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Mike Romine of Mabelvale took this Grant County buck with a Marlin 336 chambered in .30-30 Win., quite likely the most successful deer hunting cartridge in existence.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
In North America, .30-caliber is the definitive big game rifle.
It always has been, and it probably always will be for whitetailed deer, mule deer, elk, sheep and moose. Other calibers are faster and some are flatter. Some do this and some do that, but the .30-cal. does everything.
No other cartridge is more synonymous with southern deer hunting than the venerable old .30-30 Winchester. Originally called the .30-30 Winchester Center Fire, it entered the American hunting vernacular in 1895 when Winchester chambered it for its 1894 lever-action rifle. It was a tailored match that endured until Winchester exited the lever-action market in 2006.
Marlin introduced its Model 336 lever-action in 1948, with .30-30 being its most popular chambering. Remington continued making the 336 for about 20 years, and Ruger continues making it now. Henry Repeating Rifles chambers several models of lever guns in .30-30, as do several smaller makers.
Hunters bought many millions of them, so there is no shortage of .30-30s in any condition you want.
Lever guns are short, light and extremely handy, and with an effective range of about 200 yards, they are ideal for woodland deer hunting.
Designed for and evolved around flat-nose bullets, the .30-30 is not fast, and it drops like a brick as soon as it leaves the muzzle. However, a lever gun is quick to the shoulder, aligns the eyes to the target like a custom shotgun, and delivers adequate terminal power to drop deer decisively at all woodland ranges.
Most 94 Winchesters eject spent cases from the top of the receiver, so they are not compatible with scopes. The Marlin 336 and Henry Boy eject from the side of the receiver, making them suitable for scopes. Recoil is mild, and while a lever gun is not designed for tack driving accuracy, it is accurate enough for woodland deer hunting.
Conceived as a military round to outperform the 7mm Mauser after the Spanish-American War, the 30-06 Springfield won two world wars. Millions of former soldiers popularized it for sporting use and made it America's most popular hunting cartridge.
Though introduced in 1906, it has aged well thanks to the development of better bullets and more efficient propellants which make it perform comparably to newer challengers.
Ammunition is available with 110-, 120-, 130- and 220-grain bullets, but the sweet spot for the 30-06 is 150–, 165- and 180-gr. bullets. Those weights will take care of any deer you encounter in the Natural State, and also the biggest bull elk if you are lucky enough to draw a Buffalo National River elk hunting permit.
The 30-06 is most accurate in a bolt-action rifle, but it is also available in semiautomatic and pump-action models from Remington and Browning. The Ruger Model 1 is a deluxe single-shot model, but you can also get very serviceable economy single-shot models from Harrington & Richardson, New England Firearms and Rossi.
The first rifle I bought was a Ruger Model 77 Ultralight in 30-06. It had a 20-inch barrel and was light as a feather. When I fired it, a huge fireball obscured the scope picture momentarily. Even with hearing protection, it rang the ears, and it kicked harder than Chuck Norris. It caused me to develop a flinch that required professional help to exorcise.
Even in a full size rifle, the 30-06 delivers a jolt to the shoulder, but it is easily tamed with proper shooting technique.
Its chief attribute is that it works. The 30-06 probably won't be the only rifle you'll ever want, but it's the only rifle you'll ever need.
Introduced in 1952, the 308 Winchester was designed to replace the 30-06 on the battlefield. It did so successfully, and like its predecessor, it translated seamlessly to the sporting world.
The 308 Win., is a tad slower than the 30-06, launching a 150-gr. bullet at more than 2,800 feet per second and a 165-gr. bullet at about 2,700 fps. With that kind of speed and energy, it is comparable in any environment to the 30-06.
For years, my primary hunting rifle was a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Classic Stainless in 308 Win. Its receiver was matte silver, and its stock had a gorgeous auburn finish that glowed in soft autumn sunlight. With this rifle I made my first 300-yard shot, at a friend's farm near Jefferson City, Mo. The handloaded cartridge featured a 150-gr. Hornady Spire Point and IMR-4064 powder. It was one of the hardest takedowns of a deer I've seen.
I killed my first antlered buck with it in 2002, also in Missouri, at a range of about 40 yards. Those were also handloads featuring first-generation, 165-gr. Nosler Ballistic Tips. The first generation Ballistic Tips were strictly designed for long-range hunting. At 40 yards, the bullets did not expand. It took two perfect shots to stop the buck and a third perfect shot to drop the buck.
My next generation of handloads featured 150-gr., Speer Boat Tails, and they dropped deer decisively at short and long ranges.
Like the 30-06, the 308 Win., has a sharp kick that's easily tamed with proper technique, but it's not a great choice for children.
300 Win. Mag.
A lot of .30-cal., cartridges are much faster, like the 300 Weatherby Magnum, the 300 Winchester Short Magnum, the 7.62 Warbird, the 7.62 Lazzeroni and the 300 Remington Ultra Magnum, but for North America, the 300 Winchester Magnum is the standard for power and accuracy for a .308-inch diameter bullet.
Essentially, the 300 Win. Mag., is the .30-cal., equivalent to the 7mm Rem. Mag., which we discussed last week. With the same 150- to 180-gr. bullets, it is appreciably faster than the 30-06 Sprg., and the 308 Win., Mag., so it travels flatter and hits harder. It also uses a lot more powder to generate that much power, and it transmits that energy to the shoulder. A muzzle brake bleeds off enough of that energy to make it comfortable for most shooters.
For shooting long distances down utility rights of way and across fields, the 300 Win. Mag. is an excellent choice to drop deer in their tracks. I have one in case I ever need it, but I never have.
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