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Old August 11, 2017, 08:55 PM   #1
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Quality Comparison of Lever-Actions

I am looking for your subjective opinion on the quality of different brands of lever-action rifles, and even old versus new production. Obviously, lever-action rifles have been in production for well over 100 years. I'm less interested in collectible rifles, and more interested in accessible and usable rifles.

You can divide them into "good, medium, and bad" or type an essay. Either way, please leave a some sort of explanation for your reasoning (reliability, looks, materials used, smoothness of the action, drop in quality since buyout, etc.).
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Old August 11, 2017, 09:54 PM   #2
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Can of worms.

I like my Winchester 94 both 1970's model and 1940's model. I prefer them over the Marlin 336 but it's also a quality gun. My only experience was with JM barrels.

My mom has a Henry and aside from being new it was tight. Still seemed like a quality gun. All models were in 30-30.

If I needed a lever today in a pistol cartridge I would get a Henry.
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Old August 11, 2017, 10:13 PM   #3
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Had my 336 stainless steel, all week long, up at the mountain camp site. Set targets up the hill, like you'd see on Hickock 45. It did real well, accuracy wise, as well as looking good. Action is now as smooth as my Henry 45-70. It's a 2016 made Marlin. Did smooth out the sharp corners of the lever, as well as polishing the action parts. Spiffed up the wood a bit too. Just check one out, before purchase.

As previously noted, subject is a can of worms.
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Old August 11, 2017, 11:23 PM   #4
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I have nothing to compare it to, and have no previous experience with lever actions, but I have a brand new Marlin 1894 in 44 Magnum. I've owned it 6 weeks and have 250 rounds through it. It has functioned perfectly, the sights were adjusted well for windage, the elevation needed two clicks up. I can shoot a 1.5" group at 50 yards with the open sights. The metal shines, and the wood is nicely finished. The metal to wood fit is good, the checkering is decent, not as sharp as I have on other guns, but there are no missing points, and the lines are straight. The wood is typical Marlin, again decent, but not super dark or rich. The American Walnut has some figure, and the grain is interesting. The two pieces match color perfectly.

It has a slightly heavy trigger, but its clean and crisp. I would rather have a trigger like this, than a light, mushy trigger with creep. The hammer and trigger have sharp edges.

I would give this rifle a 9 out of 10. I see nothing that would indicate this gun wont be around for a long time. Nothing is cheaply made. I think its a great deal for the money. I'm proud to own it.
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Old August 12, 2017, 06:36 AM   #5
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The quality of the Winchester 94 has been all over the map since the inception. Some are great guns, others not so much. Much has been written about pre-64 Winchesters, but that mostly deals with a redesign of the model 70 in 1964. The model 94 wasn't redesigned, but did see a decline in workmanship. It was less dramatic and more gradual than the model 70.

I wouldn't be afraid of a 94 made at any time during the 1960's, but I wouldn't want a 1970's vintage model 94. Winchester was bought by a group of investors in 1980 and there was a lot of effort put into improving quality. Most of them made during the 1980's and early 90's are pretty nice guns. But quality started a decline in the late 90's. I wouldn't want a gun made 2000-2006. Winchester closed the doors in 2006 before being revived by the parent FN company in 2008. New Winchesters lever guns are made in Japan and are high quality and high priced.

Marlin quality has traditionally been more consistent. There have been minor stock redesigns over the years. The guns made during the 1970's and 80's have the best looking stock in my opinion. Current rifles leave WAY too much wood in the forend as did many made earlier.

There were problems after Remington bought the company and moved production into the Remington factory. I think Remington was unfairly criticized for this. The older Marlins were built using a lot of hand work. New employees worked as apprentices under skilled workers who passed along the skills to build the rifles.

Few skilled workers transferred to the Remington factory. Remington had to figure out how to build these guns on modern CNC machines using blueprints from the 1800's. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it took a while to get it figured out and it appears they have.

All of the modern levers are just lever actions. None of the rifles made by Browning, Henry or some others are true to the traditional design and I simply don't care for them. Even though many function just fine. Between Marlin and Winchester they have produced around 15 million rifles since the 1890's. With a little effort it is easy enough to find a nice used one at prices very competitive with new production rifles. It will be a gun that is true to the original design and will be of at least equal quality. Assuming someone avoids certain production years.
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Old August 12, 2017, 06:46 AM   #6
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The Henry's too heavy.
The `92 throws`em out the top.
The `73's too weak....

