The Tried and True Lever-Gun ~ The Best Ever Made

Posted on March 17, 2015




DCRFlanneryGuest blogger, Randy Flannery is an Outfitter, Master Maine Guide, deer hunter, and personal friend who I have had the good pleasure of sharing many a deer camp with. Randy and his business, Wilderness Escape Outfitters is located in Danforth, Maine and can be found at,






In today’s world of high-tech everything, it seems just about everyone wants to run right out to get the latest gadget to hit the market. It is no different in the outdoor industry. There is always the latest and greatest camo this or scent-free that, and an endless stream of new gadgets. They even have odorless bubble gum, if you can believe it. Look at the firearms industry. Manufacturers are always coming out with new models and new calibers. They even have short magnum calibers out now so gun enthusiasts will go out and purchase a new, old caliber, just because it has a shorter casing.


I am an old-fashioned guy. I grew up in an old-fashioned family. We have always done things the old-fashioned way. We don’t believe in gadgets. We still navigate by map and compass. We still wear the same old-style green-and-black plaid wool jackets and shirts like my great-grandfather wore. We still track and stalk whitetails (what the old-timers called jump shooting) as opposed to sitting and waiting for them to come to us. We even use old-fashioned guns. Our rifle of choice: the lever-action Winchester.

My family has hunted with 16-inch barreled, iron-sighted Winchesters for over five generations. Most of us use Model 94s but some family members have Model 1876s, 1886s, and Model 71s, in many very capable calibers from 45 LC to .45-70, but mostly the .30-30, .38-55, .375, .356, and .444. One of my uncles even has a .450 Alaskan.


Lever-actions are tough, durable, fast-handling, and still the most widely carried gun by guides and bush pilots in North America. The lever-action was invented in 1854 and hasn’t changed much over the years. Many years ago when I was guiding out West, I was amazed to see so many guides and cowboys carrying lever-actions. I had expected to see them all carrying bolt-actions with scopes, but just about everyone had a lever-gun in the scabbard on their horse or back window of their pickup truck. When I asked outfitter and guide Ed Tiblijas of Triangle T Outfitters about it, he said that because some of the shots they take are at great distance, they do hunt with bolt-actions with scopes quite a bit, but for working the ranch, guiding, and especially tracking down wounded game, the lever-actions are tougher than a bag of hammers and can’t be beat. He said that the lever-action is the best gun ever made for everyday use and most cowboys never go anywhere without one. I told him that my grandfather used to say that you could take a lever-action Winchester and throw it off the roof, into a mud-puddle, come back three days later, fish it out and go kill a deer with it. He always said that you could never do that with any other type of firearm. We both agreed.

Several years ago, while I was guiding for elk and mule deer in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest, James Henry, one of the guides I was working with, reached for his Model 94 Winchester to pull it out of the scabbard as we were working our way up a switchback. Just as the rifle cleared the scabbard, the horse he was riding slipped on some shale and he lost his grip. The rifle tumbled and then slid down the side of the mountain for about 500 feet. It took us two hours to work our way down and around to the gun. We expected to find it in pieces but there it lay, scratched up a bit but all intact. After retrieving it, James fired 5 shots from it to see how much damage was done. Believe it or not, the trusty old 94 in .356 caliber was right-on. We couldn’t believe it. To this day, I truly believe if that had happened to any other type of gun it would have been broken in pieces and totally useless. I have never been more impressed with a gun – especially it’s toughness and dependability – than I was on that day. All James would say is, “Now you know why they call it the gun that won the west.”

 Elk 2-1

Like I said, my family’s hunting style has always been tracking and stalking so the little Winchesters with the 16-inch barrels have worked out great for us. With the whole gun being only 33 1/2-inches long you can get in and out of any terrain no matter how thick it is, and it is so light and easy to carry – like a big pistol – you can carry it day after day all season long and never get tired from carrying it.

We don’t use scopes on our rifles and have always just used the iron sights that come on the gun from the factory. For our style of hunting, shots are usually less than 50-yards, so it is usually better to be a fast shot than a good shot. Besides, you would have a real hard time convincing anyone in my family that you can get on game faster with a scope than without one. I do know that old-age eventually happens, and I have some friends who have put scopes on their deer rifles. That’s fine; whatever works for them. But like I said, most of the deer we shoot are less than 50 yards away, so we really don’t see the need for a scope.

We also use hoop levers on our guns. Anyone who has ever learned how to use one will tell you that you can empty a Winchester in a hurry when you get good at using a hoop lever. You can really send the lead. Some family members can shoot so fast with them it sounds like a machine gun going off.


In the old days, you couldn’t sit around and wait for game to come to you. You had to go after it, because you had to put food on the table. We believe the old-fashioned ways still work best, especially when it comes to hunting whitetails. And as for what to use, the trusty old lever-action Winchester is still the toughest, most durable, easy to carry, fast handling, and most dependable gun ever made.



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