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The Versatile, Time-Tested Survival Rifle You Likely Overlooked

The Versatile Survival Weapon You Likely Overlooked

Teddy Roosevelt’s Winchester 1894. Image source: Guns.com

In the world of survival and prepping, the best rifle you could own is a tactical semi-automatic chambered for a common round that is reliable and accurate, and that will get as many rounds as you need down range.

By all means, it is vitally important that you train extensively with a semi-automatic-rifle as it is perhaps the most important go-to weapon that you can have.

Many recommendations suggest that you have at least one semi-automatic 5.56x45mm or .308 rifle, a .22 LR rifle, 12 gauge shotgun, and a handgun in a common chambering. But one weapon that is often overlooked is the lever-action rifle.

After all, a lever-action rifle is not tactical, either in appearance or in mechanisms, it has a limited magazine capacity and slow reloading times, and supposedly doesn’t serve any real purpose when you have your AR-15 and a big-game hunting rifle with you.

So why, then, would you want to consider owning a lever-action rifle? There are actually several reasons.

A lever-action rifle doesn’t have anything close to the firepower capabilities of an AR or an AK, so it’s not the weapon you would want in a combat scenario. But having a rifle that’s not tactical could work to your advantage. In a grid-down situation, you don’t want to stand out. Keeping your AR or AK concealed under a blanket and keeping your lever-action rifle slung over your back doesn’t attract much attention, and people may assume that you’re just as desperate as they are and therefore not worth bothering. But even in the event that someone does try to attack you, you have more than an adequate self-defense weapon.

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The lever-action rifle is also an excellent truck gun. They are short (carbine length), slim, light, rough and don’t have a magazine sticking out. Putting a .30-30 in the back of your truck or car with a box or two of ammo will ensure that it’s hidden and will always keep you comforted knowing that you’re keeping a decent survival rifle with you at all times.

Lever-action rifles will get the job done when it comes to hunting, and are more than adequate self-defense weapons. If you don’t have a rifle of any kind in your vehicle, consider a lever-action rifle.

Most lever actions are chambered in .45-70, .30-30, .44 magnum or .357 magnum/.38 special.  Having the handgun round in your rifle will simplify things if you pack a revolver with you, as you only need to carry one caliber. The .30-30 is also an excellent deer-hunting round and one of the most plentiful non-military calibers available. Any sporting goods store will have more than enough .30-30 shells for sell. And the .45-70 is a powerful, hard-hitting round that is used for hunting grizzly bear and moose, and it will drop anything you need it to in North America.

Presently, the two most common lever actions are the Winchester 1894 and the Marlin 336, the 1894 being one of the most popular sporting rifles of all time. The major difference between the two: The shells eject out the top of the Winchester, and out the side of the Marlin. Which one should you buy? It’s a matter of personal preference. Both are of nearly equal size, quality and reputation. Other brands do make lever-action rifles, but if you want something that’s tried and true, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with the Winchester or the Marlin.

The lever-action rifle continues to hold a valid place as a valuable weapon in today’s world. No, it is not the combat rifle that an AR or an AK is. But at the same time, that’s not why you would buy a lever-action rifle, either. Lever-action rifles are affordable, are an excellent truck and/or survival rifle, and will attract less attention in the event of a grid-down or other disaster situation. And beyond that, they are some of the most fun guns to shoot.

What do you consider to be the strengths of lever-action rifles? Leave your reply in the section below:   

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29 comments

  1. There is nothing wrong with a lever action rifle for defense. there is also nothing stopping you reloading “on the run”. I am not a fan of the.30-30 caliber, and prefer the .45-70. The all important thing is to get to know your rifle! Remember the old saying, “beware the one gun man”.

    • I’m with you on this. Beware because he/she may know how to use it.

    • I received a .30 WCF that used to belong to my grandpa. If it wasn’t for the family passing down possessions to younger generations that can keep special things in the family…this tends to make me hang on to it. I have a Henry Yellow boy chambered in .22 Magnum. Those are the only lever action rifles I own, but I don’t stop with just two guns, but prying eyes keeps me from telling all. No what I mean, Vern?

