Some of the finest rifles in history are the beloved, timeless lever action, and thanks to a return to reliability in the mindset of the gun-buying public, lever actions have seen a spate of new technological improvements, a reemergence of activity from the manufacturers and a renewed interest from shooters.
But the lever action was never dead. It just fell slightly out of favor from a volume perspective. Long-time shooters have maintained their beloved lever guns and there has always been a solid following for the gun because of its ability to handle large, powerful cartridges, while offering fast shot resets and light weight packages.
You could say they make more sense now, than they even did in their heyday.
The following list of the best lever action rifles on the market utilizes a format that attempts to peg a specific use case scenario to each of the guns. That should be clarified. A gun like a lever action rifle doesn’t have a single best use case. But rather, these guns exhibit a particular affinity towards accomplishing a goal. That goal should be showcased with that gun because it helps the reader to establish some informational basis about the gun’s characteristics and capabilities.
Lever action guns are safe, accurate, lightweight and easy to understand. They are also incredibly efficient at follow-up shots and serve well in dangerous areas because of the compact overall lengths and the light weight. When you have a bear or a boar charging down on you, it’s nice to know you have stopping power in a quickly actuated firearm at your disposal.
Many guides use .45-70 (and other calibers) in lever-action designs in Big Bear Country like the untamed wilderness of Alaska, for this very reason.
More than just a beast of burden a lever action rifle is a timeless design that exhibits beauty and grace in the slim lines and wood-on-metal aesthetics.
You can be proud to own a gun that isn’t just black on black on black and made for tactical reasons.
The following list includes the best lever action rifles on the market:
- Rossi Rio Grande Lever-Action Rifle
- Browning BLR Lightweight Lever-Action Rifle (.300 Winchester Magnum)
- Marlin 1895SBL Lever-Action Rifle
- Henry Big Boy Carbine
- Winchester – Model 94 Sporter Rifle
- Henry All Weather Lever Action Rifle
- Browning – BL-22 Lever Action Rifle
- Browning – BLR Lightweight (.30-06 Springfield)
Best lever action rifles
Rossi Rio Grande Lever-Action Rifle
Best Lever Action Rifle for the First Time budget shooter
About as classic a set of specifications as one could expect, comes in the form of a tool that is truly worth more than its price tag. The Rossi brand is known for offering lower cost items and while some scrutiny has been in place in the past, there is little reason to believe that the Rossi lever gun is not completely ironed out now.
Now the company serves as one of the market leaders in volume production and they have added a lot of credibility in the last decade to their firearms out of factory and because of the generous customer service.
This is a straightforward classic style of a lever gun, with the .45-70 caliber and the medium to long styling with the 6+1 tube magazine configuration. Ultimately this is a bargain because the quality far surpasses the price point.
The larger lever handle also gives you an opportunity to improve leverage and use gloved hands. The finish, while utilitarian has a simple understated beauty as well. As a hunting gun for large game in brush filled areas, this is hard to beat, especially if you aren’t sold on the idea of carrying a bolt action everywhere.
The heavy firepower of the .45-70 is enough for any North American game and can be used in heavily branchy areas, where even some of the .30 caliber cartridges will have trouble with deflections.
- Roomy lever
- Seriously good value
- Heavy stopping power
- Solid brand name for the money
- Not the highest tolerance finish or part fitment on the market
This is best for
A hunter who wants to shoot a .45-70 but doesn’t want a single shot or to spend thousands of dollars. The shooter that is not yet sure they will want to commit to a lever gun. It maintains a solid value, without being a lot out of pocket.
Browning BLR Lightweight Lever-Action Rifle (.300 Winchester Magnum)
Best long-range Hunting Lever Action Rifle
In fairness, this is about as lightweight a long-range rifle as you will find, anywhere in any category. You can also reliably count on it to hunt at 500 yards or more for big game. With enough experience, there is no reason this cannot be a legitimate 650 yard gun for Elk or deer or similarly positioned game animals.
At less than 8 lbs., this is a treat to hike in and out of camp with, given the alternatives. With a scope and ammunition, you’ll be under 11 lbs. easily – and that’s generally accepted to be a bare rifle’s weight for a long-range bolt gun with a heavy barrel.
Sure, you’ll lose 75 yards moving from that same bolt gun to this lever gun, but most shots aren’t taken at the extreme distance marker for the caliber. You’re likely to deploy this lever action rifle in hunts ranging from 200-450 yards. And if you need to go beyond that, with any gun, you’ll need to be well-dialed in, from an experience and training perspective.
The pre-drilled and tapped scope mount holes and the side ejection means this is a perfect fit with this long-range scenario. But the wow factor comes from the impeccable fit and finish, and the way the gun feels when you use the action. Browning does something magical to their guns. It’s not just a tolerance and polishing thing. There is something solid and satisfying to their premium guns (this one is a good example) that is reminiscent of a Swiss timepiece.
