The 7.62x39 Russian and the 30-30 Winchester are two centerfire 30-caliber rifle cartridges that are extremely similar in terms of their external and terminal ballistics. Despite their similarities, these two rifle cartridges were designed for completely different purposes and rifles.
One was developed as a weapon of war, the other for sending whitetail deer and hogs to your freezer, but which one is right for you?
In this article we will investigate the differences and similarities between the 30-30 Winchester and the 7.62x39 to help you pick the right cartridge for your needs.
What’s the Difference Between 30-30 vs 7.62x39?
The primary difference between 30-30 and 7.62x39 is their intended purpose. The 30-30 is an American rifle cartridge that was designed for use in lever action rifles for hunting medium sized game like whitetail deer. In contrast, the 7.62x39 is a Soviet rifle cartridge designed for use semi-automatic battle rifles.
When analyzing rifle cartridges, it’s prudent to look at the cartridge case to ascertain what differences exist inside the cartridge.
The first major difference is that the 30-30 fires a bullet diameter of 0.308” while 7.62x39 fires a 0.312” caliber bullet. This is point that is confusing to new shooters, as the 7.62x39 is not a true 7.62mm caliber like the 7.62x51mm NATO (308 Winchester).
The second major difference is the case length, as the 30-30 is over a half inch longer than the 7.62x39.
This in turn allows the 30-30 to have a higher case capacity of 45 gr H2O compared to 35.6 gr for the 7.62x39. The increased case capacity and case length allows the 30-30 to fire heavier bullets than the 7.62x39.
The 30-30 can fire bullet weights ranging from 110 gr up to 170 gr with 150 gr loadings be the most popular. On the other hand, 7.62x39 ammo is typically loaded with bullets ranging from 120-125 gr with 123 gr loadings being the most common.
SAAMI specifies that the maximum chamber pressure for 7.62x39 is 45,010 PSI while the 30-30 can withstand 42,000 PSI.
One of the most defining differences between the 30-30 and 7.62x39 is that the 30-30 is a rimmed cartridge while the 7.62x39 is rimless. The rimmed cartridge is ideal for feeding in lever action rifles while the rimless design is preferred for semi-auto rifles.
The final difference between 30-30 and 7.62x39 is the case material used by each rifle cartridge, brass vs steel case. The 30-30 utilizes a brass case while most 7.62x39 on the market uses a steel case.
Many sportsmen are drawn to the 30-30 as it has considerably less recoil than other 30-caliber options like the 30-06 Springfield. But how does 30-30 recoil compare to 7.62x39?
Felt recoil is affect by multiple factors, including bullet weight, powder charge, and rifle weight. For this comparison, we will assume that rifles weighing 7 pounds will be used for both cartridges.
On average, the 30-30 will impart 14 ft-lbs of energy into the shoulder of the marksman wielding it. However, the 7.62x39 averages around 8 ft-lbs of felt recoil.
The increased case capacity and heavier bullets fired by 30-30 are the cause of the increased felt recoil. However, 14 ft-lbs is not an offensive amount of recoil by any stretch of the imagination. But for those shooters who are recoil sensitive, the 7.62x39 will be easier to handle.
The lower recoil impulse of the 7.62x39 also speaks to its intended purpose for use in battle rifles like the SKS and AK-47. When fired in fully automatic, lower recoil is preferred so the shooter can keep the rifle on target. The 30-30 was never designed for use in full auto fire, and 14 ft-lbs of recoil is more than manageable in a lever action rifle or single shot bolt gun.
The 30-30 is well known for being a very accurate round, capable of 1 MOA groups (1 MOA = 1 inch at 100 yards) with proper handloads or match grade factory loads.
In contrast, the 7.62x39 gets a pretty bad (and undeserved) rap as being an inaccurate round. This misconception started spreading due to manufacturing inconsistencies in the AK-47 from some factories and less stringent ammo quality controls during the Cold War.
However, modern day 7.62x39 is considerably more consistent (and non-corrosive) than anything you can find in an old Soviet spam can. For a time, Hornady produced match grade steel case 7.62x39 ammo, however that product line has sadly been discontinued.
The main issue affecting accuracy between 30-30 and 7.62x39 is that the 30-30 primarily uses a brass case and most 7.62x39 ammo uses a steel case.
Generally, brass cases will fire form to the chamber, creating a tight seal that prevents gasses escaping from the barrel when a round is fired. As steel is more rigid, it does not form to the chamber. This means that there can be more variability in muzzle velocity for steel cased ammo.
The key to long range accuracy is consistency, and this is why most long distance shooters prefer brass cases over steel ones. Although the majority of 7.62x39 ammo is steel cased, there are several manufacturers that are producing high quality brass case 7.62x39 like Nosler, Federal, Winchester, and Remington.
