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Wildcatting: 30-30 based!

This was probably my first venture into the world of ‘off piste’ or wildcat cartridges, as I owned a Thompson Contender pistol in this calibre with a 14” barrel. It was a beauty and sourcing ammunition and reloading kit to feed her actually introduced me to Ivan Hancock of Venom Arms fame, which in turn set me off on the custom air rifle route, funny old world!

Federal factory 7-30 Waters ammo was then imported by Viking Arms and Ivan and I were buying up as much as they had and competing with each other, much to the amusement of the sales rep who quite frankly had never heard of the Waters round. That’s not uncommon, everyone has heard of the .30-30 Winchester or ‘thutty thutty’ round and the 7-30 Waters, as its name suggests is a 7mm version of this American royalty calibre.

Case spec

Where the 30-30 looks like a ‘that will do’ round, designed to push a 150-grain .30 cal bullet at 2400 fps for 1910 ft/lbs and designed with a rimmed case for reliable function in lever-action rifles. The 7-30 Waters looks a lot more up to date for a rimmed case.

Enter Ken Waters who was a ballistics expert and noted gun writer, who saw the need for an improved 30-30 round and had been tinkering around with designs since the mid-70s. Ken was keen on developing a more efficient, flatter shooting and high velocity round for use in a ‘wood’s rifle’ like a lever-action. But because of the restraints of the design that could not use pointed bullets due to safety issues on chain fires in tubular magazines and lower pressure barrel constraints, it was not until 1984 that the 7-30 Waters appeared.

His new round was first designed to launch a 139-grain 7mm diameter bullet at 2,600 fps for 2087 ft/lbs, which is when the US Repeating Arms company became involved and chambered their Model 94 lever action in it. Soon after, Federal Cartridge company saw its potential and took it further with a lighter 120-grain load for 2700 fps, which is more achievable.


This was designed for a rifle and actually a 24” barrel is best for top performance and to achieve the best ballistic results. However, as lever-action rifles came with shorter 20 -22” barrels, ballistics were a bit compromised. However, the fact that the 30-30 round now had a 7mm bullet meant its potential was soon exploited by the long-range pistol and silhouettes shooting fraternity. Now pointed or ballistically superior bullets, other than the mandatory and safe flat-nosed types, could be used in single shot rifles/pistols and the true potential of the 7-30 Waters could be realised!

It’s a clever cartridge and is really an improved 30-30 design. Ken Waters used the same overall length of 2.040” but increased the shoulder angle from 15° and 39 minutes to 17° and 12 minutes thus making the side walls more parallel and increasing powder capacity, you might think, read on. This is further enhanced by moving the shoulder forward from 1.441 to 1.586” and the neck union is also much higher at 1.733” compared to the older 1.562” length. Which makes for a much better looking and stream- lined design, but still retaining a good neck length for bullet support.

Different but the same

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Water capacity of the old 30-30 is 46-grain. The new 7-30 Waters, Federal case weighs 143.5 grains and 189.5 grains filled so the same 46-grains water capacity. The same as the 30-30, that’s because its wider neck compensates for the lower shoulder and the 7mm’s narrower neck despite longer body can only match the old thutty thutty. I was surprised, as I thought it looked bigger but there you go, the real advantage is better ballistic bullets.

So the question is really, pistol or rifle? Personally, with the Contender single shot pistol design you had yourselves a superb and accurate platform for the new round and it soon gained favour as the higher ballistic coefficients from the 7mm slim, yet heavy bullets easily toppled distant steel silhouettes. It’s a mild recoiling round too, at lower pressures of 45000 psi, although muzzle blast is still interesting from a 14” barrel! That’s why Ivan opted for a carbine version for his Waters with a 22” barrel length.

Load up

The normal, or standard rifling twist rate, is 1 in 9 or 1 in 9.5”, common to 7mm bullets due to their weight and long length and hence good down-range performance. A lot of data you find is actually for the shorter 14” pistol barrels and that’s fine to work with. As even with a longer barrel you are not going to use the Waters for long range deer, it’s more at home as a short, light handy carbine, even with a sound moderator fitted. You are really looking at bullets of the 120 to 140-grain weight, a small window, which makes reloading easy. For that read- less combinations of components to test, but experimenting with lighter 110 and heavier 156-160-grainers can get the best from the 7-30.

Powder choice is in the medium burn rate with the likes of RL15, Varget, Vit N135 or H4895 or ball powders such as H335 but that needs a magnum primer. With a shorter barrel, erring on the side of a slightly faster burn rate helps with better ballistics and less muzzle flash too. Quickload and QuickTarget as always are a very good place to start with any reload, especially an odd calibre and saves time and wasted components.

Bullets I like are the lighter ones, like the 120-grain Speer or Nosler Ballistic Tips, I leave the heavier ones for longer range steel clanging or woodland deer. Factory ammunition these days is only from Federal, with their 120-grain Sierra Game King and from a 24” barrel can achieve 2700 fps for 1940 ft/lbs, so deer legal.

In the field

14”, even on a carbine, is too short really, unless you fit a sound moderator, as the muzzle blast is impressive. I remember testing the original 14” Contender pistol in a tunnel range during the eighties and my fellow shooters did not appreciate the blinding flash and ear crushing noise. The Venom Arms custom from Ivan is a superb work of art, with exhibition grade wood, colour case hardened action with barrel hinge conversion and fast access loaded round holder. Fitting a sound moderator spoils the looks but makes it a light and superbly handy true woodland rifle, with excellent accuracy for any deer with the correct bullets. I liked to clang metal silhouettes with it in Scotland and out to 200 even 250 yards, hits on a metal rabbit was no problem.

Knowing my odd predilection for subsonicing all my rounds I never shot the 7-30 Waters below the speed of sound. However, a load of 12-grains of Tin Star achieves 1671 fps/744 ft/lbs energy proved a great plinking round!


Quirky and probably not your first choice as a deer, or for that matter a fox round, but certainly an interesting and capable cartridge. The 7-30 Waters is best as a short carbine round, offering enough velocity and energy to get the job done, with minimal recoil and good inherent accuracy.


JMS Arms;  07771 962121 Quick Load/QuickTarget, MAE Mod’s, www.quickload.co.uk
Norman Clark; 01788 579651Reloading Kit, supplies
GMK; 01489 579999 Federal ammunition
n Hannam’s Reloading; 01977 681639 Dies, Vit Powder