The Thirties

One of my least favorite things at the gun shop is when some guy who we don’t know, sends in his wife who we don’t know, to buy some “300”. We don’t know the people, so we don’t know which 300 the guy might have. 300 generally means a .30 Caliber of some sort and well, there are too many common options to just pick one. During hunting season, this happens on a regular basis. So guys, if you do send your girl into town to pick up a box of ammunition – do your wife a favor. Rip off the end tab of your last box of ammo and send that with her so the guys at the gun store know exactly what you need, and we don’t think of you in a less than flattering manner.

Let’s look at some of these 30 cal cartridges. There are 10 different common 30’s. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The .30-30 Winchester. The Thirty really started as a market success with the .30-30 Winchester. This was the first serious high velocity metallic cartridge using smokeless powder. It was a hot rod back in its day. Shooters were amazed. These days, the .30-30 is often scoffed at by those that don’t get it. Personally, the .30-30 remains a favorite of mine. It’s mild, yet potent enough to take down an elk at 200 yards. Typically it fires bullets from 150 grains to 170 grains, at moderate velocities from 2250 FPS to 2400 FPS. Accuracy is average to pretty good from most rifles. Most of which are lever action rifles with open sights. The best I’ve ever seen a .30-30 do was half inch groups at 100 yards in a rifle that had about 250 bucks worth of gunsmithing to tune it for better accuracy.

The .30-06 Springfield. This is the classic .30 caliber cartridge that America has used all around the world fighting for our freedom. The Aught Six as it as loving called, has fathered more offspring cartridges than anything else. Most notable is the .270 Winchester, which has become the second most popular cartridge according to nationwide sales… but that is another story. The Aught Six fires bullets usually between 150 grains to 200 grains, but there are loads out there going lighter or heavier… I’ve seen them as low as 110 grains and as high as 225 grains. Velocity is high, but remember, this is not a Magnum cartridge. Velocities are typically centered around 2800 FPS. Accuracy is very good, but could be better because the case has a lot of wasted space in it, reducing the efficiency of cartridge and allowing for less consistent powder burn. This cartridge went to war in WWI in our bolt action Springfield 1903 rifles, then into WWII in our M1 Garands, and into Vietnam still in our 1903 Springfields that were accurized and scoped and used as sniper rifles. Because of the shear number of surplus rifles on the market, and because of the almost universal acceptance, use, and general fondness of this cartridge… it has become the Number One cartridge in America for overall sales. Still today, it remains the Top Dog. Every company that makes a rifle, makes one in .30-06. There are those that love it with a passion, and there are those that don’t really like it… but no knowledgeable shooter disrespects it.

The .308 Winchester. After WWII, the M1 Garand was altered and the action was tweaked to fire from a detachable box magazine. This needed a cartridges that was shorter for better feeding. This is where the .308 Winchester came to the spotlight. This gives us almost the same performance of the .30-06, but does so with greater efficiency and thus better overall accuracy. Again, like the Aught Six, the Three’oh’eight fires rounds from 150 grains to 180 grains like most of the .30 cals going on… but does so at about 2700 FPS, which is only about 100 FPS slower than the Aught Six.

The .300 Savage. This one goes back to 1921 and was the first “300”. It was hugely popular for a time, and chambered in Savage’s strange yet good model 99 lever action. It’s a bit shorter than the .308, and milder, pumping out 150 grain loads to a pleasant 2630. You can bump up the loads to 180 grainers, but the speed drops off a bit too much I think. So while it’s a lighter hitter than the .308 and a harder hitter than the .30-30, it occupies a comfortable place in that middle ground. It very well could be the ideal .30 caliber for light carbines. Imagine a Model 7 Remington in this cartridge… that would be great combination. The round is very accurate and just a pleasure to shoot.

The .300 Winchester Magnum. In 1963 gun makers decided to go big in terms of velocities. Winchester hit the home run with the .300 Win Mag, and its the ballistic equivellent of the Mona Lisa. A work of art. And a work by which all other .30 caliber magnums are compared to. It’s powerful and has a strong kick to it, but not too hard as to be punishing. In a full sized rifle, it is quite manageable. You can load a 180 grain bullet up to 3,000 FPS… a dramatic increase in horsepower. People just call this round “The Win Mag” and most everyone knows exactly what you are talking about.

The .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Remington had to do something big, so they came out with the .300 Remington Ultra Mag…. or the .300 RUM as I like to call it. This cranks to the same slug as the .300 Win Mag about 250 to 300 FPS faster and hitting harder by about 600 foot pounds of energy according to typical load data. This cartridge is a dragon slayer. There are some out there that are hotter, like the .30-378 Weatherby magnum, but not by much. If a scope is going to get bucked off a rifle and break mounts and rings – most likely the gun is going to be a .300 RUM. Around where I live, we call these “Elk Cannons” and we sell a ton of them. For long range knock down, this has it. The .300 RUM can body slam an Elk at a thousand yards.

The .300 Winchester Short Magnum. When this one first came out a few years ago, I scoffed at it. “Same ballistics as a .300 Win Mag? What’s the point?” Well, what it gives you is that classic Win Mag power, but it does so with greater accuracy and with about 20% less felt recoil. I set up two rifles exactly the same… Synthetic stocked Weatherby Vanguards, using the same rings and bases I mounted the same scopes on each. The only difference was that one was a Win Mag, the other a Short Mag. The Win Mag kick was tolerable, but after 10 rounds I was done shooting it for the day. I shot a sub 1 inch group with it and it was great. Reaching out with that much crushing power, that is a lot of violence to focus into a inch. Then I shot the Short Mag. I shot a one hole group, and it was actually fun to shoot. Less recoil enough to shoot all day… I ran out of bullets for it. Same speed, greater accuracy, less recoil… this round has no downsides. Marketing didn’t come up with this round like I thought… this is ballistics engineering at its finest.

