After spending some more time with the Marlin 1894c I have concluded that it is my favorite do-it-all long gun. It is the gun that I will put in the trunk for a road trip, a camping trip, or a weekend at a cabin on the lake. I am an AR lover at heart and I find the AR platform to be the best all-around defensive long gun and many share that opinion, obviously. However, there are legal and practical issues that can keep us from having a modern sporting rifle handy. We might need to travel to a state that prohibits such rifles. If so unfortunate to travel or live in such a place, what can we do to have a self-defense rifle available?
I really think that a lever action pistol caliber carbine, particularly chambered in 357 Magnum, is hard to beat for such a compromise solution. With that said, a rifle caliber lever action, such as a 30-30, is a great do-it-all gun as well. Personally, I think the pistol caliber option fits the role of self-defense better. While it is range limited compared to a rifle cartridge this gun shoots out to 120 yards with almost no drop. For actual personal protection, when are we likely to need more than that? Granted, 30-30 hits harder, but the 357 round is no slouch out of the rifle barrel. Some loads clock in at around 1200 foot pounds of energy. I personally think rifle cartridges like 30-30 can pose hazards within the confines of home defense. The 357 lever gun delivers good energy with minimal muzzle blast and almost no recoil. With the right loads, over-penetration can be minimized. It also holds 9 rounds in the tube. With the addition of a red dot it is fast on target and fast handling. Follow-up shots are very fast if you spend the time to become proficient with the lever. This gun is a capable defensive tool, period.
I am partial to lightweight guns. I wrote an article a couple years ago espousing the lightweight bolt action rifle as a good woods gun. This gun is also very light, small, handy, and fits the woods gun role perfectly. It can take deer out to 100 yards, it is adequate for defense against black bear and it should do anything needed in the woods east of the Mississippi river. I would feel under-gunned with it in Grizzly bear country, of course. The same gun chambered in 44 Magnum would be better in that environment, although if we were to choose a tool specific for brown bears, a lever action chambered in 45-70 would be much better. The 357 Magnum out of a rifle barrel is impressive and I think the benefits it offers outweighs the power difference for a general purpose gun in the woods of the northeast.
While light-weight bolt guns make good woods rifles, the obvious down-side is that they are generally much slower with follow-up shots than a lever or pump action; I would not want to defend the home with a bolt-action rifle. I can tell you, I would have no qualms in clearing the doorway with this lever action carbine. Follow-ups are fast and the 357 Magnum is hitting hard. The chances of needing more than the 9 rounds in the tube are quite slim. Would an AR be better? Obviously. However, I would not feel unarmed in the least with this lever gun.
I think a lever-action makes a perfect trunk gun. It can go places that an MSR legally can’t and it offers some practicalities as well in comparison. If it were to get stolen, would you rather report the loss of your nice little hunting lever gun, or the loss of an AR with 6 loaded magazines? The AR is more likely to end up on the streets of Baltimore. A crack head that steels your lever gun is going to bring it to the pawn shop. Beyond this, the light and handy issue applies. If I want to grab a rifle out of the trunk to take a hike through the woods I prefer carrying this sleek little rifle compared to a heavier and bulkier AR.
I believe in the MSR as the dedicated defensive long gun of the free man and I think every law-abiding citizen in this country should have one. However, in day-to-day civilian life, I find the pistol-caliber lever action perfect for go-to versatility. You can take deer with it at reasonable ranges, you can protect yourself from aggressive furry critters, and you can defend yourself against two legged predators quite effectively with it. While I carry a polymer-framed striker-fired handgun, I am most likely to be carrying a lever rifle when in the woods as opposed to something more modern. While lever gun technology is over 150 years old (the AR15 is 60 years old, mind you, it is hardly new) the lever action rifle still gets it done.