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Discover the Best .30-30 Lever-Action Rifles

Antique Winchester .30-30 lever-action rifles

The lever-action rifle has been offered in a wide variety of different platforms, firing pistol-caliber cartridges, rimfire cartridges, and heavy buffalo cartridges. The most useful lever-action rifles for most of us is a .30-30 Winchester Centerfire (.30-30 WCF, Trienka Trienka or just plain Thutty-Thutty).

The cartridge offers plenty of power for most uses, including deer-sized game inside of 200 yards. Shot placement is the real issue. The .30-30 is stronger than the .300 Blackout and 7.62x39mm.

Notably, a truly great new cartridge, the .300 Ham’R, is ballistically similar to the .30-30. The cartridge has been offered in single-shot, pump-action and bolt-action rifles.

A Mondragon self-loading rifle in .30-30 resides in the Museo del Ejercito Mexicano. I don’t know how Mondragon managed to convince the self-loading action to feed a rimmed cartridge, but then the man was a genius.

The natural home of the .30-30 is a quality lever-action rifle. The lever-action is flat, easily carried, and offers fast handling. The rifle is affordable. While designed primarily for hunting, the .30-30 is also a useful defensive rifle.

Five rifle cartridges all lined up
The .45 Colt, .45-70 Govt, .32 Special, .30-30 Win and .308 Win all have their place.

Winchester 1894

The first .30-30 lever-action was the Winchester 1894. This was a steel rifle, while most other early rifles were really iron and not well suited to smokeless powder. The new rifle and cartridge caught on fabulously in America.

It isn’t well known, but the rifle also saw considerable military use with the British Navy and the Canadian Rangers. The flat-shooting .30-30 immediately showed its superiority to the .44-40 WCF and .45-70 Govt. in common use.

The rifle is light, handy, and fast handling. The 1894 rifle features a top-ejecting bolt and an action with plenty of leverage. The rifle is a redesign with little in common with the earlier black powder rifles. The Winchester 1894 is easily the most proven of lever-action rifles as far as reliability.

The open sights do not offer the greatest accuracy potential, especially at ranges greater than 100 yards, which is true of any iron-sighted rifle. Lyman aperture sights, Skinner sights and Williams Firesights are all considerable upgrades.

The hammer-fired action is safe to handle, and the Winchester makes a fine hunting and emergency rifle. Late-model ‘angle-eject’ versions are more suited for scope mounting.

Today, the rifles are made in Japan of high-quality steel. For the traditional shooter, the Winchester 1894 has great appeal. The stocks are usually straight, however, special pistol-grip versions are sometimes seen. (More properly, semi-pistol grip.) Overall however, it is the least accurate of the modern .30-30 rifles.

Winchester 1894 lever-action rifle
This is a modern Winchester rifles. They are made of some of the finest steel ever in a firearm and offer excellent function.

Marlin 336

A traditional rifle that has butted heads with the Winchester in sales for more than 70 years is the Marlin 336. The action isn’t as fast handling as the Winchester, but the Marlin is a very rugged rifle. The Marlin is out of production at present, with some new guns in stock here and there, and Ruger announcing they will begin producing Marlin rifles in the near future.

Ruger bought the assets of Marlin and hopefully will keep the line going.

New Marlin rifles differ in some particulars from the original, including the use of a manual safety. The action of the Marlin is more enclosed than the Winchester. The Marlin is considered by far the easiest rifle to mount a scope on due to its flat-top receiver.

As far as smoothness, reliability and handling, the Marlin 336 is a superb outdoors rifle. The Marlin’s history is written in the hunting field. The Marlin is an American icon.

In terms of absolute accuracy, the Marlin edges out the Winchester. Many Marlin .30-30 Winchester rifles are nearly as accurate as bolt-action rifles. If woods game or wild boar are the chore, and the shots may be limited to 100 yards, this isn’t as important.

