The Perfect Lever-Action Rifle

Lever-Action Rifle

I have used lever-action rifles all of my life, from the major makers and the foreign clones. These include the Winchester ’73, ’92 and ’94.

I have kept the lever-action on hand as an emergency rifle and for recreational use. They have hunted a little, but mostly been kept on hand, in the cruiser trunk or for defense use.

Recently, I took a hard look at the lever-action rifles on hand and available and decided to keep but a few—including one I think is the perfect lever-action rifle.

The perfect lever-action rifle should first be completely reliable. While lever actions are famously reliable, some are more subject to problems than others.

Beware any rifle that has been modified for competition use and which has had the springs and follower modified.

They are famously unreliable in general use unless modified by a handful of capable gunsmiths.

While the Savage 99 is a classic rifle and the Browning BLR has merit, I prefer the traditional appearance of the Winchester. The handling cannot be faulted.

Winchester 1892 Lever-Action Rifle
The Winchester 1892 is a classic rifle with much to recommend.

Winchester Lever-Action Rifle

I kept a Winchester .30-30 on the front line for many years. The shorter barrel versions are best for all-around carry, the longer barrel Classic version is best for hunting.

I used a Marlin .44 Magnum for boar hunting and have owned several Winchester clones for recreational use.

For hunting use, I keep a quality scoped bolt-action rifle with a flat-shooting cartridge on hand, no surprise there.

But the general use all-around, go-anywhere, do-anything rifle these days is a Winchester 1892 in .45 Colt. I became interested in the ’92 after owning a number of clone guns.

While OK as far as they go, quality isn’t Winchester.

I managed to obtain a vintage Winchester 1892 in .32-20. It was OK, but worn and the caliber isn’t my favorite. Just the same — a great rifle.

Lever-Action Rifle Stock and Rear Sight
Note the stock repair on this rifle and the Lyman tang-mounted peep sight.

I was able to obtain one of the late model Miroku-made Winchester 1892 rifles in .45 Colt, a caliber the original was not offered in.

The original 1892 was manufactured from 1892 to 1941. The rifle was offered in .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40.

The .44-40 offers what is basically 10mm performance, not a bad place to be with good shot placement. The rifle is light and flat.

It handles quickly for those that know how to handle a lever-action rifle. This means getting the rifle to the shoulder quickly and pressing the lever forward, not down, to quickly operate the action.

As for why I wanted a .45 Colt instead of the more powerful .44 Magnum or more affordable .357 Magnum, the .45 caliber rifle was destined to ride along with my Colt Single Action Army in .45 Colt.

I am not knocking the .357 Magnum SAA, but it doesn’t fit my sense of history like the .45 Colt.

The Colt handles quickly and offers plenty of power for defense against man and beast. The Winchester handles fast and offers a great advantage in shot placement and accuracy at a longer range.

Since it uses pistol cartridges and a short-throw action, leverage is better than with the Winchester 1894 .30-30.

The front locking lugs are plenty strong — actually stronger than the Winchester 1894’s rear lugs —  and the rifles often exhibit fine intrinsic and practical accuracy.

There are plenty of good-quality lead bullet loads that are economical for practice. Matt’s Bullets 260-grain Keith SWC is my personal favorite hard-cast lead bullet for the .45 Colt.

In factory loads, Fiocchi offers both lead and FMJ ammunition. Hornady’s Cowboy load features a special powdered lubricant to limit leading.

There are defense-oriented loads such as the Hornady Critical Defense, Remington High Terminal Performance and the SIG Sauer V Crown.

These loads get a 100-200fps supercharge in the rifle barrel.  Let me give an example of the type of penetration a heavy .45 Colt bullet may demonstrate.

I loaded the Hornady 250-grain XTP to 800fps in the 4¾-inch barrel revolver. Penetration in water was 42 inches!

While expansion is minimal at this velocity, that is a lot of penetration. While mild, this would be a good load for deer or boar at close range.

The Hornady 225-grain LeveRevoution load is a hard hitter worth your time and testing if you hunt with the .45 Colt. Versatility is there for a handloader.

Hornady Cowboy Action .45 Long Colt Ammo
For most shooting chores the simple lead bullet works fine.

With a 10-round magazine capacity, the rifle has much potential for personal defense. As for practical accuracy, it isn’t difficult to punch the bullseye at 25 yards.

