By John Floyd
The biggest drawback in the past when hunting with a lever gun has been ammunition. Most guns used a tubular magazine which meant having to load only round or flat nosed bullets like the .30-30 Win and .45-70 Govt.
When most folks think of lever action rifles, the first thing that comes to mind are cowboys and spaghetti westerns. Annie Oakley made the repeater famous while performing with Buffalo Bill all over the world and images of John Wayne and Chuck Connors wielding their trusty Winchesters are certainly ingrained in my memory. Lever guns gained in popularity among American deer hunters through the 60’s and 70’s before falling off in later decades. But that was then. Lever guns are making a big comeback, with manufacturers upping their game to rekindle the niche market for lever gun hunting enthusiasts.
Why Lever Guns?
I have always been a lever gun guy. Why? I’m glad you asked. I simply love a fast pointing, light gun that enables quick follow up shots in the thick cover I typically hunt in. While I admit to having to sacrificed a little accuracy, at the range I use my lever guns it isn’t a problem. If I want to reach out and touch that whitetail at 200 yards or better, I’ll be using a bolt action gun. But, the truth is there isn’t much terrain like that where I hunt deer so the lever is my go to rifle most of the time. And you can’t beat the versatility of modern lever action guns.
The biggest drawback in the past when hunting with a lever gun has been ammunition. Most guns used a tubular magazine which meant having to load only round or flat nosed bullets like the .30-30 Win and .45-70 Govt. That meant decreased ballistic performance and decreased velocity. Spitzer type bullets with pointed ends couldn’t be safely loaded bullet to primer in the magazine for obvious safety concerns. Most of the prolific deer hunting cartridges such as the .30-06 Spfld, .308 Win and more all use Spitzer type bullets in the cartridge; so fans of those rounds didn’t have much use for lever actions. That’s all changed.
If you are a fan of the tubular magazine, side loading gate type of lever action such as a Marlin 336, Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammunition line (hornady.com/ammunition) has effectively transformed the way you can hunt. With patented Flex Tip technology, the traditional round and flat nosed cartridges perform like Spitzer-nosed rounds. These cartridges can increase velocity up to 250 feet per second; that is an amazing gain in a traditional lever gun round!
For those who still prefer traditional bolt or pump action calibers like the .30-06, the Browning BLR rifle is for you. The BLR utilizes a detachable box magazine, rendering the nose to tail concern of loading pointed bullets null and void. The BLR also boasts fifteen different chamberings, including the .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win, .308 Win, .30-06 Spfld, 7mm-08 Rem and more.
Big advancements in sight technology makes getting on target with a lever gun even quicker. Long gone are the days of being stuck with a buckhorn style sight and limited optic choices. My favorite system is the Lever Rail Ghost Ring WS package by XS Sights (xssights.com). This set up removes factory buckhorn sights and replaces them with a Picatinny rail flush mounted to the receiver, allowing a variety of optics and positions. The factory iron sights are replaced by a white striped front ramp sight and a fully adjustable rear aperture Ghost Ring, allowing for a great field of view and quick target acquisition.
With these advancements in lever gun technology, the versatility and comfort of a lever action carbine is hard to beat in the thick timber and brush. When speed and follow up are crucial in the deer woods I hunt, I’ll grab my lever guns every time.
John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and is the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as an outdoors writer and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook @writerjohnfloyd
For more articles about hunting, fishing and the outdoors, be sure to subscribe to our hunting and fishing magazine the Northwoods Sporting Journal.
For free access to past digital issues of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, click here.