HOW ABOUT A .30-30? By Craig Boddington

It’s often said that the .30-30 Winchester has “taken more deer than any other cartridge.” Axioms like this are hard to prove and I can’t prove this one. Over the years, I’ve taken deer with numerous different cartridges…but only a handful with a .30-30.

Even so, I think it’s probably true. Introduced in 1895, the .30-30’s original 160-grain load barely hit 2000 feet per second, slow by today’s standards…but faster than any black powder cartridge. Compared to the large-cased cartridges of the day, the .30-30 was a tiny little thing. Early users quickly learned that its new smokeless propellant harnessed a lot of power and flattened trajectory. The .30-30’s also-new jacketed bullet penetrated well and offered a new dimension to bullet performance: Expansion.

In the euphoria over this newfound velocity the .30-30 was often used for large game, elk, moose, and even big bear. Undoubtedly, it still is, and with perfect shot placement (and, in its traditional lever-action platform, with fast repeat shots) it will get the job done. However, in 1895 and today, deer are America’s most widespread and popular big game. The .30-30 was quickly found extremely effective on deer-sized game…and remains so today. No one can estimate how many millions of deer have fallen to .30-30s. Winchester has made 7.5 million Model 94s, most of them in .30-30, and millions still in use. Add in hundreds of thousands of lever-action .30-30s from Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage; a few slide-actions, and a major sprinkling of single-shots. The .30-30’s rimmed case is probably best-suited to traditional tubular-magazine lever actions, but it was chambered to a surprising number of early bolt-actions!

Bruce Duncan with a big Idaho tom mountain lion and his battered Model 94 .30-30 carbine, short, light, easy to carry, for generations the odds-on choice for houndsmen.

Despite the many cartridges that are faster, shoot flatter, and harness more power, the .30-30 remains among our best-selling cartridges. Perhaps more surprising, it remains among the top cartridges in reloading die sales. Admittedly, this is partly because there are so many .30-30 rifles out there. However, I think it’s also partly because the .30-30 remains a useful hunting cartridge, with relatively light recoil and deer-killing efficiency.

Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo has greatly increased the versatility of the .30-30. Left, 140-grain MonoFlex and 160-grain FTX; far right, a standard 150-grain round-nose load. Traditional blunt-nosed bullets are very effective at short range, but Hornady’s spitzer bullets with flexible polymer tips extend effective range to at least 200 yards.

Nobody ever said the .30-30 was a long-range cartridge…but not everyone needs to shoot at longer ranges. On our Kansas farm most of our whitetails are taken at less than 100 yards…and only a couple of stands offer even the potential for a shot beyond 200 yards. If you’re sitting over Southern soybean fields or endless expanses of Canadian wheat farms, then that’s a different story. But, across the continent the .30-30 shoots flat enough for most whitetail hunting…and hits plenty hard.

Although I’ve taken few deer with a .30-30, I’ve used it a lot for wild hogs. In Texas and the south, most hogs are taken from stands; as with whitetails, the most likely shooting distances are known. Alternatively, a fair amount of hog hunting is done with hounds. In all dog hunting shooting distances are very close. Whether for hogs, black bears, or mountain lions, almost every experienced houndsman I’ve ever known has a short, fast-handling, and much-battered .30-30 carbine. Most of my hog hunting has been along California’s Central Coast. Dogs are legal, baiting is not, but most of my California pig hunting is glassing and stalking.

John Stucker, Boddington, and Doug Mangham with some hogs taken on Doug’s and John’s deer lease in the Texas Hill Country. Our rifles ran the gamut: Stucker used his Sabatti .450/.400 double; Boddington used a .257 Roberts…and Doug used a Marlin 336 in .30-30 with a Skinner aperture rear sight!

