.30-30 Winchester Ammo: Ideal for Personal Defense?

So what about the .30-30 Winchester as a viable defense round? Is it any good, or should it be hung over the wall with Granddad’s antique snowshoes?

Winchester 94 Rifle is .30-30 Winchester
Winchester 94 Rifle is .30-30 Winchester

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- There’s been a lot of talk over the years, in gun shops, around camps and occasionally even in print that the .30-30 Winchester rifle should finally go the way of the Dodo.

I have heard more than one conversation between so-called learned experts that it’s a useless round past the 100-yard mark and that even at that distance, it’s really barely just getting by and that’s just for hunting. So what about the .30-30 as a viable defense round? Is it any good, or should it be hung over the wall with Granddad’s antique snowshoes and left as a memory of another time?

.30-30 Winchester Ammo

Most experts, of course, will throw out there that the best choice for a defensive round would be some semi-auto rifle, and in many cases they would be right, but in some locales, the laws are not always on the side of gun owners, and in some cases, those semi-auto rifles, are restricted or have to be “compliant” which to many of us, translates into another word. Neutered. For instance, in my particular state, any AR platform can’t have a pistol grip with a detachable magazine, which can only be 10 rounds anyway so they have this bizarre stock that resembles PVC pipe or you can have a pistol grip but must load from a stripper clip from the side at an angle. I applaud the gun makers for coming up with alternatives, but these guns are still shadows of their former selves.

Getting back to the .30-30 Winchester, look at the round itself. The 150 grain round is listed at 2,400 fps, and while this isn’t blowing the doors off the competition when you compare it to the .308 or .30-06, you have to be impressed when you compare it to one of the most respected military rounds on the planet, the 7.62x39mm, which with its 123 grain FMJ is also listed at the 2,400 fps mark.

One of the reasons the .30-30 Winchester has always been so popular is because of the gun it was chambered in. Putting the round into the 1894 Winchester rifle and the more desirable carbine with its 20-inch barrel standard gave the shooter a gun that weighed a little more than six pounds and was only thirty-seven inches long. Compare that to say an SKS which weighs over eight pounds and is three inches longer. If the Winchester 94 is not your thing, the Marlin 336 Rifle and it’s predecessors, the 1893, the 1936 and the Model 36 are all fine guns in their own right.

While many tout the .30-30 Winchester’s history of killing game all over this country and even the world, it saw action and military service for decades. In World War I, the US Military bought Winchester 1894 rifles in .30-30 and handed them over to the US Army Signal Corps who were protecting the tree cutting crews in the timber forests in the Pacific Northwest. These crews were cutting spruce which was vital to aircraft production, and these guns have been known afterward as “spruce guns”. There were some eighteen hundred of these carbines issued, with a “US” and flaming bomb ordinance mark on the top of the barrel behind the rear sight.

Closer to the actual battlefield, the British purchased some five thousand 1894 rifles and they were issued to the Royal Navy for use on board their ships, but the French acquired the most, more than fifteen thousand that had sling swivels mounted on the left side of the buttstock and the rear sight had graduations in metric. While not issued to front-line troops, it’s hard not to imagine them seeing some sort of action throughout all that chaos.

Where the .30-30 has been proven and documented, however, has been right here in the US and in the waning days of the Old West.

By the time the 1894 Winchester was introduced, most of the frontier had been settled, the Indian Wars were over, the bison were all but gone from the plains and most of the wild in the wild west had now been tamed. Still, the 1894 Winchester and the .30-30 found favor on both sides of the law and both sides of the border.

Tom Horn
Tom Horn

 

Isom Dart
Isom Dart

One known and well documented hard case that favored a .30-30 was noted Indian Scout and manhunter, Tom Horn. Horn, who was an interesting character, to say the least, helped bring in Geronimo, hunted down and apprehended men for the Pinkerton Agency before he became a hired killer for the Colorado and Wyoming cattle companies under the guise of the title of “range detective”.

 

Horn was convicted of shooting and killing fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell and hung for it on November 20, 1903 and while there is still a lot of debate that Horn might not have killed Nickell, there is universal consensus among historians that Horn shot and killed a man named Isom Dart, a cattle thief that had been warned to get out of the area.

