The .30-30 Winchester, also known as the .30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), is a popular caliber primarily known for its use in lever-action rifles. Since its introduction in 1894, it has been a favored round for deer hunting in North America, especially in areas with denser vegetation where long-range shots are uncommon.
Before we get started on the background and overview information – here is a list of some our favorites:
Our Staff Picks
Best Bang for the Buck: Mossberg 464 Lever Action ($660.99 on Guns.com)
Best Looking: Marlin 336 Classic – ($1,099.99 at Sportsman’s Warehouse)
Best Built: Henry Lever Action 30-30 ($1,575.99 on Guns.com)
Most Reliable: Winchester Model 94 – ($1,099.99 at Guns.com)
Best Value: Rossi R95 ($824.99 on Guns.com)
Most Unique: Thompson/Center Arms Contender G1 ($899.99 on Guns.com)
Marlin 336 Classic – ($1,099.99 at Sportsman’s Warehouse)
The Marlin Model 336 chambered in .30-30 Winchester has been a staple in the lever-action rifle community since its introduction in the late 1940s. These fine guns were out of the market for a short while but are now manufactured by Ruger. The decision to purchase a Marlin 336 Classic in .30-30 can be based on several considerations, among them is the fact that they are beautiful, classic lever guns built with precise fit and finish.
History and Tradition: Marlin firearms have been around since the late 1800s, and the Model 336, in particular, has a storied history as a deer rifle in North America. Owning one can feel like having a piece of American firearms history.
Reliable Design: The Model 336 features a solid-top receiver and side ejection, which means it is less likely to jam or malfunction due to debris. This design also makes it easier to mount a scope.
Versatility: The .30-30 cartridge is effective for hunting deer-sized game out to about 200 yards, making the 336 a suitable choice for most North American big game within this range. The gun’s handling and short length make it ideal for wooded areas or brush hunting.
Affordability: Compared to many other centerfire rifles, the Marlin 336 tends to be more affordable, both in terms of the initial rifle purchase and very importantly the cost and availability of ammunition. 30-30 ammunition is made by most every major manufacturer.
Aesthetic Appeal: The classic wood stock and blued steel construction have a timeless appeal. The aesthetics of lever-action rifles are unique and often preferred by traditionalists.
Safety: The Marlin 336 comes with a hammer safety, which can be beneficial to those who appreciate an added layer of protection.
Ease of Maintenance: Its simple design makes it easy to clean and maintain.
Aftermarket Support: Over the years, many companies have produced aftermarket parts for the Marlin 336, from sights to stocks and more. This makes customizing or updating the rifle relatively straightforward.
Lever-Action Experience: Lever-action rifles offer a different shooting experience compared to bolt-action, semi-auto, or pump-action rifles. The manual cycling of the action can be a satisfying and nostalgic experience for many shooters.
Reputation: Over the decades, Marlin has built a reputation for producing reliable and accurate firearms. While there are always individual exceptions, many hunters and shooters have trusted their 336 rifles for generations.
That said, like any firearm, it’s essential to handle and shoot the Model 336 (or any other potential purchase) to see if it fits your personal preferences, needs, and ergonomics. It’s always a good idea to do thorough research, and even try before you buy, if possible.
Winchester Model 94 – ($1,099.99 at Guns.com)
The Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 is one of the most iconic lever-action rifles in history, and it has been in production since 1894. There are several reasons why someone might consider purchasing this rifle:
Historical Significance: The Model 94 is one of the longest-produced firearms in history. It has seen use in various settings, from the Old West to modern hunting fields. Owning a piece of this history is attractive to many firearm enthusiasts. Winchester makes 5 versions of this classic lever-action beauty.
Versatility: The .30-30 cartridge, for which this rifle is chambered, is a versatile round suitable for hunting deer-sized game in North America at short to medium ranges. The new versions of this iconic cartridge have improved ballistics and knock-down capability making it a terrific choice out to 200 yards.
Handling: The Winchester Model 94 is known for its quick handling and light weight. Its relatively compact size makes it easy to carry, whether on horseback, in a truck, or on foot. Fast target acquisition is easy with the lightweight design.
Reliability: The lever-action mechanism of the Model 94 has a reputation for being reliable. When maintained properly, it can provide consistent performance in various conditions.
Simplicity: The design of the Model 94 is relatively simple, making it easy for owners to clean, maintain, and repair.
