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Best .30-30 Rifles: Far From Archaic?



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Sure, there are faster, flatter shooting cartridges, options that can reach out and smack a swamp donkey sneaking through cover in the next county over. However, most of those speed demon, hard-hitting cartridges, while admittedly sexy, are major overkill for deer hunting.  If you want a cartridge that can put a hurtin’ on a whitetail buck at 150 yards without hurting your shoulder or your bank account, it doesn’t get much better than the time-honored .30-30 Winchester.

As America’s first smokeless cartridge, to say the .30-30 has been around the block a time or two is quite an understatement. Despite its geriatric age, this cartridge is far from a fossil. It still manages to rank near the top of annual ammunition sales. And its popularity is fueled by more than nostalgia. This cartridge continues to prove its mettle every hunting season, putting its fair share of bucks on tailgates across the U.S.

The .30-30 offers a near-perfect cocktail of lethality and low recoil. And it is chambered in some of the best-handling, most-reliable guns ever made. Here is a list of what we consider the best .30-30 rifles hunters can still get their hands on. 

Winchester Model 94

The Winchester 94 is the OG of .30-30 rifles. The rifle debuted with the cartridge, making the first rifle chambered for a smokeless powder round. Since then, the Model 94 and the .30-30 cartridge have been practically synonymous. 

Made in 1929, this Winchester 94 sold at Rock Island Auction Company in 2021 for $5,175

Offering fast, repetitive shooting in an easy-handling lever-action package, the rifle was state-of-the-art back in the day. And although the design has been around for nearly 130 years, it is far from outdated. And while it may not be the fanciest .30-30 rifle ever made, it has put plenty of venison on family dinner tables (including mine) through the years. It also has plenty of cowboy action appeal if that’s more your style. 

Winchester has churned out American-made Model 94s in a variety of barrel lengths. It even produced a scope-friendly angle eject model that was released in 1983. Unfortunately, Winchester outsourced production to Japan in 2006. However, plenty of second-hand American-made 94s are floating around, although you may have a hard time finding someone willing to part with one. 

Marlin 336 Classic

Remington purchased the beloved Marlin brand in 2007. While Marlin had built a solid reputation for making top-notch firearms before the acquisition, the Remington-owned “Remlins” had mixed reviews.

When Remington went bankrupt in 2020, it staunched the flow of Marlins, including the Model 336. Fortunately, Sturm, Ruger, and Co. purchased Marlin Firearms for $30 million shortly after Remington went bust. And since Ruger isn’t an investment corporation and definitely knows a thing or two about firearms, things are looking up for the brand. 

Ruger announced the return of the beloved Marlin 336 in March, and lever-action purists everywhere rejoiced.

The newest 336 is only available in venerable, deer-dropping .30-30 and has all the classic design features that have made this an American favorite for more than 75 years, including Marlin’s signature scope-friendly side-eject mechanism, adjustable semi-buckhorn sights, a cold hammer-forged steel barrel, and a traditional American walnut stock.

Henry Lever Action X Model

Henry is probably the most prolific American producer of lever action rifles. While many of them are the traditional walnut and blued steel options that Grandpa loved, the company’s X Model series is full of options with a modern tactical flair. 

The Henry X Model .30-30 busted onto the tactical lever-action scene in 2020 and features a blacked-out design, fiber optic sights, an oversized loop lever, and a threaded muzzle if you want to run a can. It even has M-Lok accessory slots on the forestock, and the polymer furniture accommodates a Picatinny rail so you can trick this baby out to your heart’s desire. This is one tactically beautiful cowboy gun. 

Rossi R95

With a new surge in the .30-30 cartridge’s popularity, Brazilian gun manufacturer Rossi decided to jump in the game with their R95.

It features a 16 ½-inch hammer-forged barrel, a smooth hand-finished lever action, an enlarged loading gate, adjustable buckhorn sights, and fine walnut furniture.

It is also drilled and tapped for optics and is compatible with modern rails and handguards designed for souping up traditional lever actions if you want something less John Wayne and more John Wick. 

