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 If I were to pick one class of long guns as my favorite, it would have to be lever-action rifles. They can be chambered in everything from .22 Long Rifle up to Big Horn Amory’s 500 S&W Magnum. There is a caliber that is right for your purposes.To paraphrase an old country song, I liked lever-actions before lever-actions were cool. And, in the last few years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of lever-actions.

My favorite lever guns are a Winchester Model 71 in .348 Winchester, a Model 92 in .45 Colt, a Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 Winchester and a Henry Classic in .22 Long Rifle. I’ve hunted with all four for game, ranging from feral hogs to rabbits, and I have trained with the Model 92 and Model 94 at Gunsite.

The .22 also serves as a good sub-caliber trainer for its bigger bothers in addition to being good clean fun.


One reason the lever-gun remains popular for those on horseback is that it’s thinner than any other design. It also has less height and does not require the mounting of scopes, red dots, lasers and microwave ovens to get the job done.

When riding fence a Winchester Model 94 went with me, snuggled into my saddle scabbard. Unlike the movies, when I was actively working cattle the rifle came off as there was too much of a chance my rope may catch on the stock and cause a wreck in the corral—something to be avoided around sharp horn Brahma-cross cows.


Typical Buckhorn sight (top) is adequate, but the Skinner Sights ghost ring is faster to pick up under speed and increases accuracy.


Although the Henry Classic (bottom) does not have a side loading gate, it still serves well as a sub-caliber trainer.

I believe lever actions are a good choice for private citizens for self-defense, and also fill the role of patrol rifle for law enforcement. I can almost hear some people screaming that the ammo capacity of lever guns is too low, and lever guns are not accurate enough unless they have optics. For the private citizen or patrol officer, I disagree.

Most law enforcement shootings with rifles are within 100 yards with only a few shots fired. That is well within the capacity and distance of a lever gun. If you are a private citizen, unless your assailant also has a rifle, you’ll be hard pressed to make a case for self-defense at less than a quarter of that distance.


Unlike what is portrayed in movies, the lever-action (like bolt-action rifles) should remain on the shoulder while the action is worked. Lowering it and then bringing it back into the shoulder takes more time to reacquire the target.

That extra time may result in not getting a follow-up shot on game or, if used in a defensive role, allow a bad guy to put more holes in you than you were issued at birth. With little practice rounds can be placed on target quite quickly with a lever gun.

The addition of a ghost ring sight from Skinner Sights will decrease the time it takes to get on target while increasing accuracy over the buckhorn type sights usually found on lever-actions.


For economical practice, I handload hard-cast bullets for both the Model 1892 and 1894. For the .30-30, I use 168-grain round nose, and for the .45 Colt I load 230-grain flat nose, round point, and 255-grain semiwadcutters. Even though hard-cast, I load the .30-30 to very moderate velocities to reduce the chance of leading the bore.

For years the standard loading for the .30-30 was a 158-grain round-nose jacketed soft-point bullet. Ballistically, it is on a par with the 7.62x39mm cartridge.

Only round-nose or flat-nose bullets could safely be used in the tubular magazine because, under recoil, a cartridge-loaded with a spire point bullet could ignite the primer of the next round in the magazine with disastrous consequences.

That all changed several years ago, when Hornady introduced the LEVERevolution® for lever-action rifles. The patented elastomer Flex Tip® technology of the FTX® and MonoFlex® bullets makes spire points safe to use in tubular magazines. The bullets feature higher ballistic coefficients and dramatically flatter trajectory for increased downrange performance.

Two styles of buttcuffs. Simply Rugged Holsters’ (top) has an integral sling. More traditional cuff from Andy’s Leather. Both attach securely to the end of the stock.


Top to bottom: Winchester Model 71, 348 Winchester; Model 92, .45 Colt; Winchester Model 94, .30-30 Winchester; Henry Classic, .22 Long Rifle.


They are available in 140-grain (Mono-Flex) and 160-grain (FTX) weights and are suitable on big game up to and including elk, breathing new life into the over century old cartridge.

When hunting with the Model 71, I normally just place an extra half-dozen rounds in my pocket. The Model 92 and Model 94, however, often ride in my truck for defensive purposes as well as for critter control. With that in mind they both have butt cuffs for quick access to reload.

One word of caution on butt cuffs: make sure it is attached in such a way that it will not slide forward and interfere with the functioning of the rifle. A cuff sliding forward cost me winning a man-against-man shoot-off at Gunsite. In the real world it could have cost me much more…

It’s high time to bring “Grandpa’s rifle” out from the back of the safe and put it to use. Lever-actions rifles remains viable for most any task you choose to use it for.