Aesthetics: There’s no denying the classic appeal of a lever-action rifle. The Model 94, with its distinctive lines and timeless design, is a beautiful firearm that many people appreciate for its looks alone.
Iron Sights: While many modern rifles are designed primarily for optics, the Model 94 usually comes with iron sights, which some shooters prefer, especially for quick target acquisition at closer ranges. The choice of optics is limited because of the top ejecting design, but this is primarily used for short to medium ranges where open sights can work very well.
Resale Value: Given its status and history, a well-maintained Winchester Model 94 can retain its value over time, and in some cases even appreciate, especially if it’s a special edition or an older model in good condition.
Affordable Ammunition: .30-30 ammunition is widely available and tends to be more affordable than some other hunting rounds, making it a good choice for those who shoot often. The new cartridge designs have made improvement to the ballistics.
Connection to a Bygone Era: Lever-action rifles, especially those from Winchester, evoke the spirit of the American frontier and the Old West. Owning and shooting a Model 94 provides a tangible connection to that past. My dad hunted with this gun all his life and passed it along to me. He used a Lyman peep sight due to the top eject limiting his optics options, but that never stopped him from getting off a good shot in the dense whitetail woods of the northern Adirondacks in New York. It is a light, fast swinging gun that you can carry all day without effort.
Before purchasing any firearm, it’s essential to ensure that you are complying with all local, state, and federal laws and regulations. Also, make sure to handle and store firearms safely, and always consider your specific needs and preferences when choosing a rifle.
Henry Lever Action 30-30 ($1,575.99 on Guns.com)
Henry Repeating Arms is another renowned firearms manufacturer, and its lever-action rifles have earned a reputation for quality, reliability, and attention to detail. Here are some reasons one might consider purchasing a Henry Lever Action in .30-30:
Quality Craftsmanship: Henry rifles are known for their meticulous craftsmanship. The fit and finish on their firearms, from the wood stock to the blued or brass receivers, are frequently praised by owners.
Made in the USA: Henry prides itself on producing firearms that are “Made in America, or not made at all.” For those who prioritize American-made products, this is a significant selling point. The fit and finish of a Henry is almost legendary, a fact that becomes obvious when you hold this gun.
Smooth Action: Henry lever-action rifles have a reputation for having one of the smoothest lever actions on the market. This can make for quicker follow-up shots and a more enjoyable shooting experience. This lever action is a side-discharge design, so mounting an optic is a possibility. Receivers are drilled and tapped for scopes using Weaver 63B mounts.
Reliability: Like the Winchester Model 94, Henry’s lever-action rifles are known for their reliability, ensuring consistent performance under various conditions.
Tubular Loading: Unlike some lever-action models from other manufacturers, many Henry rifles feature a tubular loading mechanism, where rounds are loaded directly into the tube under the barrel. Some shooters find this method more convenient and safer.
Aesthetics: Henry’s combination of polished wood and either blued or brass metal components make for an attractive firearm that stands out. Their rifles have a distinctive, classic look that many gun enthusiasts appreciate. Pride in manufacturing is very apparent when you see this rifle, it is almost museum quality out of the package.
Customer Service: Henry Repeating Arms has a reputation for exceptional customer service. If you encounter any issues with your rifle, they are known to be responsive and helpful.
Variety of Models: Henry offers 11 different models chambered in 30-30, including brass, blued, and steel frames, as well as different stock options, allowing shooters to select the exact style and configuration they desire.
Resale Value: Due to the brand’s reputation for quality and their rifles’ inherent beauty, Henry firearms tend to hold their value well.
Connection to Tradition: While Henry Repeating Arms as a company has a different history than the original Henry rifle of the Civil War era, its lever-action rifles still evoke a sense of nostalgia and connection to the past, similar to the Winchester.
If you’re considering purchasing a Henry lever-action .30-30, you can be sure the gun you select will be useful and reliable for many years and will be a beautiful addition to your gun collection.
Best Bang for the Buck:
Mossberg 464 Lever Action ($660.99 on Guns.com)
The Mossberg 464 is a lever-action rifle that offers several features and benefits that may be appealing to some firearm enthusiasts. Below are some reasons why one might consider buying a Mossberg 464:
Reliability: Mossberg has a reputation for producing reliable and durable firearms, and the Mossberg 464 is no exception.