The new guns are well made of good material. While the standard wood stock 336 is a fine all-around rifle, Marlin also offers black finished rifles with synthetic stocks. They are fine emergency rifles that are easy to mount with optics.

Marlin 336 .30-30 lever-action rifles
This modern Marlin is a great outdoors/survival rifle.

Mossberg 464

The Mossberg 464 was introduced just after the Winchester 1804 went out of production. The Mossberg 464 rifle looks a great deal like the Winchester 1894 at first glance. If you look more closely, the rifle is considerably updated.

The sights are superior to the original. (I like adding Skinner Sights for long-range use and in some cases XS Aperture sights. The Mossberg sights probably do not need replacement.)

The Mossberg features a round bolt rather than a square bolt, generally considered superior in strength to the Winchester. The rifle ejects to the right and offers easy mounting of optical sights and even a red dot sight. The feed design involving the shell carrier, sometimes called the shell elevator, is subtly changed for greater reliability.

The Mossberg features two safeties, a tang safety and a passive safety that requires the lever be pressed shut for the rifle to fire. The Mossberg 464 is not quite as smooth as the Winchester, but offers a good value.

If you want a hunting rifle that will do anything the Winchester will do for less money, the Mossberg is a viable rifle. Consider it an updated 1894 design.

Mossberg 464 lever-action rifle
The Mossberg 464 is a traditional lever-action rifle with excellent features.

Henry Lever-Actions

Henry .30-30 lever-action rifles are available in several variations. The Henry is well made of good material, with excellent fitting of the stock and metal. The Henry is reliable and possibly the smoothest of the modern lever-action rifles. The Henry Big Boy is similar to the Marlin, but with a style all its own.

The Henry features a solid top and features easy scope mounting. I have enjoyed every Henry rifle I have fired and tested. The traditional Big Boy-type Henry features a nice blued finish. The wood stocks are well finished.

The sights are a bit improved over most lever-action sights, but still open iron sights. They are the usual for those with good visual acuity to perhaps 100 yards. The Henry, however, is quite easy to scope out. There is also a special rail available from Henry for mounting red dot sights.

The traditional Henry rifle offers the advantage of easy loading. Simply unscrew the inner magazine tube and move it toward the muzzle until the loading gate is uncovered. Then drop cartridges in until the rifle is fully loaded. However, you may also top the magazine a round at a time by pressing cartridges into the loading gate. The other .30-30 lever-action rifles do not have this versatility.

Henry .30-30 lever-action rifles
Henry offers the advantage of both side gate and magazine tube loading in their .30-30 lever-action rifles.

Modern Lever-Action Rifles

An interesting modern approach to the lever-action rifle is represented by Henry’s X series. The X series features a synthetic stock and matte-black finish. While the appearance is tactical, the rifle is certainly at home in the game field.

If you prefer a low-maintenance, low-glare finish, the X series is the rifle to choose. The rifle is a solid rifle, as smooth as any Henry. The sights are bright fiber-optic. Aging eyes benefit greatly from these sights.

The threaded barrel version of the Henry allows fitting a silencer for those that wish to run quite. Another advantage of the X series stock is that a combat light may be mounted on a modern rail. This is an impressive rifle.

Henry X Series .30-30 lever-action rifles
This is one of Henry’s X rifles. This is a true hard-use rifle as smooth and accurate as any other Henry.

Conclusion: Best Lever-Actions

Whether hunting deer-sized game, wild boar or predators, the .30-30 will do the job. It is a versatile emergency rifle. As for the exact choice, there are a number of variations of .30-30 lever-action rifles. Most are 20-inch barrels. There are 16-inch barrel versions, often called the Trapper. The .30-30 rifle is well balanced and offers easy portability.

The rifles are flat and easily stored. They are reliable in terrible climatic conditions. There are special personal defense editions. While famed for fast handling, long-range accuracy may be excellent.

