What’s more American than a lever action rifle? An apple pie maybe? No, of course not. It dates back to 1381 in England. But, it does taste better than some oily rifle.
Lever action rifles are America’s rifle. It’s the rifle that won the West . When you hear a cowboy talk about his Winchester rifle, it’s true that nobody thinks about “Model 70.” It was the lever action rifle Gary Cooper and John Wayne used on the silver screen to bring justice and truth to the American West. The lever action today is into its third century with very little evidence that we are tired of them yet.
Here are the top 10 picks for lever action
1) Henry Rifle
Henry rifle wasn’t the very first lever action rifle, but it was the first one that succeeded to be commercially successful. The Henry rifle was produced from 1860-1866. Chambered for .44 Rimfire, this rifle changed the world and set the stage for all those following lever action rifles. It was the rifle the Confederates called “That damn Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
2) Winchester 1873
Once again,the world has changed with this rifle that won the West. The Henry rifle company had an investor, Oliver F. Winchester, a shirt maker who controlled the company and renamed it as Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Their first product was an improved version of the Henry rifle, the Winchester 1866. The trouble with him was, that the rifle still used a rim fire cartridge while the newfangled center fires were getting many traction in the market. The Winchester 1873 was designed for center fire cartridges, initially the .44-40 or .44 WCF as it was called then. Due to the ability to reload the ammo, this rifle contributed to western expansion.
With this model, it was easy to cast bullets over the campfire and with a supply of primers and powder, to load the ammo. All this allowed people to move on, explore and still have fuel for their guns.
3) Winchester 1886
Lever action rifles were pretty much delivery systems for pistol cartridges, only until this rifle came along. This big lever action- Winchester 1886 was chambered for some serious cartridges. Many of them had been domain of a single-shot rifles before. The Winchester 1886 was chambered for cartridges you probably never heard of such as .40-82 Winchester as well as ones you might have, such as 45-70.
4) Winchester 1894
Winchester 1894 is the rifle that introduced America to the smokeless powder era, jacketed bullets and high velocity rifle cartridges. This Winchester model was introduced along with two new cartridges, the .30 WCF ( later called the .30-30 Winchester ) the .25-35 Winchester.
The Winchester 1894 model was also offered in some carry-over black powder era cartridges such as the .32-40 and a “crossover” cartridge, the .32 Special and .38-55, . Over the years there have been a huge number of cartridges offered in the 94 from .38 Special to the .450 Marlin. However, only the .30-30 went on to see great success. This lever action rifle and cartridge proved to be the perfect marriage, so Winchester 1894 became one of the best-selling liver action rifles of all time. However, when the New Haven plant in 2006 closed, that meant the end of the Model 94 as America’s lever action. Still, Winchester has a few made in Japan, which seems a bit sinful.
An interesting note is that they still offer the .450 Marlin, long after Marlin gave up on the cartridge.
5) Winchester 1887 Shotgun
Winchester’s first foray into making a shotgun was followed by a successful business plan of all things lever action. Well, if their lever action rifles were so popular, why mess with a good thing?
This Winhester 1887 lever action shotgun was offered in 10 and 12 gauge. They even had a riot gun, a precursor to today’s Tactical Shotguns.
6) Savage Model 99
The author of this liver action- William Savage was an interesting guy, an adventurer and a world traveler. He invented radial tires, as well as the detachable box magazine for rifles. Also, he started Savage Arms, which once became the largest gun maker. Best known is for the Savage Model 99 lever action, which is a true game-changing rifle. The Savage 99 had an internal hammer that helped to get faster lock time and a rotary box magazine. What this meant? It meant the rifle could use pointed bullets and that is strong enough to handle modern high pressure cartridges.
While the Winchester 94 in .30-30 was the gun for the masses, Savage 99, usually in .300 Savage or .250 Savage was a rifle that the thinking man used.
7) Browning BLR
The Browning Model 81 BLR (or Browning Lever-Action Rifle) is a marvel of engineering. It runs on a series of pinion racks and gears that would make a steam-punker giddy with a glee. The BLR model has a removable box magazine so pointed bullets are not really a problem.Also, it can handle even beast-mode cartridges such as the .338 Winchester Magnum. The cartridges offered runs from .22-250 though all the usual suspects, but also include the WSM line of cartridges.
8) Marlin 39A
Introduced in 1922, the lever action rifle Marlin 39 and its various descendants set a huge standard for quality in a lever action rimfire rifle. He was still in production when the decision to move Marlin from its long-time North Haven, Conn., factory and relocate it to NY pretty much killed the 39A.
9) Marlin 336
While the Winchester Model 94 led the race, Marlin 336 was also hot on its heels. The Marlin 336 had side ejection which allowed easy mounting of a scope , which meant a scope had to be mounted off to the side. There was made in a bunch of configurations and chambered for cartridges such as.219 Zipper or the .356 Winchester, but its stock and trade was the the .35 Remington and .30-30 Winchester. There’s no telling how much venison was made with this rifle in those cartridges. Great thing is that you can still buy one today.
10) Marlin 1895
Well, don’t let the name fool you, this gun was introduced in 1972. Chambered for the .45-70, this rifle made a new generation of hunters to fall in love with lever action rifles. He gained popularity in Alaska for bear protection and spawned an industry that tricked out and modified the rifles.