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7.62X51R REVISITED

by Paco

He was huge...he terrorized the north west Idaho/Canada border country for twenty years. He was a cattle killer, as he grew older and slower he became a man killer...he ravaged and put fear into the hearts of those who lived in his roaming area for those two decades....he was shot over a dozen times with many of the heaviest black powder calibers of the times...but they never stopped him. Even to the point of charging several of the shooters and killing them....

Then in the fall of 1895 armed with a new high velocity rifle and caliber and lots of courage....a young 22 year old man that had grown up during this grizzlyís incredible reign of terror...hunted him down and killed him. John Horton out of Kalispel, hit him three times...twice at 75 yards to put him down, once in the head at point blank range, to make sure he stayed down. What was this fantastic new cartridge and rifle. A Winchester model 94 in 30-30...with 160 grain bullets at approx 1960 fps. And this is not an unusual story...a number of nasty bears that seemed impervious to black powder rounds met their match with the new Ďwhite powderí rounds of the turn of the 19th/20th century.

When the 30-30 hit the market it was quite controversial. It was introduced in May of 1895 well past the date of itís advertised release...loaded with the afore mentioned 160 grain bullet at 1800 fps from the carbine and 1960 fps from the 26 inch rifle. Those were factory figures of the times. Chambered in the new Winchester 1894 leveraction rifle, the model 1894 was to be released in Ď94 with itís new charter round the 30-30...but the 30-30 chambering was delayed until May of Ď95 because the steel used with black powder chamberings could not take the friction and wear of the new ĎHigh Velocityí jacketed bullet round. Winchester had to develop what was known as nickle steel. It was a form of what we know today as stainless..but yet it wasnít...they had a good deal of trouble bluing nickel steel barrels. If you see one of these old timers the barrel will be more brown then blue.

By 1914 the Winchester Catalog I saw was advertising a 170 grain bullet at near 2000 fps...Iím sure that was with the 26 inch rifle. By the early 1920s Western Cartridge Co. was advertising a Ďspecial high velocity cartridge..í 30-30 with a 150 grain open point Lubaloy bullet at 2370 fps. Apparently they had been testing itís power by shooting it thru boiler plate steel...that to was in the ads.

I can remember in the late 1930s advertising they were stating that their 170 grain bullet was now doing 2125 fps from 24 inch barrels. I know that in the late 1960s I was getting over 2200 fps with 170 grain factory ammo in a 24 inch model 94 and close to 2400 fps with the 150 grain ammo. In the 1980s a special run of 125 grain 30-30 ammo was giving 2900 fps. The 30-30 started out controversial because of itís velocity 400 to 500 fps over black powder rounds of the day..and because the bullet was so small in comparison to 45-70s, 40-65s and such...old timers just didnít believe that speed would make up for bullet weight. Much like the same arguments we have had thru the magnum rifle era of the 1960s thru today. Of course they were not acquainted with bullet expansion as such.

One interesting point about accuracy of these old leverguns and ammo of the early times...both F.C.Ness and Townsend Whelen stated that they were very capable of taking deer sized game both in power and range of the bullet used. Ness stated that the average of a number of rifles he tested gave 4 inches at 100 yards. Not what we think of as gilt edged accuracy...but remember that was with the sights of the day also. I think most of my readers know what I think of buckhorn sights..and the other junk they still put on leverguns even today. Whelen stated the outside effective accuracy and power range of the 170 grain 30-30 bullet of the times was 180 yards! And believe me a good deal of game much larger than deer fell to the 30-30 over the early decades of the 20th century.

The grand old 30-30 is now 110 years old plus. It improves constantly with new steels, change of designs in leverguns, new powders, cases, primers, etc...But the controversy today is just the opposite of the early last century. Because of todayís trail blazers zipping thru 3000 fps with 175 grain thru 220 grain bullets in some chamberings...suddenly the medium power of the old 30-30 doesnít kill well enough for some. I disagree hotly on the issue...but as in most arguments there is one grain of truth....todayís hunting fields have changed!

There are more hunters in the field then there were for my Grandfather. Today if you shoot a deer and he runs 300 yards before he goes down you donít have the luxury taking a rest before you go and collect him. Because others will have him gutted and in their vehicle..in a short time. So it has become imperative to put game down quickly. The hot thirties will do that better than the 30-30.

