The development of the self-contained cartridge, that is, a center-primed brass case carrying the powder charge and bullet, was a revolution in firearms technology. It made effective breechloaders and repeaters possible in the late 19th century. Everything that has happened since has been evolutionary, including Hornady’s development of the LEVERevolution ammo and components, hereafter referred to simply as “LE.”
The LE ammo has been around for a while now and appears to be here to stay. Briefly, LE was developed to allow spitzer bullets to be safely used in lever-action rifles. This was accomplished by using a bullet with a pointed polymer tip which is soft enough to avoid detonation of the cartridge in front of it when in the tubular magazine of a lever-action rifle. This, in itself, would have been an improvement, but Hornady also worked with Hodgdon’s to develop an improved propellant. The bottom line is an efficient bullet traveling at higher velocity as compared to conventional .30-30 ammo. What’s not to like about that?
LE ammo is offered for a variety of cartridges used in lever-action rifles, including some that are traditionally considered to be handgun cartridges. I am going to stick with the .30-30 Winchester version of the LE ammo for the remainder of the discussion because that cartridge is my main interest and no doubt the one that will be used in greatest volume.
What can we expect?
The LE is shown in the first picture with several conventional .30-30 rounds. The spitzer bullet is obvious, and it weighs 160 grains, which falls midway between the
two common, old .30-30 loads of 150 and 170 grains. The cartridge seems a bit stubby and this is due to the long neck of the .30-30 which requires that the cannelure be set high on the pointed bullet. Overall length is, of course, comparable to traditional loads. Not visible in the loaded cartridge is the fact that the bullet is a boattail design. We will have more to say about that later. Bullet runout checked with an RCBS CaseMaster averaged a low .002” just ahead of the crimp.
Hornady says this pointy pill will leave the muzzle of a 24-in. barrel at a velocity of 2400 feet-per-second (fps). For comparison I will use the traditional 170-grain load which is said to emerge from a 24-in. barrel travelling at a leisurely 2200 fps. Published tables contain the following ballistic data for the two rounds.
Velocity [ft per sec] (Energy [ft-pounds])
Muzzle 100 yards 200 yards
Hornady LE 160 gr. 2400 (2046) 2150 (1643) 1916 (1304)
Conventional 170 gr. 2200 (1827) 1895 (1355) 1619 ( 989)
These figures show a substantial difference in down-range performance, and down- range is the place to look for the LE advantage. In spite of its lighter weight, the LE arrives at 200 yards with 32% more Smack (foot-lbs of kinetic energy) than the standard 170-grain load. This is due to the fact of its higher initial velocity combined with the more efficient bullet shape which sheds velocity less quickly. Every hunter has always wanted his .30-30 to be a 200-yard deer rifle, and the LE surely increases the chances for that performance. This will cost a bit, and you can expect to pay about $1.10 apiece for the LE factory ammo. In view of what you get, this does not seem an excessive price for ammo purchased in hunting quantities.
At the Range With Factory LE Ammunition
Factory LE was fired in five different rifles:
- Remington Model 788 bolt action, 22-inch barrel.
- Savage Model 340 bolt action, 22-inch barrel.
- Winchester Model 94 lever action, 24-inch barrel.
- Marlin Model 336 lever action, 20-inch barrel.
- Browning 1885 Traditional Hunter single shot, 28-inch barrel
All test rifles had proved reliably accurate in previous ammunition testing. They are the same rifles described in more detail and used in providing data for my article Factory Loads for the .30-30 Winchester, which is accessible on the Articles page. All rifles were equipped with scopes, except for the Model 94 which carried a Williams aperture sight with bead front sight.
Velocity Data for Factory Loads
The quoted average velocities (Ave), extreme spread (ES), and standard deviation (SD) result from strings of at least eight shots.
Rem 788: Ave 2246; ES 84; SD 29
Sav 340: Ave 2161; ES 66; SD 26
Win 94: Ave 2375; ES 66; SD 23
Mar 336: Ave 2358; ES 44; SD 15
Br 1885: Ave 2437; ES 52; SD 18
Figures for the two lever actions and the Browning single shot show that the Hornady LE delivers on its ballistic promises. The overall average velocity for the five rifles is 2315 fps. The Hornady Custom version of the standard 170-grain load gave an average of 2179 fps in these same rifles in earlier factory ammo tests reported in the article referenced above. This is a really significant difference. Fired cases exhibited no signs of abnormal pressure.
