Are There Any 9mm Lever Action Rifles?

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Introduction

You’ve seen them in cowboy movies, villains, and lawmen shooting from horseback, working a lever-action rifle.  Lever action rifles use a lever to chamber rounds, found under the trigger guard, and sometimes part of the guard itself. But are there any 9mm lever action rifles? Sadly there are no factory produced lever-action rifles chambered in 9mm, but modifications and conversions exist.

Rifles are the most common lever actions, though there exist pistols and shotguns in lever action. It sounds simple, but it’s not merely because this term sometimes applies to falling block action and single-shot rifles.  

A Little Background on the Lever-Action Rifles

One of the most famous lever-action rifles is the undisputed Winchester model 1873. Other gun-makers have also come up with centerfire or rimfire lever actions.

These include Marlin, Henry, Colt, and Mossberg.

Lever action means a repeating rifle, and most early lever actions were chambered for cartridges that featured rims. This means that their rounds, including the definitive Remington 35, have a shoulder headspace. 

In 1829 Cesar Rosaglio, an Italian gunsmith received the first patent for a six-shot lever action revolver that fired its magazine in six seconds. By the 1830s and 40s, Colt had produced the 1st and 2nd model ring lever-action rifles, with the lever located frontwards of the trigger.  

Indexing the cylinder to the next position and cocking an internally working hammer was done by pulling the loading lever. A Volition repeater lever action was patented before Smith and Wesson , but the venture saw only a few rifles made by 1852.

Smith and Wesson then bought this patent in 1855, who invested in the so-called Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. One of the partners in this new venture was Oliver Winchester.

The new lever-action gained little traction as well, and Smith and Wesson became interested in other revolvers. However, Oliver remained involved in the lever-action patent, buying out the rest of the investors to form the New Haven Arms Company.

Together with a rifle designer named Benjamin Tyler Henry, Oliver Winchester reworked the Volcanic repeating rifle into what we now call the Henry gun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KFgoqy41Ic

Why the American Fascination with Lever-Action Rifles?

Introduced in 1860, the Henry rifle soon became military and civilian shooting fare. It was used during much of the ensuing American civil war, constituting a large part of the union armaments. 

Southern confederates’ moniker for the Henry rifle was’ the damned Yankee rifle,’ saying you can shoot it all week and only load it on Sunday.  

The new haven arms company became Winchester repeating arms after the success of the Henry gun. A new, improved version modeled after its working rolled out as the Winchester 1866.  

Next was the gun that won the west in 1873, followed by the 1876 Winchester a couple of years later. In 1883, Oliver Winchester employed a man named John Oliver browning, who brought on board designs that made lever-action rifles synonymous with the Winchester company. 

John Browning’s most versatile lever action is the Winchester 1894, which we are still working to this day.

Initially, the 1894 Winchester was chambered in 38.55 and 32.40 black powder rounds. This was before Winchester came up with the 30.30 centerfires, America’s first smokeless cartridge.

An estimated 7.5 million 1894 Winchester lever actions have been made to date. Together with the 1873s models, these are definitive western classic guns

Later in the 1890s, another lever action player named John Marlin rolled out the side ejection Marlin model 39. This lever-action rifle has been in production since and can be found today as the model 39A, a Marlin custom offering. 

Comparing the Available Forms of Us-Made Lever-Action Rifles

The Winchester and Marlin form of available lever actions have lasted more than a century. Production of the 1894 Winchester discontinued in 2006, but the design continues to be rolled out by an Italian company. 

The 94 Winchester has a two-stage lever whose workings can be seen when you operate the lever. Its entire trigger group is lowered to unlock the rearward moving bolt for cartridge ejection.

In contrast, Marlin’s action is single staged, but the point it had over its Winchester competitor is cartridge ejection. As the action opens the chamber in the 1894 Winchester, the spent cartridge ejects upwards. 

Until the 1980s, it was impractical to mount a scope on the Winchester lever-action model 94. That’s until the rifle was modified to eject sideways at an angle.

Marlin, on the other hand, used a top receiver with side ejection, enabling shooters to mount scopes without eject hindrances. I have shot nonsensical modifications of the early 94 Winchester where spent casings keep banging the bottom of my scope every time I worked the lever.

A late entrant lever-action rifle manufacturer, Savage, came designed a top-loaded model 99 instead of the tubular magazine. This rotary magazine fed lever action was a step in a different direction, streamlined to mounting peep sights or optics.

The model 99 has no hammer, so it locks faster than the Marlin and Winchester. Lack of a tubular magazine enables the Savage lever action to accommodate spritzer rounds, able to break 3,000 fps.