Although both rounds can achieve high levels of accuracy, most shooters agree that the 30-30 has slightly better accuracy than the 7.62x39.
Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet’s flight path as it travels downrange measured in inches of bullet drop.
Obviously, a flatter shooting cartridge is preferred for shooting longer range, as a shooter will require fewer adjustments to their optics to compensate for bullet drop. Having a flatter trajectory also means that a cartridge will be more forgiving of ranging mistakes.
As you can see on the Ballistics Tables below, the trajectory for both the 30-30 and 7.62x39 is nearly identical when comparing a 125 grain bullet for 30-30 and a 123 grain bullet for 7.62x39. At 200 yards, which is the maximum effective range for both rounds in terms of deer hunting, the 7.62x39 has dropped 2” while the 30-30 has dropped 2.6”.
In terms of trajectory at hunting distances, the 7.62x39 and 30-30 are virtually identical.
Ballistic coefficient (BC) is a measure of how well a bullet resists wind drift and air resistance. Put another way, it’s a numeric representation of how aerodynamic a bullet is. A high BC is preferred as this means the bullet will buck the wind easier.
Generally, heavier bullets will have a higher BC as it takes more force to disrupt the flight of a heavier bullet than a lighter one. Ballistic coefficient varies from bullet to bullet based on design, weight, and other factors that are beyond the scope of this article.
One shortfall of the 30-30 is the bullet design. Almost every lever gun on the market uses a tubular magazine. This means that bullets are loaded into the magazine one at a time, end-to-end.
Therefore, the bullets used for a lever action rifle must either be a flat point design or a round nose. If a pointed, Spitzer style bullet was used it could impact the primer of the round in front of it in the magazine. This could set off a chain reaction that would seriously damage the firearm and shooter.
As these bullets are less aerodynamic than Spitzer bullets, like what the 7.62x39 uses, the BC of the 30-30 begins to suffer.
The average 7.62x39 will have a BC of 0.27 compared to 0.23 for the 30-30. This means that most 7.62x39 ammo will be less affected by wind drift.
But this begs the question, does it even matter?
As most hunting shots will be taken at relatively short range (under 200 yards), wind drift is relatively inconsequential.
Although the 7.62x39 is the clear winner in terms of BC, it is only a slight advantage over the 30-30 due to the ranges that both cartridges will be utilized at.
Sectional Density (SD) is the measure of how well a bullet penetrates a target. This is extremely important when hunting big game, as you need a bullet that can punch through thick hide, bone, and sinew.
Sectional density is calculated by comparing the bullet weight and the bullet diameter. The higher the SD the deeper the bullet will penetrate into the target. This is a simplified view of penetration as there are other factors to consider, such as bullet expansion and velocity.
As the 30-30 has the ability to shoot heavier bullets, it will generally have a higher SD than the 7.62x39.
Sectional Density is different from bullet to bullet, but on average the 30-30 will have a SD of 0.244 compared to 0.182 for 7.62x39.
There’s no denying that the 30-30 is a certified North American deer hunting all-star cartridge as it’s been consistently sending whitetail to the freezer for well over a century.
However, there is one thing to consider when using 30-30 for hunting, and that’s its effective range.
As a rule of thumb, 1,000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy is needed to effectively harvest a deer. After looking at the 30-30 and 7.62x39 ballistics tables below, I’m sure you can see the issue.
Both rifle cartridges start to come dangerously close to 1,000 ft-lbs of energy once they cross the 200-yard marker. The one exception to this for the 30-30 is the Hornady LEVERevolution. The LEVERevolution bullet uses an extremely flexible elastomer tip that is safe to use in tubular magazines. This allows Hornady to use more aerodynamic bullets for 30-30, extending its effective range to about 300 yards.
Although the 30-30 was designed to fire heavier bullets and be an all-around short range whitetail slayer, the 7.62x39 is becoming more and more popular as a hunting round.
For many years, full metal jacket (FMJ) 7.62x39 ammo is all that you could purchase. But now, multiple manufacturers sell soft point 7.62x39 ammo for hunting deer and varmints. This signals a fundamental change in how the 7.62x39 is considered among sportsmen.
The 7.62x39, just like the 30-30, is more than capable of keeping varmints like wild hogs, coyotes, and groundhogs off your property. Many ranchers keep a SKS or Ruger Mini-30 on their truck rack just in case a predator might cross their path. An accurate, semi-automatic carbine is ideal for this purpose and both rifles fit the bill.
Overall, both rifle cartridges will serve you well for short range hunting situations but lack the muzzle velocity and muzzle energy to take long distance shots on game animals.
The question of which one is better comes down to your personal choice in rifles. If you prefer semi-automatic rifles then the 7.62x39 is the better hunting option for you. However, if the nostalgia of a lever gun is what you crave, then the 30-30 is the better option.
