Why no lever-action rifle for Elephants?

bruce moulds

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one of the things a turnbolt has over a lever is the power of primary extraction.
should something go wrong with tight fired cases, the probability of getting them out of the chamber is far greater in a turnbolt.
bruce.
 

crs

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"He has a Winchester 1886 tang safety reproduction converted to 50-110 WCF and he loads up to around 48K-50K psi. He easily duplicates or exceeds .458 Win Mag ballistics."
And that 1886 with a 26 inch barrel will weigh close to 10 pounds (like my 45-90 does) and that soaks up some of the recoil. My 450 grain Kodiak loads at 2150 fps generated less than 40,000 psi in my
45-90 per Grizzly Cartridge who loaded them.

"He easily duplicates or exceeds .458 Win Mag ballistics." it seems that this has been said and proven many times, but no one believes it- maybe because the 30-30 is the only lever gun that most folks know of. Oh well, their loss.
 

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That is a project I have been interested in getting into for some time myself, but it is a lot harder to find anyone who can do it in Canada. If I was in the US and was using Turnbull, therefore getting resupplies of stuff like properly marked brass would not require a lawyer :), I would be interested in the 470 as it completes the loop by having a bullet of sufficient sectional density, weight, and pushed at sufficient velocity, according to the commonly accepted principles.
I gave serious thought to a 470 conversion even over the 475. I opted for the 50-110 to have the "50" but also with what can be done with modern powders and so many .509 & .510 projectiles available.

As for Leverguns50, he is doing a great job of showing what these "old" rifles can do. A 300 gr at 2700fps gets attention as do the 500 grainers at 2300+. @crs Your postings on lever guns and his are much if the reason one will be going with me in 2023 to go after more of the big boys.
 

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"He has a Winchester 1886 tang safety reproduction converted to 50-110 WCF and he loads up to around 48K-50K psi. He easily duplicates or exceeds .458 Win Mag ballistics."
And that 1886 with a 26 inch barrel will weigh close to 10 pounds (like my 45-90 does) and that soaks up some of the recoil. My 450 grain Kodiak loads at 2150 fps generated less than 40,000 psi in my
45-90 per Grizzly Cartridge who loaded them.

"He easily duplicates or exceeds .458 Win Mag ballistics." it seems that this has been said and proven many times, but no one believes it- maybe because the 30-30 is the only lever gun that most folks know of. Oh well, their loss.
that's what happens when one person says most lever action calibers are obsolete even when its false
 

bruce moulds

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up until a certain time most lever gun rounds were black powder loads.
most of the really big ones come under this category.
of course black powder is obsolete for all but enthusiasts.
however take those black powder round and load them with smokeless and things are quite different as evidenced by the black powder expresses turning into nitro expresses.
most of the big old levergun rounds were developed after the end of the bison carnage, and so were by nature express loads with light bullets for caliber.
this meant that they had twists for short bullets, unsuited to elephant bullets.
even the win 1885 single shot came out with slower twists, as the long bullets were just not needed.
levers in the day did not need failsafe extraction or chambering, as the rounds did not produce enough pressure to cause problems.
bruce.
 

457121

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I think 38,000 CUP/42500 psi max is all you really need for these old lever gun cartridges. There's a lot of performance at that level. The brass will last longer and cases fall out of the chamber.
 

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I have nothing against old lever guns- I have owned and shot a truckload of them. Some are really slick to operate as a fast repeater- especially so for fighting Indians or Comancheros where the lever repeater was equal to or superior to whatever the other guy had. :) For the most part they are pretty reliable. However, I still don't understand, not that I need to anyway, the infatuation for using older, weaker or more problematic designs for hunting DG. You can certainly juice up many of the better lever designs to achieve an adequate power level but the reverse of that coin will surely start to push a design limit. Reliablitly in general comes to mind as does fail safe extraction as @bruce moulds pointed out. I guess as with any ego based, minimalist or extreme hunting pursuit, it will work until it doesn't.
 

Alaska Luke

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I loved little 30-30s when I was a kid. I think there are something like 6 million Model 94s in circulation. At one time that was a very nice design. It was small, powerful enough for most hunters at open site range and quick to operate if the first shot wasn't perfect. I also think it was cheap. Cheap enough to have for the horse or the truck while your big 30-06 was saved for serious hunting.

When I was a kid my dream was a Model 86 carbine in 450 Alaskan. I thought it would be like a grown up 30-30 for Alaska. Never got one and probably won't. The reality doesn't match the dream.

First a big bore lever gun is heavier and bulkier the a 30-30. Marlin 95s aren't as bad as an 86 but my customized 375 Ruger is still lighter. I don't see the point of packing a rifle that is just as big as a bolt action with less range.

