Saturday, June 23, 2012

Proper Leverage

Sometimes in the American gun culture there is this all or nothing idea when it comes to being prepared for bad situations; often ignoring the reality of the middle ground in the realm of day to day preparedness.

On one end there is the OCD end-of-the-world-zombie-apocalypse idea that if you haven't squandered your families earnings on MREs, multiple military grade rifles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo you are, as Chris Rock says, "gonna die".

The flip side of the coin is this weird obsession by the gun market and manufacturers to build uber light weight .380s and 9mms that can only be held onto with two fingers, has a light rail, and no sights (don't want to weigh the gun down you know...'cause there's a light rail).

One could suppose, justly, that my cynicism is leaking through.

Earlier this week I had to escort a client on a protection detail that on a threat assessment chart was medium edging towards high. The information in his care was literally worth millions but, he was basically an unknown player in the world. The problem was further exacerbated by the fact the opposing side knew 60% of the intelligence he was running, coupled with the two hour drive through both urban and rural areas to get there and back.

That morning as I was getting ready to leave The Wife walked past the dining room table were I had laid out all my gear the night before and jokingly said "think you have enough firepower?"

"I will, unless I run out. Then I won't."

Just like you I'm a private citizen, held to the same rules and the same potential legal problems only coupled with a "for hire" tag. So there is always this fine line of being more than adequately prepared for the worst, while being completely aware if the worst does happen I may be living it out on the national news the next day.

The other half is that I work alone. I do this intentionally because I have trust issues you might say....all for good reasons but, that isn't the point to be made here.

So when I work I carry a lot of the other day. Two to three handguns, multiple magazines and a rifle. What you might find ironic is that I heavily avoid a "tacti-cool" image. Nothing I use is less "tactical" looking than my choice of rifle.

Simple and straight I have always preferred the lever action rifle for defensive work in a non-combat theater. And the reasoning goes beyond it's humble appearance. 

When we think of a rifle in use for fighting it is easy to imagine the "Super Fight" scenario. Mount an AK or AR to the shoulder it's not unlikely to imagine you against overwhelming odds with hordes of Tangos descending upon you as while ripping through one hi-cap mag to the next, empty and gleaming surplus casings at your feet.

What we rarely consider is a rifle's ability to be concealed.

"Concealed? Surely you jest....why would I need to conceal a rifle?"

You don't ....if it never gets beyond the range or back of the closet, but to put it in use or rather potential use where the world is NOT ending and the day to day is the norm concealability and discretion are the watchwords of the day.

The charm of the compact lever gun as a working defensive arm lies in it's slim, compact design in contrast to the large profile of an assault rifle (not a pejorative term by the way).

For instance a thirty round magazine in an AK variant makes the overall height measure out to be around 10-11 inches from the bottom of the mag to the top of the receiver and that is with out some type of glass mounted atop or receiver rear sights. The AR and M14 are in a similar situation.  Width is easily around two-three inches and, we haven't even really begun to clamp things onto those wonderful picatinny rails, that even flashlights come with these days.

In contrast a lever gun varies between three and a half to four inches in height and an inch and a quarter to and inch and three quarters wide.

Nice flat and compact.

So compact that I can often stash one of my lever guns along side the driver or passenger door (i.e. next to where I am seated), under foot of a bench seat, or if no one is seated in the back seat I can slip it to where the back rest joins the seat and lay anything from a blanket or towel over it. The magazine is fully stoked and should the need arise I simply need to yank it from its location and work the lever justly in that process and I am ready to make my stand with a rifle. All of them are fitted with peep sights and shoot inside a playing card at a hundred yards.

"ah yes" you say "but they are very limited in magazine capacity".

No disagreement there but I am supremely confident... just like I was earlier in the week, that seven rounds of .30-30 170grn soft points in my model 94 Winchester will see me through. If they don't I'll reload and keep going.

I see a raised eye brow of doubt.

The most predominant used long arm in civilized countries amongst civilians, including police forces, is the 12 gauge pump shotgun whose tubular magazine capacity varies from five to eight rounds. Few people would consider this inadequate firepower for most any task involving a fight with other humans. And while it enjoys immense popularity its always the least trained with because a scatter-gun doesn't do what a rifle does (or is supposed to) to do...deliver little tiny groups on a target which leads to confidence building in the head of the user.

The other strange irony is contending that seven or eight rounds simply isn't enough ammunition in a rifle should it come to a fight. Yet it would be remiss not to point out that some of the most popular selling handgun choices in the concealed carry market today are single stack magazines that hold between six and nine rounds.

Until I sold it a few years ago I carried a Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum loaded with 240 grain jacketed hollow points almost everywhere for every job. Today my two primary work rifles here in the U.S. are either a .357 Magnum Marlin or the previously mentioned Model 94 in .30-30.

I value them for their ability in protection work not only for concealability but, also in the event of an ambush that leaves my vehicle disabled I have adequate fire power to make a prolonged stand as need be (I never said I didn't carry more ammo elsewhere in the vehicle) over a range of a few yards to a couple of hundred. Given that most police snipers rarely take a shot over 70 yards and both of my lever guns can put all their rounds into a human head at a hundred I'm not concerned.

