21-Load Salute to the Short .30s
January 04, 2011
It would be easy to think of short cartridges of .30 caliber as a recent trend. However, they actually go back a very long way.
The .30-30 Winchester is basically a scaled-down version of the .30-40 Krag.
When the U.S. military adopted the Krag-Jorgensen rifle in 1892, it introduced America's first smokeless-powder cartridge, the .30-40 Krag. A few years later, Winchester offered the .30-40 in its Model 95 lever-action, which was a good move since for a time it was by far the most popular chambering in that rifle.
.30-30During that same time, a new lever-action rifle called the Model 94 was under development at Winchester, and since its action was too short to handle the .30-40 Krag, the firm came up with a scaled-down version of it called the .30 Winchester Central Fire, or .30-30 Winchester as millions of deer hunters know it today.
Not many writers write about the .30-30 anymore simply because it is not as glamorous as the latest super-snubby magnums, but I can tell you it kills deer just as dead today as it did back when it was introduced more than a century ago. A good rifleman who stays cool under pressure, knows where a bullet needs to be placed, has the ability to put it there, and hunts in areas where shots at deer are seldom greater than 200 yards will find the .30-30 quite capable of bringing home the venison.
My favorite rifles in this caliber are a Marlin 336, a Winchester 54, and a Thompson/Center Contender Carbine. I have taken quite a few deer with all three, but my Model 54 holds the edge in accuracy.
Bullets of 150 and 170 grains are the traditional weights for the .30-30, and I have never been able to see any difference in their performance on deer. Place either close behind the shoulder of the biggest buck in the woods, and you've got steaks and chops for the table and antlers on the wall. When putting together deer loads for bolt-action and single-shot rifles, I usually stick with pointed bullets weighing from 125 to 150 grains because they shed less velocity downrange than blunt-nose bullets.
The next short thirty to come along was the .300 Savage. Introduced in 1920 in the Model 99 and Model 1920 rifles, it is a shortened version of the .30-06, and it pretty much duplicated the performance of that cartridge as it was loaded in those days. The .300 was eventually loaded with several bullet weights, but 150 grains at 2,700 fps and 180 grains at 2,400 fps were the most common.
Through the years, I have hunted with several rifles in .300 Savage, and my all-time favorite is a Remington Model 81. While I have never been a great fan of autoloading rifles, I fell for that homely old "Eighty One" the first time I held it in my hands. More important, each and every deer I have shot with it either dropped in its tracks or traveled no more than 50 yards after taking a bullet.
The .30 Carbine is no deer cartridge, but it works fine for pests and predators.
I prefer 150-grain bullets when putting together a deer load for the .300 Savage. On shots inside 100 paces, I cannot honestly say it is more effective on deer than the .30-30, but at longer distances, its higher velocity kicks in and enables it to shorten the blood trail considerably. But the biggest edge in favor of the .300 is its ability to push heavier bullets faster. Nothing that can be squeezed into the .30-30 case will make it as effective on larger game such as black bear, moose, and elk as the .300 Savage loaded with a 180-grain bullet.
Back when the U.S. military establishment was searching for a compact .30-caliber cartridge to replace the .30-06, they experimented with the .300 Savage before settling on a slightly modified version of that cartridge. The new round was given the name of 7.62x51mm NATO, and since Winchester had been involved in its development, that company beat its competition to the punch by introducing it to the civilian market as the .308 Winchester. Doing so was a good move, for the .308 Win. went on to become one of the most popular sporting cartridges ever developed.
I have long considered the .308 Win. to be our all-around most useful big-game cartridge for use in short-action rifles, and nothing has happened lately to change my mind. I love the 7mm-08 Remington, and the .358 Winchester is also one of my favorites, but when it comes to doing many things with a single cartridge, the .308 Win. tops all of its offspring in versatility. In addition to being one of our most accurate cartridges, it is not too big for deer, not too little for elk, it shoots flat enough, and its recoil is easily tolerated by almost anyone who is serious about hunting.
Virtually everybody who makes rifles offers the .308 Win. chambering, and everybody who makes ammunition loads it with a bewildering variety of weights and styles of bullets. Any good bullet weighing 150 grains in this cartridge will never be a bad choice for deer, and 165 to 180 grains is a good place to look for moose, elk, and bear bullets. My favorites for hunting pronghorn antelope are the Sierra 125-grain SPT and the Nosler Ballistic Tip of the same weight. My favorite rifle in .308 is a custom switch-barrel job built on the Remington Model Seven action.
Least powerful of the short .30s is the .30 Carbine. This one was to those of us during the 1950s and 1960s what the 7.62x39mm Russian would later become to another generation of shooters. And it was that for the same reasons: The guns were affordable, and the ammo was only slightly more expensive than dirt.