Second there is a lot going on with a lever gun. They CAN be accurate and reliable but its harder. I made my $500 Ruger American more accurate by free floating the barrel. You can't do that with most levers. Instead you've got the magazine and forearm basically hanging off the barrel. This is probably why most Marlin 336s seem a bit more accurate than Winchesters 94s. I think the heavier barrel deals with all this better.

Third I don't like the stocks on lever actions. I went into a pawnshop when I was 14 and they had a rack full of very old model 94s. Most had stocks that had worked loose over time and were all wobbly. I imagine it would be easy to break such a stock (still wish I'd bought one, I think they were less then $200 back then).

Bottom line is a big lever gun is just as expensive as a bolt gun, just as heavy and it has no real advantage except slightly faster follow ups. If I don't want a short range brush gun I'm grabbing a bolt action. And I'm not spending $1000 to $3000 for a brush gun that won't be my primary rifle.

Again I like levers like any patriotic American but they aren't cost effective for me currently.

Here is what I want to see. I want a Model 94 in 444 Marlin with really nice open sites and a McMillan style fiberglass stock that is glass bedded. I would extend the lower tang back a couple inches and add an extra scew to strengthen the stock. Such a rifle should be reasonably accurate and weather proof. It would probably cost $2000 to make. So there is a way, just not a cheap way. A similar design with a Marlin 95 would be a bit heavier but you could do more big stuff with it.
 

7x57Joe

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Here is what I want to see. I want a Model 94 in 444 Marlin with really nice open sites and a McMillan style fiberglass stock that is glass bedded.

I believe Winchester did make a 94AE in .444 with a composite stock maybe 25 years ago called the "Black Shadow."
 

Alaska Luke

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7x57 Joe yes they did. I'm not sure that plastic stock would be stronger but at least it would not warp in the wet and throw accuracy off. They also made the Timber Carbine in 444 with a shorter barrel and wood stock.

Sad story, in West Texas I once saw a Black Shadow 444 Marlin fot $600. I was tempted but thought "later." They are now over $1000 if you can find them.
 
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Professor Mawla

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I believe that there a number of reasons why we do not see more lever action rifles being used for elephant hunting . Let us break them down , in a chronological order :

- Most lever action rifles are simply not chambered in calibres , which are typically used for hunting thick skinned dangerous game ( such as elephants , Cape buffaloes , Gaur or rhinoceroses ) . There are one or two exceptions , but more on that below .

- Traditionally speaking ; lever action rifles employ tubular magazines ( with one or two exceptions ) which make it unsafe to load round nosed or spitzer nosed ammunition into the magazine . Only ammunition with flat blunt noses , are deemed to be 100 % safe for loading into tubular magazines . For the better part of the 20th century , round nosed bullets were considered to be the only ticket for achieving appropriate penetration on thick skinned dangerous game . In was only after 1985 ( when Jack Carter pioneered the brass jacketed Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer Solid ) , that hunters slowly began to realize about how flat nosed bullets actually supersede round nosed bullets in terms of straight line penetration ( all other factors being equal ) .

- Probably the closest thing to a proper lever action elephant rifle which we have ever seen , is the Winchester Model 1895 chambered in .405 Winchester . It features a five round internal box magazine , which allows the operator to use round nosed ammunition in his rifle without fear of any bullet heads striking primers during accidental jolts . The .405 Winchester traditionally employs a 300 grain bullet which gets propelled at a velocity only just above 2200 feet per second , and has seen a fair degree of success against elephants UNDER SOME CIRCUMSTANCES ( such as side brain shots where the bullet passes above the zygomatic arch ) . North-Fork used to make a 300 grain monolithic solid brass flat nosed bullet for the .405 Winchester , which used to be quite popular with hand loaders . It would be quite a commendable performer , for side brain shots on elephants . However , a proper elephant rifle calibre must be capable of reaching the vital organs of an elephant from ANY angle . The 300 grain bullet of the .405 Winchester simply lacks the sectional density to reliably take out a large elephant bull with a frontal brain shot . And of course , the velocity is a little bit on the lower side . I should also add that only the current ( Japanese manufactured ) Winchester Model 1895 rifles will feed flat nosed ammunition with 100 reliability . The original Winchester Model 1895 rifles ( manufactured prior to 1936 ) feed reliably with only round nosed ammunition , for some reason .
 

crs

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+ +++ the Miroku Winchester 1895 .405 can handle 400 grain ammo and I have used mine to take a Cape Buff with 400 grain Woodleigh at 2100 fps. This load does require handloading or custom loaded ammo. I have yet to shoot an ele with this load, but since it is the same velocity as the 450/400 NE, it should work.
Prof Mawla, my 1886 .45-90 HAS taken an ele with frontal brain shots with solids. Also some buff .
IMHO, neither of these lever action DG rifle hunts are very common and benefit from real experience with the rifle and ammo- not an off-the-shelf solution for the beginner.
 

