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My .30-.30 gets a new life

A couple years ago I purchased a Marlin 336 .30-.30 from a relative of mine. It was a used rifle that he was given as a kid in the 60’s and has used deer hunting quite a bit. It came to me with a fixed four power scope that had been put on when it was given to him. The scope was clear and perfectly mounted for my eyes so I chose to just leave it be, knowing in the back of my mind that this scope will probably fail one day.

That day came a couple of weeks ago when I decided to check the zero on the rifle and practice with it some in the field. I took it out to the rifle range I use during my classes and proceeded to check the zero. Using all the techniques and methods I teach my students I was able to produce consistent 3” groups at 100 yards, with I felt was acceptable for a nearly 70 year old rifle shooting off the shelf flat nosed bullets.

I made a few site adjustments to put the group 4.5” high at 100 yards. According to my ballistic software, StrelokPro, this should produce a maximum point blank zero that doesn’t rise or drop from my line of sight more than 5” out to 263 yards. The purpose for a zero like this is to be able to use the same aiming point on the target and still place the round within an acceptable area. In my case, I want to hunt deer with it, and deer have a 10” vital zone. Using a zero like this, as long as I hold dead center of that vital zone, and I’m within 263 yards, my rounds should impact somewhere in the vitals.

After I finished zeroing at 100 yards, I went up to my longer distance range to confirm that this zero was actually going to work at distance, and that’s when I noticed a serious problem – I kept missing. At first I started troubleshooting myself, ensuring I had a good natural point of aim, good breathing and trigger control, proper wind hold. As far as I could tell, I was doing everything I normally do when I shoot good. After 15 misses in a row at 200 yards I decided to go back to my 100 yard range and go back to paper to see what’s going on. Now I could barely hit the paper, when before I was at least holding a group. This indicated a mechanical problem with the rifle to me, so I checked the scope mounting hardware and couldn’t find anything loose. The only thing I could conclude was that after sitting for many years the internal mechanisms within my 60’s era scope had finally given up the ghost.

The original 60’s era scope

I thought about what to do for a few days, not sure if I wanted to invest in another scope for a rifle that was only 3 MOA accurate. What I couldn’t get out of my head is how much I like carrying that rifle in the field. I decided to swing out to the local farm and fleet to see what they had for scopes, and as luck would have it all their Nikon scopes were half off. The salesman told me it’s because Nikon is getting out of the scope business. I’ve known a lot of people who have used them for hunting so I thought this was worth trying on my .30-.30. I picked up a new Leupold base and medium rings as well and was out the door for about $120. I thought that was a fair amount to spend to give my old rifle another shot.

I went home and removed the old scope and base. It was surprising to me how much different the new base and the old one were. The new base being much larger and in my opinion much chunkier than the thinner steel base that was on the rifle originally. I think the new base doesn’t really look right on this old rifle, looking like a big black brick and cluttering the lines of the rifle, but it’s all they had at the store.

Old versus..
Original base

I set aside all the old hardware and got out the new stuff. I visually checked it over before opening the packaging to make sure it wasn’t damaged and that the holes in the base would line up with the holes in my receiver. I also looked to make sure the screws looked like they were the right size as well. I just wasn’t sure if a rifle set up in the 60’s would be compatible with the modern base, but it was.

I took the rifle and all the mounting hardware outside and degreased it with some brake cleaner. I then let everything dry for about ten minutes. Once it was dry I started assembling everything. I dry fit the base to the receiver to make sure everything would line up and there wouldn’t be any problems, then I put blue locktite on the screws and torqued them. Next I put the bottom half of the rings onto the base and applied locktite and torque. I also made sure that the rings were pushed forward to make contact with the base as I tightened them.

The next part of mounting a scope can be tricky. I laid the scope in the ring bottoms and tightened the ring tops just until they were snug. I lined up the center of the flats on the scope tube with the center of the rings, this would give me the most amount of adjustment for setting up my eye relief. I put the scope on its max power, 9 power, and got into an artificially supported prone position and began checking my eye relief to see if I needed to move the scope forward or backwards.