We know it doesn’t make any sense to hunt with a .30-30 using anything but a lever action rifle, and with these guns the LE really shines. Both lever actions gave excellent velocity and the Marlin was especially noteworthy in giving a velocity out of proportion to its 20-inch barrel length. The Marlin has a faster twist rate, 1 in 10” compared with 1 in 12” for the others, and it has the famous Marlin Micro-Groove rifling. This probably has something to do with its performance. At any rate the combo of Marlin LA with Hornady LE should be a very good combination for deer. I suspect this has already been verified by many hunters in the field.
The bolt actions come in a bit lower but the Remington 788 gives exactly 100 fps greater velocity than it did with the standard Hornady Custom 170-grain load. My Savage 340 has a very long chamber throat and gives lower comparative velocities with all loads.
I checked accuracy by firing 3- or 4-shot groups from a bench at 50 yards. Sticking with your likely hunting rifles, I think lever-action users who are deer hunters will not be disappointed with the accuracy of the .30-30 LE. The Winchester and the Marlin used in these tests would both usually place the first three shots in slightly less than one inch, which would be less than 2 minutes-of angle (MOA). The Marlin made one five-shot group that measured 1.54“ and the Winchester a four-shot group that measured 1.36“. This is good hunting accuracy and most lever guns in your arsenals should do at least as well. This shooting was done on warm days and a flyer often appeared on the fourth or fifth shot of a string. This is not uncommon with lever action rifles due in part to the way that barrels are supported in lever action receivers and stocks. In hunting, however, you will be counting on your first shot, not your fourth or fifth (I hope).
Although we will not be afield with the bolt action rifles or the Browning single shot it is these rifles that really demonstrate the accuracy potential of the .30-30 LE. Four-shot groups were fired with these rifles and two groups are shown for each in the
accompanying pictures. The Savage
340 was the poorest (?) of the three, throwing two groups of about 1.25 MOA. The Remington 788 managed an average of .47” (.94 MOA) for four groups. The Browning SS’s first two groups were truly outstanding, the first one measuring .09”, and the second, .35”. Three additional groups opened the Browning’s average to .54” (1.1 MOA). These groups
were a joy to shoot. You couldn’t ask for more from factory ammo, and usually you get much less.
Using the LEVERevolution Components
I was a little surprised when Hornady began to offer The LE powder and the bullets for handloading. I figured they would keep this exceptional ammunition at the factory cartridge level for some time. The .30-30, however, is still very popular among handloaders, as shown by figures that always place the dies and shellholders in the top ten or fifteen in annual sales. Hence, there is money to be made and so we have the goods and can load to our heart’s, and our wallet’s content.
This would be a good time to take a closer look at the bullet, which Hornady calls the “FTX” and is available for a number of lever action cartridges. This bullet uses “Flex Tip” (trademark) technology. The flexible tip makes the cartridge safe for the tubular magazines of lever action rifles, and it helps to begin expansion on contact with a
target animal. In the picture the .308 FTX for .30-30 (middle) is shown with a typical 170-grain flat nose (left) and a 165-grain boat-tail soft-point (right) normally used in more powerful thirties. Note that the FTX also has a boat tail, which is curious in that ballisticians would say that such a tail has little effect on accuracy or velocity at less than 300 yards. To maintain correct overall length, the crimping cannelure must be set high on the FTX. The base of the bullet therefore reaches down to shoulder level, and encroaches a bit on powder space. Hornady says that the FTX bullet has a ballistic coefficient of .330, considerably greater than the BC value of .248 that Sierra gives for its 170-gr flat nose. What do these BC values mean? The answer is best given by comparing velocity data for a bullet of .330 BC with one of .25 BC. If they were both started at 2400 fps the more efficient FTX (.330 BC) would be traveling about 140 fps faster than the 170-grainer (.25 BC) at 200 yards.
