There are many reasons that my family loves the .243 Winchester round, but a .243 Winchester lever action rifle? Well, that’s just a mean little machine, right there. If you’ve got some .243 lever action nostalgia burning in you, the good news is that a couple manufacturers can still help you get that taken care of.
Let me tell you a quick story…
As we rounded the corner of the old logging road, bouncing our way back to camp, tired from hiking all morning after mule deer, my dad slammed the brakes of the pickup. There, standing classically broadside and midstride in the middle of the dirt road about 70 yards away, was the buck we’d been after.
My brother bailed out of the cab holding his Savage 99E .243 Winchester lever action rifle in his hands. He slammed the box magazine in the rifle and the buck took off at a dead run!
BOOM! and the little buck put his head down and turned on the afterburners. Clack-clack! My brother worked the lever on his rifle just as fast—BOOM! And the buck went down rolling in a pile of dust.
As it turned out, my brother, calmer and deadlier than I in those types of situations, had put two rounds through both lungs of that mule deer. Both struck barely inches apart. The buck had been dead on the first shot, but just didn’t know it yet. The second shot was just “because…”
Because we’d been taught repeatedly, nothing’s down … until it’s down.
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.243 Lever Action Rifle
It’s not an overstatement to say that the lever action rifle changed the destiny of America and potentially the world. After which, lever action, single shot big-bore rifles ruled on buffalo in the West. But all that changed and now there’s no more iconic view of cowboys or hunting the old West than the lever action rifle.
Sadly, the early calibers had to be flat nosed or risk detonating the primer of the bullet in front of them in the tubular magazine. Manufacturers solved that problem by inventing the rotary and detachable box magazines. and that brings us to our beloved .243…
Once detachable box and rotary magazines came on the scene, the accuracy killing tubular magazines went away and a compact, fast shooting, and modern-round-chambered lever action rifle could be built.
Why a Lever Action in .243?
The .243 has long been known as a low-recoil, fast, and accurate cartridge. It’s a great choice for antelope, deer, wild pigs, and if you are so-inclined coyotes and other varmints.
And the .243 one of the best hunting cartridges you can buy for new/youth hunters.
A .243 in an action that’s compact, fast, and reliable seems like a no-brainer. But read on, we’ll get to the punch line at the end.
Old Lever Action .243s
Manufacturers didn’t waste time inventing rifles that could chamber the deer-getting .243.
Savage was among the best with the model 99E in a detachable box magazine .243 rifle. My brother used this very rifle for years to the bane of whitetails and muleys alike. And since the 70’s the Savage 99E in .243 has been an old school, old salt favorite.
All the attempts to make a .243 lever action rifle weren’t successful, however. The Model 88 Winchester in .243, though pretty, had horrible trigger operation which affected its accuracy.
Fast forward 50-100 years. Now, bolt actions rule the hunting and shooting world. But there are still a couple of manufacturers doing a great job of keeping the mythical lever action .243 alive.
Browning Lever Action .243
The Browning BLR line of lever action rifle can all be purchased in .243 Winchester caliber. A great decision on Browning’s part if I do say so myself.
From straight grip to pistol grip to even a take-down model, the Browning BLR comes in several model variations:
- BLR Lightweight with Pistol Grip
- BLR Lightweight ’81 Stainless Takedown
- BLR Lightweight Stainless with Pistol Grip
- BLR Lightweight `81
Henry .243 Lever Action Rifle
Henry makes a .243 in one main rifle, The Long Ranger. More than just a play on words, this little. fast-cycling, box magazine beauty is a rifle that shoots.
Manufactured in the USA, the Henry Long Ranger in .243 is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and comes with a steel-bodied flush-fit detachable magazine (4-rounds for the .243)
The American Walnut stock is beautiful and the solid rubber recoil pad adds some extra recoil relief for those of us that like that.
Lever Action .243 For Sale
You can find a new lever action .243 for sale—Browning BLR or a Henry Long Ranger—by looking no further than Sportsman’s Warehouse.
And if you’re trying to find one of those coveted Savage 99E in .243, your best bet is:
Now, remember the title of this article? “…(And Why You Shouldn’t Buy One)” Here’s the one word of caution I would give you for buying a lever action .243 for a new or youth hunter.
Lever Action .243 – the Downside
DISCLAIMER: This is NOT advice on how to de-cock a lever action rifle. This is for informational purposes in order to illustrate the inherent difficulty in de-cocking a lever action hammer. De-cocking a lever action rifle is a difficult and dangerous task. Get professional firearms training to help you understand how to perform this action.
Yep, it’s a safety concern. Literally, the safety mechanism on almost all lever actions is the hammer itself. And transfer bars and half-cock positions aside, there’s only one basic way to get the hammer from the full-cock to half-cock position. You have to put your thumb on the hammer, pull the trigger and control the hammer down to half-cocked.
Stay with me here…
So, in order to move the hammer from full-cock to half-cock position, you must first place your thumb on the hammer to stop it from falling forward onto the firing pin. The trigger is then depressed to release the hammer from the full-cock position—
Aaaaaand we can stop right there.
I’ve performed this action… I can’t count how many times. When I first learned to do it, I dropped the hammer on empty chambers numerous times. If those rifles would’ve been loaded when I attempted to put them in the hammer half-cocked (safety) position, I would’ve fired the rifle.
Start them on a bolt action first
For new shooters, this one downside to the lever action .243 is reason enough to start them on a bolt action. Performing this action, especially for young and not so strong hands, is difficult at best.
So, I’d suggest avoiding a lever .243 as a first rifle for this very reason. Then once they get comfortable, real comfortable, with firearms in general, move them to a lever if you have/want to.
Then only hunt with that rifle after hours and hours of practicing de-cocking the hammer on an EMPTY rifle.
A quick story to illustrate my point.
Several girlfriends ago, my father and I set out hunting for the day and left my mother and said GF back at camp. Bored, they decided to go on a walk in the woods. Having been cautioned against being in the woods unarmed, my mother brought along my father’s model 94 lever.
In explaining how to de-cock the hammer to then GF, the rifle went BOOM! instead. Luckily, most of the other primary rules of firearms safety were adhered to and the round plowed safely into the dirt, away from them both.
Catastrophe avoided. And yet this is a cautionary tale I tell often.
Lever Action .243 Summary
Okay, so now that you’re both intrigued and terrified about .243 lever actions, I still love these rifles, and properly trained up and deployed they are fun guns to shoot and hunt with. So if you find the inclination and purpose for owning one, you’ll most likely love it like I do.
Just be damn careful…