Lever Flavors

In one of the comments was the question… What Caliber for a Lever Gun?
This depends on the purpose of the gun. For just having fun, for defense, or for hunting big game? Really it comes down to a Rifle Caliber or a Pistol Caliber.
For a Rifle caliber, you have .30-30, .35 Remington, and .45-70.
For a Pistol caliber, you have .357, .44, .45, or .44-40.
Each option in either category has it’s following. For plinking and defense work, a pistol caliber will do just fine. The .357 is mild and most of those rifles can also run .38 Special. Loaded hot, .357 magnum can be a beast from a rifle barrel… making it just fine for any big game you want to take a bite out of. For defense it’s probably ideal. If you are going to let kids or delicate womenfolk who think they are too sensitive for anything stout shoot your gun, load those .38 Specials and it’s a pussycat.
Stepping up, I really like the .44 option. I’ve killed a lot meat with .44 Magnum out of a 16″ barrel and it’s a bigger push than .357, but very manageable and you can still shoot it fast. With full house loads I’ve made accurate hits out to 400 yards. With Cowboy Action loads, really downloaded lead heads, it’s spot on at 100 yards. I’d have to put an optic on it to really get the accurate out of it that the gun is capable of. But I don’t want to do that. Yet.
I’ve not been impressed with .45 Colt, and .44-40, while a great round, is not one I’ve spent any real time with… only a box or two over the years.
In the rifle options, you can take the biggest game in North America. The .30-30 is the classic and will do most anything you want unless you are Bear Country.
.35 Remington does better on bruin and elk, but has no popularity in the wide open western spaces. A great option for timber country. It shoots much like a .30-30 but does so with a bigger heavier bullet.  It’s a personal favorite as well, but in Utah they are as rare as hen’s teeth.  Hitting with a bigger bullet is always preferred over hitting with a small bullet – when it comes to making loud noises and breaking things.
That leaves .45-70 Government… the authority… the big stick. It can drop anything in North America that has a heart beat, but has some dramatic thump to it… I like the .45-70 a lot… and from recent posts, you guys already knew that.
So for general use and flexibility, I’d probably say a .357 Magnum is the one to go with. This was the original caliber I was looking for in a Rossi Lever with a 16″ barrel.  Waited a year for the .357 before I gave up. But I am glad I did, because I am truly loving the .44 Magnum.  For a tactical, defensive type rifle or a plinker to have fun with… I don’t think the .357 option can be beat.  If you can find one.

32 thoughts on “Lever Flavors”

  1. Yes and yes.

    But then there is another factor, that shouldn’t matter to me but does. The .30-30 rifles tend to…ah…look cooler than the .357 chambered carbines.

    .45-70 is a blessed and grand thing, but I always think of it as a cartridge for long-barreled single shots. And the cost per cartridge is not where I would want it.

  2. I’d love a .41 Mag lever, I’m jealous as heck of Norse’s. I don’t know why, but something magic seems to happen with the .41 in rifle length barrels: http://ballisticsbytheinch.com/megraphs/41mag.html
    Compared to .44

    That 170gr Buffalo Bore load is running .30-30 velocities for the same bullet weight. Not as good in BC or SD, but at moderate ranges it should hit thin skinned game and two-legged varmints like a ton of bricks.

      1. LOL!

        Please explain, I’m curious.

        Never held one, but I wouldn’t buy one just because they look so fugly…

        1. I don’t like the geared mechanism. Overly complicated for no good reason. My biggest gripe is the large, oversized bolt. Keeping the gun on the shoulder and running the action… You have this huge phallus coming right at your eye like some 3D Gay Horror show… It’s disturbing.
          I do like the magazine though…

          1. The BLR was designed the way it was for one good reason. It feeds spitzer bulleted cartridges from a magazine reliably.

            The older lever actions are plenty complicated, and have all sorts of failure modes. I see plenty of those during SASS shoots.

            Admittedly, I do like Browning’s 1895 Winchester better as a magazine fed.

            1. Me too… the Winchester 1895 is on my Want List. I’m waiting for Uberti or Taurus to make a good repro in a caliber that is not Rare.

        2. Sorry. Got confused by the designation. Should have posted an 1895.

          But the notion of firing a .325 WSM from a lever gun has appeal.

  3. Bought a Buffalo Bill commemorative Winchester 30-30 Rifle when I was about 23 years old or so from a gun shop in Savage going out of business for $100.

    I didn’t have room for it in my gun cabinet so I gave it to my brother to hang on to. From that day on he never gave it back to me. Wouldn’t let me have it back cuz he knew I’d shoot it. I don’t collect museum pieces.

    Now he has his house up for sale and I finally got it back after a couple decades, still in the original graphic color picture box with original tags looped on the lever, still in the brown lube paper.

    Still a virgin, never been shot.

    Gonna bust that cherry this spring. Can’t wait to see how she handles…


  4. I’ll mostly agree with the Ogre on this one.
    Pistol calibers, in order of preference:

    For comparison’s sake, the listed rifles cartridges really belong in 2 categories:
    .30-30 & .35 Rem in one.
    .45-70 in the other.
    I say this because the first group can be had in a comparable size & weight weapon as the pistol calibers.
    The .45-70, not so much.

