This post describes a Thompson Center G2 Contender with a custom rifle barrel chambered for the .30-30 Ackley Improved. Shooting results are included.
A Gun For the .30-30 AI
Normally, when I am evaluating ammo for the .30-30 Winchester I will choose a good bolt action that I have accurized. I have always had excellent results with a Remington Model 788. This post will follow up and expand upon the earlier post : “Power for the .30-30: Ackley Improved and Hornady LeverEvolution.” (Nov 22, 2014) Shooting results with an Ackley Improved barrel will be presented.
IT is possible to chamber any .30-30 for the AI by using a chamber reamer ground to the proper dimensions, but my 788 is so good with standard ammo that I did not want to touch it. I previously had a barrel in .32 S&W long made by Match Grade Machine of Hildale, Utah for my T/C G2 Contender. It is an excellent barrel and I knew they also chambered for the .30-30 AI, so I ordered a 24-inch example with scope base installed. Like any Contender barrel, it easily fit the receiver and with a rifle butt and forend I now had a rifle in .30-30 AI.
The T/C G2 Contender
The Thompson Center Contender, with a break-open action, is a very simple answer to the one frame/many cartridges question. Barrels, and calibers, may be switched simply by removing a non threaded hinge pin and putting a new barrel on. The sights are mounted to the barrels so very little sighting in is required when barrels are changed. The visible hammer is adjustable for rimfire or centerfire cartridges. Thompson Center, or third party suppliers offers barrels of various lengths in .22 rf through .44 magnum. They are also offered for rifle rounds, such as .223 and .30-30, but the strong Encore frame must be used for higher pressure cartridges. Pistol grips and rifle butts and forends are available in wood or plastic.
My favorite source of G2 Contender barrels is Match Grade Machine (MGM) of Hildale, Utah. They offer match grade barrels in a bewildering variety of chamberings. You can get a classic oldie like the .219 Donaldson Wasp or .32 Wcf, or many newer wildcats including some I never heard of, like the 6 mm Hagar. Just a little behind the times, I guess.
I had MGM make me a 24-inch barrel chambered for the .30-30 Ackley Improved. A barrel like this has a twist of 1-10” which is a little faster than usual for a .30-30. I did not see a problem here. “Over stabilization” is something I do not believe in at appropriate rifle velocities. Also, super sleek target bullets should be adequately stabilized, if I ever got around to trying them. The barrel was delivered in about four weeks. It has a nice, blue finish and is marked with the MGM logo and the chambering.
Loading the .30-30 Ackley Improved
The cartridge brass for the .30-30 Ackley Improved is formed by firing factory .30-30 shells in a rifle with a chamber reamed for the AI. Alternatively, you can use light handloads in regular .30-30 brass to form the AI cases. Either way, you must have a rifle chambered for the AI. The design of the chamber reamer was the contribution of P. O. Ackley and it can be used with any .30-30 Winchester rifle. You usually do not need to buy a reamer. A lot of gunsmiths have .3030AI reamers and will use one to chamber your gun. True also, is that some custom barrel makers will supply a barrel chambered for this round. That is what I did in getting the MGM barrel described above.
The New Case
What you end up with is a case that is longer and straighter in the powder area, has a sharp shoulder, but still has a relatively long neck; at 0.350” it is longer than the diameter of the bullet. It looks more modern but it still has the old timey 0.506” rim. I like the rim and the long neck. If your rifle has correct headspace the rim will be firmly held upon firing and the case and shoulder has no choice but to expand and fill the chamber perfectly. Then, if you always fire the cases in the same gun and if you neck size only upon reloading you will have a great fit in the chamber and will be well on your way to the best accuracy your rimmed cartridge can give.
Whenever you expand a case shoulder as much as you need to turn a regular .3030 into an AI, you run the risk of splitting the case. I have used factory ammo for this and have had no problems. However, if you use old (brittle) brass for making fireforming hand loads, you will probably end up with split shoulders. That brings up the question of cost. I have used factory ammo bought in the days when it was inexpensive. In these trying times you may not find any of this ammo to buy, and if you do, it will cost $2.00 or more per round. If you need, say, 50 or 100 cases you may not want to have the expense. If true, then you do not want to play this game. Better to use the .30-30 Hornady LeverEvolution in your standard .3030.
Making Some Loads
NOTE: What follows is a description of results for my activities. I make no recommendations for your activities because an element of danger might be introduced with different hardware or loading components.
