat versions is essentially endless.

Remington's response to the booming success of the Model-94 was to try to do Winchester one better. They invented their own (exceedingly similar) rimless cartridge series (beginning with the 30-30 Remington) and hired none other than John Moses Browning to design a newfangled autoloading rifle to use those cartridges. This combination offered 30-30 Winchester family ballistics in a rifle designed to provide "superior" handling and shooting properties, when compared to the Model-94, or so Remington believed, or hoped, or prayed.

Clearly, Remington was very wrong, and they were wrong on two important issues. First, ballistics of Winchester's 38-55 based family of cartridges held no magic – a fact Remington evidently failed to recognize, else they most assuredly would have designed and adopted more powerful chamberings, which they could easily have done. Second, Remington's rifles were not nearly as handy to carry or use as was Winchester's Model-94. The autoloading capability was of no particular benefit to the average hunter. By any measure, Remington's rimless cartridge series (excepting the unique 35-caliber version, which has a substantially larger body diameter) and the rifles designed to chamber those cartridges total to historical insignificance. What was it then about the 30-30 Winchester and the rifles that chamber it?

A Balanced Package

What the "30-30" represents is a package deal of unmatched merit. Here we have a cartridge that, with well-placed shots, provides all the power any hunter could ever need in order to cleanly dispatch any game animal up to the size of mule deer, within reasonable open-sight ranges. The Model '94 Winchester and 336 Marlin rifles that are the most commonly chambered guns for the 30-30 offer unexcelled handling characteristics. Besides delivering all the hunting accuracy most hunters can use, these guns are easy to use and maintain.

To better illuminate this analysis, one might better ask: "What is wrong with the 30-30 Winchester and the typical lever-action rifles that chamber it?"

Some believe the 30-30 delivers marginal big game hunting energy; however, increasing delivered energy increases recoil. This could make the gun less desirable – Winchester's recent and much more powerful 307 cartridge, chambered in these rifles, has been an abject commercial failure, perhaps for this very reason. Adding weight to the rifle would reduce recoil but that would also reduce handiness, hence usefulness.

Some believe typical 30-30 accuracy limits its usefulness; however, within the range where this cartridge delivers sufficient energy to cleanly do the job on deer-sized game, both the cartridge and these rifles deliver all the accuracy needed to place a shot where it counts (at least if the hunter will make some effort in choosing his ammunition, a limitation that holds regardless of rifle or chambering). Increasing intrinsic accuracy level of any hunting gun and load is always worthwhile. However, potential benefit here is not particularly significant when considering the typical open-sighted 30-30 and the limitations of its trajectory. The unpleasant truth: Those who cannot cleanly dispatch their game using a 30-30 are either shooting too far, hunting inappropriate (too large) game, or are simply incompetent.

Some believe a flatter trajectory would improve the 30-30 as a hunting cartridge. Unfortunately, this would only make it easier to hit game beyond the range where 30-30 bullets carry sufficient energy to cleanly do the intended job; that is, beyond the range where intrinsic accuracy and the shooter's ability would allow proper shot placement.

Some critics believe increasing down-range energy would improve the 30-30. Here again, benefit would be marginal. Considering limitations of the 30-30's trajectory and the "hunting accuracy" of an open-sighted rifle, most deer hunters do not need a cartridge that can deliver more down-range energy. (However, refer to the table on long-range ballistics and note that Speer's 30-30 bullets deliver dramatically more energy to targets at the far end of the 30-30's useful range – and this cannot be a bad thing in the hands of the practiced 30-30 marksman!)

Finally, most would agree that adding a scope to such a rifle is not particularly beneficial – unless one simply cannot see the iron sights. It certainly does increase potential to place a shot precisely – under proper circumstances. However, most hunters feel that a scope ruins the intrinsic handiness of these rifles and it certainly encourages hunters to take shots at excessive ranges. I believe a much better option is to add a receiver or tang-mounted aperture sight, which can provide more sighting accuracy than the hunter would ever need for reasonable shots with such a rifle. Excepting those who need to use an optical sight owing to vision limitations, the scoped 30-30 has no great value. (I must note that the Scout Scope system somewhat mitigates the issues here and is a fine option that only slightly alters the rifles handling characteristics.)

So, there you have it: The 30-30 and lever-action rifle combination has been so successful chiefly because it is such a well-balanced package! That fact is neither complicated nor hard to understand. What is complicated and hard to understand is why there are still those who deride this cartridge and the fine rifles that are chambered for it! Folks, the "30-30" will be around, and cleanly dispatching big game animals, for as long as our crumbling society allows us to continue hunting. How many newfangled chamberings can boast that as an a priori fact?

Accuracy, Ballistics & Terminal Performance

We have taken a long road to get to the heart of this article but here it is: As currently loaded and chambered, just how accurate, powerful and effective is the 30-30 Winchester? To establish these values, I recently completed a series of ballistics, accuracy and terminal performance tests using several contemporary guns with a wide selection of factory loads (of both standard and "premium" quality) and several handloads (using both standard and "premium" bullets).

I have more recently finished a pressure-lapping bore polishing test on these rifles. For that study, I used NECO's process, which involves the firing of lapping agent-impregnated bullets through the barrel. Preliminary results are exciting – dramatic reductions in fouling and measurable accuracy improvements. (I never got around to finishing that test!)

One last aside, Barnes now offers both 150-grain and 165-grain XFP bullets designed specifically for the 30-30 Winchester. I am still pestering them to offer a 125-grain XFP. With proper loads, the lighter bullet should safely achieve at least 2500 fps. Barnes could optimize terminal performance of that bullet for smaller big game species in North America – if so, this might very well be the ultimate 30-30 hunting combination.

I imagine that a 125-grain bullet will seem unduly light to most hunters but, rest assured, such an XFP would provide more than enough penetration. Refer to the table and compare the 150-grain Starfire (which is similar to the XFP) to other, heavier, bullets. Note that the Starfire penetrates entirely too far for use on smaller species of deer. (The folks at PMC tell me that, despite hundreds of reports from successful hunters, they are yet to hear of the recovery of the first 30-30 Starfire bullet from a deer carcass!) Further, (because it will occupy considerably less of the propellant space), the 125-grain bullet will allow use of handloads that generate considerably more energy, compared to the 150-grain or 165-grain XFP bullets. Testing with the 150 and 165-grain XFP prove that with equal pressure maximum loads, the lighter bullet typically penetrates significantly further into test medium (saturated telephone book) – velocity matters.

