July 1st, 2023
Saturday at the Movies: Lever-Action Rifles in Review
Lever-action rifles have been an important element of American history. These were truly the rifles that “Won the West”. Today, lever-action rifles remain popular with hunters and cowboy-action shooters. And rimfire lever guns are fun for short-range shooting at reactive targets. Easy to carry, lever guns can also be very effective on varmints. For this Saturday-at-the-Movies installment, we feature eight videos about lever-action rifles. These videos review modern lever guns as well as historic 19th-century lever-action rifles. Three of these videos features sophisticated 3D computer animation so you can look inside the rifles to see how the internal mechanisms function to feed, fire, and eject cartridges.
How a Lever-Action Rifle Functions
This video shows the inner mechanisms of a classic lever- action rifle. It shows how the lever actuates case-feeding from the under-barrel tube, then how the hammer is cocked/fired, and finally how the ejection works after the shot is fired. This video also covers lever-action rifle history, looking at the Winchester 1873 as well as popular modern lever-action firearms.
Classic American Lever-Action Rifles — Hickok45’s Insights
Hickok45 is one of the more knowledgeable YouTube gun reviewers, and he personally owns a number of lever guns. In this video, which has over 2.5 million views, Hickok45 first showcases the original Henry Rifle, and the brass-receiver model 1866 (aka “Yellowboy”). Then he reviews Winchester’s model 1873 and model 1876 (Centennial). Next comes Winchester designs by J.M. Browning — the model 1886, model 1892, model 1894, and lastly the distinctive model 1895 with vertical magazine. The Model 1895 was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt.
This insightful Hickok45 video has garnered 2.5 million YouTube views. If you can take the time to watch the entire 37-minute video, this is a great history lesson for 19th-century lever guns. In the video, Hickok45 also shows cartridges used in the various rifles.
Top Five Lever-Action Rifle for Hunting and Home Defense
This video combines reviews from multiple YouTube hosts, including .22 Plinkster. It is a good starting point if you are considering purchase of a modern, lever-action rifle for hunting or home defense. We recommend, prior to purchase, that you go to a gun store to inspect the rifles and work the actions. Some lever guns are significantly smoother in operation than others. You’ll also want to check the triggers, and see the options for mounting optics. This video provides a quick look at a variety of lever guns including: Henry Side Gate Lever Rifle; Winchester Model 1866 Short Rifle (replica); Browning BLR Lever Rifle; Marlin Dark Model 336; and Marlin 1895 Custom Shop 45-70.
Seven Reasons to Own a Lever-Action Rifle
We own a variety of lever-action rifles, including Marlins well as handsome replica Uberti 1866 and 1873 rifles. There is much to be said about the lever gun design. Compared to typical modern bolt-actions, lever guns are narrower and lighter. With a little tuning, the replica 19th-century lever-action rifles cycle very quickly and smoothly. And the modern lever guns are good choices for hunters, with their ability to mount scopes and fire modern high-velocity cartridges. This video reveals the reasons every serious shooter should have at least one lever-action rifle in his or her collection.
How a Winchester 1873 Works
This video has over 15 million views on YouTube. The Model 1873 was one of the most successful Winchester rifles of its day, with Winchester marketing it as “The Gun that Won the West”. The original Model 1873 was manufactured between 1873 and 1923, and it is still available today in replica versions. The 1873 was originally chambered for the .44-40 cartridge, the first significant centerfire cartridge. The 1873 was later produced in .38-40 and .32-20, all of which later became popular handgun cartridges of the day. The Model 1873 was produced in four variations: a 24-inch barrel rifle, a 20-inch barrel carbine, and a “musket”—which was aimed at military contracts and only made up less than 5% of production. The standard rifle-length version was most popular in the 19th century, although Winchester would make rifles to order in any configuration the customer wished, including longer barrels or baby carbines with barrels as short as 12 inches, octagonal-shaped barrels, color case-hardened receivers and fancy engraving.
The Henry Big Boy Lever-Action .44 Magnum
Here’s good, thorough 16-minute review of a modern Henry Big Boy side-gate lever-action rifle chambered for the potent .44 Magnum round. This rifle shows the benefits of modern manufacturing methods, and shows good fit and finish. The review puts the rifle through its paces, show how quickly a modern lever gun can be cycled. We think this would be a good choice for a home defense rifle that could share ammunition with a defensive revolver.
How It Functions — The Classic Winchester 1894
This Winchester 1894 animation video has over 16 million views on YouTube. The video host, Weapons Explained, notes: “The John Browning–designed Winchester Model 1894 is the most prevalent of the Winchester repeating rifles. The Model 1894 was first chambered for the .32-40 and .38-55 cartridges, and later, a variety of calibers such as .25-35 WCF, .30-30, and .32 Winchester Special. Winchester was the first company to manufacture a civilian rifle chambered for the new smokeless propellants, and although delays prevented the .30-30 cartridge from appearing on the shelves until 1895, it remained the first commercially-available smokeless powder round for the North American consumer market.”
Marlin 336 XLR Tactical-Style Lever-Action Rifle
And now for something a bit different… Here a Marlin 336 XLR lever-action rifle has been updated with a tactical-style forearm, rail-mounted optic, and suppressor. The reviewer noted how well the rifle functioned: “Recently I got my hands on this 336 XLR from Marlin and all of my preconceptions of tactical lever action rifles has now changed. What I found was a very modern and capable twist to an old school platform.”
More Information on Lever-Action Rifles
Want to learn more about lever-action rifles? RifleShooter magazine has published an interesting article, the 10 Greatest Lever-Action Rifles of All Time. Writing for RifleShooter, Brad Fitzpatrick examined a wide selection of lever guns produced in the past 150 years, and came up with this list of ten “all-star” lever-action rifles:
1860 Henry Rifle
Savage Model 99
Winchester Model 1873/73
Winchester Model 1888/88
Winchester Model 1892/92
Winchester Model 1894/94
As with all “Top 10″ lists, this will be controversial. Where is the Winchester model 1866 “Yellowboy”, the favorite of Native Americans? Where is the iconic Winchester model 1895, the beloved gun Teddy Roosevelt called “Big Medicine”? But other choices are hard to fault. The classic 1860 Henry Rifle surely belongs on the list. And, believe it or not, the Winchester Model 94 is the best-selling sporting rifle of all time in the USA, according to RifleShooter.