Ask any student of small arms to name the most typically American rifle and chances are that they will name the .30-30 lever action rifle. Manufactured for over a century by Marlin, Winchester, and others - the lever action invokes images of the Old West. We see Jimmy Stewart in "Winchester '73" smiting the enemies of justice and freedom with his "repeater". We see John Wayne admonishing his adversaries to "fill their hands" as he gallops forward, a stubby Winchester in each hand. And, of course, we see photos of that most American of presidents - Theodore Roosevelt wielding his lever action against all manner of beasties in Africa. This ubiquitous and understated weapon has played a very major role in this country's history.
Today the lever action is most often seen in the hands of close range deer hunters as a brush gun. It is not likely to be the first weapon that comes to our minds when the talk turns to fighting. But make no mistake friends, as a fighting (anti-personnel) weapon, the lever action is just as useful and deadly today, on a lonely stretch of highway in the bad part of town, as it was in the dusty cow towns of the Kansas Territory more than a century ago.
Today a rifle of this sort might be kept in tactical storage in a hall closet, above the hearth, or in the trunk of a car for unexpected social unpleasantries. In such a role the lever action has several advantages over other weapons that are more commonly thought of as fighting tools.
Primarily, the lever action is inexpensive. Used examples in perfect working condition may be had for about a hundred bucks. Even brand new weapons will set you back less than the price of a night on the town for two. Compare that with the price of a more military-like, and hopefully still legal, Sturmgewehr-fighting rifle (If you can find one for sale these days)!
The ammunition (.30-30 Winchester Centerfire) has all the characteristics desirable in a mid-range fighting rifle cartridge. In fact, the ballistics of the .30-30 cartridge are amazingly similar to those for the most specifically designed fighting cartridge of all, the 7.62X39 Russian chambered in the AK-47. Shot for shot, the .30-30 will do almost everything you could ask from a mid-range tactical rifle. And it will do these things as well as many military weapons will!
Being "sporting guns", lever actions are usually issued with fairly good triggers which are crisp and conducive to hitting. Even if the trigger action is rough on some pieces, it is a simple matter to have it brought up to speed by a gunsmith. Additionally, you'd have to look long and hard to find a gunsmith that isn't familiar with the lever action lock-work. This is certainly more than we can say about the gritty as-issued, or modified triggers of some military grade weapons.
Finally, the lever action rifle is more compact in its 16 inch barrel configuration than most other rifles that might be chosen to fill the role. Equally important in this age of sensitive, touchie-feelie, politically-correct idiots, it looks innocent. Don't dismiss this last attribute too easily. In our troubled and ignorant times - specially in certain states, juries release violent murderers and rapists because they are not intelligent enough to discern the real facts from the spun fiction. In California for example, such things as a bayonet lug or a 30 round magazine "like the SEALs use", may confuse them enough to change your life's plans...drastically.
The standard .30-30 will suffice as issued for most duties. But enhancement may be undertaken to improve its performance. One area where improvements may be made is the sights. These weapons are issued with the old buckhorn type sights. They will do, but a rear ghost ring aperture sight with its accompanying front sight post will, in my opinion, do much better. These are available from various sources.
My .30-30 carbine has a modified 1903-A3 rear sight whose aperture has been opened up to ghost ring configuration. This rear sight, coupled with a tall front sight at the end of the barrel, works very well indeed.
Also useful is a leather butt-cuff. This keeps extra ammunition on the weapon itself. This may compromise the concept of the light carbine, but if you have to grab the rifle and run out of your house at 0'dark 30 one night to repel the Visigoths, you'll be glad the extra ammo was there. I know that I was always glad to have a few extras!
Marlin once made a similar model called the "Marauder". If your fighting lever gun is too long, it is a simple matter to have your excess barrel lopped off at the local gunsmithy (make certain it remains at least 16" long to keep "you know who" away). Such a conversion will greatly enhance handling, as well as keep the spirit of the compact weapon.
I thus modified an old Marlin 336 rifle that I rescued from the used gun rack at the local gun store. Total cost of the entire package was less than two hundred bucks (including a nice 4X Leupold scope, which I eventually mounted on another rifle!). It is short, light, hard hitting, rugged, cheap to replace if necessary...and well, it looks innocent. I obtained a supply of hunting grade PMC 150 grain .30-30 ammo and tested the combative utility of the carbine via a series of rifle exercises from Suarez International's Rifle Course. The drills involve both close range reactive shooting as well as longer distances possible in combative encounters. For purposes of uniformity, all drills commenced from the patrol ready position - that is gun held loosely at the belt level with the muzzle depressed to the offside.
Head shots were fired from the shoulder at 25 meters. Body shots were next at 50 meters, 75 meters, and 100 meters. Multiple targets were shot at 50 meters distance as well as up close at 7 meters. Close quarters targets were engaged both with snap shots from the shoulder, as well as from the Close Contact CQB position. Approximately 200 rounds were fired to get an overall impression of the lever action rifle in the anti-personnel role. Our findings were that there is very little that a realistic rifleman (acting as an individual - not a member of a military rifle squad) can expect from his weapon that the lever action cannot deliver.
If you are in need of an economic and effective rifle that offers as many advantages as a single rifleman can use within "defensive" or "urban" conflict distances, and you live in a place where an AK or AR is reserved for those in uniform, take a serious look at the lever action carbine. I think you'll like what you see.
Copyright 1999, Gabriel Suarez
All Rights Reserved