There’s something primal and exhilarating about hunting – the anticipation, the pursuit, the thrill of the chase.
Yet, all the skill and patience in the world won’t help if you’re not packing the right firepower.
The choice of the best lever action rifle round can make or break a hunting trip, and when it comes to lever-action rifles, there’s a world of difference between rounds.
The Powerhouse Trio: Lever Action Rifle Rounds for Hunting
Three lever-action rifle rounds are particularly renowned for hunting: the .45-70 Government, .30-30 Winchester, and .44 Magnum. These rounds are widely recognized for their versatility, power, and effectiveness in taking down different game from deer to bears. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just starting, these rounds will give you the confidence to face any hunting scenario.
Hunters favor these rounds due to their outstanding performance in rifles that are chambered for lever actions. Lever-action rifles have been a favorite among hunters for generations, thanks to their quick handling and reliability. And when paired with these powerhouse rounds, they make for a formidable hunting combination.
The .45-70 Government cartridge is the first member of our formidable trio. Hailing from the days of the Indian Wars in 1873, this cartridge quickly gained a reputation for its effectiveness in military operations, which soon led to its popularity in hunting. This cartridge can take down a variety of game like deer and North American big game, making it a versatile choice for hunters.
The .45-70 Government really packs a punch, with muzzle velocity ranging from 2,500 to 1,700 fps, delivering a quick takedown. Its forgiving shot placement and powerful close-range options make lever actions particularly well-suited for this cartridge. However, keep in mind that it’s not the best for varmint hunting or small game, and it’s a bit tricky to shoot accurately at longer distances.
The .30-30 Winchester, a long-standing cartridge staple in the hunting community since the late 19th century, is another member of our trio. As the first American small-bore cartridge made for smokeless powder, it quickly found its way into lever-action rifles and has been a popular choice ever since.
The .30-30 Winchester is known for:
- Its moderate recoil
- Its effectiveness in taking down deer and other medium-sized game
- Its recoil of around 14 ft-lbs, making it manageable for most shooters
- Working well in several lever-action rifles
- Its design, inspired by the Nitro Express cartridge, which has made it a perfect fit for better performance in lever-action rifles.
For a great comparison of 30-30 vs 45-70, check out the blog post over at HOP Munitions.
Rounding out our trio is the .44 Magnum. Known for its high velocity and impressive stopping power, this cartridge was a game-changer when it was introduced in the 1950s. The .44 Magnum shoots a big, heavy bullet really fast, earning it the label of a high-velocity cartridge.
One of the highlights of using the .44 Magnum in a lever-action rifle is the increased magazine capacity. This means you can load more rounds, giving you a considerable advantage in a hunting scenario. The .44 Magnum is a versatile hunting round, performing well in a lever-action platform and effective for hunting a variety of game.
Pistol Caliber Cartridges in Lever Action Rifles
Beyond the three rounds discussed, pistol caliber cartridges also deserve recognition as viable hunting choices. These cartridges work in handguns and also fit in lever-action rifles, offering a unique set of benefits.
Pistol caliber cartridges, including pistol cartridge options, in lever-action rifles, also known as lever rifles, offer the advantage of increased magazine capacity and the ability to take down game from a distance with various pistol calibers.
This can be a game-changer in hunting scenarios where you need to get off multiple shots in quick succession, making both lever action rifles and bolt guns popular choices for hunters. Lever guns, in particular, provide a unique combination of speed and accuracy when rifle chambered in pistol calibers.
Two popular choices in this category, the .357 Remington Magnum and the .44 Remington Magnum, are worth examining closely.
.357 Remington Magnum
The .357 Remington Magnum is a versatile and powerful cartridge that is well-suited for both law enforcement and hunting applications. It was designed to be superior to the .38 Special, with more speed and power, making it a popular choice among cops and hunters.
The .357 Remington Magnum is great for hunting! It can take down all sorts of game, even big ones like grizzlies. However, it’s best for short-range shots. Henry rifles chambered in .357 Magnum are popular choices for hunters. Despite its powerful performance, it’s not great for long-range shots over 50 yards, might kick pretty hard, and has lower speed than some other cartridges.
.44 Remington Magnum
The .44 Remington Magnum is another high-powered round that’s popular among handgun hunters and lever-action rifle users. Introduced in the 1950s, it’s a powerful round that’s great for taking down larger game.
The .44 Remington Magnum is often used to hunt:
- Whitetail deer
- Wild pigs
- Black bear
While it offers impressive velocities and effective terminal performance, it’s worth noting that it can be a bit too much for smaller game, making it less versatile than some other options.
