When I was a young lad, back in the 1970s, I developed a deep regard for the big screen heroes of the time — especially the TV cowboys. The Lone Ranger, Clint Eastwood and all his spaghetti westerns and others deeply influenced my formative years. I spent hours each week, eyes glued to the TV, watching stories of the Old West and the timeless struggle between the good the bad and the ugly unfold in black and white and then, finally, in living color in the late 1970s. I was probably 10 when I finally got my first lever BB gun and spent countless hours in the mountains near my grandparents home, hunting down any vermin that crossed my path, real or imagined. That gun was the best friend a cowboy-crazed kid could have! But it wasn’t until 15 years later that I fulfilled my dream of becoming a real rifleman, when I inherited a close friend’s rifles, including an old Winchester Model 94 / .30 WCF. I then became the proud owner of my first lever action, the iconic Winchester Model 94, the rifle so often portrayed in Western movies and undoubtedly the most famous firearm in American history. With over 7,000,000 guns manufactured to date, it may even be the most famous in the world! I knew the rifle was old, but a check of the serial number revealed that it was made in 1919. The rifle, and several others, had been part of my late friends arsenal that he collected for over 78 years. This included a few collectables he brought from overseas during the time he served as a soldier in the US Army.
That same year (early 90s) I started hunting some private land and shot my first whitetail with the 1919 Win. 94 in the thickets of north-western Connecticut at 80 yards. It all started when I heard grunting sounds down at the bottom of a deep hillside… After slipping down a steep snowy trail to the bottom, I made eye contact with the massive 10 pointer and quietly stalked him for a few minutes. It was wet enough that the ferns and the fallen maple leaves were softly quiet. At the bottom, I scanned ahead across the creek where the big boy had been a few minutes before and continued to follow his tracks. The wind was perfect and after a few minutes… whoa! The buck and I met eyes. Before one of us could blink, he swapped ends and hit a fast trot. Quickly, I leveled the iron sights at the back of his neck. The way the land lay, his rear end blocked a clean neck shot, so I waited for him to turn a bit. At about 75 to 80 yards he trotted up a slow rise and turned the slightest bit… I took the shot, he was down. His antlers didn’t show it, but he was definitely an older buck, grey faced, roman nosed. The 150-grain, round-nosed lead bullet expanded perfectly as it penetrated the big buck’s chest, and he ran less than 5 yards before expiring in the deep snow. It was a good hunt, slipping through the woods with an aged Winchester and the memories of an old friend and his gift to me.
Many seasoned hunters rely on the old .30-30 or.30 WCF and with good reason. It works, and it works well. I enjoy shooting and hunting deer with other rifles and shotguns, but I make a point to take a .30-30 lever gun into the woods at least a few days each year. The attributes that make these guns so popular begin with their handling qualities. A lever action carbine handles like a good bird gun. It comes to the shoulder without thinking about it, and points naturally. They are light and handy, easy to carry and easy to shoot with a relatively light recoil, yet plenty of power to cleanly and quickly dispatch game. Another good thing about the old thirty-thirty is that just about anywhere that sells ammunition in North America will have a few boxes on hand. In my opinion, the carbines and rifles chambered for the .30-30 cartridge are plenty accurate for big game hunting, and some of these leverguns are surprisingly accurate, shooting right along with a good bolt action rifle, and handling much better than most. Yes, I must admit that I have an unusual fondness for the lever action rifle. It is all about the handling. Nothing carries as well, nor points as naturally. I have several, but never quite enough. Just three weeks ago I was gifted another Winchester model 94 by a customer and friend. It was built in 1963, and is chambered for the good old .30-30. I have several modern rifles that have superb scopes and sport much better ballistics, but they have nothing like the character of an old Winchester.
Looking at the ballistics of the .30 WCF or .30-30, most new shooters are unimpressed, to say the least. However, the cartridge and the guns are more than the sum of their parts. These rifles impart a different experience to the user. Somehow, the whole hunting experience is better with a thirty-thirty levergun. It defies explanation, but the meat tastes better and the trophy looks better on the wall when taken with one of these old fashioned and often derided leverguns. Some readers will understand what I mean, and others will think that I am nuts. However, in the hands of a good hunter, they kill the game every bit as dead as the latest and greatest rifle. Over the years I acquired a few more lever actions and depending on the situation, I still enjoy carrying my 1919 Winchester model 94 in pursuit of whitetails. For still-hunting through thick cover, where shots will be off-hand and close, it can’t be beat.
Unfortunately, hunting in Connecticut has changed drastically over the years, as many new regulations and crazy restrictions are imposed on hunters. I remember, not so long ago, when you could buy a rifle or shotgun from a private seller and all you needed was a bill of sale or in many instances a formal handshake was all it took. Unfortunately it is against the law to hunt with a rifle on state land except with a rim-fired .22. For someone like me who loves hunting with a rifle like a .30-30, we are very limited to hunting on private land (with 10+ acres), with signed permission from the land owner. If you are lucky to find such a gem or someone willing to allow you to hunt their land, you must treasure them and always reward them with a deer backstrap or tenderloin, a bottle of Chianti and a promise to help maintain the grounds….