The .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Mag. Remington wanted to do something in a Short Mag type platform and they came out with the Short Action Ultra Mag… and it flopped. It’s a decent round, just a tick behind the .300 WSM, but it does so in a slightly shorter length, allowing it to be able to be used in .308 length actions. This allows us to make AR-10/SR-25 type rifles that hit like a .300 Win Mag. To me, that makes it a winner. I think this is just about the perfect cartridge for military applications in GPMG’s (General Purpose Machine Guns such as the M-60 and M-240). The US Military wants more power? Here it is. Take our current crop of .308 caliber SR-25 sniper rifles and rebarrel them to .300SAUM… presto. While I think the SAUM has it’s place, it is a commercial flop. The WSM beat it, but I think this is more of a perception matter than performance. People hear “Ultra Mag” and they want a dragon slayer, not just another Win Mag Mirror. I think Hornady could lend a hand and blend some powders and do their alchemy and come up with a Heavy Mag load for the .300 SAUM and it would then enjoy a ballistic advantage… But that is neither here nor there.

The .30 T/C. With the trend for making all things short and chubby, someone had to do it… so TC did. They made a .30-06 Short Mag. This cartridge mirrors the classic .30-06 ballistics. But it is more than that. It does so in a shorter, more efficient case. It’s the same length as the .308 Winchester but a touch chunkier. It is of course more accurate thanks to the greater efficiency. It also does two things that we are going to take as a bonus. It has less felt recoil, and it’s actually faster than the Aught Six by a few FPS, and in some loads up to 100 FPS faster. Not much… and nothing to make me want to run out and buy a new rifle in this caliber. It’s a like a hot handloaded .308, and in my opinion nothing more. TC brags that it’s the first cartridge with the TC head stamp, and that’s fine. Bully for them, but I’m thinking it’s rather un-needed. Now if they had taken this chunk of brass and necked it down to a 7mm, 6.5, or a .25 caliber – maybe we would talk.

The .300 RCM. The RCM stands for Ruger Compact Magnum, and in the same 24 inch barrel, it’s a clone of the .300 WSM. The RCM uses a different powder blend and gets up to speed quicker, meaning it works in shorter 20 inch barrels. I guess that’s nice. For guys guys that want short barreled Magnum rifles… all three of those guys should be happy with the .300 RCM. I have to be honest here, these last two rounds, the .30TC and the .300 RCM… the .30 caliber market is crowded enough and good, proven, classic calibers are being pushed out by these new rounds that do things slightly different. Yes, yes, yes, it’s accurate. But so was the .300 Savage. I don’t see a place for the .300 RCM in the future, and I think the .30T/C is going to die out as well, rather sooner than later. But that’s just my prediction. Who knows. It could really take off like the .300 WSM did. Now, Ruger has a version of this cartridge in .338… the .338 RCM and that has some serious potential there. I like that idea, but in the .300 class, it’s like just another boy band. We’ve heard that tune before and looks the same as the others.

If I was to pick a new .30 caliber round for all around use, I’d pick the .300 WSM. It does everything right, and nothing wrong. As a beer commercial once said, “Tastes Great, Less Filling”.


3 thoughts on “The Thirties”

  1. I like the thirties. Especially the older ones. Not much you can’t do with an accurate rifle in 30/06 and high BC bullets. Theoretically, I like the case design of the Ruger Compact Magnum better than the rebated rim on the Winchester but for most purposes there’s not much difference . The 30-30 in a Winchester rifle is still the easiest packing, fastest handling gun I’ve ever carried afield and some SS STYX makes them smooth as butter and nearly impervious to nasty weather.

  2. Of the three “thirties” I have it’s difficult to pin down the favorite of the bunch since each one has it’s place. The Ruger M77 in 30-06 was the first bolt action I ever bought. Yes, there are much better bolts out there in that caliber, but this was my first love and I can’t find my self to part with it. Much like a good woman you’ve been around for a length of time, you know their flaws and qualities….predictable, very much so. For the .308’s the Armalite AR-10 and HK91G3 are a hoot to shoot for a day for destructive fun at the range, however there are some reliability issues I’m encountering with the AR, namely with the extractor getting fouled up. The HK shoots flawless, but it can be bear to clean. Again, both are predictable, both have their good and bad qualities, but as for the .308 caliber, it’s great hitting, all around. One of my more recent purchase was a Rossi 30-30 in stainless. Again, yes, there are much better out there, but I wanted a truck gun. Something I didn’t mind getting scuffed up/neglected/abused. And for the price and it’s accurancy with iron sights out to with-in 200yds I have ZERO complaints, and, it’s a blast to shoot. At 10 years old the 30-30 was the very first rifle my dad taught me to shoot. With that being said it’s one of a handfull of fond memories I have of him, and whenever I stroll through the sporting section to find ammo and see a box of 30-30, I think of him and buy a couple boxes.
    Must note though you left out the common, tried and true, 7.62X39mm, and the 54R. Granted they’re not American, but they should have an honorable mention.
    I do want to thank you for your noted experince and expressed thoughts on the .300WSM, I think you nailed it for me, and helped me decide for good to go that route on a .300 mag.

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