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The Best .357 Magnum Lever-Action Rifles You’ll Love Shooting

lever-action rifle with big loop

When I began this feature I had a big smile on my face thinking of the many experiences I’ve had with .357 Magnum lever-action rifles.

These are excellent recreational and defense rifles that serve well in some hunting pursuits and, of course, cowboy-action shooting.

The .357 Magnum is a versatile loading, often thought of exclusively as a handgun round.

The lever-action rifle makes a good companion for anyone owning a .357 handgun or as a standalone rifle whether you own the handgun or not.

There are quite a few types of lever-action rifles.

While they operate in a similar manner, you should be familiar with the different types and decide which role you want the rifle to fill.

At present, there are three basic types of lever-action .357 Magnum rifles: old west types, Winchester 92 types and modern lever-actions.

Let’s take a look at all three.

modern .357 magnum lever-action rifles
This is the Henry X model, among the most formidable of lever-action rifles for personal defense.

Winchester 1873 Types      

The first Winchester rifle was the 1866. There are modern replicas of these, usually in .44 or .45 caliber.

The Winchester ’73 is offered by Cimmaron and Taylors & Company. If you want to shoot cowboy action, the ’73 is authentic.

These are beautiful rifles.

The toggle action is supposed to have been the inspiration for Hiram Maxim’s toggle-operated machine gun, not to mention the Luger pistol.

The ’73 action isn’t as strong as later designs. The Uberti-made rifles are well made of good material, much stronger than the original rifles.

They are simply not as strong as the later 1892. This isn’t the rifle to hot rod with heavy cast bullet handloads.

They work well with both .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition. Some ‘73s don’t feed the .38 Colt and .38 Special as well as the Magnum rounds.

For recreation and cowboy action, these are fine choices.

If you are going to shoot cowboy action, the .38 Special is way more affordable and practical than larger calibers.

The 24-inch version features a 14-round capacity, which is why we sometimes call these rifles cowboy assault rifles.

It’s a joke, I know what an assault rifle is, but in the day, this was a great lawman’s and scout’s rifle.

I prefer the shorter carbine version for most uses.

Winchester '73 .357 Magnum lever-action rifles
The Winchester ’73 is the gun that won the west.

Winchester 1892 Style

Next are the versions based on the Winchester 1892. The Rossi lever-action is easily the most affordable and available.

Winchester still offers the Model 1892 as well. These rifles feature a strong bolt that locks in the rear.

They are quite strong and probably the most useful for general defense use.

In areas where restrictive gun laws limit the ownership of handguns and AR rifles, these rifles have sometimes been called “The Brooklyn Special.”

A short, handy lever-action rifle chambered in a pistol caliber is a great home defender.

A personal rifle is fitted with XS aperture sights, an outstanding combination of speed and accuracy.

The 1892 rifle is suitable for most types of hunting, useful for defense, and also makes a good cowboy-action rifle.

Rossi offers the widest selection including a purpose-designed black finish defense rifle.

Winchester '92 .357 Magnum lever-action rifles
This Winchester 92 features XS aperture sights.

Modern .357 Magnum Lever-Action Rifles

The Henry Big Boy is easily the most practical of the rifles mentioned in this report. It is also the most accurate, in my experience.

The Henry doesn’t force you to choose between a side loading gate and an under-the-barrel loading port —modern rifles have each.

You may load to full capacity using the under-the-barrel option and then top off rounds as needed one at a time in the side gate.

These rifles feature a flat-top receiver for easy mounting of an optical sight or red dot.

Some of the Henry rifles feature octagonal barrels and brass frames. They are very attractive. The factory sights are good examples of hunting sights.

Henry offers an enlarged lever as an option on some models.

While it looks way cool, this is actually slower than the standard system unless you are caught in the wild in Wyoming or Alaska wearing heavy gloves.

The X series features fiber-optic sights and a synthetic stock that allows mounting a combat light.

This rifle is flat without a protruding magazine, allowing easy storage. They are among the most practical of emergency rifles.

Henry stainless .357 Magnum lever-action rifles
An advantage of the modern Henry .357, is the availability of stainless steel versions.

Ammunition Selection

The .357 Magnum gains about 500 fps in the carbine barrel.

The .357 Magnum carbine will usually group five rounds into two inches at 50 yards, although I owned a Rossi with the longer octagonal barrel that would equal this standard at 100 yards.

While I enjoy handloading for the rifle, I have not attempted to exceed the pressure of revolver loads and produce rifle-only loads.

Achieving a small advantage in velocity at the expense of potentially wrecking a fine revolver if you lose track of the rifle-only loads isn’t worthwhile.

The gain in accuracy alone probably increases the effectiveness of the cartridge 20 percent with the added velocity a bonus in the rifle. 

There may be some argument concerning the effectiveness of the .357 against larger thin-skinned game when fired from a handgun, but when the same cartridge is loaded in a rifle then the debate is moot.

The .357 Magnum offers plenty of power inside of 125 yards. I particularly like the Hornady 140-grain XTP in my personal rifle.

Even though the bullet is being driven far faster than its design envelope, the XTP stays together while delivering excellent accuracy.

We cannot ask for more. In loading the 140-grain XTP I was able to realize 1,900 fps in an 18-inch rifle barrel.

