The Ubiquitous 30-30 Lever Gun

lever_action_chamberDear survivalists and preppers, have we gone AR and AK nuts? Hey, you know what, there are viable alternatives to the multi-round, mag latch, muzzle flash black guns so often associated with the bug out movement. For one, this author contends a good ole reliable, lever action 30-30 has a role to play in our survivalist work. Sometimes the best choice is the most iconic one.

If you’re into such things, you can revisit the original lever action rifle developed in 1894.  The Henry “load once, shoot all day” rifles, among other efforts, pre-date the early Winchesters that ‘won the American west‘. The 30-30 came a year later as the first American centerfire smokeless powder load.

Even today, the so-called aged 30-30 Winchester remains the benchmark deer hunting cartridge mainly because it delivers ample killing power at reasonable ranges. Still widely available in factory ammo loads using 150-170 grain bullets, the 30-30 is no magnum, but is still effective.

The Outfit that Fits

lever_actions_saleA lever action 30-30 rifle is a versatile bug out rifle for woods, field, or ranch. It can be used for protection, patrol, varmint control, and hunting. These rifles are generally lightweight, handy to wield, and easy to shoot with low recoil. It is just as useful for protecting the bug in residence. The common variety 30-30 lever gun offers a 20-inch tube with some models sporting carbine, or compact rifled barrels. The under-barrel magazine tube holds 5-6 rounds with one additional loaded in the chamber. Sure, not a mag change, but cartridges are easily inserted into the side action loading gate. Lever action cycling is fast, effective, and accurate. What’s more, the lever action rifle is a reliable, well-tested choice. The lever gun is a good alternative fit for many preppers.

Related: Ruger Charger Takedown

As promoted, the typical lever action rifle is a handy tool. It is straight-forward in its use with no complicated buttons, switches, releases or other distractions. This rifle format is easy to load, operate, and chamber. The lever action is a positive camming action that rarely fails to work.

Normally, the external hammer is positioned in a half-cock safe position prior to fully cocking the hammer for firing. Many of today’s new factory lever guns also offer a slide bolt safety lock that is simple to manipulate. First time and experienced shooters will find the lever gun easy to operate. The mechanism becomes second nature.

Barrel lengths of lever guns vary from short carbine lengths of 16-inches to the factory standard barrel of 20-inches. There are some models that have longer tubes and some with intermediate barrel lengths. Shop for what you can handle best.

Lever guns most often come supplied with factory installed open sights, usually a simple buckhorn adjustable sight dovetailed into the barrel. The forward front sight can be a simple ramp or hooded ramp to reduce glare. Most current production lever guns have the upper receiver drilled and tapped for installing a scope mount for an optical riflescope.

lever_action_kid_rifleLever guns weigh in the neighborhood of 6-7 pounds, loaded. Many models have sling swivel studs to install a shoulder sling for ease of carry or for shooting support. They are not cumbersome to tote and can be pressed into service quickly and smoothly onto a distant target. A sling can be carried across the chest to free up both hands for other tasks, yet the rifle can be rolled out of the carry mode and easily shouldered for shooting.

Lever guns usually come with wood stocks but newer versions are now offering black synthetic buttstocks and forearms. Rifle finishes vary from a standard blued metal, matte finishes, or stainless steel models. Select the features that suit your needs and applications best.

The Lever Gun Market

Lever action rifle models are currently available from Winchester, Marlin, Rossi, Mossberg, and Henry Repeating Arms. These manufacturer’s offer models in 30-30, smaller handgun equivalent loads, and heavier loads like the 45-70. The 30-30 remains the moderate alternative.

See Also: The Theory and Practical Application of The Walking Around Rifle 

A new lever action rifle is going to set you back from $450 to upwards of $600, maybe slightly more. They are certainly cheaper than most AR rifles. Sales on lever guns can be found and shopped. Gun shows will have new and used rifles. If you go the used route, just be certain you are confident the rifle is in excellent condition. Stay clear of rifles with rust or an abusive appearance. You’ll know an overused gun when you see it.


lever_action_standingTo be honest, the typical lever action 30-30 rifle is no AR-15. But, let’s not get lost comparing apples to oranges. The obvious distractor could be the loaded ammunition capacity. However, load up the magazine, put one extra in the chamber and use a buttstock ammo holder to carry six more rounds on the rifle. That is plenty of ammo for hunting and deterring threats. Put twenty more rounds on belt loops or in an easy access pouch on your carry backpack. It sure beats lugging along a half dozen AR mags in a heavy, hot front carry vest. ARs definitely have their places, but not all the time. Preppers should always be open to alternatives; adopt them and adapt to them.  Is the 30-30 lever action rifle an ideal set up? Well, no. It probably isn’t ideal for every bug-out or bug-in application. But, it is another choice worthy of serious consideration. Easy to operate, carry, deploy, shoot, and maintain, the 30-30 lever gun has a lot going for it.