Do Modern Lever-Action Rifles Shoot 9mm Cartridges?

There was a time when every ranch hand and cowboy had a lever-action on his horse’s scabbard, alongside the revolver strapped to his waist. More often than not, the rifle and revolver both used the same ammo.

The lever action is very much at home in the hunter’s armory, and except for the classic 44.40 cartridges can be modified to shoot 9mm rounds. Mention elk, brown bears or hogs and other small game, the lever gun with modern rounds befit any hunting scenario.

It may not be as powerful as the factory intended .375 Magnum, but a common round like the 9mm Luger offers sufficient takedown power. You can also alter a lever-action chambered in .38 special to take the slightly shorter 9mm. 

If asked to compare the specifications of both loadings, I’d prefer to chamber the tolerant .38 special over the 9mm luger. Both of these accurate rounds are readily available in the US and will work with lever actions.

Although designed and chambered for autoloaders, 9mm cartridges offer much narrower pressure requirements, bullet shape, weight, and overall length. They can, however, accommodate a wide variety of velocities.

Without the limiting factors of gun modification like money, hunters are always looking to beef up their gear. The closest thing to firing 9mm that’s readily available is lever-action Rugers that have been re-barreled.

The action may require some modification, but not as much as the magazine though, such as one I’ve seen fitted with a stick magazine. I once read about a US citizen who helped the Cubans during the revolution to re-mode Winchesters.

Obstacles of Modifying Your Lever Action to Fire 9mm

While there’s nothing wrong with shooting standard-issue lever-action rounds, it’s nice to use the same ammo for your long gun and handgun. There are pros and cons of firing pistol-caliber rounds that I expect you are okay with since you are willing to make the conversion.

It’s evident that the lever gun suits hunting, but not all states allow them, and not especially if they are chambered in 9mm. Held in high regard, the lever gun shoots with balance and phenomenal pointing abilities and accuracy to a couple of inches at 100 yards. 

One of the first obstacles that I would overcome when converting my lever gun is the magazine, and here’s why. 

The Magazine Factor

Ball cartridges are out for tubular magazines, and even for hollow points or flat noses for handloading. Fitting a box magazine can be done such as the ones used for auto or pump-action shotguns, and which will resemble the 1895 Winchester.

I once saw a Marlin, cloned with a Savage action to take 9mm ammo, and they had replaced the rotary magazine with a box one. The bolt face for either a Savage or Marlin lever action would be right once you’ve modified the magazine for the shorter 9mm cartridge. 

An interesting gun is realized when you take what you own and clone the action or magazine from a tube feed. If you have a tight budget, modding what you have is a better alternative than a fully custom lever gun chambered in 9mm. 

For sheer bear, elk, or squirrel versatility, I recommend a 16 inch to 20-inch lever action with modification costs of less than $200. This is a highly precise weapon that puts 9mm slugs at targets where a handgun cannot.
Lever rifles rarely induce malfunctions, and I have relied on the action disconnect of working a lever while my finger is on the trigger. It’s dissimilar to a pump-action shotgun that requires a recharge, short cycling, and slide releases.

The Cartridge Factor 

Cartridges of lever-action rifles come in a variety of shapes, calibers, and powder loads. They, however, fall into the categories of high and low-pressure cartridges.

Lever-action rounds with rounded tips have low-pressure capabilities and poor aerodynamics compared to point-tipped spitzer-type cartridges. 9mm bullets can be hollow or round-tipped, and chambering modifications are akin to their low-pressure pistol capabilities.

The Unloading Factor

Tubular magazines have one let down, and it has to do with loading. Many states require you to travel or store your lever actions unloaded, especially when it’s off hunting season. 

For other cartridges and purposes, this would be opportune, but 9mm cartridges are smaller, able to sustain tip wear. It’s also not easy to make sure that all rounds have been unloaded after a hunt. 

A lever-action’s rudimentary mechanism can’t be relied on when cocking that a 9mm stuck in the mag won’t chamber.  A box or rotary magazine is easier to tell at a touch or glance that it’s been unloaded.

I once hunted with a Remington 870 that was modified to take .38 rounds, and back then, I was considered a bad shot. Not only did I provide constant deer for the camp, I once took down a buck with my 4th shot. 

That’s a long way from my performance nowadays, but I never had to go back home for a re-supply with readily available ammo.

A detachable magazine is convenient with constant loading and unloading, especially if you hunt in gun-wary states like mine. 

What Goes Into Modifying a Lever-Action to Take 9mm Ammo?

