Cartridge Thoughts

There’s been quite a bit of discussion in Comments and in my Inbox to various posts recently about rifles and chamberings.  Here’s an example, from Longtime Buddy and Reader Termite:

What are your thoughts on the ubiquitous 1894 30-30? Either Winchester or Marlin; I like the Marlin because you can more easily mount a scope or red dot. Ammo is EVERYWHERE, it is easy to reload, and in the right hands, a 200 yd rifle. Plus, you can usually pick up a decent one for somewhere around $400 – $500, maybe less if you find someone in dire need of cash.
Added bonus: it isn’t an E.B.R.

I’ve often  recommended the 1894 .30-30 as a “do it all” or even “essential” rifle — see here for an example — so all the above can be taken as read with no argument from me.  If you have young eyes, then the iron sights are fine, and if not, the addition of a 1.5-5x scope will fill the bill admirably.

Which brings me on to the main topic of this post:  chambering choices.

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes on this website will know that if faced with a choice between “traditional” vs. “modern” — on just about everything — I will always go traditional.  When it comes to cartridges, this is even more true.  Many years ago, I wrote a piece which maintained that with only a couple of exceptions, no centerfire rifle cartridges brought to market since 1955 were any better than the offerings on the market prior to that date.  In fact, apart from the 7mm Rem Mag and maybe the 6.5 Creedmoor (jury still out on that one, although I’m told by an insider that the Brit SpecFor guys are just lapping it up), it’s hard for me to think of a “modern” cartridge which, if replaced with an older equivalent, would be sorely missed.

As for the .30-30… sheesh, it’s probably killed more deer in the U.S. than any other cartridge, and in heavily-forested places like Pennsylvania and Maine, likely more than twice as many than any other three  cartridges combined.  And I think that if Bubba’s Gun ‘N Bait Shop doesn’t  have any .30-30 on their shelves, they’re probably breaking a state law, in most states anyway, and it would be wise to steer clear of them.

As a last-ditch gun, I don’t think the 1894 / 336-style lever rifle (of any brand) would be a bad choice.  Here’s a Winchester 1894, made in 1948:

At Collectors, it’s going for $750 (because of the pre-1964 manufacture date).  Later models from other gun makers can be had for around $400, like this Marlin 336 (1963):

…and this price point puts them squarely with the older Mausers I spoke of earlier — the only difference being that these  old girls aren’t pig-ugly.

Damn, I love living in America — where the argument rages not over whether  you can own a gun, but which choice you’re going to make for any specific purpose.  Even, like now, for no specific purpose at all.


  1. The way to solve the 94 vs 336 question is to own both. My 94 dates back to the mid 70s so it’s not one of the “good” ones but it shoots straight and I ‘ve always liked the way the receiver fits in my hand. The 336 is actually marked “OTASCO” for Oklahoma Tire and Supply. Marlin made a lot of house brand guns back in the day. I bought both guns used for around $150 each some years back. If I was forced to choose between them I’d probably go with the Winchester. If you live in cowboy country you have to own a lever action Winchester.

    So my reloading dies wouldn’t feel neglected I’ve got a Henry in .44 mag and a Rossi 92 in .357. To round out the lever action collection I’ve got a Winchester model 200 .22. Lots of hate in the shooting world for the first of the post 64 Winchesters but mine is a fun rifle to shoot and has been totally reliable.

    So yeah I like lever guns. Right now I don’t shoot the .30-30s enough to justify reloading that round, but dies are still cheap and if we were to ever move back to PA either rifle would serve me well for white tail.

    1. Winchester, Marlin, Remington and Savage/Stevens all made house brand guns back in the day. Quite a few of which are hidden gems. Especially ones made for Sears and Montgomery Wards.
      Ted Williams and JC Higgins marked guns are usually good buys.

      1. Indeed. Here is a store brand cross-over list–

        Here is a blurb on J.C. Higgins. They were referred to as “That Cadillac rifle with the dime store pedigree”. IIRC, they were made before serial numbers were required by law, so they have none.

        Here is my Marlin story–

  2. If you’re actually looking for an older Winchester (or older anything), I’d avoid the Cabelas “gun library” or whatever the hell they call their used gun section. They seem to think certain pieces are made of gold. I’ve seen Winchesters that look like they were tied to a bumper and drug down a gravel road for 20 miles – literally beat to hell – and they are asking $1000’s for something I’d be scared to shoot. I’ve taken rifles in to discuss trade, only to have them low-ball and lie about it. They have literally taken a rifle off the shelf while I was arguing price and hide it in the back. They had an 03A3 on the wall for $2000, I had the same model in much better condition that they offered me only $300 for. When I tried to point out what they had marked on their gun, the gun was “gone”. I’ve seen pawn shops with better integrity.

    I’ve heard very good things about Henry, my son has one of their .22 rimfire rifles and it’s a solid piece. Modern Marlins are rumored to be hit or miss on quality control.

  3. Old Cartridges, I like them a lot. My handy little Marline Guide Gun shoots the 147 year old .45-70 and that is a very old cartridge that is still effective.

  4. Your premise that most cartridges introduced since 1955, with a handful of exceptions, are no better than those invented before that year is one I can unreservedly agree with.

    The .30-06, especially if one handloads, may well be one of the most versatile cartridges invented…not that that is some stunning revalation. It can be loaded to mimic a .30-30, a .308, and can get within spitting distance of a low-end .300 WM round. Sure, it’s boring as hell, but it is as dependable as few other things are in this life.

    The 6.5 CM has really been an eye opener for me, with its moderate recoil and excellent accuracy. From what I’ve read, the 6.5 CM mostly treads on ground already covered by the 6.5×55 Swede, but at least the CM has helped popularize the 6.5 caliber to a previously unknown level in the US. I haven’t blooded the CM yet, but maybe this year if I pull the tags I applied for.

    One old round I have recently become acquainted with, via a Savage model 99 made in 1954, is the .300 Savage. I can’t tell which I like more: the round for itself, or the gun it’s chambered in (I suspect the latter), but it is one sweet little cartridge, and not too much of a step down from the .308. I have wanted a model 99 since I was 11, I’m now 60, and I have no idea why I waited so long. The only explanation, albeit a weak one, is that school, work, marriage, fatherhood, and divorce, must have distracted me.

    Finally, I keep toying with the idea of picking up a lever-action .30-30 for fun; I really like the looks of that Marlin 336 youth model. Hmmm, maybe in another 49 years.

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