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For Love of Lever Guns: Why We Still Hunt with This Classic Rifle 

Tips, tactics, and recipes for hunting deer with a lever-action rifle 

By: John B. Snow

Lever guns have a bit of magic to them. They were the first successful repeating long guns, and despite the advent of bolt-actions, slide-actions, and various semi-automatic rifle mechanisms since then, they are with us still. 

One reason we won’t part with our lever guns is that we hunters are nostalgic saps. There’s an undeniable romance associated with lever-actions. They are an indelible part of the mythology of the Old West and, along with checkered red wool jackets and pipes, no one can conjure an image of an old-time deer camp without a lever gun on the scene. 

But that alone isn’t enough to explain their enduring appeal. 

A well-made lever action is a thing to behold, with an intricate mechanism of pins, blocks, springs, and precisely machined metal that performs a perfectly-timed dance when the shooter throws the lever forward and back. That choreography takes place mostly out of view. We get glimpses of the wizardry: the hammer gets folded back and cocked as the bolt runs over the top of it; the lifter pops a fresh cartridge up from the magazine and guides it into the chamber. Mostly, it is something we hear and feel, the chunk-chunk as we cycle the lever and the tactile click as the action locks up. 

It’s a reassuring experience, that feeling of a well-made tool that’s up to the task, no matter if you’re sitting in a deer blind or wondering whether the grizzly that just materialized in the undergrowth is going to charge. 

Even more, few rifles, with the exception of some very fine bolt-guns, handle as well as lever actions. By their nature, lever actions are trim, light, and balance more naturally between the hands than other long guns. And, of course, there’s no finer saddle gun for hunting off horseback. The term “handy” is often used to describe them, but that doesn’t quite capture their grace and how well they conform to a shooter’s physiology—though one must be careful when mounting a scope so as not to throw off the rifle’s geometry. An optic mounted too high will compromise the liveliness of a lever-action, turning an excellent rifle into a clunker.

The videos here talk about some of these qualities, but also give some more practical information if you’re looking to get into the lever gun game. 

We live in a time where many people are looking for authentic experiences. This explains in part the growth in the field-to-table movement and the fascination with traditional archery. Lever-actions have this same appeal, which is part of that magic, as I called it, behind their lasting legacy. 

There’s no more authentic way to hunt with a centerfire than with a lever-action by your side. Whether you go with one of the old-school models or opt for a more modern configuration, a lever action is a conduit to a traditional type of adventure that, in my opinion, no other form of hunting can match. 


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