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The Short, Unhappy Life of the .30 Remington Cartridge

The AR cartridge that might have been.

The Short, Unhappy Life of the .30 Remington Cartridge
Five-shot group from the R15 with the 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. The average for five three-shot groups with this load was less than an inch.

Rifle cartridges become commercial failures for a variety of reasons, but when we look at the .30 Remington AR, we can almost blame one man – Barack Obama. Ironically, I doubt Obama ever knew anything about the .30 Remington AR. However, mostly because of what happed on November 4, 2008 and partly because Remington made some mistakes, 15 years later, the .30 Remington AR is little more than a memory.

The .30 Remington AR Lives

Let’s start this history lesson in October of 2008, when Remington conducted a new products seminar and first announced the .30 Remington AR cartridge. The concept was to offer a practical big-game cartridge in the AR-15 platform, and at the time, AR-15s were selling well. The cartridge was loosely based on the .450 Bushmaster and .284 Winchester; it was short and fat and had a rebated — but still large — rim to make it work better inside the AR-15. Ballistically, it transformed the AR-15 because it would launch a 125-grain .30-caliber bullet at 2,800 fps. To appreciate the significance of this, you must remember that at that time, there was no .300 Blackout, .300 HAMR, or 6mm ARC, and the 6.5 Grendel was still proprietary. The options for those wanting to hunt big game with an AR-15 in 2008 were the .223 Remington, 6.8 SPC, and the .450 Bushmaster. Also understand that the .30 Remington AR was a non-military round that far exceeded the capabilities of the .30-30 Winchester and nearly duplicated the ballistics of the trusted .300 Savage. The .30 Remington AR cartridge was well poised to offer a great counter to the antigun argument that the AR-15 was not suitable for hunting.

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Bottom from left: 110-GR. BARNES TIPPED TRIPLE SHOCK, 125-GR. REMINGTON ACCUTIP, 125-GR. REMINGTON CORE-LOKT, 150-GR. NOSLER ACCUBOND. Case head swipe is a concern when loading any AR-15 or AR-10. Top left to right: Normal case, minimal case head swipe, moderate case head swipe, and extensive case head swipe with a popped primer.

Politics and Tardiness

A month later, Barack Obama was elected president, and this threw gasoline on the AR-15 buying frenzy. Because shooters and hunters felt there was a likelihood the AR-15 platform might become illegal, ARs sold faster than manufacturers could make them. Just as importantly, at least as far as the .30 Remington AR was concerned, those buying AR-15s were mostly interested in the rifle in its original chambering of 5.56 NATO, which is .223 Remington compatible. Shooters wanted ARs but not necessarily an AR in .30 caliber. Typically, when a new cartridge is announced by a manufacturer, it takes several months for ammunition and guns to hit the market. However, partly because Remington was unprepared for the rush on AR-15s and partly because they announced the .30 Remington AR before they were ready, it took them much longer to get guns and ammo to market. In fact, even though I was one of the first to receive a Remington R-15 chambered for the .30 Remington AR, I didn’t get it until 2010. In case you’re not keeping track, this was more than a year after it was announced. Remington had squandered an opportunity.

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But being late to market was not the only mistake Remington made with the .30 Remington AR. Early advertisements designed to excite shooters with the cartridge’s ballistic potential used the wrong data. Some marketing genius at Remington smartly included a ballistics chart in advertisements but then foolishly listed the 300-yard velocity and energy as the muzzle velocity and energy. This made the .30 Remington AR look to have no ballistic advantage over the 7.62x39mm Russian, when it fact it had a 450 fps advantage. It also showed it no better than Remington’s other .30-caliber AR cartridge, the .300 Blackout. But more on the Blackout shortly. The R-15 rifle I received had a 22-inch barrel and performed as advertised, and I immediately began hunting with it. I used Remington factory ammunition to kill a West Texas mule deer and a Del Carmen whitetail. I handloaded a Barnes 110-grain Tipped Triple Shock and took a Wyoming pronghorn at nearly 400 yards. And I handloaded a 150-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet to 2,600 fps and used the R-15 to take a West Virginia black bear. The staggering importance of this cartridge in the political landscape continued to be overlooked or touted. Now, American hunters had a proven, nonmilitary, big-game hunting capable cartridge for the AR-15.

30-remington-cartridge-history-04
Here you can see the difference in the bolt for a .30 Remington AR (left) and the .223 Remington (right).

Bad Decisions and the Blackout

Sales, however, were lackluster, and I believe this was due to the still ongoing AR buying frenzy, poor marketing by Remington, and the .300 Blackout. Keep in mind that by this time, most anyone who wanted an AR-15 had purchased one in 5.56 NATO. It was a big ask to expect them to pony up another $1,000 for another AR-15. Also, the .300 Blackout had a much cooler name, complete uppers were readily available from a variety of manufacturers, and given Remington’s marketing blunder, it did not seem much less powerful than the .30 Remington AR. I discussed this with a suit-wearing Remington executive at the time. I suggested Remington offer a complete .30 Remington AR upper, one magazine, and two boxes of ammunition in a blister pack. With Remington’s sister companies of DPMS and Bushmaster, they could have done this affordably and given all those new AR-15 owners the big-game capable AR-15 they wanted for not a lot of money. Clearly, Remington did not take my advice, and the .30 Remington ARs fall from grace began.