- Beautiful action feel
- A great long-range option
- Lightweight for the caliber
- A long action because of the long cartridge
- This long draw can hamper fast second shots a bit
This is best for
Hunters who frequent Ram country or need to be able to shoot a very wide range of animals, which fall mostly in the large game category.
Marlin 1895SBL Lever-Action Rifle
Best Lever Action Rifle for Overall Experience
While it just barely edges out the Henry Stainless Steel competition, this is still so good of a lever action, that it stands tall among all other competition (the Henry aside), in the price range. Yes, it is true, there are some amazing gunsmith made, one-off builds that can beat this one for overall experience, but then you have to factor in the weatherproofing that is built in, too.
The stock, while heavier than a polymer stock, offers the passing semblance of wood, with the resin impregnated weatherproofing of a laminate, and it’s stunning in the muted multi-grey tone. This is especially true surrounding the stainless-steel metal receiver, barrel, lever and magazine tube.
The extreme versatility of the classic big bore .45-70 Government cartridge means this is a modern-day powerhouse. Loaded properly, this caliber can shoot small and medium game up to the largest game in the world given the right loads and circumstances. It is more than “enough gun” in North America for hunting.
Some years ago (it is this author’s belief) there was transfer of power from the modern Winchester to the Marlin companies regarding the attention to detail and fit and finish and material quality of the rifles being produced. It is relatively easy to tell the overall quality differences and the balance shifts in the direction of the Marlin, still.
Just recently, the Henry company (the original purveyors) has made a deliberate shift to recreate this exceptional standard of quality. This is one of the figurehead flagship lever actions that helped make that a reality or the market. It is an exceptional, all-weather lever action rifle.
- Lots of nuance
- Great material and build quality
- Overall, the best set of features on any available lever action gun – this is the one you use, not the one you simply buy to hold its value
- Built exceptionally tough
- It’s not what you envision when you think of a classic lever gun, despite having relevant specifications
This is best for
A hunter that will use it for its intended purpose in any weather, against any target, and treat it like the utilitarian rifle it was designed to be. The high quality and heavy caliber make it a very versatile hunting rifle; the compact overall length and the toughness make it a great defensive addition to a homestead also. It’s a great fit with those who want durability, quick repeat shots and heavy firepower for short and medium range.
Henry Big Boy Carbine
Best Lever Action for CASS (Cowboy Action Shooting)
The standard for fast shooting on plates in short range efforts, this is the smoothest shooting CASS gun you could envision, with the light recoil of the hard-hitting pistol cartridge and the lack of muzzle jump. You can rest assured you’ll be on target swiftly and moving on to the next round.
The large lever loop and the compact size means it is easy to de-holster/de-scabbard and the short 16.5″ barrel is still compatible with rules and regulations. Eight rounds of the easily controllable cartridge will keep you in the game.
The versatility extends beyond competition however, with the round still being able to be used effectively on medium game at medium ranges. It’s a perfect ranch gun in case there are snakes, coyotes or other predators nearby your livestock or your family.
Henry is known most recently for their very high attention to detail and for reinventing their legacy firearms with a better manufacturing process that eschews old school casting techniques for modern forging and machining practices almost across the board. You can tell when you operate this lever action that you’re getting a fine legacy quality firearm.
- A perfect “trapper gun” with the short length and moderate caliber choice
- Flexibility and versatility in the animals it can shoot and the scenarios you can use it in
- Well-made, but suffers a bit from density and weight
This is best for
The Rancher that shoots CASS.
Winchester – Model 94 Sporter Rifle
Best Traditional Styled Lever Action Rifle
Despite stiff competition for the traditional looks and the traditional feel, the combination of caliber, length, iron sights, and the general aura of this gun makes it the best in class for this category. That isn’t discounting the fact that it’s a Winchester either – Winchester’s name is tied indelibly to the lever action rifle after all.
While Colt was the first maker of a commercially successful lever gun, this is the gun (along with the more obsolete Model 92) that made it famous. A 24 inch barrel and a sub 45″ overall length makes this a perfect intermediate gun with long range potential, but it’s significantly slimmer than the competition, allowing a nice weight and swing to the rifle as well as a great look with it’s lean profile.
The .30-30 has killed perhaps more big game animals than any cartridge in history. It was THE STAPLE on the frontier for the better part of a century and a half. It is versatile, and hard hitting. The rifle is versatile and built to last.
If you’re chasing names and looks, this is the most traditional lever action on the market for a modern variant. That includes the Henry models with specialty builds. A bold statement to be sure.
- Modern technology blend with timeless design
- Good customer support and a solid factory offering at a decent price point
- Still somewhat pricey compared to some of the competition
This is best for
It’s there for the classic shooter who wants the modern equivalent of the historical long gun.
