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The .30-30: A Historic Overview

by 30 WCF

Today what is known as the .30-30 began life as the .30 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS. In 1891, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company first began experimenting with smokeless powder to develop a higher velocity smokeless cartridge that would bear the Winchester name. They decided on .30 caliber after working with the military on the development of the .30 U.S.Army (.30-40) cartridge.

When the 1894 Winchester rifle was on the drawing boards, they ultimately decided to use the .38-50 Ballard cartridge case of 1876, and neck it down to hold a 160 gr. .30 Caliber "metal patched" bullet.

The resultant .30 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS cartridge which carried the .30 W.C.F. (Winchester Center Fire) designation on the head stamp, first appeared in Winchester's catalog No. 55, dated August, 1895. Several months prior to this, the first ads announcing the arrival of this cartridge began appearing in the sporting press.

Three months after WINCHESTER’s first advertisement of their new .30 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS cartridge, their biggest competitor, the Marlin Firearms Company, announced their version of this cartridge chambered in their model 1893 rifle. Since Marlin did not manufacture ammunition, it worked closely with the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (U.M.C.) located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. U.M.C. replicated the .30 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS cartridge but gave it a different name. Since 30 grains of smokeless powder was initially used in this cartridge, they named it the .30-30. Cartridges were head stamped U.M.C. / .30-30 S. The S was dropped from the headstamp within a few years.

The name .30-30 followed the prevailing practice of that period where the first number designated the caliber in inches and the second number the powder charge in grains, however, in this case, the second number denoted the charge in grains of smokeless powder used rather than black powder as with such cartridges as the .32-40, .38-55, .45-70, .45-90, etc.

When it was introduced in 1895, the first Winchester ammunition contained a 160gr. “metal patched” bullet at a published 1,970 f.p.s. The 170gr. loading appeared a year later from U.M.C. but it wasn’t until 1903 when Winchester also offered the same 170 gr. loading. I guess they felt the 160 gr. bullet worked well enough!

In December of 1896, the first .30 W.C.F. “Short Range” cartridge appeared. The cartridge illustration was shown as the .30-6-100 since the cartridge contained a 100 gr. lead bullet and 6 grains of powder. It was described as “for small game where the more powerful cartridge is not necessary". It effectively gave .32-20 performance.

Winchester recognized the benefit and increased versatility that a factory loading for small game would offer, since the average family would have to sacrifice at least a month’s pay to buy just one rifle, and that one rifle was just about all that most families could afford. With his or her magazine full of these .30 W.C.F. “Short Range” rounds, hunters could use their big game rifles to harvest turkeys, squirrels and other small game animals with no meat loss. Then, if bigger game was expected to be encountered, a quick change to the standard .30 W.C.F. cartridge would handle that situation.

A few months later, Marlin followed suit with their .30-30 MARLIN SMOKELESS “Short Range” cartridge made by U.M.C.

In 1904, Winchester increased the lead bullet weight from 100 to 117 grs. and the following year, they also offered a 117 gr. soft point and a 117 gr. full metal patch version.

These “Short Range” cartridges were easily identified as having a cannelure part way down the case neck. Originally, it was used to keep the soft lead bullet from being pushed into the case under spring pressure while in the magazine. It was not needed with the metal patched bullets, but was retained to distinguish them from the full power .30 W.C.F. cartridges which looked similar.

Winchester cartridges retained the .30 W.C.F. designation on their headstamps and advertising up until about 1946 after which they changed their nomenclature to .30-30. Interestingly, today it's called the .30-30 Winchester but it was Marlin & U.M.C. that gave it that designation.

Over the years, it has been known as the:



  • .30 W.C.F.

  • .30-6-100

  • .30 Marlin


  • .30-30 S.

  • .30-30 W.C.F.

  • .30-30 Win.

  • .30 American (Federal case, small primer)

  • DWM 543 (Germany)

  • 7.62x51R (Europe)

This famous cartridge has been factory loaded with a wide number of bullets, ranging from 85 gr. to 180 grs. in weight (excluding the 55 gr. Accelerator cartridge.).

Over the years it has been available in the following bullet weights according to my research: 

  • 55J

  • 85J

  • 100L

  • 100J

  • 110J

  • 114L

  • 114J

  • 117L

  • 117J

  • 125L

  • 125J

  • 150J

  • 151J

  • 160J

  • 165J

  • 170L

  • 170J

  • 180J

(L=lead J=jacketed)

Numerous ammunition manufacturers from around the globe have .30-30 ammunition as part of their product line. By 1929 Winchester said that it was world famous for it’s accuracy and killing power.

Historically, this famous cartridge is very diversified having been loaded with these numerous bullet weights and types, with velocities ranging from 1,000 f.p.s.( lead bullet short range) to 2,720 f.p.s.(110 gr.), making the .30-30 adaptable to a wide variety of uses over the years.

Over the past 8 years or so, I had located a number of old .30 W.C.F. headstamped rounds at cartridge collector shows. I dissected a number of them and found several rounds that contained 30 grs. +- .5 grs. of a stick type powder which was somewhat translucent in color. Winchester lab. records from 1895 indicate that 30 grs. of DuPont .30 Caliber Smokeless Powder was used in the early loadings.

Back in 1999, my records indicated that I loaded 3 rounds with some of the powder in 30 gr charges that I had retrieved from those early cartridges. I used 6 1/2 Rem. small rifle primers in old U.M.C. .30-30 brass to replicate the primer size they used back. The 3 rounds averaged 1,990 f.p.s. with a 158 gr. L.B.T. .310" diameter bullets from a 20" barrel. That powder still had plenty of life left for being around 100 years old!

The original ballistics of 1,970 f.p.s. / 160 gr. metal patched bullet were taken in a 26" barrel. Since I used a cast bullet rather than a jacketed one, take away about 70 f.p.s. and then add about 100 f.p.s. for the additional barrel length = 2,020 f.p.s. or thereabouts, or about 50 f.p.s. faster than the original ballistics.

I still have enough powder to load about 3 more rounds. I should use that and shoot the original 160 gr. metal patched bullets from a 26" barrel to see what the results would be.

Hmmmm. Another project!

From John Witzels extensive cartridge collection:
Early U.M.C. .30-30 cartridge (note the small primer

Early W.R.A. CO. .30 W.C.F. cartridge ("protected primer" small primer in a cup)

Since both illustrated rounds contain a 160 gr. bullet, they would have been made between the period of 1895-1903. By 1904, only the 170 gr. bullet was offered in the soft point version by both companies. The 160 gr. bulleted loading did continue on but only in a FMJ version.

Cartridges loaded with 170 gr. bullets look the same externally as as ones containing the 160's. U.M.C. changed to the large primer pocket in 1910. In 1920, Winchester dropped the #5 protected primer and changed to their #24NF (non fulminate) large rifle primer for factory loadings.

Long live the .30-30!

aka Jack Christian
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
aka John Kort
NRA Life Member
.22WCF, .30WCF, .44WCF Cartridge Historian





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