December 4, 2023
Henry Lever Action .30-30 Rifle with a Hawk Riflescope
Henry Lever Action .30-30 Rifle with a Hawk Riflescope

From legendary Western films to the modern-day shooting range, lever-action rifles have remained a stalwart symbol of firearms evolution. Both collectors and users alike cherish these rifles for their unique operating mechanism and historic significance.

The Legacy of Lever-Actions

Lever-action rifles have been a fundamental part of firearms history, evoking emotions ranging from nostalgia to admiration. Their timeless appeal is undeniable, and their functionality remains unchallenged even in today’s modern era.

Henry Rifle 1860, .44 caliber, manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company IMG By National Museum of American History - File:NMAH-2004-26295-12.jpg, Public Domain
Henry Rifle 1860, .44 caliber, manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company IMG By National Museum of American History – File:NMAH-2004-26295-12.jpg, Public Domain

The legacy of lever-action rifles dates back to the mid-19th century, emerging as a revolutionary design in the world of firearms. With their distinctive lever mechanism, these rifles provided shooters with a rapid-fire capability unmatched by other contemporary firearms. This feature made them particularly popular among settlers and frontiersmen in the American West.

One of the earliest and most notable designs was the Henry rifle, a lever-action tubular magazine rifle recognized for its use at significant battles like the Battle of the Little Bighorn[4]. Benjamin Tyler Henry designed the original Henry, a sixteen-shot .44 caliber rimfire breech-loading lever-action rifle, in 1860. This rifle laid the groundwork for subsequent designs, including the iconic Winchester rifle series, which has been described as one of the most famous and popular hunting rifles of all time[3].

Lever-actions have also found their way into popular culture, solidifying their position as symbols of the Wild West. They have prominently featured in Western films like “Monte Walsh” with Tom Selleck and “The Wild Bunch,” as well as in literature and folklore, which adds to their nostalgic value.

Despite the technological advancements in firearms, lever-action design has stood the test of time. Their simple yet effective mechanism remains appealing for hunting, sport shooting, and even self-defense. Modern manufacturers, such as Henry Repeating Arms, continue to produce these rifles, further cementing their place in firearms history[5].

Origin and Dominance

The lever-action rifle’s journey began in the mid-19th century with significant contributions from renowned companies:

  • Henry Repeating Arms: These rifles trace their lineage back to 1860 when the company secured the first patent for a lever-action repeating rifle. Today, they offer a variety of models, each echoing the company’s commitment to quality and its motto, “Made in America, or Not Made at All.
  • Marlin Firearms: With over 150 years of continuous production, it has faced challenges but has always upheld its reputation for producing reliable, high-quality lever-action rifles. Their Model 1894, which introduced the side-ejecting feature, remains iconic.
  • Winchester Arms: Established in the mid-1800s by illustrious gun makers Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, Winchester introduced the “Volcanic” lever-action rifle. Their Model 1873, later known as “The Gun That Won the West”, further solidified their position in firearms history.

Modern-Day Lever-Action Applications

In contemporary times, lever action rifles offer both practicality and pleasure:

For Hunting: Lever action rifles, being among the oldest rifle designs still manufactured today, offer quick-firing capabilities that are invaluable in hunting scenarios, especially when targeting fast-moving game. Their rapid cycling allows hunters to take successive shots without significant delay, increasing the chances of a successful hunt[1].

For Gun Collectors: The allure of lever-action rifles isn’t just in their functionality and storied past. They’ve been intertwined with significant events and eras, from the Wild West to modern times. Collectors prize these rifles not only for their craftsmanship but also for their association with historical periods. Many models, especially older or limited editions, have become sought-after collector’s items due to their unique designs and the stories they carry with them.

For Family Recreation: Lever action rifles have found a place in recreational shooting activities beyond hunting and collecting. Their unique mechanism offers a distinct shooting rhythm that differs from semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles. Activities like “plinking”—shooting at informal targets like cans or bottles—become all the more enjoyable with the tactile feedback of a lever action. Additionally, “cowboy action shooting,” a competitive shooting sport that emulates the gun-slinging days of old, often features lever actions due to their historical accuracy and fun factor.

Top Lever Action Rifles to Consider Owning

If you’re considering adding a lever action rifle to your collection, here are some standout models:

Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy X Rifle

Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy X Model Rifle
Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy X Model Rifle

The Big Boy X Models from Henry Repeating Arms represent a fusion of contemporary advancements and time-honored style.

