Recently, David Petzal raised a minor ruckus with an article in Field & Stream Magazine that declared the death of the lever-action rifle. The gist is that since modern shooters are all about long-range rifles these days, the good ol’ lever gun has had it because classic lever gun calibers don’t do well out past 200 yards or so.
There’s a decent amount of truth to the idea, even if the death knell was probably first sounded when spitzer bullets and telescopic scopes first entered the picture. At that point, longer, flatter trajectories and extended distances at which one could see their target were possible. Long-range shooting – up to then the province of only a few sharpshooters, who at that point were more likely to use a falling-block rifle anyway – became achievable for the common man.
Semi-autos capable of higher rates of fire and chassis-stocked rifles with improved accuracy at even longer distances have since entered the picture. Today’s hunters are embracing longer-range shots than some would consider ethical; heck, some guides now even bring a portable benchrest/shooting sled into the wild for clients. The world has moved on, it would seem.
However, the official pronouncement of the lever gun’s death is still premature. They have their purpose outside of merely reveling in their old-timey anachronism.
For starters, straight wall rifle hunting jurisdictions (mostly in the Midwest) prohibit use of any rifle cartridge with a shoulder of any kind. While there are certainly other solutions (.450 Bushmaster, for instance, which seems to get more common by the minute, in bolt-action and AR-platform rifles) the lever-action rifle does very well here with straight wall ammunition.
A decent lever gun is also a good choice for hunting in thick timber or brush. When you’re too close to game for a scope to be much good, a .30-30 or even a carbine in .357 or .44 Magnum is a very capable implement for putting meat in the freezer. They also have the advantage of not being disqualified by a .24 caliber minimum which rules out the AR-15 crowd.
Lever-action rifles also do well in bear country where fast follow-up shots can really matter. While there are big-bore rounds for AR-pattern rifles with the right upper such as the aforementioned .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, and .50 Beowulf, you’ll be able to find far more Henry, Marlin or Winchester rifles in .45-70 on store shelves. If you want a big gun in case you run into big critters, a .45-70, .444 or .450 Marlin will do very nicely.
Then you always have the lever guns chambered in .22LR. Plinking is just good, clean, cheap fun no matter who you are.
So while the lever-action rifle is almost certainly only a niche model at this point, there are still uses for them. The revolver is much the same story; there’s almost no reason to carry one over a decent semi-auto except in certain circumstances.
Agree? Do you think lever actions will eventually be relegated to the ash heap of history? Or will a few die-hards hold onto theirs so long as they have a use for them?
Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.