Which Cartridge Has Taken the Most Deer?

posted on July 6, 2012
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The Maybe it is a Myth Statement:
“More deer have been taken with the .30-30 Winchester cartridge than any other.”

While this quote is often uttered as fact among hunters, what is not revealed is how it was calculated.

Fact is, I own a Marlin 336 rifle chambered in .30-30 Win., but I haven’t shot it in 20 years because it’s ballistically inferior to modern centerfire cartridges like the .308, .30-06 and .270 Win. Of all my hunting friends young and old, I don’t know a single person who routinely hunts with a .30-30. And it’s not like the 30-30 was the only choice for deer hunters of the golden era; While it was conceived in 1895 and offered in the Winchester Model 94 rifle ever since, the .30-06 was introduced in the 1903 Springfield a mere 12 years later (although sporterized versions didn’t become readily available until around 1920). I have read, however, that before about 1960 it was rather unusual to see anything other than lever-action rifles in the field or in gun stores. But these same accounts also report that during the years from 1900 to 1960 it was fairly rare to see a deer. In reality, the golden era of deer hunting began in the 90s when bolt action rifles and modern calibers had taken over the popular rifle throne, and it’s still going. American hunters kill 6-8 million deer per year these days, and I’m betting most are not killed with the .30-30. It is widely believed that the .30-06 is America’s—and the world’s—most popular hunting caliber. In my estimation it would not take many 1-million deer years to top any numbers the 30-30 put up during much leaner times. Nonetheless, all this is speculation:

So I want to know: Is this myth true?

What I Do Know
In general there is no requirement for indicating the caliber with which U.S. hunters harvested their deer, so the best way to form an educated opinion of the statement’s validity is by asking those whose fingers are most on the pulse of American hunters’ gun and ammo choices. That is, firearm and ammo manufacturers. But this of course only reveals what is popular now, and not 30 to 40 years ago. But still it gives us a starting point.

What the Manufacturers Say
While most manufacturers will not reveal their actual sales data, knowledgeable company staffers made the following statements:

Hornady Ammunition: “The 30-30 Win. 160 gr FTX LEVERevolution was our No. 1 [selling] hunting ammo last year, excluding all varmint ammo.”

Meaning: Perhaps the .30-30 is still more popular than I thought.

Federal Cartridge Co.: “We currently sell about twice as much 30-06 as we do 30-30. I’m sure it’s not all for hunting, but given the total deer kill and total bullets out there, it shouldn’t even be close.”

Meaning: The .30-06 kills many more deer today than the .30-30, and so the statement might well be false.

Winchester Ammunition: “The .30-30 Win continues to be at the first or second position in hunting ammo sales in recent history. I would argue that over history the 30-30 Win. as a single caliber versus any other single caliber, is at the top for deer harvested in the USA.”

Meaning: The .30-30 was and is still very popular, and is likely the top deer slayer of all time.

For the first time in BullShooters Blog history, I can’t find a definite answer to the gun-related question; Although I doubted it, because neither I nor my friends use the .30-30, there is a really good chance that it HAS taken more deer than any other cartridge due to its popular dominance in the early to middle part of the 20th century, and its ongoing strong sales in the U.S. market. But there is one other group of people who would better know what American hunters take most deer with, and that is, YOU, American Hunters. So, please comment on this blog post and help us take the BS out of BullShooters.

The Question For You
Of all the deer you know to have been killed by hunters including yourself, roughly what percentage of them fell to the .30-30 Win.? All helpful comments will be entered into a drawing for 30 percent off of a CVA firearm. It offers its Apex switch-barrel rifle in many calibers, but NOT the .30-30 Winchester!


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