Savage Model 1899

Introduced in (you guessed it) 1899, the hammerless Savage 99 was a gun well ahead of its time. It had a unique internal five-shot rotary magazine with a brass round counter, which was an improvement on the standard tube-fed design. 

And although Winchester and Marlin tend to hog the lever action spotlight, Savage’s Model 99 was arguably a much better rifle. Unfortunately, Savage stopped manufacturing these rifles in 1997, although plenty of them still venture into the deer woods every fall, which is a testament to their quality and design. 

These sweet rifles increase in collector value every year, so if you come across one for sale, you shouldn’t let the opportunity pass you by. 

Savage Model 340 

Although the .30-30 cartridge and lever actions go together like peanut butter and jelly, not every .30-30 rifle ever made sported a pry bar. The Savage Model 340, which first hit the whitetail woods in 1950 is a highly utilitarian bolt action .30-30 with a simple box magazine, which allows handloaders to top their ammo with any spire point bullet they choose. 

These rifles don’t have the same tack-driving accuracy that many bolt actions boast, but they are super durable and highly reliable. The Model 340 stopped rolling off the Savage assembly lines in 1985, but used ones can still be found for little more than a song, and they are often unfairly overlooked on the used racks at local gun stores. 

Remington Model 788

Remington introduced their Model 788 bolt action in 1967, just five years after it released the iconic Model 700. The Model 788 was a less expensive yet accurate option for budget-conscious shooters. Contrasting with the Remington 700, the 788 fed from a three-round detachable magazine and used a somewhat sloppier bolt. It was also offered in .30-30 Winchester, unlike the 700. 

Although the Model 788 was marketed as a budget rifle, it was far from cheap. These were made in Big Green’s heyday, and many shooters consider them the best .30-30 bolt actions ever made. 

Remington halted production of Model 788 .30-30s in 1970. Despite the relatively short production period, there doesn’t seem to be any serious collector value to them, which means even tenderly-used models often sell for bargain basement prices. 

Ruger No. 1

Ruger released their Farquharson-style hammerless No. 1 single-shot rifle in 1966. The action is particularly well-suited for the .30-30 cartridge with its rimmed case, although the rifle has been made in nearly 70 different chamberings. These are simple yet elegantly beautiful rifles, and they continue to stand out, even in this day and age, where blacked-out guns with synthetic trimmings regularly turn heads. 

Although Ruger still offers the No. 1 single-shot rifle in select, limited-edition runs each year, none have been chambered in classic .30-30 for years. In fact, if you can find a Ruger No. 1 in .30-30, you’ve found a real treasure. Not many were made, and relics in good condition often fetch well over $2,000. 

A Note About Ammo

Although some .30-30 rifles come with handy, detachable magazines, most sport tubular magazines. Because cartridges line up tip to primer, in the past, lever-action shooters were limited to blunt-nosed soft points, such as Remington Core-Lokt. While soft points do a fine job of dropping whitetails, shooters can be obsessive about ballistics, and SP loads aren’t known for their aerodynamic performance.

Hornady breathed new life into lever action technology in 2006 with the introduction of their LEVERevolution line. Featuring tipped projectiles that are safe for tubular magazines, LEVERevolution offered .30-30 shooters flatter trajectories and better energy retention than the ammo Grandpa loaded in that hand-me-down lever gun. 

Parting Shots

Although plenty of modern cartridges might outperform the .30-30 Winchester on paper, this old-timer still earns its keep every deer season, remaining a best-seller even among the more modern cutting-edge long-range speed demons. The .30-30 rifles on this list are some of the best ways to get the most out of this long-time favorite. 

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1 Comment

  • KenP says:

    I own many 30-30s. One them is a 788 30-30. Most sell over $1600USD now.
    They are one of the most prized Remingtons there is. Just clarifying your mistaken take on them.
    Good luck finding one. Oh, it’s also the only 30-30 I own that shoots sub-moa every time.

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  • I own many 30-30s. One them is a 788 30-30. Most sell over $1600USD now.
    They are one of the most prized Remingtons there is. Just clarifying your mistaken take on them.
    Good luck finding one. Oh, it's also the only 30-30 I own that shoots sub-moa every time.

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