More on Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense

In a previous post, Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense, I discussed the usefulness of lever-action rifles — in pistol calibers — for home defense. Although the pistol calibers are very popular (.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum), the rifle calibers offer substantially greater range and more power. In this prepping and survival blog post, I consider the usefulness of lever-action rifles in rifle calibers.

Prepping is not mainly about self-defense, but the topic does figure prominently in many disaster scenarios. And the need for deadly force in self-defense could occur in your home, unexpectedly, at any time. There are examples of home defense shootings in the news on frequent occasions. And certain disaster scenarios increase the likelihood of a need to use a gun in defense of self or family. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, police presence in the city was almost non-existent, and armed criminals roamed the streets freely.

A lever-action rifle offers advantages and disadvantages as a self-defense option. Being a long gun, the rifle would typically be used for self-defense in the home or on your property. You probably won’t have a rifle with you when you are out in public. Long guns are much more accurate than pistols, and offer more power and range. So in a home defense situation, I’d grab the rifle, not the pistol. But some gun owners feel that a pistol is easier to maneuver with, in the close confines of the home.

Lever-action rifles are available in a wide range of rifle calibers. I was surprised, in researching this article, at the extent of the options for caliber. (I’ll set aside the question of .22LR lever-action rifles for another post.)

Marlin offers lever-action rifles in these rifle calibers:
338 Marlin Express — similar to the 30-06 Springfield in bullet weight, muzzle velocity, and trajectory
308 Marlin Express — similar to the 308 Winchester
30-30 Winchester — the model is called 336 Marlin
See the Marlin Firearms sitemap.

Some lever-action rifle calibers are really only suited for hunting, not self-defense. The bullet weight, velocity, muzzle energy and recoil are excessive for home defense. The 444 Marlin, the 450 Marlin, and typical loadings for the 45/70 Gov’t are too powerful to be practical for defensive purposes. (But, you know what they say: any port in a storm.) Some calibers are overpowered even for hunting most game.

The Marlin lever-action rifles make good use of flex-tip bullets from Hornady, called LEVERevolution FTX, which are designed for use in tubular magazines. Ordinarily, the pointed tip of certain rifle bullets would hit the primer of the next bullet in a tubular magazine, creating the danger of ignition during recoil. That is not what you want to happen inside the magazine. The FTX bullets have a flexible plastic tip that allows a good ballistic coefficient, while being “safe in all tubular magazines.” See the Hornady site.

Browning solves this problem in another way, allowing a much wider range of rifle calibers to be used in its lever-action rifles. The Browning BLR series uses a detachable box magazine, instead of a tubular magazine. So the rifle ammunition need not have a flat tip or a flexible plastic tip. How wide is the range of calibers? See for yourself:

Caliber/Gauge
7mm-08 Rem.
7mm WSM
7mm Rem. Mag.
450 Marlin
358 Win.
325 WSM
308 Win.
300 WSM
300 Win. Mag.
30-06 Spfld.
270 WSM
270 Win.
243 Win.
223 Rem.
22-250 Rem.

Some of those calibers are useful only for hunting. But these few would be on my short list of lever-action home defense calibers:

.308 Win.
7mm-08 Rem.
.243 Win.
.223 Rem.

The “223 Rem.” is the caliber used in most AR-15 type rifles. It is the civilian near-equivalent of the military 5.56 NATO round. The 308 Winchester is one of the most venerable and all-round useful rifle cartridges, the civilian near-equivalent of the 7.62 NATO round. The 7mm-08 and .243 rounds are basically a 308 cartridge necked-down to take a smaller diameter bullet. The advantage is higher ballistic coefficient and less recoil. But the ammo is not as easy to find as .308 or .223, so I would stick with one of those two.

For the Marlin lever-action, I’d favor the 30-30 Winchester caliber over the Marlin version of the .308. The 30-30 has been around for many more years, and should be easy to find on store shelves. It has proven accuracy, sufficient power for both self-defense and hunting medium game, and much less recoil than the 308 Marlin or the 308 Winchester.

