Today’s post comes from our Guest author D.S.
I’m somewhat of a history guy. Oh, the stories a gun could tell if they could talk, the truths they would tell that their shooters won’t. Yeah, we know that buck you shot at 300 yards with a 20mph crosswind and rainy conditions was actually 75 yards away on a perfect day… but that’s a story for another time. I’m more interested in the stories that the guns could tell when they were with our grandfathers and great grandfathers. Like that old 30/30 lever action hand-me-down rifle sitting neglected in the back of your safe. There is something special in my heart about the 30/30. I inherited my great grandma’s 30/30; she used to shoot coyotes with it to keep them off her cattle and crops. The stories my grandpa’s guns could tell. What would my dad’s guns tell me from him shooting squirrels and birds when he was younger? What kind of stories would Theodore Roosevelt’s guns tell?
The lever action 30/30 is the gun that won the west. Made popular in movies and shows about the west. The 30/30 was used by many famous people, such as Theodore Roosevelt, “Wild Bill” Hickock, Billy the Kid, and Annie Oakley to name a few. Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite gun was his Winchester 30/30 rifle.
While the 30/30 is one of the most famous rounds in America, the 7.62×39 can be found in every other corner of the world. With roughly 75 to 100 million AK rifles made, the 7.62×39 must have gotten something right. The 7.62×39 round has been used in the AK in conditions from Russia and Ukraine, to Afghanistan and the Middle East, Egypt and all of Africa to the jungles of Vietnam, and even down in South America. I’m sure we have all heard stories of people digging up AK’s after 20 years, shaking the dust off, maybe put some lube on it, and shoot it like any other rifle. With such robust reliability, it’s easy to see why the AK is the go to rifle around the world.
Now you may be asking, why am I writing about an American classic lever action 30/30, and comparing it to a communist AK in 7.62×39? Well it’s because they’re not all that different. And that’s what has led me to love the AK platform as much as I do. That they are so ballistically identical is one of the great aspects of the AK, and one of the reasons I also love the AK rifle. The 30/30 has harvested more deer than any other rifle in America. It has been tested in some of the worst conditions in the old west, and hunts all over America. Then there is the AK, which is arguably the most tank like semi-auto rifle ever invented. It has been in the worst conditions ever imagined and it continually takes it and begs for more. Pair that with a 30 round magazine that shoots a round that is ballistically very similar to the most popular hunting cartridge in America, you have a rifle that deserves a good look here in the States, even though it is a communist gun.
Let’s look at the comparisons between the AK and the 30/30. With the 30/30 you have a handy, lightweight rifle with a light to medium trigger. It shoots a .30 caliber bullet around 2100fps for the round nose round, and 2465fps on the 140gr leverevolution round. The lever action 30/30 is extremely durable, and can reach out to 200 yards and take most game in America with ease. With a bare AK, you have a handy, medium weight rifle with a sloppy medium to heavy trigger at best. It shoots a .30 caliber bullet around 2300 to 2400fps. It’s ridiculously durable, and can reach out to 300 yards before it starts to drop like a brick, ballistically speaking.
30/30 150gr Drop Data:
7.62×39 123gr drop data:
30/30 140gr leverevolution Hornady drop data:
30/30 round nose 150gr energy:
7.62×39 123gr energy:
30/30 140gr leverevolution energy data:
When I first got my AK, I already had my AR configured just how it is in my review of the Savage MSR 15 Recon. I showed my wife, who has little to no experience with rifles, my AK and my AR. To my surprise, she said my AK was lighter than my AR. Now that’s not a scientific experiment, but it made me realize that with the scope and the rail on my AR, it got kind of heavy; everyone claims the AK is too heavy, yet someone with no experience says an AK feels lighter than an “modern” AR15. Let’s compare the AK to a typical 30/30. A marlin 30/30 weighs about 7lbs. Your typical AKM patterned rifle weighs 6.8lbs unloaded, to 8.4lbs fully loaded. Their weights are indeed similar. The 30/30 is a very balanced rifle that you could shoulder one handed with ease. The AK on the other hand, you have a harder time and you can definitely notice it is front heavy. Despite the balance issues, the rifles, being made from steel and wood, they both feel robust enough to go up to bat, and then you can turn around and ring steel at 100 yards no problem.
Can the 30/30 Retire?
When I see the AK, I see a modern 30/30 rifle… but better in some ways. The 30/30 has a fixed wood stock, it’s a lever action that holds 6 to 8 rounds. Sight adjustments are limited and adding an optic is very difficult. With the AK you can have a side folding stock, an under folding stock, a fixed stock, an M4/AR15 stock. You have stock iron sights adjustable for windage and elevation and even have a bullet drop if you adjust the rear sight slider. You can put a hand guard on the AK that takes M-LOK or Keymod attachments. You can put a rail system such as an ultimak on it very easily and mount optics. If your AK has a side rail mount you can have a red dot optic one minute and then switch to a scope and ring steel at 400 yards. You can upgrade your triggers with no creep and less than 4lbs of pull. You can even get different muzzle device and have great flash hiding and/or recoil mitigation capabilities. You can have all of that modularity with plug-n-play pieces that may or may not need a little fitting to be done to them.