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Well I thought it was neat!


Dabbs made this little handcrafted wooden model tank as a gift for a friend,
and truly extraordinary man, who crewed these things during the war.


They’re pretty much all gone now. When I was a kid, the country was blanketed with a thin patina of World War II veterans. They sold cars, ran service stations and populated local government. Making sweeping generalizations, they were responsible, industrious and selfless. They had seen so much pain and suffering they just wanted to make the world a better place. We are all beneficiaries of that today.

I both loved and hated working at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. The hours were long, and the patients were just crazy sick. However, I hit that sweet spot when the old WWII guys populated the place. That bit I absolutely loved. Every time I had a free minute, I just found a door ajar with the lights on, plopped myself down in a handy chair, and said, “Tell me a story.”

I have dozens, but this one guy became a proper friend. His name was Powell Mahaffey. He died at age 95 after a rich, long, productive life of blessing people. I don’t think he’d mind my using his real name.


War Stories


Mahaffey was a tanker. He landed shortly after D-Day and fought all the way until the end of the war in Europe. Along the way, he had five Shermans shot out from under him. He was the only member of his original crew to survive the war. I cannot imagine how that must have felt. If you have seen the movie “Fury,” it was probably something like that — only worse.

He didn’t talk much about the bad stuff. Like most of those awesome old guys, he’d just get a twinkle in his eyes and relate the mischievous or funny tales. That’s the way the human animal is wired. It helps us survive in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

To my recollection, Mahaffey didn’t drink. However, booze back in the war zone was the universal currency. It could be bartered for anything, and it would serve as a welcome diversion in a world gone insane. He said one day, he and his crew happened upon a warehouse full of cognac in some bombed-out little town in Belgium. Appreciating the unique opportunity, they pulled their M4 tank up outside the building and began stacking crates of liquor on the back engine deck. While they were feverishly working, a German kubelwagen with three Wehrmacht soldiers happened to cruise by. All involved grabbed their weapons in a frenzy. The German vehicle passed within feet of the American tank before disappearing around the corner, and nobody fired a shot. Gobsmacked by the sheer weirdness of that exchange, his crew beat feet, their tank now stacked high with pilfered spirits.

Later that day, Mahaffey’s tank was cruising along a forgotten Belgian road when, out of the clear blue sky, a single 60mm mortar round impacted on the back engine deck. For those unfamiliar, mortars are fairly imprecise indirect fire weapons. They are designed to be fired en masse against area targets to saturate a space with fire, not to strike moving targets with surgical precision. Though the explosion did not damage the tank, it utterly obliterated the stolen cognac. He told me he felt that was a sign from God that he shouldn’t drink alcohol or steal other people’s booze. In the grand scheme, he felt it was a cheap lesson.


Powell Mahaffey immediately recognized the case of
cognac stacked on the back engine deck.

A Mark of Friendship


Mahaffey and his delightful wife lived in the same little town as did we. Once we got him tuned up and discharged from the hospital, he sought me out and had my family over for dinner. We had a simply wonderful time. I made him a present in appreciation.

Back before I did so much writing, I lived in my workshop. I have a lot of nervous energy and have to be doing something productive all the time, or my brain will explode. Yeah, my wife is indeed an exceptionally longsuffering lass. One of my favorite pastimes was building wooden models.

I made tanks, ships, airplanes and helicopters. Plastic models are way more detailed, but mine were crafted by hand and customized to the situation and the recipient. When I made one for somebody, I typically made them in pairs and kept one for myself. That’s where my copy of Mahaffey’s Sherman came from.

The tank is cut from 2×4 white pine. I shaped the components on a sanding wheel improvised out of an old lawnmower chassis. The tracks are formed from strips of black sewing elastic. It is an M4A1 with the stubby 75mm gun patterned after the one Mahaffey described as his favorite of the five he crewed. On the back, I took a little block of wood and sunk half a dozen nails in two rows of three. When I gave him the tank, he recognized that immediately as a case of cognac.

Well I thought it was funny!

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Duke’s altered Model 1886 .40-82 (top) with a 20″ barrel shown for comparison
with a new Japanese Winchester Model 1886 .45-70 with its standard 26″ barrel.


Naturally we clearly remember the “firsts” in our lives — first gun, first car, first date, etc. I remember fondly my first experience with an antique lever gun because it started my career on a path still followed today: learning the ins and outs of safely shooting old and obsolete guns and their cartridges.

