This is excerpted from my upcoming book, “Survival Guns for Preppers” due out this spring.
If you are politically oppressed and can’t own the gun you want, this might be the gun you need
There is no question that a magazine fed, semi-auto rifle is the best tool for surviving what’s coming. But what if you are one of those poor unfortunate souls who live where the government doesn’t trust you enough to own one? Well the obvious answer is to move. Those places are almost always localities with high population densities and that means trouble after TSHTF. Even if you live in a more rural part of your state, you are close to huge populations of people and when the cities empty, they will find you.
Easy enough to say, but believe me, I am the first to understand that moving is not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we get “stuck” for reasons out of our control, like jobs or family. I also recognize that for some people it’s home and they don’t want to move. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the law to protect yourself or to prepare.
One alternative to consider is a lever action carbine in a revolver cartridge. These guns provide an interesting and surprisingly effective alternative for those politically repressed poor souls who can’t legally own an AR-15, AK-47 or similar rifle. A lever action may be the best alternative where it’s the only alternative.
Because these guns are an old design and were seen in every cowboy movie ever made, they fly below the radar. The anti-gunners are motivated by emotion and they tend to go after scary looking guns. Nobody except those deeply afflicted with hoplophobia (fear of firearms) thinks that Gene Autry’s gun is scary looking. It’s much easier politically for the gun-banners to go after a black gun than the one John Wayne used to keep the West safe. So, for the most part, lever actions are legal and socially acceptable even in locations that do not embrace the concept of the 2nd Amendment.
When we explore the current new lever actions on the market chambered for revolver cartridges, it pretty much means the Marlin 1894, Winchester 1892 or Henry Big Boy, although production on the first two guns is a bit uncertain at this writing and they may be difficult to find. (I recently toured the Marlin factory and am very encouraged about the future of this iconic rifle. While it’s been rocky for a few years, they now are using modern machines and techniques to make these rifles. I have a couple of recent rifles, an 1895 in .45-70 and another 1894 in .357 Magnum. The fit, finish and function of both are excellent. The new guns are on track to be some of the best Marlins ever made.)
There are also some imported copies of the old Winchester guns like the 1892, 1873 and others. Some are OK, but many others can be pretty spotty on quality and function so check the gun out thoroughly before you buy it.
You may also find some used guns on the market. Winchester made the 1894 in .44 Magnum for years. I have a couple of them and they are fine guns. Also, the Marlin 1894 was pretty popular and you can find used guns, usually in .44 Magnum, for a reasonable price. A lot of the Marlin .357 guns were snatched up by the Cowboy Action Shooters. Be very wary of any of those on the used gun market as CAS shooters often modify the guns to the point of stupidity and those changes can be detrimental to use as a defensive rifle. Have a gunsmith check it out before you buy.
These lever action carbines are usually chambered for .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .45 Colt. The .357 and .44 Magnum are the best choices as they will offer the most options for functional ammo designed for self-defense.
While never traditionally chambered in a lever action rifle, modern gun makers put the .45 Colt in lever actions to appeal to CAS shooters. Most factory ammo is underpowered, but at least one major ammo company, Hornady, is making defensive ammo for the .45 Colt. I checked with Hornady and their spokesman said their Critical Defense ammo is well suited for use in lever action rifles. In fact, another .45 Colt load from them, LEVERevolution, is designed for lever action rifles. Hornady ammo is some of the best on the market and in this situation it can make a .45 Colt lever action into a viable defensive carbine. There are not as many defensive ammo options as for the .357 or .44, but that .45 Colt punches a big hole.
Some of the imported guns will be chambered for old cartridges like the .38-40 or .44-40. Avoid those guns, as there is no good defensive ammo available. They are marketed to the Cowboy Action Shooters and their ammo is very underpowered. These two are also a bit tricky to reload so they are not the best choices for a prepper.
Why a revolver cartridge? Primarily due to magazine capacity. These little carbines will usually hold ten rounds in the magazine. The longer cartridges like the .30-30 will limit a carbine to seven cartridges. Plus the .30-30 kicks more, so recovery time is slower between shots. Also, a powerful rifle cartridge like the .30-30 will run a higher risk of over-penetration. That is when the bullet exits the target and can cause unwanted damage to whatever is beyond. This is a bad thing when you have friends, family or neighbors lurking about who you would prefer not to shoot.
The .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum cartridges are offered by several manufacturers with bullets that are designed for self-defense. Part of that design is to help minimize over-penetration.
While not even in the same class as a magazine fed, semi-auto rifle, these carbines can be reloaded relatively quickly and a partially empty magazine can be topped off. With practice a shooter can hit multiple targets surprisingly fast with these guns. Check out any Cowboy Action match and you will be amazed how fast those shooters can work a lever gun.
I prefer a peep sight over the traditional open sights that come with the gun. One of my Winchester 94, .44 Magnum carbines and my Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum both have Williams rear peep sights. Lyman also makes peep style sights for these rifles. You may want to install a red-dot or even a low power scope. The modern Marlins are drilled and tapped for optics. With their side ejection design they work very well with any top mounted optic. The later production Winchester Model 94 carbines in .44 Magnum made before the New Haven plant closed were drilled and tapped as well. They have the angle eject feature to allow mounting a scope. The current reproduction Winchester Model 92 rifles do not allow easy scope mounting. Most of the imported guns follow the original Winchester design and will be difficult to fit with an optic.
Make no mistake; the lever action is old technology and they are not even close to being as effective as a magazine fed, semi-auto like the AR-15. But if you live where American freedom is no longer recognized and realize that you must have something to protect yourself and your family, consider the lever action alternative.