Ever since the Emperor of America was elected I've noticed that there has been a nearly unprecedented rush for every single item that propels a projectile made of metal that anyone can get their hands on. Many have had the (reasonable) fear that he might try to confiscate some of those pea-shooters, for the public good of course, and leave us vulnerable to the predators of our streets and politicians who don't care quite as much as they say. The result has been endless surges of new and old shooters alike clamoring for firearms that they can use to effectively fight off invaders, Nazis, zombies, Nazi zombies, criminals and giant catfish.
Good grief, the only section of the economy that hasn't been absolutely ravaged by federal incompetence, not for a lack of trying mind you, has been the firearm and ammunition market. The companies from mom and pop to multi-national corporate levels haven't had a prayer of keeping up with demand.
The most popular choice by far has been the all-famous AR-15, the firearm equivalent of a set of Legos due to its unbelievable modular capabilities. However, its popularity has also resulted in it being almost impossible to procure, along with any cartridge it's chambered in, not to mention the ones left being extremely expensive. This has left many people, mostly newer shooters or those with a tight budget, feeling left out. What other long gun can they rely upon to fight everything from mice to aliens? Well, if you happen to fall into this category, worry not! There is an alternative, one that is often overlooked, but will only be for your benefit. This is the lever action rifle.
The old lever action rifle is the great-grand daddy of all combat firearms, and has virtues that still make it relevant today. While it isn't the same as an AR decked out to the ear canals with bells and whistles, it has other advantages that rarely show up in specs. So take a seat and listen to some of the things I've learned.
First off, your average tube-magazine lever gun is almost always going to be cheaper than a decked out semi-auto. In fact, for one thousand dollars you can afford a decent lever gun, add new sights, a sling, ammo, a shell carrier and an ammo pouch. An AR off the shelf will usually hit you for around 1,500 dollars, depending on the manufacturer and dealer, although I know some reach higher than that. That isn't counting modifications, ammo, magazines, parts, flashlights, lasers, water purifiers, ice cream dispensers and coat racks that have become common. It's a wonder some ARs don't need a cell phone tower to update shooting tips!
So if you have a budget that doesn't allow for messing around then I hopefully have your attention.
Alright, you ask, cheap is one thing, but what else does it have to offer? I'm glad you asked! They are very compact, take up very little space, and if you have ammo, they will work. You don't have to worry about gas problems, jams and not having magazines. Wonderfully simple. I also love the virtue of being able to top off the tube magazine without disabling it. Many firearms are effectively disarmed the moment you go to reload. Bolt actions are out of the conflict the second you open the bolt to top them off just out of virtue of how they work. It's difficult to keep track of how much ammo you have with semi-autos due to the fact that you can't tell how much ammo is in each magazine without taking shells out and counting, and if you have a dozen half used mags you have an absolute logistical nightmare. With break open long guns you are dead to the world until you close them up. Not for lever guns! In fact lever guns, pump action shotguns, and pump action rifles with tube magazines all have the virtue of being reloadable without disabling the action. The moment you have a lull you can slip a few shells through the loading gate and still be ready to roll if something unexpected comes around the corner. Slower to load, sure, but difficult to be caught with your pants down. Coupled with the fast action you can keep up a very steady rate of fire under almost any circumstances.
One thing I love about classic built lever guns is that they are so easy to handle and keep ammo for. Semi-autos, while they are amazing with switching out magazines to keep putting bad guys down, have the natural consequence of having to lug around dozens of magazines. I've seen chest rigs just for carrying around spare mags, and they look heavy! Also makes it a bit challenging to carry other stuff. I'm not trying to knock on semi-autos, as they are darned good for a reason, but they also have their limitations. For my lever gun, I have a small MOLLE pouch that I hook to my belt, this pouch to be exact. http://www.511tactical.com/66-pouch.html
You know how many shells I can fit into that little thing? Two hundred and fifty. Just on my hip. An AR user, with thirty round mags with a good rig can usually carry around three hundred bullets. Oh, they can carry a heck of a lot more than that, but cripes they take up space and weight! My little rig alone carries a large capacity, while not weighing much. I can tote around a pack and other gear and not be heavily loaded! Especially out on the trail, it's far easier to walk around in. I can also dig into the pouch for reloads easy.
There are many different models out there for you to choose, but I'll keep it to the basic tube magazine models.
Rossi here has a large selection of 1892 carbines, a very strong stout design that will serve well.
You can find the omnipresent Winchester 94 carbine almost anywhere from gun shows, pawn shops, online auctions, everywhere. The reason there were over seven MILLION of these rifles produced is because they're just so darned versatile and steadfast. It's not unusual to find them for as low as 300$, which is a good price. They are reasonably accurate within their range and are as reliable as the rising sun. In fact, these are so common and reasonable that I find difficulty in reasoning why I shouldn't have one!
It's closest competitor, the Marlin 336, is an equal, if slightly more expensive. I won't describe all the differences between the two here, just because I don't want to drone on for too long for one post. I may comment on them later however.
The Marlin 1894 is one of the models I have, and it's an extremely dandy carbine. These things are darned hard to get ahold of, so much so that I attribute acquiring my model directly to divine intervention. If you see a model in 357 Magnum chambering, pick it up! I mean it! Or hold onto it and sell it to me!
There are also the new Marlin 308 and 338 long guns, an attempt to match the typical range of far shooting bolt actions. While I still feel the jury is out on these newer ones, they seem reasonable for longer distances, although they wouldn't be my first choice, mostly out of virtue that they have longer barrels and their ammo isn't nearly as easy to get ahold of as things like 30-30s or 357's.
Besides the carbines there are also the big framed pill-pushers, the Marlin 1895 and the Winchester 1886. Both have very strong frames chambered in huge hunting cartridges such as my beloved 45-70, 444 Marlin, 450 Marlin, and other but obsolete bison cartridges. These are meant more for hunting very big game than for anything else, but can attend to other jobs in a pinch. Just be careful if you have one of these dinosaur slayers for home defense; even low powered loads in any of these cartridges will go through any intruder, his two pals standing behind him and still have the risk of penetrating through the walls and into someone who you didn't mean to hit. They also don't hold quite as much as some of the carbines, but even so they are well worth having around.
It's important to remember that even today with fast firing semi-autos and one hundred round beta magazines that these ancestors are just as potent today as they were one hundred years ago. In some ways they are even more powerful today than back then: We have better burning powders, advanced and highly specialized bullets and far superior optics. They are still fully capable of stopping bad guys and defending the homestead in this modern era just as effectively as back when horses and trains were still the primary modes of transportation.
I hope that this has gotten the attention of some prospective gun buyers and users and has given a decent insight to some of the advantages of the oldest combat rifle still around. Later on I'll give more detailed information on modifications you can make, how to use lever guns appropriately and effectively, and general shooting tips.