The LEVERevolution powder is manufactured by St. Mary’s and marketed by Hodgdon. Others have abbreviated it as LVR and that is what I will do. It is a double-base, ball powder, similar in appearance to other ball products, but with more flat, shiny surfaces. It is apparently a blend of powders that the makers claim is optimized
for lever action cartridges, especially the .30-30, and this results in higher velocities, at least 100 fps higher with bullets in the .30-30 weight range. It is purported to give uniform performance regardless of temperature. LVR’s burning rate is intermediate between that of Winchester 748 and Win 760. LVR is thus a bit slower than W748, a powder that I have always had good luck with in the .30-30. Hornady cautions that the LVR powder will not give enhanced performance in cartridges other than those for which it was intended, making a lot of work with other cartridges a waste time of money. Experimenters in the shooting press who have tried LVR in other rounds seem to agree that this is true. I have not seen a clear explanation, but I think it has to do with LVR being a relatively low-pressure powder. With lever .30-30s, action strength means you have to get the job done at around 40,000 psi. The LVR powder can do this, and, being somehow a bit more progressive in burning, can squeeze out more velocity. That is a great achievement, but, LVR is not able to develop the pressure that would be necessary to goose a more intense cartridge, say, the .308 Winchester. Hornady has developed the SUPERformance components for that task. That is my take on the matter, and it is only a take (Guess? opinion?). Whatever, LVR works for the .30-30 and that is what we are about to try.
Reloading was accomplished using Lee dies. All cases were full-length resized and trimmed to length, when required. Hodgdon data recommends 35.5 grains, and that is a compressed load that results in 2389 fps with the FTX bullet. I used 35.2 grains ignited by a Winchester standard primer. Bullets were seated to the cannelure (OAL 2.535”) using a Forster Benchrest seating die. Crimp was applied with a Lee factory crimp die, but there was a negligible difference in performance, crimped vs. uncrimped, so I did not always crimp. Reloaded ammo to be used for hunting with a lever action rifle should always be crimped, however.
Velocity Data for Handloads
35.2 grains LVR plus 160-grain FTX bullet
Rem 788: Ave 2291; ES 71; SD 26
Sav 340: Ave 2245; ES 70; SD 22
Win 94: Ave 2431; ES 47; SD 20
Mar 336: Ave 2398; ES 67; SD 20
Br 1885: Ave 2437; ES 35; SD 11
34.1 grains LVR plus 160-gr FTX
Win 94: Ave 2376; ES 58; SD 20
Br 1885: Ave 2421; ES 56; SD 16
Again, these components do deliver on the promise of increased performance. Most remarkable are the excellent velocities demonstrated by the two lever actions and the Browning single shot. Dropping the powder charge to 34.1 grains shaved 55 fps off the velocity for the Win 94, and only 16 fps off the velocity of the Browning 1885 which seems astounding. These were the only two rifles for which the lower powder charge was checked. It would seem that this powder is not terribly sensitive to differences in barrel length or to small changes in charge weight. Is that perhaps what we would expect from a powder that is carefully “optimized” for the .30-30 cartridge?
Accuracy of the LVR handloads was very good in all rifles, but perhaps a smidge less good than the results that I obtained with the factory ammo. Again shooting 4-shot groups at 50 yards, three groups with the Savage 340 averaged 1.28 “ (2.56 moa). The smallest group fired with the Remington 788 measured .42” (.84 MOA) and the average of 6 groups with that rifle was .78” (1.56 MOA). Four groups with the Browning 1885 averaged .92” (1.84 MOA). The picture shows an interesting 8-shot group fired with the 1885 using a load of 34.1 grains LVR. It appears that seven shots punched a measurement of .43” and then a flyer opened the group to .95”. The flyer, however, might be a double. Nah, I don’t think so.
One could perhaps obtain even better performance by employing special accuracy reloading techniques, such as neck sizing only with cases segregated to match each rifle used. Seating depth could also be adjusted to match chamber length, which varies a bit from gun to gun. One could also pass a good part of one’s life in trying the LVR powder with other bullets. By the time you had tried all of the spitzers (165 grains or less) made by Hornady, Speer, Sierra, Nosler, etc., you would know a lot about shooting .30-30 and you would be considerably older (poorer?).
The Bottom Line
As a gun nut whose primary interest is tweaking guns and ammo to get small groups, I have to keep in mind that the Hornady LE is entirely a hunting product. Since it delivers so well on its promises, a result of the spitzer soft tip and the powder blend, it will excel in the traditional .30-30 hunting applications. Some folks might say that there would be no sense in buying anything else for hunting with a lever-action rifle. They could be right. The FTX bullet is good enough, however, that folks who just like to shoot targets should also give it a try.
This was fun, but folks, it is hard to keep up. As if they had not done enough, Hornady is now offering a load that uses an FTX-type bullet made entirely of gilding metal and giving even higher velocity. Sounds like it could be an antelope cartridge. We will see.