Key rifle attributes include:

  • Design Evolution: While retaining the iconic look of traditional lever-action rifles, the Big Boy X Models have been modernized for today’s firearm enthusiasts.
  • Diverse Caliber Options: These models can be found in a variety of calibers, catering to different shooting preferences and purposes.
  • Synthetic Furniture: Unlike classic wooden stocks, these models are outfitted with durable synthetic stocks and forends. This enhancement provides better resistance to environmental factors and rough handling.
  • Picatinny Top Rail: For added versatility, a Picatinny rail is mounted on top, allowing users to attach a range of optics, from red-dot sights to scopes, thereby enhancing accuracy and target acquisition speed.
  • Lever-Action Mechanism: In line with the legacy of Henry rifles, the Big Boy X maintains the lever-action mechanism, which offers a reliable and smooth cycling experience.
  • Heritage: Building on the foundation laid by Benjamin Tyler Henry in 1860, the Big Boy X models continue the tradition of innovation in firearm technology while honoring their roots.

The Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy X Model rifle excels in combining modern tactical features with the timeless charm of lever-action, making it a must-have for enthusiasts seeking a versatile firearm that blends tradition with contemporary advancements.

Winchester Model 94

Winchester Model 1894 Rifle IMG Winchester Repeating Arms
Winchester Model 1894 Rifle IMG Winchester Repeating Arms

Attributes: A true classic, designed for the .30-30 cartridge. Combines vintage aesthetics with updated functionalities like button rifling.

Key rifle attributes include:

  • True Classic: The Winchester Model 94 has a long-standing history and has been a favorite among firearm enthusiasts and hunters for generations.
  • Designed for the .30-30 Cartridge: The .30-30 cartridge is renowned for its effectiveness in deer hunting. It provides a balance between power and recoil, making it suitable for various users.
  • Vintage Aesthetics: The design of the Model 94 exudes a classic and timeless appeal. Its look is reminiscent of the Old West, giving it a distinct charm that attracts collectors and enthusiasts.
  • Updated Functionalities:
    • Button Rifling: This method of rifling ensures uniform grooves in the barrel, enhancing accuracy and bullet stability. Adaptations for modern shooting accessories and optics. Improved safety and handling features for contemporary use.

Incorporating both the old-world charm and modern innovations, the Winchester Model 94 stands as a testament to Winchester’s commitment to quality and tradition.

Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy Rimfire

Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy Rimfire in 22lr IMG Henry Arms
Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy Rimfire in 22lr IMG Henry Arms

Attributes: Ideal for beginners and small game hunters. Available in rimfire calibers, it’s a joy to shoot and handle.

Key rifle attributes include:

  • Ideal for Beginners: The user-friendly design is suitable for those new to shooting, and the simplified mechanisms make it less intimidating for novices.
  • Small Game Hunters: The precise accuracy is perfect for hunting small game like squirrels or rabbits, and the rimfire ammunition is typically quieter and less disruptive to the environment.
  • Available in Rimfire Calibers: Caliber choices include .22 S/L/LR, .22 Magnum, and .17 HMR calibers. Rimfire ammunition is generally more affordable, allowing for extended shooting sessions without breaking the bank.
  • Joy to Shoot: The butter smooth lever-action mechanism is easy to operate, and the minimal recoil makes it comfortable for extended use by all ages.
  • Aesthetically Pleasing and Easy to Handle: The Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy rifle features a beautifully crafted design that is emblematic of Henry’s commitment to quality. The lightweight and ergonomically designed amkes for easy carrying and handling during shooting sessions.

The Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy Rimfire is a delightful combination of craftsmanship, function, and history, making it a sought-after piece for both new shooters and seasoned gun enthusiasts.

MARLIN Model 1894 Classic Lever Action Rifle

MARLIN Model 1894 Classic Lever Action Rifle IMG Strum Ruger and Co
MARLIN Model 1894 Classic Lever Action Rifle IMG Strum Ruger and Co

Attributes: This side-ejecting model comes in 12 configurations and has maintained its essence over the years, making it a timeless lever action firearm.

Key rifle attributes include:

  • Side-Ejecting Model: Designed for easier and more efficient cartridge ejection, reducing the chances of jamming. The Marlin 1894 provides a cleaner shooting experience, especially during rapid firing.
  • 12 Configurations Available: The rifle comes in a variety of options in terms of barrel length, sights, finishes, and other features. Allows users to choose a configuration that best suits their specific needs or preferences.
  • Timeless Essence: Marlin maintains the classic look and feel of traditional lever-action rifles that appeal to both collectors and shooters who appreciate historical firearm designs.
  • Durability: Each 1894 is constructed using high-quality materials and craftsmanship and designed to last, reflecting MARLIN’s reputation for creating dependable firearms.
  • Versatility: The Model 1894 rifle is suitable for a range of activities, from hunting to target shooting, and can be used with a variety of ammunition types, depending on the specific configuration chosen.