The 30-30 is another of those rounds that suffer because there are so many old rifles out there. The pressure on most loads listed in reloading books is in the 35,000 psi level down. A few reloading books like MODERN RELOADING by Richard Lee gives the pressure of the loads suggested so the shooter has to decide if his rifle will take that load with sustained use. The fly in all this is todayís commercial ammo from the big producers...it is still loaded close to the velocities of the 1930s. And folks, we reloaders are still only a very small percentage of shooters in this country. You should have seen some of the E-Mail I received after my article on the 30-30 as a varmint rifle, came out. Even though I stated that those loads were for my modern steel, modern action, Winchester 94s and Marlin 336s...which are rated at 40,000 CUP...folks took me to task on 125 grain jacketed bullets pushed to 2800 to 2900 fps...and 100 grainers at 3000 fps.

In the mid 1930s DuPont came out with 3031 powder. It became the premier powder in the 30-30...DuPont recommended 31 grains under the 170 grain bullets for approximately 2150 fps or so. That was a heavy load for then, DuPont showed some courage recommending it...ícause it generates around 38,000 psi. I used it for years.

I donít use IMR powders in the 30-30 or any small cartridge case any longer...you just donít get the velocity for the pressure you get with the newer Hercules and some of the Hodgdon powders. For example the above load of 3031 generates the stated pressure of 38,000 lbs with the 170 gr jacketed bullet...yet you can get near 2350 fps with 38 grains of H414 for the same pressure. 

One point of warning with the 30-30 cartridge cases and pressure.

In weighing cases of different brands...I got a surprise. I was trying to figure out why some of my loads were a 100 or more fps different on different days...I was using mixed brass and just testing velocities and bullet performance. Mayhaps this explains also why some reloaders donít get the stated velocities of some of the reloading books and posted data.

My old Super-X cases weigh in at around 133 grains...Federal cases hit 141 grains and some of the newer WW cases hit 143 grains. Well the outside dimensions of the case have to be standard...so the heavier cases must have smaller internal capacity...does this make a difference in velocity and pressure...you bet it does. I was testing H4895 to see if it would offer any advantage over powders like ReL#7 and H322, with 150 grain jacketed bullets.

In my R-P brass (130 grains) 34 grains of H4895 gave 2261 fps. The same powder from the same can...the same standard WW primers...same load in Federal brass (141 grains) hit 2340 fps! The old but true warning about starting low with any data and working up is even more true in small cases like the 30-30, and add to it...weigh your brass...and separate by manufacturer.

The normal reloading data for the 30-30 gives general velocity levels for the 100-110 grain bullets at around 2600 fps...the 125-130 grainers at 2400-2500 fps..the 150 grainers at 2300-2400 fps..and the 170 grainers at 2100-2200 fps. Thatís fine for nice old minty 30-30s. I donít shoot fine old 30-30s. I shoot strong modern 40,000 CUP level leveractions. Both the Winchester 94s and the Marlin 336s.

I know for example the Hodgdon reloading data on page 314 of their #26 manual for the 100 grain bullet with 33 grains of H4198 gives 2837 fps from their 24 inch barrel. But that load only generates 32,000 CUP! Why are we stopping short? With 36 grains of the same powder we break 3150 fps and are running 39,500 cup. Sierra makes a superb 125 grain H.P. #2020 for the 30-30. Hodgdon states that 38 grains of H335 gives 2643 fps and 35,400 CUP with 125-130 grain bullets. Why stop short? 40 grains of H335 and the Sierra bullet will give 2975 fps and at a cost of 39,600 CUP. And that load will put deer down extremely fast.

Speer makes a 110 grain spire point .308...I clip the nose on this bullet for the tube...doesnít change itís BC of .273...it also doesnít change the fact that this bullet was designed for the 30-06 and 308 class cartridges pushing it at 3500 to 3800 fps for varmint hunting. When you push this same bullet at 2900 fps plus from a 30-30 it becomes a medium game to deer slug. Why bother? Because set to strike only 2 inches high at 100 yards it is down only 9 inches at...300 yards (page 569 of the Speer reloading manual #11) carrying more energy than a 357 heavy load at the muzzle of a six inch revolver.

The best bullet I have found so far for my 30-30s is the Speer 130 grain flat tip. 38.5 grains of H322 gives this bullet 2720 fps...with a 3 inch high point at 100 yards it is down only 12 inches at 300 yards...goodness are we still talking about the 30-30?

And yes the 150 grain Speer has the same configuration as the 130 grain pushing it close to 2450 fps with H322, H335, and Rel# 12 is no big problem. And if you want to elk hunt with your 30-30...not sure why you would want to...but this bullet does an excellent job. Getting 2300 fps with the 170 grainers is no trick...but the 125/130/150 grain bullets are such performers and the down range ballistics so good...why bother with the 170s.

