Round Balls in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94

Copyright 2005 by Junior Doughty

While rearranging stuff on the shelves above my loading bench, I noticed a box of .311" Round Balls I had cast for my muzzleloading squirrel rifle. I had just finished zeroing a Model 94 Winchester 30-30 with a deer load, and I suddenly wondered how those Round Balls would work in a 30-30.

NOTE: This is from page 25 of the "Louisiana 2005-2008 Hunting Seasons & Regulations" pamphlet:
"It shall be illegal to hunt or take squirrel or rabbits at any time with a breech-loaded rifle or handgun larger than a .22 caliber rimfire. . . ."
Cast from pure lead, they were the perfect diameter for 30-30. They weighed an average of 45.2 grs, about like a 22LR bullet. I could keep them at 22LR velocities, 1,000 to 1150 fps, and not get barrel leading. Lee Liquid Alox should work great as lube. With about 40% more frontal area than a 22 bullet and at the same velocity, a .311" Round Ball ought to knock a squirrel from here to Sunday.

Then I remembered the ‘coons I'd seen sleeping on high limbs while I was deer hunting in the river bottom. No way would I shoot a 30-30 bullet in the air not knowing where it would come to the ground a mile away, even in the sparsely populated area I hunted. But a little 45 gr Round Ball wouldn't go far and
Under perfect conditions the maximum range of a .311" ball at 1150 fps MV is about 375 yards. Energy at 375 yards = 10 fp.
wouldn't do much damage if it happened to hit somebody when it came down. Hmmm. . . . Barbequed ‘coon sure would go fine in deer camp!

I pulled the box of little Round Balls off the shelf. I had three suitable powders, i.e., faster pistol powders:

  • WC820 (n), a surplus powder very much like AA#9
  • Unique
  • 2400

For ease of loading, especially if I wanted to load these rounds in deer or hog camp some day, I would use Lee dippers. As the amounts of powder would be small, those dippers would be the .3cc, the .5cc, and the .7cc. My goal, then, was to see which powder with which dipper gave me 22LR velocity and decent accuracy.

I installed my Chrony in the front yard, and I installed it in a position so a ball would cross the sensors and impact a 55 gallon metal drum several yards behind it. Some of the velocities might be low enough to stick a ball in the rifle barrel. I wanted to hear a thunk in case the Chrony didn't give a reading. Turned out the Chrony didn't give lots of readings. It didn't like those tiny Round Balls.

I had to aim the balls a dangerous inch or two above the sensors in order to get one reading in two to four shots. That's why this article contains no ES and SD data. The velocity data came from one and only one shot per powder charge.

Before we look at shot charges, let's look at loading procedures:

  • Cases must be full-length sized or neck sized. If not, when you seat the ball it will fall down in the case and on top of the powder.

  • For better accuracy, start the ball sprue-up like you see in the middle case in this photo.

  • Load only one case at a time until you decide on a charge. Using small charges of powder, it's almost impossible to look down in the case and verify no charge or charge or double charge.

  • When you decide on a charge, use a loading block and then stick a marked pencil, etc., down in every case and verify the charge. Notice my marked pencil in the case to the left.

  • Notice the ready to fire case on the right.

Let's load!

  • To load, I charged the case with a Lee dipper, then placed the charged case on my bench and, for safety, placed the primer over an indentation in the bench.

  • Then I sat a ball on the case mouth and gave the ball a few gentle taps with a brass hammer, knocking it down in the case and even with the case mouth.

  • A tiny ring of lead will cut from the ball, like when seating a ball in a cap ‘n’ ball revolver.

  • Then I used a Q-tip® and daubed Lee Liquid Alox over the ball and pooled it around the ball.

Loading was easy.

Here we see several Round Ball 'coon loads in the foreground and some RCBS 30-180-FN deer/hog loads in the background.

I'll put a couple of these Round Ball loads in my extra ammo pouch, and now I won't return to deer/hog camp empty handed so often.

Like I said, loading was easy. Deciding on a load wasn't so easy.

I worked with one powder at a time, starting with WC820 (n) and progressing from small to larger dippers. For reference purposes only, I weighed 5 charges with a dipper and obtained an average charge weight per dipper. I then loaded one only round with that dipper/charge and sent it over my front yard Chrony.

The results: (Remember: velocity data is one round and is not an average. Barrel length = 20".)

