IF YOU CAN'T MILL YOUR SLIDE FOR A RED DOT?
THE INDIAN OR THE ARROW?

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LEVER ACTION RIFLE

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Few guys today will remember those heady days in Los Angeles.  It was early 1992, and the focus of everything in the news and on television was the violent arrest of Rodney King.  King, a known Altadena Bloc Crip Gangmember, became the rationale for a week of rioting in April of that year.  Known today as the LA Riots. It was a violent time, and for young hard charging officers, it was a great time to be on the job.  If you were in a Special Enforcement Unit, it was the time you would always recall as the busiest and most active part of your career.

We heard stories of LA Gang members targeting officers off duty, on their way home or to work.  We heard of road blocks set up by those same people.  As much as the political officials and police administrators wanted to ignore it, we were facing an insurgency.  At the time, the agency I worked for was very strict with weaponry for Special Enforcement.  We had access to many things, but controls were tight and we often conducted entries with handguns and sawed off shotguns because we could handle it right then rather than wait for approval to go to the armory.  The common idea of taking home your patrol rifle was so foreign as to be inconceivable.  But I knew I needed something more than my pistol in my personal vehicle, and while I had several unregistered "AR assault rifles", I was reluctant to keep one in my personal car.

After some thought, I went to the now defunct Pony Express Gun Store and bought an old used Marlin 336 in 30-30.  The rifle was rusty and needed some work, but the action was smoother than anything I had ever seen.  I bought it for the princely sum of about $100.  My next stop was Hoag Gunworks in Canoga Park.  I had an idea of what I wanted.  This was going to be a rifle for killing humans not deer.  It would be used well inside 100 yards, more likely inside 25 yards.  I wanted it fast and handy and as short as I could make it without being arrested for an NFA violation.  I had obtained a few items - the front sight for a Remington 870, and a rear sight from a Springfield 1903-A3 (with a large rear aperture).  In retrospect, the standard sights that came on the rifle could have been improved a bit and then left alone.  But Gunsite being fresh in my mind, I thought the Ghost Ring was the only way to go.

I had Mr. Hoag cut the barrel to 16" exactly, crown it, mount the front sight and rear sight respectively, and polish the action.  I had him do a trigger job and dehorn the hammer slightly.  Once I had it back I added a leather stock-mounted ammo sleeve and put it in the trunk of my T-bird.  That rifle rolled with me to work and home everyday beginning in early January of 1992 and through the riots and afterwards.  There were some nights that it rode up front with me based on credible information received.  I never had the opportunity to use it in its anti-personnel mode, but it was always there should the need arise.

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Today, a quarter century later, I see a renewed interest in the lever action.  I will offer these points for consideration, from one who has already been there.

1).   The lever action rifle has value in locations where theft from a vehicle is likely (a stolen 30-30 is not as bad as a stolen Noveske M4).

2).  The lever action rifle has value in locations that are restrictive of modern weapons such as an AR.

3).  For anti-personnel use, the 30-30 is the choice.  For anti-animal use the 45-70 may offer some advantages over the 30-30, but not for anti-personnel uses.

4).  The anti-personnel use of these rifles will not exceed 100 yards, and 25 yards will be more likely.  For that, the standard sights will serve admirably.

5).  If you want more accuracy, get a red dot and not the Ghost Rings.  Avoid those big fat front sights that the gun magazines get orgasmic about.

6).  Resist the temptation to add the accessories that seem so easy to add to an AR.  A sleek and fast 30-30 is better than a fat and heavy 30-30 AR imitation. 

7).  Shorter is better.  Lighter is better.

8).  Look at the lead image of my original "Rodney King Riot Rifle" and compare it to the Braced Stakeout below it.  Weapons like the Stakeout (Tac-14/Shockwave) were not available back then...and specially not in Los Angeles.  But they are shorter and offer the same capability in the application as the 30-30.  

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If I had a similar situation today I would likely opt for the braced Stakeout over the 30-30.  But if you have your heart set on a Combat 30-30, here is what I suggest you do.  Ignore all the naysayers that bemoan the poor quality of the modern lever action rifle.  Today all American mass produced weapons will in fact need a trip to the custom gunsmith to make them into what they should be.  That is a fact of life. Why is that?  Because most gun buyers look at price first and only and gun companies have to present their wares at a price point that appeals to the masses. If you want excellence, buy whatever you want and take it to a custom shop to make it the way it should be.

Keep it short.  Barrel no longer than 16".  Eschew ghost rings and leave the sights as they are.  You can add improvements if you wish (such as tritium front sight, and improved rear open sight).  Add a receiver mounted rail for addition of a red dot sight.  Have a gunsmith slick up the trigger and the action (maybe have the bolt and lever finished in Np3).  Make any reliability improvements that are needed (sometimes the extractor is a concern), and eliminate the silly crossbolt safety some of the guns come with.  That is it.

Then get some ammo and work with the rifle a bit.  The best ways to run it will become evident to you.  It is a very simple system.

 

Original Gabe Suarez Article on the Lever Action (1999)

 

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