With so many low-priced bolt guns and a surge of new sporting ARs available today is there still a place for lever action hunting rifles in America’s game fields? Absolutely.
I’m a big fan of the lever gun, and not just for reasons of nostalgia. Sure, if you grew up watching Westerns on television you feel a bit like Chuck Connors or John Wayne when you cycle the action on a sleek lever gun, but there are very practical reasons why these firearms have remained so popular well over a century after they debuted. Lever actions are compact and reliable, and in the right hands they are surprisingly accurate. Plus, they’re hard to beat for fast follow-up shots. There’s no doubt that scoped bolt rifles lead the way in terms of popularity, but lever-actions offer capabilities that make them a solid choice for many hunting applications. They are a natural choice for hunting in dense woods, but even in the wide-open spaces well-built lever-actions with quality custom ammo don’t give up much to bolt guns. For hunting whitetail, bear and hogs—the most popular big game species in the country—lever guns are an excellent choice.
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But which one is right for you? We’ve selected eight of the best lever gun options available today and given you the dope on what makes them standouts in the field. No matter which one you choose you’re getting a solid firearm.
Winchester Model 1894: It’s believed that more big game animals in North American have fallen to the .30-30 than any other cartridge, and a sizable portion of those bullets came from Winchester 94 rifles. In fact, the ’94 was the first rifle to be chambered in .30 WCF (the original name of the .30-30). Designed by the legendary John Moses Browning, the Winchester 1894 ditched the toggle link action found on earlier rifles like the 1873 in favor of a stronger design that could handle more powerful cartridges. Production of this gun ran from 1894 until 2006, but Winchester is once again building model 1894s for sale. The Trail’s End Takedown Model is chambered for the mighty .450 Marlin and the Sporter version is chambered in .30-30, .38-55 and the oft-overlooked .25-35, which is a dutiful deer-killing round and which will be the darling of collectors. www.winchesterguns.com
Bottom Line: Without question one of the finest and most reliable rifles of any action type ever produced. Find the Winchester Model 1894 on GunBroker.com.
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Browning BLR: The Browning BLR is a modern take on the lever-action hunting rifle. For years the biggest liability with lever guns was the fact that, since the 1860’s, these guns came outfitted with tube magazines. That’s a great feature for flat-nosed bullets, but because these rifles couldn’t safely handle pointed bullets accuracy and range was limited. That is, until Browning launched the BLR, which replaced the traditional tube with a removable box magazine that didn’t limit cartridge selection to flay-nosed projectiles. In addition, Browning engineers developed a hardy rack-and-pinion action that features a rotating multiple-lug breech bolt, so the BLR is unlike any other rifle in this class. www.browning.com
Bottom Line: If you love lever guns but don’t want to give up magnum trajectory and energy this is your weapon of choice. Buy the Browning BLR on GunBroker.com.
Mossberg 464: Mossberg’s 464 is very similar in design to the Winchester ’94, and that’s a good thing. Like the Winchester, the Mossberg is robust and reliable, and it offers a number of excellent features at a very affordable price point. With its walnut stock and blued action and 20″ barrel the 464 has a classic look, and with top tang. hammer and lever safeties this gun adds a high level of security. The top of the receiver comes drilled and tapped for Weaver 403 bases and the fiber optic iron sights are ideal for close-quarters shooting at big game even in low light. With an MSRP of $558 this is the least-expensive rifle on the list, and it’s a great option. www.mossberg.com
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Bottom Line: Mossberg’s reputation for dead-nuts reliability blended with classic lever gun styling at a price you can afford. Find the Mossberg 464 on GunBroker.com.
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Doug Turnbull Model 1886: Doug Turnbull has become to the Winchester 1886 what Carol Shelby is to the Ford Mustang. The man in the bowler hat’s shop in New York turns out some of the most eye-popping gun restorations you’ll see anywhere, but Turnbull’s true passion is the lever gun. From high-end walnut stocks to special engraving and period-correct color case hardening these rifles have features that set them apart from all other guns in this class. Whether you’re a collector or a hunter (or both) you’ll quickly fall in love with Doug’s work when you see the intricate detailing up close, and if you like big-bore lever action cartridges for hunting look no further than his proprietary .475 Turnbull, which has proven capable of stopping cape buffalo. www.turnbullmfg.com
Bottom Line: The Shelby GT500 of classic lever rifles; practical, powerful, and beautiful. You can find the Turnbull Model 1886 on GunBroker.com.
