In many regards, the .30-30 Winchester round was the very first modern high velocity caliber. It didn’t take long to become one of the most widespread cartridges in the United States. Many shooters and hunters would agree that the .30-30 has killed more deer than any other caliber in the world.
The .30-30 has become a popular round in other parts of the world, such as Europe, South America, and Australia. There’s good reason why. The .30-30 is a very versatile round with relatively little recoil in comparison to bigger calibers, but more than enough stopping power to bring down a deer, black bear, or a wild boar.
So only one question remains: what is the best .30-30 lever action rifle for general purpose use that you can buy?
There are four high quality and popular models of lever action rifles that we will explore each with their own pros and cons.
HENRY REPEATING ARMS 30-30
First of all, this is not the same famous Henry rifle that was developed and used in the American Civil War. The Henry Repeating Arms Company that we know today is an entirely different business, but that being said, they still make some of the smoothest and finest lever action guns in the market.
The Henry Repeating Arms 30-30 is a classic lever action rifle coming with a high quality brass receiver and an octagon barrel that measures twenty inches. It utilizes a straight checkered stock furnished from reddish American walnut, with a brass plate at the end for your shoulder. The sights are fully adjustable, while the overall rifle is well balanced.
The Henry can load five rounds of .30-30 in the tubular magazine plus the round in the chamber. Something that is unique about the Henry series of rifles is how they load differently than other lever actions.
Instead of loading a round individually into the side of the receiver, the Henry’s reload by removing a tube out of the magazine and then feeding the rounds in the end of the tube under the barrel. The upside to this is that you can load ammunition much faster than loading them into the receiver, but the downside is that if you lose your tube, the rounds will fall out and you’ll only be able to fire one round at a time.
Henry rifles in general are a very nice quality with smooth action and practically no resistance. They are priced at around $700-800.
The Marlin 336 is the second highest selling sporting rifle in America, only after the Winchester 1894 that we will explore in a bit. The 336 makes for an excellent brush or truck gun and holds 6+1 rounds of .30-30 versus the Henry’s 5+1.
A notable feature about the Marlin 336 is the side ejection port (rather than on the top like the Winchester). This makes mounting optics on the 336 very easy and it reduces the possibility of a round striking your face when ejecting a spent cartridge.
The 336 only weighs seven pounds, which makes it a very well balanced rifle and one that children or smaller statured shooters can easily pack. The most popular variations sport what is called a ‘pistol grip’ stock, which means that the grip part of the stock is curved rather than straight like with other lever actions. Some shooters feel that this is a more ergonomic way to hold and fire the gun over a straight stock.
Finally, the 336 is regarded as utilizing a durable lever action design over its closest competitors such as the Winchester 1894. You’ll notice this when you see fewer parts coming out of the gun when you run the action.
When Remington first acquired Marlin they had a few quality issues. Fortunately, those have since been resolved, but you still want to be careful when purchasing a used Marlin 336.
You don’t want to buy one that was built right after Remington bought the company.
Routinely available brand new for around $450 or used for as little as $300, the Marlin 336 represents an excellent value for the money.
THE MOSSBERG 464
At first glance, the Mossberg 464 and the Winchester 1894 look exactly but there are still a few differences.
The two share a slim design, ejection port on the top of the action, a loading gate on the side, and the flat sided receiver. While the 464 has a visible ambidextrous tang safety located on the upper part of the grip, the designs of the 464 and the 1894 don’t look very much apart from one another.
It’s in the internal design of the rifle that the 464 comes into contrast with the 1984. The ejection port is located on the top of the receiver with the 464, so the rounds will still physically eject to the side as with the Marlin 336. This makes it much easier to mount scopes and other kinds of optics on the 464.
Another difference between the 464 and the 1894 is the hammer. Whereas the 1894 uses a half-cock position (meaning the rifle is decocked and cannot fire but is not pressed against the firing pin due to the chance of the rifle accidentally firing), the 464 does not have a half cock position. As mentioned before, it has a tang safety located on the top of the grip (which is straight, rather than curved like the Marlin 336). This safety is naturally ambidextrous making it easily accessible for left and right handed shooters. When the safety is engaged, the hammer cannot come into contact with the firing pin, making the rifle safe to carry.
Like the Marlin 336, the 464 has a twenty inch barrel and holds 6+1 rounds of ammunition. It’s a very lightweight rifle at just over six and a half pounds, and is lighter than the Winchester 1894. The benefit to this is the rifle is very easy to pack and carry. The negative is that recoil is going to be a greater.
All in all, the Mossberg 464 represents a classic lever action design that has been improved with modern innovation. The Winchester 1894 and Marlin 336 dominated the lever action market for pretty much a century. When the 464 was released in the late 2000s, it has still made respectable inroads into the market. You can easily purchase one new in the $400 range.
The Winchester 1894 is not just the most popular lever action rifles ever made, it’s one of the most popular guns ever made period in my opinion. It was the very first sporting rifle to sell over one million product units since production started 112 years ago, and currently sales stand at over seven million.
The Winchester 1894 was originally designed by John Browning, and was then produced by Winchester. It was a groundbreaking design when first released, as it was the very first rifle that was chambered for smokeless cartridges. This fact had major appeal to many shooters and is why the rifle quickly sold so well.
The 1894 is one of the most well balanced carbines of any type that you can buy. You’ll notice right away that it is a very narrow rifle. The overall slimness means this is an easy rifle to store in your truck as it will take up very little space.
The barrel length measures 20 inches and it holds 6+1 rounds of .30-30 caliber. The action is very smooth and the entire rifle is built to Winchester’s high standards of quality.
The biggest gripe that some people have with the 1894 is how the shells eject out of the top of the receiver. This makes it very difficult to mount a scope and leaves the possibility of a spent casing striking you in the face. After the mid-1980s, Winchester redesigned the rifle so the rounds ejected more to the side. The rifle is still not the best option for mounting scopes.
New Winchester 1894s are quite pricey and can cost you upwards of $700, but you can easily purchase used ones in good condition in the $400 to $500 range. One reason for the higher cost is because part of what you are buying is the Winchester name, which is legendary in the firearms world.
So, which of these rifles is the best? Honestly, all of them do everything you could ask a lever action to do, so determining a ‘winner’ will largely come down to personal preference. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
That being said, the rifle winning from these four that probably offers you the most value for your money is the Marlin 336. While the Mossberg 464 is a little cheaper, the 336 is an overall sturdier and simpler design over the other options on this list and can probably sustain more abuse. It’s also the most versatile rifle on this list, as mounting a scope or other kind of optic is very easy thanks to the position of the side ejection port.
Don’t think that the 336 is the .30-30 rifle you’re obligated to buy. Henry, Marlin, Mossberg, and Winchester are all manufacturers of great guns, I just like my 336.