If you are considering a lever-action rifle to use primarily for hunting, and secondarily for self-defense, the first decision to make is caliber. For small game, you can’t beat the .22LR. The ammo is cheap, and so is an accurate rifle. Another small caliber option is the .22 magnum; it has more power and range than the .22LR, and it’s still inexpensive.
But there are two main downsides to the .22LR and .22 magnum. First, you are limited to small game. That might be fine, since you can’t really count on hunting deer for survival. You are limited by hunting laws, and also how many deer can you find in your area? Small game such as birds, squirrels, and rabbits are abundant in almost any rural location. Second, the caliber is underpowered for self-defense. Sure, an accurate shot with a .22 will take down a two-legged assailant. But under the stress of a violent attack, with a moving target, you might not have enough accuracy.
The better calibers in lever-action rifles for self-defense are the .357 magnum, the .44 magnum, and the .30-30 Winchester. For hunting medium game, any of those calibers will be more than sufficient. The .30-30 has better range than the other two calibers, especially with the excellent Hornady LEVERevolution bullets, which have a soft but pointed tip.
Then, too, each of those calibers are more than sufficient for self-defense. I’m not sure if you need the range of the .30-30 for self-defense purposes. I would tend to favor a .357 magnum lever-action for self-defense. You can load it with .38 special ammo for very low recoil and noise. But with a hot .357 loading, it’s all the power you need to defend your home and family against violent criminals. The .44 magnum is certainly a potent man-stopper. But I don’t think it is any more effective than the .357, and you end up with a lot more recoil and slower follow-up shots.
In my opinion, the .22LR is the best choice for small game hunting. It can also be used for home defense in a pinch. For a good balance of self-defense and medium game hunting, I would favor the .357 magnum.
How many companies make a version of the AR-15? Dozens? A hundred or so? But not many companies make a good lever action rifle.
Uberti makes a very high quality, somewhat pricey, lever-action rifle. The design is based on the Winchester 1873 model. It loads easily from the side gate, but it ejects spent cases from the top, making it difficult to mount a scope.
Henry Rifles makes many different models of .22LR and .22 magnum lever action rifles. In the larger calibers, they offer .357 magnum, .44 magnum, and .30-30 Winchester calibers. These guns eject from the side, and they are drilled and tapped for a scope mount. My issue with the Henry design is that it lacks a side loading gate. You have to put the butt of the rifle on the ground, unscrew the cap on the tubular magazine, slide out the inner brass sleeve, and then reload the magazine one round at a time. Then you slide the sleeve back in and replace the cap. If you are using the rifle for self-defense, the reloading procedure leaves you defenseless.
Browning Lever-action Rifles are available (as of this writing) in 15 different calibers. The BLR system uses a box magazine, instead of a tubular magazine. This allows the use of pointed bullets in the rifle. In a tubular magazine, hard pointed bullets might set off the primer of next bullet in the tube. So the BLR design allows for calibers not available in ordinary lever action rifles. However, Browning does not offer this rifle in .357 magnum, .44 magnum, or .30-30 Winchester. They are taking advantage of their unique design by offering calibers not available from other manufacturers.
Browning and Uberti are on the high end of lever action pricing. So are the latest Winchester lever-action rifles. Their model 94 is available in 30-30 Winchester, and their model 1873 is available in .357 magnum. The guns are light, well-made, and accurate. The main downside is price: MSRP as of this writing is over $1,200.
And that point brings us to the well-made and moderately-priced Marlin lever action offerings. Their model 336 is a .30-30 caliber lever action, and the 1894 is available in .357 magnum and .44 magnum. Quality is bumped up a notch with the Deluxe version of each model. The Marlin design offers side ejection, making it easy to mount a scope. And the side-loading gate makes it easy to top-off the magazine whenever you have a moment.
Lever-action rifles, in general, have fewer legal restrictions in most States and localities. They are not semi-automatic, so they avoid the “assault rifle” classification. And, given the current political climate, a lever-action is in my opinion most likely to survive an onslaught of more restrictive firearms laws in certain States.
Every prepper should consider adding a lever-action rifle to his or her collection of firearms.