The factory Hornady 158-grain XTP load averages around 1,340 fps in a six-inch revolver, but 1,750 fps in an 18-inch barrel carbine.

The Hornady 125-grain XTP averages 1,430 fps in the four-inch barrel Smith & Wesson Model 66, but a whopping 2,101 fps in the 18-inch barrel carbine.

The .357 Magnum carbine is a very effective defensive firearm and with proper load selection will be a good choice for deer-sized game at modest range.

For deer or wild boar, a 180-grain XTP would be the recommended handload.

If you enjoy loading your own or testing ammunition this is a thoroughly rewarding firearm.

With .38 Special loads, say, a flat-nose 160-grain SWC at 800 fps, the rifle is fine for small game.

The cartridge is shorter than the .30-30 WCF, allowing excellent leverage for fast work and defense or cowboy-action shooting.

These are among the most enjoyable of lever-action rifles. The .357 rifle is a great addition to anyone’s rifle rack.

Friendly to use, relatively inexpensive and with a strong dose of nostalgia in the balance, this is a fine rifle for all-around good shooting.

What do you think are the best .357 Magnum lever-action rifles? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. I concur re the Marlin but where can one find one?The wood stocked carbines do have a”lower political profile”.These days where can one find primers,powder,cases in NYState??Mussolini[Andrew Cuomo]and his NYC marxist gang have made things intolerable in NYS

  2. I’ve been eyeballing a Henry X since they came out. I appreciate the quality and smooth mechanical actions of not only firearms but any precision creation. I enjoy observing how things function like someone on the spectrum might. The 357 magnum is truly capable of stopping big bucks through a rifle with a barrel of 18” or more but I wouldn’t use , say a Colt python to do the same.
    The longer the barrel , the more velocity and better grouping at longer ranges. It’s simple physics but I do know of a ‘big fish’ story that’s actually true or a guy in the Blue Ridge mountains, a real mountain man, whom took down a massive bear. It was a legendary bear that had rabies and went mad and killed a few hikers on the Appalachian trail atop the mountain. This bear was not black or brown but patchy with both. It stood nine feet tall and was a true freak of nature. It attacked this bushwhacker and he plugged it with a Colt 6” python.
    Just north of Asheville up the mountain you can learn about this prize kill. Pictures and the body count of liberal transplants wondering off into the woods never to return. The irony is, some say the legendary bear had a tattered red shirt and a comb over.
    Point here is, Henry X series lever action rifles are expensive as hell but still less than a Colt python revolver.

  3. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN “ASSAULT WEAPON “so please stop using the term. It is a made up term used to scare people into believing a gun is more than it is. The FBI has NO CLASSIFICATION called “assault weapon ” in its classification system. The AR15 is a RIFLE as are these lever action RIFLES. The more we use the term ,even in jest, the more it’s used (in error) and the more it will become “normal” to call RIFLES something they are NOT. Even our military does NOT call the M4 or M16 an “assault weapon “. This is similar to,but much worse, than the “magazine “/”clip” controversy that’s been happening for years.

  4. Why no mention of Marlin rifles? The Marlin .38/.357 (and 44 Magnum) is the best of all, sorry these second tier brands you mention can’t hold candle to a Marlin. May be kind of hard to find one right now, but well worth the effort. With Ruger’s recent purchase of Marlin we should be seeing more on the market shortly.

  5. 2 questions only.
    #1. Can the Rossi 92 38/357 carbine shoot SWC effectively without harming the weapon?

    * Since someone mentioned the Henry 38/357, I had a personal experience that the weapon was cycling properly when you changed to a different round. End if short,the Henry Co. Replaced it promptly after two issues. Henry is a GREAT COMPANY.

    #2. Why is it that the Henry 44 mag is not recommended to shoot SWC ammo?

  6. All of the above comments are welcomed but my choice is the Marlin Model 1894 357 mag. I don’t think any of the commenters mentioned the Marlin rifle. I shoot Cowboy Action competition and reload my ammunition. I have used this rifle for the passed 5 years and only had one malfunction that was easily repaired on site.

  7. any of the lever actions won’t cycle heavy revolver loads[Ruger revolvers have longer than industry chamber lengths]and may not stabilize that longer/heavier projectile e.g.180-200gr..This also applies to 44Mag-maximum usable weight in a Marlin is 279gr.I use upto 320gr&1.800″ o.a.l. in a revolver

  8. Henry “X” model is possibly the best modern pistol caliber lever action rifle to date. As it is not an evil “Black AR-15”, the .357 chambering is also the “rule breaker” home defense rifle. As I have discussed in another post, wish that HENRY would develop a “Flat” or “OVAL” flash suppressor so the loading tube could be used. Not required for outdoor/hunting, but for home defense, a flash suppressor is a big help.

  9. I have the Rossi in SS, and I love it. It’s a little more finicky to disassemble and clean than a Marlin (my Marlin is in 30-30 Win, also SS), and I’ve had to upgrade the extractor collar to an aftermarket, less brittle one when the factory version broke in mine, but it’s not rocket science, and the Rossi in .357 Magnum/.38 Special is a lot easier to handle than the 30-30 Win Marlin given it’s lighter weight and shorter OAL. The Brazilian hardwood provides a nice contrast to the SS, as well. I do like having a pistol and an old-time PCC combo; pistol+PCC FTW!

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