On the morning of October 4, 1900, Dart walked out of the front door of his cabin and was struck squarely in his chest, he hit the ground dead. Later two .30-30 shells were found 150-200 yards away from where Dart had been shot.

While many speculated that Horn used a Winchester 1876 in .45-60, and he may have, at the time of the killings he was carrying a Winchester 1894 rifle in .30-30 with a button magazine equipped with a folding tang sight

Horn’s killing of Dart is probably the first known and documented use of a .30-30 for something other than game at long range.

Mexican Revolution Armory
Mexican Revolution Armory

The 1894 Winchester also found favor during the Mexican Revolution, whether in the hands of those fighting for Pancho Villa or the “El Tigre del Sur”, Emiliano Zapata, guns in .30-30 were extremely popular because ammunition was readily available on the American side of the border. During the more than nine years of the revolution rifles and carbines in .30-30 were sought after and used heavily during the whole conflict.

Law enforcement agencies across the country also found the Winchester 1894 in .30-30 to be of value. The New York State Police and the LAPD at one time issued the little carbines to their officers on either coast with many other police departments in between including the Texas Rangers. Arguably the most famous Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson carried a Winchester 94 in .30-30 that had the barrel cut down to the length of 16 inches, commonly known as a “trapper”. Jackson stated in an interview that he carried that gun at his feet the entire time while working as a Ranger.

 Joaquin Jackson
Joaquin Jackson

Getting back to the here and now, I decided to see what a good .30-30 could do at some distances some might not consider shooting them, at least not for personal defense. My .30-30 is nothing spectacular, it’s a Winchester 94, known as a “transition” gun, it was made in 1939 and had an earlier style receiver and buttstock of the old saddle ring carbines, which had two factory screw holes in the tang, which allowed for the use of a fold-down sight, but it had a newer style barrel with a ramped front sight. Winchester was essentially using up older parts and in 1940, a new buttstock was used with a flat recoil pad and then the receiver was different slightly with a single hole in the tang and all that was mated to the newer style barrel that was on the transition carbines. My Winchester 94 still has open sights, no peep sights, no scope.

I set up a cut out silhouette target without any aiming points and set it out at 125 yards which was the farthest I could shoot at our little range. I took five of my handloads, a 170 grain Hornady SP with a charge of IMR-4064 that essentially duplicates the factory ballistics. The five shots were all fired from a rest but as quickly as I could get the sights on target and they all hit close with three clustering nearly dead center, and all were pretty much to the point of aim. As you can see, the .30-30 will do just fine out to just past the 100-yard mark, and I would say out to 150 and 175 yards with practice is certainly achievable. Once the .30-30 gets to 200 yards and beyond it begins to lose altitude pretty quickly.

Winchester 94 group shot at 125 yards
Winchester 94 group shot at 125 yards

So in this day and age of the war on semi-auto rifles, lever action rifles chambered in .30-30 make a pretty good alternative for personal defense, and since they have a long history of their performance on game, can make a pretty good case for having only one long gun to perform several jobs. Ammunition in .30-30 is literally everywhere and one of the cheaper ones to buy, and handloading for it is simple and easy.

The .30-30 Winchester has been with us for more than 120 years now and it’s been all over the world, and it’s a shame that it seems to have taken a back seat to the belted magnums and wonder rounds that have come along ever since. While it might not be the most powerful round when it comes to knocking down game, it has more than enough for the job of personal defense and it’s almost always found in a lightweight carbine that lends itself to the task. In a compact gun the .30-30 Winchester is at home today at your side as it was in the early squad cars of the LAPD and riding along with those early New York State Troopers. Don’t overlook the .30-30 Winchester in a short carbine like the Model 94 Winchester or Marlin 336, especially in those states were gun owners are stuck behind enemy lines and are not trusted by their own elected officials with any semi-automatic rifles that aren’t neutered or have to be “compliant” in order to even be acceptable.


