The lever-action rifle has been offered in a wide variety of different platforms, firing pistol-caliber cartridges, rimfire cartridges, and heavy buffalo cartridges. The most useful lever-action rifles for most of us is a .30-30 Winchester Centerfire (.30-30 WCF, Trienka Trienka or just plain Thutty-Thutty).
A Mondragon self-loading rifle in .30-30 resides in the Museo del Ejercito Mexicano. I don’t know how Mondragon managed to convince the self-loading action to feed a rimmed cartridge, but then the man was a genius.
The natural home of the .30-30 is a quality lever-action rifle. The lever-action is flat, easily carried, and offers fast handling. The rifle is affordable. While designed primarily for hunting, the .30-30 is also a useful defensive rifle.
The first .30-30 lever-action was the Winchester 1894. This was a steel rifle, while most other early rifles were really iron and not well suited to smokeless powder. The new rifle and cartridge caught on fabulously in America.
It isn’t well known, but the rifle also saw considerable military use with the British Navy and the Canadian Rangers. The flat-shooting .30-30 immediately showed its superiority to the .44-40 WCF and .45-70 Govt. in common use.
The rifle is light, handy, and fast handling. The 1894 rifle features a top-ejecting bolt and an action with plenty of leverage. The rifle is a redesign with little in common with the earlier black powder rifles. The Winchester 1894 is easily the most proven of lever-action rifles as far as reliability.
The open sights do not offer the greatest accuracy potential, especially at ranges greater than 100 yards, which is true of any iron-sighted rifle. Lyman aperture sights, Skinner sights and Williams Firesights are all considerable upgrades.
The hammer-fired action is safe to handle, and the Winchester makes a fine hunting and emergency rifle. Late-model ‘angle-eject’ versions are more suited for scope mounting.
Today, the rifles are made in Japan of high-quality steel. For the traditional shooter, the Winchester 1894 has great appeal. The stocks are usually straight, however, special pistol-grip versions are sometimes seen. (More properly, semi-pistol grip.) Overall however, it is the least accurate of the modern .30-30 rifles.
A traditional rifle that has butted heads with the Winchester in sales for more than 70 years is the Marlin 336. The action isn’t as fast handling as the Winchester, but the Marlin is a very rugged rifle. The Marlin is out of production at present, with some new guns in stock here and there, and Ruger announcing they will begin producing Marlin rifles in the near future.
Ruger bought the assets of Marlin and hopefully will keep the line going.
New Marlin rifles differ in some particulars from the original, including the use of a manual safety. The action of the Marlin is more enclosed than the Winchester. The Marlin is considered by far the easiest rifle to mount a scope on due to its flat-top receiver.
As far as smoothness, reliability and handling, the Marlin 336 is a superb outdoors rifle. The Marlin’s history is written in the hunting field. The Marlin is an American icon.
In terms of absolute accuracy, the Marlin edges out the Winchester. Many Marlin .30-30 Winchester rifles are nearly as accurate as bolt-action rifles. If woods game or wild boar are the chore, and the shots may be limited to 100 yards, this isn’t as important.
The new guns are well made of good material. While the standard wood stock 336 is a fine all-around rifle, Marlin also offers black finished rifles with synthetic stocks. They are fine emergency rifles that are easy to mount with optics.
The Mossberg 464 was introduced just after the Winchester 1804 went out of production. The Mossberg 464 rifle looks a great deal like the Winchester 1894 at first glance. If you look more closely, the rifle is considerably updated.
The sights are superior to the original. (I like adding Skinner Sights for long-range use and in some cases XS Aperture sights. The Mossberg sights probably do not need replacement.)
The Mossberg features a round bolt rather than a square bolt, generally considered superior in strength to the Winchester. The rifle ejects to the right and offers easy mounting of optical sights and even a red dot sight. The feed design involving the shell carrier, sometimes called the shell elevator, is subtly changed for greater reliability.
The Mossberg features two safeties, a tang safety and a passive safety that requires the lever be pressed shut for the rifle to fire. The Mossberg 464 is not quite as smooth as the Winchester, but offers a good value.
If you want a hunting rifle that will do anything the Winchester will do for less money, the Mossberg is a viable rifle. Consider it an updated 1894 design.
Henry .30-30 lever-action rifles are available in several variations. The Henry is well made of good material, with excellent fitting of the stock and metal. The Henry is reliable and possibly the smoothest of the modern lever-action rifles. The Henry Big Boy is similar to the Marlin, but with a style all its own.
The Henry features a solid top and features easy scope mounting. I have enjoyed every Henry rifle I have fired and tested. The traditional Big Boy-type Henry features a nice blued finish. The wood stocks are well finished.
The sights are a bit improved over most lever-action sights, but still open iron sights. They are the usual for those with good visual acuity to perhaps 100 yards. The Henry, however, is quite easy to scope out. There is also a special rail available from Henry for mounting red dot sights.
The traditional Henry rifle offers the advantage of easy loading. Simply unscrew the inner magazine tube and move it toward the muzzle until the loading gate is uncovered. Then drop cartridges in until the rifle is fully loaded. However, you may also top the magazine a round at a time by pressing cartridges into the loading gate. The other .30-30 lever-action rifles do not have this versatility.
Modern Lever-Action Rifles
An interesting modern approach to the lever-action rifle is represented by Henry’s X series. The X series features a synthetic stock and matte-black finish. While the appearance is tactical, the rifle is certainly at home in the game field.
If you prefer a low-maintenance, low-glare finish, the X series is the rifle to choose. The rifle is a solid rifle, as smooth as any Henry. The sights are bright fiber-optic. Aging eyes benefit greatly from these sights.
The threaded barrel version of the Henry allows fitting a silencer for those that wish to run quite. Another advantage of the X series stock is that a combat light may be mounted on a modern rail. This is an impressive rifle.
Conclusion: Best Lever-Actions
Whether hunting deer-sized game, wild boar or predators, the .30-30 will do the job. It is a versatile emergency rifle. As for the exact choice, there are a number of variations of .30-30 lever-action rifles. Most are 20-inch barrels. There are 16-inch barrel versions, often called the Trapper. The .30-30 rifle is well balanced and offers easy portability.
The rifles are flat and easily stored. They are reliable in terrible climatic conditions. There are special personal defense editions. While famed for fast handling, long-range accuracy may be excellent.
The .30-30 rifle offers a useful amount of power, good accuracy and easy handling. The rifles have been in use for more than 125 years, but none have been better suited to all-around use than these modern rifles.
What are your favorite .30-30 lever-action rifles? Let us know in the comment section!