Tested Guns

Guns included in the test reported here: Savage's (long-discontinued) Model-170, pump-action; Winchester's Model-94 lever-action, the classic representative of the genre; Marlin's 336 lever-action, preferred by many; New England Firearms' Handi-Rifle, an inexpensive breach-break single-shot with expensive performance.

Savage's 170 offered those who preferred the pump-action a handy repeater equipped with a tang-mounted safety. This rifle is very easy for us sinistral types (left-handed) to use. The Model-170 weighs about the same as the '94 and handles just as well for hand-carry, though it is not as easy to get into or out of a saddle scabbard. Many writers have reported achieving surprising accuracy with the Model-170. My test rifle, however, has about 0.010" excessive headspace. This fact may account for some accuracy loss – this particular Model-170 did not compete well in my initial accuracy tests.

Winchester's '94 is a John M. Browning brainchild, arguably one of his best. In 1967, Winchester engineers changed the geometry of the carrier-actuating slot in the finger-lever. This is a significant improvement over Mr. Browning's design: Finger-lever manipulation is smoother. In 1983, along with the 375 Winchester Big Bore version of the rifle, Winchester added the angle-eject feature (now marketed as "side-eject"). This change facilitates scope mounting, for those so inclined. This amounts to a minor alteration to the original design having no impact on handling or function, except that it allows proper scope mounting – centered over the bore. (In 1984 Winchester introduced their 307 and 356 chamberings, both based on a rimmed version of the 308 Winchester.) In 1994, Winchester added a cross-bolt hammer-blocking safety-device – the less I say about this abomination, the better. In addition, in 1994, Winchester also added a rebounding hammer and a trigger-actuated hammer-blocking safety-device; this theoretically desirable passive-safety system works extremely well. However, unfortunately, it significantly increases the force necessary to manipulate the finger-lever, when fully cycling the action. Finally, Winchester has changed the magazine tube and foreend attachment designs several times over the years as well as the design of the factory sights – current drift windage with slide and screw elevation adjustable sights provide for precise adjustment and are quite functional for big game hunting. Other than these minor alterations, modern model 94s are almost indistinguishable from those made 100 years ago, although modern examples use steels that are generally superior.

The test rifle demonstrated what one might term "extreme sensitivity to bullet weight and type." The lightest bullets tested grouped fully 12-inches higher at 100 yards and some bullet types simply would not group well in this testing.

Also noteworthy, evidently, U.S.R.A.C. and other manufacturers have recently changed the throat length in factory 30-30 Winchester chambers. This change created a few problems in these tests but it also allowed this rifle to generate very impressive 20-inch barrel velocities, although (of course) pressures were higher.

Loaded to function through the action, Speer's 110-grain Varminter seated hard into the rifling on this 1994-manufactured Model-94. (Speer is aware of this problem and claims to have plans to or to have already addressed it.) This was not a problem for my testing, as I created good bullet pull by using a 0.304-inch expander and a solid crimp via Lee's Factory Crimp Die. However, not all dies and crimping systems provide good bullet-to-case friction. Were a shooter to chamber such a load and then open the action without firing the cartridge, the bullet might stick in the barrel as the extractor pulled the case from the chamber! This is not particularly desirable. Further, driving the bullet into the rifling can raise pressures to unsafe levels, see below. If you want to use this bullet in your Model-94, verify that you will not encounter these problems.

My handload with Hornady's 150 grain bullet was evidently just touching the rifling because velocities were quite erratic – when bullets are marginally touching the rifling, slight individual load variations can allow some chambered bullets to engage the rifling hard while others have a slight clearance. Such a condition wreaks havoc with ballistic uniformity and grouping – see main tables.

Despite limited overall accuracy (by bench-rest standards); this rifle was a pleasure to shoot. After decades of separation, I have fallen in love with the '94, again. For instinctive, offhand, shooting (read, "typical hunting") this gun has all the accuracy most of us could ever use. Notice that in this limited testing I could not improve upon accuracy provided by Winchester's factory 150-grain HP loading. In general, factory loadings were more accurate than my carefully assembled handloads in this gun! (I do not have to like this fact but honesty requires reporting it.) However, I will also contend that one could likely do better with more handloading development – very likely this rifle would perform better with handloads using W748 propellant, which is the Winchester factory-load propellant.

While Marlin's Model-336 is the direct descendent of their Model of 1893, they have has made several significant changes through the years. First was replacement of the square bolt with a round bolt (1937). This strengthened the receiver while dramatically smoothing action-manipulation. Marlin also incorporated a trigger-lock safety system that prevents pulling the trigger to release the hammer unless the shooter has fully closed the finger lever – a system that Winchester's Model-94 shares. Micro-groove rifling (1955) completes the list of significant changes.

Micro-Groove rifling has earned a reputation for accuracy. My experience with Marlin's new version of the Model-1895 chambered in 45-70 Government (which Marlin also based on the 336 action! and an M-94 in 44 Magnum) leads me to believe this reputation is quite well deserved. Finally, Marlin recently added a misbegotten cross-bolt safety, which is practically indistinguishable from the one now found on Winchester '94s. As with the '94, none of these alterations makes much difference to handling and function: Newer Marlins are smoother and easier to manipulate. Again, sights, steel and heat treatment have improved in the intervening century, no surprise.

This new rifle shares, with the '94, a comparatively short chamber throat. When I chambered Speer's 110-grain Varminter in the 336, the bullet engaged the rifling rather deeply. Again, this could lead to a bullet lodged in the barrel when an unfired round was extracted. No fun! And, as with the '94, my Hornady 150-grain handloads did not shoot nearly as well as the Factory version, I can only guess that the short chamber had something to do with this result, yet this does not explain why the factory Hornady loads did so much better! Excepting Speer's 130-grain bullet, this Marlin showed a definite preference for 170-grain bullets. Even more so than in the '94, bullet weight had a significant influence on vertical shot placement.