For handloading the AI you may use the same powders as for regular .3030s. For me that would be IMR 3031 (extruded) and Winchester 748 (ball). There are many more, say RL-12 and Varget, to name a couple. And then some newer ones. If I find a powder that works well I hate to spend the time trying to tweak out the last mm of accuracy by trying different powders. Life is too short. Especially mine.
For the AI, however, I thought a couple of the newer powders had promise. One is Hodgdon’s CFE# 223.. The CFE stands for Copper Fouling Eraser and it is a ball powder that has given good velocity in the 30-caliber loads I have seen. The other is Hodgdon/Hornady LeverEvolution, the powder used in Hornady’s very successful LeverEvolution .3030 ammo. If you are looking for high velocity from your .3030 AI, why not use the powder that pushes hardest in regular .3030 ammo?
One of the reasons the .30-30 Ackley Improved was not more successful involves the bullets used. Most of the rifles used for AI chambers were tube fed, lever action guns. The same old flat nosed bullets were needed for safety in the tube magazines and these were inefficient retainers of velocity. Thus, a good part of the AI velocity increase was lost as a bullet traveled downfield. The killing power of the AI at range was not much improved. Today, a good candidate for an AI bullet would be Hornady’s 160-grain FTX that they use
in their .30-30 LeverEvolution ammo. This one has a ten grain advantage over the many 150-grain bullets that might be used in the .3030 and it has a pointed flexible tip that is safe to use in tubular magazine guns. The pointed tip design results in a ballistic coefficient (BC) of 0.33, meaning that the bullet resists velocity loss through the atmosphere better than flat or round nosed bullets. Remember that the higher a bullet’s BC value, the better it resists velocity loss. With a single shot or bolt action rifle you can choose any .308 bullet, including the ultra sleek target types with a BC around 0.5.
So, how about the velocity increase? What expectations might we have? Ackley of course, made a whole series of improved cartridges in addition to the .30-30 AI. Reported velocities were sometimes increased as much as 300 fps for a given bullet weight. Other workers often had trouble repeating these claims and some even declared that Ackley was a fraud. Not true, of course, but we have to agree today that +300 fps is usually too optimistic.
My own experience would suggest that +200 fps is possible for some bullets. Of course that is due to the increased powder capacity. I measured the capacity for LeverEvolution powder in a normal and AI case using Hornady cases filled to the base of the neck. The normal case held 36.82 grains of LE while the AI case held 42.18 grains. We see the increase of 5.36 grains is very close to 15%. I also checked capacity with IMR 3031 and Varget with the same result. The capacity increase is 15%. If there is anything that is clear from many years of experimental shooting by many workers is that there is not a linear relationship between powder capacity and velocity. Another way of saying this is that an increase of 15% in powder will not get you a 15% increase in velocity, but something less. That something less might be less than 10%. You just have to do the loading and chronographing. It must also be kept in mind that an increase in velocity will come at the expense of an increase in pressure. My opinion is that useful increases obtained by AI chambering will not produce unsafe pressures, especially in bolt action rifles and single shots like the T/C Contender. Nevertheless, your best approach as always would be to start low and work up in powder weight, keeping watch for signs of pressure.
Shooting the .30-30 AI
The routine for shooting the T/C G2 Contender Ackley Improved is: l) Break open the action by pulling back on the trigger guard spur; 2) load a round and close the action; 3) Cock the hammer set for center fire; 4) Take aim; 5) Fire. Nothing surprising here, right? The gun operated smoothly and the trigger was good because I had opted for the T/C trigger job when I bought the receiver. One thing I noted is that the gun is fairly light and recoil is stout, even with standard.30-30 factory shells. I was notified of this by a good bonk of the scope rim above my right eyebrow. It would be possible to open a gash in your forehead, as it is with any stout recoiling scoped centerfire rifle, so I became very careful about eye relief after that.
Note: My assumption is that I can safely shoot any of the currently available factory .30-30 loads in my equipment.
My first task was to fire some factory rounds in order to fireform .3030AI cases, For this I used three brands of ammo, Hornady American Whitetail, 150 grains, Hornady LeverEvolution, 160 grains, and Federal Fusion, 150 grains. These rounds were chronograph and the 24-inch MGM custom barrel gave the following results.
