Ranking the 10 Best Lever Action Rifles of 2020


Lever action rifles have been part of the fabric of the US for more than a century and a half. In historical terms no other rifle can challenge them as the undisputed deer hunting champion.

But the lever action rifle is more than just a first class hunting rifle. Its compact nature and light weight also make it an ideal brush rifle and home defense weapon.

Left for dead a little more than a decade ago the lever action rifle has made a remarkable comeback and is regaining its favored place among hunters nationwide.

The following are the best lever action rifles on the market today.

1. Winchester 1894

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The Winchester 1894 was the first rifle to sell more than a million units. To date that sales total is up to 7.5 million. The rifle is no longer manufactured in the company’s historic New Haven factory.

Instead, production is in the more than capable hands of the Miroku Co. of Japan who are producing 1894s that are as good or better than any produced in an earlier era. The 1894 has classic lines, a straight grip, a walnut stock, a 7 round tubular magazine and a 20 inch barrel. It tips the scale at a meager 6.75 pounds and is pre-drilled for scope mounts.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 7
Cartridge : 30-30 Win
Overall length – 38”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 6.75 lbs

2. Henry Repeating Arms 30-30

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The Henry Repeating Rifle is another one that is deeply ingrained in the American mythos. It was not only widely used by both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War, but many found their way into the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne after the war and came back to haunt General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Less than 20 years later, the Henry 30-30 was introduced and has been a mainstay of the North American hunting scene ever since. The Henry 30-30 is a very handsome, (relatively) lightweight deer rifle with a 5 round magazine, a walnut stock, and brass receiver.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 5
Cartridge : 30-30 Win
Overall length – 39”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – Polished brass
Weight – 8.3 lbs

3. Browning BLR

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Browning holds nothing back with the beautifully crafted BLR. From the rosewood pistol grip, AAA maple stock and satin, nickel finish receiver, the gun is a sight to behold. It chambers a .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield round. And with its 20 inch barrel it offers better than average accuracy for a lever action rifle.

The BLR makes a great all-purpose hunting rifle, brush rifle, range rifle or truck rifle. You may, however, have to raid the kid’s college fund to pick one up.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 4
Cartridge : 243 Win
Overall length – 40”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – High gloss
Weight – 6.5 lbs

4. Uberti 1866 Yellow Boy 38 Special

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Uberti is a replica gun manufacturer out of Brescia, Italy. Their 1866 Yellow Boy 38 Special is a reproduction of the Henry Yellowboy, introduced right after the American Civil War. The Yellow Boy features a 19 inch octagonal barrel and chambers a .38 special round.

The folks at Uberti have done their homework, creating a beautiful hunting rifle that is as powerful and dependable as it is handsome. The tubular magazine holds 10 rounds, the rifle weighs a scant 6 pounds, and the walnut stock is a joy to hold. This rifle is not cheap. But it’s built to both perform at a high level and last for generations.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 10
Cartridge : 38 Special
Overall length – 38”
Barrel length – 19”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 6 lbs

5. Marlin 1894

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If you know anything about firearms the Marlin 1894 needs no introduction. The Marlin 1894 (not to be confused with the Winchester 1894) became popular almost overnight in the Northern Tier States, Canada and Alaska because it eschewed the top-eject system most other lever action rifles embraced in favor of side ejection.

This prevented precipitation from entering the gun via the top-eject slot and freezing inside. That feature still appeals to a great number of hunters who also appreciate the accuracy and power of the .44 Magnum variant and its 10 round magazine.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 10
Cartridge : 44 Magnum
Overall length – 36”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 6.5 lbs

6. Mossberg 464 Pistol Grip 30-30

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We love the clean lines and balanced profile of the Mossberg 464 Pistol Grip 30-30. This is a light, nimble, versatile, dependable rifle for mid-sized game, including whitetail; provided they’re within a hundred yards or so.

It also makes an outstanding home defense weapon, truck gun, or brush gun. It’s 20 inch barrel enables a surprising degree of accuracy and jams are rare as long as you put the lever through the full range of motion. Add a scope for more distant targets (just remember the 30-30 bullet won’t be much good against deer at more than 150 yards) and practice at the shooting range.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 7
Cartridge : 30-30 Win
Overall length – 38.5”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 6.75 lbs

7. Henry Big Boy Steel Carbine

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The Big Boy Steel Carbine was introduced in 2015 and arrived in stores just in time to take advantage of a change in hunting laws that was sweeping the Midwest. The new laws allowed for the use of previously-banned straight wall cartridges in deer hunting. (A straight walled cartridge provides hunters with greater accuracy over longer distances and should, in theory, result in a higher percentage of recovered game.)

The Big Boy Steel Carbine is more than a one trick pony, however. It’s compact, lightweight nature also makes it a great gun for home defense.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 7
Cartridge : 45 Long Colt
Overall length – 34”
Barrel length – 16.5”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 6.6 lbs

8. Marlin 1895 SBL

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If you are heading into the backcountry in search of elk, moose or bear the Marlin 1895 SBL will be a most valuable asset. Although every bit a lever action rifle, the 1895 SBL has traces of shotgun DNA in its profile.