David LaPell
David LaPell

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

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    Joseph Karl Houseman
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    Joseph Karl Houseman

    Manufacturers have introduced new cartridges for the lever guns. There was the 7×30 Waters, the 307, 356 & 375 Winchesters, the .308, .338 & .450 Marlins as well as the contemporary .25/35 & .32 Special. All of those are now virtually forgotten While the 30/30 just sails on and on. Why? Because it’s a damn fine cartridge offering the perfect balance of adequate power, velocity, penetration and perfectly fitted to the Winchester & Marlin light weight lever guns without excessive recoil or muzzle blast. Many attempts have been made to “improve” the 30/30 but none have proved worthwhile.

    Hatman1793
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    Hatman1793

    A worthy & well researched story about an obsolete cartridge that just won’t die. That old saw about the 30-30 taking all kinds of game everywhere just doesn’t hold up. At the same time the 30-30 was taking all that game, so was the 30-06, 300 Savage, and just about every other high power cartridge. The obsolete & slow 30-30 won’t die because foolish manufacturers cannot bring themselves to chamber better cartridges in their lever guns. Just laziness. But you must ask yourself this: what firearms company chambers the obsolete 30-30 in an AR platform? What company chambers the old… Read more »

    Joseph Karl Houseman
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    Joseph Karl Houseman

    I beg to disagree, “foolish manufacturers” have repeatedly tried to improve on the 30/30 starting with its contemporaries the 25/35 and 32 Special and continuing with the 7×30 Waters, the .307, .356, & .375 Winchesters and the .308, .338 & .450 Marlins. It is those rounds which are forgotten while the old 30/30 just sails on and on. Why? Because it is perfectly designed and balanced for its purpose, an absolutely reliable deer rifle with adequate power, velocity and penetration with reasonable recoil in a light weight lever gun. Yes, Manufactures have repeatedly tried to improve on the 30/30 and… Read more »

    John Dunlap
    Guest
    John Dunlap

    It was the rise of cheap, mass produced, cookie cutter push feed bolt guns that ended lever action development. If not for that, and all the marketing hype convincing hunters that “real” deer cartridges must have the trajectory of a laser beam and be able to drop the animal from two counties away, Otherwise, the woods would be full of guns like the BLR and Henry Lone Ranger. Cartridges like .307, .338 Marlin Express, .375 Winchester, or .444 and .450 Marlin all have small, diehard followlings, but they all appeared too late to develop the kind of popularity the .30-30… Read more »

    Farmgun
    Guest
    Farmgun

    I prefer the 30-30 to my 30 .06 because I only own and hunt 30 acres as I get older.
    I just don’t need the bigger caliber nor do I want to worry about killing the cattle beyond me.
    When I had a couple hundred acres I would not touch my 30-30 except to hand it to a friend that might hunt with me that didn’t own a gun. It makes a fine mini ranch gun for my type use.

    Mark
    Guest
    Mark

    Nonsense

    Gordon B Hulme
    Guest
    Gordon B Hulme

    Well I hate to be a negative voice but : Having used a lever action at two different tactical courses, one under Louis Awerbuck (RIP) and competing in various Cowboy action games for a couple decades I will tell you the negatives. One is loading thru the side gate , a very painful experience when you try to run the lever action in the proven modern tactical techniques. Your thumb will soon fall off and at is anything but a smooth and quick process under pressure and movement. Yes it can be pulled off for a number rounds after a… Read more »

    Clifffalling
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    Clifffalling

    Where I grew up in Arkansas, the 30 30 was pretty popular. It made a great brush gun. Quick handling, and sure to take down anything we were hunting. Black bear, deer or hog.
    However, for self defense in the home, I’m not really a fan of a rifle in any chambering or configuration. Pistol chambered in something subsonic for me.

    mtnforge
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    mtnforge

    Down in the jungles of South America it used to be THE rifle to own, for everything. I grew up and still own a 1992 38-40. The barrel was pretty shot out, not a spot of blueing remained. My grandad gave it to me when I was 6. I bought a Douglas .44 mag barrel blank for it, wrenched off the old barrel, the old threads where all but froze, and turned the blank to fit. Made it a Trapper at 16 inches. The case rim of .44 and 38-40 are the same. It is such a quick handling carbine,… Read more »

    James Higginbotham
    Guest
    James Higginbotham

    great article about the 30/30.
    i own several kinds of 30/30’s, Winchesters, Marlins, and Savage in model 99’s four of them in different calibers, and NONE has ever yet failed me in the field.