New England Firearms offers the Handi-Rifle, based on a modified H&R breech-break shotgun action. This inexpensive single-shot is now available in a variety of chamberings, making it suitable for any North American hunting, given the right barrel (chambering). Reported accuracy suggests the Handi-Rifle may very well be up to the most onerous of these tasks – where a single-shot rifle is appropriate. Function is the epitome of simplicity: Push the action-release lever (located to the right of the hammer and very nearly as easy for sinistral folks to use as it is for dextral types), break the action by rotating the barrel down, insert a shell, close the action, cock the hammer, take aim and shoot. The transfer-bar safety is the only such mechanism and the only one required; this gun cannot fire unless something holds the trigger back as the hammer falls. New England Firearms intends these rifles for scope mounting; they designed the buttstock to accommodate the higher line-of-sight associated with scope use.

Despite a typical 22-inch barrel, this rifle produced very impressive velocities. However, my example did not appear to like any of the handloads tested. Since it showed a definite preference for Winchester's factory loads, I must conclude that it works better with ball propellants. Were I to attempt to find the "most accurate" load, I might consider loads using W748, which is certainly one of the best 30-30 propellants available.

I have to admit that despite this rifle's repulsion for my handloads it impressed me more than any new rifle I have seen in years. Yes, it is inexpensive. No, it is not cheap. The action locks with authority. Trigger pull, despite the functional transfer-bar safety, is as good as I have ever seen on any production rifle. Period!

I must note that the Speer 110-grain Varminter showed the same problem mentioned in the above discussion. However, in this rifle Hornady's 110-grain Spire point is probably a much better choice for the varmint hunter – it is unsafe to use such pointed bullets in any tubular magazine rifle, except for single loading or with only one round in the magazine.

Though not tested extensively for this piece, Thompson/Center's Contender deserves mention here. This gun features a top-quality breech-break action with an automatic safety mechanism and an exposed hammer. These guns often deliver sub-MOA 100-yard accuracy with the right load and shooter. Note that 30-30 velocity loss is considerable with 14-inch and shorter barrels. However, in the 16-inch gun, velocity is typically within about 150 feet per second of 20-inch barrel velocities. The Contender can safely use spitzer bullets (as is true of the Handi-Rifle, Savage's Models 99 & 340 – and any other single-shot or bolt-action rifle). Owing to superior ballistic efficiency of spitzer bullets, the 16-inch barreled 30-30 chambered Contender can deliver more energy at 100 yards than any 30-30 rifle firing typical factory 30-30 loads, which always use blunt-nosed bullets.

In a tubular magazine, under the battering that occurs during recoil, a cartridge loaded with a pointed bullet could detonate the primer of the round in front of it, leading to a specter best left to the imagination.

The 30-30 Winchester chambering is a good choice for hunting with the Contender. It can deliver substantial energy without generating the harsh recoil that can make these guns unmanageable to some shooters. Invariably, unmanageable recoil will generate world-class flinches rather than world-class shooting skills. World-class shooting skills are certainly necessary for handgun hunting.

Purpose, Goals and Techniques of this Study

I intended these test procedures to isolate the intrinsic accuracy of each gun and load combination. Simultaneously, I recorded velocities on the Oehler Model-35P (used to calculate muzzle energy, down-range energy and trajectory). Shot-string velocity data also gives a measure of ballistic uniformity, which is a good estimate of the consistency of a load.

For all bench-rest testing the guns were fitted with Bausch & Lomb's most impressive Elite 4000, 2.5-10x40mm riflescope (I wanted to test rifle and load, not my ability to use open sights!) To establish typical accuracy, I fired 10-shot groups. (Remember, these are not target guns: The only accuracy measure of legitimate concern to any hunter is how close to where he is aiming he can expect the gun and load to place a bullet; considering the effects of trajectory, wind and target motion.)

As the reader might well ask: "Why 10-shot groups rather than twice as many 5-shot groups or myriad 3-shot groups (I generally prefer the latter for testing any big game rifle and load)?" I can answer that query quite simply: "because the chosen approach made the testing of so many loads in so many guns possible, considering the limited time available." While I would have preferred to test three three-shot groups with plenty of cooling time between shots; time considerations vetoed that superior approach.

Simultaneously with firing these groups, I recorded shot velocities on Oehler's 35P chronograph with screens centered 15-feet from muzzle of gun. A 6-foot screen spacing was used and provides measurement accuracy to within about +/-1 fps of reported instrumental velocity. I conducted all testing when the temperature was between about 70- and about 80-degrees F in the typically dry air of Western Colorado. I did not shoot when the wind picked up past a mild breeze; I also did not have wind flags so, inevitably, some portion of the dispersion measured in each group resulted from my failure to account of the wind.

Approximate Muzzle Velocity Correction for Loads Reported in Master Tables

Bullet Weight (grains)

110

125

130

150

160

170

Bullet Make

Speer

Federal & Sierra

Speer

Federal, Hornady, PMC, Sierra & Winchester

Speer

Remington

Federal & Hornady & PMC & Sierra & Winchester

Speer

Approximate velocity loss (fps) @ 15 feet

30

25

17

25

15

15

20

13

Note from the above table that Speer offers bullets with the highest ballistic efficiency of available component bullets for use in lever-action, 30-30 rifle handloads. Among factory loadings, only Speer's new Nitrex™, which is loaded with a superior plated bullet, can compete with the long-range ballistics offered by Speer's line of flat-nose 30-30 bullets. When comparing bullets lighter than 170 grains, the difference is highly significant. Consider the following table.

200 Yard Energy (foot Pounds) & Drop (100 Yard zero)

30-30 Bullet

Energy

Drop

Make

Weigh
(grs)

Muzzle
Vel. (fps)

 

Speer
Advantage

 

Speer
Advantage

Sierra

125

2500

665

48%

-8.6"

2.6"/43%

Speer

130

 

987

- - -

-6.0"

- - -

Speer

150

2300

990

- - -

-7.3"

- - -

Sierra

 

 

662

49%

-9.1"

1.8"/25%

Hornady

 

 

762

30%

-8.5"

1.2"/16%

Speer

170

2100 fps

986

- - -

-8.8"

- - -

Sierra

 

 

924

7%

-10.0"

1.2"/14%

Hornady

 

 

718

37%

-10.6"

1.8"/20%

Nosler

 

 

924

7%

-10.0"

1.2"/14%

 

Most experts suggest that those hunting the largest variety of either mule deer or northern whitetail deer should use a load that delivers about 1000 foot pounds of energy to the target. For the much smaller deer species (southern whitetail, coos, blacktail and desert mule deer) 750-foot pounds is generally more than sufficient. For elk, few would argue with 1500 foot pounds as a reasonable minimum. Of course, regardless of species, bullets must perform properly at the target – penetration, expansion and weight retention are all critical factors. Note that, even assuming near-perfect bullet performance, one should probably not use the 30-30 for elk hunting where shots are apt to exceed about 75 yards.