Henry All Weather Lever Action Rifle
Best Stainless Steel Traditional Lever Action
Barely edged out by the Marlin as the Best Lever Action Rifle for Overall Experience, this is a competent gun in its own right. Henry has reemerged as a premium maker of lever guns. Their portfolio is staggeringly robust. The guns have a timeless feel, and the quality is better than the Winchester brand has been making for decades.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s a very good option.
Hard Chroming allows you to get down in the mud with this gun and the wood offers a certain classic text to surround the story of an all-purpose, hunting-specific rifle. Henry has improved upon the old style of casted receivers made at the Winchester factory and their tooling and methodology trumps the competition generally, with the exception of Marlin, who has made the lever action a cornerstone of their business for a very long time.
This is the gun that tells the story about how serious Henry is about recapturing the former glory of the brand name and of the lever action. They have made drastic inroads to Marlin’s market dominance on volume too. They are taking market share from several competitors, and this, at a price point that is near the top of the market.
This is as true a field gun as you can get with the stainless and chrome build out, and the wood furniture, as well as the short overall length (only 40″) and the fast use of the compact profile. Its superior balance lends a lot to its market viability.
- Heavy firepower in a super lightweight gun (7 lbs-ish)
- Short overall length
- Excellent quality build
- Classic wood-on-metal styling, with weatherproof metal treatments
- This is still a bit pricey for some of the general marketplace
This is best for
Any shooter who doesn’t want to baby their guns, but still wants a gun that will look good on the wall, in the safe or at the range.
Browning – BL-22 Lever Action Rifle
Best Lever Action Rifle in .22
It’s cheap to shoot because it’s a .22LR. It’s built to a spectacular standard because it’s a Browning. It’s fast and fun for everyone because it’s lightweight and the short stroke of the lever makes it super quick to get back on target. It’s finished beautifully and it is priced well considering the level of detail and build quality that exists.
There is no one in your group that cannot handle this lightweight, easy to understand rifle, either. It’s about 5 lbs. and the lever only cycles to about 33 degrees, because of the short chambering and the way the bolt and lever are engineered. It’s simple to use and easy to teach people on.
The price point offers significant value to price because it’s made so well and finished to a high level. Yes, it’s a .22LR, but that doesn’t mean that machining costs are lower. It’s still made out of metal and wood. Browning seems to discount their .22’s really well to meet market demand and there are very few shooters who ever feel they didn’t get value from a Browning purchase.
This is a gun that has a very accurate 20″ barrel and a tiny overall length of under 37″. It’s usable by anyone as a result, without sacrificing accuracy.
Hand cut checkering and solid walnut furniture shows the brand’s commitment to the classic ways of building a gun.
- Very reliable with a variety of cheap ammunition
- Easy to handle
- Hand cut checkering and very nicely finished metal
- Very good price point
- It is still a bit pricey for some, given that it’s “just a .22”
This is best for
The shooter that wants to make memories with family, then pass on a legacy lever action to the next several generations.
Browning – BLR Lightweight (.30-06 Springfield)
Best Lever Action Rifle with a non-traditional chambering
It shoots flatter and further than a .45-70. It offers more potency than a .30-30, and it doesn’t suffer from the problems most centerfire cartridges are at risk when used in a tube magazine, because it utilizes a bottom mounted modern rifle magazine.
It is also a much more versatile round for medium and big game than the .30-30 (thanks mostly, to a lack of creative loads in the .30-30, and the popularity of the .30-06 Springfield).
The enhanced range of the .30-06 over the traditional lever cartridges means you can take a lot more trips with this utilitarian rifle than with other lever guns. You can take ram or elk, or deer or small bears.
The story isn’t just about the caliber, though; it’s nice to buy a gun you are already familiar with and have ammunition for. Many big game hunters already own a .30-06 and can appreciate the carryover between their different guns.
The sling attachment points, and the scope capabilities make this a great field gun, with the relatively lightweight 7 and ¼ lb. overall weight.
- Great range
- Flat shooting for a lever gun
- Well equipped
- Light weight
- No real cons
This is best for
The shooter that already owns a .30-06 but wants something with a bit lighter profile and can benefit from the loads they are already using.
There is a clear path to a top tier lever action firearm by choosing any of the listed guns. They need not be used for the express purpose outlined by the article, though they will excel in those functionalities.
It’s important to note that the basic concept and the market implementation of the lever action rifle has not materially changed very much over the course of nearly two centuries. That says something about the long-term viability and concept of this style of firearm.
Further, the lever action rifle is enjoying one of the most robust periods of widespread usage ever; this at a time when AR-15’s and modern plastic firearms are overwhelmingly popular.
The ability for a gun to compete on so many levels and be as viable an option despite having very little evolution in its build and technology means this is a gun that was built right from the beginning. The above options represent some of the finest firearms on the market, regardless of long gun category. That speaks volumes.