Guns Rifles

Podcast: The Time of the Lever Gun Is Now

Not only have lever-gun designs from the 1890s managed to remain relevant for 130 years, they’re better than ever
Tyler Freel Avatar
A man in a camo sunshirt and hood leans a lever-action rifle against a tree as he prepares to shoot.

The author shoots the new Smith & Wesson model on the range at Gunsite. The lever gun is not just surviving, it's thriving. Photo by Scott Einsmann

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You might think that the cutting edge of bolt-action and gas-gun technology is impressive, but the lever gun’s tenure as one of America’s favorite hunting rifles is an equally stunning testament to the concepts and designs of some of our very first repeating rifles. 

The 2024 Outdoor Life gun test showed us just how relevant the lever gun still is, and that some gun makers are devoting the time and attention to crafting the highest quality production lever-action specimens we’ve ever seen. These guns are better made, incorporate more user-friendly features, and they’re more versatile than ever. 

A New Sheriff In Town?

Marlin has been one of the biggest players in the lever action world for many decades, and after being drawn from the ashes of the Remington bankruptcy by Ruger, the company has made a huge comeback. In fact, Marlin had award-winning submissions in our previous two gun tests. Marlin has been making its rifles with better function and more precise attention to detail than they ever did before — arguably becoming the uncontested top dog of lever action rifles. That is, uncontested until now.

Loading a cartridge into the Smith and Wesson 1854 in .44 Magnum
The Smith & Wesson 1854 in .44 Mag. is a well designed and executed lever gun. Photo by Scott Einsmann

“No one had a newly-designed lever gun from Smith and Wesson on their bingo card for 2024,” says OL shooting editor John B. Snow, in this week’s episode.

This .44-magnum-chambered lever gun made waves at SHOT Show 2024, but we reserved judgment until we could test it for ourselves. Within a day on the range, the Smith & Wesson 1854 grabbed the test team’s attention. It’s hard to find anything wrong with this rifle, including the great price. Is Smith & Wesson going to take over the lever-gun market? That remains to be seen, but Marlin and Henry certainly have a new competitor in the arena.

Classical to Tactical: The Lever Gun Will Never Die

If anything is apparent from the field of lever rifles in 2024, it’s that American hunters and shooters will always have an appetite and practical use for the platform. In addition to the Marlin and Smith & Wesson rifles, we tested lever actions from Chiappa/Taylor’s & Co., Henry, and Winchester. Other companies such as Aero Precision and Stag Arms are even jumping in with variations of their own. 

Read Next: The Best Lever-Action Rifles

We see traditional cowboy-style lever guns, wood-stocked New England brush rifles like the Marlin 336, fully tactical-ized rifles like the Marlin 1895 Dark, and everything in between. The Chiappa-made 1892 Alaskan Takedown is a top-ejecting stainless .44 Mag. that can be broken down and stowed in your go bag or backpack, and the octagonal-barreled Henry .22 is the silhouette gun of your dreams. 

Many guns come and go, and trends rise and fall, but the lever-action rifle has endured the shifting winds since the days of Lincoln, and it’s here to stay. 

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