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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
SIG Sauer 230-grain JHP
|Colt 4¾-inch barrel
Winchester 92 Specifications
|Short Throw Lever Action
|Buckhorn/Fixed/No Provisions for Optics
|Length of Pull
Do you enjoy shooting a lever action? What is your favorite lever-action rifle? Let us know in the comments section below!