In spot-and-stalk hunting you have no idea what kind of shot you might get! Pigs have keen noses and excellent hearing, but either they can’t see very well or use their eyes only as a tertiary defense. Get the wind right and move quietly, and in our mixed cover an approach can usually be made. As with deer, I’ve taken hogs with a lot of different cartridges. In the 25 years I’ve lived on the Central Coast our year-around hog hunting has served as my cartridge-bullet-rifle test lab. Longer shots are surely possible, but over the years I’ve taken just a couple of hogs beyond sensible .30-30 range—and I’ve never had any reason to suspect the .30-30 was anything less than plenty of gun.

Mind you, wild hogs can be larger than any deer, and although the whitetail is very tough, I think a big boar is tougher. But not tough enough to withstand a well-placed bullet from a .30-30. Despite mild paper ballistics, the .30-30 has a lot going for it. In 1895 Winchester chose the .308-inch bullet diameter of our then-new military cartridge, the .30-40 Krag, adopted in 1892 A few years later we moved to a larger-cased rimless cartridge that we came to know as the .30-06. The .30-06 is faster and more powerful than the .30-30, but here’s the point: Since the 1890’s we have known that a .30-caliber is a big bullet on deer-sized game. Within a cartridge’s effective range, a .30-caliber hits harder than a bullet of smaller diameter. With a century and a quarter of experience, we also know that, at .30-30 velocities, .30-30 bullets perform well, expanding reliably and providing deep penetration.

Almost all current .30-30 rifles accept either scopes or red-dot sights, significantly extending range…especially in low-light conditions. This is a Mossberg M464 .30-30 mounted with an Aimpoint red-dot sight.

A century or so back the .30-30’s original 160-grain load was replaced by 150 and 170-grain loads, which remain standard .30-30 fodder. As smokeless propellants improved velocities were also increased; the 150-grain load is standard today at 2390 fps; the heavy 170-grain load at about 2225 fps. The .30-30 rifle I have the most experience with is a short-barreled Model 94 Trapper. It grouped especially well with Winchester’s old 170-grain Silvertip load, so that’s what I’ve usually used. Historically, the tubular magazine lever guns are limited to flat- or round-nosed bullets, with aerodynamics sort of like thrown rocks. In my 16-inch barrel my actual velocities are lower than advertised, but who cares. That slow 170-grain bullet consistently delivered through-and-through penetration on both deer and wild hogs, and I don’t think I’ve taken a shot beyond 100 yards with that rifle.

Today we have newer, game-changing options. Introduced in 2005, Hornady’s LEVERevolution line incorporates sharp-pointed aerodynamic bullets with flexible polymer tips that are safe to use in tubular magazines. New propellants allowed slightly increased velocity. LEVERevolution now offers two .30-30 loads with spitzer bullets: 140-grain homogenous-alloy MonoFlex bullet at a zippy (for the .30-30.) 2465 fps; and a 160-grain FTX (Flexible Tip eXpanding) at 2400 fps. Sight either load about three inches high at 100 yards and you’re dead-on at 200 yards. So stoked, the .30-30 is thus perfectly viable beyond 200 yards on deer-sized game.

Kansas neighbor Chuck Herbel on the bench with his favorite “truck rifle,” a Winchester 94 .30-30. He recalls that he bought it when he was a young beat patrolman in Wichita…at a retail price of 60 bucks!

Depending on where and how we hunt, many of us don’t need to shoot even that far. So, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Hornady’s new bullets expand well and penetrate reliably. However, blunt-nosed bullets, especially flat-points, tend to deliver a heavy initial blow, and typically, blunt-nosed bullets initiate expansion more rapidly than sharp-pointed bullets. Those of us who crave ranging abilities have damned blunt-nosed bullets since the 1900’s. However, I submit that the .30-30’s tremendous reputation as a deer cartridge is based, at least somewhat, on those hard-hitting traditional blunt-nosed slugs.

Historically, most of my hunting with a .30-30 has been with iron sights. This sharply limits my range anyway, so I’ve mostly used traditional flat-points and round-noses, and I’ve been perfectly happy with the results. Today, with iron sights getting a bit fuzzy, I’ve gone to either scopes or red-dot sights. With extended capability, I’m using Hornady’s spitzer bullets, also perfectly happy with these results…but if you know your shots will be close, don’t overlook the traditional blunt-nosed slugs. Everybody, including Hornady, still offers them.