Nothing obvious mind you. But it’s there. And that’s only fitting in some ways because unlike many a lever-action rifle this one packs a serious punch with its 45-70 Government rounds. Despite its power it’s compact, (only 37 inches in length), and relatively light at right around 8 pounds. When the situation calls for power and accuracy inside of 200 yards, the 1895 SBL will not let you down.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 6
Cartridge : 45-70 Government
Overall length – 37”
Barrel length – 18.5”
Finish – Stainless steel
Weight – 8 lbs

9. Browning BL-22

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At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Marlin 1895 SBL is the Browning BL-22. It is an outstanding choice for small-game such as squirrels, rabbits and the like. The BL-22 chambers a .22 long rifle cartridge, which is very easy to find, features a 15 round magazine and has a handsome walnut stock with a high-gloss lacquered finish.

The barrel is 20 inches in length with a blued finish and is remarkably accurate for a lever action gun. Though some of that has to do with the new adjustable rifle sight the company has added to the mix. Overall, the BL-22 is a great beginner rifle, varmint rifle, or rifle for the range. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to take down whitetail with it.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 15
Cartridge : 22 long
Overall length – 36.75”
Barrel length – 20”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 5 lbs

10. Savage 99

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The Savage 99 would rank much higher on our list but for one thing: it was discontinued in 1998. But that does not mean it’s unavailable. Scores of second hand 99s can still be found online and at gun shops across the country. What made the 99 so appealing was its innovative magazine design and the fact that it chambered the powerful .300 Savage round.

It still does. Savage 99s remain a popular hunting rifle here in the first half of the 20th century. That is a testament not only to the rifle’s effectiveness with medium to large-size game, but to the build quality of these guns. Just be aware that, because they are both prized and no longer manufactured, you will likely have to pay a handsome price to obtain one.

Specs

Magazine Capacity – 4
Cartridge : 30-30 Win
Overall length – 41.5”
Barrel length – 24”
Finish – Blued
Weight – 7.4 lbs

FAQs

What Is a Lever Action Rifle?

Between 1837 and 1841 Colt produced the forerunner of the lever action rifle with their cap and ball, ring lever rifles. This design enjoyed some success, although it wasn’t until both Henry and Spencer produced their own version of the lever action rifle 20 years later that the concept gained any significant traction.

The Spencer repeating rifle was adopted by Union forces and used extensively during the Civil War. If the Spencer Repeating Rifle had a drawback it’s that the lever action did not cock the hammer. That had to be done separately. The hammer on Henry rifles, however, was cocked by the motion of the bolt. Henry was also the first company to remove the magazine from the stock and place it in a tube under the barrel.

After the Civil War many veterans who had developed an affinity for their lever action rifles during the conflict became devotees of this type of gun after returning home, and other companies offered up their own versions to meet demand. Marlin Firearms in New Haven, CT produced their first lever action rifle in 1881. In 1894 they introduced the – you guessed it – 1894.

Lever action rifles saw their popularity wane around the turn of the 21st century. Since then, however, they have made a major comeback with both Winchester and Marlin restarting production some 10 years ago.

Aren’t Lever Action Rifles a Thing of the Past?

A decade ago it seemed like gun enthusiasts had finally cut the lever action cord and were moving en masse to semi automatics and bolt action rifles. Indeed both Marlin and Winchester shut down production in the first decade of the new century and those actions seemed to indicate the end was nigh.

But those closures were not solely driven by a lack of consumer interest. Just as important was the Great Recession that began in 2008 and caused millions to lose everything. Even those who kept their jobs and their homes scaled back their purchases. Gun purchases included.

Since lever action rifles were typically more expensive than other rifles, a lot of newly budget conscious gun enthusiasts put their dollars where they thought they could get optimal value. Once the Great Recession began to ebb, however, many returned to lever action rifles. And that trend continues.

People also forget that, just as the Great Recession was taking hold, Marlin also went through a very messy divorce with North Haven CT, where their lever action rifles had been made for more than 140 years (1). There was lots of bad blood and production was halted while they moved to their new location in Ilion, New York. Once they had settled into their new facility (owned by Remington, which had bought Marlin in 2007) production restarted and the company has seen a resurgence of interest in recent years.

Another thing that fueled interest in lever action rifles was the fact that several Midwestern states adopted new laws allowing straight wall cartridge hunting. This expanded the utility of the lever action rifle as a hunting gun. As a result, a whole new generation of hunters made the trip to the gun store in search of their first lever action rifles.

In the 1990s, well before the onset of the Great Recession, Winchester began to outsource production of its rifles to companies in Europe and Asia (2). Today, the Winchester 1894 is produced by Miroku Co. of Japan and imported to the US. Other Winchester rifles are made in Belgium, Portugal and Turkey.

