The .30 Carbine: A Light, But Useful Cartridge

Continue reading to find out all about the history and recommended uses of the .30 Carbine.

Designed by Winchester for the military in the early 1940s, the .30 Carbine cartridge (and the firearm it was originally designed for: the M1 Carbine), was designed to be “more than a pistol, but less than a rifle.” Used with by the United States military in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the .30 Carbine also became very popular among civilian hunters and shooters. Though it is an underpowered cartridge on by modern standards on paper, the .30 Carbine is still very capable under the appropriate conditions.

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.30 Carbine History

Adopted by the military at the beginning of World War II, the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1 (better known as the M1 Carbine) was intended for use by Soldiers such as truck drivers, radio operators, forward observers, and mortar crewmen (just to name a few), for whom it was impractical to carry and use the larger and heavier M1 Garand rifle.

The M1 Carbine was developed as a compromise to give them a weapon that was lighter and easier to carry than a full sized rifle, but more powerful and with a longer effective range than a pistol or submachine gun. With a 15 (and later 30) round detachable magazine, the semi-automatic M1 Carbine gave the Soldier using it a considerable amount of firepower, especially compared to other military weapons at the time.

Along with the M1 Carbine, Winchester designed the new .30 Carbine cartridge by modifying the old .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge (read more about the .32 SL here). The rimless .30 Carbine (7.62x33mm) was originally designed to fire a .30 caliber, 110gr full metal jacket bullet at just under 2,000 feet per second. Though the .30 Carbine was certainly no slouch, it was much less powerful than the .30-06 Springfield round fired by the M1 Garand.

However, the .30 Carbine cartridge was deemed acceptable by the military because it was not intended to be used by Soldiers involved in heavy fighting as their primary weapon. The fact that the M1 Carbine was nearly 8″ shorter and about 4 pounds lighter than the M1 Garand, and much more powerful and with a significantly longer effective range than the M1911 pistol, made it a great choice for support troops, paratroopers, vehicle crewmen, etc.

The M1 Carbine was praised by Soldiers for being lightweight and easy to carry, especially by support troops and guerrilla fighters who only saw occasional fighting. However, many Soldiers complained about the lack of stopping power in the .30 Carbine cartridge. This was an especially common complaint from Soldiers involved in large periods of heavy fighting. However, in all fairness, the M1 Carbine was not designed for that sort of use in the first place.

Towards the end of World War II, the M1 Carbine was modified to be capable of select fire operation, and the resulting firearm (the M2 Carbine), was very popular during the Korean War. Until the introduction of the M-14 and the M-16 many years later, the M2 Carbine was the only firearm in the United States Military’s inventory that had capabilities anywhere close to assault rifles such as the German StG 44 and the Soviet AK-47 (though the 7.92x33mm and 7.62x39mm cartridges used in those rifles was significantly more powerful than the .30 Carbine cartridge).

Another version of the M1 Carbine (the M3), was fitted with a primitive infrared scope and an active infrared light. This was the first weapon issued to American Soldiers with true night vision capability. The M3 was used extensively during the Battle of Okinawa and was extremely effective against Japanese night time infiltrations and assaults.

These days, the .30 Carbine cartridge is still relatively common in the United States. Over 6 million M1 Carbines were produced (by a wide range of companies like the Inland Division of General Motors, International Business Machines (IBM), the Underwood Typewriter Company, and the Rock-Ola Jukebox Company), and they are by far the most popular firearm chambered in .30 Carbine.

After World War II ended, the Army sold hundreds of thousands of brand new M1 Carbines to civilians as surplus. Available for less than $20 apiece, the M1 Carbine was extremely popular among hunters and shooters in the United States.

Auto-Ordnance produces modern replicas of the M-1 Carbine. Additionally, there are a few other firearms chambered in .30 Carbine out there, such as the Ruger Blackhawk, Taurus Raging Bull, and the AMT AutoMag handguns.

.30 Carbine Featured
.30 Carbine FMJ (L) compared to 7.62x51mm FMJ (C) and .30 Carbine soft point (R)

.30 Carbine Loads

Armscor, Hornady, Remington, Federal, Sellier & Bellot, Prvi Partizan, Tula, and Winchester, among others, currently offer a few different loads for the .30 Carbine. The most common load is still a 110gr FMJ bullet traveling between 1,900 and 2,000 feet per second. However, several companies also produce soft point, hollow point, or even ballistic tipped bullets designed for self defense or hunting applications.

Just as a point of comparison, the .30 Carbine has more than double the muzzle energy of the .45 ACP, over 25% more muzzle energy than the 10mm Auto, about 25% less energy than the 5.56x45mm NATO/.223 Remington, and less than half the energy of the .30-06. So, the designers of the .30 Carbine pretty clearly accomplished their goal of building a cartridge neatly filling gap in between typical rifle and pistol capabilities.