    • I don’t necessarily agree with this statement as written. I believe “Beware of the one gun man” originated back in the day were most were not serious collectors of firearms and one gun was used for serious practical purposes. Today, if you only own one gun you most likely wouldn’t practice with it to the extent that a gun collector would. A gun collector has a serious interest in firearms, more so than some one who only owns one firearm. I am a collector myself, but during SHTF I would only use one gun. This is the one I practice with the most. In my case, it’s going to be “Beware of the one SHTF gun man”. The remainder of my collection are going to be safe queens in SHTF.

  2. Lever guns were the gun that won the west. The Winchester 94 was introduced in 1894 and built around the 30_30 that was the first real high powered smokeless powder cartridge . Marlin and colt also built lever guns.
    As far as modern guns, the 30-30 is still a great round, shop around for heavy bullets like 150 to 180 grins for hunting deer and large animals and light bullets around 100 to 120 and the gun will really start to reach out.

    The 30 cal is really .308 in diameter, the same as 30-06 and anything 7.62 military. You could pull bullets out of a mosin magant round , file the tip flat and reload it into a 30-30 case. In a pinch I guess if you had to , same primers too. You would have to check what powder you have and adjust accordingly.

    Pistol cartridges are tested for velosity usually with a 4 or 5 inch barrel , unless otherwise noted. Often in large caliber ,357, .44 mag…, the powder is not all burned which reduces the bullets potential velocity. By example, it takes 14 to 16 inches of barrel to burn all the powder in a 9 mm luger.. Giving the pistol cartridge room to use all its potential really wakes it up.
    At 50 – 60 yards my .44 mag carbine will blow holes in rail road ties. I have never seen an assault rifle do that.

    An advantage of pistol cartrages is the shot length, so the rifle will hold more of them, and with the side loading gate you can replace every spent shot at any time. With a clip you have to remove the clip and add or put half full clip away for later, which is fine unless you in a drawn out a fair and have to start feeding you half empty clips. If you loose you clips you have a single shot assault rifle… Not cool ever.

    • that first part is only partly true. mosins have a bore size of .311 and will shave off the jackets inside your bore if you would try that. I would amend the statement to be most 7.62 military ammo, and even more specifically American. brittish .30s tend to be .310, Russian .311 where as all American .30s are .308.

  3. Many things to like about the levergun- It’s light, compact & easy to carry. It’s appearance isn’t alarming, many people remember a Red Ryder BB gun or the Rifleman & other TV westerns. With practice, it’s not hard to get 10 shots downrange quickly & accurately with a handgun caliber model. No magazines to damage or lose or laboriously reload if you don’t have many spares. If you snap off 3 or 4 shots, you can quickly top off the magazine with rounds from a pocket or pouch or belt. If I were facing a charging mob of a dozen crazed looters I’d rather have the semiauto high cap. .308 but sneaking around in the woods I wouldn’t feel at all handicapped with the levergun.

    • The solution to that “problem” is purchase a $3.00 .38 chamber brush, not a cleaning brush, a chamber brush. It’s oversized and it’ll clean the powder fouling ring, left by the shorter case. Works great and it’s cheap.

  4. Based on my experience, don’t use 38 Special rounds in a 38/357 rifle. The shorter 38 Special round will foul the chamber and cause 357 rounds to jam. Not a problem if you only shoot 38 Special rounds. From now on, I will only use 357 ammo in my rifle.

  5. the best rifle in the world, simple, rugged, inexpensive, will fire when covered w/ mud, sand, easy to maintain is the AK 47.
    these are the reasons it is the most used rifle in the world.
    much better than a highly machined, expensive rifle that is difficult to maintain and will jam at the first opportunity, the M 16.
    I spent many years in spec ops, and in RVN.