    Upgrade to the .44 Mag if hunting is your primary purpose.
    I’d have got a .44 or even .357 instead of my .454 if I could’ve obtained one in 16″ Like Ogre, I gave up after a considerable time searching.

    If you’re wanting a 16″ barrel, stick to the pistol calibers. Likewise, if you want a pistol caliber, get the 16″ barrel for the sake of handiness. A 20″ Rossi .357 has exactly the same exterior dimensions as a Win 94 .30-30, and about the same weight. After the initial 16″, the additional 20″ isn’t going to give you that much better velocity. Capacity and sight radius gains are likewise modest. In a 20″, I’d just get a .30-30 instead.

    1. The Marlin 1895 is a slightly larger version of the 336, and if blindfolded you would have a pretty tough time telling mine from a 336 without feeling the bore or ejection port.
      Especially if I swapped the laminate wood for the older lighter weight wood from an early 1895.
      And if you reload, you can tailor your loads with faster burning powders for the shorter barrels.
      If you shoot .45-70, you need to be reloading anyway. 😀

      I am temped to have Caryn swing by the grocery store when she goes back down to NC to see if they still have one of the .454 Rossis there for sale.


    2. Gino,
      I agree on all of what you Ogre say about pistol ’92s except for barrel length. The ’92s lever actions can be finicky about what ammo they like and what they don’t like to feed. My EMF Rossi ’92 does not feed 38’s correctly (it jams or misfeeds sometimes) so I shoot 357’s which it likes (almost never jams or misfeeds). In SASS you need a 10 round capacity in the tube for each of the stages so folks that shoot 357 need a 20″ barrel to hold 10 rounds of 357. If your lever gun feeds 38s okay then you need at least an 18.5″ barrel to hold ten the in tube. Some folks I’ve shot with use the Marlin 1894C with 38s as it has the 18.5″ barrel but I think they may have had the factory spring replaced/reduced to hold 10 rounds. The extra weight of a longer barrel gets you on target faster as it has a slightly less muzzle jump for SASS. Some folks like the 24″ barrel for this reason but the 20″ works for me. The other thing I like is about the 20″ octagon barrel is that it looks good. I had my stainless steel ’92 bead blasted except for the trigger, barrel band, hammer, and loading gate are not bead blasted so the contrast of bright stainless highlights to dull stainless finish is great. I spent more than I wanted to for this gun but I’m happy with the results. If capacity (>10) is not an issue and you don’t care for an octagon barrel (Rossi offers octagon on 20″ and 24″) then the 16″ is the handiest and most portable of the ’92s.

  5. Another vote for the .41 Magnum lever carbine. I have a Marlin 1894FG that I had XS Ghost Ring peep sights installed on. A fun gun to shoot and good to 100 yards with the peep sights.

    Mostly shoot 230 grain LSWC reloads from it. Have some jacketed SP and JHP rounds on hand if I decide to hunt with it.

    Looked for one for several years after missing a deal on an older one. Ordered a new FG as soon as I heard they were being made. One of the best gun buys I’ve made in a while.

  6. I don’t exactly know why, but I would really like to see a lever gun in .327 Federal. Super low recoil, good velocity and just fun, kind of like the old 32-20. Matched with a Blackhawk in the same caliber they would make fun truck guns for South Texas.

    1. I’m out of the loop… why are 357 lever actions hard to find these days? Or is it mfr specific? Almost bought a 357 Uberti some years ago…

      1. Looking in the wrong place. .357/.38spl lever guns are advertized all the time in the SASS member magazine.

        1. As Used guns, Kris. There are no new guns in the distribution pipeline. None. There have not been in all of 2011. Maybe a stray dealer still had one on the shelf from 2010 that didn’t sell, but in 2011, they just were not being imported by Rossi, and Marlin’s production was almost nil.

          1. They still have plenty of new guns … folks like Cimmarron ( sp ) in the SASS magazine.

            Uberti is also still selling .357 lever guns.

      2. There are no new guns in the distribution pipeline. None. There have not been in all of 2011. Maybe a stray dealer still had one on the shelf from 2010 that didn’t sell, but in 2011, they just were not being imported by Rossi, and Marlin’s production was almost nil.

  7. I found a 357 EMF hartford used recently, and it is a great shooter, and negligible recoil, so I tend to agree with Ogre-San. I have had a couple 44 mag rifles, and for some reason they both kicked like mules, and I am not that sensitive to recoil. The .357 can be loaded to its original levels in some rifles, which makes it quite a capable cartridge. Have to admit my fantasy lever gun is the Browning in .358 Winchester. Talk about thump…

  8. I will add that I love my 45-70 and have the local used shop scouting for me to locate an donor for a chopper. However I can’t see my wife and kids ever touching anything off but the softest of loads out of it – so a 357mag/38spcl makes the most sense for that double option.

    And speaking of crazy – holy 41magnum batman! Jesse those stats are insane!

  9. Well, ya learn something new every day! Somehow, Ogre-Sama sounds like fast food to me. Can I stick with Ogre-San??

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