Monday, February 18, 2013
More lever-action rifle considerations
Following my recent posts about lever-action rifles, I've had a few more queries come in from readers wanting to know whether a pistol-cartridge carbine, or one chambered for a rifle cartridge, is more suitable for their needs. It's hard to give a 'one-size-fits-all' answer to this question, as much will depend on the circumstances of the individual user.
First, what will be the primary purpose of this rifle? If it's for target practice and fun plinking, a .22LR lever-action rifle or carbine (such as, for example, one of those offered by Henry Repeating Arms - there are many more available from other manufacturers) is relatively low-cost, much cheaper to feed with ammo (particularly in today's economy!), and has no discernible recoil to speak of. What's not to like?
For defensive use, a pistol-caliber cartridge gains several hundred feet per second in velocity when fired from a carbine or rifle, and its muzzle energy can more than double, making it a very viable short-range defensive or hunting weapon. Note my emphasis on short-range! Such cartridges fire shorter, stubbier bullets than true rifle cartridges, making them less ballistically efficient. They slow down faster and are more subject to wind and other effects. These factors make their effective range less than that of a true rifle round. On the other hand, you can cram more of the shorter pistol cartridges into a lever-action rifle's magazine. A typical 16"-20"-barrel .30-30 rifle can hold five to six rounds in its magazine. A typical .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum lever-action rifle can hold eight to ten rounds in the magazine.
A rifle round like the .30-30 can reach out over longer distances than pistol cartridges, and will penetrate deeper than most of them in either game animals or through cover and concealment, such as a vehicle body. I regard the .30-30 as a 200-yard cartridge, meaning that once I've sighted in my rifles, I can hold dead-on my point of aim and be sure that the round will impact within 3" above or below that point, at any range out to 200 yards. If I allow a suitable amount of hold-over, I'm confident I can make hits out to 300 yards if necessary. I won't use my .357 Magnum carbine beyond 75-100 yards for preference, and my 44 Magnum carbine beyond 100-125 yards, due to their less efficient ballistics. It doesn't mean that they won't be effective at longer ranges, but they'll be less so than a rifle round, and I'll be less sure of making a telling hit with them.
I regard pistol-caliber lever-action rifles and carbines as extremely effective defensive weapons in an urban scenario, where typical ranges are likely to be measured in tens or scores of yards and long-range shots are seldom required. I regard the .30-30 as a superb defensive round on the road and in more rural situations, where its more efficient ballistics, longer effective range and greater penetrating power can come into their own. (I'll use the .30-30 very comfortably in an urban setting too, but I know its limitations in terms of over-penetration and lower magazine capacity, and can compensate for them. Someone with less training and/or experience might be better advised to be more cautious.)
I don't recommend cartridges such as the .35 Remington, .38-55 Winchester, .444 Marlin or .45-70 Government for urban defensive use. They'll typically over-penetrate in human beings, offering too much risk of injury to innocent persons beyond your target; in fact, they're powerful enough that they may shoot through a typical suburban frame-and-siding home from end to end, if they don't strike a frame or other solid obstacle. Also, they're larger, longer cartridges, meaning that magazine capacity is reduced. However, they're excellent short- to medium-range hunting rounds, proven effective over many years - in some cases, well over a century of use. For that purpose, they'll serve you well.
As far as I'm concerned, if you can afford only one lever-action weapon, buy one best suited to your environment and the use you intend for it, as discussed above. If you can afford more than one, buy a range of weapons suitable for any or all of the above scenarios, and have fun! Under such circumstances, I recommend giving a high priority to buying at least one .22LR carbine and using it as a training weapon. You can set out reduced-size targets at 25 to 50 yards range, representing normal-sized targets at longer ranges, and get practice that'll be every bit as effective as using a larger-caliber weapon, but for a fraction of the cost in ammunition.