Photos Courtesy of:
John Woods

Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

9 thoughts on “The Ubiquitous 30-30 Lever Gun”

  1. Although I like a lever gun I do not care for it in 30-30 caliber IF and that is IF it is a rifle for SHTF use, alone as far as a deer rifle it's a game getter. The 30-30 requires 30+ grains of powder the action is rated in the 30,000 C.U.P. range it holds 4 to 6 rounds with 1 in the chamber. the weight of the cartridge is not much less than a 308 or a caliber of similar size. There is the noise of cocking because you do not want to carry a cocked lever gun no matter if it does have a safety. the average weight of one is app 6.5 pounds

    Considering all that I would opt for a bolt rifle of more power, range and caliber like .308

    In a lever gun I rather like the pistol calibers, more capacity and easily paired with hand guns of the same caliber IF that is the way a person decides ( no right or wrong) it's all about your region will you encounter / hunt large game or is this for personal / WROL protection ? remembering that a 30-30 will penetrate walls.
    all this is information and only the reader can or should decide but if you have a 30-30 it is not something to be ashamed of LOL.

  2. My thoughts are similar to 'snake's' regarding the preference for bolt action long guns, if used primarily for hunting. That said, I proudly own a 30-30 and consider it a worthy backup to 30-06/.308 for hunting deer and mid-sized game. The difference, of course, is that you can punch out at greater distances with high powered bolt action rifles and most calibers are flatter shooting than the venerable 30-30.

    If you change the focus to self defense, I wouldn't hesitate to designate the 30-30 as a backup to my AR platforms, but that would be right along with using a 30 caliber carbine. And frankly, the muzzle blast of an incoming 30-30 round would give most perps a reason to pause.
    Good article. Well done!

  3. There are many things a lever gun does well that the AR falls a bit short on. Hunting for large game is one of the most important. The AR with 3000fps 55 grain slug will leave you chasing a wounded animal, where a 30-30 or 45-70 has been dropping big bucks for longer than any of us have been walking the earth. Reloading long term is another area where the lever gun stands out. Home cast lead bullets and the ability to use black powder that can be made at home, as well as low chamber pressures that let you reuse brass several times is a plus for the lever guns. I good supply of primers will let you shoot for generations if the lights ever go out.

  4. Back when I lived in Idaho, my old Winchester 30-30 supplied enough mule deer as well as a few Elk to keep the larder full. I also found some ammo that used a sabot with a 55 grain bullet in a 30-30 case. I don't remember who or what they were called but they sure did the damage on varmints like coyotes and the like. Although I have remanded the Winchester to my gun safe and currently use a AR, i have as much ammo for that as any other thing in my inventory. its dependable and I have no qualms in using it as a back up to the AR.

  5. Picking up my old Win. 30-30 always puts a smile on my face. It does as go a job as any for what it was designed to do, taking game animals. I killed my first deer with one, it's light weight, easy to carry, short barreled and most of all simple dependable design. I will never be without one (in pre 64). It was not designed to be a defensive gun but a proven deer slayer. Pick one up and carry it a while and you will enjoy the experience. I enjoyed reading this article.

  6. The lever actions are slimmer than most other rifles, allowing easy in-hand carrying and easier to fit in vehicle compartments. Ammunition is very easy to find and often one of the less expensive big game ammunitions to find. The soft point bullets in this round are very effective. Higher velocity round bullets are a compromise between short and long range. The 30-30s limited range allows the bullet to be designed for optimum performance. And lets face it – most deer are killed within 200 yards, in many cases half of that range. The 30-30 is very capable of killing there. The top eject models are a challenge to mount scopes on, so if scope sights are your choice, shop for the side eject.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. The 55gr. bullet in a sabot was the Remington Accelerator ctg. It was available in .30-06.308, and .30-30. It was a high velocity varmint cartridge developed for varmints in your deer rifle. I haven't seen any on shelves for quite a while. Like all sabots it did not leave rifling marks on the bullet, so I am unsure if it was this fact or the difficulty in getting it to work in so many actions or its accuracy that caused its disappearance.

  8. One thing I believe could become a factor in the future, is availability of ammo. It seems the current mood / future of the legislative system might be to restrict ammo for what they consider assault weapons. If it be thru tax or other means. The 30-30 kind slides under the radar in such instances. Ammo can be found most anywhere for that caliber and it is not on the radar as an assault weapon to legislators.


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