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“Long Distance” 30-30 ?

Having read Elmer Keith’s books in the past concerning his helping develop the .44 magnum, I was a bit skeptical of claims of making kill shots at incredible distances with cast bullets in a handgun. Since the man lived and died long before I came around, I’ll admit I was intrigued. So I decided to do a little bit of “testing” with cast lead bullets myself.

What I’m going to post here today might leave some visitors to this website a bit skeptical themselves, but facts are facts. I started off my experiment with hard cast bullets of 170 grains weight made from hardened wheel weight alloys and a gas check on the base. I loaded these with a healthy dose of IMR – 3031 powder from a load data book. Fired through my chronometer they averaged 2,000 feet per second. It’s important to note here that any reloader should ALWAYS follow listed safe loads published for their rifle and bullet weight in the caliber of their choice — NEVER ! NEVER stray from that if you value your firearm and enjoy using your eyes ! Stoking the loads a bit hotter than listed in the book can have dire consequences. You can imagine how much it would suck to have a firing pin or part of a rifle bolt stuck in your eye socket…


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My chosen platform for this test is a standard Winchester 94 Legacy model in .30-30. The only modifications I’ve made are a nicer trigger job, and the rifle is topped off with a fixed 4 power magnification scout scope mounted over the barrel and forward of the receiver. (A nod to the late Jeff Cooper)

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The firing position is as shown in the photo… forward elbow propped on a large granite rock.
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To give you an idea of the firing range, here’s the vantage point from the firing line. Where I live in Maine we not only have some very dense underbrush with very limited shooting distances, we also have the barrens. Literally hundreds of square miles of very open spaces where the majority of America’s blueberry crops are grown. Measured distance was slightly over 400 yards. 423 yards to be exact. The “target” is a large rock to the left and slightly behind the large tree in the background.

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Now before I get chastised for shooting at big rocks and the potential for a dangerous ricochet, keep in mind that we’re miles from anyone else around. Many miles from highways and houses. Also, shooting at a big rock allows my spotter, Wayde Batchelder, to see the impact of my bullets through his 60 power spotting scope. The first 6 shots were low, and I walked the shots upwards until I was able to calculate how much to hold my horizontal cross hair above the target. And even hard cast lead projectiles do “splatter” on impact with the rock making them easier to see.

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After Wayde had confirmed I had hit the rock several times, I then proceeded to “paint” the rock with lead…. 40 more shots in a row. The wind had no value on the shot strings as it was blowing from our 6 o’clock position from behind us. The rock had plenty of lead splattered all over the front. Some a bit high, but the majority was pretty close in together.

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At the end of a rather lengthy shooting session, I’m standing in front of the rock with my dog to give you an idea of the size of the target at the 400 yard distance. I took my time and made the shots slowly and very deliberately. The Winchester 94 is a hunting rifle, not a target rifle. They’re NOT designed for minute of angle shooting, but “minute of deer”. The faster you shoot these guns, the quicker the barrel heats up, and a Winchester of this nature has a wandering zero as the barrel gets hot. In my opinion (and we know how opinions can be) if I’m shooting any faster than one shot every three to four minutes, I’m not shooting slowly enough. This rate of fire doesn’t allow the barrel time to cool enough to keep a decent zero.

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This is the view from the target back to the firing point, 400 yards away. The cluster of pine trees to the center right just behind the firing point rocks.

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And the same view through the spotting scope. Firing point is the rock on the right side of this photo that I leaned against. According to my ballistics computer / calculator, the temperature was 59 F. The chronograph was set up 10 feet from the muzzle with an average velocity of 2,000 feet per second. Height of scope above line of bore was 1.5 inches. The ballistic coefficient of the cast bullet is listed as .202 using the G1 drag model. Atmospheric pressure was measured at 29.92 Hg. The vital zone radius was set for 8″. At this setting, maximum effective range would be 180 yards. I’d be much more comfortable hunting less distance than this at about 150 yards. At 150 yards, the projectile is only traveling at 1489 feet per second. At 400 yards, the projectile is only moving at a pedestrian speed of 994 feet per second, producing only 373 foot pounds of energy. It dropped 100 inches from the muzzle height at that distance and took 0.90 or just under a full second to get there. Wow, 24 full minutes of angle drop !

Let me very quickly point out that I would NEVER consider this to be an acceptable hunting rifle at such a distance. I’m sure Elmer Keith did in fact hit targets at longer distances with his revolver, and had witnesses see him kill game animals at ridiculous ranges. I’m sure he was a better shot than I am, as all I’ve ever had for training is old fashioned Marine Corps marksmanship skills pounded into my head as a young Devil Dog. My goal here was to see if I could get a cast bullet to actually hit anything at this range. I was mildly and pleasantly surprised at the way the gun handled the distance. While certainly NOT a precision firearm by any means…. it appears the old “Appalachian Assault Rifle” laughed at and scorned by modern shooters may still have a few “tricks up it’s sleeve”. But at best all you could ever hope for trying to kill a game animal that far away, is to poke a few holes in it and watch in frustration as it ran off to bleed out somewhere else and you’d lose your dinner on the hoof. 994 Feet per second is not enough in my opinion to have the projectile expand sufficiently to ensure a clean kill. Anything else would be unethical.

Next time I take a Hail Mary shot at longer range with a firearm like this — I’m bringing a video camera !

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Bill T. June 21, 2014, 12:52 PM

    Jim, nice to see that you can get out on occasion to enjoy the country. Good shooting.

    Come on out to the great northwest any time.

    Bill T.

  • James Taylor June 21, 2014, 1:10 PM

    I had Model 94 once with a long octagon barrel that would really amaze you at how well it shot ” way out yonder ” as Granny would say . Keep up the goo work.

  • James Taylor June 21, 2014, 1:11 PM

    Sorry I meant to say good work , my mind works faster than my one finger typing , lol.

  • John Shusdock June 22, 2014, 8:45 AM

    Thank you Jim for a very informative blog. I truly enjoy reading all of your blogs, the are very well done. This information helps me with my recent purchase of two 94’s. Looking forward to more, thanks

  • Ray G June 25, 2014, 11:46 AM

    was out shooting the Mod70 in 6.5×55 you built for me. The more rds I shoot the better it shoot. I hope the new one you are building me shoots the same. KEEP ON BUILDING

  • dianeclantz July 13, 2016, 10:39 AM

    A very interesting primer on rifle scopes..

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