The .30-30 rifle offers a useful amount of power, good accuracy and easy handling. The rifles have been in use for more than 125 years, but none have been better suited to all-around use than these modern rifles.

What are your favorite .30-30 lever-action rifles? Let us know in the comment section!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. Great article all are great lever action guns in 30/30 but the greatest of all was left out the Savage 1899/99.

  2. I have a 1981 Win Mod ’94… first year the employees took over, renamed the company USAR, and the last year of the true top eject. I did an airbrush camo job on the wood, cut just enough off the stock to make it flat and added a screw on type Limb Saver recoil pad… not like the 30-30 really needs it but whatever. Swapped the factory irons for Williams Firesights, and added sling mounts. Gotta love the Winchester ’94. Mine has taken plenty of deer over the years loaded with Remington Core-lokt 150gr and Winchester SuperX hollow points in 170gr. Can’t complain one bit about that rifle. @Doug Dunbar… won’t make a bit of difference. Don’t try to have the barrel tipped up completely vertical when you go to jack a round in the chamber and you’ll be fine. And, if yours is a 1988 made, I’m pretty sure the elevator wasn’t stamped, I believe they had been switched to the cast part for years by then. Either way, congrats on your purchase. Enjoy it.

  3. I hate the curved,whether smooth or serrated buttplates.I:1 replace with commercial flat buttplate,2.make a serrated flat buttplate,3.put a slip-on[e.g.Limbsaver] pad.I need 14.5″l.o.p. to protect my re-attached retina.
    I prefer the non multi[micro]grooved rifling for using cast projectiles
    Also a receiver sight is more accaurale than the stock factory sights.l

  4. The best lever action rifle is the one you have on hand.
    No offense to the Marlin 336 and not to sound like a fanboy but the Winchester Model 94… 1981 last year of the true top eject, before USRA screwed the pooch.
    The Marlin 336 is “fat” and wide. Winchester is light.

  5. I’m a very fit 80 and a 24 year Infantry Vet I have a few rifles in my safe but the two rifles i have handy are an M1 Carbine and a Winchester 92 issued to the B P in 1928. If necessary i will hand my wife the M 1 and I will take the Winchester. The BP put rimle stocks on it and a steel butt plate. This little baby is very accurate up to 300 meters. It is a keeper. I have given all of my sons and nephews.

  6. My dad bought the Glenfield Marlin for $69.00 in 1972 because it was lighter than the 336C. The feeding tube was shorter as it held 5 rounds vs 7. Dad loved this gun and used it for many years deer hunting. I lightened it up a little more with a synthetic stock to dad’s delight. He had a Bushnell scope on it and liked it to help his shots when the iron sights were hard for him to see clearly.

  7. Mr. Campbell:
    I read your article, entitled “Discover the Best .30-30 Lever-Action Rifles.”Your paragraph #2 of your article states:

    “The cartridge offers plenty of power for most uses, including deer-sized game inside of 200 yards. Shot placement is the real issue. The .30-30 is stronger than the .300 Blackout and 7.62x39mm.”

    This got me to thinking about several articles that I have read about the actual effectiveness of the .30-30 Winchester Center Fire ammo, an American invention, versus the 7.62×39 mm Soviet Center Fire ammo, a Russian invention. So, I did some additional research and found that you only stated one-half of the real truth about the superiority of the .30-30 ammo versus the 7.62x39mm ammo. In video-taped, controlled tests, the 7.62×39 mm ammo has really demonstrated 70 Feet Per Second more velocity (i.e., “power”) than the .30-30 ammo at 200 yards, where the “real effect” of velocity or “power” is most important in hunting and/or tactical situations. In support of my statement, please refer to the article, entitled “.30-30 vs. 7.62×39,” July, 2021, by David Lewis, in the blog, entitled THE LODGE, on the website AmmoToGo.com, a portion of which is presented herein:

    “The velocity comparison for these two cartridges brings some interesting results: one has a slight advantage for muzzle velocity, while the other has a slightly larger (but still slight) advantage for downrange velocity.