The Marlin Model 1894 Lever Action Rifle has a long-standing history, making it a well-recognized and respected model in the firearms community. It continues to be popular even after many years of its initial release, a testament to its enduring appeal.

Marlin Model 336

Marlin Model 336 Lever Action Rifle IMG Strum Ruger and Co
Marlin Model 336 Lever Action Rifle IMG Strum Ruger and Co

Attributes: A preferred choice among deer hunters, this rifle has stood the test of time since its introduction in 1948.

Key rifle attributes include:

  • Hunter’s Choice: The Marlin 336 is especially favored among deer hunters for its reliable performance in various hunting situations.
  • Long-Standing Legacy: Introduced in 1948, it has remained popular for decades and is well recognized as a classic rifle in the firearms community.
  • Design and Build: Each and every 336 includes traditional features, often including a walnut stock and forend. A classic wood known for its durability and craftsmanship.
  • User-Friendly: Unique features like a standard-sized finger lever make it easy to use. Suitable for both new and experienced shooters.
  • Versatility: Marlin 336 lever-action guns are perfect for hunting other wild game beyond just deer. Each can be used with various types of ammunition, depending on the specific model.

The Marlin 336 rifle is renowned for its solid receiver top, providing exceptional strength and reliability, and with its low recoil and swift handling, it stands as an iconic choice for deer hunting. Its combination of historical significance and modern functionality makes it a must-have for any firearm enthusiast, especially those keen on adding a classic yet highly effective rifle to their collection

Winchester Model 1873

"The Gun That Won the West" – the legendary Winchester Model 1873. IMG Winchester Repeating Arms
“The Gun That Won the West” – the legendary Winchester Model 1873. IMG Winchester Repeating Arms

Key rifle attributes include:

  • Historical Significance: “The Gun that Won the West,” …the Winchester Model 1873 holds a pivotal place in American firearm history.
  • Production Span: The original Winchester 1873 firearm was produced in 1873. Now, in 2023, 150 years later, you can still own this workhorse of a rifle.
  • Lever-action Repeating Rifle: This classic long-gun showcases the quintessential lever-action repeating mechanism that became synonymous with the Winchester brand.
  • Versatility: Some modern versions can handle both .357 Magnum and .38 Special ammunition, attesting to its adaptability and wide-ranging use[3].
  • Design: The Winchester 1873 retains all the key characteristics of the original design, such as the recognizable receiver and lever-action mechanism, with only minimal changes to cater to modern users.
  • Enduring Popularity: Despite its age, the 1873 model continues to be celebrated and researched, underscoring its sustained appeal among firearm enthusiasts.

The Winchester Model 1873 rifle, affectionately termed “The Gun That Won The West,” exemplifies a masterclass in firearm design and history, making it an essential piece for collectors and outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate legendary craftsmanship and the rich tapestry of American heritage it represents

Making the Best Choice

When making your final decision, you will want to hone in on is your primary intention. Are you keen on tracking and taking game in the wilderness? Or do you see yourself as a collector, keen to own a piece of firearms history? Maybe you’re someone who cherishes the thrill of hitting targets on a lazy Sunday at the range.

Once you’ve pinned down your intent, the journey to selecting the perfect lever-action becomes clearer. You’ll also want to get a sense of the different calibers available. Each caliber offers unique advantages, and aligning this with your purpose can make all the difference. For instance, certain calibers are ideal for hunting specific game. Moreover, the brand and craftsmanship matter significantly. Brands like Henry, Winchester, or Marlin have garnered respect for their reliability and performance over the years.

The Past & Future of Lever Action Rifles

Lever-action rifles, with their blend of historical significance and utility, have seen a remarkable comeback in recent times. Their enduring appeal is not just a nod to nostalgia but also an acknowledgment of their inherent utility. As technology drives us forward and firearm innovation continues to evolve, there’s something deeply comforting about the persistence of such classic designs. They anchor us to a time when the simplicity of design met rugged functionality. Whether you’re an avid gun aficionado, someone who values antiques, or a person keen on having a dependable rifle by your side, lever-actions will always hold a special place. Their continued prominence in the firearm world stands as a tribute to their unmatched legacy and the unique blend of aesthetics and function they offer.

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About Thomas Conroy

Thomas Conroy is a writer and firearms aficionado who lives in the Midwest

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