Chuck Hawks on the 30-30 Winchester cartridge: “The .30-30 is the great North American deer cartridge, and for good reason. It is a virtually ideal compromise between power and recoil…. .30-30 cartridges are available virtually everywhere in North America that ammunition is sold. I have seen remote general stores where only 4 or 5 different cartridges were stocked, but I have never seen one that did not sell .30-30 Winchester ammo.” (The Classic .30-30 Winchester)

Will the Browning design, with its detachable box magazine, fall under new proposed gun control restrictions? Probably not. A lever-action rifle is not considered to be semi-automatic, because you must work the lever between shots. So a detachable box magazine on a lever action rifle does not make the gun a banned weapon.

The Browning magazine is 4 rounds (+1 in the chamber) for standard calibers, but 3+1 for magnum calibers. The Marlin 30-30 is 6+1, and the Marlin 308 and 338s are 5+1.

The Browning BLR is a well-made rifle. But it is also more expensive than a pistol caliber Marlin. The Brownings list for over $1000, whereas the Marlin lever actions are more in the range of $500 to $700 (as of this writing, prices not guaranteed). However, if/when the new gun control law takes effect, the restrictions on AR-type guns might drive many buyers to the lever-action option, perhaps causing availability to plummet and prices to rise sharply.

The Winchester 1894 is a top of the line lever action rifle, available in 30-30 Win. Magazine capacity is 7; the receiver is drilled and tapped so you can mount a scope.

The 1894 is more costly than the Marlin, but perhaps a little less expensive than the Browning. Winchester also offers the 1892 model, in pistol calibers.

If price is an important consideration and you have settled on the 30-30 as your caliber of choice, you might want to consider a relative newcomer to the lever-action rifle market: Mossberg. Their new 464 series offers an affordable option for 30-30 Winchester shooting.

The guns come in two versions: a traditional wood-stock lever-action rifle and a lever-action rifle tricked-out like an AR-15, called the SPX. The latter has a tri-rail (rails at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock), an AR-style adjustable stock, a threaded barrel and an option for a flash hider or muzzle brake.

Will the Mossberg 464 SPX be banned under the new Feinstein gun control law? No one can say for certain, since the bill is likely to be amended heavily before passing. But it looks like all the lever action guns might escape the ban, because military features like an adjustable stock and a threaded barrel only cause a gun to be banned if it is semi-automatic (not lever action or pump) and has a detachable magazine. At least, that’s the way it looks now.

Uberti makes lever action rifles in a range of calibers. These are well-made great looking guns, designed as replicas of guns from the 1800′s. However, they do not yet offer any rifle calibers.

Henry Repeating Arms offers a 30-30 lever action rifle, their only lever-action in a rifle caliber. The gun has a 5+1 capacity, and is drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Pricing is higher than a Mossberg or Marlin, but lower than a Winchester or Browning.

– Thoreau

5 Responses to More on Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense

  1. to the editor,,question…do any of the .357 caliber lever action rifles shoot the 38 caliber bullets as the .357 revolver pistols do? thank you for the info and your blog. Shadowfaxhound

    • Most lever action rifles in .357 magnum will also shoot .38 special ammo. However, the Winchester rifles are marked ‘.357 magnum only’ and reportedly have difficulty functioning with the .38 special ammo. Check with the manufacturer of the firearm to be certain.

  2. Like I said.

  3. My old friend John from Kansas who got me into survivalism in the late seventies always said that his dream post apoc survival long arm would be a lever action box magazine fed carbine with p rail fitted, sadly I dont think he ever found one.

  4. I have a Ruger GP-100 and a Marlin 1894C, both in stainless. It is an awesome combination and great for HD, bug out and just clean, old fun at the range! I also started reloading 38 (Alliant Bullseye) and 357 (Alliant 2400), with small pistol primers, and a Lee Deluxe Pistol set in 38 which also works with 357 after minor adjustment. All of this done on a Lee Class Cast Turret. Both calibers load well with the same bullets! You can get 125 grain man stoppers going at over 2000 FPS out of a 18.5 inch barrel in a good 357 load! You can also load up some nice 158s and 180s if you so choose. These are great fun and I highly recommend. I’ve shot the 44 mag out of a revolver and lever as well. Which the carbine shot nice I had some control issues on the revolver. The cartridge has a touch too much power for me.