Why a Lever Action Rifle still makes sense
The best rifles in history have a legacy that cannot be overshadowed by the newest technology or modern ballistic advancements. One of the most beloved and longstanding designs in history (even including designs outside of the firearms industry) is the lever action rifle. In fact, some might argue they are every bit as relevant today as they were when they were introduced in the late 1830’s.
This is a list of the best lever action rifles currently on the market. Each is categorized by a popular scenario for the end user to put the rifle into service.
The situational variability that a lever action rifle allows a shooter can allow for a single gun to work across the board for just about anything they desire. The safety, accuracy, follow up speed and longevity of the design means that a shooter gets excellent value with the lever action rifle.
The fact that modern ballistic improvements have recently been made with mainstream ammunition allows the hunter or home defense advocate a new take on the stopping power and performance for the lever action.
The classy looks and smooth lines give a timeless quality to the rifle. The availability to a plethora of calibers means any shooter can find a lever action they can love.
Quite simply, the lever action gives you options, features that make sense and legendary reliability. Along with this, you get enough firepower and fast follow up shots that keep your head in the game, so you can do what you need to with your rifle, on your terms.
Best Lever Action Rifle for the Money
Browning - BLR Lightweight Rifle - 300 Win Mag
Best Big Game Magnum Lever Action Rifle
Having multiple follow up shots and legitimate iron sights in Bear Country can be helpful. Having a rifle capable of taking the largest game in North America while also weighing under 8 lbs. and which is made by a premium producer like Browning is a treat.
This is a heavy-duty lever gun that shoots the venerable .300 Winchester Magnum and is perfectly placed in the standard hunting field with the 4 shot (3+1) configuration and excellent accuracy, fit and finish.
Shots to 300+ yards with iron sights are not uncommon with a rifle like this, and the 24-inch barrel length and strong build allow for excellent harmonics for such a big caliber. The creature comforts are heavy in this modern version of the time-tested lever action rifle, and this is easily the best big bore variant for those who need magnum stopping power.
Side ejection and mounting options for large long range optics help you stay in the long range game without damaging your face or your scope with hot, heavy brass.
The lock-up, action and actuation of the Browning BLR is exceptional, and you will easily recognize that the build quality is on another level when placed next to any other lever action.
- Top quality build and material selection
- The smoothest action of any of the modern lever actions in the price point (perhaps at any price point)
- Known brand that stands behind its products
- Exceptional accuracy and range for large game targets
- The draw of the lever is lengthy compared to most other calibers
This is best for
The hunter that knows they will be in bear country or who is stalking heavy game in North America. The user that doesn’t appreciate the sloppy action that can be found on other lever action rifles. This is the best big bore variant from a comfort and build quality perspective. Those who already load or shoot the .300 Winchester Magnum rounds.
Uberti 1886 Centerfire Rifle
Best Throwback/Retro Lever Action rifle
Simple, beautiful and functional, this Uberti remake is true to the original specifications of the timeless Winchester 1886 lever action rifle that features modern takes on the manufacturing process of traditional lever actions, with original methodologies like color case hardening and hand fitted mechanisms.
Just by the looks of it is it an obvious best value for the price point, though its pricing is steep comparative to standard “off-the-line” variants by other makers. The simple craftsmanship is elevated by attention to detail and finishes that you wouldn’t find on most other lever guns at anywhere close to the price point.
Hand checkered grade-A walnut furniture that features a pistol grip along with two-barrel contours available (an octagonal 26 inch barrel and a lightweight round variant in 22 inches), show off the smooth lines of the original 1886 rifle.
This is perhaps more of a collector’s item than it is a hard-wearing hunting rifle, but it is built to function and well made, so it would be capable of any type of field use.
- Stunning good looks
- Top tier finishes
- Excellent hand fitting and hand finished parts
- This is a collector’s item and not a practical hunting rifle, generally
This is best for
Someone who recognizes the beauty of the 1886 rifle or who wants a show stopping variant that can wow onlookers. A collector that wants a functional, useable rifle that still has some practical shooting value.