    The .30-30 Winchester barely holds an edge in muzzle velocity. Among the eight cartridges we selected, the average velocity for the four .30 products was about 30 fps faster than the average for the 7.62 products. However, the 7.62×39 products maintained this velocity downrange: by 200 yards, the 7.62×39 has faster velocities, but the average was only 70 fps faster than the .30-30 Winchester’s stats.

    The speed performances of these two cartridges are so similar that if we were to start over, randomly select different rounds, and run the same comparison, we may find entirely different results. That said, it appears that the .30-30 Winchester comes out of the barrel a bit faster, while the lighter bullets and higher ballistic coefficient of the 7.62 rounds help maintain a slim downrange-speed advantage. ”

    Additionally, if you experiment with the 7.62x39mm ammo in the AR-15 platform, the Sig Sauer 556XI Russian firearm, a delayed roller-type action of the 7.62x39mm PTR rifle and/or CZ bolt action rifle chambered in 7.62×39, you may find similar results that support my statement that the 7.62x39mm ammo is as accurate and in some cases more accurate than the .30-30 ammo in the traditional lever gun with the factory buckhorn sights at ranges of 50, 100 and 200 yards. Personally, I prefer the 7.62x.39mm ammo in an AR-15 firearm, a PTR Model 54, or Sig Sauer Model 556XI Russian, compared to any other caliber for home defense. I might add that I still cherish my Winchester and Marlin Lever guns for target shooting and hunting. Thank you for your consideration.

    Your Partner In Firearms Safety©,
    JSA FIREARMS
    John Stephen Alexandrowicz, M.S.
    Federal Firearms Licensee: 27+ Years
    Life Member, National Rifle Association of America
    33020 Currant Court, Trinidad, CO 81082
    Cell 909.880.9002 Email: AlexArcheo@aol.com

  8. I own a Glenfield model 30 , 30.30 cal. This gun dates back to the 1970’s , yes its showing many years of hunting woods to dairy field. Traveled to Fl.,New Hampshire,Georgia, New York presently. I have never had any issues in the field or range . Scope mounted and using Hornady levolution 140 and 160 gn. rounds has dropped everything shot at. Gun is easy to pack/carry afield,transports well in its travel case . I hope to pass it on when my grandson is able to hunt . LUV THIS GUN !!

  9. Two quick points. The 94 wasn’t the first to use a steel receiver. Second, to might want to check out some British firearms. They used a rimmed cartridge in several different machine guns. I believe the WWI French Chau Chau (wrong spelling) was also used a rimmed cartridge.

  10. I enjoyed the discussion here and have always loved the Marlin 30-30. I have a model 336 manufactured in 1980 with the gold trigger. I bought it at a yard sale about 10 years ago for $200. It had belonged to the homeowners father in-law who had passed away and the old man had mounted a Bushnell sportview scope on it. I shot many deer with it at many different ranges, none over 100 yards. For this season I removed the Bushnell scope and mounted a Nikkon Pro-Staff and after sighting in at 100 yards I am confident I made the right choice even though I have nothing bad to say about the Bushnell scope, it always performed with an excellent level of accuracy for me. I have to say the workmanship of the Marlin is superb and I have never had a malfunction with any of the workings, never jammed, and has always delivered the bacon or should I say venison.

  11. Great rifle. I purchased a 1894 winchester back in 1964 at a gun show for @65. 32 spl. Saddle carbine with curved butt plate and pop up rear adjustible site. Manufatured in 1926. Has a much smoother action then moder versions. It is my baby. I retired it about 30 yrs ago because I was more concerned about the rifle then was my own hide. Love the rifle.

  12. I own a .357 mag and .44 mag in modern Henry rifles. Very nice rifles, smooth and accurate. Fun to shoot.
    I also have two Winchester rifles. One is an 1894 in the .30/30 and the other is an 1895 in 30/40 Krag. Both made in 1896.
    All great quality rifles. They make it hard to choose which one to carry.