With the 30/30, you would need a gunsmith to do most if not all of that work, depending on how confident you are with permanently modifying your 30/30. In my opinion, why would you want to touch a piece of American history like that?
Leave your 30/30 the way it is, the way your great grandparents had it so its stories remain pure. Grab an AK, bring it into the 21st century, and make it yours. Years from now, that 30/30 will still be telling the same old stories of your grandparents… and right next to it will be your AK, the scratches and dings, the shiney spots… telling your story to your great grand-kids.
My dad still shoots deer & other stuff with his 30-30. I think he favors a 115 (ish) gr projectile.
I’ve seen a few law-men still running a lever action 30-30 for work. And do it with ease & speed.
Frankly .. the 30-30 is not going anywhere. The love for it runs deep .. though long in the tooth .. it’s family to most.
I don’t have a 30-30 .. but respect its past, present and future.
Being cross dominate when I shoot I find my lever action with iron sights more usable. With poor eyesight I find most scopes unusable.
Definitely concur w/ the premise of this article, but you really need to run the 150+ gr 7.62×39 loads to match .30-30 performance. Otherwise spot on.
This is a tangent but also, w/in 200-300 yards, 7.62×39 does pretty much everything 7.62 NATO can do w/ much less weight and recoil and a smaller and lighter platform. Beyond 300 yards is where 6.5 Creedmoor separates from 7.62 NATO ballistically so it makes for interesting discussion regarding caliber wars.
Back to the original point:
You can shave 1.5 to 2 lbs in weapon weight vs an AK by going w/ a VZ58. IMO, it’s the combloc’s M1 carbine insofar as handling but w/ the punch and improved accuracy (vs AK) of the SKS… The VZ58 was truly a weapon ahead of its time and only became surpassed in reliability by the AR15/M4 carbine (which weighs similar) in the mid to late 2000s (mags and extractor upgrades in particular).
Clearly 7.62×39 ammo weighs more than 5.56, so less rounds per pound, but considering where AK prices are these days, going with a VZ58 instead should be a no brainer. Only limitation in 7.62×39 is that you’re limited to OE mags and some less reliable polymer ones that weigh the same. But unlike AR15 mags which were originally made to be disposable, VZ58 mags are engineered of thicker and more durable aluminum. VZ58 is available in 5.56, but I truly don’t see the point vs alternatives equally reliable and interesting at similar or lower price points.
Galil ACE and 806 Bren are also solid next-gen 7.62×39 rifles, but I think I’d lean towards the Bren just due to the last shot bolt hold open — which unlike the AK, the VZ58 also features.
All of this regarding VZ58 has been discussed exhaustively at czfirearms.us. The biggest limitation is one company has a monopoly on importation and distribution of the new production Czech Small Arms guns (CZ-UB sold off the manufacturing rights and tooling, but still made in the Czech Republic), so it makes them more expensive than they’d otherwise be and also limits overall quantity sold in the US (compare Canada prices for example)…
Century VZ2008s were great for raising the profile and at ~1/2 of the cost of the CSA are great guns for the money with only a few minor century monkey issues.
Demigod LLC’s article on the 7.62×39 is also a great read — if hand-loaded, it can do everything .300 BLK can do w/o the kaboom risk; however, subsonic reliability in VZ58s has been a bit of a challenge for folks who’ve tried (Vz58s not discussed in the article): http://demigodllc.com/articles/7.62×39-improving-the-military-standard/?p=1
While a big fan of your/TNR’s standard content, please keep articles like these coming too.
nice article but the 1860,1866, and 1873 would be the lever actions that won the west. None of these were chambered in 30-30 but in black powder cartridges. Wild bill Hickock was long dead before this round came out and, therefore, did not use it. The same can be said for Billy the Kid. The 1894 was the first rifle to widely use the round and it became available in 1895 (ironically) which was long after most of the west was “won.” It definitely holds acclaim for various other reasons not the least of which is it’s unbelievable popularity and the fact that it stills hold’s its own as a good wilderness gun. Hand-loaders can reload this round to take anything from a jackrabbit to a moose. Now, you will likely get a reaction from the “nothing short of a 300 nitro magnum” crowd at this statement but, bear in mind a 30-30 has done it. This doesn’t mean it is ideal for the job, but skilled marksmen have done it plenty of times ethically when they do their part to get within the effective range and actually hunt (versus pot shots across a canyon like our modern urban hunters seem addicted to). If i am worried about hordes of looters I’ll grab the ak but, the more likely scenario of needing food, is a situation that the old Winchester would be a better answer for. Make no mistake, however, a good lever action in that hands of someone who knows how to use it can serve pretty well in settling social problems also. Lets all just pray that we can get along better so we don’t have a need to try it.
I went through Gunsite when Cooper still ran it. He said the Winchester 94 is the only gun made that doesn’t need any gunsmithing right out of the box.
He also said the average city cop would be safer and better off with a lever action 30-30 versus a semi-auto like the AR-15. Sorry but that’s what he said and it is impossible to argue against his logic.