All factory ammunition of each type came from the same manufacturing lot. I did not pursue handloading development toward achieving "ultimate accuracy." Rather, using several newer appropriate and promising propellants, I established safe loads essentially duplicating factory-load velocity. This allowed me to gain familiarity with performance of some of these newer propellants that seemed to have applications in the 30-30 Winchester. Propellants tested included: VihtaVuori's N133, N140, N150, N160; Hodgdon's VarGet; Accurate's 2015BR and 2520.

Hodgdon's laboratory generously verified all handloads mentioned herein. Excepting those loads with 110-grain bullet, discussed later, and the N133 load with 130-grain Speer bullet: when fired in Hodgdon's test barrel, all loads generated less than established 30-30 SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure (MAP) and Maximum Probable Sample Mean pressure (MPSM).

As noted previously, with any of these newer 30-30 rifles, when I seated Speer's 110-grain Varminter bullet to function through the action, the bullet engraved solidly into the rifling. This drove pressures well beyond the SAAMI limit. Since, when loaded in the 30-30, this is an explosive varmint bullet, I can only hope that Speer has long since redesigned it – which would have required only a modest alteration. Such a change will be a welcome modification. Evidently older 30-30 rifles had longer chamber throats; before receiving my frantic call, Speer had not received one report of this problem, despite decades of folks using this bullet in 30-30 chambered rifles!

Choice of load used in accuracy testing rested solely upon one factor: Ballistic uniformity. Certainly, this approach ignores the admirable goal of pursuing ultimate accuracy but that was not my goal here. Remember that the 30-30 is primarily a hunting cartridge and these are hunting guns, I simply wanted to see what 30-30 chambered guns do in box-stock condition shooting factory loads and handloads using some of the newer propellants available. Here, I was testing new propellants for usefulness in the 30-30 as well as overall cleanliness and consistency potential.

My intention was to compare these guns on as fair and impartial a basis as possible. Further, it is very likely that with any given bullet one propellant might have delivered best accuracy in one gun, while a different propellant delivered best accuracy in another. While I might have accounted for this problem by trying to find the most accurate possible handload using each bullet in each gun, such a test would likely have been a ten-year project! Further, I could never have been certain I had actually discovered said "most-accurate" load. Note that in several instances I tested two similarly consistent loads, just to give both propellants a fair comparison.

I have tabulated the results of these tests in the associated (master) table along with test results from the pressure barrel. As this was written, N150 and VarGet data are not currently available anywhere else – consistency shown in this study suggests that these propellants both have real promise for 30-30 handloads.

With each bullet type fired in each gun, all handloads used cases from the same lot and only those that had been reloaded the same number of times; all primers, propellants and bullets were from same lot. Case selection and preparation efforts were significant.

Sizing was in standard RCBS dies. I trimmed cases to a uniform length of 2.028" using RCBS's Power Pro Case Trimmer tool. Case necks were deburred with RCBS Trim Mate tool fitted with the RCBS outside deburring tool and K&M Services 4-degree Controlled-Depth inside-deburring tool. Flash holes were uniformed and deburred with K&M's handy uniformer. Finally, primer pockets were uniformed with K&M's primer pocket uniformer.

I seated CCI-BR2 primers into cleaned pockets in a separate operation using Lee's Auto Prime tool. I carefully weighed propellant charges using RCBS's Powder Pro scale. I used my swirl-charge technique to dump carefully weighed propellant charges into carefully prepared cases using a standard funnel or a funnel and extended drop tube. I only used extended drop tube when that was necessary to get the charge into case and seat bullet without case deformation. (Generally, use of the swirl-charge technique, to increase packing density and packing scheme uniformity, has been shown to dramatically increase ballistic uniformity while use an extended drop tube, to increase packing density, has proven to somewhat decrease ballistic uniformity.)

Loading was as follows

In a related study, I fired samples of each bullet – factory or handload – into saturated telephone books at close range to establish typical penetration, expansion and weight retention. This information is helpful in estimating comparative performance of a bullet on real-world targets. If a more realistic test medium exists, no one seems to know what that is! Further, anyone can do this test – something that cannot be said of testing with ballistic gelatin.

Terminal Performance comparison, Saturated Telephone Books @ 15 Feet:

Load /
Bullet Impact Velocity (Fps)

Inches
Penetration

% Weight
Retention

Final Area
(% Original)

Comments

110 Speer Varminter @ 2625

7.75

25

100

Cannot be used in most new guns, see text

125 Sierra HP @ 2495

9.38

68

380

Should be ideal for lighter big game species

125 Federal HP @ 2475

9.38

70

405

Results indistinguishable from 125-grain Sierra

130 Speer FP @ 2465

12.75

87

373

Outstanding penetration and weight retention

150 Winchester PP @ 2240

9.88

83

269

Surprisingly limited penetration

150 Winchester HP @ 2280

10.50

55

331

Should be good for lighter big game

150 Winchester ST @ 2235

11.38

84

358

Good penetration

150 PMC PSP @ 2195

11.75

92

528

Outstanding expansion and weight retention

150 Federal FP @ 2375

12.00

85

412

Excellent expansion

150 Sierra FP @ 2260

12.68

93

418

Impressive expansion, outstanding weight retention

150 PMC SF @ 2200

13.63

100

380

Creates sharp cutting surfaces

150 Speer FP @ 2285

13.75

89

361

Good overall performance

150 Hornady RN @ 2265

14.68

76

302

Outstanding penetration

160 Remington ER @ 2195

12.38

74

307

Very good penetration

170 Winchester ST @ 2105

12.00

88

415

Impressive expansion

170 PMC PSP @ 2000

12.88

95

439

Most impressive factory load tested

170 Winchester PP @ 2110

12.88

90

361

Impressive weight retention

170 Federal RN @ 2145

13.00

85

418

Very good penetration and expansion

170 Sierra FP @ 2130

14.25

95

432

Most impressive handload tested

170 Speer FP @ 2125

14.75

82

290

Penetration second only to Nosler Partition

170 Nosler Partition @ 2115

15.75

78

248

Greatest penetration of any load tested

Generally, bullets that retain a greater percentage of their initial weight and those that expand to a greater surface area will be more effective for big game hunting. (Barnes' new 30-30 XFP bullets are very similar to the PMC Star-Fire and can be expected to perform similarly, see text.)