Bound for a Bolt Gun

As everyone else was beginning to forget the .30 Remington AR, I was committed to the cartridge and had accumulated a lot of ammunition and a good bit of load development. I knew what it was capable of and understood that in the right bolt-action rifle, it had a lot to offer as well. Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms fame offered a sub-5-pound bolt-action chambered for cartridges with an overall length of less than 2.5 inches. Essentially, this action was ideal for any cartridge compatible with an AR-15. He built me one of his Model 20 Short rifles in .30 Remington AR. In 2013, I took that rifle to Africa with 125- and 150-grain Nosler AccuBond bullets and proceeded to take a blesbok at almost 200 yards, a mountain reedbuck at just a bit further, and a kudu bull at about 300 yards. Since then, that rifle has become my go to rifle for hunting here in West Virginia. I’ve lost count of how many deer it’s sent to the meat pole. Trust me, though some foolishly claim a bullet with a sectional density of only .188 is not suitable for big game, a 125-grain Nosler AccuBond at 2,800 fps is more than any whitetail deer can handle.

Handloading

30-remington-cartridge-history-05
The only Remington rifle ever chambered for the .30 Remington AR was this 22-inch- barreled R15. In an AR-15 magazine, the overall cartridge length for the .30 Remington AR was limited to 2.26 inches.

I found that I lost between 100 and 200 fps with the 2-inch-shorter barrel of the bolt-action rifle. But it’s important to understand that the .30 Remington AR cartridge is held to a maximum average chamber pressure (MAP) of 55,000 psi for safety in AR-15 rifles. In the NULA Model 20 action, which can handle much more pressure, I was able to recover that velocity loss with stouter handloads. Of course, in those days, load data was not as accessible and plentiful as it is today. This resulted in a lot of trial and error because maximum loads had to be approached with caution. For anyone loading the .30 Remington AR today, Hodgdon’s website has data with a wide variety of propellants, and the cartridge is featured in the Western Powders load manual. In the 22-inch-barreled R15, lots of different powders with a burn rate similar to H335 work well. But I also found that with the heavier bullet loads, case head swipe occurred as maximum loads were approached. Case head swipe happens when the gas-driven cycle of the AR-15 opens the bolt too soon, and the ejector drags across the cartridge head. This is something commonly seen in heavy bullet loads for the .308 Winchester when fired from an AR-10. In most instances, it’s an indicator the rifle is out of time, and a gas block adjustment is in order. The phenomena can be hard to diagnose, but regardless of why it occurs, it should be corrected. The best powder I found for the .30 Remington AR bolt-action rifle was AA 2200. It was stellar in terms of velocity consistency and accuracy. With AA 2200, I could easily duplicate 22-inch barrel R-15 velocities out of the 20-inch-barreled New Ultra Light Arms rifle with no signs of excessive pressure. Interestingly, AA 2200 charged loads out of the R-15 would just not deliver an acceptable level of precision.

The Epitaph

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Like Remington and the rest of the world, I ultimately abandoned the .30 Remington AR in the AR-15. This was partly because of the exquisitely light and accurate little .30 Remington AR bolt rifle I had. But it was also partly because technology moved on. By 2015, DPMS had introduced the sub-8-pound G2 AR-10-styled rifle in .308 Winchester. And of course, now we have the sub-7-pound Ruger SFAR. The .30 Remington AR cartridge in an AR-15 is cool, but it cannot compete with these lightweight AR-10s chambered for the .308 Winchester. New Ultra Light Arms has recently been purchased by Wilson Combat, and while they plan to offer a very similar rifle, at least for now, it’ll only be available in a few popular cartridges. Barring a major direction shift by Wilson Combat or some seismic occurrence in the firearms industry, the day of the .30 Remington AR has come and gone. It came at both the right and the wrong time, and Remington never gave it the opportunity it needed for success. If you have one, enjoy a fantastic hunting cartridge for the AR-15. I just hope you have a lot of ammo and/or brass on hand; don’t expect to find either at the gun shop. The .30 Remington AR had a tragically short and unhappy life. But it remains one of my favorite cartridges, and I’ll continue to use it and my impressively lightweight and tack driving bolt-action rifle for deer and much more. I expect I’ll be shooting a .30 Remington AR rifle until I cannot shoot a rifle anymore. Hopefully, that’s a long way down the road, and I’m very glad we met before the cartridge drifted into obscurity.

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With ballistics similar to the great .300 Savage, the .30 Remington AR was an ideal big-game cartridge for the AR-15.



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