Rossi – Rio Grande Rifle
Best on a tight budget
The value represented by the Rossi Rio Grande is exceptional. It offers big bore performance in an easy to carry package that means you can hunt anything from deer to buffalo on the North American continent, while maintaining that subtle security provided by the caliber (.45-70 GOVT) and fast action of the lever gun.
It would be hard to find a better price point for any lever gun outside of the rimfire segment of the market, but the fact that this is a heavy duty build with a .45-70 chambering, means you are getting legitimate stopping power for a tiny price point.
Sure, it isn’t built to the same standard as some of the best versions on the market in the caliber, but it is well-made by a company who stands behind their products and it is a lot of firepower for the shooter that is just wading into the lever gun market.
- Very inexpensive entry point
- Strong caliber option
- Large loop lever
- Not as tight on the fit and finish as some other pricier options
This is best for
The shooter that isn’t sure they want to own a lever gun but who recognizes a bargain and value for money. Those who want to test the .45-70 for varying tasks and need a cheap entry point. The hunter who has used a Rossi before and understands the high quality for good price exchange that is present.
Marlin - 1895SBL
Best for inclement weather or all-weather hunting
A rifle that has become the de facto standard for the lever gun market segment in the past several years, this is a well-made gun that offers some unique and high-end characteristics that hunters and shooters will appreciate.
Not the least of which is the excellent laminate stock that is made for heavy duty use in wet weather and will not warp or swell or take on water. Furthermore, the stainless-steel construction and the integrated optics rail means this is a down-to-business offering from Marlin.
The caliber is an obvious choice for those who need stopping power and variations in their loadouts, with the .45-70 being one of the most versatile game cartridges in the world able to hunt small game (75-100 lbs.) all the way up to the biggest game on the continent (more than 800 lbs.) depending on the load.
The quality construction and smooth mechanical operation of the gun is what Marlin has built their reputation on, and this is a flagship model for the lever action big bore portfolio. Any shooter would be proud to have this rifle in their safe.
- Despite being a bit outside of the traditional looks of the lever gun field, this is a very good looking gun
- Very high-end build quality
- Smart feature set, including the sights and optic mount
- Looks different than most mainstream lever guns
This is best for
The hunter that cannot compromise on any facet of their needs in the field. It is a perfect companion for wet weather and large animals where reliability and accuracy has to be second to none. Those who want a large caliber rifle that can use a huge variety of loads, but do not want to handload.
Henry Repeating Arms - Big Boy Carbine
Best for Cowboy Action Shooting
You can get this gun in different calibers, but this .45 LC variant is a sweet shooter and offers great follow up capability, a large loop and a fast swing because of the tight, compact size and slim lines, and the 16.5 inch barrel.
The 7+1 capacity and the well-balanced design means you are going to be on target more and less tired at the end of a match. It’s well built and designed for Cowboy Action shooting and general ranch tasks. It’s at home in side saddle holsters or on a sling and can help you get done what you need to get done, without compromising on anything.
The short barrel still has great accuracy out to 125 yards with the right loads making this a fantastic hunting partner.
- Good looking
- Exceptionally well balanced, offering a swing that is virtually incomparable for fast moving shots
- “Trapper” configuration
- Still a bit heavy for a smaller gun, though the bulk adds to recoil reduction and great balance
This is best for
Shooters who need the trapper style gun for use with gloves, on a horse or for storage in a small space for quick action. Cowboy Action shooters who are already using the .45 LC as their ammunition of choice.
Winchester - Model 94 Sporter
Best for Purists
The modern take on the original 94 Sporter. This is about as good as it gets in the Winchester brand line and Winchester is the original lever action that had longevity (Colt produced the first generation of lever action rifles in the 1830’s).
