Being 150 years old, both these two Winchester cartridges are highly decorated military service cartridges, proving to be superior cartridges at the time of their use. Nowadays, the 44-40 and 30-30 are primarily used for hunting deer or at the occasional showcase expo of older firearms. Yet, they are and will remain a true embodiment of the American Dream to many. So, how does the younger 30-30 cartridge compare to its older cousin, the 44-40?
History Of The 44-40 Cartridge
Winchester was renowned for its Henry rifle, which was highly effective during the American Civil War, but the Henry rifle had its flaws. It had a weak bronze frame, and the brass cartridge could not handle the power associated with loading heavier loads.
The .44 Henry Flat was a black powder cartridge only capable of handling 13 grains of black powder and had a 200-grain bullet. Learning from the Henry’s flaws, Winchester created a steel-framed lever action, the Winchester Model 1873.
The Model 1873 needed a stronger cartridge capable of handling the heavier force, hence the .44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) round was created in 1873. It is very similar in power to the 17 WSM or 223 Rem rounds.
The new rifle cartridge featured a 200-grain bullet propelled by more than 40 grains of black powder to produce 1,245 feet per second. The .44 WCF also featured the ability to reload the cartridge, which was a huge success among the general public.
Winchester’s competitors started manufacturing their own firearms able to chamber the .44 WCF, but they did not want to promote Winchester’s name, hence the .44 WCF became now known as the .44-40 – the .44 is the caliber bullet, and the 40 is the amount of grains of blackpowder used.
It became vastly popular as it was compatible with both rifle and handgun calibers, and soon, in 1878, Colt started chambering it in its Single Action Army.
History Of The 30-30 Cartridge
Winchester Rifles introduced its lever action Model 1894 and needed a cartridge to go with it. In 1895, the .30 Winchester Smokeless cartridge was introduced, and it was the first sporting cartridge loaded with smokeless powder.
Three months later, Marlin Firearms Company, working with U.M.C. created their own version of the .30 cartridge. For the same reason as with the .44-40, the .30 Winchester Smokeless was renamed to the .30-30 – the first 30 for the caliber bullet and the second 30 for the amount of smokeless powder used.
The first .30-30 cartridge was a modified .38-50 Ballard cartridge case and featured a 160-grain round-nosed bullet. The muzzle velocity of the .30-30 was an impressive 1,970 feet per second. This speed is very comparable to the 223 and 350 Legend rounds.
The reason for the round-nosed or flat bullets was to avoid the detonation of bullet primers in the magazine when experiencing recoil.
The .30-30 became wildly popular as one of the best cartridges to use for deer hunting.
Main Differences: 44-40 vs 30-30
1) Ballistic Comparison
Both of these rounds are similar in size to the 350 Legend and 357 Mag. However, the 33-30 is clearly the smallest of the rounds.
- Case type – Rimmed, bottleneck
- Bullet diameter – .427 in (10.8 mm)
- Neck diameter – .443 in (11.3 mm)
- Shoulder diameter – .458 in (11.6 mm)
- Base diameter – .471 in (12.0 mm)
- Rim diameter – .525 in (13.3 mm)
- Rim thickness – .065 in (1.7 mm)
- Case length – 1.305 in (33.1 mm)
- Overall length – 1.592 in (40.4 mm)
- Primer type – Large pistol
- Maximum pressure – 22,000 psi (150 MPa)
- Parent case – .38-55 Winchester
- Case type – Rimmed, bottleneck
- Bullet diameter – .308 in (7.8 mm)
- Neck diameter – .330 in (8.4 mm)
- Shoulder diameter – .401 in (10.2 mm)
- Base diameter – .422 in (10.7 mm)
- Rim diameter – .506 in (12.9 mm)
- Rim thickness – .063 in (1.6 mm)
- Case length – 2.039 in (51.8 mm)
- Overall length – 2.550 in (64.8 mm)
- Primer type – Large rifle
- Maximum pressure – 42,000 psi (290 MPa)
Just like we saw with our analysis of the 17 hmr vs 22, ammo velocity is a significant factor. Here is the data for the 44-40 & 30-30.
The .44-40 has a 200 grain bullet, which is a heavier bullet than the .30-30, the muzzle velocity is 1,245 feet per second.
The .30-30 cartridge has a relatively high velocity of 1,970 feet per second using a 160 gr bullet.
It is evident that the .30-30 cartridge has a much higher muzzle velocity. The velocity is, however, variable, major manufacturers have created high velocity loads for the 30-30 that can reach well above 2,000 fps.
The 44-40 produces around 587 ft lbs of energy when leaving the muzzle.
The 30-30 cartridge produces 1901 ft-lbs of energy and has a retained energy of 1357 ft-lbs at 100 yards.
