The Modern Lever Action: Does It Make Sense?

I’ve heard people say SHOT Show 2024 didn’t have a specific theme this year. I ask, “Did you guys even go to SHOT?” The theme of SHOT this year was lever actions. Lever-action rifles were everywhere during SHOT. Companies like Aero Precision and Stag Arms, which are traditionally AR rifle companies, released lever guns. Winchester released a new rimfire lever gun, and so did Henry, Bear Creek Arsenal, Smith and Wesson, Bond Arms, and more, which I’m likely missing.

Lever guns are great, and many companies that release lever guns take a traditional route. S & W released a standard lever gun, as did Stag Arms. Other manufacturers released lever guns that take a traditional route but use very nontraditional furniture. Yet, the prevailing lever gun that caught my eye was the type that blended more modern rifle features with the traditional lever gun. These modern lever action rifles provide an interesting alternative to the world of semi-auto rifles…but do they make sense?

What’s a Modern Lever Action Rifle

You can separate this into two categories. Guns like the Aero Precision lever gun feature an M-LOK handguard, an adjustable stock, modern optic rails, and more. Henry has the X series, Marlin has the new Dark Series, and even companies like Rossi have modern rifles. These are arguably modern lever actions. Functionally, they aren’t much different from the classic lever guns; we know what they do and what to expect.

smith & wesson 1854 rifles
New from Smith & Wesson is the 1854, a lever-action rifle that pays homage to the company’s roots. [Photo: Smith & Wesson]
When I start talking about modern lever actions for this article, I’m talking about guns like the new Henry Supreme, the Bear Creek Arsenal MaulAR, the POF Tombstone, and the Bond Arms LVRB. These guns are lever action rifles but accept detachable magazines and chamber cartridges we don’t traditionally see in lever guns. Cartridges like 5.56, 9mm, .300 Blackout, and more.

POF Tombstone lever action.
The POF Tombstone is a cool-looking lever-action chambered in 9mm. [Photo: Gun Digest]
Of course, this idea isn’t new. Winchester had the Model 1895, which chambered rifle cartridges like .30-06. Browning had the BLR, and Henry even had the Long Ranger. These rifles were limited to short magazines, often using rotary magazines that were limited to four or five rounds. The modern lever actions I’m talking about use magazines that hold between 20 and 30 rounds in AR-15 magazines.

Marlin Model 1895 Dark
This Marlin 1895 Dark comes optic and suppressor ready. [Photo: Sara Liberte Photography]
This creates an interesting lever gun design because there is very limited room in front of the trigger due to these longer magazines for the lever to travel. This has forced companies to be a little more creative in their designs. These guns vary in style and design. Henry went the traditional route with wood, Bond, and BCA went tactical with various stocks and M-LOK handguards.

Does the magazine-fed, modern lever action rifle make sense?

Advantages of the Modern Lever Action

Right off the bat, these guns have many advantages. One big one is their legality. They are 50 states legal, as far as I can tell. States that target gun ownership commonly target magazines, so you do lose some of the rifle’s capabilities. Guns like the LVRB give you a Magpul SGA stock, a near full-length M-LOK handguard, and the ability to use most AR upper receivers.

Lever action mechanisms are quick and easy to use, making them a great option for home defense in ban states. In many ways, they are the equivalent of pump-action shotguns.

Bond Arms SHOT Show 2024
The new Bond Arms tactical lever guns look awesome, but my conversation with Gordon Bond was the best part about stopping by. [Photo: Travis Pike]
The manual action offers a quick and reliable way to operate the rifle. This could also mean hunting rifles that share ammo and mags with your defensive rifle, especially in states where semi-auto rifles might not be kosher for hunting.

Lever guns traditionally use big, hard-hitting, slow-moving cartridges that tend to excel in moderate-range shooting. Because of the tubular magazine design of most lever actions, you can’t use spitzer projectiles. Spitzer projectiles are the pointy type. Their projectiles look and operate like handgun rounds. These new lever guns offer proper rifle rounds with proper rifle range and energy. A 5.56 caliber lever gun can reach out to 500 yards.

Keep It Quiet and Cheap

If we factor in suppressors, then these rifles can be super quiet. There is no semi-auto action moving back and forth that creates a loud clicking noise. With a lever gun, this disappears. A .300 Blackout lever gun with a suppressor and some subsonic ammo would be super quiet and efficient.

Author shooting henry lever action rifle
The new Henry Rifles use AR mags and AR calibers. [Photo; Travis Pike]
There are two ways to look at the cost factor. Cost of the gun and the cost of everything else. With a modern lever action, the cost of magazines and ammunition can be reasonable. A Henry Supreme, the MaulAR, and the Bond Arms LVRB all use standard AR magazines, which are easy to find and fairly inexpensive. When compared to .45-70, .44-40, .45 Colt, and other typical lever gun rounds, 5.56 is cheap too. While the POF Tombstone uses pricey mags, the ammo is cheap and delivers the same fun as a lever gun.

The Downsides

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and the modern lever action has a few downsides. Namely, the cost of the initial investment. We are talking at least a grand for the rifle, likely more. Bear Creek Arsenal is famously a budget brand, but their pricing for the MaulAR wasn’t available. I’d imagine it’s still going to be pricier than their ARs.

These guns aren’t made to the same scale as the AR series, so they are pricier. I’d imagine they are a little more complicated to manufacture than the AR in many ways, too, and that drives the price up. Guns like the LVRB might save some money by using a traditional AR upper.

bear creek maul-ar
Bear Creek Arsenal is announcing the new MAUL-AR at SHOT 2024. [Photo: Bear Creek Arsenal]
Another issue is that it’s still a manually operated rifle. You can shoot one pretty fast, but not as fast as a semi-auto rifle, which might be the cheaper option. Also, due to the lack of a semi-auto action, you’ll experience more recoil since there is nothing to help absorb that energy and cycle the weapon.

The downside is a less efficient, more expensive, harder-to-operate rifle with more recoil overall. That makes it sound pretty bad, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place.

That Other Kind of Cool

In an industry that’s awash in semi-auto rifles, the classic lever gun stands out. If you mix the features of a semi-auto rifle with that of a lever gun, you get something approachable to the army of gun owners raised on modern semi-autos. If you are bored with the current market of tactical rifles, these lever guns might offer you an interesting alternative.

Lever action rifles are a different kind of cool. There is this instant dopamine hit when working a lever action rifle. It’s so much fun, and the fact you, as a shooter, are involved much more in the operation of the weapon delivers its own satisfaction. If lever guns weren’t fun, they would have disappeared in 1915.

Does it make sense? No, not entirely, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes, something can just be fun and cool.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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