Still Can’t Beat the Venerable 30-30 WCF

Recently I had a discussion about an interesting cartridge, the 450 Bushmaster. Basically the idea of the Bushmaster is to deliver big-bore ballistics in the AR-15 platform. Now, I happen to hold this to be a very poor idea. The virtue of the AR-15 is basically two characteristics. It is light and it is accurate (for a semi-auto). When chambered in a big fat cartridge like 450 Bushmaster, you reduce the mag capacity, and you turn it into a potential shoulder kicking machine. Now, the AR is pretty good about recoil with its straight line butt-stock and recoil buffering bolt carrier, but there is simply a lot more momentum with a big bruiser like the 450; there’s no denying it.

But this doesn’t mean the 450 is bad. It has a certain virtue in bolt action rifles. Being rimless and straight walled, it should be both reliable with feeding and straightforward for reloading. And Ruger has recently seen fit to produce their interesting scout rifle in 450, which I think, is quite sharp looking.


And this makes sense: the ballistic profile of the 450 goes well with the scout concept, which is that it is an all-purpose, ultra-rugged and fast-handling, type of rifle, and the short length of the 450 makes it workable on the small-frame rifles designed for .223 Rem. Usually a scout rifle’s defining feature is the forward mounted scope, which greatly limits its magnification. With limited magnification comes limited range. And 450 is a real sweetie inside 200 yards: efficient, not overpowered, and will certainly have an advantage in that at 45 caliber it starts off at the same diameter that 30 caliber bullets may expand to! At least one would think.

But look, only a 4 +1 round capacity! Couldn’t double stack it I guess. And it’s a bolt action, and therefore sub optimal for left-handed shooters. But, with that short barrel it should be fast handling and not much velocity will be lost with a big-bore cartridge like the 450. At six and a half pounds, it weighs the same as my Mossberg 464 with a 20 inch barrel and 6+1 round capacity chambered in 30-30.


Let’s see how the Ruger (at more than twice the cost) stacks up to my Mossy on Eastern Whitetails, on paper at least.

450 Bushmaster propels a .458″ 250 grain bullet at about 2100 FPS out of a 16″ barrel (Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, 8th Ed.)

30-30 WCF propels a .308″ 170 grain bullet at about 2250 FPS out of a 20″ barrel. (Personal observation, which closely matches Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, 8th Ed.)

Clearly, at short range, the 450 has an advantage in kinetic energy. Let’s see how much game-effectiveness it has using the H.I.T.S. calculator.

Ballistics of 30-30 using Speer #2014 170 grain jacketed flat-point Hot-Cor bullet, BC: 298.


At 100 yards, a HITS score of 864 is achieved, at the upper limit for medium game. At 250 yards, a HITS score of 708 is achieved, still well within the range for medium game (deer).

medium gamejpeg

Ballistics of the 450 Bushmaster using a 250 grain Hornady FTX bullet, perhaps the optimal bullet for this cartridge. BC: .210.


This yields a HITS score at 100 yards of 780, actually below that of the less powerful 30-30. Don’t believe me, punch it into the calculator yourself! At 250 yards, it only yields a HITS score of 585, nearly at the bottom limit for medium game!

And the 450 uses more powder and certainly would kick more. Those loads, with either Lil’Gun or Win 296 powders are over 40 grains. It takes only 36 grains of LeveRevolution or Bl-C(2) to get the 30-30 going.

Now, there are two reasons for this, which really boil down to just one. The first is that the 30 caliber bullet (despite bing flat pointed and not ballistic tipped like the 450’s) has a much better ballistic coefficient, and so retains its energy better over distance, and the other is that the 30 caliber bullet will penetrate better. Both of these are due to geometry: sectional density. Generally bullets with higher sectional densities are not only more ballistically efficient, they also penetrate more deeply into the tissues of animals.

A 170 grain 30 caliber bullet should have no problem passing through the broadside of a deer (thus making two bleeding wounds). A 45 caliber bullet going the same speed, though much heavier, has less sectional density, and may not pass through (leaving only one). At 250 yards the 450 has pushed so much wind it has far less to push into the deer. It also drops more at that range, making estimating holdover more difficult.

Not only does the 30-30/Mossberg 464 combo outperform the Ruger ballistically for deer, it also outperforms with anything lighter!

30-30 makes a decent Varmint cartridge inside 200 yards. And it makes a very good plinker, too loaded with a power like TrailBoss. It is possible to match 22 WMR type ballistics using a 30 caliber round ball in 30-30 with TrailBoss powder. Makes a fine squirrel gun (if legal) or night-time skunk/coon gun.

Now, the Ruger may have an advantage in the reliability department. In general, bolt actions, and particularly the full-length extractor type ones, are very reliable. But who knows? I’ve only had slight reliability troubles with my Mossberg, and none with the Speer Hot-Cor bullets I reference here. To me the ambidexterity it an advantage. And levers are usually faster to operate than bolts. Both rifles take scopes well, and there are forward mounted Picatinny rails if wanted to put a scout scope on their lever action.

I guess it’s just another example of the classics are classic for a reason!

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2 Responses to Still Can’t Beat the Venerable 30-30 WCF

  1. Pingback: Forgotten Cartridges of Merit | A Contrarian's Guide to Grass and Guns

  2. Pingback: The all-purpose load | A Contrarian's Guide to Grass and Guns

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