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Lever action centrefire rifles review

Official review in Australian Shooter April 2002

There’s no mistaking a lever action rifle and at the Para Range in South Australia, there was no mistaking the power of the rifle’s being tested in the Australian Shooter’s Official Lever Action Review.
As in past official reviews, the purpose the day was to compare and test like products - and this time around we looked at lever action rifles in calibres 30-30, .45-70, .44 and .300 Win Mag, all which could be used in either lever action competitions or for hunting. The rifles were reviewed without telescopic sights, as that is how they are typically used.
While you digest the information provided on each firearm, it would pay consider the scores as well as the written reviews, as both are required to get a full understanding of the test. Thanks go to the firearm agents and distributors, range captains and the panel of experts for making this review possible.

Ammunition used
During the course of the review, a number of different types of ammunition were used. Reviewers were allowed to choose from the following and were encouraged to experiment with each type:
• Winchester .44 Rem Mag 240-grain Hollow Softpoint
• Winchester .300 Win Mag 180-grain Power Point
• Winchester .30-30 Win 150-grain Silvertip
• Federal Premium Safari .300 Win Mag 200-grain Trophy Bonded
• Federal Classic .30-30 Win 150-grain Hi Shok Softpoint Flat Nose
• Remington Express 300-grain HP

General comments
A Bushnell Sentry II sighting scope was used to check groups. Shooters Choice and Sweet’s 7.62 were used to clean the rifles. The conditions for the test were perfect and allowed the panel to focus on the task at hand. Despite a few imperfections and various personal preferences, which are bound to be the case, the panel kept coming up with words of praise for the guns on review. With scores ranging from 15.8 to 17.5 and prices within most people’s reach, the general consensus was that all of the lever actions reviewed would be worth a look.
In general, bench rest groups were not as impressive as those offhand, but that was to be expected, as these rifles are meant to be shot offhand or with the aid of a post or tree. As a ‘professional’ lever action shooter and multiple national lever action champion, Stephen Nicholas knows just about all there is to know about lever action rifles. At one point, he said he wouldn’t mind taking any one of the guns home with him. Having given his ‘seal of approval’ you would be wise to consider adding any one of these rifles to your own collection.

Marlin Model 1895GS .45-70 Gov’t
Marlin Model 1895GS .45-70 Gov’t
Supplied by: Nioa Trading
Barrel: 18.5" stainless, fitted with muzzle brake
Calibre: .45-70
Overall Length: 37"
Magazine Capacity: Four
Safety: Hammer block
Stock: Chequered American black walnut
Weight: 7lb (3.18kg)
RRP Price: $1465
Score: 17.5 Highest scoring rifle
Overall, the Marlin .45-70 shot very well, with impressive groups by all three reviewers. Brendan experienced good results using Remington 300gn Express loads. Groups shot offhand were much better than those from the bench rest. The design of the gun is typical of Marlin - with a solid top frame, smooth action and excellent finish. Cleaning and maintenance of this gun should be carried out with ease.
The Gov’t was the only rifle on review with a muzzle brake, which everyone agreed helped tame muzzle jump and aid accuracy, but it necessitates good hearing protection all around.
With an 18½-inch barrel, some people may find the sight radius is a little short on this gun. The loading gate was a bit tight and large rimmed cartridges had a tendancy to catch. After shooting this rifle, Adrian said it was a “compact heavy calibre that delivers the goods” and that it is a “must for lively pig shooting - a carbine worth the money”. The Marlin .45-70 would be a good gun for walking in the field and especially in heavy cover.

Marlin Model 336C Blue .30-30 Win
Marlin Model 336C Blue .30-30 Win
Supplied by: Nioa Trading
Barrel: 20" Blue
Calibre: 30-30
Overall Length: 38.5"
Magazine Capacity: Six
Safety: Hammer block
Stock: Chequered American black walnut
Weight: 7lb (3.18kg)
RRP Price: $1075
Score: 16.3
The Marlin 336C Blue shot well on the factory setting. Groups proved it would do its job in the field. The lightweight 20" barrel would also prove to be an asset in the field. Bench rest groups were no better than those achieved offhand. Stephen was pleased with the performance, making mention of the fact that he could take consecutive shots without losing the sight picture. He also felt that this gun would do well in lever action competition as supplied. If your preference is to use a scope, one could be mounted on this gun with ease. The fact that this rifle can be cleaned from the breech more than makes up for the extra attention the blue chrome moly barrel may require. Loading this gun didn’t present any major problems, but two of the reviewers felt that the loading gate was a bit sticky and would have liked to see a bit more thumb space. Brendan thought it was very pleasant to shoot and easy to clean and assemble. The reviewers agreed it was a good working rifle.

Marlin Model 336 Stainless Steel .30-30
Marlin Model 336 Stainless Steel .30-30
Supplied by: Nioa Trading
Barrel: 20" Stainless Steel
Calibre: 30-30
Overall Length: 38.5"
Magazine Capacity: Six
Safety: Hammer block
Stock: Chequered American black walnut
Weight: Approx 7lb (3.18kg)
RRP Price: $1315
Score: 17
Comments on this gun were not much different from its ‘blue’ counterpart. The 336 SS grouped well - both offhand and off the bench - and cycled easily. This rifle showed a distinct preference for the Federal ammunition.
The stainless steel barrel, while simple to clean, does lend itself to a bit of glare but that is something that can easily be remedied with camo tape or the like. Depending on your preferences, Stephen thought that the trigger and sights may need a little adjusting. Scopes can easily be added to this gun.
Loading was simple, as will be care and maintenance of this unit. The bolt on all three Marlins is easily removed so they can be cleaned from the breech. Adrian felt the 336 SS was a well-balanced rifle that shot better than he expected. He particularly liked the gold bead on the front sight, the quality timber and stock finish.

