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.



Anonymous said...

"....pistol-caliber cartridge gains several hundred feet per second in velocity when fired from a carbine or rifle...."

True only for revolver cartridges; while they will gain 25-30% in velocity, semi-auto pistol ammunition will gain only about 5%. This is due to the burn rate of powder used in semi-auto cartridges to generate sufficient recoil to cycle a handgun action in conjunction with a short (pistol length) barrel. For example, ten inches appears to be the optimum barrel length for the 45 ACP cartridge; much beyond that length and velocity gains are negated by the friction of a longer barrel. (I'm not aware of any lever action rifles chambered for rimless pistol cartridges, but there are some old Marlin Camp Carbines floating around in 9MM and 45ACP, and Kel-Tec and High Point are making pistol-caliber semi-auto carbines, all of which by federal law must have barrels at least 16 inches in length).

There are also box magazine-fed lever rifles, such as Browning's BLR, which is available only in several full power rifle calibers. Magazine capacity is usually 3-4 rounds, but offer the ability to carry magazines with different ammunition in the rifle's caliber.

One version of the BLR is available as a take-down version, allowing the rifle to be transported in a much shorter case.

Wild West Guns in Anchorage, AK and Las Vegas, NV, offers custom gunsmithing, and can convert nearly any Marlin lever rifle into a take-down (they also sell an excellent, and robust, ghost ring sight for the Marlins).

One big advantage to lever rifles is their lower cost - compared to "Evil Black Rifles" such as the AR-15, AR-10, FAL, M1A, etc. - allows a "New York Reload" - which is nothing more than a second gun.

At today's pricing, it's possible to buy 3 lever rifles for the cost of one AR-15; A 20" barreled Marlin 1894 in 44 magnum zeroed at 155 yards has a maximum point blank range of 185 yards (using 8.5" X 11.0" copy paper as a target) and holds 11 rounds - 10 in the tubular magazine and one in the chamber. While tubular magazines are slow to reload, picking up a second gun, and maybe a third, is the fastest reload yet. There's also an advantage to having multiple identical guns - they use the same ammunition and one set of spare parts fits all of them.

Another big advantage to lever rifles is low-information voters see an AR-15 and think "OMG, a machine gun" because the media has conditioned them to that response. A lever rifle slung over your shoulder comes across as "John Wayne cowboy movie."

Speaking of cowboys, the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting has bred a number of gunsmiths who can work magic on lever rifle actions to smooth them and make the gun more reliable.

Jerry said...

Good advice on the .22 trainer. My Marlin 39A is set-up with the same XS ghost ring sights that are on my 336, and makes for low cost practice.

Three Marlins in my gun safe (an 1894C in addition to the 39A and 336) as well as a Rossi 1892 in .45 Colt that was tuned up by Steve Young (AKA Nate Kiowa Jones).

I would trust any of the lever guns in a self-defense role (even the 39a with its large magazine capacity), but I still have a couple of AR15s as go to guns.

Kermit said...

My vote is for a Browning or Rossi/Taurus/Etc made clone of the Winchester 1892, chambered in either .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. The .44 Magnum is a fairly ubiquitous round, generally easy to find, and powerful enough to cause any predator, four footed or two, to rethink things after getting hit. Out of a lever-gun, it's fairly analogous to the .30-30, although with a slightly shorter range and slightly heavier punch. One can use perfectly capable .44 Special for "social" work, although the softer, shorter .44 can be harder to find than its big brother.

Or you can go for one of the Rossi/Puma 92 clones in .454 Casull. While the .454 ammo is harder to come by, it's significantly more powerful than the .44 Magnum, giving the shooter a LOT more range and "oomph" to their rifle. As a bonus, for close-in work and plinking, these rifles can also shoot the .45 Long Colt, which is perfectly capable of social work. A handloader can develop loads anywhere in between these, giving this rifle greater flexibility, if a more uncertain ammo supply, than its .44 Magnum twin.

Anonymous said...

While I still like my Model 94 in 32 Winchester Special, my first choice would be a Savage Model 99 in 243, 250-3000, 300 Savage or 308.

The rifle is more accurate and you can find them with detachable magazines.


Stretch said...

I've a Winchester '94 in .45LC that pairs with a New Vaquero.
Gentle with cowboy loads and still easy with hot CorBon loads.
An excellent home defense weapon.

The Great and Powerful Oz said...

I don't care what you think, I still want a 45-70. Just because.

MikeS said...

A useful lever action in pistol caliber would be a rifle chambered in .44 Magnum, at least in MI. In the southern half of the lower peninsula, rifles (other than muzzleloading)were forbidden in deer hunting. Recent changes permit them, as long as they are straight-walled and less than proscribed cartridge length. .44 Mag is acceptable.
Also, the Big Bore m94 Winchester in .375 Win (mot magnum, it is essentially a higher-velocity/ -pressure .38-55) makes for a fine lever rifle. It is a straight-walled .30-30-based cartridge, and its brass can be made by firing .30-30 ammo through it and fire-forming the brass into its chamber. 200-grain loadings are common, and it is very handy with very little recoil.