There are few things more American than the lever gun, but the 357 magnum comes close. This versatile pistol round has been a staple for US citizens since the great depression and the lever gun has been used by many since the Civil War. Combining the two has been a winning idea for decades!
Today there are many options for .357 Magnum lever-action rifles with both modern and traditional designs from Winchester, Henry, Chiappa, Uberti, and Marlin.
There are plenty of other options out there as well but these are the go-to brands when looking for a good lever gun. Everyone also has different uses for a lever gun. Cowboy action shooting is very popular, but so is stalk hunting dense timber for whitetail. Others still might be looking to build a ‘survival’ rifle or just have something cheap(er) to shoot at the range.
Why the .357 Magnum?
In the twilight days of the western frontier, it was a common practice to buy a pistol and rifle that used the same ammunition. Since a 30-30 handgun would clearly be very bulky and hard on the wrist, chambering a rifle in a pistol caliber like 45 long colt was the best compromise. The longer barrel gives a pistol bullet greater muzzle velocity and hence more energy with a longer reach.
This holds true for any pistol caliber, but the .357 Magnum is one that benefits quite a bit from this arrangement. Out of a 4-inch revolver, a 180gr bullet will produce around 540 ft-lbs of energy at around 1,250fps. Out of a carbine rifle, this gets bumped up to around 740 ft-lbs at about 1450 fps.
With proper shot placement and very close range, ethically taking critters up to the size of a deer is possible as many hunters in rifle-restricted states can attest. The range is especially crucial. Hunting with a .357 magnum rifle is more akin to bow-hunting and European stalking than sniping deer from a stand looking over a field.
For other uses such as cowboy action shooting and plinking, the benefits of a .357 magnum are obvious. Ammo is cheap, reloading is cheaper still, felt recoil is like being punched by a gnat, and a ricochet or miss won’t travel nearly as far as a rifle bullet. Regardless of the need, there are plenty of options on the market today for anyone looking to get a lever gun chambered in .357 Mag.
Winchester and Henry ‘Original’ Options
The names Henry and Winchester go back to the Civil War. The original Henry rifle of 1860 was the first practical lever gun but that quickly evolved into the Winchester 1866. While Winchester today is owned by FN Herstal, which is in turn owned by Olin, the Henry name has been revived as an all-American brand.
Also available in other calibers such as 44 magnums, the Henry Big Boy Classic is a solid lever gun straight out of the old west but manufactured with modern techniques. A 20-inch octagon barrel, walnut furniture, and brass receiver is a classic look and feel, but handling this gun is a real joy. The quality of the work is quite apparent too because the Big Boy has quite a bit of heft to it at 8.7 lbs.
Perhaps wood and brass aren’t to your style. Or maybe, like me, you live in a cold and harsh climate that can wreak havoc on traditional firearms. In that case, an alternative to the Big Boy Classic is Henry’s X model. With a composite stock, more common rifle grip, large lever loop, short pic-rail on the bottom of the forestock, and a 17.5-inch barrel this compact gun is perfect for home defense or late-season hunts.
Winchester is no longer the solely American brand it once was, but the company still produces some of the best lever action rifles on the market. Regardless of who owns the name, Winchester has been producing lever guns since 1866. Currently, the company offers two guns chambered for .357 Magnum, the model 1873 and 1892.
3. Model 1873 $1390
A truly utilitarian cowboy gun, the Model 1873 is often called “the gun that won the west”! That’s a pretty bold claim, but it’s certainly true that 1873 was a popular gun of the time. Originally produced up until 1923, Winchester decided to revive this classic with a few improvements and modern cartridges like the 357 Magnum. Full-length and carbine options are available.
4. Model 1892 $1130
Designed to be the replacement for the 1873, the Model 1892 is a smaller-framed version of the 1886. Of course, by the 1890’s the wild west was nearly gone and in only a few more years bolt actions and auto-loaders would replace the lever gun. Like the 1873, Winchester has several options available, but with one notable difference. The 1892 can be bought as a ‘takedown’ gun, making it perfect for travel.
Options from Other Manufacturers
Speaking of take-down lever guns, Chiappa makes a good copy of the 1892 chambered in 357 Mag. While the Italian company also makes other variants of 1892, this particular offering manages to pull off the classic colored case look with the modern party trick of fitting in a backpack.
If there was one rifle from Uberti I’d actually want, it would be their replica of the Colt Lightning, a pump-action design. However, the company does make several lever guns, and one that fans of the 357 Mag should take note of is the Trapper Carbine variant. The short barrel is just over 16 inches and holds nine rounds, making it a perfect gun for the ATV or a horse saddle.
7. Marlin 1894 CST $1230
You may notice that this particular link goes to Marlin’s main page. The reason for this is that since Ruger Bought Marlin via Remington, the company’s lineup has been reduced drastically. However, the 1894 CST chambered in 357 magnum can still be found used and is a robust lever gun built for the elements. Features include laminated stock, stainless steel, and a threaded muzzle.
However, seeing as Marlin is a big name in the lever gun market, eventually, we can expect to see some sort of .357 Mag gun reappear as Ruger fills this now-empty niche. At least, that’s what we’re hoping!