General Penetration Criteria (Saturated Telephone Books)

Penetration

Appropriate Applications

<9"

Suitable only for vermin & small predators (coyotes, etc.)

9"-12"

Ideal for the smallest species of deer

12"-15"

Ideal for the largest whitetail and mule deer

>13.5"

Marginally acceptable for elk (ideal shot placement)

Terminal Performance comparison, Dry Telephone Books At 100-yards

Bullet

Approx.
fps

Inches
Penetrated

Grains
Retained

Comments

150 Barnes -XFP

1900

9.3

149

Bullet slightly turned, see note

150 Hornady RN

1850

6.0

48

Maximum expansion at about 1.5"

150 Speer Nitrex

1950

7.4

96

Maximum expansion at about 2.5"

165 Barnes-XFP

1800

9.2

164

Bullet sideways, see note

170 Nosler Part.

1750

7.4

131

Maximum expansion at about 1.5"

170 Sierra RN

1750

6.5

83

Maximum expansion at about 2.5"

Generally, we can expect that any bullet retaining a significant portion of its mass in this robust test of bullet integrity will hold together on almost any impact with any game animal and, therefore, achieve sufficient penetration to get the job done, given only a well-placed shot.

While the Barnes XFP bullets did not expand normally in this test medium, these relative penetration results are indicative of real-world performance – few X bullets are recovered from game animals! Results reported here are no indictment of the XFP bullet; any impact with any game animal at any reasonable range will result in proper expansion. (PMC's Starfire is quite similar to the Barnes-XFP and should perform similarly.)

30-30 Winchester Accuracy & Ballistics Results (Factory Load) Master Table

Instrumental Velocity & Standard Deviation (Sdev):
@ 15', 10-Shots; 100 yd 10-Shot Group (Centers)

Penetration / Weight Retention / Final Area (Wet Telephone Book)
Comments

Gun

Velocity/
Sdev
(fps)

Energy
(foot
pounds)

Group
(inches)

200 Yard
Energy/
Trajectory

 

Federal 125 grain Hollow Point
Product 3030C (Lot #030159H341)

9.38" / 70% / 405% Limited penetration,
surprising weight retention & impressive expansion

170

2489/21

1718

2.00"

700 / -7.6"

Very good hunting and short-range vermin accuracy

'94

2461/26

1680

2.25"

665 / -7.9"

Good hunting and short-range vermin accuracy

336

2525/24

1770

2.75"

735 / -7.2"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

H&R

2551/26

1805

2.80"

755 / -6.8"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

Federal 150 grain Flat Point
Product 3030A (Lot #374452H305)

12.00"/ 85% / 412% Surprising penetration,
very good weight retention & excellent expansion

170

2375/25

1878

2.50"

915 / -7.5"

Good hunting accuracy

'94

2297/11

1757

2.65"

825 / -8.5"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

336

2368/11

1868

2.20"

910 / -7.6"

Good hunting accuracy

H&R

2377/13

1881

5.20"

905 / -7.5"

Inadequate hunting accuracy

Federal 170 grain Round Nose
Product 3030B (Lot #371588H285)

13" / 85% / 418% Greatest penetration of standard factory loads,
very good retained weight, excellent expansion

170

2146/22

1738

2.05"

940/ -8.8"

Good hunting accuracy

'94

2127/11

1707

2.40"

915 / -9.0"

Good hunting accuracy

336

2191/15

1812

1.90"

985 / -8.4"

Very good hunting accuracy

H&R

2208/ 9!

1840

2.00"

995 / -8.2"

Very good hunting accuracy

Hornady 150 grain Round Nose
Product 8080 (Lot #01 006 95 8820)

Terminal Performance Not Tested,
see 150 grain Hornady handload data

170

2295/15

1754

2.70"

750 / -8.6"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

'94

2266/13

1635

2.13"

720 / -8/9"

Good hunting accuracy / Serious vertical stringing: Horizontal 0.68"!

336

2333/19

1812

2.20"

790 / -8.2"

Good hunting accuracy

H&R

2348/14

1836

1.45"

805 / -8.0"

Excellent hunting accuracy, most accurate factory load, this rifle

PMC 150 grain Flat Nose Soft Point
Product 3030A (Lot #ELD30-30A001)

11.75" / 92% / 528% Surprising penetration &
excellent weight retention, greatest expansion tested

170

2197/13

1607

- - -

840 / -8.6"

Not Accuracy Tested

'94

2222/21

1644

3.82"

870 / -8.3"

Marginal hunting accuracy / Serious vert. stringing: horz. 0.835"

336

2285/15

1739

3.30"

940 / -7.7"

Marginal hunting accuracy

H&R

2295/16

1754

2.00"

950 / -7.6"

Very good hunting accuracy

PMC 150 grain Starfire
Product C3030SFA (Lot #ELD3030SFA0002)

13.63" / 100% / 380%
Greatest penetration of any factory load tested

170

2203/25

1615

1.50"*

825 / -8.6"

Excellent hunting accuracy (* - 8 shots in 1.1")

'94

2238/27

1667

3.85"

875 / -8.1"

Marginal hunting accuracy / Serious vert. stringing: horz. 1.60

336

2302/30

1765

4.60"*

930 / -7.6"

Questionable hunting accuracy (* - 7 into 1.85"?)

PMC 170 grain Flat Nose Soft Point
Product 3030B (Lot # ELD30-30B001)

12.88" / 95% / 439% Greatest standard factory load: penetration & weight retention, 2nd best expansion of all bullets tested!