Hunting With the .30 Carbine

Yes, it’s true that the .30 Carbine is a pretty anemic load compared to most rifle cartridges. However, you must remember that it was designed as an intermediate cartridge. While the .30 Carbine is hopelessly outclassed by most rifle rounds, it is more powerful than many pistol rounds that are also popular deer hunting cartridges, such as the .357 Magnum, 10mm Auto, and .45 Colt.

Under the right conditions, and with proper shot placement, the .30 Carbine can be an absolutely deadly round for small to medium sized game. Hunters have been cleanly hunting whitetail deer, hogs, javelina, coyotes, and foxes with the .30 Carbine since the end of WWII.

When using the .30 Carbine, it is important to keep several things in mind. First, make sure that the .30 Carbine is legal to use in the state you are hunting in. While the .30 Carbine cartridge is legal to use on deer in many states (like Georgia, Texas, and Washington), it is illegal to use in other states. Also, check to see if there are magazine restrictions for hunting in your state if you are hunting with an M1 Carbine. If so (like in Colorado for instance), buy a few after market 5 round hunting magazines to use instead of the 15 round magazine that comes with most M1 Carbines.

Second, do not ever use FMJ ammunition when hunting big game. Not only is it illegal to use for hunting in most states, but FMJ ammunition does not perform nearly as well as hollow point or soft point ammunition. A FMJ round will have no problems penetrating all the way through the animal, but it won’t do nearly as much damage and you may end up having to track the animal for a very long way before you find it. Fortunately, there are several different types of expanding ammunition on the market today that are excellent choices for those interested in hunting with the .30 Carbine.

Next, ensure that you only take short range shots with the .30 Carbine. 100 yards should be your maximum range and 50 yards is even better. This is especially important when hunting with a pistol chambered in .30 Carbine, as velocities will be noticeably slower than those obtained from a rifle. The .30 Carbine is on the lower end of what I consider ethical for medium sized game anyway, so it is important to stay within the limitations of the round and not try to push your luck.

Finally, don’t try to hunt animals that are too big for the round. The .30 Carbine is great on small to medium sized game, such as coyotes, feral hogs, and deer. However, I would not recommend using it for elk or moose hunting.


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.30 Carbine For Self-Defense

In addition to hunters, the M1 Carbine has also seen extensive use with many police departments and civilian shooters in the United States. Especially before the Mini-14 and the AR-15 were readily available to civilians, the M1 Carbine was the most common choice for those who wanted something more powerful than a pistol without carrying a rifle.

Since the M1 Carbine is short, lightweight, easy to shoot, and had a 15 or 30 round magazine, it quickly became popular for home defense and law enforcement use. No less an authority than Jim Cirillo of the New York Police Department’s Stakeout Squad (who was in over a dozen shootouts) hailed the .30 Carbine as one of the most effective man stopping cartridges available (when using hollow points).

In fact, Cirillo called the M1 Carbine one of his favorite duty weapons in his legendary book Tales of the Stakeout Squad. Though not a great choice for concealed carry, the .30 Carbine can still be a good choice for home defense when concealment is not nearly as big of an issue.

During the Korean War, the .30 Carbine round gained a reputation among Soldiers for poor performance on North Korean and Chinese Soldiers during extremely cold temperatures. Since then, it has become something of a myth in shooting circles that the .30 Carbine bullets were failing to penetrate the thick, padded, winter clothing worn by our opponents during the Korean War.

This is most likely false.

In reality, the Soldiers in the Korean War using the M1/M2 Carbine were probably shooting at Communist Soldiers who were at a minimum, amped up on adrenaline, and possibly under the influence of drugs. Under such conditions, a person could potentially suffer several life threatening wounds, yet show no immediate effects from them unless a major bone or the central nervous system where hit.

The poor terminal performance of .30 Carbine FMJ bullets (especially compared to the .30-06) has been well documented. However, this is most likely due to the tendency of the .30 Carbine round to punch right through a target without tumbling or expanding, thus creating a relatively small wound channel.

At short range, both FMJ and (most) soft point .30 Carbine ammunition will easily penetrate through most bullet proof vests rated up to Level IIIA (the highest level of ballistic protection without a ceramic plate). With this in mind, I’m sure that the .30 Carbine bullets fired by our Soldiers and Marines in Korea were probably penetrating through the thick winter clothing worn by the North Koreans and Chinese with no problems.

However, the bullets were probably causing significantly less damage than the .30-06 rounds fired by the BAR and M1 Garand. Additionally, the thick winter clothing was also probably doing an excellent job of soaking up blood from the bullet wounds and perhaps even slowing down blood loss. This, coupled with the poor terminal performance of the .30 Carbine FMJ rounds, made the Communist Soldiers appear to be virtually uninjured by carbine fire to our Soldiers and Marines in the heat of battle.

So what’s the lesson here?

Shoot soft points out of your .30 Carbine when you’re using it for self defense (like the Hornady Critical Defense in .30 Carbine). As Jim Cirillo and his fellow police officers demonstrated, the .30 Carbine is an extremely potent round when loaded with expanding bullets.

