Nowhere in the world does a lever action rifle hold more sentimentality than in the American West. Those of us who grew up on a steady diet of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and the like became fond of these “crank and yank” rifles at a young age.
My best friend growing up used a Winchester .30-30 to take his first deer; my first deer rifle was likewise lever-action. It was a Savage Model 99 in .300 Savage caliber known endearingly in my family as “Gravy.” Savages came in many modern chamberings including later the .243 and .308 Winchester. It’s hammerless, side-eject design and rotary magazine made best use of these powerful, short action cartridges. This gave a decided edge to the Savage rifles over the more common Winchester and Marlin rifles, which were confined to using blunt bullets in tube magazines. Unfortunately, if you want a Savage 99 today, you’ll have to hit the used rack. They are no longer in production.
While not enjoying the popularity that it has had in times past, the lever-action rifle is every bit as appealing and useful as ever. The .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington see extensive use east of the Mississippi. In the north, short-barreled big-bore rifles are used for the close-quarters shooting often required for moose and bears. My friend Josh Huffaker of Lewiston, Idaho, prefers his big-bore .450 Marlin when he hits the timber for elk.
While the Savage 99, Winchester 88 and Browning BLR were able to circumvent the “blunt bullet blues” by virtue of their designs, modern science finally caught up with the 21st century for all the various tube magazine leverguns.
A few years back, Hornady introduced the most innovative ammunition for use in lever guns. “LeverEvolution” ammo was very aptly named. Previously handicapped by blunt nose bullets, the engineers at Hornady incorporated polymer flex-tips to create tube-magazine compatible “spitzer” style, aerodynamic projectiles. Velocities were much higher, trajectories much flatter as a direct result. The biggest boons to leverguns have always been their light weight, fast handling and quick follow-up shots, but these new loads extended their range considerably.
Although mounting optics on your levergun may ruin the natural aesthetic, you’ll need one to take full advantage of the extra range this ammo provides. Out West, sometimes you need a bit more reach. Like Dad always says, “You can only shoot as good as you can see.”
While they may lack the contemporary appeal of the AR-style rifles, and the strength and rugged simplicity of bolt-action rifles, the lever action still remains a solid choice for hunters today.
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