Classic Design: The Mossberg 464 is a modern take on the classic lever-action rifle design, combining the nostalgic look and feel of a classic rifle with modern manufacturing techniques. Their Gray Laminate stock (shown above) is very classy and has a more modern look to it.
Versatility: The 464 comes in various calibers, including .30-30 Winchester and .22 LR, making it suitable for a range of hunting and recreational shooting applications. Consider purchasing both calibers so practice is a much less costly endeavor. The receiver is drilled and tapped to mount an optic, or you can use the Fiber Optic Fire Sights supplied.
Ease of Use: The rifle’s lever-action design is simple and intuitive, making it easy to use for both novice and experienced shooters.
Safety Features: The Mossberg 464 features a top tang safety, which is easy to operate and provides an extra layer of security for the user.
Affordability: Compared to other lever-action rifles, the Mossberg 464 is often more affordable, making it an attractive option for those on a budget.
Customization: The Mossberg 464 offers various options for customization, such as different stock materials (wood or synthetic) and finishes, as well as aftermarket accessories like scopes and sling mounts.
Suitable for Hunting: The rifle’s caliber options make it suitable for hunting various game animals, from small varmints to medium-sized game like whitetail deer.
Made in the USA: Mossberg is an American company, and the Mossberg 464 is manufactured in the USA. For some consumers, this may be an important factor in their purchasing decision.
Reputation: Mossberg is a well-known and respected name in the firearms industry, and the Mossberg 464 benefits from the company’s long-standing reputation for quality and reliability. Mossberg is more recently known more for its line of tactical and hunting shotguns, especially turkey and waterfowl guns. However, they produce very fine rifles and are making a strong push to regain a presence in deer hunting. This rifle will not disappoint.
Other Manufacturers Worthy of Consideration
Due to its popularity, several other manufacturers have produced rifles chambered in .30-30 over the years. Here are some notable ones to keep an eye out for in the used gun market:
- Savage Arms: While primarily known for their bolt-action rifles, Savage has also produced tubular magazine lever-action rifles in .30-30, and 300 Savage, in the Savage Model 99.
- Thompson/Center Arms Contender G1 ($899.99 on Guns.com): They are mostly known for their single-shot rifles, but Thompson/Center has offered the Contender single shot pistols and Encore single shot rifle platforms chambered in .30-30.
- Browning: The Browning BL-32 lever-action rifle was also available in .30-30, though it was a limited production.
- Rossi R95: ($824.99 on Guns.com) Rossi’s R95 lever-action rifle is available in .30-30 with a 16.5 and/or 20 inch barrel
- Chiappa Firearms: They have produced the 1892 lever-action rifle chambered in .30-30.
This is not an exhaustive list, and various manufacturers might have limited runs or specific models chambered in .30-30 at different times. If you’re interested in a specific rifle, it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s latest offerings or consult local gun shops or firearm dealers.
More on the 30-30 Lever Action Rifle
Written by: Luke Clayton
Some say the 30-30 has killed more deer than all other hunting cartridges combined. I don’t know if that is true, but it was the first in the game, and still has aa strong presence in the whitetail woods. In 1962, at the tender age of 12, I harvested my first Whitetail in the pine and hardwood forest of northeast Texas. Then, I thought my iron-sighted, lever-action 30-30 was all the rifle I would ever need for hunting deer. Looking back six decades, I’m now convinced I was pretty close to being right!
The 30-30 has been around for a long time. In 1895 it was one of the first cartridges to use smokeless powder. Its name comes from the caliber and grains of smokeless powder: 30 caliber and 30 grains. Pushing a 160-grain bullet at almost 2,000 fps, it was the speed demon of the time!
When I was in my late teens, the fast, flat-shooting Magnum rifle bug bit me. Many gun writers of the day were singing the praises of heavy Magnum calibers and I was ready to own a rifle that could really “reach out there.” I went from my “near-perfect” woods caliber to a 7mm Remington Magnum. It was a great caliber, but it wasn’t designed for shooting deer in heavy cover at ranges inside 60 yards.
I still remember shooting a fork horn buck at about 50 yards, right behind the shoulder, with my Magnum rifle. I also remember him tucking his tail and running like a scalded ape through the woods, leaving a very sparse blood trail. The bullet had not hit bone and simply zipped through his lungs with very little if any expansion. He only ran about 60 yards through the heavy cover, but I remember being amazed at how little damage was done by the 160-grain bullet. I was accustomed to the soft-point, slower 30-30 round mushrooming almost on impact and leaving a good trail of blood to follow. Other times, the 30-30 would drop the deer in its tracks.