170

2010/ 9!

1525

2.00"

890 / -10.3"

Good hunting accuracy

'94

2020/10

1540

2.93"

897 / -10.2"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

336

2098/ 9!

1661

1.75"

980 / -9.4"

Very good hunting accuracy, most accurate load tested, this rifle

H&R

2102/12

1667

1.45"

985 / -9.4"

Excellent hunting accuracy, most accurate load tested, this rifle

Remington 160 grain Extended Range
Product ER3030A (Lot # W20H A9127)

12.38" / 74% / 307%
Good penetration but limited weight retention

170

2197/30

1715

1.85"

950 / -8.9"

Very good hunting accuracy

'94

2216/22

1745

2.10"*

970 / -8.7"

Good hunting accuracy (*7 shot groups, 5 into 1.01")

336

2275/11

1838

2.60"

1025 / -8.1"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

H&R

2281/12

1848

4.95"

1030 / -8.0"

Questionable hunting accuracy

Winchester 150 grain Silvertip
Product X30302 (Lot #7KB11)

11.38" / 84% / 358%
Good penetration and weight retention

170

2238/10

1668

- - -

800 / -9.0"

Accuracy not tested

'94

2240/22

1670

2.30"

801 / -9.0"

Good hunting accuracy

H&R

2253/15

1690

0.90"

815 / -8.9"

Outstanding hunting accuracy. Most accurate load tested, this rifle

Winchester 150 grain Power Point
Product X30306 (Lot #125HM81)

9.88" / 83% / 269%
Limited penetration but good weight retention

170

2245/16

1678

1.65"

810 / -9.0"

Very good hunting accuracy

'94

2251/31

1687

2.74"

820 / -9.0"

Acceptable hunting accuracy

336

2272/14

1719

3.40"

840 / -8.8"

Marginal hunting accuracy

H&R

2291/ 8!

1748

2.15"

855 / -8.6"

Good hunting accuracy

Winchester 150 grain Hollow Point
Product X30301 (Lot #125KC03)

10.50" / 55% / 331%
Very surprising penetration but very limited weight retention

170

2281/25

1732

- - -

850 / -8.6"

Accuracy not tested

'94

2261/26

1702

1.26"

830 / -8.7"

Excellent accuracy. Most accurate load, this rifle, 3-shots <0.7"!

H&R

2298/23

1758

1.50"

865 / -8.4"

Very good hunting accuracy.

Winchester 170 grain Silvertip
Product X30304 (Lot #58KC61)

12.00" / 88% / 415% Good penetration, very good weight retention
& excellent expansion

170

2108/24

1677

- - -

900 / -9.8"

Accuracy not tested

'94

2115/11

1688

2.25"

910 / -9/7"

Good hunting accuracy.

H&R

2122/ 8!

1700

2.05"

915 / -9.6"

Good hunting accuracy. Vertical stringing noted, horizontal 0.65"

Winchester 170 grain Power Point
Product X30303 (Lot #25KB30)

12.88" / 90% / 361% Greatest penetration of tested factory loads,
excellent weight retention

170

2112/15

1683

- - -

905 / -9.8"

Accuracy not tested

'94

2120/29

1695

1.90"

910 / -9.8"

Good hunting accuracy. Vertical stringing noted, horizontal 0.63"

H&R

2147/13

1740

1.05"

940 / -9.5"

Excellent hunting accuracy

Ballistics and groups sizes based upon several 10-shot groups (except where ammunition availability required use of smaller test groups, as noted) the groups reported here represent average performance.

30-30 Winchester Accuracy & Ballistics Results (Handloads) Master Table

Handload / COL / Propellant & Charge

Penetration / Weight Retention / Final Area (Wet Telephone Book)

Instrumental Velocity & Standard Deviation (Sdev):
@ 15', 10-Shots; 100 yd 10-Shot Group (Centers)

Pressure Barrel Results

Gun

Velocity/
Sdev (fps)

Energy
(foot
pounds)

Group
(Inches)

200 Yard
Energy/
Trajectory

 

71-grain Hornady FMJ (0.312" sized to 0.308")

Terminal Performance Not Tested

Test

3150/29

1565

- - -

- - - / - - -

Pressure: <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 110-grain Varminter
2.41" / VarGet @ 39.5 grains

7.75" / 25% / >100% Very limited penetration & weight retention with explosive vermin performance

Test

2720/27

1807

- - -

- - - / - - -

Pressures: >SAAMI Max. Average & Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 110-grain Varminter
2.41" / N133, 36.0 grain

7.75" / 25% / >100% Very limited penetration & weight retention with explosive vermin performance

170

2650/20

1715

3.85"

573 / -7.2"

>0.009" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2665/21

1735

2.10"

590 / -7/1"

>0.012" case stretching after shooting & sizing,
bullet into rifling (6-shot groups)

336

2763/45

1865

2.10"

620 / -6.3"

>0.007" case stretching after shooting and sizing: bullet into rifling

H&R

2739/14

1832

1.75"

610 / -6.5"

>0.008" case stretching after shooting and sizing: bullet into rifling

Test

2749/10

1845

- - -

- - - / - - -

Pressures: >SAAMI Max. Average & >Max. Probable Sample Mean

Cast 115-grain (30 Carbine Bullet)
2.35" / XMP5744 @ 20.0 grains

Terminal Performance Not Tested

16"

1854/14

878

- - -

- - - / - - -

Requires very hard bullet to prevent leading

Sierra 125-grain Hollow Point
2.41" / VarGet @ 37.0 grains

9.38" / 68% / 380% Limited penetration, surprising weight retention & impressive expansion; compare to Federal 125-grain factory load

170

2466/17

1688

5.30"

675 / -7.8"

>0.007" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2453/15

1670

3.65"

665 / -7.9"

>0.011" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2466/11

1688

3.10"

675 / -7.8"

>0.006" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2443/10

1656

3.75"

655 / -8.0"

>0.000" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2471/12

1695

- - -

- - - / - - -

Pressures: <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 130-grain Flat Point
2.48" / N133 @ 32.8 grains

12.75" / 87% / 373%
Very surprising penetration with very good weight retention

170

2466/27

1755

3.30"

956 / -6.2"

>0.010" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2439/13

1717

2.90"

930 / -6.4"

>0.013" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2531/10

1849

2.35"

1015 / -5.8"

>0.003" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2458/14

1743

3.50"

945 / -6.3"

>0.000" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2508/11

1815

- - -

- - - / - - -

Pressures <SAAMI Max. Average ( <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 130-grain Flat Point
2.48" / 2015BR @ 33.0 grains

12.75" / 87% / 373%
Very surprising penetration with very good weight retention

170

2419/27

1688

4.00"

910 / -6.6"

>0.008" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2433/17

1709

1.48"

920 / -6.4"

>0.003" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2518/10

1830

1.80"

1003 / -5.9"

>0.013" case stretching after shooting and sizing, too hot in this rifle

H&R

2421/ 8!