Ammo and Rifle Availability/Cost
The 7.62x39 is well known as being the caliber of choice for the AK-47 and SKS rifles. There are a wide variety of these rifles available on the new and secondary markets if that’s what you’re looking for.
However, if you want to shoot something a little bit different, there are several other options for 7.62x39. Ruger saw the potential of the cartridge by introducing the Mini-30 in 1987 as a semi-auto option for shooters wanting something other than an AK or SKS.
One issue regarding the SKS and AK variants is that they are primarily designed to use iron sights as opposed to reflex, holographic, or magnified optics. Iron sights are great for fast target acquisition and are extremely durable and reliable. However, many hunters want the added level of accuracy that a magnified scope provides to ensure that their shot placement is ideal for ethically harvesting a game animal. Of course, it is possible to purchase optics mounts for both rifles, but they are often unwieldly and awkward to shoot with.
To further complicate the use of the 7.62x39 in a hunting role, some states prohibit the use of a semi-auto rifles for hunting. In response to this, rifle manufactures Savage and CZ introduced the Savage Scout and CZ 527. These bolt action rifles were designed to reliably feed 7.62x39 and provide a solid shooting platform for hunters.
In comparison, the 30-30 is primarily confined to the land of lever action rifles from Winchester, Henry, and Marlin. Some alternatives are available for those who desire a bolt action rifle, but they are few and far between.
The main reason for this is the 30-30’s rimmed cartridge. Although ideal for use in a lever action, it can be a major liability when used in a bolt gun due to a condition referred to as rim lock.
Rim lock (or “rimlock”) is a condition where a rimmed cartridge slips behind the rim of the cartridge following it in the magazine, causing a jam. This can happen if the cartridges are loaded incorrectly into the magazine, or it can occur during firing.
Despite these issues, there are a few options when it comes to bolt action 30-30 rifles, namely the Stevens 325, Savage 340, and Remington 788.
Single shot rifle options are available for 30-30, with the most popular being the T/C G2 Contender.
In terms of rifle cost, the least expensive a close tie between the SKS and a lever action 30-30. Newly manufactured AK’s command the top spot in terms of price currently.
When it comes to ammo, you cannot beat the variety offered by the 30-30. As it has been in service for well over a century, there are a variety of different factory loads available from all the major manufacturers like Hornady, Nosler, Federal, Remington, Browning, and Underwood just to name a few. Subsonic varieties are also available if your state laws allowed for suppressed hunting.
For the 7.62x39, many ammo manufacturers reside in Eastern Europe, like Wolf, Tula, and Prvi Partizan. Bullet varieties from these manufacturers is typically limited to full metal jacket (FMJ) and hollow point (HP) ammo that is not ideal for hunting. However, as the 7.62x39 is becoming more popular as a hunting round, more North American companies are offering soft point ammo as an option.
When it comes to cost, cheap steel cased 7.62x39 is some of the most affordable ammo around. Russian ammo typically sells for around $0.40/round in the current market, with premium soft point hunting rounds going for around $1-2/round.
For 30-30, you will generally pay a premium as it is brass cased and not mass produced like the 7.62x39. At the time of writing, the least expensive 30-30 ammo would cost around $1.50/round while premium hunting loads can run more than $2-4/round.
If you like to handload, then the 30-30 is going to be a joy for you. With a wide range of manufacturers like Barnes, Hornady, and Nosler who produce a multitude of different bullet weights and profiles, the 30-30 offers anyone who likes to reload a vast sea of options at their fingertips.
You’ll want to save your brass, as 30-30 is not something you often see discarded at the range, but factory new brass is also available and affordable.
When it comes to 7.62x39, handloaders typically avoid this cartridge all together. It’s not because you can’t reload for 7.62x39, it’s because it’s not cost efficient.
Cheap steel cased 7.62x39 is plentiful and inexpensive, whereas brass cases for 7.62x39 is not very common and relatively expensive if you plan to purchase new.
Most shooters opt to purchase cheap factory ammo for 7.62x39 to cover all of their practice and plinking needs and then purchase a few boxes of premium hunting loads for going out into the woods.
A Brief History of 30-30: An American Sporting Legend
The 30-30 Winchester is one of America’s oldest hunting cartridges and was developed and released by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in their August catalog in 1895. The new round was chambered in their Winchester Model 1894 carbine and was marketed as a sporting cartridge.
The 30-30 is unique as it was the first small bore cartridge offered using smokeless powder.
The 30-30 Winchester is also known as:
- .30 Winchester Center Fire
- 30 WCF
- 30 Winchester Smokeless
The 30 WCF offered hunters excellent terminal ballistics in a compact, smooth package. Ideal for deer hunting and target shooting, the 30 WCF has remained extremely popular since its debut well into the modern era.
When Marlin adopted the 30 WCF for their model 336 lever action, they didn’t want to pay homage to Winchester as they were a rival gun manufacturer.