    John Dunlap
    Guest
    John Dunlap

    Does anyone here have experience with the Mossberg 464?

    Ron
    Guest
    Ron

    Author: John Dunlap
    Comment:
    I’ve never owned anything with a scope on it. I guess I’m a throwback.

    Nope. Just good old….Old school!

    Ron
    Guest
    Ron

    Author: Patriot Comment: Jeff Cooper said the 30-30 lever action makes a good poor mans scout rifle. Put a Williams sight on it. It is more powerful than the 223, 7.62×39 and 300 Whisper. One can reload. it with bullets from 90 gr. to 190 gr. ( the old Winchester silvertip bullet used in the 303 Savage). Another round the lever action companies ought to chamber is the 357 Maximum. In a rifle it will come close to 35 Remington, but one can also fire 357 Mag., 38 Special and 38 Long Colt in it. So come on Henry, Marlin… Read more »

    John Dunlap
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    John Dunlap

    The only thing I’ve never cared for about the ’94 is that grip safety. Having to squeeze the lever tends to throw me off a bit. I’ve still been giving the .450 Marlin version serious consideration recently, and been thinking about the .30-30. The only rifle I have at the moment is a Big Boy in .45 Colt, and I’d like to add something with more reach the the collection. I wonder, is it possible for a custom ‘smith to move the loading gate to the other side of the receiver?

    Patriot
    Guest
    Patriot

    Jeff Cooper said the 30-30 lever action makes a good poor mans scout rifle. Put a Williams sight on it. It is more powerful than the 223, 7.62×39 and 300 Whisper. One can reload. it with bullets from 90 gr. to 190 gr. ( the old Winchester silvertip bullet used in the 303 Savage). Another round the lever action companies ought to chamber is the 357 Maximum. In a rifle it will come close to 35 Remington, but one can also fire 357 Mag., 38 Special and 38 Long Colt in it. So come on Henry, Marlin and Winchester bring… Read more »

    45N90W
    Guest
    45N90W

    The question prompts an academic argument but in reality the 30-30 has enough gusto to easily get the job done as a defensive round. The history lesson was more interesting than the ballistic info.

    Gene Yohannan
    Guest
    Gene Yohannan

    I’m a BIG Levet Fan. I Love .357 & .45-70. But now I think ill be getting a 30-30 to have a go with. Good article. Love the History

    Bob Shell
    Guest
    Bob Shell

    I have shot & worked with the 30-30 for many years. That includes bolt actions & single shots such as the TC. Recently I have worked with the Henry rifle & it is a gem. I could write a book on 30-30 loads. They handle cast bullets not to mention some handgun bullets. A handgun HP bullet driven @ high velocity would certainly make a good self defense load. Cast bullets up to 220 grains can be used for many things depending on what use is desired. The flex tip can be safely loaded so at 300 yards produces 1,000… Read more »

    Jimmy
    Guest
    Jimmy

    Bigger the holes. Harder for surgeon to fill. 3 round minimum to clean up a lever/action. 450 Bushmaster. Will get the hole even bigger.

    Jim
    Guest
    Jim

    LET’S GET REAL! The “mere” .30-30 is no under powered cartridge as many would have you think. At 250 yards it has the same velocity and “knock down power” as a 6-inch bbl .44 Magnum develops at one inch! When 14 with eyesight to match and open sights I killed a big elk instantly with one shot at 275 yards with a “mere” .30-30. The relatively new Hornady Levervolution round turns the mere .30-30 into 80% that of a .308 thanks to the use of a safe Spitzer BT rbullet.

    1776 Patriot
    Guest
    1776 Patriot

    Love me my 336 in 30-30 and my 94 in .45 Long Colt. I wouldn’t feel under-armed with either in any social interaction of a threatening nature. Bonus: they’re easy to top off in a lull in the fight. What’s not to love?!

