Lever Actions in Two Flavors

Many hunters are confused by lever actions. They think they’re inherently faster than bolt-actions or better brush rifles or horribly inaccurate or…

Wrong. All lever-actions are just recycling tools. The under lever is the method for ejecting a fired round, picking up a fresh one, ramming it into battery and firing it. Some lever guns do this differently than others, and that means they can shoot farther.

  1. The first type of lever-action uses a tubular magazine beneath the barrel for storing live rounds. When the lever is operated, a fresh round pops from the tube, lands on the carrier, gets lifted up and then shoved by the forward moving bolt into the chamber.
  2. The second type of lever-action uses a stacked, vertical magazine beneath the action much like a bolt-action repeater uses. When the lever is operated, the bolt moves forward to strip a fresh round off the top of this stack and shove it into the chamber.

What this means is that tubular magazine levers are handicapped by the blunt bullets they must use to prevent inertia firing of the whole stack of ammo in that tube. Think about it. Each bullet in the tube pushes against the primer of the round in front of it. Sharp tips then act like firing pins when a live round is set off – that’s a chain reaction disaster.

Examine traditional lever-action cartridges, such as the .30-30 Winchester, and you’ll notice the round or flat bullet tips. These are safe in the magazine during recoil, but inefficient when flying through the air. Blunt bullets waste their kinetic energy bulling air out of the way.

Here's the Marlin 336BL Big Loop Carbine, Lever Action, .30-30 Winchester.
Here’s the Marlin 336BL Big Loop Carbine, Lever Action, .30-30 Winchester.

In contrast, aerodynamically efficient, sharp-tipped bullets can be loaded in vertical stack magazines of lever-actions such as the Browning BLR or old Savage M99. That’s why you can buy a BLR in .270 Win. and .300 Win. Mag., but not a Winchester Model 94.

Complaints about inaccuracy in lever actions are mostly overblown. Because of how they can and can’t be bedded, they will never be as accurate as benchrest bolt actions, but most are plenty accurate for big-game hunting at the ranges to which they shoot.

As for cycling speed, yes, lever-actions are wonderfully fast and fun to cycle. Just watch some old videos of “The Rifleman” TV show to understand the potential. During the first half of the 20th century American deer hunters shot running whitetails as standard procedure in the heavy woods. They found the narrow, short, light, and fast-handling lever-actions perfect for this not so much because they shot ”brush busting” bullets or were faster to cycle than other actions, but because they handled so smoothly.

Well guess what? They still do. If you hunt where shots come inside of 200 yards, traditional, tubular magazine lever-actions in traditional “cowboy” calibers are just as deadly as ever. You may wish to augment the old open sights with a scope or red dot, but the rifle and cartridges will still do what they’ve always done — take woodland deer quickly and cleanly.

An added incentive in some states is the new “straight walled cartridge” regulations that make many pistol cartridges, such as the .44 Rem Mag. and powerful .460 S&W, legal in a rifle for deer hunting. The .44 Rem Mag. is deadly in a handgun, but even deadlier in a rifle.

If you hunt woods, but also want to reach across a long corn field from time to time, consider one of the box magazine lever-actions shooting modern, bottle-necked rounds. They have the reach and the accuracy for 300 yards and often well beyond.

The all-American lever-action isn’t dead. It’s as deadly as ever and just looking for new fans. You could be one of them!

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Lever Action Rifles!

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