Too many hunters think the .30-30 Win. is a famous brush cartridge because it shoots a flat-nosed bullet at modest speeds. Nonsense. It gained a reputation as a brush cartridge because it was most commonly chambered in the ideal brush rifle—a lever-action carbine.
Short-barreled lever-actions like the Winchester M94 and Marlin 336 carry like a breeze and swing into action quickly—two useful features in woods and brush where deer pop up and disappear again like rabbits. This isn’t the habitat for heavy, long-barreled sniper rifles.
The .30-30 Win. cartridge itself is nothing special, no more capable of shooting through branches and limbs than a .45-70 Govt., .30-06 Springfield or even a .30-378 Weatherby Magnum. Tests and more tests have pretty well proven that any bullet—light, heavy, flat-nosed or pointed—will be deflected by brush. Tougher ones do stay in one piece and drive through more lumber than thin-skinned, fragile ones, but none can resist bouncing off on new tangents after bumping limbs. It’s just like a perfectly thrown football being deflected off the finger of a lineman: It still flies a long ways, but rarely hits its intended target.
The .30-30 Winchester became quickly popular because it was the first major new round to be loaded with smokeless powder. At the time, 1895, lever actions were extremely common. So were group hunts and driven hunts in which deer were jumped and/or pushed past waiting blockers. Running shots were expected. A good shooter with a lever action could swing through a racing deer and “throw lead” bing, bang, boom until scoring or emptying his seven-round magazine. The minimal recoil of the .30-30 made it easy to keep the muzzle down and on target.
While those tubular magazines held a lot of rounds, they made inefficient, flat or round-nosed bullets mandatory. Sharp tips could act as firing pins under recoil, setting off primers in the round stacked atop them. But the inefficient flight of blunt bullets was of little concern in woods where a 100-yard shot was long. More important was a light, handy, lively rifle that practically found the shooter’s shoulder and the deer’s shoulder automatically. With a 20-inch carbine barrel, most lever-action .30-30s are short enough to be carried in the shooting hand, muzzle down. The rifles balance nicely between the hands, too.
While as deadly now as ever, both the .30-30 Win. and lever-action rifles play second fiddle to bolt-action rifles firing high-pressure, high-velocity cartridges such as the .243 Win., .270 Win., and various 7mm and .300 magnums. Today’s hunters are more interested in watching open fields and shooting accurately at long ranges than in stomping over miles of brush to shoot at fleeing whitetails.
Nevertheless, the .30-30 lever action remains as viable a deer rifle today as it did 100 years ago. Quick, smooth, mild and shooting flat enough for a maximum point-blank range of 200 yards, it’s the perfect brush rifle.