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Lever Guns

Lever guns have a long established reputation as one of the most popular types of hunting rifle to enter the market in recent history.

I believe the first practical lever-action repeating rifle was the Henry, which was granted a patent in 1860.

A few years later this rifle saw widespread action during the Civil War as it stood against muzzle loaded guns whose adequacy paled in comparison to the devastating rapid fire of the Henry Rifle.

These original lever guns came in .44 rimfire, a cartridge that doesn’t see much action today. However, owning a rifle capable of firing 13 rounds in rapid succession gave Henry owners a distinct advantage over an opposing combatant equipped with only a muzzle loading weapon. Especially considering that your opponent had to manually shove powder and a ball down his barrel, then compress the load down with a ramrod, and finally cap it or prime a powder load before each shot. With the Henry Repeater you certainly had the upper hand in the amount of lead you could send down range in a short period of time.

Per the 5th edition of Cartridges of the World, the .44 caliber Henry, fired a 200 grain bullet a blistering 1150 fps at the muzzle. When you were making shots less than 100 yards, this more than adequate to get the job done.

Modern lever gun enthusiasts have near limitless choices of models and calibers to chose from, and the endless possibilities can leave you wondering, which combination or combinations are the right ones for me?

Let me share with you my experiences with my lever guns. Back in the early 70’s I had the opportunity to own and shoot my first lever-action repeating rifle. I believe I was 15 when I got my first lever gun as a Christmas present from my Mom and Dad. Up until that time my Dad and I each had shotguns that we used for hunting and target shooting. But that, as they say, is another story.

Lever guns are light, easy to carry in the woods, can provide you with multiple shots in a short period of time. With a little range time and practice you can learn to easily get off several shots as fast as a pump action and faster than a bolt action.

If I remember correctly, back then you pretty much had two lever-action .30-30’s to choose from, a Winchester and a Marlin. Now bear with me as this is all from memory and we are talking about a long time ago.

I know that my Dad wanted to put a variable scope on the rifle and I think the Winchester scope mount system was not what he thought we needed as this rifle ejected the spent cartridges from the top of the gun, as opposed to the Marlin’s side ejection. Now keep in mind this was a long time ago, but if my memory serves me correctly this is why we both ended up with the Marlin’s.

I can still remember that Christmas day with a shiny new rifle and a box of bullets to shoot up. My Marlin was a beautiful Model 336 rigged with a nice leather sling and detachable swivels.

It also had a Bushnell Banner 3x9 adjustable scope set on see through scope rings for use when the game was too close to need a scope. This was a great idea, a scope on a rifle and still being able to see through the iron sights. What will they think of next?

With the dawn of the lever-action age in the Hammond household, the trusty shotgun was retired from active deer hunting and relegated strictly to bird hunting duties.

This gun hung from my shoulder on many a hunt as I trekked through the woods of northeast Florida in search of my quarry. I ventured though swamps, climbed trees, beat the bushes and just all around beat this gun on many a tree limb or bush in my search for the elusive white tail deer. And year after year, it shot straight and performed flawlessly.

After 40 years, I still have this rifle and as of this writing it still shoots straight and works like it did when it was still unfired. However it is a lot more beat up than that Christmas day when it was still shiny and new.

In this part of the country most of the hunters seem to be attracted to the whitetail deer and the lever gun choices available make for a fine combination in search of our quarry.

Today, Marlin offers these lever guns in so many configurations and calibers you could go crazy trying to decide which one is for you.

Well, I hope to help a little with the information contained in this article. Most of us in this neck of the woods hunt areas where the range of a normal shot at a deer is less than 150 yards. Most of the shots I have taken have been between 50 to 75 yards. I know that some of you might hunt over a bean field that provides shots upwards of 200 yards, but with the correct shot placement the three calibers in this article will work fine for deer size game.

Lets start with the .30-30, as it is probably the most popular. I think that most everyone at some point in their life has had the opportunity to shoot a .30-30.

The .30-30 comes in several bullet weights from 55 grain to 170, and many styles including pointed soft point, hollow point, round nose lead, flat nose lead, silver tip and more. With this many styles to choose from this cartridge is a great all around load. One thing can also be said about the infamous .30-30. It has probably been responsible for taking as many or more deer and hogs as several other calibers combined. Another plus is that the ammo is relatively inexpensive and readily available.

The next lever gun caliber that works great in this area is the .35 Remington. It has a little more power and shoots a larger bullet but you do not have the large choice of loads that you do with the .30-30.

However it is still a great brush gun with impressive knock down power. The .35 Remington comes in loads from 150 to 200 grain bullets. With some range time under your belt you can use this cartridge to make shots as far away as 250 yards (using a 150 grain bullet) with enough power to bring down deer size game with a well placed shot. Using the 200-grain bullet this is also a great brush gun with plenty of knock down power. This round is a little less available, but with a little searching you should be able to find all you want.

Now for the “Mac-Daddy” of lever guns that I have had experience with. The .444 Marlin (sometimes referred to as the modern day .45-70) is a cartridge that has the knock down power to drop any game from deer, large hogs, bear, elk and moose with the right shot and good shot placement. The .444 Marlin is the ultimate brush gun in my opinion. It shoots a large enough bullet that a little twig or branch will not deflect the shot and when it makes contact you have enough power to drop your game in its tracks.

This round comes in bullet weights from 200 grain to 335 grain, producing a bone jarring 3000 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. The down side to this larger cartridge is the recoil. The recoil difference from a .30-30 to a .444 Marlin is plenty noticeable and some might say “WOW”, when they shoot the 444 Marlin for the first time. But for the added knock down power, I think it is worth it.

There are several good after market recoil pads that will reduce the felt recoil by as much as 50 percent. I have a Limb Saver slip on recoil pad on my Marlin .444 and it makes a noticeable difference in the abuse my shoulder takes.

I can also speak from experience, having taken deer and hogs with both the .30-30 and .444 when I say that the .444 is a game stopper. A well placed slug from the .444 will drop most game in its tracks.

However, even with a well placed shot from a .30-30 I have had to chase large hogs through the swamp before they stopped. With the .444 I have dropped hogs in the 350-pound range in their tracks. The one major difference in this round is your effective range. 200 yards is the maximum range of its effectiveness. A Remington 240 grain bullet, sighted in at 100 yards, will drop 38 inches at 300 yards and even the best marksmen should not attempt shots at that distance with this cartridge for game larger than rabbits. Even shooting at rabbits, you are going to have to be a heck of a GREAT shot and spend many hours at the range. But, in reality, how many times have we had to make a shot longer than 200 yards in this area?

Take a look at this trajectory info table and maybe it will help you choose which lever-action gun is right for you.

Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was five years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very-safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience. Email: [email protected] or go to: www.shootingwithjim.com