The .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington won’t break any speed records—there’s no doubt about that. Still, much like the old man who can rattle your teeth with a punch, appearances can be deceiving.
The elder statesman of the deer woods, the .30-30 Win. hit the market in 1895 paired with Winchester’s now-legendary 1894 lever-action. Remington introduced the .35 about 10 years later in 1906 alongside their Model 8 semi-automatic rifle. The longevity of both cartridges speaks to their efficacy on game, and their compatibility with short, light carbines makes them popular among hunters in thick brush.
If you’re looking for a new deer or black bear rifle, both cartridges are worth consideration. But, if you can only choose one, which old-timer should you pick?
Like most of our Caliber Battles, the choice here is between a lighter bullet going faster (the .30-30) and a heavier bullet going slower (the .35 Rem.).
The original .30-30 load used a 160-grain bullet and topped out at 1,970 feet per second (fps) at the muzzle, according to Frank C. Barnes’ “Cartridges of the World.” Today’s offerings have improved on that original design, and most modern loads use a bullet between 150 and 170 grains and scoot along at 2,300 fps.
The .35 Rem. goes slower, but not by much. Federal’s Power Shok, for example, pushes a 200-grain bullet 2,080 fps. Barnes also points out that factory pressures tend to be lower than necessary. In a modern bolt-action rifle, hand loaders can achieve velocities of 2,400 fps with a 200-grain bullet, making the .35 Rem. clearly more powerful than the .30-30.
As Barnes puts it, the .35 Rem. has “far better knockddown power than the .30-30 under any conditions and at any range.”
Speaking of range, neither cartridge is designed for long-range accuracy. Developed in the days before “ballistic coefficient” was a talking point at gun counters, these cartridges tend to use wide, stubby bullets that can’t maintain velocity at extended ranges. For most loads in either cartridge, hunters shouldn’t expect to reliably take game past 200 yards.
Usually, I’d give the nod here to the .35 Rem., and there’s no question it hits harder. But bringing down game isn’t just about heavy, fast-flying bullets. Due in part to this round’s greater popularity and in part to the R&D surrounding .30-caliber pills, the .30-30 can be loaded with far more advanced projectiles.
Federal, for example, offers 12 varieties of the .30-30, including loads in their excellent Trophy Copper and HammerDown series. By contrast, the .35 Rem. can only be had in Federal’s traditional, lead-core Power-Shok line. Those traditional lead-core bullets have proved their worth in the field, but it’s tough to compete with the advancements in bullet-making of the last 20 years. In most factory loads, the .30-30 flies faster and employs more devastating bullets. For me, that puts it over the top.
Winner: .30-30 Winchester
Both cartridges are eminently shootable. Neither produce much felt recoil, which makes them perfect for lighter rifles and newer hunters.
The .30-30 only produces about 10 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy with a 7.5-pound rifle, according to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table. A .35 Rem. hits a little harder, but only clocks in at 13 ft.-lbs. For comparison, a .270 Winchester produces about 17 ft.-lbs. and a .30-06 produces about 20 ft.-lbs. Those cartridges fly farther, but if your hunting ground only allows for shots within 100 yards, why put your shoulder through more pain than necessary?
If you’re hoping to save your wallet rather than your shoulder, the .30-30 is the way to go. Boxes of 20 can be found in the $25 range while the .35 Rem. usually costs closer to $45 for a box.
Slightly less recoil and quite a bit less cash gives the shootability category to the .30-30 Win. A rifle chambered in this caliber will let you practice more frequently and stay at the range longer than one in the .35 Rem.
Winner: .30-30 Winchester
Versatility is also close since neither cartridge is particularly versatile. The range of bullet weights available (not to mention the diameter of each cartridge) put the .30-30 and .35 Rem. solidly in the deer- and black bear-sized game camp. In most guns, neither cartridge produces the velocity or accuracy for varmints, and both are underpowered for very large game.
Technically, the .35 Rem. can be loaded with bullets ranging from 125 grains to 220 grains, and the .30-30 with bullets between 100 grains and 190 grains. In the real world, hunters can find the .30-30 loaded with projectiles between 125 grains and 170 grains, and the .35 Rem. with bullets between 200 grains and 220 grains.
The .30-30 has an even clearer edge when it comes to availability of firearms. The .30-30 is among the most popular small-bore sporting cartridges ever produced and, shortly after its introduction, Winchester, Savage, Marlin, and Remington were offering lever-action, bolt-action, rolling-block, and single-shot rifles. Today, most major manufacturers offer multiple actions chambered in .30-30.
The .35 Rem., by contrast, can be much more difficult to find. Marlin offers the Model 336 in both .30-30 and .35 Rem., but it’s unclear whether Ruger (which recently purchased Marlin) will continue the line. Searching GunBroker.com for used firearms chambered in .35 Rem. produced 109 results. For .30-30, the same search produced 5,841 results.
Winner: .30-30 Winchester
And the Winner Is…
This is our first clean sweep in the Caliber Battle series. Admittedly though, I was cheering for the .35 Rem. I love a good underdog story (not to mention a less common cartridge), and I was hoping to be able to justify giving the nod to the .35 Rem. But there’s a reason the .30-30 has been around for the last 126 years.
It’s cheap, easy to shoot, and most importantly, effective on whitetail in close quarters. It may not be high speed or low drag, but it’s got more than enough juice to get the job done.
Overall Winner: .30-30 Winchester
Feature image via Justin Holt.