The 30-30 cartridge has a higher muzzle energy than the .44-40 Winchester.
The .44-40 has a fairly flat trajectory at 100 yards, making it an effective zeroing distance. It is very comparable to the 6.5 Grendel ammunition that I’ve used in the past. However, considerable bullet drop can be observed beyond 100 yards:
- 150 Yards – -22.6″
- 200 Yards – -62.5″
- 300 Yards – -200″
- 400 Yards – -425″
- 500 Yards – -753″
The .30-30 also has a flat trajectory at 100 yards. However, beyond 100 yards, it has a considerably flatter trajectory making it easier to shoot accurately long range than the .44-40.
- 150 Yards – -2.2″
- 200 Yards – -7.1″
- 300 Yards – -26,6″
- 400 Yards – -64″
- 500 Yards – -126″
NOTE: Ballistic performance was done with custom properly loaded ammo, not factory ammo. Performance is variable with different gr bullet weights.
2) Best Hunting Cartridge?
Considering the ballistic performance of both these cartridges, it is evident that the .30-30 is the best hunting cartridge. It is not as popular as the 35 Remington which is hard to find compared to other rounds.
The .44-40 is a cartridge limited to small and medium-sized game requiring a closer distance shooting, strictly within 100 yards and recommended under 50 yards.
Whereas the .30-30 is fit for medium-sized deer, such as whitetail deer up to 300 yards, the finest results are obtained within 150 yards. Hunting big game with the 30-30 is not possible, it would only lead to you wounding the animal.
Although both are recommended for closer distance shooting,the .30-30 allows for hunting at greater distances with more retained energy, making it a better hunting cartridge.
SIDE NOTE: When choosing your hunting ammunition, you should pay attention to the type of bullet and cartridge loads. Just like we found in our comparison of the 303 vs.3006 rounds, not all ammunition is equal. Full metal jacketed bullets should not be used as it only offers penetration and not an expansion to cause a lethal blow.
Look for ammo specifically developed for hunting purposes. They offer high velocity loadings combined with better bullet technology, such as soft points (hollow points), to ensure the projectile has higher energy when reaching the target.
In the end, shot placement and distance from the animal are vital in ensuring a higher knockdown power that will lead to an ethical kill.
3) Shooting Range Comparison
These two cartridges are better for close-range target shooting and are accurate to 100 yards. The flatter trajectory of the .30-30 enables accurate, longer range shooting.
Both these cartridges produce low recoil, which is excellent for high-volume shooting, as is the case with the shooting range.
The availability of ammunition is also something to consider. Many manufacturers have stopped producing .44-40 ammunition, leading to decreased supply, especially in hunting season.
Both are not really suited for the shooting range, competitively wise, but the .30-30 will perform better in range, ammo supply, lower recoil, and accuracy.
4) Stopping Power Comparison
If you only compare the use of soft lead cast bullets, the 44-40 will leave a bigger wound than the 30-30. The 44-40 also has greater shocking power attributable to its heavier bullet weight.
However, the energy and velocity performance of the 30-30 is much better than the 44-40, leading to better penetration and, ultimately, higher stopping power.
SIDE NOTE: Variable performance will exist between type and weight of bullets and individual factory bullets. For example, newer technology, such as the introduction of soft points has led to increased stopping power of cartridges.
5) Price Comparison
Ammunition for both of these cartridges tends to be expensive compared to other cartridges as the supply is not restricted.
- $1.54 and $3.16 per 44-40 round
- 30-30 round will range between $1.77 and $3.07
6) Noise Comparison
Because of the lower pressure load of the 44-40 (22,000 PSI) it is by far much quieter than the 30-30 (42,000 PSI). On average, the .30-30 with a 20″ barrel length produces 156 decibels.
Best Use Case For The 30-30
The 30-30 is one of the best lever action rifles for hunting small to medium sized game at ranges within 150 yards. The cartridge produces low recoil, making it an excellent rifle cartridge for training novice shooters.
Best Use Case For The 44-40
The 44-40 is excellent if you are walking and stalking small to medium game, obtaining distances within 50 yards of your prey – it works well in woodland areas. The 44-40 is also excellent for teaching novice shooters, it also has low recoil but produces even less sound than the .30-30, making it less intimidating.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a 44-40 rifle good for?
What is the difference between 44 mag and 44-40?
Why is it called 44-40?
Can you hunt deer with a 44-40?
Why is 30-30 so popular?
What does the 30-30 stand for?
The Bottom Line
As technology improved, better bullets came onto the scene. Alleviating some of the initial restrictions of the 44-40 and the 33-30, making them overall better cartridges. Although the 30-30 is the superior cartridge, performance-wise, in almost every aspect, the 44-40 is still loved and cherished by many.
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