Rossi .44 Mag
Rossi .44 Mag
Supplied by: Nioa Trading
Barrel: 20" stainless
Calibre: .44 Mag
Overall Length: 38"
Magazine Capacity:
Safety: None
Stock: Stained wood of unknown origin
Weight: Approx 5lb 11oz (2.6kg)
RRP Price: $965
Score: 17 Best Accuracy Offhand
All reviewers achieved good groups with the Rossi, but Stephen produced an extremely impressive group using Winchester 44 Mag ammo. Groups were better offhand than from the bench. According to Stephen, the Rossi is a great close range, fast shooting hunting gun - great for chasing large feral pigs at short range. The experts agreed that loading the Rossi was easy and that the price was quite reasonable. One of the reviewers felt that the cycle was a bit rough but believed it would get smoother as the gun was used more. Another reviewer thought the ejection was a little erratic, suggesting total degreasing to help improve consistency. While the Rossi is easy to disassemble, assembly may take a bit of practice to master.
Some shooters may find the Rossi a bit light, while others may like that feature, as it wouldn’t become a burden mid hunt. Recoil was quite acceptable despite the metal buttplate.
Brendan was very impressed with this gun at first firing and said the sights were good as set by the factory. He felt the Rossi would be “dead on at 80 yards” and gave it five out of five for accuracy.
Overall, the panel believed the design of the gun is a very good copy of the 92 Winchester and the polished finish of the metal work is of good quality.

Winchester Model 94 .30-30
Winchester Model 94 .30-30
Supplied by: Olin Australia
Barrel: 20"
Calibre: .30-30
Overall Length: 38"
Magazine Capacity: 6 - plus 1 in chamber
Safety: Cross bolt
Stock: Hardwood
Weight: Approx 6lb (2.72kg)
RRP Price: $795
Score: 15.8
Stephen achieved excellent offhand groups at six o’clock with this gun and thought that it would do very well in lever action competition straight out of the box. As with most of the lever actions, results from the bench were no better than offhand. Overall it is a good all-around rifle that is typical Winchester quality; however, the reviewers found loading to be a bit awkward. When loading this gun, you can only push the cartridge in the magazine part way. If you push it in completely, the loading gate locks and additional ammo cannot be loaded until the magazine is emptied. Once you are aware of this, loading should be hassle free. It is a good handling gun that’s easy to point. It has a short receiver that keeps the balance centred between the hands. According to one of the experts, it is a “basic working rifle that will do the job well with no frills”.
The Model 94 is supplied with a gun lock and a hammer extension for ease of cocking or lowering of the hammer when a scope is fitted.
The panel believed this gun to be good value for money.

Browning BLR .300WM
Browning BLR .300WM
Supplied by: Olin Australia
Barrel: 24"
Calibre: .300WM
Overall Length: 45"
Magazine Capacity: 3 - plus 1 in the chamber
Safety: Half cock design
Stock: High gloss timber
Weight: Approx 7.5lb (3.75kg)
RRP Price: $1350
Score: 17 Best Accuracy off the Bench
The lightweight aircraft grade alloy receiver, rounded pistol grip and full fore-arm make the Browning quick to the shoulder and easy to handle in rough terrain. It is the only lever action rifle chambered for belted magnum cartridges. Brendan thought the Browning was a “very classy gun” that shot well - “certainly capable of minute of angle”. However, he did say that recoil would become a factor in a gun of this weight. Stephen said that this gun was good value for money compared to most bolt action rifles. He liked the rack and pinion design, which he thought was very smooth. He said the long lever throw was a bit of a disadvantage, but you would never guess that by looking at the tight group gracing his target. Even though the muzzle climbed quite a bit, which made a quick second shot more
difficult, he thought it was quite comfortable off the shoulder. Unlike most of the rifles on review, the BLR grouped better from the bench than offhand, with three shots within ¾ of an inch. Adrian liked the multiple locking lugs and thought the gun was strong, well balanced and reliable. He compared it to a superseded Model 71. He also thought the higher comb on the stock showed that it would do better with a scope, which he thought was a good feature for this calibre gun.
The Browning, which is “a lot of gun”, would probably be better suited as a hunting rifle rather than a competition rifle because of the size of the calibre.

The range
Para Range South Australia

The review team
Brendan Atkinson
Brendan Atkinson - Brendan is the current world benchrest two-gun champion and has years of experience shooting firearms of all types. He is the Australian Shooter’s technical advisor and review chairman and author of the popular benchrest column. He is also a keen hunter and member of the SSAA Hunting and Conservation program.
Stephen Nicholas
Stephen Nicholas - With numerous state and national lever action championship titles under his belt, Stephen proved to be the backbone of this review. He is the lever action captain at Para Range and the state lever action chairman. He’s been a shooter since 1974 and a lever action diehard since 1976. He says his favourite lever action at the moment is a Model 93 Marlin.
Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith - Adrian has been a shooter since he was 12. He is a keen clay target shooter and hunter. A member of the SSAA Hunting and Conservation program, Adrian assessed the lever actions as a field shooter rather than a competition shooter.