But the `94`95 & 336 Marlins are juuuuuussst right
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Old August 12, 2017, 07:55 AM   #7
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I like top ejects and I like my Winchester 94 made in 79. It's ugly as homemade sin but it shoots with the best of them. The worst thing about the 70's Winchesters is the sintered receiver won't take bluing. The Marlin 336 is ok but I don't really want one. My only experience with the Henry is from a .22 Golden Boy and I like it better than a Marlin 39A. I'm not sure I'd like centerfire that loaded from the front plus it looks more like a Marlin than anything else.
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Old August 13, 2017, 05:26 AM   #8
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1. Browning BLR
2. ---------------
3. ---------------
4. Sako Finnwolf (discontinoud)3
5. Savage 99 (discontinoud)
6. Winchester 88 (discontinoud)
7. Henry
8. Winchester(original and miroku)
9. Marlin
10. Chiappa
11. Rossi

The Browning BLR is not just the best levers out there, it is one of the best hunting rifles period.
it is light and handy, accurate for

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Old August 13, 2017, 09:07 AM   #9
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If I bought new, I would get another Henry.
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Old August 13, 2017, 09:09 AM   #10
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Your term "subjective opinion" is appropriate here, because that is exactly what you are going to get from the Winchester fans, Marlin fans, and Henry fans who respond to the question. They all have good points. I own all three in .30-30. My Henry blued steel model is the most accurate and is the least subject to accuracy deterioration due to barrel heat. It also has fine workmanship with better wood than most Marlins and Wins. The brass frame version of this gun is quite heavy, perhaps too heavy for carry hunting. Loading through the magazine tube is not inconvenient and is not an issue for hunters.

Barely mentioned here is the Savage Model 99, which I also own. It is arguably better than the other three mentioned here. For hunting, there are early versions in .30-30, but the .300 Savage is far superior to the .30-30, not to mention that some were produced in .308 and .243.
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Old August 13, 2017, 09:23 AM   #11
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My Daisy Red Ryder carbine is as good as any of them.
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Old August 13, 2017, 09:24 AM   #12
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My about to close Gander has 7-8 Savage 99s on the shelf at 50% off their asking prices......making the sale price over $1000 each. While nice rifles, at that price, not for me.
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Old August 13, 2017, 12:26 PM   #13
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and another example of why Gander Mountain is going out of business...
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Old August 13, 2017, 01:13 PM   #14
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Best lever I ever shot was a BLR, the only one that shot sub MOA reliably. Sadly it was not mine I was just working up a handload for a friend who wanted a custom load for his 22-250. The only thing I did not like about that rifle was the fact that it had a very soft hammer strike and did not go bang every time you pulled the trigger. The BLR much like the Savage 99 is not limited to round nose bullets.
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Old August 14, 2017, 05:06 AM   #15
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If at all possible. Let somebody else do a lever rifles breaking in before your purchasing..
No problem owning a used lever that had 500 cartridges shot thru it before your purchasing.

How it is here.
White glove Pre 64 94 & 1894 winchesters to gawk at.
Savage 99s are all well used Blue collar working rifles i.e. bought strictly for use in the woods. Not for their looks.
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Old August 14, 2017, 09:44 AM   #16
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Subjectivity is just that, subjective. The answers you get are random at best and false at worst as you have no basis to assess them. What I may love, you may hate so just listing them in order is nonsense. As an example, comparing a working gun to a showpiece in terms of fit and finish is stupid. I'm sure that you'll get more answers like some you've already received and they'll be worth absolutely nothing as are those above.

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Old August 14, 2017, 10:27 AM   #17
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I have a Winchester 30/30 that must have been one of the last examples out the door in 96 from the serial number. I got it used on trade and have only out maybe 5 rounds through it. It is a little rough around the edges and I did take it apart and smooth up the internals but that probably speaks more to the design of the rifle than fit and finish.

I have a Henry in 22lr as do a few friends. Examples range from at least 10 years old to current production and each one of them is built well and consistently . I imagine the same attention is given to their center fire rifles as well.

I also have a marlin in 44 mag. It was built 2-3 years ago and it seems quite accurate. It is however lacking in fit and finish. The ejection port was literally as sharp as a razor blade out of the box. I cut my finger on it twice.

Every lever gun is going to be an example unto itself. Even in the good years there are going to be poor examples and vice versa.

Despite all the Remlin hate I think I am going to get a new 336 in 35 Remington because jm examples are few and far between where I live.