  6. A lever gun is good to carry in those restrictive states, they are socially less offensive.
    Let me start by saying I carry a concealed handgun 100% of the time, a Sig 228 with CT grips.
    I do carry in my Cherokee, a 94 Wini in 30/30 with 60 rounds of Leverloution.
    The rifle is parkerized and has a Redfield peep sight, also an M1Garand sling.
    This is my supplemental piece to get home with.
    I carry this one because it is cheap, $55.00 total cost with a new barrel (my labor).
    It is an 1951 production, stay away from the post 64’s the IMO junk, the newer the junkier, I know I have to work on them (gunsmith). The ammo is on uncle mikes bandoliers in a g&g bag.
    I also have a scoped Marlin 1894 in .357 mag. An older gun with no cross bolt safety, great rifle but worth too much to drag around, good as a small game collector. If I have to use a rifle for defense, I want it in rifle caliber, 7.62 NATO, 5.56 NATO, 7.62X39 or 30/06.
    If I have an idea of possibly going in harms way, I will replace the 30/30 with a M4 carbine, 5,56 Galil
    or an AK.
    For the normal times, the lever will fit nicely.

    • Perhaps everyone has overlooked a very useful lever action rifle that covers many needs and is available in .308. The venerable Savage model 99.
      It is slightly more expensive than a Wincheser but, has lower percieved recoil and accuracy is better than most 94’s.
      I have been in the firearms business for over 40 years and know one cannot mention any particular firearm someone won’t take issue with.
      If there was one perfect gun the world would be a different place.

  7. They also come in .45 long colt. If you are impressed by the .44 this should really wake you up. A pistol/rifle combo in the same caliber used to be the “go to” guns in post civil war California. There were .41/410 pistols and re-barreled Winchesters carried commonly because the 410 was an excellent snake killer. Old timers used to take down grizzlies with the .41 and .44 carbines.

    Rossi makes a good .45 model 92 winchester copy in stainless steel. New for around $500-600, 20in barrel.

  8. I have a Rossi R92 Stainless 16″ barrel chambered in .357 Magnum. It is my go to medium game rifle when hunting in areas where visibility is only 50-75 yards and the brush is thick. Great gun, shoots very well with iron sights. Benefit of this rifle is that it will also shoot .38 Special and it shares ammo with nicely with my Taurus Revolver.

    This gun also small enough to slide easily under your jacket when you don’t want other to know you are armed.

    Only drawback on this model is that it only hold 8-9 rounds (9 .38 Special, 8 .357 Magnum) so combining it with a matching caliber revolver (or 2) is a good thing to do.

    This will become a valuable survival combo after all the AR/AK diehards have expended all their ammo when the world goes dark.

    Took a 5 point buck with it last year, dropped him where I shot him. Shot placement and not the number of rounds is what makes the difference.

    Don’t get me wrong though, I also have military grade high capacity rifles and carbines too. Just some days you want to be a Cowboy 🙂

  9. All weapons have the potential to be tactical, it’s just a matter of your strategy. If your strategy is to take a bunch of guys with mediocre marksmanship skills and stand them up rank and file so you can run a battle like a chess game, then yes semi auto rifles with large magazines are a requirement. But if you have a group that has excellent marksmanship skills and good to excellent back woods skills, even a bow and arrow or an old muzzle loader can be a tactical advantage if deployed correctly. Secondly as stated earlier, but it’s worth reiterating, a lever gun chambered in .357, .44, .30-30 or larger has the same if not better range than the current issue .223 with better knock down power and takes fewer rounds to put an enemy out permanently. And you don’t have to wait till the magazine is empty to reload, any time you can get behind cover for a few seconds you can stuff some fresh rounds into the gun. Also a lever gun is a simpler machine to maintain, repair, and build, which means that they’ll remain operational longer in an EOTWAWKI situation.

  10. Though I do REALLY enjoy my 30-30 for a general overall home defense / ranch gun, I will have to say the first timeI discharge my .700 nitro express I will watch my first target come apart in a red mist, and I ask who’s next many refuse to volunteer.