Back in the late 1970s a friend, knowing of my handloading and bullet casting experience, asked if I would load some .40-82 cartridges if he supplied brass, dies and bullet mold. His lever gun was a nice Winchester Model 1886 .40-82 manufactured in the late 1880s. It was a family heirloom but had not been fired in decades due to the lack of factory ammunition. His request sounded like an easy way to introduce myself to Winchester lever guns. The experience turned out to be more complicated, but more educational, than expected.

This photo shows a .40-82 in comparison to several other popular Winchester Model
1886 factory chamberings (left to right): .38-56, .40-82, .40-65, .45-70 and .45-90.

The Loads

The mold supplied was an Idea/Lyman #406169 which dropped a 0.408″ bullet weighing 260 grains of the wheel weight alloy I had on hand. I lucked out because the groove diameter of old .40-82 measured 0.408″ instead of the nominal 0.406″. Cases supplied were RCBS .45 Basic with a length of 3.25″. Those were hacksawed to just over the .40-82’s length of 2.40″ then trimmed to the final spec. Next, a now-forgotten charge of a likewise forgotten smokeless powder was dumped in 20 cases. Bullets were seated and crimped and I was ready to shoot.

Only I wasn’t! The rounds were too fat to chamber. It had not occurred to me the .45 basic case walls increased in thickness from case mouth to case rim. Thinning the case walls was the cure so RCBS tooling for the chore was acquired. Again I thought everything was a go. It wasn’t. Every shot fired gave a click-bang. The click was the hammer falling. The bang was the powder charge firing a second or so later, meaning it wasn’t igniting properly. At least the bullets passed through paper targets point on. Some research revealed an old remedy for poor powder ignition was to fill the case atop the powder charge with corn meal. The fix worked and the old rifle began to shoot beautifully. In fact we took it hunting and I shot an elk with it.

Duke’s Winchester Model 1886 .40-82. Note the filled sight dovetail and
new cut one a few inches ahead of it.


As I began to assemble an array of vintage Winchesters, for my own Model 1886 slot I wanted a .40-82. What I finally landed was one made in 1887 as indicated by its serial number. However, it was not a prime specimen. Its buttstock and receiver actually were very nice and it even had a Lyman No. 21 side-mounted peep sight. The problem was the barrel. While bore condition was very good, it had been shortened from 26″ to 20″ with the magazine tube cut correspondingly. Also, someone had roughly filled the original barrel sight’s dovetail and cut another one a few inches ahead of it but left it empty. Because of those problems the price was right.

Duke had custom bullet mold maker Steve Brooks cut a set of blocks for a slightly
oversize .40-82 bullet because his Winchester’s bore was likewise oversize.

Cleaning Up


In my mind the idea was to restore it someday with an intact .40-82 barrel and magazine tube. In the meantime I wanted to enjoy shooting it. Times had changed a bit. I knew to slug the barrel first — it was a whopping 0.409″, so I had custom mold maker Steve Brooks ( cut a set of blocks for a 0.410″ bullet with a gas check shank. From my favorite 1–20 tin to the lead alloy I favor, the mold dropped them a mite heavy at 280 grains. A batch of .45 Basic cases were cut and inside reamed as before.

Between my first .40-82 and the one I purchased there was a new smokeless powder introduced. The powder was Accurate 5744 and it revolutionized all my thinking about smokeless powders in voluminous cases. Because it easily ignites in large cases there is no filler necessary. To my great pleasure, 100 yard groups from my .40-82 were outstanding from the very beginning. When I pull the trigger properly, most are in the 2″ to 3″ range at 100 yards. My favored 5744 charge of 25 grains pushes those 280-gr. bullets out at about 1,390 fp. All ideas about getting a replacement barrel for my cut down ’86 were forgotten.

Other shooters might prefer more glamorous ’86 chamberings like .45-90 or .50-110. I’ve even had such but it’s the .40-82 I’ve kept.

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A S&W M17 Classic K-22 Masterpiece, Deep Blue, Case Hardened with a 6″barrel in caliber .22LR

S&W M17 Classic K-22 Masterpiece, Deep Blue, Case Hardened, 6", .22LR-img-0

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Dear Grumpy Advice on Teaching in Today's Classroom Some Red Hot Gospel there!

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A blue steel Ruger Super Blackhawk in caliber 44mg with a 10.5in Barrel

Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 1

Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 2
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 3
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 4
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 5
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 6
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 7
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 8
Ruger Super Blackhawk 44mg, 10.5in Blue, MFG 1980, NO RESERVE .44 Mag. - Picture 9
And when you run out of ammo then you can use it as a club. Grumpy
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