Additionally, as stated above, the majority of the commercially available soft point .30 Carbine ammunition on the market today will penetrate through the most commonly used bullet proof vests, so even expanding rounds can be relied upon to penetrate deeply enough to reach the vitals of an assailant under most conditions. There are very few handgun cartridges that can duplicate this performance.

However, over penetration is a concern with .30 Carbine ammunition. As always, you must be aware of what is behind your target when using it because it is absolutely possible for a round to penetrate one or two walls with enough energy remaining to injure or kill someone unintentionally.

Even though it is an intermediate cartridge that is outclassed by many of the more modern rifle cartridges on the market today, the .30 Carbine still has quite a following among American hunters and shooters. While the .30 Carbine certainly does have its limitations, it is still a good choice for hunting and self-defense under the right conditions.

Are you curious about how the 30 Carbine stacks up against other popular (and not so popular) 30 caliber cartridges? If so, you’ll probably enjoy my podcast episode on 30 caliber cartridges. In this episode, I talk about the history, pros, cons, and recommended uses for basically everything from the 30 Carbine all the way up to the 30-378 Weatherby Magnum and 300 PRC as well as everything in between.

This is a fantastic episode, so just click the appropriate link below to listen to that episode on your preferred podcast app. Be sure to hit that “Subscribe” or “Follow” button in your podcast app to receive future episodes automatically (for free)!

Ultimate Guide To 30 Caliber Cartridges Podcast

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The The Rifle in America (p532-544) and the Lyman 50th Edition (p229-230) and Hornady 10th Edition (p432-434) reloading manuals were used as references for this article.

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11 thoughts on “The .30 Carbine: A Light, But Useful Cartridge”

  1. It’s a good rifle and round for young kids to learn out to 75 yards, max. My dad had one from back in the sixties. Sometimes he would hunt in the thick woods with his m1 and leave the 30-06 at the camp. Took many deer at 50 yards or less. I took a few with it, and my son, daughter, and a few nephews learned with it too. Never lost a deer, but never shot much past 50 yards. The .30 carbine has more energy than pistols commonly used to take deer.

  2. The only issue with the carbine as a weapon of war is that the muzzle velocity, and thus certainly the velocity at target impact, is well less than the threshold of 2200 f/s that produces the vaunted hydrostatic shock in a torso impact, which is responsible for the rapid incapacitation effect of rifle rounds compared to pistol rounds and shotgun rounds (although the .69″ diameter of a slug is sufficient to provide severe, immediate wounding and incapacitation on its own). Larger diameter bullets require less impact velocity, since it is total delivered energy to the circulatory fluid that produces the shock effect.

    The 2,200 f/s threshold was worked out by Julian Hatcher and others for .30 caliber rounds; this also highlights the value of an expanding round’s effectiveness, although the velocity, and thereby the overall shock, has usually diminished by the time the energy required to deform the bullet has increased its cross-sectional area. This also explains the incapacitation effect of large-caliber black powder guns shooting soft lead ball ammunition at lower velocity, and the extreme long range effectiveness of the .50 BMG as a sniper weapon.

    Had the carbine shot a .30 caliber bullet at about 2,300-2,400 f/s, its incapacitation capability would have been significantly enhanced. Nonetheless, it accounted for between 30 and 50% of all casualties in the battle of Okinawa, so – and as numerous YouTube videos will attest – it’s no slouch by any means.

    Loaded to its nominal 40,000 psi max pressure with a lighter, expanding copper hollow point of about 65 grains – or a 55 grain .22 caliber bullet in a .30 caliber sabot – both at ~2,400 f/s, it is in its element for short-range varminting.

  3. Thanks for the interesting article
    How come no 50 round drums or 75 round drums for the 30 Carbine rifles?
    Promag makes quite a few 50 round drums for pistols, why not make up 50 round drums for the 30 Carbine?
    I’ve read several wildcats based on 30 Carbine:
    25 Carbine. ( Uses 25-20 bullets)
    22 Carbine or 5.7 Spitfire
    17 Carbine
    I’ve read back in the 1980’s, several gunsmith chambered the M1 to 45 Win. Mag. and they used 30 Carbine magazines.
    Did anyone know if any 30 Carbine rifleswere chambered for 32 WSL or 9mm Win.Mag.?

  4. Not much to add really. The 30 Carbine is obviously ballistically superior to most handgun rounds that are commonly used on big game. A good example is the 9mm round 147 grain hard cast at 1100 foot seconds marketed by Buffalo Bore. The performance of this round on a large Alaskan Grizzly is well known. It proves of course that most of what we believe about penetration and killing pwer is fiction. One of the rounds fired by Shoemaker went completely through the bear.

  5. I absolutely love the.30 Carbine. I have a Winchester that was made in 1944. It was still full of Cosmoline and wrapped up in burlap When my uncle who was a prolific collector gave it to me on my 30th birthday. It’s always been my favorite firearm. Although I wish I would have left it in the original wrapping and never shot it. Not because I would ever sell it but because it was kept that way for over 50 years when I got it


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