Lever actions! They’re as American as football, pickup trucks, and apple pie. Maybe pecan pie? Here are four lever guns that’ll make you say “Yee-haw,” and one that might make you say “I didn’t know they could do that…”
The most popular hunting caliber for lever guns is the .30-30 Winchester, named for its .30 caliber bullet followed by 30 grains of smokeless powder. Winchester and Marlin immediately used the cartridge in their lever-action hunting guns and the combination has been a hit ever since. It’s so common that if you hang out with rednecks (like I do!) you’ll find some of them just refer to all lever actions as “thuddy thuddy” rifles. Marlin and Winchester rifles in this caliber have slowly crept up in price over the years, so Mossberg came out with their model 464 in 2008. Is it any surprise that Mossberg would be the company to step in and keep these guns affordable? The 464 is made in America of course, with a hardwood stock and blued steel everywhere else, and holds 7 rounds in its magazine. Best of all, right now the Mossberg can be yours for only $333.65, undercutting its Winchester and Marlin competitiors.
Henry lever actions are famous for their high quality and good value. Their .22 LR versions are a lot of fun for the money and will reliably shoot the cheapest ammo available. They start at less than $250, but the version I want to show you is the top-of-the-line, legendary, incomparable Henry Golden Boy. Yes, a .22 LR lever-action that costs over a thousand dollars, with no expense spared and no holds barred. The stock is beautiful American Walnut, the receiver is polished and engraved brass, and the octagon shaped barrel a high polish blue. Each of these Deluxe Engraved II models receives a special serial number from 1 to 1000. These are the rifles that men of taste will buy for their great-grandchildren as family heirlooms. More than a .22 LR rifle, they are truly works of art.
One of the best things about the classic Winchester ’73 and the guns patterned after it is the balance point, right where the forend meets the receiver, resulting in a rifle that feels light and points naturally. Improving on an already good thing, this “Youth Rifle” from Marlin chops the barrel to 16 -1/4 inches and the length of pull on the stock to just 12”. Marlin advertises the 336Y as perfect for young hunters to start on, but in my book a shorter, lighter carbine has a lot to recommend it even if you’re a grownup. It still holds 5 rounds of ammo and weighs only 6-1/2 pounds. At $355.65, the Marlin Youth looks like a heck of a value to me.
Some folks don’t get too excited about any lever gun that doesn’t have “Winchester” engraved on it. The Winchester ’92 was used by John Wayne in so many cowboy movies that its hard to picture “The Duke” without one. In a few of those movies, such as True Grit, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado, his Winchester had an extra-large lever loop. The large loop made manipulating the rifle’s action easier when on the back of a loping horse or while wearing heavy winter gloves, but the real reason it was cool was because John Wayne always carried the only one in town. Now we all can have the same configuration, direct from the Winchester factory, holding seven rounds of .45 Long Colt. Speaking of which, how did “The Rifleman” manage to fire twelve shots through his large loop ’92 without reloading?
Traditional lever guns are limited in caliber choice for two reasons. The lever-action’s relative lack of locking strength limits the chamber pressures possible, and the tubular magazine means using only round-nosed bullets. See, if a bunch of pointy-tipped “spitzer” type bullets are squashed front to back in a tubular magazine, they can impact the primers of the rounds in front of them, exploding the gun. The Browning BLR avoids these issues by using a detachable 3 round box magazine, like a bolt-action gun would have, and a multi-lug rotating bolt for superior locking strength. The result is a lever-action rifle that weighs just 7 pounds 12 ounces, balances wonderfully, and is chambered in mighty .300 Winchester Magnum! With a grey laminate stock and satin nickel plating on the metal parts, the BLR doesn’t look like a traditional cowboy gun. It doesn’t function like a traditional lever gun either—the trigger comes down along with the cocking lever when you work the action. The BLR also does something else the cowboy guns never did—the barrel and forearm easily detach from the receiver for compact transportation. It’s a lever action hunting rifle for the 21st century.