Behind the Bullet: 7-30 Waters

posted on April 27, 2023
BTB 7 30 Waters Lead

On my 15th birthday, my dad presented me with a brand-new Winchester Model 94AE-XTR; the top of the line .30-30 Winchester lever gun you could buy in 1986. It was the shorter-barreled variant, much to my father’s chagrin. “I wanted to get the rifle—with the longer barrel—rather than the carbine, but it wasn't available in .30-30; it only came in something called a 7-30 Waters. Who is going to shoot that cartridge?”

Henry LEVERevolution 7-30 Waters 120-grain FTX ammunition on wood table.

Ol’ Grumpy Pants is an unabashed devotee of .30-caliber cartridges, and has a hard time leaving that bore diameter unless it’s for the .45-70 Government; I can guarantee he wouldn’t have jumped ship from America’s caliber to any 7mm back in ’86, and that statement stands to this day. My opinion differs, in that I have found a cartridge or two I enjoy and appreciate in almost every bore diameter, and have always wondered if I wouldn’t have found a unique friend had Dad chosen the 7-30 instead of the .30-30.

There is no disputing the popularity—or the effectiveness—of the .30-30 Winchester, as it remains one of our best-selling cartridges despite being over 125 years old. But wildcatters will be wildcatters, and Ken Waters saw an opportunity to come up with a unique and useful design based on the .30-30 case. In 1976, Waters began working on a pet project which would involve necking the .30-30 down to 7mm, and improving the velocity and trajectory. Waters modified the .30-30 case to increase the shoulder angle from 15-degrees 39-minutes to 17-degrees 12 minutes, and moved that shoulder forward to increase case capacity. He ended up using a 120-grain 7mm bullet, with a muzzle velocity of nearly 2700 fps from a 24-inch rifle barrel; developing a cartridge which did, in fact, surpass the ballistics of the .30-30, with a significant drop off in felt recoil.

Ken Waters Pet Loads Volume I book with Hornady 7-30 Waters ammunition laying on the cover.

In 1984, Winchester—then owned by U.S. Repeating Arms Company—took such an interest in the 7-30 Waters that they began to produce rifles chambered for the then wildcat, legitimizing Ken Waters’ dream, and bringing his design to the public. Looking at the ballistics from varying barrel lengths, Winchester settled on a 24-inch barrel for the new cartridge, to wring the most amount of velocity from the new cartridge; hence the dilemma my Dad faced when shopping all those years ago. Still, many writers of that era touted the new cartridge for its mild recoil, allowing a younger hunter to accurately place his or her shots.

Nearly forty years later, the 7-30 Waters hasn’t exactly cemented its place in cartridge history. That Winchester rifle was only in production from 1985 to 1988, and Winchester has since discontinued production of ammunition, leaving Federal and Hornady as the only producers of factory-loaded ammo, and even that is made in limited runs. But Thompson/Center did really well with their Encore and Contender break-action pistols chambered for the Waters, and among those who enjoy time with the single-shot pistols, the 7-30 Waters is a popular choice for its lack of recoil yet effective field ballistics.

My pal from Alaska, Tom “Crusty” Cruikshank, who you may recognize from the TV show Alaska Monsters, is a die-hard fan of the 7-30 Waters in his T/C Contender with its Bullberry barrel. Tom has reached for that rig for hunts ranging from his native Alaska all the way to Texas, with good results.

Elderly male posing with javelina and Thompson Center firearm in Texas dessert.

“I’ve been a fan of the Thompson Contender handgun since the late 70’s. I remember calling Fred at Bullberry Barrel Works sometime in the 1990s about making me a barrel in 6mm Remington. He said ‘I can, but I won’t. You’ll blow yourself up.’ It was around the same time that a 14-inch stainless 7-30 Waters barrel with a muzzle brake followed me home from a gun show. It intrigued me because it was ‘different’ enough that most people have never heard of it, but there is at least one factory load on the shelf at many stores. The Federal factory loads are loaded with flat nose bullets for tubular magazines in lever action rifles and are pretty tame. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, but I like to be different. There are reams of load data available and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to form your own brass from those buckets of .30-30 range brass you’ve collected or inherited from grandpa, and handloading the 7-30 Waters is the way to go. I’ve made ‘Cream of Wheat’ loads for fire forming, and also loaded up full power loads in 30-30 brass and shot them with no appreciable effect on accuracy,” Cruikshank related.

