The .30-30 Deer Rifle — An American Classic

By Dave Dolbee published on in Firearms

When it comes to deer hunting, one of America’s classics has always been the venerable .30-30 lever-action. Many deer hunters took his or her first buck with a Winchester Model 94 or a Marlin 336, or any of a dozen other similarly styled rifles. The .30-30 cartridge has the reputation of having killed more deer than any other cartridge. It’s been around for more than 100 years, so the rumor is likely more fact than fiction. In fact, some would even wager that to this day it still kills more deer than any other cartridge.

.30-.30 Deer RifleWhy is the .30-30 such a popular deer cartridge? And what is it about the lever actions chambered in .30-30 that makes them so potent for taking deer? Initially created by Winchester for its 1894 lever-action, the .30 Winchester Center Fire was one of the first modern small-bore centerfire cartridges designed to use smokeless powder. Marlin also developed its own lever-action, the 336, but renamed the round the .30-30 so as not to have the name “Winchester” in Marlin’s cartridge designation. Both rifles are short, lightweight, and easily portable through heavy woods and brush. The light recoil of the round and quick lever-action provides the ability for rapid follow-up shots if necessary.

When it was first introduced, the .30-30 was known as a very flat shooting cartridge. Of course today we’d consider it a very short-range cartridge that fairly arcs in towards the target. But considering that the hunting cartridge of the day was the black powder .45-75, the .30-30 was extremely flat shooting by comparison.

Deer RifleBut why does the popularity of the .30-30 persist to this day? Surely modern cartridges such as the .243 or .270 are much better deer rounds. They have a much longer effective range, and shoot much flatter than the .30-30. One answer is that the Marlin 336 and Henry Repeating Rifle are inexpensive rifles by comparison, making them popular entry-level guns. In addition, .30-30 ammunition is significantly less expensive than most modern hunting cartridges. What’s more, most deer are shot in the woods at distances that rarely exceed 75 yards, a range at which the .30-30 excels. Finally, the .30-30 has extremely light recoil, making it popular among women and younger inexperienced hunters.

Despite its long and successful history, many still question the effectiveness of the .30-30 round on deer. I think the millions of deer taken with the .30-30 is sufficient evidence of the cartridge’s adequacy at dropping most medium-sized game. Heavier 150-170 grain .30-30 bullets have more than enough energy to drop a deer out to 200 yards, provided the hunter is capable of making such a shot. While the .30-30 isn’t suitable for heavier game such as elk or grizzly, more than a few hunters have been successful taking large North American game with the round.

So, if you’re looking for a light, accurate, and effective deer gun that is perfect for use in the woods and thick brush where deer encounters are up close and personal, don’t overlook the good ‘ol .30-30. Whether you use a Winchester Model 94 or Marlin 336, iron sights or a simple 1-4x scope, you’ll find that the .30-30 is a great soft-shooting deer gun that is still able to hold her own against modern hunting cartridges.

What caliber did you use to shoot your first deer? Tell us in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (109)

  • Phil Ervin

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    A friend came up with a Marlin 30-30 18 inches long no trigger ,fires by lever. Made in 1930. what is it

    Reply

  • Scott

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    Got my first deer (a Mule buck in Montana) with a borrowed sporterized ’03 Springfield .30-06. I own both a 336 Marlin and a Model 94 Winchester.

    Reply

  • Ron Mazzocco

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    I am 55 yrs old today. I still carry the 30-30 into the woods and have killed many deer with it. Mine is a Marlin 336 bought in 1973. It works fine and shoots well. Only once have I had to have it repaired. The spring in the side loading sleve weekened and would not allow me to load properly. My other hunting partners have long moved on from their 30-30 days but I still prefer having it. I do allot of walk ups for the guys and do not like having a long barrel sticking up past my shoulder. To date I believe I have taken 37 deer with this rifle. Preferring not to take anymore does around 110 yrs ago do to the fact I live in PA. If you are wondering if this is a good all around gun; I can tell you it is. If I were given another gun 308, 243 etc….I would still carry my old 336 30-30

    Reply

  • will

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    Mr. S. just finished loading 100 rds. .30-30s for my H&R Ultra w/ .30-30 barrel. My reloading mentor guided me through the process, lest I make no mistakes, and wreck something/somebody. Trying the Hornady 125gr, SSTs this time. His Oehler 35P is chrono-ing them at 2726 fps w/ a stiff load of IMR 4895 in Win. cases and primers. Surprisingly accurate, especially for a single-shot rifle such as the H&R/NEF breed. I’ll be thinkin’ ’bout you when I try a little “1-on-1 w/1″ this year. Docs wanna put pins in me to keep me together but say my mobility will be practically nil in the woods, especially for a short time immediately-after, so I’m gonna make a go for it this season. Hope they work.

    Reply

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