I truly believe many consider the 30-30 a very close-range woods rifle because of the iron sights with which many of the rifles are equipped. Because of its top-ejection mode, the Winchester model 94 (the most popular rifle chambered in 30-30 of all times) must be shot with iron sights. There are many side-ejection, 30-30 lever-action rifles on the market that facilitate top-mounted scopes.
It’s tough for the average shooter to use the iron sights that come standard on most 30-30s and shoot acceptable groups out much past 100 yards. Years ago, I learned that a quality peep sight greatly increases the accuracy and the range of my trusty old “thutty-thutty.” Topped with a quality scope, 30-30 lever action guns with side ejection are even more effective, having improved accuracy and range.
There is probably more Winchester model 94’s in production than any other model. These rifles are made with top ejection, which usually equates to shooting with some sort of iron sight. There are side mounts designed to mount the scope off the side of the receiver, but for obvious reasons, they never became popular. It’s a challenge training the eye not to look down the barrel of a rifle but rather off to one side.
But just what is the maximum effective range of the round in a “real-world” hunting situation? Let’s look first at the trajectory table, then I’ll share information you might want to apply to your hunts with this old caliber.
Using quality 160-grain ammo with a 100-yard zero, bullet drop at 200 yards is about 7 to 8 inches. Beyond that, the bullet falls too fast to make it a viable hunting round, in my opinion. Oh, it is possible to kill deer farther out knowing the precise distance and bullet drop for that distance. That may seldom occur when a mossy, antlered buck steps out of the brush and gives you a five-or six-second shot opportunity, though.
At 200 yards, the bullet is still traveling at around 1500 feet per second and packing a bit over 800 foot-pounds of energy. Some might say this is plenty of energy to effectively harvest deer-sized animals when they are hit in the vitals. I regularly use big bore air rifles with muzzle velocities of around 850 fps and take deer out to 100 yards.
Inside 100 yards, bullet drop is not a factor. With a rifle zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet will strike within an inch of the bullseye at 50 yards. It’s longer shots where it’s important to know trajectory when hunting with a 30-30. Given the vertical length of the kill zone on deer (about 12 inches), I’ve found that a 160-yard zero is perfect for a “center of shoulder” shot. With the distance out to 200 yards, the bullet will still strike within the vitals. This is the yardage I use to zero my scoped rifle. However, when shooting peep sights, I still keep my shots within 125 yards. My sighting apparatus has the capability for accuracy out to 200 yards, but my aged eyes do not!
One reason that many consider the effective range of the 30-30 cartridge to be around 100 yards is that most shoot the rifle with the iron sights that usually come as standard equipment. I think it’s a challenge (impossibility) for many of us with older eyes to use even the best peep sights for accuracy for 200-yard shots. However, in the real world, most of us can consistently shoot four-inch groups at 100 yards, especially with peep sights.
With the introduction of Hornady’s LEVERevolution bullets several years ago (which are designed for tubular magazines), down-range energy was improved as well as a flatter trajectory than standard 30-30 rounds. Before LEVERevolution bullets, it was necessary to load the more blunt nosed rounds in the tubular magazines of lever-action rifles. The “soft” points of the LEVERevoution won’t cause the loaded round’s adjacent primer to fire. When these bullets came out in 2005, I was anxious to give them a try. Finally, here was a 30-30 bullet designed to produce more energy downrange as well as having a flatter trajectory. Shooters and hunters immediately took to the new design. Today, they have become the gold standard for hunters. Those old lever guns that were stashed away in the gun cabinet were again put to use with new ammunition, and a new generation of 30-30 hunters emerged!
Is It Best?
So, is the 30-30 truly the best cartridge for hunting deer? That is most definitely a loaded question. I do believe that if one hunts areas where shots longer than 200 yards are not a factor, it’s hard to beat this great old caliber. With half the recoil of a 30-06 and plenty of punch to cleanly harvest deer-size game at reasonable distances, the 30-30 deserves a hard look. But, if my hunting adventures take me out west and I spot a wall-hanger mule deer buck standing broadside at 300 yards across a canyon, I would be wishing for one of those Magnum caliber guns that caused me to stow my old model 94 in the gun cabinet many years ago!
Read more from the talented Luke Clayton by clicking here