Today, the legendary cartridge that carries the .30-30 headstamp, first began life as the .30 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS. In 1891, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company first began experimenting with smokeless powder in an effort to develop a higher velocity 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.
At first, they necked down the .45-70 casing to .30 caliber and began the development process. An 1886 rifle was chambered and testing began. Not completely satisfied with their results using the larger case, they decided to work with the smaller .38-50 Ballard cartridge case of 1876 necked down to .30 caliber.
Ultimately, after a period of testing with the various nitro powders of that period, Winchester's ballasticians were ready to introduce their new baby in their new 1894 Winchester rifle.
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.
It's ballistics were pretty spectacular for a sporting rifle cartridge at that time. Pushing a 160 gr. .30 Caliber "metal patched" bullet to 1,970 f.p.s., it produced 50% more velocity than most of the sporting rifle cartridges in 1895.
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.
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.
(should read 100 gr.)
The first 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 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.
(should read 117 gr.)
These new “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 WINCHESTER SMOKELESS
.30-30 MARLIN SMOKELESS
.30 American (Federal case, small primer)
DWM 543 (Germany)
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 advertising indicated 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 1,100 f.p.s.( lead bullet short range) to 2,720 f.p.s.(110 gr.), and a heavy weight 180 gr. Peters loading making the .30-30 adaptable to a wide variety of uses over the years.
At 108 years of age, there isn't any sign of it losing it's popularity. Long live the .30-30!
(images courtesy of John Witzel who has over 500(!) variations of .30-30 cartridges.)