Boddington admits that he can no longer resolve open sights as well as he once could…but his M94 Trapper still passes the “paper plate test” easily, adequate accuracy for short-range work on deer and wild hogs.

With so many brave new cartridges we tend to think of the .30-30 as mild and unassuming, but let’s not sell it short. The formula that derives kinetic energy in foot-pounds uses the square of velocity, while bullet weight is taken “as is” and bullet diameter (frontal area) is not considered at all. Slower cartridges cannot win the foot-pounds race, but most experienced hunters agree that paper ballistics don’t tell the whole story. Hornady’s FTX 160-grain load (not a light bullet!) at 2400 fps develops 2046 foot-pounds of energy, over a ton. This is theoretically adequate for elk, more than plenty for deer, and enough for most anything between deer and elk. The amazingly popular 6.5mm Creedmoor, with a 140-grain bullet at 2700 fps, develops about 2200 foot-pounds. With foot-pounds, velocity always wins, so this is more kinetic energy than any .30-30 load can deliver…but not by all that much! No scientific formula exists to properly factor in bullet weight, frontal area, and bullet performance.

My experience suggests that a .30-caliber (.308-inch) bullet hits harder than a 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet. Certainly it delivers more energy on impact and makes a bigger hole! If you need to shoot at longer ranges Lord knows we have plenty of choices…but for short to very medium ranges don’t overlook the .30-30…it’s still the deer-slaying machine it has always been!

Judging Speed Goats

Judging Speed Goats: Nick Oceanak

You’ve drawn a license for the fastest land animal in North America, the Pronghorn! Well that’s great but how do you know what to look for in a mature buck? The pronghorn is one of the most difficult animals to judge in all North America. I’m speaking in terms of antler size of course! Even after being a professional big game hunting guide in Wyoming for seventeen years I still misjudge pronghorn on the hoof. Now pronghorn are not antelope but are often referred to as such because they closely resemble the true antelope in Africa. So, I will use both terms as I refer to them in this article. We regularly call them “speed goats” as well (because of their similar features to goats and notorious speed).

A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow.
A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So why are pronghorn so hard to judge? First, their antlers aren’t very large to begin with. Therefore, a difference of twelve inches and fourteen inches is hardly anything at 800 yards but a world of difference up close. Due to the far distances from which you will be looking at antelope, you’ll need to know what to look for. I’m a firm believer that score means very little and that the trophy is in the eye of the beholder. However, to better help you understand what to look for in the antlers of a mature pronghorn I’ll be talking about SCI scoring a little bit. It’s also a good way to convey relative size to other people. You get one length measurement on each side starting from the base and ending at the tip. Then you divide that number by four to find where you will take your four mass measurements. Finally, you get one prong measurement on each side. (ex. figure below)

How to measure a pronghorn horn
Pronghorn horn scale

Mass is the most important factor when it comes to score. Now, you’ll see in the figure that two mass measurements fall below the prong and two above. If the third mass measurement spot falls below the prong you are getting a much bigger score than if it is above, so keep that in mind. When judging a buck, you’ll be critiquing three main things: mass, length and prong size.

OK, so how does one take this basic knowledge to the field and successfully judge a goat at 1,000 yards!? I’ll give you a couple quick, handy tricks to do so.

