The Volition Repeater: The Unknown Beginnings of Repeating Firearms

2024 has already been quite the year for new lever-action rifle announcements. As the SHOT Show wave died down in February and March, we saw a diverse array of new offerings from some big players and rookies alike. New guns from Ruger, Aero Precision, Smith & Wesson, Henry, and Winchester have made it seem like we’re experiencing a lever action renaissance. 

Before diving into the Volition repeater’s history, let’s quickly go over the new offerings.


Ruger introduced a few offerings through their subsidiary, Marlin. The first was the Marlin Dark Series Model 1894. Chambered in the classic .45-70 Govt, the Dark Series features a slick black finish, a full-length M-LOK forend, a Picatinny Rail, a stock with cheek riser, and a radial muzzle brake.

They also released two new Model 336 rifles chambered in .30-30 Winchester. One in their SBL Series features a threaded barrel, a Picatinny scope mount, a fiber optic front sight, a polished spiral fluted bolt, and checkered stocks, and one in their Trapper Series features a Skinner Sights ghost-ring-esque rear sight, checkered stocks, threaded barrel, and white ramp front sight.

Ruger's new 2024 Marlin Lever actions
Ruger/Marlin Dark Series Model 1894 & SBL & Trapper Model 336. [Photo: @marlinfirearmsofficial on Instagram]

Aero Precision

Aero Precision decided to grab a chunk of the lever action pie with their modernized lever gun. Still a prototype, the rifle will come with a threaded 16″ barrel, a full-length aluminum handguard, a skeletonized stock with a cheek riser, and a very angular lever that strays from the traditional style or even the large loop design. Aero states that the rifle will be chambered in .30-30 and .45-70 at launch, with more caliber options coming soon.

Aero Precision’s new lever gun [Photo:]

Smith & Wesson

Big Blue was new to the lever action game this year with their first foray into the sector. The Model 1854, aptly named after the patent date of the Volcanic repeater, looks like a standard offering from afar but features some unique design choices. It features a 19″ threaded barrel, removable magazine tube, polymer furniture with an M-LOK-equipped forend, large lever loop, and Picatinny scope mount.

Smith & Wesson Model 1854 [Photo:]


Henry Repeating Arms made waves with their new lever gun, fed by standard box magazines. The company does not have much information on this gun, but they mentioned it will work with standard .223/556 and .300BLK AR-15 magazines. We’ll have to wait and see what they officially release.

Henry H023 [Photo: @henry_rifles on instagram]


The new Winchester Ranger released by Winchester is chambered in .22LR. It is a standard .22LR offering with a unique feature: a one-screw takedown system. Just one screw and the receiver will separate from the rest of the rifle, making cleaning a breeze.

Winchester Ranger [Photo:]

A Competitive Space

With all these companies competing in the space, we should see some unique and innovative changes to the traditional lever action platform. Speaking of innovative change and because of all this talk about lever actions this year, it seems good timing to talk about where the lever action started. No, not the Volcanic, the Great-Grandfather of the Volcanic: The Volition Repeater. It’s a relatively unknown rifle, but one that arguably started it all.

“How do we make it shoot faster?” This question has been asked by every engineer, designer, gun company, or military trail since the invention of gunpowder. In 1836, Samuel L. Colt introduced the Colt Paterson Revolver in Paterson, New Jersey, a marvel of firearms innovation. It was the first commercially viable repeating revolver ever made. For the first time, you could string together, in this case, five shots before needing to reload the weapon.

During this era of firearms development, many people had remarkable ideas and new designs to move the needle of innovation in the gun industry. Collaborative efforts between two or three people were common as they came together to manufacture new ideas and designs. The partnerships would often go defunct after just a couple of years for many reasons like lousy management or complicated manufacturing processes. Colt is a shining example of one who made it. Colt would become famous for his designs and business acumen and eventually into a highly innovative and successful company. 

Walter Hunt Joins the Competition

There was another man just up the road from Paterson, New Jersey, who sought out the same innovative spirit as Colt. Little did he know that he would change the course of firearms development forever.

In Martinsburg, NY, Walter Hunt became known as a prolific inventor. Born in 1796, Hunt pursued masonry, married, and had four children. His invention journey began after witnessing a carriage accident in New York City. This event inspired him to create what could be considered the precursor to the modern car horn: a bell operated by the driver’s feet, allowing them to keep their hands on the horse reins. Hunt would go on to invent dozens and dozens of items, many of which are still in use today in mostly their original form. Among his most notable inventions is the safety pin. You probably haven’t heard of him because he was a terrible businessman, usually not patenting his inventions or selling them off for little to no money.

Hunt’s Inventions

Two of Hunt’s inventions—the Volition Repeater and Rocket Ball Cartridge — could arguably be the most critical in firearms history.

First was the Rocket Ball Cartridge. Patented in 1848 by Hunt, it was a complete departure from the conventional ammunition of the day. The Rocket Ball was a fully enclosed cartridge instead of the standard process of loading powder, ball, and cap. Resembling a hollowed-out modern bullet, it stored powder behind a cork cap on its concave side. Although it seemed primitive compared to today’s standards, this represented the downfall of the metallic cartridge. It’s a brilliant design.

Following closely after was the Volition Repeater, patented just under a year later. This rifle was the very first attempt at a lever action repeater. The gun had an interesting manual of arms with two levers, one to cycle the ammunition and one to cycle the primers. It was a remarkable advancement for the time. The Volition Repeater, paired with Hunt’s Rocket Ball Cartridge, revolutionized how ammunition could be carried, eliminating the need to reload after every round and allowing the user to carry ammunition within the gun.


Assorted Volcanic Rocket Ball Cartridges [Photo:]
There were many issues with both the rifle and the ammunition, though. Stately, it was exceedingly complicated to manufacture. It was also not reliable and hard to use because of the two-lever system. Even with its flaws, the Volition Repeater was the first. It informed all firearms development after it, causing an avalanche of people chasing the repeating firearm dream.

Design Iterations

The Volition Repeater would go through many design iterations, passing hands from Walter Hunt to Lewis Jennings in the form of the Hunt-Jennings Rifle, to Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson in the form of the Smith-Jennings Rifle and the Volcanic Repeater, and before ultimately finding its way to Oliver Winchester in the form of an improved Volcanic Repeater. Each individual attempted to perfect the original design. Oliver Winchester would go on to create the Winchester Repeating Arms, and Horace Smith & Daniel Wesson would go on to form Smith & Wesson. The Volition would act as the starting point for these two massive companies.

A Smith-Jennings Repeater Example [Photo:]

The Volition Repeater of Today

Reports differ on the current state of the original Volition Repeater designed by Walter Hunt, but it is speculated that only one was ever made. So, if you find it, you know you’ve struck gold.

So, what do you think? Do you think we’ll see the same 1850s era-type innovative drive in 2024 and beyond with lever actions? Or do you think manufacturers are going to stick with old tech?

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