At 50 yards, I experienced vertical stringing and lateral dispersion. I went from a two-inch, 25-yard group to a six-inch, 50-yard group.

The problem was buckhorn sights and my aging eyes. A bit of research and simple modification provided a good answer to the problem.

The answer is a combination from XS sights consisting of an aperture rear and express-type front sight. Peep sights help to center the target to the eye as the rifle is aimed.

The express-type front sight offers greater clarity for aging eyes and greater speed for anyone. There is simply little comparison between the originals and the XS types.

The XS sights are accurate to at least 100 yards — long distance for the mission profile of this rifle.

With these sights installed and the rifle loaded with the Remington 230-grain load, I was able to post groups of 2.5 inches at 50 yards, plenty accurate for the mission.

XS Lever-Action Rifle Sights
The XS aperture sight offers both speed and precision.

I am looking forward to working up handloads for the Winchester 1892.

While it is a stronger firearm than the revolver and will function well with a heavier load, I don’t wish to load up anything that would wreck the revolver, but rather something that would be useful in both firearms.

255 grains at 900fps is a great outdoors load. The rifle may be good for 300 grains at 1000fps if you really need the horsepower.

I am enjoying my perfect lever-action rifle very much.

.45 Long Colt Ballistics

Remington 230-grain JHP

Colt 4¾-inch barrel 930fps
Winchester Carbine 1132fps

SIG Sauer 230-grain JHP

Colt 4¾-inch barrel 760fps
Winchester Carbine 1050fps

Winchester 92 Specifications

Action Short Throw Lever Action
Weight Six Pounds
Barrel Length 20 Inches
Sights Buckhorn/Fixed/No Provisions for Optics
Length of Pull 12.75 Inches
Magazine Capacity 10 Rounds
Finish Blued
Stocks Dark Walnut

Do you enjoy shooting a lever action? What is your favorite lever-action rifle? Let us know in the comments section 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
Rifle Magazine
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 (19)

  1. I have more than one lever gun. I have my ultra-reliable Winchester model 94 in .30-30. Not the most powerful of cartridges but a good solid rifle. I also recently picked up a Marlin in .45-70. It’s a carbine that’ll kick you hard if you aren’t properly handling it correctly. The last one that means something is a model 1876 in .40-60 Winchester. It’s a modern rifle that handles both black powder and smokeless. It’s a bear to handle but lsure is fun to shoot. It only real ding is it’s size. This thing is a monster! Getting Ammo is crushingly expensive. More than likely I’ll end up and get the reloading set for that caliber.

  2. I have the same reasons for shooting a Colt SAA .45 and a Braz-Tec Model 92 Octagonal Barrel .45 as you , ease of use, available ammo, sense of history and personal comfort. I still have a Marlin 1895 in 45/70 for Elk and Bear. I own many shootin’ irons but my 1st love is still a lever action.

  3. One of my favorite rifles is the only lever gun I own, a Winchester/Miroku 92 20″
    44 magnum. My eyes aren’t what they once were so I installed a Burris Fast Fire red dot on a Turnbull mount, problem solved. This is all the gun I need for Florida hunting where most shots are 50yds. or less.

  4. S&W is the biggest butt kisser. My R92’s are plenty fun in .357 and 45 colt. But since they make SSA in 44 mag (EAA) I would rather have ended up reloading for the 44 mag. I’ve not seen that type of rear sight on a 92. I use the Marbles bullseye rear sights.

  5. Recently picked up a Winchester 95 receiver. Gotta find parts and such but after all that I’m going to chamber it in 7×57 mauser. I can’t wait to see what kind of accuracy potential is available with that action.

  6. I have a Henry Golden Boy 22lr (by far the smoothest action),a Winchester “Trapper” pre-safety in 45 Colt, a Western Field/Marlin in 30-30, and a Marlin 1895 in 45-70. The 30-30 is “in the shop” having the 20″ barrel shortened to 16 1/2″, metal Cerakote finished Springfield Gray, and stock & forend finished in black textured paint. All except the Henry wear peep sights, either Lyman or Williams. Very hard to choose a favorite!

  7. I only have one lever action so far, a Henry Frontier in .22 Mag, Accurate and fun to shoot! Henry’s new X Model is really cool and adding the side loading gate was smart.

  8. The Winchester modern 92 came in 25-20 WCF also. I have my grandfather’s made in about 1905.

    Had to learn to handload so I could shoot it.