I bought my first M1 Carbine through the NRA for around $20, and while it was great fun to shoot, I never did quite figure out what it was good for in civilian life. I knew a couple of older hunters who claimed to have used it quite successfully on whitetails. Even though at the time I was quite wet behind the ears as a deer hunter, I knew the .30 Carbine was no deer cartridge by any stretch of the imagination. The biggest critters I recall shooting with the .30 Carbine were several gray foxes that were foolish enough to mistake my Burnham Brothers mouth call for a cottontail rabbit being torn to pieces.
The .300 Savage was introduced in 1920 in the Model 99 lever-action and the Model 1920 bolt-action shown here.
I no longer own a long gun in .30 Carbine, but I do have a Ruger Blackhawk chambered for it. Interestingly enough, the velocities of 100-grain bullets fired from its 7.5-inch barrel exceed the speed of the new .327 Federal Magnum by 300 fps when the latter is loaded with a bullet of the same weight and fired in the 3-inch-barreled Ruger SP101.
There was a time not long ago when the ground in front of all 30 firing points at the gun club I belonged to would become so deep in 7.62x39mm cases that once a month the caretaker would load them on a wheelbarrow. He would use them to pave a long dirt path between the rifle and pistol ranges. Back then, military surplus ammo was cheaper than handloading, but even so, many of the cases were steel, which made them less than desirable for firing more than a single time. As rifles went, the SKS was by far the most popular simply because you could buy one and get a good bit of change back from a $100 bill.
The first rifles I ever shot in this caliber were a Ruger Mini Thirty and a Norinco-built SKS carbine. In looking back at my report on both guns in the January 1994 issue of Shooting Times, I see that even though the Ruger wore a scope and the SKS did not, accuracy of the two rifles was about the same with five-shot groups fired at 100 yards averaging from 3 to 7 inches with various bullets.
As I later discovered, the 7.62x39mm Russian is capable of much better accuracy. A CZ Model 527 carbine I shot in the July 2001 issue of Shooting Times averaged less than 2 inches with three handloads and a couple of factory loads. The smallest group I fired with that rifle measured well under an inch. When loaded to 2,400 fps with a good expanding bullet weighing between 123 and 125 grains, the little Ruskie delivers close to 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at 200 yards. In the hands of a good marksman, that makes it an entirely adequate deer cartridge out to that range. All this is produced by a cartridge that develops very little recoil.
Moving up quite a bit in powder capacity, we come to magnum versions of the short .30s. In case you have not noticed, there is very little difference in performance between Winchester's .300 WSM and Remington's .300 SAUM, but just as the
.243 Winchester beat out the .244 Remington back in the 1950s, so it seems to be going with recent short magnums from those two companies.
Ruger's even newer .300 RCM is in the same league, but only time and the number of companies who eventually offer rifles chambered for it will tell whether it will manage to race neck to neck with the .300 WSM or fall behind with the .300 SAUM.
Contrary to all the hype, the .300 WSM does not equal the performance of longer belted-magnum cartridges of its caliber. When the three are loaded to maximum speed with 180-grain bullets, I find the .300 H&H Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum to be 100 fps faster, while the .300 Weatherby Magnum beats it by upwards of 200 fps. And while short and fat might win benchrest matches, I find it to be no more accurate in hunting rifles than long and skinny. But the .300 WSM is accurate enough, and the fact that it is about 200 fps faster than the .30-06 makes it a darned-effective big-game cartridge and useful as well--but, in my opinion, only for a specific application.
From the very beginning, my interest in the .300 WSM has had absolutely nothing to do with either newness or novelty and everything to do with the fact that it will fit into a short-action rifle. The shorter the action, the lighter the rifle, and while this is not always important, there are times when it is.
I enjoy backpack hunting where I haul on my back everything I will use, wear, live in, cook with, and eat for a week or longer. Believe me when I say every ounce shed from the load widens the smile on my face. For other types of hunting, a heavier rifle is okay, but when the pack on my back weighs in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 pounds, a heavy rifle simply will not do. The only rifle I own in .300 WSM is a Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti. Its weight of exactly 7 pounds with a Zeiss 3-9X Diavari scope is made possible because its receiver is made of titanium and is extremely short due to the shortness of the .300 WSM.
For all-around use, I believe the .300 WSM is seen at its best when loaded with a 180-grain bullet at 3,000 fps or so. For shooting deer-size game at long range, a relatively soft bullet such as the Sierra GameKing, Speer softnose, Hornady InterLock, or Nosler Ballistic Tip would be my choice.
Bullets to beat in this cartridge for larger game such as moose and elk are the Swift Scirocco and Nosler AccuBond. And while there may be better brown bear cartridges, I would not hesitate to take one on with the .300 WSM loaded with either the Swift 180-grain A-Frame or the Nosler Partition of the same weight.
As I mentioned back at the beginning, the short .30s have been around for a very long time, and if you have not gotten around to giving one a try, perhaps it is time you did.