The .30 Winchester Smokeless first appeared in Winchester's catalog No. 55, dated August 1895. As chambered in the Winchester Model 1894 carbine and rifle, it was also known as .30 Winchester Center Fire or .30 WCF. When the cartridge was chambered in the Marlin Model 1893 rifle, rival gunmaker Marlin used the designation .30-30 or .30-30 Smokeless. The added -30 stands for the standard load of 30 grains (1.9 g) of early smokeless powder, according to late-19th century American naming conventions for black powder-filled cartridges. Both Marlin and Union Metallic Cartridge Co. also dropped the Winchester appellation, as they did not want to put the name of rival Winchester on their products.
The modern designation of .30-30 Winchester was arrived at by using Marlin's variation of the name with the Winchester name appended as originator of the cartridge, though .30 WCF is still seen occasionally. This designation also probably serves to avoid consumer confusion with the different, yet similarly shaped .30-40 Krag, which has been referred to as ".30 US" and ".30 Army".
As originally produced by Winchester Repeating Arms (WRA) and Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC), it was manufactured with a "metal patched" (jacketed) lead bullet weighing 160 gr. One year later, UMC produced a 170-gr bullet offering, which is still the most popular loading for the cartridge. Both 150-gr and 170-gr bullets continue to be very popular, as seen in the number of these weights offered by current manufacturers, although the 160-gr bullet weight has reappeared in modern cartridges from Hornady, as noted below. Jacketed bullets for the .30-30 are .308 inches in nominal diameter. Cast lead bullets for the .30-30 are also popular, and usually are dimensioned to .309 inches in diameter for use in the .30-30.
The .30-30 is considered to be the "entry-class" for modern big-game hunting cartridges, and it is common to define the characteristics of cartridges with similar ballistics as being in ".30-30 class" when describing their trajectory. While it is very effective on deer-sized and black bear-sized game, most commercial loadings are limited in effective range to about 200 yd (183 m) for that purpose, except when using ballistic-tip ammunition. The cartridge is typically loaded with bullets weighing between 150 and 170 gr (9.7–11.0 g), but lighter loads are possible. Bullets of up to 180 gr (11.7 g) can be used, but the overall length restrictions of the lever-action rifles most commonly chambered for this round limit their usefulness.
In Canada and the U.S., the cartridge has also been used on moose, caribou, and pronghorn. Modern opinions in Canada on its suitability for moose are mixed. Paul Robertson, a Canadian hunting firearms columnist, says, "Too many moose have been taken with the [.30-30] to rule it out as good for this purpose, as well." In both Canada and the U.S. it has a long history of use on moose. It is generally agreed that the .30-30 is not a good choice for hunters who wish to shoot animals at longer ranges. The cartridge, with flat- or round-nosed bullets, does not meet minimum energy standards required for moose hunting in Finland, Norway, or Sweden. Hunting technique and style, as well as law and culture, dictate cartridge choices. Thor Strimbold, a Canadian who has made more than 20 one-shot kills on moose with a .30-30, advises most moose hunters to use more than minimal power if they can handle the recoil. While the .30-30 is legal for hunting moose in Newfoundland, Canada, game authorities do not recommend its use.
One of the primary reasons for the .30-30's popularity amongst deer hunters is its light recoil. Average recoil from a typical 150-gr load at 2,390 feet per second (730 m/s) in a 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) rifle is 10.6 foot-pounds (14.4 J) of felt recoil at the shooter's shoulder, about half that of a comparable rifle chambered for the .30-06 Springfield.
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 for safety. This is to prevent a spitzer-point bullet (the shape seen on the .308 Winchester above) from setting off the primer of the cartridge ahead of it in the magazine during recoil, resulting in potentially catastrophic damage to both firearm and shooter. 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 hand load the cartridge with spire-point bullets for improved ballistics.
A notable exception to the "no pointed bullets" guideline for bullet selection in rifles with tubular magazines are the new flexible "memory elastomer"-tipped LEVERevolution cartridges as produced by Hornady. The soft tips of these bullets easily deform under compression, preventing detonations while under recoil in the magazine, yet also return to their original pointed shape when that pressure is removed, thus allowing for a more efficient bullet shape than previously available to load safely in such rifles. The more aerodynamic shape results in a flatter bullet trajectory and greater retained velocity downrange, significantly increasing the effective range of rifles chambered for this cartridge.
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. Some earlier Savage Model 99 rifles were chambered for this cartridge, as well. More recently, Mossberg came out with lever-action rifles in the chambering, the Mossberg models 472, 479, and newer 464. One can also find these Mossberg rifles under the brands of Western Field (sold through Montgomery Ward as the M72). The 472 was only produced from 1970 to 1979, and the 479 until 1983 - both of which are rare and often confused with the Marlin 336 due to their similar appearance. The Roy Rogers edition has a gold trigger and butt plate, and Roy Rogers' signature on the stock. Rossi of Brazil has recently started offering what is essentially a clone of the Marlin 336 series in .30-30. Winchester produced a simplified and more economical version of their popular Model '94 through Sears under the Ted Williams name, and through Western Auto under the Revelation label.
The rimmed design is 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. "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 do not 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 Stevens Model 325, the Savage Model 340, the Springfield/Savage 840, and the Remington 788.
In the sport of handgun metallic silhouette shooting, the .30-30 has been used. The Thompson Center Arms Contender pistol, with its compact frame and break-action design, is available for the .30-30 cartridge. The .30-30 will produce velocities of nearly 2000 f/s (610 m/s) out of the 10-in (25-cm) Contender barrel, though recoil and muzzle blast are stronger due to the short barrel. The longer 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.
In addition to the most common factory derivations, the .25-35 Winchester, 6.5×52mmR, and the less-well-known .219 Zipper, the .30-30 has also spawned many wildcat cartridges over the years. One example is the 7-30 Waters, made by necking the .30-30 case down to 7 mm (.284 in). The 7-30 Waters eventually moved from a wildcat design to a factory chambering, with rifles being made by Winchester, and barrels made by Thompson/Center for their Contender pistol. Other .30-30-based wildcats are used almost exclusively in the Contender pistol. One of the more notable examples is the .30 Herrett, a .30-30 case necked back to reduce case capacity for more efficient loading with fast-burning powders. The .30 Herrett produces higher velocities with less powder than the larger .30-30 case in the short 10- and 14-in (25- and 35-cm) Contender barrels. Other examples are the .357 Herrett, developed to handle heavier bullets and larger game than the .30 Herrett, and the 7mm International Rimmed, a popular metallic silhouette cartridge. Bullberry, a maker of custom Contender barrels, offers proprietary .30-30 wildcats in 6 mm, .25 caliber, and 6.5 mm diameters. In addition, P.O. Ackley used the cartridge as the basis for the .30-30 Ackley Improved.
Perhaps the oldest derivative cartridge is the wildcat cartridge 35-30, also known as the 35-30-30, 35/30-30, and 35/30. This round was never factory produced. Rather, it was an invention to counteract the corrosion of the early 30-30 barrels from the use of black powder and shot out barrels. Barrels that were no longer serviceable were bored out to 35 caliber and the 30-30 case was re-necked and loaded with a 35 caliber bullet. Hand loaded ammunition is commonly loaded a few grams of powder below .35 Remington levels..25-35 Winchester