There is significant reasoning in the ability to shoot through or into a vehicle at a distance and disable the bad guys on the inside of their vehicle or the vehicle itself some capacity.

Buffalo Bore makes some wonderful dangerous game rounds for both the .30-30 and the .357 magnum (to the point the .357 loads out of a rifle surpass standard .30-30 loads). That allows for a lot of penetration in a civilian shootout.

The third reason I like the lever gun so much for work

While there is no law in the U.S. that restricts rifle ownership overall, some states do restrict the type or mag capacity. With any lever gun I can travel wherever need be, and this bodes for outside of the U.S. as well. Where some countries may allow you, in a security role, to bring in a long arm they might not be to keen on the self-loaders or military calibers. But a manually operated firearm chambered in a "hunting caliber" has this cowboy charm to it that has this innocuous way of being presented and dismissed in the same moment.

You might also be surprised as to the amount of lever action rifles still in use all over Central and South America in the hands of the civilian populous...even where they aren't supposed to be.

A couple of years back a friend of mine who is a new gun owner and has just a couple of handguns said he wanted a long gun, "I was thinking a pump shotgun or maybe a rifle but, I don't think I need know...complicated", I told him I thought a Marlin 336 would make a fine choice.

Still do.

Don't mistake my support of a fixed magazine lever gun as being against the citizenry owning assault rifles. I think as long as the financial means bear it and the Individual so desires it a good high-cap rifle and a stockpile of ammo to feed it, is a good idea to thwart the Huns should it ever come to that. It is just that we are so inundated with a gun culture obsessed with the "tactical entry this" or the "long range sniper that" too such a degree that we often over look simple effectiveness and practicality in the wake of what is en vogue at the moment.


breda said...

Finally, a post! And a great one at that. Thank you.

Attila said...

Well put. Lever guns are probably more practical for most people than hi-cap semi-autos. I don't own one yet but your article reminds me of the missing slot in my collection.

Are the Marlins the best option for current production pistol-caliber lever guns?

Seabat said...

Good posting! Always look forward to a new one from you.

drjim said...

Thanks for the post. It makes me love my Marlin 336 and 1894C even more!

Phillip said...

I've always loved lever-action rifles, myself. I keep a variety of rifles, simply because I believe that while many can work for multiple jobs, there's something to be said for using the right tool for the job.

Great post.

Brerarnold said...

Great post, thanks. I like the lever guns also, and have two. A Winchester 1894 in .30-30, and a Marlin 1894 in .44 magnum. I won't argue the usefulness of the .357 magnum; if one had been available when I was buying that particular rifle, I'd have preferred it over the .44 magnum variety. But it wasn't. I am not unhappy with the .44, and as one of my favorite carry guns is a .44 spl S&W Model 24, these two make a nice combo. I hand-load a round similar to Buffalo Bore's "heavy .44 Spl" and it is a winner in both firearms.

I also wouldn't argue the Marlin 336 over the Winchester 1894. There is a lot to be said for side-ejection vs. top-ejection. I also think it may be a somewhat more durable firearm in the long run, although I dunno; mine has a serial number that dates to 1918, it has clearly seen use before it fell into my hands, and is still in very good shape. So that long run would have to be long mighty long; longer than a lifetime it seems.

Thanks for the shout-out for Buffalo Bore. I've known Tim Sundles via email and bulletin boards for many years. He is a class act, a great outdoorsman, and Buffalo Bore ammo is second to none. I use his stuff for carry in all kinds of calibers: .44 spl, .357 magnum, .40 S&W, and .32 ACP.

Having said that, my choice in .30-30 is the Hornady Leverevolution. At 160 grains, it is not that much lighter than Buffalo Bore's 170 gr. bullets. In my testing, I've found it is more accurate in my rifle out to greater distances. By more accurate, I mean that I get the same group size 50 yards farther than with the previous best ammo I had tried. Let me repeat the disclaimer: that's me, using my rifle. I don't pretend to have done exhaustive scientific experiments. But it darn sure convinced me to start putting my ammo-buying money into the Hornady rounds. Worth looking into.

Matthew said...

Attila: I think (and it's my two cents) that for current production the Marlin 94s are the best pistol caliber lever guns going, if for no other reason than the availability of after market parts and sights should you choose to do so.

I've also handled some of the '92s from the Italians and like them very much but they generally start at $900.

Don't overlook the used gun market though there are some excellent bargains out there.

Brerarnold, thanks for mentioning the leverevolution rounds by Hornady. I've yet to shoot any but they have certainly become a game changer in what a lever gun market.

To the rest of you, as always, THANK YOU for your comments and your readership!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful post. Have very much enjoyed your words and style.

I spent MANY years in your chosen field of endeavor eventually retiring from it. I used a wheel gun, (S&W 25-5) and a Winchester Carbine, both in 45LC. They even served me briefly as a PO as well. I NEVER felt "undergunned". I used 9mm hi-cap pistols as a backup if volume firepower was required. It never was.

