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GUNS Magazine July 2012 Digital Edition - Page 24
STORY: Dave Anderson the LeVer aCtion T he lever action is American. Other nations do bolt actions well with their Mausers and Mannlichers. But other nations just don’t get the lever action—I suppose because other nations didn’t have Oliver Winchester, John Browning, Arthur Savage and John Marlin. and .300 Savage. A few, much admired and envied, had the new Winchester 88. One friend of Dad’s had two 88s, in .243 and .308. A modest man, he carried his fame lightly. In the early 1960s, dreaming of the day I’d order my own deer rifle, studying catalogs on cold winter evenings as the snow swirled around the isolated farmhouse, the only decision was whether it would be an 88 or a 99. We didn’t know it at the time, but the lever-action era was coming to an end. Several factors came together. Millions of military surplus bolt actions were available at low cost. The Winchester 88 I wanted cost $140, and might as well have been a million. With hard work and thrift I was able to afford $17.88 for a Lee Enfield .303. Interest in magnum cartridges had been growing since the end of WWII. Such cartridges weren’t compatible with the lever actions of the era. Another factor was the tremendous A truly American design. From the beginning of the selfcontained cartridge era and for a century, the lever action dominated America’s hunting fields. Following the WWI, bolt-action rifles slowly began making inroads. Millions of soldiers had been trained in their use. Inexpensive military surplus rifles and ammunition became available. There was increased interest in more powerful, flatshooting cartridges such as the .30-06. Nonetheless an American hunter was still far more likely to carry a lever rifle than any bolt action. I was a boy in the 1950s, growing up in a rural environment where just about every household had a .22, a shotgun and a deer rifle. Almost always the deer rifle was a lever action. There were Winchester 92s and 94s, Marlin 36s and 336s, and Savage 99s. One fellow had a .303 Savage 99 on which he had somehow attached a 3/4"-diameter scope, the first I’d ever seen. The real enthusiasts had 99s in .250 Dave’s 1948-vintage Marlin 336 is in .32 Special. Even today you can find old-timers ready to argue Marlin vs. Winchester, .30-30 vs. .32 Special. I think that is how they kept warm in those drafty old hunting shacks in the north woods. Hunting heavy cover, a carbine such as this Marlin 336 .32 Special can be carried like this, with six rounds in the magazine and the chamber empty for safety. If a shot is offered, the action can be cycled about as quickly as the rifle is brought to the shoulder. growth in handloading. Cartridges can be reloaded for any type of action, but bolt actions provide great power for cartridge seating and extraction, helping compensate for the inevitable learning curve of novice reloaders. Still, another factor was the increasing interest in accuracy and a rapidly growing knowledge base of accuracy factors, largely driven by benchrest competition and varmint shooters. Shooters became more trigger conscious. Lever actions generally can’t match the quality trigger pull of a good bolt action. The switch from iron to optical sights played a part. Top-ejecting lever rifles such as the Winchester 71 and 94 didn’t adapt well to scope use. Others that did (the Savage 99, for example) weren’t well stocked for scope use. Hunting styles changed. A Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 with receiver sight is ideal for still-hunting deer. It is easy to carry with a hand wrapped around the receiver, easy to maneuver through heavy cover, fast into action, adequately powerful. But in an era of tree stands and food plots, not many know how to still-hunt, or 24 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • J U LY 2 0 1 2