Professor Mawla

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+ +++ the Miroku Winchester 1895 .405 can handle 400 grain ammo and I have used mine to take a Cape Buff with 400 grain Woodleigh at 2100 fps. This load does require handloading or custom loaded ammo. I have yet to shoot an ele with this load, but since it is the same velocity as the 450/400 NE, it should work.
Prof Mawla, my 1886 .45-90 HAS taken an ele with frontal brain shots with solids. Also some buff .
IMHO, neither of these lever action DG rifle hunts are very common and benefit from real experience with the rifle and ammo- not an off-the-shelf solution for the beginner.
@crs
Thank you so much for reminding me about the .45-90 calibre . It had completely skipped my mind .

Did you have any modifications made to your Miroku Winchester Model 1895 , in order to get it to feed 400 grain bullets properly ?
 

Tam Dl

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@crs
Thank you so much for reminding me about the .45-90 calibre . It had completely skipped my mind .

Did you have any modifications made to your Miroku Winchester Model 1895 , in order to get it to feed 400 grain bullets properly ?
When you shove bigger bullets into 45-XX cartridges the extra goes inside the cartridge. So getting it to run is not a problem. The problem is powder capacity. Which is where the 45-90 comes in. There is also a 45-110.
 

Tam Dl

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I believe that there a number of reasons why we do not see more lever action rifles being used for elephant hunting . Let us break them down , in a chronological order :

- Most lever action rifles are simply not chambered in calibres , which are typically used for hunting thick skinned dangerous game ( such as elephants , Cape buffaloes , Gaur or rhinoceroses ) . There are one or two exceptions , but more on that below .
That is true of other rifles also, but there certainly are lots of options for dangerous game, without going custom, maxing out at the 50-110. But also including the 50 Alaskan, 470 Turnbull (basically custom even though it is theoretically a standardized cartridge); and 45-90. There are also some inexpensive custom options. Customs are not all that expensive since levers work out easily in the switch barrel configuration.
- Traditionally speaking ; lever action rifles employ tubular magazines ( with one or two exceptions ) which make it unsafe to load round nosed or spitzer nosed ammunition into the magazine . Only ammunition with flat blunt noses , are deemed to be 100 % safe for loading into tubular magazines . For the better part of the 20th century , round nosed bullets were considered to be the only ticket for achieving appropriate penetration on thick skinned dangerous game . In was only after 1985 ( when Jack Carter pioneered the brass jacketed Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer Solid ) , that hunters slowly began to realize about how flat nosed bullets actually supersede round nosed bullets in terms of straight line penetration ( all other factors being equal ) .

That would be plus today. We have great options on bullets for these cartridges today. But as you say these rifles do have their limitations.
- Probably the closest thing to a proper lever action elephant rifle which we have ever seen , is the Winchester Model 1895 chambered in .405 Winchester . It features a five round internal box magazine , which allows the operator to use round nosed ammunition in his rifle without fear of any bullet heads striking primers during accidental jolts . The .405 Winchester traditionally employs a 300 grain bullet which gets propelled at a velocity only just above 2200 feet per second , and has seen a fair degree of success against elephants UNDER SOME CIRCUMSTANCES ( such as side brain shots where the bullet passes above the zygomatic arch ) . North-Fork used to make a 300 grain monolithic solid brass flat nosed bullet for the .405 Winchester , which used to be quite popular with hand loaders . It would be quite a commendable performer , for side brain shots on elephants . However , a proper elephant rifle calibre must be capable of reaching the vital organs of an elephant from ANY angle .

That is why I would prefer the 9.3x62, and I suppose it would be possible to have the large 9.3 cartridges used in doubles also. There are pictures showing winchester rifles in Africa, during the Boer war, and back then, the high velocity solids in small calibers would have been less frowned upon than today.
 

Tam Dl

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I don't see the point of packing a rifle that is just as big as a bolt action with less range.

For some that would be the point, but it is also a criticism that could be placed at the feet of a 20K double. Hard to argue the supreme advantages of the right bolt.
Second there is a lot going on with a lever gun. They CAN be accurate and reliable but its harder. I made my $500 Ruger American more accurate by free floating the barrel. You can't do that with most levers. Instead you've got the magazine and forearm basically hanging off the barrel. This is probably why most Marlin 336s seem a bit more accurate than Winchesters 94s. I think the heavier barrel deals with all this better.