For traditionalists, this will be the obvious winner. The barrel length is 24 inches and the overall length is 42.5 inches making this a true rifle; it features the standard walnut stock and curved butt plate. This is a fantastic iteration of the classic hunting gun, chambered in the classic round offering for American Lever Action rifles: .30-30 Winchester.
For those who know the legend of the Winchester 94, this will be the gun they want to put in their safe.
- It’s very classic in styling
- The name brand is well known and stands behind their guns
- This is expensive
- The build quality often does not provide the same level of value for money as some competitors
This is best for
The shooter who wants as pure a .30-30 rifle as one can get without buying a collector’s piece. The price is on the higher end, but you get a good piece of workmanship and the comfort of knowing that you own a legendary rifle that will serve you well; potentially for several generations.
Henry Repeating Arms - All Weather Lever Action Rifle
Best for Quality of Construction, Fit and Finish
It’s not that this is the finest hand fit gun in existence, there are custom one-off variants of the lever action rifle that are far superior to the mainstream options. This is however, priced exceptionally well for the attention to detail that comes with the package.
The chrome exterior is very nice for those that want smooth rust-free performance out of a field grade gun, and the wood furniture is sealed to allow for no water damage when treated with a small amount of dignity.
The overall package and the harmony the design and materials have with each other is astounding for the price point. It’s genuinely as good as “they used to make them”. The Henry name is indelibly tied to the lever action and the style/craftsmanship that you see on this modern version; shooters will be proud to own this rifle.
- It’s very good looking and offers a unique take on what normally is a blued steel and walnut outfitted firearm
- Very well balanced and has an overall length that is under 40 inches; the weight is a shade over 7 lbs. empty
- Built for any kind of weather and easy maintenance
- Unmatched attention to detail for this price point
- May be a bit TOO PRACTICAL for some shooters who have a romanticized idea of the lever action rifle
This is best for
Real users of their rifles who will put a gun through its paces. This is built to handle it all, and you can count on the caliber and size to get you out of trouble in bear country or keep you confident on any hunt in North America.
Browning - BL-22 Grade 1
Best .22 LR lever Action Rifle
Some would call this lightweight rifle “cute”, but they’d be missing the point. It’s graceful, accurate, fun and built to last more than your lifetime. It is the quintessential family heirloom that anyone would be proud to own, and which can easily accommodate any shooter regardless of their experience level.
One of the hidden and surprising features of this rifle is the true value it represents. True, it must be priced lower because it is chambered in .22LR, and it wouldn’t be competitive at a higher price, relative to the market.
However, Browning is adding a lot of finish work and other fit and material benefits into the rifle for a price that is pretty competitive with other premium offerings, and it shows, relative to even the premium peer field.
Hand cut checkering and super deep blued finish on all surfaces make this a very pretty rifle. Higher quality walnut and good quality iron sights round out a very unique build for the .22 platform.
Browning is a long-time maker of modern lever actions and it shows the first time you cycle the action. The bolt movement, and the lever draw action is exceptionally smooth compared to a majority of the field who would call themselves competitors.
If you value the smooth action of a finely tuned firearm, Browning lever guns are worth a look, there is significantly less “clunkiness” to them.
Finally, there is the longevity of the Browning name and the unique Browning experience. A shooter gets a little extra satisfaction knowing they are buying a premium brand for a small price point. This rifle will be in the family for generations if cared for properly.
- 5 pounds of rifle can be handled by any shooter
- Special quality of fit and finish, especially given the price point
- Will cycle just about any .22LR ammunition
- The level of fun is hard to match from any gun
- You can find guns cheaper than this (though you can’t find a better value for money in the specific segment it plays in)
This is best for
A shooting family that needs something fun and practical and wants a legacy piece of hardware that will outlast their own lifetimes. A small game hunter that wants something that isn’t super serious all the time and can allow for casual, fun outings.
Browning - BLR Lightweight - 30-06 Springfield
Best Non-Traditional Caliber Lever Action Rifle
Made for the hunter that wants a cartridge they are used to, and which is capable of high velocity, high energy delivery and doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount per shot. This is a great option for those who want fast follow up shots and a higher velocity caliber.
