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30-40 KRAG (30 U.S.)


Developed in the early 1890s and standardized in 1894, the 30-40 Krag represents the culmination of what some might deem a half-hearted effort by those in charge in the U. S. Military branches to bring the U. S. into battle-rifle competitiveness with other countries.  Looking back from today’s perspective, it seems those in power were not yet ready to transition from the blackpowder, single-shot era to fully embrace modern cartridge and gun designs.

Perhaps simply to mimic the weight and design of the bullet used in the 8mm Mauser Military load (I can think of no other explanation), the original experimental load used a 230-grain round-nosed bullet that was soon replaced with a 220-grain bullet.  These heavy, ballistically inefficient bullets hampered performance of the 30 US.  This load had a relatively poor trajectory, lost energy rapidly, and generated significant recoil.

In fairness to those involved, Congress had long hampered the potential of the U. S. Military to develop a competitive battle-rifle.  For many decades, it had steadfastly refused to allocate any meaningful funding toward improving that portion of the U. S. arsenal.

Comparative battlefield performance of the Krag rifle was hampered by a less efficient magazine loading method.  The U. S. had not yet given up on the concept of teaching soldiers how to place shots on target and still believed marksmanship was far more critical to winning battles than firepower or what can more correctly be referred to as spray-and-pray mentality.

In that era, it was not unreasonable for the Military to hold out hope for teaching marksmanship.  A National tradition of hunting and skillful shot placement existed and was a point of pride among most citizens.  A generation had not yet passed from the great International Match between the U. S. team and the Irish team.  Target shooting was still the single most spectator attended competitive sport across much of the country.

Because of this, and because of the cost of producing ammunition, the U. S. was interested in encouraging soldiers to learn how to shoot, rather than encouraging them to simply waste ammunition.  For these reasons, it resisted adoption of stripper-clips and opted for a magazine design with a cut-off feature that allowed soldiers to top off the magazine with loose rounds and to fire the gun as a single-shot while keeping the magazine full for emergency situations.

Ballistically, the 30 U. S. was limited by several factors.  First, the relatively poor performance of propellants available in the U. S. at that time; second, the round-nosed bullet design; third, perceived need to keep pressure lower than was used by many Military battle-rifles developed in the same era.

This latter likely resulted from a combination of the unusually high pressure generated by the original loads tested and, likely, less than spectacularly good material and heat-treating used in some of the earliest guns produced.  These limitations did this chambering no favors.

An interesting note: While several blackpowder-era rounds used bullets of about 0.308-inch diameter, the 30-40 U. S. (30-40 Krag) was the first significant chambering using a bullet of this diameter and the 30-caliber designation.  Furthermore, the 30-30 Winchester used a 0.308-inch bullet because Winchester was deeply involved in production of 30 U. S. Army ammunition.  Both of these rounds soon gained widespread acceptance in the sporting field.

Despite considerable related research, why the U. S. did not follow Great Britain’s lead and use a bullet of about 0.311-inch diameter remains a mystery to me.  But, for whatever reasons, the 30-caliber sporting rifle got its start with the 30 U. S. Army and 30-caliber has become the most commonly used bore size for big-game hunting worldwide.

Those who own and shoot a Krag-Jorgensen or the Winchester 1895 find this round to be rewarding and effective.  When properly loaded with modern components, it is fully capable for deer and elk hunting.

After hanging in the bar at Crested Butte, Colorado for many decades, an impressive set of elk antlers was finally officially measured.  It displaced the existing Boone and Crocket record elk rack and held first place for many decades.  John Plute had taken this trophy in 1899 in Dark Canyon, a few miles from Crested Butte, using a 30-40 Krag.

The antlers were eventually auctioned off and moved for display at the Visitor’s Center.  Years later, I asked the bar owner if he knew anything about the antlers.  Not surprisingly, he did.  I asked, why were they here at one time, he said: Used to pay off a bar tab in 1915.  I asked if he knew what gun had been used, his answer: 1895 Winchester.

Plute was only hunting for meat.  After hauling that out on horseback, realizing the magnitude of those antlers, he made a second trip to retrieve those.  Had he not done so, that rack would have been fodder for mice and coyotes.  Far as I know, that is about the sum total of what will ever be known about what must have been Mr. Plute’s most memorable hunt.

This case was derived from the, circa 1876, 40-50 Sharps Straight case.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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