So, are lever action rifles just some dusty footnote to history? Not at all. They are as relevant and popular now as they have been at anytime in the past 50 years.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Lever Action Rifle?

Pros

A lever action rifle has history on its side – The lever action rifle is an iconic symbol of America with a rich history stretching back more than a century (3). More lever action rifles have been sold than any other type. And more deer have been killed using the lever action than any other type of rifle in history. It’s also the only firearm that was the central character in a long-running TV show (The Rifleman).

A lever action rifle does not produce much recoil – The amount of recoil you will experience from a lever action rifle has a lot to do with the shape of the stock and the type of round. There are certainly some lever actions that chamber .44 magnum rounds that will produce a pretty aggressive kick. But for rifles chambering a 30-30 round, the recoil is typically pretty modest.

Lever action rifles are extremely portable – Many lever action rifles weigh around 6 pounds, are slim and relatively short. Some with barrels as short as 16 inches. This makes them very easy to tote long distances either slung or broken down and stowed in a backpack or survival kit (4).

Lever action rifles are accurate to mid-range – Lever action rifles are notoriously inaccurate once you get past 125-150 yards. Inside that range, however, they can be as accurate as the next hunting rifle. Even at long-range they can be more than adequate if fitted out with high-quality optics.

A lever action rifle allows fast followup shots – Lever action rifles allow for faster followup shots than bolt action rifles. The difference isn’t huge, especially for an experienced bolt-action user, but it is noticeable. Part of the reason for the quick followups is that you never need to take the gun off your shoulder or your eye off the target while chambering another round.

Lever action rifles are widely available – News of the death of the lever action rifle has proven to be premature. While Marlin was compelled to take a break for a few years, and some beloved models like the Savage 99 were discontinued, lever action rifles have experienced a renaissance in recent years.

Lever action rifles enable straight wall cartridge hunting – Without a doubt one of the reasons for the renewed popularity of the lever action rifle has been the recent passage of straight wall cartridge hunting laws in states like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere (5). Hunters have been flocking to gun stores to pick up lever action rifles so they can take advantage of the new laws.

Lever action rifles enable fast target acquisition – Because the lever action is light and well-balanced there is no muss and fuss involved in acquiring the target. The only thing that might slow you down a bit is if you fitted your rifle with custom optics.

Lever action rifles make good personal protection weapons – Granted, there’s no substitute for having a high-quality pistol on hand for personal protection. But when it comes to rifles, the lever action is no slouch (6). It’s light, easily maneuverable, enables fast followup shots and is accurate at short range.

Lever action rifles are easy to load – The tubular magazine makes the lever action rifle easy to load. Something everyone appreciates when the weather is foul and opportunity arises.

Cons

Lever action rifles do not cut a very manly profile – In the late 1950s and early 1960s Chuck Conners was the epitome of TV manliness. He wielded his lever action 1892 Winchester with testosterone-driven alacrity. (Of course no one talked about the fact that he was wielding an 1892 model in the early 1880s when the series was set.) But how many people these days even remember The Rifleman (7)? Not many. And without that type of cultural reinforcement the lever action rifle lost some of its swagger.

Lever action rifles are not powerful enough for big game – At least, that’s the rap against the lever action rifle. And, to a certain extent, it’s true enough. You are not going to bring down an adult black bear with a 30-30 lever action rifle. Unless that bear is right on top of you and you get several shots off. You may have a chance with a large bore lever action. But they are the exceptions not the rule.

Lever action rifles are expensive – Most people, when they first look into purchasing a lever action rifle, are surprised to find they are typically more expensive than semi-automatics. It doesn’t seem to make sense since the lever action is relatively low tech. But there are actually good reasons why they tend to cost more, including the fact that more steel and hardwood is used in their construction. Also, the lever slide action requires precise machining. And that costs money too.

Lever action rifles are not accurate at a distance – There are numerous reasons why the accuracy of lever action rifles tends to drop off the edge after about 150 yards. The lever action has a two-piece stock, a tubular magazine in its barrel, rear locking lugs, as well as a trigger pull that is generally not as smooth as that of bolt action rifles. Still, many of these things can be compensated for with practice and good optics.

Lever action rifles require you to shoot standing up – This is one reason the lever action never found much favor with the military. There is no way to effectively operate the lever when you are trying to keep low to the ground to save your head. Hunters sometimes encounter this same problem. Although for them, the need to stay low is not usually a matter of life and death as it is with soldiers.

The Bottom Line

Lever action rifles have found a new generation of fans who appreciate their historical cache, the high-quality materials used to make them, and their ability to enable straight wall cartridge deer hunting.

Today’s lever action rifles are compact, lightweight, dependable and – given the right optics – more accurate than ever from both short and long range. They can be carried long distances without tiring you out, and they make outstanding home defense weapons.

While some of the best lever action rifles are no longer in production, many are. Including the most popular rifle ever made, the Winchester 1894, which is now made for Winchester by Miroku of Japan.

Use the above information to determine which lever action rifle is right for you.

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