The venerable .30-06 Springfield isn’t a common round for the lever gun (traditionally pointed nose cartridges don’t play well in tubular magazines), but it is a common, and well-regarded round for hunters, the world over. The combination of the redesigned lever gun, with the well-known fast .30-06 gives a hunter a very good mix for larger game in North America.
Four rounds of .30-06 is perfect for any large game hunt, and with the removable magazine, you can shoot any projectile you want and get fast moving shots across more than 400 yards.
This extends the range of this utilitarian rifle by at least 20% over most rifles in the category and gives a large variety of loadout options for the shooter that needs more than the .30-30 on ballistics, and wants a flatter shooting cartridge for big game than the .45-70 Govt.
The well-designed stock and well thought out sling attachment points and iron sights gives this gun instant credibility when you use it. The smooth action makes it a hunter’s favorite tool.
- Accurate despite the lower profile barrel and low overall weight (7.25 lbs.)
- Removable magazines and none of the drawbacks of a tubular magazine
- Made by Browning and with excellent fit and finish specifications
- A much higher velocity, flatter trajectory option for those who still want a lever gun
- It’s nearly $1K, and you can get a lot of gun in a bolt action for that price point
This is best for
Shooters who know they need a fast follow up shot with less movement away from point of aim. Shooter’s who need faster, flatter shooting cartridges for their specific hunts. The user who isn’t quite ready to wholesale leap into the lever gun market. Browning fans who want something very unique.
Taylor’s & Co Chiappa Alaskan Take-Down
Best Takedown Lever Action Rifle
This trapper style lever action with a takedown design allows for the smallest possible carry size for any lever gun. The short overall length and large capacity (10+1) is more than enough for short and medium range hunting on animals up to over 350 lbs.
The plethora of loads available in the .44 Magnum caliber and the sensible design and size of the rifle means you can use this for a wide variety of needs, including home defense, hunting, and range time. The 20 inch barrel improves accuracy and ballistic performance for the already potent .44 Magnum round.
The high-quality build is made exclusively for Taylor’s and Company, by Chiappa, and incorporates some very modern ideas into the tried and true lever gun design, including an overmolded/coated stock set and hard chromed parts, as well as a very large lever opening for gloved hand use and fast cyclic rate.
Chiappa has produced an excellent offering here with tight build specifications and nearly flawless execution. Of course, you’ll pay a premium for it, but it behaves like a premium offering, and then some. You can rest assured that you will be on target with the Skinner brand sights that help you quickly attenuate to your desired target.
Tough, small and built for the long haul, this is an excellent choice for those who want to travel light or need to be able to break it down for covert movement.
- Solid takedown design improves upon traditional takedown mechanisms
- Durable finishes and comfortable furniture
- Distinctive looks that still show the classic lines of the lever action rifle
- It’s expensive
- Warranty concerns could surface in the future because of lack of clarity as to how to service this rifle between distributor, dealer, and two different brand names on the receiver
This is best for
The shooter who absolutely needs a smaller form factor for transportation or needs an open design for cleaning reasons. This is a great lightweight full-service rifle that can still keep up with most of the big cartridges in the 175 yards and under; and 375 lbs. and under range. Hunters in this spectrum should give it adequate consideration before choosing any lever action in the segment.
It’s pretty clear, that while most people think on the surface that all lever action rifles are the same or similar, the lever action is really a versatile and varied gun. The above list holds some of the best lever actions on the market, most of which are available in other calibers or in different variations to include barrel length options, furniture options or finish options, as well as sighting choices and differing magazine capacities.
Any of the above lines of best lever action rifles will perform admirably for the intended use case, but the market offers so many variants that you can easily pick the perfect lever gun for your needs. We invite your feedback on our choices; let us know if we missed a particularly interesting option readily available on the market.
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