Lever actions are more popular than ever.
Several models in various calibers are available from the factory.
For those not wanting to spend the money on a lever action, another option is a single shot. Given the choice, hunters will want a Winchester, Marlin, Rossi, or Henry.
The most common calibers to find in a lever action are .45 LC, .45/70, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, and .444 Marlin, in close to that order. It makes sense to check on ammunition availability and cost before buying a rifle. Lever actions are more fun to shoot and you may want to shoot more often, but not if it costs a fortune and the gun kicks like a mule. With ballistics and recoil in mind, here are a few specs.
The .45 LC, often referred to as .45 Colt, was introduced in 1873 for the Colt Single Action Army; it is still around, to say the least. The LC stands for Long Colt to distinguish it from shorter Colt cartridges used in Schofield revolvers.
You will have no trouble finding rifles or ammunition for this one. You may have more trouble finding an open bench at the range than you will with anything to do with the .45 LC.
From a 225-grain bullet with 25-yard zero you can expect an average velocity at that distance of 860 fps and 370 foot-pounds of energy. Effective hunting range will vary with bullet choice and shooting skill.
A military cartridge designating .45 bullet and 70-grain powder charge, issued in 1873 with the Springfield Trapdoor Rifle; like the .45 LC it is another old cartridge from the same year that is still around.
No worries finding rifles or ammunition, perhaps more choices in cartridges than the others. No need to worry about velocity and energy, with the correct cartridge and some skill, a potential 200-yard gun. Recoil may be a concern if anything.
The most powerful handgun cartridge in its day, which was 1935 when Smith and Wesson presented FBI head J. Edgar Hoover with a revolver and .357 Magnum ammunition; it was the first cartridge designated as a magnum.
Still an American favorite for revolvers; it is now a common cartridge in lever actions. From a 180-grain bullet with 25-yard zero you can expect an average velocity of 1086 fps at that distance and 470 foot-pounds of energy. These are factory ballistics most likely derived from handguns, the same cartridges shot from rifle barrels tend to produce higher velocities. To save money shooters use .38 Special cartridges for target practice.
The .44 Remington Magnum was a product of Remington and Smith and Wesson. Released with the S and W Model 29 revolver in 1955, it replaced the .357 as the most powerful handgun. Ruger quickly followed with the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk. Considered the best deer cartridge for handgun hunting, it can only be better in a rifle, and you have options. Finding a rifle or ammunition will be easier than with the rest.
The .44 Magnum kick is no fun at the end of your wrist, but it’s tolerable at your shoulder. You can shoot softer kicking .44 Special cartridges for target practice.
For hunting purposes, a 240-grain bullet with 25-yard zero produces an average velocity of 1,220 fps at that distance and 795 foot-pounds of energy, tremendous firepower from a handgun cartridge.
Introduced in 1964 for a Marlin lever action; it was developed for moose and bear hunting. It was described by Wayne van Zwoll as essentially a rimmed .30/06 shell casing resized to accept a 240-grain .44 bullet. It was something in its day, but growing interest in the .45/70 has taken some of the limelight from the .444 Marlin.
Velocity? Seriously? Like the .45/70, you’re talking a ton of energy. With some skill and cartridge choice you have another 200-yard gun. Recoil may be a concern as well as supply. Finding rifles and ammunition is limited, perhaps the least available.