  1. Look at where the height in which the prong comes off the main antler. If it’s below the ear, then it is most likely a younger buck. If it’s equal the height of the ear or higher then you’re looking at a mature buck.
  2. Study each buck and make sure you get a good look from every angle possible. This will help you judge the three main aspects discussed earlier. The most important angle is the side or profile. This way you can determine relative mass, length, overall antler curl and prong size. Every buck is unique so the more angles the better. It’s easy to look at a buck from straight on and say, “oh that’s a big one!” But don’t fall for it! He may not have much mass, or he may not curl making him look taller that he is, or he may not have much for prongs.
  3. Think about all other factors at play. Is the buck alone during the rut? If so, did he get run off by a bigger buck? Are you looking at a buck among a big group of bucks during the rut? If so, he may be a younger buck hanging with other young bucks because they can’t get close to the does. Has it been a good year in terms of habitat? Is it an area known for producing big bucks?
The prongs come off the antler below the ear, so we are looking at a young buck. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

Body size can help in some cases when looking at comparable bucks at great distances. Look for a stout block body with a thick neck and a big belly. Sometimes older bucks are lighter in color, but I’ve found that color varies greatly and doesn’t always indicate a bucks age.

A very mature pronghorn buck. Notice how high above the ear the prong comes off. Block body, large neck and lighter colored cape indicate an older animal. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So, let’s recap on the three main aspects of the antlers: mass, length and prong size.

Mass is the most important attribute in terms of overall antler size. Look at the eye in respect to the size of the antler from the side. If the antler is as wide as the eye or wider you know you’re looking at some decent mass. Big bucks will have a circumference at the base of 6 inches and more.

This beautiful antelope buck is extremely tall. If you were to put the ear up against the antler that would be approximately 6 inches up. You can see this buck has a lot of length past that. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

2. Length is perhaps the first thing we notice and the most impressive part in the overall “look” of a buck. Some bucks have huge curls that make them look cool (I love the heart-shaped ones). Some bucks don’t curl much which makes them look taller and that can be neat as well. Mature bucks range from 12 inches to 16 inches and up. When looking at a profile view try to estimate how many inches the tip of the antler is above the ear.

This buck was “massive” with over 7-inch bases and weight that carried all the way up. 84 5/8 SCI

3. Prongs are the awesome features that make the pronghorn so unique! They can stick out, go up, go down, curl in, curl out, etc. They usually aren’t more than 5 inches, but some bucks get huge prongs that go 7 inches and over. The prong adds another big contribution to the “overall” look of a buck.

Pronghorn are unique in so many ways and they all differ from one another. The next time you’re out chasing “speed goats” remember the guidelines for field judging them but also remember the true trophy is in the eye of the beholder!

A very cool non-typical buck taken by a 14-year-old Timberline client. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

Beating Buck Fever

What we call “buck fever” is a strange malady that can do the most amazing things to people. In its minor stages, it causes shortness of breath and acceleration of pulse. This can quickly progress to ague-like shakes that would do a malaria sufferer proud. In its most advanced state almost anything is possible, but classic cases range from being physically unable to manipulate a trigger to ejecting an entire magazine of live cartridges onto the ground without ever firing—and being totally unaware of doing so.

Whitetail Deer Hunt
The closer I got to this buck the bigger he looked! That’s perfect; he came out about 200 yards down a cutline in Georgia pines and there wasn’t much time. I immediately saw he was a “shooter,” so I ignored the antlers and concentrated on the shot. I knew he was good—but he was a lot bigger than I realized!

 

Obviously. buck fever is not conducive to hunting success, especially in its more virulent forms. That said, and this is important: Buck fever can be a good thing! It manifests itself when you are in the presence of a magnificent game animal; it’s simply an extension of excitement, and you might even say that its presence denotes respect for that animal. As hunters, we’re supposed to be excited in the presence of game. If we are not, and are able to take a fine animal’s life with total dispassion, then I suggest it’s time to hang up the guns and bows and take up golf or tennis.

So the key isn’t that you avoid getting excited. Getting excited isn’t just okay; it’s a good thing. What’s important, and truly critical to success, is that you find ways to manage that excitement and hold it at bay long enough to do what you need to do. Naturally, this gets better and easier with experience, but field experience in the actual taking of game is hard-won and can take many years. Also, some of us are more excitable than others. I can’t compare my “excitability quotient” with anyone else’s, but after decades of doing this stuff I’m generally able to control the most serious manifestations of buck fever until the shooting is done—and then the shakes begin.

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