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Modern Lever Action Rifle For Home Defense

Centerfire Ammo/Reviews/Self Defense
Modern Lever Action Rifle

By Allen Scavetta

From the dusty pages of history to the silver screen showdowns of Hollywood, the lever-action rifle has been synonymous with the rugged frontier spirit of the Wild West. These timeless firearms, exemplified by the Winchester Model 1873, seem to be making a remarkable comeback — this time with a contemporary twist. The modern lever-action rifle is more than just a fad to solve modern sporting rifle fatigue. It’s a dependable and versatile rifle platform that makes a strong case for home defense.

If you’re in the market for a lever action rifle for home defense, make sure that it has a side-loading gate. Otherwise, you’ll have to reload it the old-fashioned way, through the tube insert. Many older lever-action rifles can be upgraded to meet modern tactical specifications.  Modern lever-action rifles often come equipped with rail mounts for optics, polymer furniture, and threaded barrels for muzzle devices or suppressors. I’d suggest checking out current offerings from Henry, Marlin, Winchester, and more.

Here’s a short list of lever-action rifles customizable for home defense needs:

  1. Henry Big Boy All Weather
  2. Marlin Model 1895 SBL
  3. Henry All Weather
  4. Rossi R95 
  5. Winchester Model 94

A Classic Firearm

Picture Billy the Kid’s legendary lever-action rifle. Yet this one has more than the traditional iron sights — it has a sleek red dot, a tactical light for dim saloon shootouts, a laser sight for pinpoint accuracy, and a suppressor for stealthy operations. Suddenly, the Wild West becomes a scene from a futuristic space opera like Star Wars.

It’s a striking collision of the old and the new, where classic cowboy aesthetics merge with cutting-edge firearm technology. This resurgence speaks volumes about the enduring appeal of these iconic rifles and their ability to evolve alongside the demands of modern shooters.

Why A Lever-Action?

While the AR-15 platform has become the default choice for a home defense rifle, there are times when it may not be the best option. Likewise, a shotgun is fine for close-range targets, but if you need firepower the long gun that won the West is still a viable option. Lever-action rifles are very practical and capable home defense tools. Not only are they very accurate, but they come in a few different barrel lengths or configurations. Now with the latest tactical upgrades, they can even be tailored to fit your mission-specific needs.

Lever actions are available in a variety of revolver, and powerful centerfire calibers. You can also load your own ammo, cast your own bullets, and make custom loads to fit your needs. In states where restrictions are in place, lever actions are not regulated the same way as modern sporting rifles. They don’t always require accessories, or other attachments to improve their functionality. The build quality of most modern lever-action rifles is top-tier, and they are ready to go right out of the box, with little tinkering. If you’re in the market for a home defense rifle, seriously consider picking up a lever action for personal protection.

Modern Lever-Action Training

a photo of chris costa teaching a class

Quality training goes a long way, instructors like Chris Costa are transforming the industry with lever gun specific classes.

As the saying goes, the best gun is the one you have in your hands when you need it. You need to be trained on it, and competent with it should you ever have to use it. Mastery often requires a blend of dedication, practice, and learning from the best when venturing into uncharted territory. This drove me to seek out training under the instruction of Chris Costa, a legend in modern firearms training. 

A Legendary Training Course

Costa Ludus is a prestigious program offering specialized courses from low-light tactics to advanced weaponry. Costa is the visionary behind it and his résumé speaks volumes. His illustrious career includes a pivotal role as President of Magpul Dynamics, where he revolutionized the industry with innovations like the Mag-Flip. 

Before that, he honed his craft at AMTI, delving deep into the intricacies of firearm dynamics. However, his twelve-year tenure with the US Coast Guard, where he spearheaded counter-drug operations and executed special missions globally, truly set him apart. Costa’s wealth of experience and unparalleled expertise make him a beacon of knowledge in this field, guiding novices like myself through the nuances of the craft.

Chris has collaborated with Ranger Point Precision to introduce an exclusive training class for lever gun aficionados. This unique course offers participants an immersive experience, blending the nostalgic ambiance of the Wild West with cutting-edge modern tactics. Throughout the training, enthusiasts seamlessly transition between standing to kneeling shooting positions and utilizing cover and concealment. 

His curriculum focuses on mastering the art of swiftly reloading the firearm and efficiently realigning with the target. Moreover, participants will gain invaluable insights into troubleshooting and resolving malfunctions on and off the firing range. Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of lever guns or seeking to enhance your existing skills, this class offers a must-have opportunity for enthusiasts to refine their craft.

Building A Home Defense Gun

a photo of a modern lever action rifle and accessories

No need to buy new, you can turn your existing lever action into a modern tactical defense rifle with a few upgrades.

Quality matters to me, so I upgraded my lever action with parts from Ranger Point Precision. They specialize in modernizing traditional lever-action rifles, infusing them with cutting-edge features that fit today’s cowboy. Their handguards are crafted from premium aluminum and boast M-LOK slots, which provide versatility to tailor your lever action to your specifications. 