Hornady American Whitetail (150 gr) Average velocity 2268 fps, Extreme spread 50 fps
Hornady LeverEvolution (160 gr) Ave 2256 fps, ES 31 (Std deviation only 9 fps)
Federal Fusion (150 gr) Ave 2348 fps, ES 75 fps
I was a bit surprised that both types of Hornady ammo seemed a bit slow for a 24-inch barrel, but the Federal was about as expected. These data establish a baseline for the custom barrel results to compare with the Ackley Improved loads.
One thing that also surprised me was the level of accuracy obtained when fire forming the factory ammo. I fired groups at fifty yards while doing this. Most of the groups measure less than 0.5” which would correspond to less than one minute-of-angle. A picture here will show these results. One thing for sure is that the MGM barrel is a very good barrel and the 1-10 twist works. On the other hand, I have always been led to believe that excellent accuracy requires a very good fit of case to chamber, especially in the shoulder area. That has been my experience, and some very smart rifle men have found the same. Yet, here we are with a bunch of space between the shoulder of a factory .30-30 and the shoulder area of an Ackley Improved chamber. My opinion is that it has to do with the rimmed case. Such a case headspaces on the rim, and if headspace is good, the shoulder of a .30-30 shell is held in the same place in the AI chamber for every shot. On firing, every case expands in exactly the same way into the AI shoulder area. This uniformity means it is possible to get good accuracy when firing factory ammo in an AI chamber. I hasten to say I do not know how good this explanation is, but it is all I got for ya’ at this time.
Results of Some .30-30 Ackley Improved Loads
CAUTION: There is no factory or loading manual information on using CFE 223 or LeverEvolution powder in the .30-30 Ackley Improved. There is only limited information in the shooting literature on the use of older powders. I make no recommendations for powders or weights in this application.
A few velocity results will show the trends. The powder weights were quite reasonable, in some cases perhaps a bit more than a loading manual maximum for the .30-30.
IMR 3031 + Sierra FBST 150 gr, Average velocity, 2497 fps, ES 64 fps, SD 20
CFE 223 + Sierra FBST 150 gr, Average velocity, 2430 fps, ES 30 fps, SD 9.4
Hodgdon/Horn LeverEvolution + Hornady FTX 160 gr, Average velocity, 2517 fps, ES 62 fps, SD 26 fps
Looking at the figures for the factory loads given earlier we see that the average velocity is 2291 fps. The average velocity for the Ackley Improved loads is 2481 fps, or, an increase of 190 fps. The two sets are comparable because each has two 150-grain bullets and one 160-grain bullet. The increase is both significant and useful, and could be even larger because one could use heavier loads than I have. There were no signs of high pressure in any of my loads.
The most powerful of the AI loads above uses LeverEvolution powder to push the 160-gr FTX bullet downrange at an initial 2517 fps. To predict the down range performance of the load we need a ballistic table and a good one is found in The Speer Reloading Manual, No. 12, Blount, Inc. Sporting Equipment Division, 1994, p. 587. The entries in this table are listed according to ballistic coefficient. For a given initial velocity the table gives velocities down range to 500 yards, foot pounds of kinetic energy per grain of bullet weight, and trajectory data. The table has an entry for a ballistic coefficient of 0.32 that is very close to the FTX 160-gr value of 0.33. Close enough. If the bullet starts out at 2500 fps,the remaining velocity is 2233 fps at 100 yds and 1982 fps at 200 yds. If the gun is sighted in at 200 yd, the shot will be 2.8 inches high at 100 yds. The kinetic energy at 200 yards would be 8.72 foot pounds per grain, amounting to 1395 ft-lbs at 200 yards for the 160-gr FTX bullet. This would take care of any deer and would be enough to down an elk with a good hit in the vitals.
The accuracy of the AI loads was generally good but not outstanding. Four shot groups would be less than 2 inches at 100 yards. A couple group pictures are shown to illustrate. The most promise for good accuracy seems to be shown using the CFE 223 powder and a 150-gr bullet. However, the best power combination uses LE powder with the 160-gr bullet and it is accurate enough for hunting. If going afield for game, that is what we would use.
Using LeverEvolution powder with the 160-gr FTX is pushing the .30-30 AI about as far as it will go. I believe further handloading work would push the 160 bullet over 2600 fps. Don’t really need it, however, and it would be more fun to work on accuracy than velocity.
I am not finished with this project. The custom barrel should give more accurate results with the AI loads as it did with the factory .30-30 ammo. This will require some attention to finding the best way to support the rifle in the bench . You gotta realize that support makes a difference, especially with rifles whose butt stock and forend are two different pieces. I have more work to do.