Interesting note; the 45 revolver traveled well internationally. Far better than semi autos, especially military caliber ones.

Again a hat tip to a wonderful write-up. looking forward to the next one..............

Shrimp said...

Hey, if you just *have* to have a tacticool rifle, and can't give up the lever action, you can always buy this monstrosity from Mossberg:

Something tells me trips abroad would be more interesting with that one, though.

Kirk Parker said...

"...The magazine is fully stoked..."

Ooops, don't come to Washington State, then. Though we are in generally quite gun-friendly, there's a stupid quirk in state law that prohibits placing any loaded long arm in a vehicle, then goes on to define "loaded" as having any rounds in the chamber OR magazine.

If it weren't for that, I'd gladly carry my 1894C in .357 as a trunk gun.

Indy5000 said...


Excellent post. I have a Winchester 94 that I have no experience with but would like to feel comfortable to the point I can take it on trips to supplement my concelled carry. I would like to ask if you have any suggestions for basic manual of arms training, load/unload, etc.

Also, I enjoyed hearing you on the Squirrel Report. Good Stuff!

DaveP. said...

Good article, and I agree strongly with it. A good lever action is a great tool and can be had much more cheaply than most semi-autos.

I use an elastic buttstock shell holder (they call it a "butt cuff", but somehow I can't quite bring myself to) that lets me carry an extra nine rounds of .30-30 right on the rifle, where it's right where I need it.

Firehand said...

I cannot remember where read, a man with a long history with leverguns was asked to go through a LE tactical rifle course: "I need someone to give these kids a shaking-up; they think they've got a AR and they're the king."

He used a Model 92 Winchester in .45LC(I believe); kept a pocket full of loose ammo and topped-off the magazine as he moved between targets. End of the day, he had a higher score than most of the cops, and had given them a real eye-opening look at what someone with a non-semi-auto or auto rifle can do.

Anonymous said...

I was taught how to use buckhorns by the late LTC Ellis Lea, USA (Ret.) Ellis was a West Virginia State Trooper prior to entering the US Army during WWII and used the 94 Winchester on the job as a lawman. He was on the first team of US advisors which went into South Vietnam to perform an internal security survey for then-President Eisenhower. Later he was a law enforcement instructor for the USAID Office of Public Safety and he also taught small arms and small unit tactics for various US government agencies and foreign clients as directed by USAID.

The Winchester Model 94 lever-action in .30-30 came zeroed from the factory to place 3 shots within a 3 inch circle drawn tangent at 6:00 inside a 6 inch black aiming bull at 50 yards. Normal sight picture is taking a "fine" bead with the front sight drawn all the way into the small rear notch taking a 6:00 hold on the bull, using factory loads, with the sight elevator set on its lowest notch.

Each step on the rear sight elevator increases zero range by 50yards, so the raising the sight into the second notch with the correct combination of front and rear sight height should be 100 yards, the third notch 150 yards, the 4th notch 200. This again is using a "fine" bead, drawn down completely into the small notch, taking a 6:00 hold.

When using the semi-buckhorn notch for quick combat range estimation, the shoulders of an FBI silhouette or Army "E" should just fill the width of the small notch at 100 yards. If you can see daylight around the shoulders, alter your sight picture so that the bead "floats" above the fine notch. When the bead is so leveled with the first shoulder inside the buckhorn above the inner notch, point of impact approximately coincides with the center of the bead at 200 yards. Proper sight picture then is to hold for center of mass of the silhouette.

At longer ranges raising the front sight so that the bead "floats" between the top ears of the semi-buckhorn sight, the bead subtends the height of the silhouette and provides correct elevation to approximately 300 yards or meters. Using correct sight picture with good initial zero, firing factory loads a trained user can average 80% hits or better on the Army "E" silhouette at 200 yards and 60% hits or better at 300 yards. Fired in this manner the typical .30-30 lever action has similar hit probability to the SKS and is a bit better than typical AKs beyond 100 yards. It also has the advantage that the tube magazine can be topped off easily while in a protected position behind cover, without taking the rifle out of action.

In dusty border downs and throughout Latin America, a lever-action was the basic go-to trouble gun until surplus semi-auto militaries became cheap and plentiful after WWII. In know alot of retired Texas lawmen who refused to give up their 94s until they retired and they preferred them to M1 carbines and .223s on the job. Only an M1 Garand with AP is better on roadblocks.

drjim said...

That's a fantastic explanation of how to use the Buckhorn sights.

I kinda-sorta figured that out with my Marlin 1894C, but it took a LOT of ammo to do.

Anonymous said...

Any reason an AR15 platform with say a 10 round mag and low profile furniture wouldn't work almost as well? If you need more, you can swap in a 30 round mag, and if you SBR it, it's not horribly huge. Obviously the Marlin is still smaller, but I don't think it would be quite as significant without measuring with a 30 round mag and 16" barrel.

I also see that this is 2 years old, so I apologize for the necro, but someone just linked it so people are still reading it.

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