  13. In 1963, through my Navy Squadron Gun Club, I bought a Model 94 .30-30 for $28.28. It’s taken a few deer and hogs.

  14. At this point in our history a 30-30 makes lots of sense,Especially in a time of civil unrest! And the stories of cutting grass in summer and using my money to buy first rifle makes me 😊 smile. However a gun in a commons military caliber probably is best for long tern TEOTWAWKI , and maybe for short term survival also . Yes I love my 30-30, but keep a military caliber for the long haul, in both a semi-auto, and a bolt rifle in the same caliber.And yes ammunition is a little high, but I don’t think it is ever going back to pre-pandemic prices.Long term survival is in my opinion, is served best with a bolt action and accompanied by aClassic Lee Loader in your primary long term rifle, with powder, primers and bullets and extra brass . For me the motto of One is None and Two is One serves well. I learned that the hard way,when my little brothers firing pin broke on the first day of a out of state hunt.
    We had no spare rifle with us , I mark that off to our youth I being 24 and brother 18.
    So good luck and happy trails .

  15. I have a different lever action 30/30. Mine is a Savage 1899 takedown with a 20” barrel. I added a Lyman aperture sight. I also have a Marlin 1894 in 44 magnum and a model 39. My collection includes a Browning BLR in 308 Winchester from the 70’s plus a BL22. Add to that another Savage 1899 in 300 Savage. I have had Marlin 336’s in 30/30 and 35 Remington but I am partial to Savage 30/30.

  16. I have many rifles, but I really enjoy shooting the 30-30 lever action marlin I have. I would never want to mount a scope on it because to me it would take away from what I like most about my marlin 30-30 lever action, that is being able to get aim on your target in a hurry. If I want to shoot long range groups, I have a different rifles for that. The lever action design is so comfortable to hold and aim standing up or on the move.

  17. I own a Marlin 336W…manufactured in Feb 1976 (months before I was born). I own many rifles but when deer season rolls around, I always choose my Marlin with a Bushnell Banner 1×4 scope. I take a deer every year. Rock-solid reliability in a proven caliber that never, ever, fails. Looks great, works great…and I get compliments at the range every time I take her out…even from the folks with $2k custom built ARs. What more could you want?

  18. I own a Marlin 336w, manufactured in Feb 1976 (months before I was born). I own many, many rifles but when deer season rolls around, my choice is my Marlin and Banner Bushnell 1×4 fixed scope. I take a deer every season and have never had an issue with the rifle (plus it looks great). Rock-solid reliability in a great caliber…what more do you want?

  19. Bought a Marlin 30-30 for level 2 home defense, preferring side eject over top eject. Since I don’t hunt, or rob 7-11’s, all my firearms are strictly for defense. But, really – I’m a fan of old westerns, and I just wanted a lever-actions 30-30! So sue me.

  20. When I was 15, I was invited to go deer hunting in West Virginia. I chased a lawn mower all summer to earn enough money to buy my first rifle. It was a Winchester 94 in .30-30. Of course, my mom had to fill out the paperwork. The hunting trip fell through, but I still have that rifle because it was the first gun I ever bought

  21. I mowed yards to save up enough Monet to buy a Marlin 335C at K-Mart for $89.99 on their grand opening sale as the regular price was $99.99 in 1972. It has never once malfunctioned and has the famous “micro groove” barrel accuracy. I started with a Tacso scope that was upgraded to a higher end 1.5 x 6 power. It is lightweight, holds 7 rounds and with a 150 grain PSP more than enough for deer. By the way I never had a shot longer than 80 yards on a deer because if you were hunting in a place where you could have a 100-200 yard shot, then you were “hunting in the wrong place” as they say in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