1691

2.85"

910 / -6.6"

>0.000" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2526/10

1841

- - -

- - -

Pressures >>SAAMI Max. Average & >>Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 130-grain Flat Point
2.48" / VarGet, 36.5 grains

12.75" / 87% / 373%
Very surprising penetration with very good weight retention

Test

2511/11

1820

- - -

- - -

Pressures <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Hornady 150-grain Round Nose
2.44" / VarGet @ 34.5 grains

14.68" / 76% / 302%
Penetration 2nd only to 170 grain Speer among all standard bullets

170

2267/16

1711

5.50"*

725 / -8.9"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing (* 5 into 1.9"?)

'94

2225/42

1648

4.93"

710 / -9.2"

>0.007" case stretching after shooting & sizing: Best of 2, 5-shot groups!

336

2262/28

1704

>6"

720 / -8.9"

>0.004" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2260/10

1700

4.40"

720 / -8.9"

>0.001" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2308/14

1774

- - -

- - -

Pressures <<SAAMI Max. Average & <<Max. Probable Sample Mean

Sierra 150-grain Flat Nose
2.52" / VarGet @ 34.0 grains

12.68" / 93% / 418%
Good penetration with outstanding weight retention and expansion

170

2263/10

1705

1.50"

641 / -10.4"

>0.004" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2217/27

1636

1.29"

615 / -10.9"

>0.006" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2280/11

1731

3.10"*

648 / -10.3"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing (* 9 into 2.00")

H&R

2244/13

1676

3.35"

630 / -10.6"

>0.000" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2322/13

1798

- - -

- - -

Pressures <<SAAMI Max. Average & <<Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 150-grain Flat Nose
2.53" / N150 @ 36.1 grains

13.75" / 89% / 361%
Outstanding penetration with very good weight retention

170

2311/ 8!

1778

1.90"*

1005 / -7.2"

>0.006" case stretch after shooting & sizing (* many 5-shot groups <1")

'94

2321/ 8!

1794

3.68"

1020 / -7.1"

>0.004" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2350/12

1839

2.05"

1041 / -6.9"

>0.006" case stretch after shooting & sizing. Most accurate tested load

H&R

2345/12

1831

3.75"

1035 / -7.0"

>0.004" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2381/12

1888

- - -

- - -

Pressures (SAAMI Max. Average & (Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 150-grain Flat Nose
2.53" / VarGet @ 34.0 grains

13.75" / 89% / 361%
Outstanding penetration with very good weight retention

170

2289/12

1745

2.10"

975 / -7.4"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2221/21

1642

2.24"

930 / -7.9"

>0.003" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2264/19

1707

4.30"

955 / -7.6"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2250/14

1685

2.20"

945 / -7.7"

>0.003" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2311/13

1778

- - -

- - -

Pressures <<SAAMI Max. Average & <<Max. Probable Sample Mean

Nosler 170-grain Round Nose Partition
2.48" / VarGet, 32.5 grains

15.75" / 78% / 248%
Greatest penetration of any bullet tested

170

2116/12

1690

2.50"

940 / -9.0"

>0.006" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2096/14

1658

2.31"

920 / -9.2"

>0.001" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2139/21

1727

3.60"

960 / -8.8"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2131/ 9!

1713

2.75"

950 / -8.9"

>0.005" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2187/10

1805

- - -

- - -

Pressures <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Sierra 170-grain Flat Nose
2.51" / N150, 32.8 & 34.0

14.25" / 95% / 432% 2nd greatest penetration of any standard bullet, greatest weight retention, 2nd greatest expansion

170

2065/10
2115/ 7!

1609
1688

- - -
1.70"

670 / -12.0"
700 / -11.5"

(32.8 grain N150) >0.014" case stretching after shooting and sizing
(34.0 grain N150) >0.016" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2092/13
2143/ 8!

1651
1733

4.28"
3.65"

690 / -11.7"
730 / -11.2"

(32.8 grain N150) >0.002" case stretching after shooting and sizing
(34.0 grain N150) >0.002" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2183/ 7!

1798

2.25"

770 / -10.8"

(34.0 grain N150) >0.003" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2189/14

1808

3.20"

775 / -10.7"

(34.0 grain N150) >0.007" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2221/ 7!

1862

- - -

- - -

(34) Pressures <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Sierra 170-grain Flat Nose
2.51" / VarGet, 32.5 grains

14.25" / 95% / 432% 2nd greatest penetration of any standard bullet, greatest weight retention, 2nd greatest expansion

170

2132/14

1715

1.90"

720 / -11.3"

>0.015" case stretching after shooting and sizing

'94

2146/18

1738

2.74"

735 / -11.1"

>0.002" case stretching after shooting and sizing

336

2110/19

1680

2.60"

700 / -11.6"

>0.010" case stretching after shooting and sizing

H&R

2138/14

1725

1.85"

725 / -11.2"

>0.002" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2164 /16

1768

- - -

- - -

Pressures <SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 170-grain Flat Nose
2.54 / VarGet, 33.0 grains

14.75" / 82% / 290% Greatest penetration of any standard bullet with good weight retention

170

2129/17

1710

- - -

1010 / -8.5"

Not Measured

'94

2146/18

1738

>6"!

1030 / -8.3"

>0.002" case stretch after shooting & sizing: Vert. string, <1" horz!

H&R

2163/ 8!

1765

1.20"

1050 / -8.1"

>0.006" case stretching after shooting and sizing

Test

2213/ 4!!

