You Need A Lever-Action Rifle

In a world of tacti-cool rifles, the rugged simplicity and clean lines of a lever-action rifle stand out.

If you’re a firearm owner and regular shooter, and you’ve been around the block a few times, then like me you’ve seen a lot of guns come and go. For whatever reason, one day they just aren’t on the rack anymore.

Most of the time, you won’t know the reason. It could’ve been the cost of manufacturing, low popularity, minor design flaws, or a combination of all of those things. Those of us who are long-time firearm enthusiasts can name several firearms we’ve known from the past that aren’t made anymore. But if you’re new to shooting stay with me here, because I’m going to pass on a little nugget of wisdom to you. For you long-time shooters who should know better, it’ll be more like a stern finger wag, because I KNOW you know this, or at least you should. Ok, here we go. Ready?

Buy yourself a lever-action rifle.

I can already hear your reactions, from the “Wait, what?” response to the “Pfft. Whatever. That’s my grandpa’s gun.” Some of you though, are nodding your heads in agreement because, in your wisdom, you know where I’m going with this. You see, you can go into nearly any gun store in America today and find lever-action rifles on the shelf. To the old timers (who don’t own one) and the newbies, you should ask yourself, “Why is that?”

Great question. After all, the lever-action has been around since 1860, and…stop right there. Let that sink in. 1860. That’s 154 years. Why would gun manufacturers still be making a weapon system which, modest modifications, cartridge, and metallurgy improvements aside is essentially the same system it was one-and-one-half centuries ago?

Because it works. But what does that mean? It means the lever-action rifle is a time-tested, low-maintenance firearm with a practical, modern-day application for hunting, self-defense and general recreation.

Here’s a few items to think about.

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Lever-action rifles are made in a wide variety of calibers, from .22 long rifle to .357 and .44 magnums, on up to the mighty 45.70. From squirrel to elk, you can find a lever-action rifle to suit your hunting needs. Accuracy is excellent, and with modern hunting ammunition such as Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo, you gain range, accuracy and terminal ballistic performance. Both Marlin and Henry rifle receivers are closed topped, drilled and tapped for scope mounts making them attractive, viable hunting options. This isn’t news to lifelong hunters who know the .30.30 lever-action rifle is still one of the most popular deer rifles in America.


Ok, before all tactical geeks come out of woodwork to rant about how antiquated the lever-action rifle is compared to a modern battle rifle, let’s get one thing straight. They’d be right. For the most part. If I knew I was headed to a gunfight, there’d be a lot of rifles I’d pick first. Having spent a considerable amount of time with the AR-15 series rifle, I can tell you that no lever-gun can match its firepower. Having said that, it IS a viable defensive rifle, and if it was all you had access to, you could still put up a good fight.

The Pros:

  • It’s a repeater. That means with a little training, you can deliver a respectable volume of steady, accurate fire onto your target.
  • Lethality. In handgun calibers such as the.357 mag, .44 mag, 45 colt, etc., the longer rifle barrel increases muzzle velocity (in the neighborhood of 1600 to 2000 fps at the muzzle depending on ammo and barrel length) with those rounds, making them devastating out to and even beyond 100 yards. Center fire rifle rounds like the .30.30 are effective well beyond that. Combine those qualities with a good tactical load and you’ve got yourself a hard-hitting bad guy stopper.
  • Low profile. There’s no protruding magazine well, pistol grip, Bi-pod, bayonet lug, etc., so it’s easy to slip into a rifle sock or soft case and put it behind the seat in your truck, or vehicle (remember to follow your local laws about vehicle firearm transportation).
  • Reliability. While any rifle can malfunction, I can tell you from personal experience as well as from fellow shooters who own them, reliability isn’t an issue. After all, if it were, it wouldn’t still be on the shelves after 154 years. Choose the proper ammo, don’t short-stroke the lever while shooting it and you should have no problems.
  • Maintenance. Under most circumstances, all you’ll need to do to keep the rifle functionally clean is open the bolt, brush and swab out the barrel, clean off the bolt face and the inside of the receiver and apply some lubricant. That’s it. Breaking it down any further isn’t necessary unless you’re doing a detailed cleaning.
  • Legality. In many blue states, owning a semi-auto rifle is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible. A lever gun maybe one of the few options left for good law-abiding folks out there in some places. We know politicians try to ban firearms based on looks and the lever gun doesn’t look menacing compared to an AK-47, so it will probably go unnoticed by politicians. For now.

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John Wayne and a Winchester rifle, from "Stagecoach" in 1939. The Duke was a Winchester brand spokesman.
John Wayne and a Winchester rifle, from “Stagecoach” in 1939. The Duke was a Winchester brand spokesman. Image via the New York Times.

The Cons:

  • Magazine capacity. As I mentioned, it isn’t an AR-15. You’ll likely have 6-10 rounds in a tubular magazine compared to 20 or more with a contemporary semi-auto rifle. Make the most of them.
  • Reloading. Marlins, Winchesters and Winchester clones load from a gate on the right side of the receiver, one round at a time. Although you can top off your magazine on the move, it’s still a comparatively slow process, especially if your heart rate is elevated due to stress.
  • Distance. Most lever-actions are chambered for calibers that are for short to medium ranges, unlike many modern military rifle calibers which can reach out to 500 yards or beyond. If you don’t plan to shoot at those ranges it shouldn’t be a problem, but it is something to bear in mind.
  • Ammo cost. Since 9/11, we’ve seen ammo prices go up almost continually for a variety of reasons. Most lever gun calibers aren’t as affordable compared to military rounds like the 5.56mm or 7.62×39. The up side is, due to the lower rate of fire and magazine capacity, you won’t likely be shooting as much ammo.

There’s one more important reason to own a lever-action rifle. Tradition. The lever-action rifle is American designed and (in many instances) American-made. It has shaped America. From civil war battle fields to the old west, to police cars and prison guard towers up to the 1970’s, it was the tool that countless Americans used to take care of business and secure the peace.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the rather large politically active group of willfully ignorant obnoxious people who hate anything traditionally American and work to see it discarded, discredited or diminished. Unfortunately, the 2nd amendment is top on their hit list.

Buying a lever-action rifle helps keep American tradition (and gun makers) alive, while poking the nanny-staters right in the eye. So visit your local gun store this weekend. Go shopping. Find a lever gun you like, and buy it. Train with it and shoot it. Enjoy it! Pass the tradition along to your kids and friends. Help keep American tradition alive.