  22. Hey i have a Winchester 94 classic its has a 26″ octagon barral . Its a rifle i always wanted .so i bought this rifle at a sale WHILE it had some water damage to the stock it was in good condition
    Functional wise. If i remember right it was made in 1988 . So i found out that on this modei Winchester they went with a stamped carrier’s INSTEAD of a casting and machined carrier’s. Also
    This 94 has a saddle ring ? Which i think only was used on carbines? So i take it to the range to see
    How well it works .unfortunately the only resource i had on operating it was from 50s westerns on
    Tv , yea i KNOW thats HOLLYWOOD. So i raise the tip of the barrel up go to lever the round and the
    Bullet almost falls out . Now if i held it level and racked it .it loaded the round and it fired. I put ABOUT 5 rounds THROUGH it .so my question is . did the bullet almost fall out when i raise the tip of the rifle just something you really can’t do with this rifle? Or is it because of the stamped carrier ?
    If so can i replace the stamped carrier WITH a casted older carrier? Or would it make any difference at all? I would appreciate any advice you could give me on this Matter.
    Thank you
    Doug Dunbar

  23. I’m willing to bet that there has been more white tail’s taken with a 30/30 than any other caliber. I know my Henry is not a high powered long range firearm but it was gift from good friends and has meaning for me. One day when I can buy ammo without being taken to the cleaners, I’ll take it out and sight it in. Great forum, great comments.

  24. My father gave me a 1930’s, .30-30 Winchester model 94 as a teen in 1975. It’s still my go-to rifle in almost all situations. Lightweight, durable, travels easily, great brush gun, and it packs a punch. Also, the relatively light recoil is nice compared to other rifles used for hunting and target shooting, which the author didn’t mention. Don’t have to worry about flinching before the trigger break.
    I’ll likely pass it on to my grandsons, and perhaps it will still be firing in another 90 years.

  25. I really liked this article. I own a Henry, it was given to me new out of the box last November as a retirement gift from friends and is a beautiful firearm and well made. Ironically I haven’t fired one round through it yet. 30/30 rounds are almost nonexistent and when I do find a few boxes the price is outrageous. I refuse to pay $4-$5 for each round, I won’t do it.

  26. Consider using Hornady’s Leverevolution spitzer cartridges for increased range,whill still being safe in a tubular magazine. A receiver sight e.g.Williams WGRS will be better than factory iron sights.

  27. 30/30 is still a good round for first time/new shooters of a center fire cartridge. First rifle was a 30/30 MARLIN, and now have a couple of HENRY rifles. Under ~100 yards, the 30/30 is a better defense round than the 5.56. As to hunting, since 1895, the 30/30 has been a proven performer. What is not to like? Only issue is for a hunting rifle, modern optics offer an advantage for low light/heavy brush conditions.

    I now have .44 and .357 HENRYs, but the MARLIN/HENRY style lever rifle is easier to clean, and for self defense, is not an evil AR-15. Classic example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sooo – Lever rifles were carried on horse back, and were the original “truck gun”. Still works today.

  28. 30/30 is an underrated round, and under 100 yards is a better self defense round than the 5.56. Owned a MARLIN as my first center fire rifle, and now have HENRY rifles. 30/30 lever rifle would be a great first/starter center fire rifle for the average shooter, with the edge going to the MARLIN/HENRY design because of ease of cleaning. Bonus of a lever 30/30 is that it is not an evil AR-15 style rifle. Carry a HENRY lever rifle, and people think “cowboy/cowgirl” type, not RAMBO with an evil AR-15.

    As to hunting, since 1895, the 30/30 has been a proven performer, and about the only other underrated round that is its’ equal would be the .35 REMINGTON, which is also a traditional lever rifle round.

  29. ALL of the above…..Lots of good modern lever guns out there, and I have them all, old and new! A gun is what you make of it…like a hat or sneakers or a knife it is all in the mind of the beholder! At 80 yo I grew up with lever guns mostly 30-30 or 32 Spl and never have had one fail me yet!

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