The .30-30 Winchester/.30 Winchester Center Fire/7.62x51Rmm cartridge was first marketed in early 1895 for the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle. The .30-30, as it is most commonly known, was America's first small-bore, sporting rifle cartridge designed for smokeless powder. The .30-30 is one of the most common deer cartridges in North America.
Although the original name is .30 WCF, the -30 in the designation was added to the name by Marlin, who did not want to put the name of rival Winchester on their rifles when they were chambered for the cartridge soon after its introduction. The -30 stands for the standard load of 30 grains (1.9 g) of early smokeless powder, which was on par with IMR/DuPont's 4064. Over time Marlin's variation on the name stuck, though ".30 WCF" is also used
The .30-30 is considered by many to be the "entry-class" for modern deer cartridges. While it will take deer- and black bear-sized game, it is limited in effective range to approximately 200 yards (183 m) for that purpose. It is common to define the characteristics of similar cartridges as being in ".30-30 class" when describing their effectiveness. The .30-30 is typically loaded with bullets weighing between 150 and 170 grains (9.7–11.0 g), but lighter loads are possible. Bullets of up to 180 grains (11.7 g) can be used but the overall length restrictions of the lever action rifles used for this round limit their usefulness.
One of the primary reasons for the .30-30's popularity amongst deer hunters is its light recoil. Average recoil from a typical 150-grain (9.7 g) load at 2,390 feet per second (730 m/s) in a 7.5-pound (3.4 kg) rifle is 10.6 pounds-force (47 N) of felt recoil at the shooter's shoulder. This, combined with the cartridge's ability to take the majority of large game in North America, as long as the game is within 200 yards (180 m) of the shooter, results in a highly effective hunting round.
Because the majority of rifles chambered in .30-30 are lever-action rifles with tubular magazines, most .30-30 cartridges are loaded with round-nose or flat-nose bullets. This is to prevent a spitzer-point bullet (the shape seen on the .30-06 Springfield) from setting off the primer of the cartridge ahead of it in the magazine during recoil. Were that to happen, the gun would probably be damaged or destroyed and the shooter seriously injured. The Savage Model 99 was introduced in 1899 with a rotary magazine, in part to avoid that issue. When used in single-shot rifles or handguns, such as the Thompson Center Arms Contender or Encore series, it is common for shooters to handload the cartridge with spire-point bullets for improved ballistics.
A notable exception to the "no-spire point" guidelines for tubular magazines is the new Hornady LEVERevolution line of flexible memory elastomer tipped ammunition. By allowing a more efficient bullet shape, it allows a lighter bullet, higher muzzle velocity, and flatter trajectory. Given the popularity of the .30-30 cartridge and the lever action rifle, the potential market for the new ammunition is huge. Early reports indicate substantially improved accuracy with the round and at good terminal ballistic performance.
The .30-30 is one of the relatively few popular surviving centerfire rifle cartridges that have a rimmed case. The .30-30, like most other rimmed case examples, such as the 7.62x54mmR, the .303 British, the 9.3x74R, the .45-70, and the Nitro Express cartridges, are all old cartridge designs that became popular before rimless designs became popular for bolt action rifles. The .307 Winchester, .308 Marlin Express, and the .444 Marlin are exceptions; all of these are modern cartridges designed specifically for lever action rifles.
The .30-30 is by far the most common chambering in lever action rifles such as the Winchester Model 1894 and the Marlin Model 336. The cartridge's rimmed design, medium length, and moderate pressure work well for the typical lever action design. The rimmed design is also well suited for various single-shot actions, so it is commonly found there as well. Rimmed cartridges are chambered in bolt action rifles, but .30-30 bolt actions are uncommon today, despite being quite effective in the field. “At one time Winchester turned out the Model 54 bolt-action repeater in this caliber [.30 WCF], but it was a decided failure, chiefly because the man desiring a bolt action preferred to take one of the better and more powerful cartridges. However, in this particular caliber, the .30 WCF cartridge proved to be decidedly accurate.” In addition, rimmed cartridges typically don't feed well with the box magazines normally found on bolt-action rifles. Other examples of bolt action rifles offered in .30-30 Winchester are the Savage 340 and the Remington 788.
In the sport of handgun metallic silhouette shooting, the .30-30 has had some success. The Thompson Center Arms Contender pistol, with its compact frame and break-open action, is ideally suited for cartridges of the .30-30's size. With proper loading, the .30-30 will produce velocities of nearly 2000 f/s (610 m/s) out of the short 10 inch (25 cm) Contender barrel, though recoil and muzzle blast are strong from the short barrel. The longer 14-inch (36 cm) barrel results in significant reductions in felt recoil (due to increased weight) and muzzle blast, with higher velocities, especially if factory loaded rifle ammunition is used. Magnum Research offers their five-shot BFR revolver in .30-30.