The adjustable stock ensures a seamless fit, precisely accommodating scopes and offering a length of pull comparable to factory rifles while presenting a multitude of accessory attachment options. Moreover, their selection of custom upgrades, such as precision triggers, ergonomic levers, and refined hammers, propels your lever-action rifle to unparalleled performance and style.

How Lever-Action Rifles Work

a photo of how a lever action rifle works

Be sure not to short-stroke your lever action rifle when you’re working the lever to advance the next round.

Lever action rifles possess a unique design that demands considerable training to master. To begin, let’s dive into the controls. There are two primary mechanisms for firing a lever-action rifle. The first and arguably the most crucial is the lever beneath the receiver. This lever is pivotal for loading ammunition from the magazine tube into the chamber and serves as the primary method for clearing the firearm. 

The second mechanism is the hammer, situated at the rear of the receiver. The hammer is responsible for releasing the firing pin to ignite the primer, thereby propelling a round downrange. Upon working the lever to chamber a round, the hammer automatically resets to a cocked position, awaiting the pull of the trigger. Some lever action rifles also feature a secondary safety mechanism that prevents trigger activation until you disengage the safety.

How To Operate a Lever-Action

Now that you understand the inner workings of your lever-action rifle, you can use the foundational principles of rifle shooting to achieve precise shots. Once you’ve loaded your rifle and chambered a round, align your sights correctly. Most lever-action rifles have iron sights, typically comprising a rear dovetail and a front sight post. You have proper sight alignment when your target is visible through the center of the rear dovetail, with the top of the front sight post neatly aligned. 

With your sights lined up, proceed by disengaging the safety or cocking the hammer back, then gently squeeze the trigger to take your shot. For subsequent shots, smoothly work the lever downward to eject the spent brass and back up again to chamber a fresh round. Once more, align your sights with the target and deliver your shot with a steady hand. With this technique, you’ll consistently hit your mark with confidence and precision.

Loading A Lever-Action Rifle

Once you’ve become acquainted with your lever-action rifle, it’s important to focus on loading or “feeding” the firearm. Lever guns typically feature a tubular magazine situated beneath the barrel. Depending on the model, you load this magazine tube either through the loading gate located on the side of the receiver or from the front of the tube.

To load the firearm, simply insert rounds into the magazine tube and then work the lever downward. This action moves a round from the magazine tube into the chamber. If your lever gun has a side loading gate, you can top off your rifle with an additional round after you chamber one.

Unloading A Lever-Action Rifle

When unloading the firearm, always follow proper safety protocols. Ensure the rifle is pointed in a safe direction, and keep your finger off the trigger. If applicable, engage the safety mechanism. Then, work the lever until the last round exits the ejection port. Finally, visually and physically inspect the chamber to confirm it’s clear of all ammunition. 

Ammo Considerations

a photo of ammo options for modern lever action rifles

There are many ammo options for lever action rifles, including popular revolver and centerfire rifle calibers.

With lever actions, there are two paths you can take when it comes to ammo. One path takes you down the road of powerful centerfire rifle ammunition. The most common calibers on this path are the trusty .30-30 Win, or .45-70. The other path leads to standard, or magnum pistol caliber rounds, with the .38 Special and .357 Magnum being the most popular. The good news here is if you’re into revolvers, you can share your ammo with both weapons platforms.

That’s not to say those are the only options for either path. On the centerfire side, we’ve seen the addition of calibers like 450 SOCOM, 7.62×39, and .223 Rem introduced to the platform. The .44 Magnum/.44 Special option has been popular for a while, but now you can add 9mm, 327 Federal Mag, and .480 Ruger to the pistol caliber list. Not all of these calibers are optimized to run in a modern lever action rifle, but it’s good to know the option exists if you’d like to try it.

There are also modern lever-action shotguns for those who are so inclined. You can find them commonly chambered in .410, and 12-gauge offerings. They make a great platform for loading up buckshot, and slugs for defensive use. These lever actions are intended to be used in tactical situations and often have larger ammo capacities than their standard rifle counterparts.

Modern Lever Action Rifle: Iconic Status

a photo of a man shooting a modern lever action rifle

The resurgence of modern lever-action rifles offers users technological advances and upgrade options for tactical applications.

As firearm technology advances, it’s exciting to witness companies like Ranger Point Precision breathe new life into iconic firearms, making them both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The resurgence of the modern lever action rifle, now equipped with upgrades, offers enthusiasts unique opportunities for both home defense and hunting. 

Whether you’re considering a tactical lever gun for self-defense or outfitting one with thermal optics for hunting, these timeless firearms have earned their place in the modern arsenal. So, it’s time to dust off your lever gun and embrace the spirit of the modern-day gunslinger.

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