Why a Lever- Action Rifle?

The lever-action isn’t just for cowboys.


I seem to get entangled with controversial ideas and posts which go against the mainstream firearms posts, and I'm sure this will be no different.

I get emails all the time from people who are not allowed a semi-automatic anything like the AR series of rifles, and they ask me what their options for a defense rifle or carbine are. Or they have a rifle but want to stay under the radar. I used to ignore or give a generic reply of I am not a lawyer and can't give advice about what laws you live under etc.

But I realize that is no help at all. And the reason I started in this field was to provide real information, not just rehash the same things you can find anywhere.

Options for restricted rights areas

I am a fan of lever-action rifles as a defensive carbine. I will get the most flak from those who are younger and have never taken the time to learn how to use a lever action.

In most places where semi-auto rifles are restricted, there is no restriction of magazine capacity in a tubular magazine. The only real restriction in the barrel length, which by default limits the length of the tube.

Pinyo Wizard Remington 870 Long Tube
Pinyo Wizard telescopic magazine extension PC:Rem870
Big Horn Armory Model 90 460SW PC: Michael Lavallee

Do not fall into the trap of competition shooting having any basis in reality with the modifications Shooters add to a gun, to make it even more obnoxious than the next. One of the more useful things about lever actions is the lack of any "Tactical" accessories available. You want to look as "harmless and FUDD-like" as possible.


At first glance, most uninformed non-gun owners, and Law Enforcement also see a lever action as a cowboy gun. Or a bb gun. They are non-threatening to the public, and there is no way even the most liberal news organization could show a picture of a lever-action and call it an assault rifle. If you were to use it in self-defense, it would be hard to sway a jury based on the rifle alone. Everyone has seen the movies and TV shows where the "good guys" use the lever action.

Under the radar is very easy for a lever action. It's easy to make a case for going hunting, or coming in from the ranch, that's why it's in the truck officer.

In either pistol calibers or the most common 30/30 Winchester, it is not a military caliber; therefore, NOT the most likely to be wiped out in the cyclical "panic" buying the under-educated participate in every four years or so. Calibers like 308 Win, 223 Rem, 9mm, and to a lesser extent, 45acp are the first to disappear. However, the 30/30 Win and other pistol calibers like 45 Colt, 44 Mag, and 38/357 mag are still available because they aren't typically found in "tactical firearms."

And you can shoot any load that will feed from the magazine and chamber. I used to carry the Marlin 357 with a 200gr jacketed HP in the chamber, and the tube full of 125 gr in reserve. The 200 would not feed from the magazine (too long) but gave good results as a first round.

And if you are looking for ammunition compatibility with handguns, you already own this becomes almost a no brainer.

A 16-inch barrel in a lever gun comes out of the cab of a vehicle quickly and doesn't hit the door post or roof making noise. You can work the lever quietly, without worrying about causing a stoppage. Unlike an AR or other semi-autos which need the bolt released to allow reliable feeding of the first round from the magazine.

And, if this floats your boat, a lever-action is the perfect mate to a suppressor. It is deadly quiet, with no gas blowing back into the action. A redneck Delisle Carbine they are.

Cheap Bulk Ammo at Lucky Gunner


When I first started in my LE career 28 years ago, I was, as the majority of people in that career, mostly broke. Duty gear, armor (yes, we had to buy our own) flashlights, and all the other crap you need to do your job. So, an AR rifle was not in the cards for me for a few years. I did an inventory of what I had, and how to make the best use of it.

At the time, I was issued an SW 686 .357 Magnum as a duty weapon. I never carried it, but I was issued it and, most importantly, ammunition. I had at the time 357 Magnum ammunition coming out of my ears. And I knew where there was a Marlin lever action in 357 Magnum for sale.

A run to Tombstone, Az to a now defunct shop, and I had for the princely price of $200 a used Marlin. Out of my gear box, I found a 12 round belt slide for 357/38 cartridges and a sling. The belt slide went on the sling for handy ammo, which became my truck gun for many years. I shot coyotes off duty, and it was a comfort on the long drives home at night in case "Things Happened." The sights were plain, but the front sight was a large brass bead, which, when used with a small flashlight held against the barrel and magazine tube, lit up well in the dark.

Out of a rifle barrel, the 125 gr 357 was deadly out to 150-175 yards and that Marlin was worn slick internally from the dry firing I did to get used to it vs. an M16 platform I had used for so long in the Army.

Snap caps to practice keeping the tube full, and I was, if not at the level of SASS (Single Action Shooters Society) competitors at least competent in the manual of arms.

That little carbine rode with me through many incidents, and all the comments I received besides why am I carrying that all stated the same things. My boss said to me one day after I cleaned the rifle Qual Course," If I hadn't seen you shoot that, I wouldn't think to take it seriously."

This is the normal outlook toward a lever action.