Marlin 336: If the Winchester ’94 has a real contender for the greatest lever-action hunting rifle of all time it probably has to be the 336. In fact, the 336 has some advantages over the 94, namely that side-eject design that allows for easy scope mounting. For years the rumor has persisted that Marlin was hanging over the abyss, especially since parent company Remington ceased production of many Marlin rifles. The reason production ceased, it turns out, had to do with the complexity of moving the Marlin machinery from the North Haven, Connecticut to Remington facilities in New York and Kentucky. Now Marlin is back up and running, and the brand is once again producing rifles. But you can usually find a used 336 with little problem, and these guns are affordable and functional. www.marlinfirearms.com
Bottom Line: Too good to go away, too dependable to be forgotten, and still as functional as ever. You can buy the Marlin 336 on GunBroker.com.
Big Horn Armory Model 89/90: Big Horn Armory in Cody, Wyoming produces some of the finest lever guns in some of the newest magnum handgun cartridges. The Big Horn 89 and 90 rifles are chambered in, among other rounds, .460 S&W Magnum and .500 S&W Magnum, and the longer barrels on these guns allow hunters to take full advantage of these powerful handgun calibers. Indeed, these rifles have the energy required to stop big game like elk and moose without abusive recoil. Big Horn rifles are a custom hybrid of Winchester’s 1892 and 1886, and the fit and finish on these guns is absolutely stunning. The adjustable ghost ring rear sight is one of the most functional you’ll find on any lever action, and even though these guns aren’t cheap (they run about $2,500 and up) you’re getting a fine weapon that will function flawlessly in the field. www.bighornarmory.com
Bottom Line: Part heirloom, part everyday hunting rifle, the Big Horn guns are well worth a look if you like (and can afford) fine guns. You can find Big Horn Armory Lever Action rifles on GunBroker.com.
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Winchester Model 92: The 1892 was another John Moses Browning design and it was developed in the black powder cartridge era. Today, the 1892 is the ideal rifle for those who want a sturdy and dependable hunting weapon that can digest your favorite revolver ammo. The current 1892 line is chambered in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, so if you already have a wheelgun in these calibers it makes sense (at least to a gun person) to own a rifle that is chambered for the same loads. Plus, a handy, powerful carbine like the sleek 1892 is actually ideal for a number of real-world hunting applications, so these guns are more than a novelty. If you’re hunting whitetail deer, bear or hogs in close these rifles will do the trick, and they’re a favorite of mountain hunters because they slide in a saddle scabbard easily and don’t weigh a lot. www.winchesterguns.com
Bottom Line: Light, handy, and compatible with your sidearm—what’s not to love? Buy the Winchester Model 92 on GunBroker.com.
Marlin Model 1895: The 1895 is Marlin’s original big boomer, the 1895 has heavy-duty steel sidewalls with minimal cuts to handle the powerful .45-70 round. There are currently a number of ‘95s available from marlin including the GSBL with a 6-round tube, green laminate stock, and FNC black finish. If you’re something of a traditionalist stick with the CB model, which has a walnut stock and a 26-inch tapered octagon barrel with a nine-round tube magazine riding below it. These rifles make great hunting guns for just about any wild game you’ll encounter in the states (so long as shots are at reasonable distances) and if there’s a really big, angry bear around the next corner of the trail there are few weapons better equipped to save your bacon than the big ’95. www.marlinfirearms.com
Bottom Line: This is an affordable classic with lots of horsepower and an impeccable pedigree. You can find the Marlin Model 1895 on GunBroker.com.
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NO Henry? Not one Henry! Inexcusable!
I currently own a Marlin 1895 in 45-70, but my favorite rifle was a Winchester 1886 in .33 WCF, a .338 bullet on a 45-70 necked down case. I got the latter in Alaska. The cartridge was known to have taken down both moose and the Alaskan Brown bear, not that I'd hunt the latter with it.