As I discussed in a recent AAR, at the 2018 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, I was able to attend Lee Weems’ block of instruction on the social applications of the lever action rifle. Accordingly, he calls his class “Social Levergun.” At the end of the class, Weems asked us whether we enjoyed the class and found the information useful. The purpose behind his question wasn’t self serving, rather, he was asking for an honest evaluation since he can’t seem to fill the class in his normal schedule of instruction. This is a shame, since the lever action is a perennial classic that remains a viable tool for short duration conflict.
To that point, as Weems discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the lever action rifle, one important consideration is that it is not well suited for long duration firefights. The barrel heats up quickly, and screws are prone to loosening since the rifle was designed for sporting use rather than sustained combat (indeed, after only forty rounds through my rifle, I needed to tighten two loose receiver screws). Having said that, very few situations involving civilians or even domestic law enforcement are actually sustained gunfights. (Chief Weems allows his deputies to carry the lever action as a patrol rifle.)
The above limitations aside, the lever action has several positive attributes that may very well outweigh the negatives, especially in the civilian context. Weems described these drawing on his own personal experiences. First of all, in many parts of the country, many families may already have an example tucked away in a closet that has been in the family for generations. And even when panic buying strips the racks of black rifles, one can probably find used lever guns still available. From a tactical standpoint, there is no appreciable sight offset at close ranges as is inherent with the AR, and there are a number of upgrades available for lever guns in terms of sights, accessories, and reliability enhancements. Furthermore, for the civilian involved in a gunfight with a rifle, the “jury of one’s peers” may find the levergun to be more familiar and less threatening than a “weapon of war.” As Weems pointed out, in popular culture, good guys used lever guns. (So did the bad guys, but nobody cares about that.)
As far as the actual shooting portion of the class is concerned, Weems teaches students how to keep the levergun running in a fight. The manual of arms is remarkably similar to a shotgun, with a comparable emphasis on keeping the rifle loaded and the magazine topped off. Weems discussed and demonstrated what he called “gunbox ready” (full magazine, empty chamber), emergency loading, and speed loading. Conceptually, if you can run a shotgun, you can run a levergun, although there are some unique nuances that can be attributed to the action being worked with a lever instead of a slide.
Like a shotgun, there are a variety of accessories available for lever actions. Side saddle ammunition carriers can be attached, butt cuffs of varying quality are available, and improved aftermarket sighting systems and reliability enhancements are prevalent. By way of example, I have added the XS Sights Lever Rail with ghost ring sights and a Hill People Gear Stock Cuff to my Marlin 336Y. In addition, I have installed a Wild West Guns Bear Proof Ejector. Finally, because I appreciate the original design of the gun, I have installed a Basic Safety Delete from Beartooth Mercantile. Especially after learning how to lower the hammer to the half-cock notch the way Weems teaches, I have no qualms about this last modification. With the exception of the Lever Rail, none of these modifications cost more than $40, and all were easy to install. All of the companies I list above offer several functional improvements for the lever action.
Near the end of our brief class, we had opportunity for an impromptu show and tell to look at some of the really impressive custom lever guns brought by some attendees. I don’t have the money for one, but a take-down modification (the Wild West Guns Co-Pilot is the prototypical example) is pretty slick. Another individual had a gun with the new Midwest Industries Marlin M-Lok Handguard. I’m not sure I have a need for that given the accessories available from XS Sights and Hill People Gear (and it doesn’t fit my rifle anyway), but it is an interesting and innovative development for the lever action rifle. Finally, there was at least one fully custom built gun on the line, and it was a keen example of fit and function (for the company mentioned in the linked YouTube video, follow this link).
I left Weem’s class convinced that the lever action is definitely still a viable choice for home defense or even duty use. Likewise, it makes an awesome truck gun, especially in it’s take-down configuration. I have a few “black rifles” available to me in my safe, but there are times and situations when I may actually prefer to reach for my lever action. Mine is short, handy, carries well, and is reasonably hard hitting with ballistics remarkably similar to the 7.62×39 (an actual assault rifle cartridge). It doesn’t hurt that lever actions are just fun to shoot, either.
If you have a lever action rifle that might be pressed into a fighting role, then I definitely think you should look up Lee Weems and his “First Person Safety” training company. His self-described “deep and abiding love” for the lever action is evident in his teaching. If you see his “Social Levergun” class offered, jump on it!