I am a fan of pistol caliber lever guns. They are just as effective with aimed fire as an AR inside 150 yards. And with less noise.

I am also a believer of having ammunition available.

They are available in many calibers. The most fun being a 22LR, then up to a 38/357 Magnum, 44 Special/44 Magnum. In rifle calibers, you find 30/30 Winchester- the most common in the used gun rack, and 45/70 Govt.

Henry Firearms All Weather 45/70 Govt

The 45/70 in the Marlin Guide gun is a convenient piece of machinery in areas where large animals are commonly hit by vehicles but not all the way dead.

Marlin Guide Gun

An older stainless version from any maker, while rare, is your best option for a vehicle gun.

If you have the means, do it with class.

Big Horn Armory Model 90 460SW PC: Michael Lavallee

Then you have the bemouths. Carbines chambered in 460 SW and 500 sw. These are expensive, but they come out of the box ready with very nice Skinner peep sights and options for mounting scopes in almost any configuration, including Scout" type mounts from the factory. The longer barrels give velocities to the pistol rounds equal to the energy of dangerous game cartridges suitable for Alaska or Africa.


The majority of sights on lever guns are apparently an afterthought. The rear buckhorn types cover the target and are difficult at night at best. Using the normal technique of centering the tip of the front sight in the bottom of the rear is fine for good light, it is a great way to miss in low light or with older eyes. If you are keeping the factory rear sight, use a zero similar to a handgun where the front sight is held lever with the top of the rear and has light on both sides. This is a much faster and visually helpful method. And easy to use with both eyes open, which should be the practice in any high-stress moments.

A peep sight mounted on the top of the receiver or bolt like the Skinner types have a large "ghost ring" and are very sturdy. Williams has also produced peep sights for 100 years.

Optics can range from a simple low power scope on the receiver to a forward scout mount and a low power pistol scope. I like the scout type mounts, and with the popularity of this type of mount, many makers are producing scopes with the required eye relief.

Leupold FX-II Scout 2.5x28

Leupold-fx-II Scout-2.5x28

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Hi-Lux Optics 2-7x32

Hi-Lux Optics 2-7x32

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Burris Ballistic Plex 2-7x32mm

Burris Ballistic Plex 2-7x32mm

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I have and use all of these on lever and bolt action rifles. All fit the requirements well.

I do not recommend the illuminated reticle for scout type scopes. The reticle creates glare in low light, and a red dot would be more appropriate if low light shooting is in your requirements.

Aimpoint ACO Red Dot


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It depends on your budget and projected use.

Slings, and spare ammo carriers

You can use just about any sling you want on a lever gun, but I prefer leather.

Detroit Leather Shop Rifle Sling

Detroit Leather Shop Rifle Sling

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Treat all leather with a heavy coat of Huberds Shoe Grease at least twice as soon as you get it, letting it absorb between applications than at least twice a year. It will keep boots, slings, and everything else leather for 50 years.

Cartridge belts, butt cuffs, and belt slides are available in literally more options and materials I can list. Your best bet would be to find your rifle then accessorize it.

Do not become tactical Ted with rails (other than to mount sights) flashlights, bayonet lugs, etc. You don't need them. In the case of a lever-action, less is more. Keep it light, a full tube of ammo and a reload, good optics if you aren't updating your irons, and buy ammo. I built my lever gun with less than $250 and stuff from my gear box. If you are a beginner, this is a great option for you if you can't lay out $2000+ for a quality AR and optic.

Headshots out to 150 yards are easy, and body shots to 200 yards are possible with practice. I've shot coyotes with my Big Horn Model 90 at 240 measured yards with ease. The cartridges and rifles are capable if you know the trajectories and can hold it steady.

If you live in an area where semi-autos are restricted, or your budget doesn't allow a high-end AR(which are really the only good ones to buy), give the lever-action a try, it might surprise you.

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Prices accurate at time of writing


  1. i am looking to get into firearms

    i have only fired my old man’s bolt action .22, a few handguns, and some semi automatic rifles

    living in california the “legal” ar15 platform is a mess (i have always had the most success with rifles in general as far as ease of use and accuracy- and, by default, figured a good rifle would be a fine choice for a “family gun” where all of us would learn to be competent with it)

    i am researching alternatives to the ar and i am looking at a mini 14 or a lever action

    i am naturally drawn to the lever action for couple of reasons- one- i like the “manual” mechanics of the firearm; and second, california also has limits on magazine capacity and the default 5 round mags on the mini 14 look clunky and alternatives dont get the highest marks

    i would definitely have to train and practice but with a lever action this seems like a positive rather than a negative

    i also like the idea of getting a pistol caliber rifle and couple this with a handgun of the same

    i appreciate articles and blogs like this as i am doing my research

    btw- are there classes/training available specifically for lever actions?


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