When conducting research for this story, I began to realize that the humble and little appreciated Winchester 1894 rifle has seen far more military service that I had thought.
I have always thought of the Winchester 1894 as the original scout rifle compared to Colonel Jeff Cooper’s appraisal of the .30-30 Winchester Center Fire rifle as a ‘poor man’s scout rifle’.
Indeed it was the first to meet the criteria for a powerful, accurate, and reliable defensive rifle and go anywhere, do anything long gun.
Perhaps the scout rifle goal of taking 200-pound game at 200 yards is a stretch for the .30-30 if not the .308, but at the time of its introduction, the Winchester 1894 was a sensation.
The .30-30 shoots much flatter than the .44-40 WCF or the .45-70 Springfield, the two big hunter’s cartridges of the day before the .30-30.
As soon as it became available, the Winchester was adopted by police forces including the Texas Rangers. The 30-30 shot flat and had great penetration.
A bad guy could no longer hide behind a horse or cactus and expect to be safe from rifle fire.
The Model 1894 developed an excellent reputation in the hands of lawmen and was issued to troops as well, although in a much smaller number than the Springfield 1903.
During the First World War, the rifle was issued to soldiers in American logging country to guard the fields. They are now valuable collector’s items known as spruce guns.
Good reliable repeating rifles were worth their weight in gold. Compared to some of the quirky, underpowered French rifles, the .30-30 would have been a great trench fighter, but I can find no documentation of its use.
Historical Use of the Winchester 1894
The Texas Rangers and the US Border Patrol used many firearms including automatic shotguns and the .351 Winchester self-loading rifle.
The .30-30 Winchester gave a cool shot to the upper hand in reliability, power and accuracy.
One old-timer told me that operating the lever of the Winchester got more attention than dropping a kitchen tray in a crowded lunchroom.
Some folks’ opinions of what makes a fighting rifle are marinated in ignorance, the Winchester, however, meets two important criteria. It hits hard and it is reliable.
The rifle is fast into action. The lever is pressed forward, not downward, for speed and leverage. The rifle is loaded by a port in the side of the receiver.
The rifle’s ammunition supply may be replenished by quickly adding ammunition as the rifle is fired.
If you believe a smaller number of accurate shots are more important than a flurry of fire, then the Winchester 1894 may be the rifle for you.
The rifle is not without its detractors and some of them are those that used the rifle in battle.
One Mexican commander appreciated the use of the American ‘cowboy guns’ during the Mexican Revolution but felt that he was at a disadvantage when the other side was armed with the 7mm Mauser.
Reliability and fast handling are no trivial manner but the rifle falls short past the 200-yard mark, no surprise there. Between the wars, the rifle served primarily in law enforcement.
As late as the 1980s, the rifle was issued to troopers and highway patrol in several state agencies. The LAPD had the Winchester up to the Watts Riots and possibly later.
Several state patrols kept the Winchester on hand, often in cruiser trunks, well into the 1980s. On a personal level, I experimented with several rifles over twenty years of driving a police cruiser and the .30-30 rifle was one of them.
When brainstorming the endless possibilities requiring a rifle, the Winchester .30-30 was up to handling the majority of them, and all the realistic ones.
When the older cops that trained me said “30-30”, they put a kind of oral parentheses on it— with respect.
The .30-30 is a better roadblock gun than a shotgun and offers greater penetration than the .223 against sheet metal. It is also a good choice for putting down injured animals.
The Canada Rangers still use their Lee Enfield .303 rifles as they transition to a modern Sako ten-shot, .308 rifle. But during World War Two, the Canadian Pacific Coast Militia Rangers were issued the Winchester .30-30 rifle.
It was rugged and familiar to the men. Someone once commented that the Japanese attacks on the West Coast forest only had propagandistic value.
The woodlands were vital to wartime boat and plane production and we were lucky the effect was small. The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers served a vital role.
The rifle hung on for many years and served its role well, but just how good is the .30-30 Winchester rifle cartridge?
The Winchester cartridge is usually loaded with a 150-grain bullet at 2400 fps, which translates to a true 2250 fps in a twenty-inch barrel and almost 2400 fps in the less common 24 inch.
In order to maintain the same point of impact for the point of aim, the hard-hitting 170-grain bullet is also loaded to 2400 fps— which comes out to a true 2150 to 2225 fps in most rifles.
The .308 has a 400 to 500 fps advantage. The 7.62x39mm has a similar velocity but with a 123-grain bullet (the gap narrows if both have 16-inch barrels).
The real advantage with the Winchester 1894 lies in the rifle. The lever-action rifle is flat, handles quickly and almost never ties up. This six-pound rifle is just an inch over a yard long.
When the rifle was introduced, it was very important that the rifle be handy in a saddle scabbard. This handiness transferred well to vehicles, trains and wagons.
The .30-30 rifle isn’t the most powerful or the most accurate, but what it does, it does really well.
.30-30 Ammunition for the Winchester 1894
The Remington Cor-Lokt bullet is a famous game taker with excellent expansion properties and among the best .30-30 loads for deer-sized game and wild boar.
It isn’t difficult to work up accurate combinations and best factory ballistics by a modest amount. The .30-30 is an important part of American history and the Winchester rifle is among our most useful rifles.
An option that is well worth your time is the Buffalo Bore 150-grain load using the Barnes TSX all copper bullet. This load moves the .30-30 up a grade in power and makes for better performance against larger animals.
The problem with the .30-30 really isn’t killing power at all, but shot placement. The limiting factor of iron sights is addressed by adding peep sights or in some cases an optical sight.
The .30-30 rifle is still a great all-around rifle and one that you should be proud to hang on your shoulder.
Have you ever fired a Winchester 1894 rifle? What is your favorite lever-action rifle? Let us know in the comments below!