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By Nicholas Oetken

Although lever action rifles are typically thought of being obsolete in the 21st Century, there’s nothing wrong with using one for personal or home defense. Keep in mind, lever action rifles come in a variety of calibers were the primary home defense weapons by Americans in the late 1800s to early 1900s.


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We’ve largely upgraded to semi-automatics such as the AR-15 today, but there are many who don’t own these kinds of rifles. Instead, they may opt to purchase a cheaper lever action rifle or otherwise have inherited a lever action from a descendant. Regardless the case, if you have a lever action rifle and want to know why that rifle could serve you well as your primary home defense weapon, you’ve come to the right place.


Here is a video showing typical scenarios for using a lever action rifle:



The most common caliber for the lever action rifle is the .30-30 Winchester. This round was and remains one of the most popular hunting calibers in the United States. It offers plenty of stopping power for self-defense.



That being said, lever actions are chambered for other rounds too, such as the hard hitting .45-70 Government, or a pistol caliber such as .45 Long Colt, .44 Magnum, and .357 Magnum. Having a lever action carbine chambered in a pistol round could be a good idea if you have a revolver that carries the same ammunition. Meaning you only need to store one type of bullet (for instance, you could have a Marlin 1894 and a Ruger GP100 both chambered for .357 Magnum).  This versatility could make a lever carbine rifle a good choice for you.


Fast empty

While the lever action design is completely outclassed by semi-automatics, it’s still a far better choice for personal defense than a bolt action rifle. For one example, you can simply empty a lever action faster than you can a bolt action.


The reason why is because with a bolt action, you need to let go of the grip to run the bolt, and then cycle in a new round. With the lever action, you simply press the lever down and bring it back up again to chamber in a new round swiftly.


Tactical reloads

In my opinion a main reason the lever action is better than a bolt action is because you can conduct tactical reloads. The vast majority of lever action models have a loading gate on the side where you load rounds individually. In a gunfight, you can fire one or two rounds, and then load one or two rounds to ensure that your magazine is always topped off. With a bolt action, you either have a detachable box magazine, or you have to completely open the bolt to access the cartridges (and usually eject the cartridge in the chamber).



Finally, another benefit to the lever action is how slim, lightweight, and portable it is. Lever actions tend to be very narrowly designed rifles with no box magazine jutting out of the gun. Instead, the rounds are carried in a magazine tube that runs underneath the barrel. Carbines such as the Winchester 1894 and Marlin 336 are also supremely well balanced and easy to maneuver in tight places.


In short, a lever action carbine may not be the optimal choice for home defense, but there are still many advantages to it that don’t make it completely archaic. In my opinion, it is far better than bolt action or single shot guns for most personal defense uses.


Next, let’s see some upgrades that you can add to your ordinary lever action rifle to further boost its effectiveness as a defensive weapon.


Here is a sheriff with tips on using a lever action guns:


You may never have known that you could take the old, dusty Winchester 1894 or Marlin 336 in your closet that your grandfather left you (and convert it into a state-of-the-art tactical defensive rifle), but you most certainly can. Yes, it will still be a lever action at heart, but there are still a variety of improvements you will be able to make.


One such upgrade you can do is to add a scope or another kind of optic such as a red dot sight.  Granted, it’s harder to mount optics on rifles such as the Winchester 1894 where the rounds eject out of the top of the receiver, but it’s very easy to do on a Marlin 336. You can install a picatinny rail either over the receiver, or over the barrel and on which you can then add an optic. A night vision optic in particular would be very effective for defending your home at night.


Something else you can add to your rifle is a flashlight. When using a handgun, you can grip the gun in one hand and your flashlight in the other. With a rifle, however, you have to have both hands on the weapon in order to wield it properly. This is why you need a flashlight mounted onto your defensive rifle. Without it, you may not be able to see what you’re shooting at in the dark.


You don’t have to choose between adding a scope or a flashlight to your carbine. You can put rail mounts on the top of the gun and the side of the gun for both your scope and flashlight respectively.



Something else that you will really want to think about improving is the sights. The sights that come on factory standard lever actions tend to be very basic and designed for daylight shooting. They won’t do you much good for shooting in the dark.


Just as night sights are often advertised for pistols and semi-automatic rifles, you can easily purchase them for your lever action. An illuminated ghost ring rear sight with a fiber optic front sight will be your best choice here for night time shooting. Even if you don’t have the budget for actual night sights, you can improve your existing basic sights by carefully painting them with white or another bright color such as orange or light green.


The next improvement you definitely need to add to your rifle (one that many people make even if they don’t plan on using their lever action for tactical use), is a sling.  While a sling is not as important as the sights or a flashlight for defensive purposes, it’s still important to have a sling so you can keep the rifle over your back or shoulder instead of putting it on the ground after a shooting has taken place. While most lever actions don’t come with sling mounts, you can easily add one by buying it separately and then screwing it into the stock and the front end of the magazine tube.


The next upgrade to put on is a paracord wrap around the bottom part of the lever. This improvement is very cheap and can easily be done without the aid of a gunsmith. The primary purpose for adding the paracord to your lever is to provide a cushioning for your fingers when racking the gun.

Is it vital for home defense? No, but it is still a nice feature to have and something you will definitely appreciate if you do a lot of shooting on the range.

Ammo carrier

Last but not least, another highly recommended upgrade to your lever action rifle for defensive use is to add an ammo carrier to the stock. A major appeal to the lever action as a defensive tool is the ability to conduct tactical reloads like we discussed before (firing one or two rounds and then loading one or two rounds). To do this you need to have spare bullets in an easy to reach place.


A nylon stock sleeve with ammunition loops can be easily purchased for around ten to fifteen dollars and then quickly wrapped around the stock of your rifle. This will give you five, six, or seven spare rounds on hand.


Each of these upgrades will convert your ordinary lever action into an efficient and respectable home defense weapon.  Even if you can’t afford to make each of these improvements all at once, you can slowly add on each of them to your rifle over time.


Here is a video on cleaning your lever action rifle:


Should the lever action be anyone’s first choice for a home defense rifle? Considering that we have AR-15s and AK-47s today, no, it may not be.

For some folks whether by necessity or economic means, the lever action can easily be used as a primary home defense weapon for the reasons we just covered.  To make your lever action even more effective, take note of the improvements that we listed to optimize it to defend your family from burglars or home invaders.


In short, the lever action may be old, but it still fulfills certain needs today. Don’t feel underpowered in home defense if it’s the rifle that lets you sleep well at night.


The team is committed to providing hands-down some of the best survival advice you can find. Nick, Megan, Ryan, Dan and many others write daily articles that cover all aspects of preparedness.


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