    • For us aging Nam era Vets who can’t run with the wolverines anymore, I always have fresh in my memory the scene from the classic John Ford movie,”They were expendable”. You know, the scene where the ole codger who runs the Boat and repair yard, refuses to join the ragtag sailors as they retreat from the approaching jap invaders. He states that he’s been there for 40 years and he ain’t leavin! He sits down on his steps with a double barrel, takes a pull from a jug and stares at the jungle in the direction of their approach! Even as a YOUNG man, I always loved that scene and NOW, I understand it! De Oppresso Liber.

  11. There are in fact 3 or more contenders for the “gun that won the west. The double barreled shotgun, the lever action rifle, and the Colt Single action Army.
    I would like to see a Colt Lever Action from the High Victorian era. I know they made a very nice pump action rifle called the Lightening.
    The .410 guage shotgun cartridge is the same caliber as the .45, not the .41.
    For a while, the most popular rifle/pistol combo was in .44-40 caliber.
    As far as the surviving rifle caliber lever guns, I too would go with the .30-30, especially if I was shooting zombies.
    I have seen the Marlins set up with polymer stocks, and picatinny rails.
    I wish Marlin or Winchester would see fit to have a Rifle length barrel as an option, versus the more common carbine length.

  12. OK I generally enjoy the articles posted on this site and overall I appreciate this article. BUT the following quote has to be the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a LONG time! Seriously?

    “But having a rifle that’s not tactical could work to your advantage. In a grid-down situation, you don’t want to stand out. Keeping your AR or AK concealed under a blanket and keeping your lever-action rifle slung over your back doesn’t attract much attention, and people may assume that you’re just as desperate as they are and therefore not worth bothering.”

    The grid is down. People are desperate. They look across a field at your property and decide “oh we don’t want to mess with this guy. He can’t have anything of value because he just has a 30/30.

    That is an incredibly stupid premise.

    • I actually disagree, I am not prepping for anything except trying to pay rent. But I learned and come from a country background and appreciate reviews I see in these articles. However I feel if you go either way what one person is thinking can and will often direct t the outcome of a hostile or combat situation.. Surprise bitch I got A K or the person having concerns about your well-being itself you never know. So to write this off as hog wash or to downplay the mental game of survival/combat I’ll believe is a personal flaw that could be fatal. Weapons alone cannot win or lose hours to think if victory or to anticipate loss control one’s objectives one way or another. So as you go attack the guy at the lever action and his amigos bless you with the Canon from my side as my dad used to say they showed you how the cow ate the cabbage

  13. If you look through the history of what has killed which animal more than any other, 22 LR has dropped more deer with the 30 30 right behind, both fantastic lever guns, Marlin being the most versatile and affordable, take your pick of which caliber from 22 through 450. If it were me and I had to rely on one lever gun for survival based on affordability, popular ammo, whether or not I need to be a scrounger, self defense, it would be a 22. Add to it, I can use it in a revolver or automatic pistol. For those of you who don’t think it can’t kill used in the role of self defense, ask Robert Kennedy. In so far as procuring groceries, I’ve dropped antelope and mule deer with one.. It’s not how big the caliber is. It’s where you put the bullet. There’s my answer.

  14. I have been a person who believes in being prepared since the early seventies and I guess would be considered an old man now . The mod 94 Winchester is a good firearm if used properly and within its limitations .It was designed for the man who worked in the outdoors or played in the outdoors regularly . It is a light weight handy repeating firearm designed and built to be more powerful and accurate than any of the hand guns of the time .In the 30/30chambering it still is more powerful and accurate than most actual carry handguns today. Most people never think that in survival scenario the powers in charge can and will confiscate what is known as assault type firearms.Read post Katrina reports . Now the mod 94 can be kept unloaded and because of design of action a round can be dropped in the chamber and put into battery quickly in the dark and with proper technique loaded and kept loaded in a defensive situation. It is not considered or is it an assault weapon it is a fire arm that was designed for the farmer,rancher ,provider and protector of the late 1800 early 1900 time frame . I hope most people don’t catch on to how useful and effective it is so I can keep adding to my collection and keep buying cheep ammo .Oh yea if you do decide on the trusty 94 learn to use it by practicing not reading and learn what parts tend to break and how to repair it .Levering a round into the chamber can be a great psychological deterrent .But then again I am an old man and still carry S.W hand ejector 32/20 as a back up to my 94 so what do I know.

