The Romance of the Lever Gun

posted on May 21, 2010
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For those of us born in the middle of the last century there is a romantic connection to the lever-action rifle. Television was coming of age when we were impressionable children, and every week we watched Lucas McCain and Josh Randall save the day with a lever gun. Adventure was what we sought, and those adventurers we admired always had a lever-action rifle or carbine included. My first BB gun was a Daisy Spittin’ Image of the Model 94 Winchester.

The lever-action rifle first saw the light of day during the War Between the States. Interestingly, it was the so-called “assault rifle” of its day. Rebels called it “that damn Yankee rifle you load on Sunday and shoot all week.” Of course, nowadays lever guns are considered sporting arms, agreeable to all but the most hopeless hoplophobes.

As I developed as a hunter I found that for the most part lever actions were less powerful than bolt actions. Like everyone else, I had to have a flat-shooting bolt gun to bump off cervids and pronghorns at a quarter mile. Well, I got a few of those big boomers, and they certainly are superb tools for shooting critters. But every once in a while I still like to take a lever gun hunting.

For the majority of hunting a lever action is quite suitable, though those in pistol calibers like .44-40 or .45 Colt are limited to pretty close ranges. Even critters that can bite back are reliably taken with a lever action. I once took a B&C black bear with a Marlin 1895 in .45-70.

A few months ago our local cowboy action group hosted a “shoot what ya’ brung” match. Along with our 19th century guns some young guys and gals brought out their modern semi-autos and shot with us. After the match we had a little “show and tell,” letting them shoot the old guns. Virtually all of them had never had the opportunity to shoot a lever-action rifle. Each found them an accurate, pleasant gun, and a couple of them vowed they’d buy one ASAP.


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