The marlin has now got an M-lock tubular foreend like the AR available, and it actually looks quite good. If it was available in a wood anodizing it would look super with a fine wood bustock. I just sorted through 500 arrows I have accumulated since I got into archery 50 years ago, and one can't tell the easton anodized wood shafts, from real wood, and that is coming form a master woodworker. While in M-lock format it would not be mistaken for wood, I think it could be pleasing.
Third I don't like the stocks on lever actions. I went into a pawnshop when I was 14 and they had a rack full of very old model 94s. Most had stocks that had worked loose over time and were all wobbly. I imagine it would be easy to break such a stock (still wish I'd bought one, I think they were less then $200 back then).
The modern laminated stocks and shotgun style through bolts are super strong. One also has to remember that American walnut is not super stout it is a relatively light and easily worked wood, and if it is straight grained it will split easily. If these guns has top grade wood they would be plenty stout.
Bottom line is a big lever gun is just as expensive as a bolt gun, just as heavy and it has no real advantage except slightly faster follow ups. If I don't want a short range brush gun I'm grabbing a bolt action. And I'm not spending $1000 to $3000 for a brush gun that won't be my primary rifle.
Good points, though slightly faster follow up shots might not tell the whole story. In CAS they are running them at 300RPM. Obviously zero recoil and custom guns, but I don't think that there is any way to get bolts in the same building. Not that what is needed on dangerous game is a spray and pray approach, but in cool hands...

Again I like levers like any patriotic American but they aren't cost effective for me currently.

Dangerous game hunting isn't cost effective... Also, the 45-90 1886 Win is MSRP $1369 dollars, while the Winchester Safari is $1609. The 1886 is going to need some real sights...

Here is what I want to see. I want a Model 94 in 444 Marlin with really nice open sites and a McMillan style fiberglass stock that is glass bedded. I would extend the lower tang back a couple inches and add an extra scew to strengthen the stock. Such a rifle should be reasonably accurate and weather proof. It would probably cost $2000 to make. So there is a way, just not a cheap way. A similar design with a Marlin 95 would be a bit heavier but you could do more big stuff with it.

Marlins already come in just about any imaginable format, glass stocks with a M-lock rail and you have a good format for what you are talking about. I prefer a Winchester as a fighting rifle. They are much faster to top off, with the top opening breach.
 

Tam Dl

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one of the things a turnbolt has over a lever is the power of primary extraction.
should something go wrong with tight fired cases, the probability of getting them out of the chamber is far greater in a turnbolt.
bruce.

No question, though for the most part, at the pressures we are looking at, and with beefy rims, extraction is not a problem. Seemed to be OK in wartime with the 1895, also. Wild West has sold a lot of Bear Proof extractors for their guns, and people seem to think they work well enough. So if there was a problem in a world full of 600 pound bears, they seem to have solved it. And it was a no gunsmithing fix.
 

Alaska Luke

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Tam D good points. I don't think the stocks of traditional lever actions can be made stronger with a thru bolt but I believe that is the design on the Henry Ling Ranger and BLR.

Obviously a safari is not cheap. What I was driving at is that a open site lever action is a specialty item for me (in Alaska but probably in Africa too). It would be cool to have one but 90% of the time I'm grabbing a bolt action. So not worth a big investment. If I was hunting whitetail I'm sure I'd get a cheap 30-30 just for occasional fun.

Now all that said the idea of building a big lever action and shooting something big and scary does appeal to me. I wasted an hour last night looking up the new Winchester Model 94 available in 450 Marlin. Not an elephant gun but I'm not going to hunt elephants anytime soon. It looks almost perfect as the basis for a project. Maybe after I pay off my land and buy a boat I'll try it. With a laminated stock and some bedding it could be made reasonably weather proof. There is even a take down version.

Now going totally crazy I wonder if a traditional Marlin or Winchester could be made with an aluminum reciever. Might save some serious weight. I'd put the weight back in as a heavier barrel. So theoretically more accurate.
 

bruce moulds

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the 45/90 win case is 2.4" long compared to the 458 mag at 2.5".
take from that what you want
most 45/90s have about a 1:18 twst compared to much faster in the 458.
the 50/110 in original form ran very light bullets and was twisted to suit them.
start mucking around with this stuff and you had better do some homework.
the 45/110 has a case 2 7/8" long.
it can be very powerful loaded with smokeless, but won't fit many repeaters.
there was also a sharps cartridge in 45 cal with a 2.6" case which might be better than the 458, but again only a single shot option.
bruce.
 

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