Lever Gun Resurgence

Sure, for John Wayne; but what about today?
; .

If I were to pick one class of long guns as my favorite, it would have to be lever-action rifles. They can be chambered in everything from .22 Long Rifle up to Big Horn Armory’s 500 S&W Magnum. There is a caliber just right for your purposes.

To paraphrase an old country song, I liked lever-actions before lever-actions were cool. And, in the last few years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of lever-actions.


Top to bottom: Winchester Model 71, 348 Winchester; Model 92, .45 Colt;
Winchester Model 94, .30-30 Winchester; Henry Classic, .22 Long Rifle.


My favorite lever guns are a Winchester Model 71 in .348 Winchester, a Model 92 in .45 Colt, a Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 Winchester and a Henry Classic in .22 Long Rifle. I’ve hunted with all four for game, ranging from feral hogs to rabbits and I have trained with the Model 92 and Model 94 at Gunsite.

The .22 also serves as a good sub-caliber trainer for its bigger brothers in addition to being good clean fun.


Typical Buckhorn sight (left) is adequate, but the Skinner Sights ghost ring is faster
to pick up under speed and increases accuracy.

Practical Usage

One reason the lever-gun remains popular for those on horseback is it’s thinner than any other design. It also has less height and does not require the mounting of scopes, red dots, lasers and microwave ovens to get the job done.

When riding fences, a Winchester Model 94 went with me snuggled into my saddle scabbard. Unlike the movies, when I was actively working cattle the rifle came off as there was too much of a chance my rope may catch on the stock and cause a wreck in the corral — something to be avoided around sharp horn Brahma-cross cows.

I believe lever actions are a good choice for private citizens for self-defense, and also fill the role of patrol rifle for law enforcement. I can almost hear some people screaming the ammo capacity of lever guns is too low and lever guns are not accurate enough unless they have optics. For the private citizen or patrol officer, I disagree.

Most law enforcement shootings with rifles are within 100 yards with only a few shots fired. This is well within the capacity and distance of a lever gun. If you are a private citizen, unless your assailant also has a rifle, you’ll be hard pressed to make a case for self-defense at less than a quarter of this distance.



Unlike what is portrayed in movies, the lever-action (like bolt-action rifles) should remain on the shoulder while the action is worked. Lowering it and then bringing it back into the shoulder takes more time to reacquire the target.

The extra time off the shoulder may result in not getting a follow-up shot on game or, if used in a defensive role, allow a bad guy to put more holes in you than you were issued at birth.

With little practice rounds can be placed on target quite quickly with a lever gun. The addition of a ghost ring sight from Skinner Sights will decrease the time it takes to get on target while increasing accuracy over the buckhorn type sights usually found on lever-actions.


Two styles of butt cuffs — Simply Rugged Holsters’ (above) has an integral sling.
More traditional cuff from Andy’s Leather. Both attach securely to the end of the stock.


For economical practice, I handload hard-cast bullets for both the Model 1892 and 1894. For the .30-30, I use 168-gr. round nose and for the .45 Colt I load 230-gr. round or flat nose and 255-gr. semi-wadcutters. Even though hard-cast, I load the .30-30 to very moderate velocities to reduce the chance of leading the bore.

For years the standard loading for the .30-30 was a 158-gr. round-nose jacketed soft-point bullet. Ballistically, it’s on a par with the 7.62x39mm cartridge.

Only round-nose or flat-nose bullets could safely be used in the tubular magazine because, under recoil, a cartridge loaded with a spire point bullet could ignite the primer of the next round in the magazine with disastrous consequences.

This all changed several years ago, when Hornady introduced the LEVERevolution for lever-action rifles. The patented elastomer Flex Tip technology of the FTX and MonoFlex bullets makes spire points safe to use in tubular magazines. The bullets feature higher ballistic coefficients and dramatically flatter trajectory for increased downrange performance.

They are available in 140-gr. (Mono-Flex) and 160-gr. (FTX) weights and are suitable on big game up to and including elk, breathing new life into the over-century-old cartridge.


Although the Henry Classic (bottom) does not have a side-loading gate,
it still serves well as a sub-caliber trainer.

Carry The Spares

When hunting with the Model 71, I normally just place an extra half-dozen rounds in my pocket. The Model 92 and Model 94, however, often ride in my truck for defensive purposes as well as for critter control. With this in mind they both have butt cuffs for quick access to reload.

One word of caution on butt cuffs: Make sure it is attached in such a way it will not slide forward and interfere with the functioning of the rifle. A cuff sliding forward cost me winning a man-against-man shoot-off at Gunsite. In the real world it could have cost me much more …

It’s high time to bring “Grandpa’s rifle” out from the back of the safe and put it to use. Lever-action rifles remain viable for most any task you choose to use it for.



Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine June 2020 Issue Now!




Did you know a deftly wielded Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT) bomb — a not-well-regarded British anti-tank weapon — actually saved the D-Day invasion?
Read Full Article
The Marlin 336

Marlin rifles were one of the biggest names in the U.S. firearms industry since its founding in 1870 by John Mahlon Marlin. The company didn’t necessarily...
Read Full Article
Daniel Defense...

The Delta 5 is the first bolt action produced by uber black-rifle builder Daniel Defense and was formally introduced to a select group of gun writers
Read Full Article