Is the 30/30 Still Relevant?
Hunting season is just around the corner; you can feel it! The air is crisp and cool, the leaves have begun to turn all manner of colors, and that natural drive to be in the woods has begun. On my way to work this morning I couldn’t help but feel that annual evolution occurring inside of me. With that thought, I decided to turn around, went back to the house and grabbed the newest member of my arsenal – a mint, ‘80’s vintage Marlin 336cs in 30/30 I had yet to fire. I decided it was the time to break it in. At lunch I left the office and headed for the local range to see how my new creation would shoot.
As I was driving my mind was wandering to all things hunting related. I couldn’t help but imagine that I probably wouldn’t take this newest of carbines into the woods on a suitable snowy tracking day this year; my attachment to my big bores, the 35 Whelen and 45/70 Government, are too great. In my mind the bigger slugs are better suited rounds for that kind of tight timbered mountainous duty. But then I dug deeper in my memories and looked at just how many deer I’ve shot with my 30/30’s through the decades. There were many. To be honest, next to my 870 slug gun, 30/30’s accounted for the majority of bucks I’ve shot in my lifetime. When comparing rounds it can be easy to dismiss the 30/30 as marginal, boring or even irrelevant in today’s many choices of faster and more powerful cartridges, but is it really?
The Marlin 336 is a slightly heavier design than its main competition, the Winchester 94. But in this aspect, the Marlin’s solid lock-up, weight, and similarly perfected balancing characteristics provide a shooting experience that is best described with one word - smooth. Not that a Winchester isn’t smooth as well, it is. But the Marlins just have a different feel to the action that I prefer. It’s this poise between a solid gun and the 30/30’s inherent light recoil that makes it such a pleasure to shoot – and more importantly to shoot accurately.
This particular 336 is wearing a 1.25x4 Trijicon Accupoint scope. At 14 oz’s, it too is not particularly light for a small variable style scope. I installed the scope in the ever-solid steel one-piece Leupold scope mount – also a heavier option than many of the less robust designs that are out there. With the nearly indestructible military grade Trijicon and its battery-less amber triangle reticle, I’ve mixed its new technology with a gun designed more than a century ago, in a caliber that was the first smokeless powder cartridge the world had seen – the package is the ultimate in old meets new. But underlying the entire rifle/scope combo was one goal – to build an ultra reliable and easy to shoot rifle. By mixing the classic, but time tested Marlin with the robust Trijicon in solid steel mounts, the gun feels incredibly, and I mean incredibly, easy to shoulder and hold on target. This is where the overall 8.2lb weight allows one to hold steady and shoot very accurately in the standing position, while also providing a feeling of assurance that no matter the conditions, the platform will go bang when needed. When I pulled up this rifle, I just smiled knowing I was going to be hitting the bulls eye more times than not.
Because lever actions cradle in your hand and do not require you to grip tight to hold onto the gun as you walk through the woods, the extra weight of the scope and mounts are basically inconsequential to the hunter’s mobile experience. When the moment of eminent triumph comes, you will be glad you have a firm little rifle in your hands, especially if you need to be stable enough to thread the needle in some tough timber. Having a little weight helps curb the shakes that happen when looking at a big buck!
In keeping with the old meets new, I chose the quintessential 30/30 load - the soft kicking Remington Core Lokt Soft Point in 170 grains. I’ve had great luck with these rounds in the whitetail woods through the decades. This little number tosses the whitetail extinguishing bullet out of the 20 inch barrel at 2050 feet-per-second. Sighted in at 1 inch high at 100 yards (with a scope mounted 1.6 inches above the bore) you have a maximum point blank range of 170 yards (meaning it will not rise of fall more than 3” from point of aim in that distance – just aim and shoot). This is plenty of range in that, at 170 yards you are beginning to drift into the questionable range of energy with only 935 ft lbs anyway. Also the bullet is now traveling at a much slower 1,574 feet-per-second at that distance.
Now that I’ve begun to bore you with the typical technical aspects of the gun, I want to get back to explaining why I emotionally love this set up so much – ease of use. When a gun carries well, feels solid, is reliable, does not recoil hard, is accurate, and is a proven killer on the game in which you desire to hunt with it (in this case deer and black bear), you simply have confidence in it. And in the tracking woods, confidence is everything!
So Is the 30/30 Relevant?
Yes it is. Sure there are rounds out there that close the margin of error gap that can exist in a marginal shot, but that is just the point. With this specific rifle/cartridge set up, poor shots will be less often than would be had with rounds that rattle your teeth with recoil, or that are distracting to carry in the mountains, or that aren’t as inherently reliable. They may be faster, have more range and energy, and come in a greater variety of rifle styles and makes, but when it comes to confidence, I’m not sure those rounds give a greater sense of that quality than a 30/30 being shot out of a classic lever gun.