  15. A henry golden boy .22 lever rifle and a target .22 revolver are pretty foolproof in the bush. No springs, pins, FTE and the same ammo, which will shoot a rabbit, duck, goose, catfish, small doe or a zombie’s knee cap. And there are 133 bullets in every pound . OR you can carry that .308 rifle which has 19 bullets per pound and a .45 auto which has 21 bullets per pound. Maybe a shotgun that has 9 buckshot shells per pound. Yeah, I’ll probably sneak a 4″ .357 somewhere in my backpack, for a bear, zombie or a democrat sneaking into my tent. Speaking of which, I’ve never read a survivalist article where they suggest a battery motion detector. Amazon sells the unit for $16, size of a pack of smokes, scans 100′ and it will never doze off sitting in front of your tent flap or camper door.

  16. Well this article is good and bad.

    For one terms like tactical and assault are found in men not machines, the old saying is true too, if you’re going to be dumb you better be tuff.

    However a 1894 (especially a more expensive pre 1964) 30-30 has been known as the deadliest deer on earth for under 200yrd shooting, 3030 can be found anywhere and is more then able to take down most any living thing in North America.

    Add to that the carbine models are much better bush guns when compared even to a AR platform, they point way better and weigh less, which means you can more easily maneuver and carry, which is what it’s all about in a grid down world.

    If things ever when down, it’s the guy you don’t see, the guy who doesn’t need to put 20 rounds down range as fast as he can pull the trigger spraying and praying like a wannabe Rambo rookie.

    IMHO a 94 is in many ways the ideal off grid firearm.

  17. There are some good points in this article, but also some very silly ones. The notion that keeping your best weapon hidden (AR or AK) while brandishing a lever action might be safer is just plain absurd. If I’m openly carrying a rifle as a deterrent, I’ll go with my best one. While anyone who is unarmed or at least not armed with a firearm will likely view an AK-47 or a lever action as more than sufficient reason not to mess with you, anyone who is armed with a firearm is more likely to be intimidated if you are at least equally-well if not better armed than he/she is. So my opinion, when posturing defensively, go with your best weapon.

    This isn’t to say that a lever-action is useless as a defensive weapon and certainly not as a survival weapon. Any firearm that shoots can be used as either a survival or defensive weapon and any gun that shoots is better than no gun at all when your life is on the line.

  18. I’d be much more reluctant to get into a tussle with an experienced deer hunter with a beat-up iron sighted lever action than I would with someone who never did anything but shoot from a bench with an AR-15 range queen. The majority of real world is going to be quickly and accurately being able to place a shot at short range with the first shot being a hit. If you’re able to consistently place shots from the standing position into an 8-inch diameter pie-plate at 50 yards with an iron sighted rifle, you’re better prepared than most. I’ve got fading eyesight at age 67 and can’t do it at 50 yards but I can do it at 30 yards with an iron-sighted or scoped rifle. I don’t do this for the purposes of SHTF but for Eastern whitetail brush hunting where in most cases I can’t see beyond 30 yards because of heavy cover. But my goal is to never have to fire a shot at anyone or have anyone fire a shot at me. In most cases, this can be accomplished through intimidation with any firearm of reasonable stopping power. Choose any action you want but I would recommend sticking to a light weight repeater (semi, lever or pump) with a maximum barrel length of 20-inches, and any round between 357 magnum minimum and 30-06 maximum. That being said, I would have no problem whatsoever with a lever action 30-30.

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