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.
Winchester 1873 Types
The first Winchester rifle was the 1866. There are modern replicas of these, usually in .44 or .45 caliber.
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 1892 Style
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.
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.
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.
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.