WC820 (n)

          .3cc = 4.3 grs = 499 fps

          .5cc = 7.1 grs = 580 fps

          .7cc = 9.9 grs = 817 fps

Here, I got dumb. Next dipper larger was the 1.0cc. It was only .3cc larger and since 817 fps was kinda low, I thought I'd give the 1.0cc dipper a try.

          1.0cc = 14.4 grs = 1980 fps

Luckily, the one high velocity shot didn't lead my barrel. It for sure pointed out the dangerous nature of working with small charges of fast powder. A tiny increase in charge can give a giant increase in velocity and pressure. Remember that fact if you think you can get away with not checking charge level with a marked pencil, etc.


          .3cc = 3.6 grs = 546 fps

          .5cc = 6.0 grs = 836 fps

          .7cc = 8.4 grs = 1008 fps

Well, I was getting somewhere. The 1008 fps velocity was just fine.


          .3cc = 2.4 grs = 778 fps

          .5cc = 3.9 grs = 944 fps

          .7cc = 5.4 grs = 1159 fps

Well, obviously Unique worked well, too. If the 1159 fps load didn't give good accuracy, maybe
the 944 fps load would.

So two powders, 2400 & Unique, gave me the desired ~22LR velocity and both gave it with the .7cc dipper. And I had two 30-30 rifles in which to test those loads:

  • Woods Rifle, a Model 94 Winchester 30-30 with a 20" round barrel and the rifle I had used to shoot the Chrony data. It had a rear peep sight and a Firesight front sight for hunting. As the Woods Rifle was my main deer/hog hunting rifle, I hoped by some miracle that a Round Ball load would shoot to the sights.

  • Ol' Bill, my target rifle, a Buffalo Bill Commemorative Model 94 Winchester 30-30. Bill had a 20" octagon barrel and a Lyman target peep rear and Lyman target front. He was a cast bullet shootin' dream.

Woods Rifle groups

Here's 3 shots at 30 yards from the Woods Rifle with .7cc Unique.

It looked on the money as far as I was concerned. There was enough accuracy for my purposes, and although it shot just a little to the left it wasn't off enough to bother compensating my aim.

Here's 3 shots at 30 yards from the Woods Rifle with .7cc 2400.

The accuracy with 2400 was also plenty good enough for my purposes. However, it shot a little low which meant compensating the aim. I certainly didn't want to move the sights from their zero with a deer/hog load, and I didn't want to alter the aiming point, either. Looked like the Unique load would do the Round Ball trick in the Woods Rifle.

It was time to see what Ol' Bill did with a Round Ball load.

Ol' Bill groups

Here's 3 shots at 30 yards from Ol' Bill with .7cc Unique.

Ok accuracy, but not quite as good as with the Woods Rifle. Ol' Bill could do better than that, I knew. At least this group showed me the validity of the .7cc Unique load.

As you can see, Ol' Bill did a little better with 2400. And, in Ol' Bill, it shot to the same POI as the Unique load.

The good Round Ball groups with Ol' Bill using both loads showed me that the good groups with the Woods Rifle weren't accidental. My Round Ball loads worked just fine, and the .7cc Unique load shot to the Woods Rifle's sights, just as I had hoped.

It looked like one of those 'coons down in the river bottom had a date with my campfire and a bottle of barbeque sauce.

Then I got to wondering how Ol' Bill would shoot the .7cc Unique Round Ball load if I really tried to shoot a good group. I hadn't taken my time with my shots, and I hadn't let the barrel cool between shots. Worst of all, the 30 yard target was in the shade and had been for all the groups I shot.

So I moved my sandbags around on my shooting bench, and I taped a new target to a cardboard box and placed it in the full sun. And I shot a 25 yard, 5 shot group with Ol' Bill using the .7cc Unique load and taking my time between shots.

That's the 5 shot group on the right and with a quarter for scale.

If Ol' Bill had a 1 - 60" twist instead of a
1 - 12" twist, I bet those five balls would have made one ragged hole.

Round Ball loads work just fine in a 30-30 lever action rifle. Give ‘em a try. After many rounds fired, neither rifle showed any evidence of leading and both showed normal fouling.

All cases were chambered by hand and were at an upward angle when chambered. The powder charge stayed near the primer when the rifle was placed horizontally on the bench and fired.

REMEMBER! Check your charge level!

And if you happen to know a commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, tell him to change the danged law so we can squirrel and rabbit hunt with low velocity Round Balls in our deer rifles.

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