All that said, let me stir up trouble again....here goes the E-Mail.....

You want close to 30-40 Krag ballistics from your 30-30? Another way of asking is...you want to up your 30-30 ballistics by 10 to 15%? It can be done. I think by now in my various articles I have shown that it is not high pressure alone that gives high velocity...for example 23 grains of H4227 under a 130 grain bullet in the double 30 gives 2200 fps at 39,000 CUP...38 grains of BL-C2 under the same bullet gives over 2600 fps at 35,000 cup..400 fps more velocity, at more than 4000 lbs less pressure (CUP is higher pressure than PSI). It is not a fast pressure curve to peak pressure that counts for velocity...it is a slow pressure curve at a sustained level that gives best velocity. That is why larger case volume and slow burning powder generally gives higher velocities, all else being equal.

So how do we make this principle work for the 30-30? P.O. Ackley did it for us. Ackley was one of the great gun builders/ballistic experts of our times...his two volume set HANDBOOK FOR SHOOTERS AND RELOADERS...is a classic. I could do an article on the books alone there is so much in them. He has been taken to task about the pressures of some of his loads...but he is the gun builder that purposely blew up every rifle action he could get a hold of, to find which was the strongest..and to find at what pressure they let go! I must say his body of experiential testing alone, is more than most of his critics have ever even dreamed about let alone know about.

All this is to say his 30-30 Ackley Improved is the way to turn a 30-30 into a far better, far more powerful rifle round. More case space, to hold more powder, to sustain the pressure over a longer period, for higher velocities. Many say for the gain itís not worth the trouble. REALLY? Just take the above load a 130 grain Speer over 38 grains of BLC-2 for 2600 fps in a standard 30-30. My 30-30 Imp (and I have had four them in the last 20 years) takes 42.3 grains of BL-C2 and the Speer 130 gr. flat point and gives 2877 fps at near the same pressure...36,100 CUP. I can easily break 3000 fps and stay under 40,000 CUP. The Imp cartridge of the standard 30-30 will give from 10 to 15% more velocity if you know how to feed it.

Itís a whole new ball game and a whole new testing of powders to get the best loads...but I think itís worth it. One of the 30-30 Ackleyís I built as a bench gun for absolutely excellent accuracy on a Winchester 94 action went to Jim Taylor...and I think he passed it on to someone living in a wilderness somewhere. But I used that gun to take a great deal of money from a non believer about the killing range of 30-30s and leverguns...by whacking a AZ antelope way...way out there. I couldnít have done it with a standard 30-30 chamber.....the drop would have been too great to trust all that money to it. He basically wound up paying for the rifle and all the work put into it...but I kept it and the antelope...he learned the lesson many never believe...the 30-30 Imp is a cartridge that changes the picture of the 30-30 completely.

The only difference in my 30 Imp and Ackleyís was my design keeps his 35 degree shoulder angle and body shape, but I move the shoulder forward. Where Ackley keeps the neck length at the standard case of over 4 tenths of an inch...I move it forward to the length of the 7 Waters case just over 3 tenths of an inch. I can neck up 7 Waters cases...or as I did in the old days load cast bullets in the 30-30 cases way out, so they would go into the rifling and then fire form so the case doesnít stretch at the web. Once fire formed correctly...even the normal stretching of the standard 30-30 case from resizing and firing is almost eliminated.

The water weight capacity of a FC 30-30 case is 44 grains...thatís water not powder...the same case necked down and fire formed in the 7 Waters chamber gives a water capacity of 47 grains...and my Imp 30-30 holds 50 grains. That is six grains water capacity over the standard case. The standard 30-30 case is a 40 grain powder case plus, at the top end, to the base of the neck...the 7 Waters is around 44 grains plus, and my Imp is 47 grains plus to the base of the neck. That is not reloading powder weights...itís all according to the bullet and powder of course. This case allows the use of slow powders like WW 760 and heavy bullets for outstanding velocities. For example, 42.5 grains of 760 gives a 180 grain cast bullet just under 2550 fps. Take a look in your reloading books for 180 grain bullets at 2550 to 2600 fps and the cartridge case it takes to get it there, I think you will be surprised...

Mayhaps soon Iíll break out the old 30-30 Imp and do a review article on it...but in the mean time donít cut the 110 year old 30-30 short bread...itís a lot better than it was in your great grandadís time......

 

 

 

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