I'm also thinking about a Henry in 357 for the wife and kids. Their rifles always seemn pretty darn consistent from what I've seen.
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Old August 14, 2017, 10:57 AM   #18
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My 45-70 Marlin 1895 CBA (7/2016 build) had no sharp edges on the lever or side port. The 336SS 30-30 built two months later, had sharp edges on the lever. Side port was okay. Since it is stainless steel, the lever was easy to round the edges, and end up looking new. I also did a bit of smoothing on the trigger & hammer.

Both of these rifles are looking good (some oil finishes added to the wood), when sitting next to the Henry 45-70 which was purchased between the two Marlins. All three have functioned perfectly. I did make it a point to pull the levers, clean and polish, before use.

The actual wood to metal fit, was good on the Marlins. No gaps, or wood sitting proud over the metal. I did check the fit, before purchase. I looked at three Henry's for the best looking stock & forearm.

Yesterday, I spent some time cleaning a double barreled shot gun made in Turkey, about 15 years ago. Someone went to a lot of trouble, to exactly match the Walnut to the metal. It's almost pure perfection, that would be a lot of man hours to do these days. Even the insides, that would never be seen, were sanded very smooth, and had a finish coat on them.
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Old August 14, 2017, 11:43 PM   #19
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As a gunsmith for much of the past 30 years, I have seen a lot of lever guns. Both Winchester and Marlin have had quality issues over the years, primarily in wood to metal fit, wood quality, and metal finishes. Marlin has also had issues with metal heat treating, barrel quality, and issues with the shape and finishes of their levers, causing many cowboy action shooters to shoot with gloves, wrap soft leather around the lever, or having the lever's interior curves radiused. But all in all, both Winchester and Marlin lever actions are pretty good, due primarily to the simplicity and ruggedness of the design and good execution.

Other lever action designs have come and gone (Winchester 88, Sako Finnwolf, Mossberg 402/472, etc), but the most reliable you will find is typically the Savage 99. It is dead simple in design, and was always executed fairly well (with the exception of the "100 Years" commemorative from last years of production).

Henry seems to get a lot of fan-boys these days, but they are mainly a copy of a Marlin, and poorly executed at that. They do shoot well, and shooters like them because of the extra weight, but hunters avoid them for that reason from what I have seen.
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Old August 15, 2017, 06:35 AM   #20
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Mossberg 464 is a winner!

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Old August 16, 2017, 07:03 PM   #21
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For a long time I'd have this conversation or read one on this or another forum and just roll my eyes. Countless Winchester and Marlin fans going on about how all they had to do was refinish a stock, smooth up a trigger or an action, take the sharp edges off whatever so it would stop cutting them, and presto! the gun was perfect.

I always thought to myself,"really? All one has to do is basically do a bunch of work that should have been done at the factory, to get it to be acceptable and you're happy?" Why on earth would anyone be happy with a gun that's so obviously sub-standard out-of-the-box . . . I never understood it.

And then there's the crowd that insists on sneering at the BLR or the Henry because they "aren't faithful to the original lever design." Please. Are they reliable? Is the fit and finish acceptable from the factory? Are they solid performers? Is their CS good? Yes, yes, yes, and let's see . . . yes.

Flash forward to now. I freely admit I like to tinker with my guns. I like to smooth up an action now and again, or install a new trigger kit, or whatever. Maybe at the end of the day that's what all those guys were trying to say, I don't know. Anyway to each their own.

I was once a Marlin owner/buyer, but their chronic issues with fit and finish, bad CS, etc., has kept me away. Maybe some day I'll get another one when they solve all their issues and can consistently produce a reliable performer with quality fit and finish. Until then I'll keep buying Henrys and BLRs. But like I said, that's just me. If you like/want a Marlin or a Winchester, then get one. Or two. Life's short, you should get what you want.
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Old August 16, 2017, 09:07 PM   #22
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Don't overlook the "store" brands, which were just rebranded Winchesters and Marlins. My brother picked up a mint Sears Ted Williams (Winchester 94) for less than half the going rate for the Winchester marked guns.
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Old August 18, 2017, 12:16 PM   #23
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My 2 cents, Big Horn Armory Levers are best produced Levers currently, head and shoulders above my others.

Fit, finish, and function excellent on mine and all those I have handled, only issue is the price and limited to 500S&W and 460S&W cartridges.

be safe
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Old August 18, 2017, 09:02 PM   #24
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What is your definition of quality OP?
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Old August 18, 2017, 09:03 PM   #25
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Ruggy, I just looked up those Big Horns. DROOL. They are gorgeous. Heavy and expensive, but beautiful.
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