1850

- - -

- - -

Pressures (SAAMI Max. Average & <Max. Probable Sample Mean

Speer 180-grain Round Nose
2.555" / VarGet, 31.0 grains

Terminal Performance Not Tested

Test

2053/ 9!

1685

- - -

- - -

Pressures <<SAAMI Max. Ave. & <<Max. Probable Sample Mean

Ballistics and groups sizes based upon several 10-shot groups (except where ammunition availability required use of smaller test groups, as noted) the groups reported here represent average performance.

100-Yard Group Size Criteria

10-shots

Usefulness

>3"

Marginal Hunting Accuracy

2½"-3"

Acceptable Hunting Accuracy

2"-2½"

Good Hunting Accuracy

1½"-2"

Very Good Hunting Accuracy

<1½"

Excellent Hunting Accuracy

This table assumes that the hunter will not take any shots at ranges exceeding about 200 yards and that he can hold the sights on the center of the target. It does not take into account ranging errors for distant targets or lead errors for moving targets. It does take into account that few among us can hold and estimate with near perfection.

Case Preparation & Maintenance System for all Handloads Reported Here

Cases trimmed to 2.028" on RCBS Trim Pro – what a pleasure to use

Primer pockets and flash holes uniformed using K&M Services' excellent tools – this step was responsible for a significant improvement in ballistic uniformity

Necks inside chamfered using K&M's 4° adjustable Controlled-Depth Tapered Case Mouth Reamer, modified and attached to the RCBS Trim Mate – significantly eases bullet insertion, prevents bullet damage and improves the consistency of case neck tension

Necks outside deburred on RCBS Trim Mate

Cases cleaned and polished in Lyman Turbo Tumbler using RCBS corn-cob media treated with Rooster Laboratories Rooster Bright Polishing Compound

Cases lubricated with E. Arthur Brown's non-aerosol Spray Dry case resizing lubricant

Cases resized using a standard RCBS die with a raised carbide expander plug – personal modification

Loading Technique

Cases from same production lot used for each handloaded test combination – for example, I used the same set of cases for all VarGet tests using Speer's 170 grain bullet in any given rifle. Also, I had reloaded all cases used in any given test the same number of times

Seat CCI-BR2 primers in cleaned primer pockets using Lee's Auto Prime tool until slight crush fit noted

Carefully weigh propellant charges using the RCBS Powder Pro scale

Dumped charges into cases using swirl-charging technique with standard propellant funnel – Extended drop tube used only when necessary to get the propellant charge into the case or to facilitate bullet seating without case deformation (I have found that unnecessary use of an extended drop tube decreases the load's ballistic uniformity)

Bullets seated using the standard RCBS die

Light crimp applied separately via Lee's Factory Crimp Die – loading 30-30 ammunition for use in tubular magazine rifles without this accessory just doesn't make sense

Rifle Cleaning & Consistency Controls:

Barrel cleaned to remove all fouling between each shot string – Remington's Rem Clean followed by Barnes' CR10

Barrel wiped free of excess oil and two fouling shots fired before each shot string

Ballistics based on ten-shot strings fired over Oehler's 35P Chronograph using a 6-foot screen spacing (error less than ±1 fps); all testing conducted at similar temperature.

Notes on Test Guns

Model '94 gives 100-yard impacts fully 12" higher with 110- and 125-grain bullets, compared to 170-grain loads. The 150-grain bullets shoot about 4" higher than the 170s. This is indicative of how essential it is for the hunter to sight his rifle for the weight of bullet he will be using and to stick to that bullet weight. Tested Marlin 336 was even more sensitive to bullet weight. Handi-Rifle, somewhat less so.

Loading procedures for preliminary tests

As noted in the previous notes, except that cases were mixed-lot 130-134 grain Winchester.

Cartridge overall lengths listed in this table assume loading in 2.028" cases with bullets seated until the case mouth aligns to the front of cannelure

Load Development, Preliminary Tests Savage Model-170, Velocity Only

Propellant Type

fps
(desired)

Test Powder(s) Chosen
Charge (grs)

 

2015BR

2520

VarGet

N133

N140

N150

N160

   

71 Hornady FMJ @ 2.325" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

40.0
3104
21

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

2015BR @ 40.0

110 Speer Varminter @ 2.405" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

35.0
2615
26

- - -

- - -

35.6
2624
22

- - -

- - -

- -

2700

N133 @ 36.0

125 Sierra Flat Nose Hollow Point @ 2.412" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

33.5
2479
26

- - -

37.5
2496
17

33.4
2385
28

- - -

- - -

- - -

2475

VarGet @ 37.0

130 Speer Flat Nose @ 2.548" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

33.0
2419
27

- - -

36.5
2466
32

32.8
2369
23

- - -

- - -

- - -

2435

N133 @ 32.8 2015BR @ 33.0

150 Barnes X Hollow Point @ Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

33.5

- - -

33.7

35.1

 

2200

Pending Tests

150 Hornady Round Nose @ 2.544" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

34.5
2267
16

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

2275

VarGet @ 34.5

150 Sierra Flat Point @ 2.517" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

34.0
2263
10

- - -

34.7
2194
17

36.1
2285
15

- - -

2275

VarGet @ 34.0

150 Speer Flat Point @ 2.533" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

33.5
2304
35

34.0
2289
12

- - -

34.7
2204
24

36.1
2311
8

- - -

2275

N150 @ 36.1 VarGet @ 34.0

170 Nosler Partition @ 2.478" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

32.5 2116 12

- - -

- - -

33.8 2107 21

- - -

2120

VarGet @ 32.5

170 Sierra Flat Point @ 2.508" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

32.5 2132 14

- - -

31.5 1975 19

34.0 2140 8

35.5 1923 24

2120

VarGet @ 32.5 N150 @ 34.0

170 Speer Flat Point @ 2.536" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

31.5 2121 27

33.0 2129 17

- - -

31.5 1965 37

32.8 2057 33

35.5 1943 17

2120

VarGet @ 33.0

180 Speer Round Nose @ 2.555" Cartridge Overall Length

Grains
fps (15')
Std. Dev.

- - -

- - -

31.0 2025 10

- - -

- - -

- - -

- - -

2100

VarGet @ 31.0