Lining up the scope tube flats with the center of the rings

Astonishingly I didn’t have to touch it. I tried different positions and different magnifications and I couldn’t find any reason to move it so I applied locktite and torqued them down.

Next I decided to give the bore of the rifle a good scrubbing, since it probably hasn’t been done in many years. Personally I think there’s a hell of a lot of voodoo marketing BS that goes into cleaning rifles and caring for barrels. I’m sure that people who compete for a living need to pay attention to every minute detail, but for the common man to worry about some of these things is a waste of time. I sprayed foaming bore cleaner down the barrel then ran a few passes with a bore brush to stir it up, then sprayed in more bore cleaner and let it sit for about an hour. Next I grabbed a .30 cal bore snake and pulled it through a couple times. I grabbed my bore light and it was shining like a mirror so I called it good.

The next day I took it back out to zero it. I didn’t have a .30-.30 laser bore sight and since it’s a lever gun I couldn’t pull the bolt and look down the barrel, so I was starting this without a good bore sight. What I did do though is make sure my adjustment turrets were centered by turning them all the way to one extreme, counting the revolutions to the other extreme, then setting it to the half way point. In other words, if my scope has 7 revolutions from one end of the adjustment range to the other I need to be at 3 1/2 revolutions to start with. Both my turrets were way off, which isn’t surprising for a new scope.

I fired a round at 25 yards and was on paper, down in the corner, so I made a gross adjustment to get closer to the center of the paper. If you recall from the screenshot of my ballistic calculator, my near zero is 22 yards, so the closer to center I could get at this closer distance the better I would be at 100 yards.

Next I went to 100 yards and was at least on paper. I noticed that my group was considerably smaller than it had been a few days ago, but I chalked it up to coincidence. I made the necessary adjustments and fired another group, once again closer and and once again tight. After my final group I made a minor adjustment and had produced another tight group. Apparently the combination of a new scope and cleaning the bore had brought new life to this rifle, going from a 3 MOA gun to a 1 MOA gun. Talk about a nice surprise!

Three groups in a row at 100 yards looked just like this

Next I wanted to practice shooting with my sling and mark it for future reference. I like the Magpul RLS, it’s a simple sling that is easy to use as a shooting support, and it only costs about $20. I own three of them. As I worked through the standing, kneeling, and prone I dry fired then fired a round to confirm. Once I confirmed I marked the sling with a Sharpie so I knew where to adjust it to in the future.

Overall I’m really happy with this rifle, it’s comfortable to carry, reliable, and now I can say it’s accurate. Instead of being relegated to the back of my safe as an antique plinker I was able to bring new life to this classic tool and can continue to use it in the way it was intended.

7 thoughts on “My .30-.30 gets a new life

  1. Badlands

    That’s a wonderful vignette. A lot of life and good use in those older rifles. My 336 is in 35 Rem, a hand me down from a couple generations of family hunters. Mine had a broken stock when I received it. A little sweat equity and a good cleaning and we’re back in business. Puts meat in the freezer every year.

    I like the way you weaved good technical training practice into the story. Makes it much more memorable, at least to a greybeard rifleman like me. I’ll bet you’re a very effective teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John, I’m glad it was worth reading. I’m thinking about refinishing the stock on this one, I’ve had good luck in the past restoring other wooden stocks. Maybe that will be another story! Take care buddy!


  2. The folks who worship at the altar of the latest and greatest underestimate the utility of older lever actions whether Winchester or Marlin. I currently own two – a Winchester 94 Trapper and a Marlin 336 both in .30-30 and of 1970’s vintage and still can head afield and stay handy and hunt all the live long day.

    I also own a Winchester 94XTR Big Bore in .375 Winchester, and am working on geting a Marlin and a Winchester in .38-55. Old guns, old cartridges and I guarantee if you learn to use any of them properly you will never go hungry.

    This blog entry made my day. I am glad shared it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad to see you found and fixed the problem the older scope caused. I too think that the new scope mounts are too bulky. I prefer the look of the old Weaver mounts. Simple and do a good job.

    I hope you collect some venison with your new set up. The cost of meat is too high.

    Liked by 1 person

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