One of the conversions that I have come across involved a modified ranger point precision lever action that could shoot .38 special and 9mm sig. A uniquely styled piece, the short-stroke pistol carbine with a unique chamber caught my intrigue.

The custom gunsmith talked of marrying the caliber choice with the action, and not being so warmed up over factory models. The modified lever actions rifles produce smoother, reliable, and more accurate carbines.

Modifications to an 1892 or 1894 Winchester lever action to mode with 9mm rounds would involve;

  • A short-stroke conversion to significantly reduce the movement of the lever. This allows you to have quicker follow-up shots.
  • Smooth Action and trigger treatment that allows for slick, light action
  • Barrel conversions that are concentric to the bore perfected to the 9mm headspace requirements.
  • Individually chambered and accurized to deliver 100 yards with MOA of 1 inch.
  • Hand-tuned to pistol caliber conversion for action that works seamlessly with failures, and glitches
  • The custom finish of your lever gun with rail additions, optics or two-point slings

Here are some examples of classic lever actions that you can be easily convert to chamber 9mm cartridges. 

Henry Lever Action Rifle

The definitive Henry rifle that saw action in the battle of Little Bighorn and extensive American civil war use tops my list for moddable lever guns. This was among the first lever repeaters, and it’s famed for helping the Sioux tribe totally obliterate the 7th Calvary. 

The centerfire side ejects with a tubular magazine, and an original Henry chambered in 45.70 with no additional manual safety. An excellent old Henry from the latter half of the 19th century was a black powder cartridge design. After a series of modifications, you can convert this rifle to accommodate 9mm rounds.  

Rossi R92 Lever Action Carbine

The R92 is chambered in .44 Magnum, a big bore hard hitter that only weighs 5.6 pounds. This lever action has the capacity for 10+1 rounds, and its stainless steel finish stands up to all hunting scenarios. 

The Rossi carbine can chamber 9mm cartridges after modification. It is ideal for deep wilderness treks and bush hunts. 

Winchester Model 1894

The refined Winchester 94 is the perfect game takedown long-range lever action to convert for 9mm cartridges. I have seen one in .45 Marlin that was modded to chamber .38 special, which is a close match.

This old lever-action rifle has an articulated cartridge stop for improved feeding and a steel gate that makes loading flawless.  Look for a tapped and drilled Winchester 94 for more accessible scope mounting as well to improve your long-range shots.  Here are some of the best scope mounts that will ensure a great experience with the Winchester.

Marlin Model 1895 Classic

Only a few of the 1895 classics would have any relevance by the standards of today. The Marlin classic model 1895, however, puts aside the classic and becomes outright timeless.

You can reduce the bore diameter and modify the chamber of a Marlin 95 chambered in 45.70 government to take 9 mm cartridges. Expect this classic to outlive our generation, especially one converted to take readily available rounds. 

Cimarron Hogzilla Killa Model 71

Based on the Winchester 1886, the HogZilla Killa doesn’t mince power, and it might be a suitable conversion to the 9mm cartridge. Cimarron is famous for eye-catching beauty that belays strength and quality manufacture, a relatively big punch-packing small package.

The Model 71 also features adjustable rear sight, a traditional pistol grip, and walnut stock.

Bighorn Model 90A Armory

Properly hardened for year-after-year performance, the bighorn model 90A has a 17.4-inch barrel and a stainless steel lever action. This rifle is initially chambered in .45 and can be converted to take 9mm cartridges by a skilled gunsmith.

With several stock options available, the model 90A delivers downrange accuracy and comes with rear and front swivel sling mounts. Its curved lever is usable when you’re cold weather hunting and are shooting with hand gloves, and so is the full blade trigger.

Convert this lever action to chamber 9mm, and you won’t need the standard butt pad for recoil absorption.

Chiappa Kodiak 1886

The Chiappa Kodiak offers an elegant mix of aesthetics and comfort, modeled after the Winchester 1886. This lever action is chambered originally in .30-30 with rust and fingerprint protection on all its metallic parts.

The Kodiaks rubber butt plate absorbs the rifle’s slight recoil when converted to 9mm, while the fore-end wood stock provides a soft touch. You can expect years of rugged performance from this lever-action rifle, hard chrome treated, and an opaque finished piece.

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Final Thoughts

A lever gun in 9mm may have not been in existence, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a hunt with your 9mm handgun ammo. Levers are an American tradition and institution, having played a significant role in how we shoot today.

While long reach bolt rifles and semi-autos have their place, a lever-action will help get close and engage a hunt as your forbearers did.

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