Classic and Obscure Lever Action Cartridges
Apart from the relatively popular rounds discussed so far, numerous classic and obscure lever-action cartridges exist, which have receded in popularity or become a rarity. Some of these rounds include:
- .25-35 Winchester
- .32-40 Winchester
- .38-55 Winchester
- .405 Winchester
- .50-110 Winchester
These rounds were once favored by hunters but have since been overshadowed by more modern options.
Yet, these classic and obscure cartridges have a charm all their own. They remind us of a bygone era of hunting, and for some hunters, there’s a certain thrill in using these vintage rounds. Two such cartridges, the .348 Winchester and the 7×30 Waters, merit further examination.
The .348 Winchester is a high-performing big-bore lever-action cartridge that was once considered one of the finest. Introduced in 1936 for Winchester’s Model 71 lever-action rifle, it was the first short magnum cartridge ever and was celebrated for its flat trajectory and big game hunting power.
Despite its performance, the .348 Winchester is not as popular as it once was. It’s a potent round, but it’s been overshadowed by other rounds and has become somewhat obscure.
Regardless, those Model 71 rifles in .348 Winchester are still super popular among vintage gun enthusiasts and collectors.
The 7×30 Waters cartridge is another classic that’s fallen into obscurity. Invented by Ken Waters in 1976, it was introduced in 1984 for the U.S. Repeating Arms Model 94XTR Angle Eject rifle and carbine to compete with bolt-action rifle rounds.
Despite its innovative design, the 7×30 Waters cartridge fell out of favor due to several reasons. Winchester stopped making ammo for it, it had some frame stretch problems, and there just weren’t as many options for buying ammo.
Modern Innovations in Lever Action Rounds
Innovation in lever action rounds is a constant process, with manufacturers striving to create the best lever action cartridges. Modern cartridges aim to improve upon the performance of their predecessors, offering unique advantages. However, even the most innovative rounds can struggle to gain widespread popularity.
Two examples of such modern innovations in lever-action rounds are the .375 Winchester and .356 Winchester. These rounds offer unique benefits and perform well in certain ways, but they’re expensive, hard-to-find factory ammo for them, and there aren’t many rifles that use these calibers.
The .375 Winchester is a powerful cartridge designed for taking down large game animals. Introduced in 1978, it was initially used in the Winchester Model 94 XTR Big Bore carbine and quickly gained a reputation for its power.
The .375 Winchester offers a bigger bullet and faster speed than other popular lever-action rounds like the .30-30 or .35 Remington. However, despite its impressive performance, it remains relatively unknown among hunters due to its limited availability and the high cost of ammo.
The .356 Winchester is another potent round that has received less attention than it deserves. Offering impressive performance on bigger game and higher speed than the .35 Remington, it’s a formidable choice for lever-action rifles.
However, the .356 Winchester has faced challenges in gaining widespread popularity. These challenges include:
- Hunting preferences shifting to other rifle cartridges
- Confusion with similar rounds like the .348 Winchester and .358 Winchester
- Discontinuation of production, limiting availability and popularity among hunters.
Choosing the Right Lever Action Rifle Round for Your Needs
Choosing the appropriate lever-action rifle round for your hunting needs requires careful consideration. The size of the game you’re hunting can impact the choice of lever action rifle round. If it’s smaller game, you might need lighter rounds with less kick, but for larger game, you might need heavier rounds for more stopping power.
The hunting range also plays a crucial role in your choice of round. Depending on how far you expect to shoot, how hard you need your round to hit, and how the bullet performs at different distances, you’ll need to choose your round accordingly.
Bear in mind that the choice of round can be the deciding factor between a successful deer hunting experience and a lost chance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best caliber for lever-action rifles?
The best caliber for lever-action rifles is the 44 Magnum, as it is a great choice for hunting and was historically used in early lever guns alongside other pistol calibers like the .44-40.
Which is better 45-70 or 30-30?
If you’re hunting deer, go with the 30-30 for its smaller, lighter build, and better mobility. But for bigger game like moose or bears, the 45-70 is a better choice due to its ability to transfer more force into the target.
What was the most common lever-action rifle caliber?
The most common lever-action rifle caliber is the .30-30 Winchester, popular in rifles like the Marlin Model 336 and Winchester Model 1894.
Why are Marlin 30-30 so expensive?
Marlin 30-30 rifles are expensive due to a steadily increasing demand, limited production from Marlin, and the discontinuation of affordable levers by Winchester.
Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the world of lever-action rifle rounds, from the powerhouse trio of the .45-70 Government, .30-30 Winchester, and .44 Magnum, to the lesser-known .348 Winchester and 7×30 Waters.
We’ve touched on the benefits of using pistol caliber cartridges in lever-action rifles, and highlighted some modern innovations in lever-action rounds.
Ultimately, the right round for you will depend on your specific hunting needs, personal preferences, and the game you’re after. So, keep exploring, keep experimenting, and most importantly, keep hunting!