“A couple of my favorite handloads are 139-grain Hornady SSTs in front of 33 grains of RL-15 with a Remington No. 9-1/2 primer, or 140-grain Sierra Spitzers with 33-grains of RL-15 with Federal 210 primers. From barren ground caribou on the north side of Alaska’s Brooks Range, to Eastern Montana mulies, to south Texas wild boar, javelin and blackbuck antelope; everything I’ve pointed my 7-30 Waters Contender topped with a Nikon 2.5-8x sighted in 1½ inches high at 100 yards at has ended up dead.”

Federal Premium Sierra GameKing 120-grain 7-30 Waters ammunition.

If you don’t handload, yet want to shoot the 7-30 Waters, you’ll be looking for the Hornady LeveRevolution load, featuring their 120-grain FTX spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps, or the Federal Premium load with the 120-grain flat-nose Sierra GameKing bullet at the same velocity. While the .30-30 Winchester has yet to skip a beat, and amid the seemingly innumerable cartridge choices stills remains a big seller each year, the 7mm variant just didn’t gain the ground they all hoped it would. Ken Waters was one of our most revered experimenters, and his Pet Loads Vol. I and II have a place of reverence in my firearms library, so I hope that in one form or another—whether handloaded or factory loaded—the cartridge which bears his name will continue on. Should you find a Winchester Model 94 XTR-AE chambered for the 7-30, don’t shy away; you just might find one of the most enjoyable shooting experiences around, in a cartridge that certainly hasn’t gotten enough respect.

Looking for previous installments of our "Behind the Bullet" series? We've got you covered.
.370 Sako Magnum
.17 HMR
6.5 Weatherby RPM
.327 Federal Magnum
.450 Bushmaster
7mm PRC
.275 Rigby
.340 Weatherby Magnum
.416 Ruger
27 Nosler
.257 Roberts
7mm Weatherby Magnum
 .300 PRC
.350 Rigby Magnum
.450 Nitro Express
.17 Hornet
7mm STW
6.8 Western
.375 Ruger
.223 Remington
• 6.5x55 Swedish
.416 Remington Magnum
.300 Winchester Short Magnum
28 Nosler
6.5 PRC
.22 WMR
.458 Winchester Magnum
.22 Hornet
.280 Ackley Improved
.240 Weatherby Magnum
.458 Lott
• .264 Winchester Magnum
• .348 Winchester
33 Nosler
• .260 Remington
• .30-30 Winchester
• .416 Rigby
 .358 Norma Magnum
• .22 LR
• 7mm-08 Remington
• 8mm Remington Magnum
• .338 Federal
• .224 Valkyrie
• .338-06 A-Square
• 9.3x62mm Mauser
• .257 Weatherby Magnum
• .45-70 Government
• .300 H&H Magnum
• .25-06 Remington 
• .30-06 Springfield
• 6.5 Creedmoor
• .300 Remington Ultra Magnum
• 7mm Remington Magnum
• .470 Nitro Express
• .280 Remington
• .300 Winchester Magnum
• .270 Winchester
• .222 Remington
• .45 ACP
• .404 Jeffery
• .44 Remington Magnum 
• .41 Remington Magnum
• .243 Winchester
• .338 Winchester Magnum
• .357 S&W Magnum
• 6.5-284 Norma
• 8x57 Mauser
• .38 Smith & Wesson Special
• 7x57mm Mauser
• 9mm Luger
• .35 Whelen
• .454 Casull
• .375 H&H Magnum
• .45 Colt
• .22-250 Remington
• 10mm Auto
• .308 Winchester


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