Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense

Prepping is not mainly about firearms and ammunition. But it’s an interesting topic, so let’s take another look at self-defense guns.

In the handgun versus rifle debate, the long gun usually wins out as the better self-defense gun. The longer barrel and greater weight gives you less recoil, less muzzle blast, higher bullet velocity and much greater accuracy. But not everyone wants to use a military-type rifle (in .223 or .308) for self-defense. Lever action rifles are worth considering as one option.

Famed gun author Chuck Hawks has a good article on lever-action rifles. This is the gun that won the West. It has been used since the 1800′s in the U.S. for defense of self, family, and home. But here is an article from Warrior Talk News offering a soldier’s perspective on the lever-action rifle. He likes the gun for its simplicity, ease of use, and fast handling.

Caliber choice in lever-action rifles is one of the benefits of this type of gun. You can find lever-actions, namely those made by Marlin, in large and powerful calibers. But those rounds are mainly designed for hunting. The better lever-action self-defense calibers, in my opinion, are two:

1) .38 special / .357 magnum
2) .44 special / .44 magnum

A lever-action rifle in .357 magnum can also fire the less powerful .38 special cartridge. A lever-action rifle in .44 magnum can also fire the less powerful .44 special cartridge. This arrangement gives you a very flexible choice of ammunition.

The lower powered .38 special round is often recommended as one of the least powerful but still effective rounds for self-defense from a revolver. It offers less recoil and less muzzle blast. But from a rifle barrel, the bullet velocity and therefore the effectiveness of the bullet increases, and the recoil and noise decrease. Perfect for the less experienced or recoil-sensitive shooter.

Then if you want or need to switch to a more powerful round, you can use the .357 magnum cartridge in the same gun, without any changes to the gun. From a revolver, the .357 magnum has the deserved reputation of being one of the best self-defense rounds. It has been used very effectively for many years by police officers in the line of duty. But the recoil and muzzle blast are immense, far beyond what can be reasonably recommended to the general population for a good self-defense round. Yet when you put that round in the lever-action rifle, the longer barrel and greater weight, and the ability to shoulder the weapon reduce recoil and muzzle blast to comfortable levels, while only increasing the power.

You could use the .38 special ammo for self-defense, and the .357 magnum round for hunting many types of game animals. You could also use the .357 magnum for longer range self-defense against more determined bad guys. And the same considerations apply to the lever-action in .44 special / .44 magnum. The .44 special is great for self-defense, offering more velocity and stopping power than the same round from a revolver. And the .44 magnum, while a powerful round, is much more controllable in a rifle than in a hand gun. The .44 magnum fired from a rifle is capable of taking any game in North America.

Cost for a lever-action rifle (as of this writing, prices subject to change) ranges from five or six hundred on the low end, to over a thousand dollars. Least expensive were the Rossi and the Mossberg, but the former is available in many more models and calibers. Also Rossi lever-actions have a long-standing excellent reputation. So if you are on a budget, the Rossi’s should be on your short list.

Manufacturers of lever-action rifles:
Browning
Henry Repeating
Legacy/Puma
Marlin Firearms
Mossberg
Rossi USA
Uberti
Winchester Guns

– Thoreau

2 Responses to Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense

  1. Matt in Oklahoma

    There are several replacement stocks and new models that are “tactical” as well with collapsible stocks and picatinny rails etc. doesnt have to be an autoloader

  2. .44 Magnum will take any game in N. America — but the larger ones at whites-of-their-eyes range. An advantage of the .38/357 is that you can use cowboy-load .38 Specials on smaller game (if you don’t have a .22LR laying around) that a .44 would destroy.

    The Winchester 1892 clones made by Rossi are a good choice. If you can find one, an intriguing option is the .454 Casull model that also fires .45 Colt. Neither is as popular or easy to find as .38/357 or .44, but the .454 Casull touches the low end of the .45-70 giving you much greater range for big game.