    Bo Dalton
    Guest
    Bo Dalton

    David: It was indeed my pleasure, on this Thanksgiving Day to open Ammoland and see the book pose picture of our friend Joaquin Jackson ! For those of us who knew him and loved the man for his commitment as a Texas Ranger appreciate seeing people remember him. Just before he passed I was standing with hi one cool morning in Alpine Texas, drinking a cup of coffee with him and thinking “Here is a man that will live forever, you couldn’t kill him if you shot him with a “94”, However, it was a sad day a short time… Read more »

    Matt Pitcock
    Guest
    Matt Pitcock

    I seen what 150gr flat nose will do to a Deer at 150 yards . 30/30 round is a flat shooting round and will go threw brush and still hit its Target.Under those conditions Yes it could be used for Personal Defensive defiantly one of my Go to FireArms for Hunting Deer as well.Enjoyed your Article.

    GHouze
    Guest
    GHouze

    Thanks for the article – nicely done and great pics. I have a ’51 336 SC. Love it. Light, basic, short barrel and reliable. As a kid (in AZ) in the ’60’s, I used to ride with a Winchester 30-30 and wanted another years later – as I went looking, I saw this one and had to to get it – (the rifle chooses the owner). I agree re stopping power (I used to hunt whitetail with mine) and it’s perfect for living in the forested mountains of the West.

    John Weber
    Guest
    John Weber

    I myself find the old 94 30/30 very quick at snap shooting and if its harvested four legged game for years it should do fine against 2 legged predators. I know I myself wouldn’t want to stand in front of the business and of a 30/30. As for my personal taste I prefer western guns. But don’t think your vintage are not on the anti-gun politicians radar, atleast not yet anyway.

    Dave Herbert
    Guest
    Dave Herbert

    I was told some time back ( i’m 77 ) that there’s a special place in HELL reserved for anyone who mounts a scope on a lever action rifle. What say you all ?

    Jack Mac
    Guest
    Jack Mac

    I mount Marlins not Winchesters. There are other types of levers than the “94”, and different calibers than 30-30.

    There may be a place in hell for me but not for that reason.

    mikeL
    Guest
    mikeL

    Mr Herbert, I agree with you. I have a Marlin 336B, and tracing it back, found it too be made in ’43. As for sights, my irons have out to 125yds with a 5 inch grouping depending on wind. I have several other rifles, but shooting my Marlin is enjoyable. I’m using factory loads of 150grn.

    John Dunlap
    Guest
    John Dunlap

    I’ve never owned anything with a scope on it. I guess I’m a throwback.

    Joseph Karl Houseman
    Guest
    Joseph Karl Houseman

    Speaking of the Mexican revolution, the 30/30 was even enshrined in a poem of the time. IIRC it went;
    Too long upon our necks they’ve trod
    With boots rough soled and dirty,
    So pack your kit and kiss your wife
    And grab your 30/30.

    Ron
    Guest
    Ron

    Ditto! Interesting with the ‘historic photo’s’ added.

    Jim Hovater
    Guest
    Jim Hovater

    For SD use, Federal’s 125gr HP, or PMC’s 130gr Starfire are ideal.

    Joseph P Martin
    Guest
    Joseph P Martin

    Thanks for a great article on a great gun and round.

    John
    Guest
    John

    What about the Henry Rifle? My Steel Big Boy does quarter size groups at 100 yards

    Bruce
    Guest
    Bruce

    I think the 30-30 round is a Excellent round for Home Defense, but the weapon not so much. The round has plenty of stopping power at a distance that would be considered Defense, and not likely to go through the walls of neighbors houses, or hitting innocent bystanders hundreds of yards away, like an AR15 would. It is a shame there are not semi auto mag fed rifles chambered in it. I have a M1 Carbine rifle and a 30 Carbine Pistol, for Home Defense, for the above reason. More Stopping power close in than a 357 Magnum, and much… Read more »

    1776 Patriot
    Guest
    1776 Patriot

    According to FBI testing, “If an operator misses the intended target, the .223 will generally have less wounding potential than some pistol rounds after passing through a wall or similar structure.” For more information, here’s an article describing and prescribing the AR-15-fired 5.56 round as an good choice CQB with less lethality of errant bullets after going through walls and other barriers. http://www.olyarms.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26

    Mike K
    Guest
    Mike K

    Very good read David, two thumbs up!!