  9. My favorite lever action is the Model 94 I inherited from my grandfather. He traded for it (used) in 1917.

    I very much want a Model 1873 in either .44-40 or .45 Colt. I would also consider a Henry if they would offer one with a 24 inch barrel.

  10. A very good combination. My preference is a S&W Model 25 5 inch and a Marlin 1894C with a Ranger Point Precision peep sight. The Remington 230gr load does a good job. From my experience, with my guns, the Remington 200gr HTP with the Barnes XPB is better on hogs and deer. Handloads with a 260gr Keith style bullet at about 875fps (from the Model 25) does a good job too.

  11. In many calibers Marlin accuracy far surpasses the Winchesters; reasons are better twist and how they are manufactured.
    Do not know of what ratio of twist each has today, My Marlins in 45/70 and pistol calibres were produced before firm was sold and quality went to hell, and each had a best ratio for the round, not the sloppy any twist available of Winchester.
    Politics even controls your trigger finger and nanny State mandates safety rules, no gun firm dares fight political powers.
    Friends in past that fired my Marlins were sure disappointed by fit and finish of newer models, but actions still great.
    Also Marlin customer service, IMO, of today sucks compared to that of old owners.
    The 357 mag fires flatter and holds zero out further and energy at distant targets, 100 yards is a good solid choice in Marlin, and as too cost per round only slightly less expensive in factory JHP, and quite a bit less than specialty 45 hardnosed lead.
    To those who brag buy US take a close look at who owns, and from what nation that produces Winchester brass comes from.
    Have never seen a bad, or innacurate, nor heard bad words of Henry levers, other than in cost.
    Tried to buy a beat up shot out old Winchestrer lately, cost?

  12. I agree with Bob. I have 2 Henry lever. Even my first day out with the .44 mag I was holding a 3 inch group at 50 yards!

  13. A ‘pistol-cartridge’ levergun is great. I opted for the shorter 16″ barrel so I could use a suppressor, which makes it nicer if I have to go out at night and deal with livestock predators. Any of the pistol cartridges from a 16″ barrel can deal with predators out to 100 yards fairly easily if you are a decent shot, and a Burris Fastfire-II plus LaserMax pistol laser mount easily on a chunk of scope rail on top of a Marlin or Henry (or on a QD side mount on a Winchester or Rossi). Add a chunk of rail soldered to the tubular magazine or fastened to the fore-end, and you have a practical rifle capable of day or night use around the homestead. Even without the suppressor, ‘cat-sneeze’ loads or ‘cowboy’ loads are quiet enough hearing protection not as vital as with other guns people use for the application.

  14. Hello, I enjoyed your article about the 1892 lever guns. I think you are on the right track with the 92 as it is also the smoothest working lever. It is also one of my favorite “truck guns”. One you should consider is the 1970’s-80s Browning built B92’s they came in 357 and 44mag. They had no lawyer safety and undoubtably better steel than its predecessors. They are a little hard to find but well worth looking for. That and a three screw Ruger flat top are a hard to beat combination in either caliber. Thanks for the article. Mike

  15. I own a 2017 Win 1873 expertly crafted in Japan, chambered in .38/.357 mag. The workmanship is awesome, shoots flawlessly and loads the way a lever should. My next is going to be a ‘92 takedown trapper in .44 win mag.

  16. It is funny to me that politics can rear it’s ugly head even in the shooting world where safety is concerned. I recently got into black powder piston shooting. I have Italian copies of cap and ball that will stay in the 6 inch ring at 30 yards. I think not bad. I also shoot a Marlin 39A .22 cal., one of the last made I believe. I always liked the side ejection of the Marlin. I have worked that lever all different speeds from very slow to as fast as an old guy could lever it. It never failed to load or eject perfectly, and it shoots great at 50 yards. I once shot a Colt .36 1851 Navy model, it shot 4 feet low at 30 yards proving Colt didn’t make guns any better than anyone else. How the north won the war with guns like this I don’t know. I guess the southern guns were not any better.

  17. I shot SASS with a clone (a Rossi) in .45 for years, and never once experienced a malfunction or failure. It could hit 6” groups at 100 yards with relative ease, but the eyes were much younger back then. The lever action is a viable design for any but the most severe tactical use, when loaded and wielded right.

  18. Winchesters and Marlins are cool, but they both bent over for the democrats by putting a useless cross bolt safety in their lever actions. My number one choice for a lever gun is Henry. “If not made in America, then not made at all.”

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