As such, they dropped “Winchester” off the name and simply called it the 30-30. Pronounced “thirty thirty”, this nomenclature harkens back to an older methodology of cartridge naming.
The first “30” in the name refers to the bullet caliber used in the cartridge, while the second “30” refers to the 30 grains of smokeless powder that was used in the original design.
If you’d like to learn more about how the 30-30 compares to other calibers, check out 30-30 vs 30-06.
A Brief History of 7.62x39: A Russian Semi-Auto Innovation
In the later stages of WWII, the Nazi regime introduced a rifle that changed the way soldiers have waged ever since.
The Sturmgewehr 44, or StG-44 for short, was a magazine fed assault rifle capable of automatic fire utilizing lighter weight bullets. The use of an intermediate cartridge allowed the StG-44 to be controllable during automatic fire, was more compact than the standard battle rifles of the time, and were designed to hit targets several hundred yards away.
This flew in the face of the established battle rifles of World War II, namely the Russian bolt action Mosin Nagant and American semi-auto M1 Garand, that could hit targets well over 500 yards away even though most battles occurred at closer ranges. Both rifles were extremely effective, however they weighed a ton, were difficult to maneuver at close range, and had heavy recoil making automatic fire difficult to control.
Seeing the effectiveness of the StG-44, the Soviet Union decided that they wanted to develop an intermediate cartridge for their new battle rifle. They wanted this rifle cartridge to be suitable for a host of firearms, from a semi-auto carbine for close range to fully automatic machine guns for suppressive fire.
Hundreds of unique cartridge designs were submitted but eventually the Soviets settled on 57-N-231, which had cartridge dimensions of 7.62x41mm.
The bullet that was used did not have a boat tail, as the Soviet cartridge designers assumed (incorrectly) that a boat tail was only needed for long range shots. The assumption that all combat would be at close range led them to this decision as they did not expect shots to be taken at longer distance.
However, after extensive testing, the Soviets determined that the boat tail increased close range accuracy as well and a new bullet with a boat tail was adopted. This longer bullet required the cartridge case to be shortened to 39mm and the ubiquitous 7.62x39 was born.
The 7.62x39 was adopted for the semi-automatic SKS and Mikhail Kalashnikov’s famous assault rifle, the AK-47. The Ak-47 became the most mass-produced military rifle in existence and the 7.62x39 has shared in its success. The RPD and RPK machine guns were also chambered in 7.62x39mm.
The Russians designed 7.62x39 ammo to fire a 123 grain weight FMJ bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,350 fps, 1,600 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and a combat effective range of 400 yards. Typical bullet weights for 7.62 ranges between 120 to 125 grains.
With the popularity of the 7.62x39 on the rise, soft point (SP) hunting ammo has become more readily available for hunting whitetail and other medium sized game animals.
The 7.62x39 has seen combat on 5 continents and is truly one of the most prevalent and combat-effective rounds to come out of the Cold War.
Final Shots for 30-30 vs 7.62x39
There’s no denying the ballistic similarities between the 7.62x39 and the 30-30. Both rounds are very effective against small to medium game, but they were developed for very different purposes and rifles.
The 30-30 has been a staple in the deer hunting community since its release and has spent the better part of a century putting venison on the table. Its impressive short range ballistics have made the 30-30 a formidable intermediate 30-caliber option for hunters looking for a lower recoil cartridge that won’t break the bank.
Although the 30-30 excels in lever action rifles, its rimmed case is less than ideal for use in semi-automatic and bolt action rifles. Furthermore, due to bullet designs required for use in a lever gun, the 30-30 hemorrhages FPS and kinetic energy so quickly that it makes the cartridge unusable for longer range shots over 200 yards.
The 7.62x39 is a cartridge of Soviet origin that was specifically designed for use in the SKS and AK-47 battle rifles. Built for rugged efficiency, the 7.62x39 is a cheap option for anyone who loves to go plinking or just enjoys spending time at the range on the cheap.
Although the cost of 7.62x39 is relatively low, the vast majority of factory loads will be steel cased FMJ rounds with a 123 grain bullet. Though these are perfect for plinking and general target practice, they are unsuitable for hunting. While hunting rounds for 7.62x39 are available, they are considerably more expensive than their FMJ counterparts.
Which round is best for you primarily depends on your choice of rifle.
If you love the nostalgia and feel of a lever gun, the then 30-30 is right up your alley. On the contrary, if you enjoy semi-automatic fire, then get yourself a Ruger Mini-30, SKS, or AK variant and have fun.
Regardless of which one you choose, they will both put a smile on your face when you squeeze the trigger as well as send hogs and deer bounding into your freezer.
Continue reading 30-30 vs 7.62x39: The American and Russian 30 Caliber Clash for comparative ballistic data!