For decades, lever-action shotguns like the Winchester Model 1887/1901 defined the platform of levered repeating scatterguns. But then, aside from a few gems through the years – looking at you, Marlin – lever-driven shotguns seemed to have faded into the sunset. 

Until now, that is. 

Both consumer interest and manufacturer production are driving a renaissance. Each year, it seems another brand gets on board. Here’s a look at the roots of lever-action shotguns, current offerings, and what keeps this 135-year-old platform relevant. 

Table of Contents

A Brief History 
Hits and Misses of Lever Shotguns
A New Classic: Henry Side Gate Lever Action 410
Turkish Levers: Tristar & GForce
Non-Shotgun Shotgun: The Henry Axe
But Wait, There’s More




A Brief History


Winchester 1887 lever-action shotgun
The original Winchester 1887, top, was famously sawed off, as shown at bottom, and used by Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." (Photos: Wikimedia Commons)

The story begins with John Browning’s Winchester 1887 falling block design, recognized as the first commercially successful lever-driven scattergun. In fact, it was not only the first popular lever shotgun, but one of the first effective repeating shotguns, period. 

With the advent of smokeless powder shells, upgrades led to Winchester’s Model 1901 in 10 gauge. That massive 1887 initial design, instantly recognizable for its receiver shape and design elements, paved the way for the market we know today.

Hits and Misses of Lever Shotguns


Lever-action shotguns
Like other .410 shotguns, lever actions have interchangeable choke tubes. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

As with any firearm design, lever-action shotguns have their strengths and weaknesses, but we find more of the former than the latter. By their nature, lever guns are fast cycling. The shooter can stay in the gun and run that lever while remaining on target. They are famously reliable.  

Like any other shotgun, most modern lever versions use interchangeable choke tubes. In addition, levers offer a healthy magazine capacity. Plus, there’s the immeasurable but latent “cowboy cool” factor. In fact, the field of cowboy action shooting was largely responsible for the widespread renewed interest in the action. 

Whether for hunting, home defense, range time, or ranch use, lever action shotguns can – and will – do whatever any other scattergun might. Limitations are few, yet lever-action shotguns are not for everyone. There are no models that are really on the budget price scale. 

.410 2.5-inch shotgun shells
Birdshot, buckshot, and home defense .410 shotshells, all 2.5-inchers. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

All of them are chambered for shorter, non-magnum lengths of their shells. The .410s are 2.5 inches, while the 12-gaugers are 2.75 inches. Shooters who simply must have magnum shells will eschew the abbreviated chambers, but for many generations, these shells went hunting and solved plenty of Old West defense dustups. 

The catch is that there simply aren’t as many levers as, say, pumps or semi-autos. It’s not the action most shooters think of when they’re shopping for a new shotgun, but the market indicates that may be changing. 

A New Classic: Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410


Hunting turkey with Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410 Shotgun
The author harvested a wild turkey with a Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410 shotgun. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The lever-driven action is a uniquely American design. So, it should come as no surprise that a U.S. company offers some of the finest lever shotguns on the market. For a good number of years, that was the Marlin brand of old. But in the modern lever action shotgun market, Henry Repeating Arms can be crowned king. 

Henry’s Side Gate Lever Action .410 Shotgun – yes, that’s the model name – has been proving itself with hot sales since 2017. There is, in fact, a pair of long guns. Both are built on the company’s steel-framed .45-70 Government centerfire rifle action, with the .410s chambering 2.5-inch shells. 

One wears a 19.75-inch barrel with a fixed cylinder bore that touts itself as more of a defense or close-quarters player. On the flip side, Henry’s 24-incher offers interchangeable Invector-style chokes. The smooth actions can’t help but impress shooters. 

In fact, we used the 24-incher to bag an eastern wild turkey, which points to the versatility of lever shotguns in general. The low recoil of .410s in general, aided by a steel and walnut build, makes pulling the trigger on these gems a snap for even sensitive shooters. 


Related: Why We're Excited About Henry's .45-70 and .410 Side Gates

Turkish Levers: TriStar & GForce


GForce Arms LVR410, top, and TriStar LR94
GForce Arms LVR410, top, and TriStar's LR94, both Turkish-made .410 lever shotguns. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Our most recently received pair of lever actions hail from the country Turkey. Though certainly not affiliated with cowboy actions, those foreign factories have built a reputation for crafting value-forward shotguns. This is the first we’ve seen them in the lever shotgun scene, though. The GForce LVR410 and TriStar LR94 share certain aesthetics while offering unique defining characteristics. 

GForce, a Reno, Nevada-based company, came first and continues to expand. Meanwhile, counterpart TriStar is brand new to the lever-driven market. GForce’s LVR410 is the model name for a pair of .410 bores. There are 20- and 24-inch barrel variants, with 7+1 and 9+1 capacities, respectively. The guns are built on an aluminum receiver, with the majority dressed in Turkish walnut. Each ships with a set of three choke tubes.

GForce Arms .410 shotgun choke tubes
The GForce LVR410 comes with three chokes, a wrench, and a hard case. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

TriStar has launched three models with contrasting finishes – matte blued, case colored, and nickel silver, also with an aluminum receiver and Turkish walnut furniture. TriStar offers shooters a choice of a 22- or 24-inch barrel, each with interchangeable choke tubes, though only one is included with the purchase. 

Like other .410 levers, both TriStar and GForce chamber 2.5-inch shells. While the LVR410 runs a full-length magazine tube, the LR94 goes half-size with a slightly lower capacity. 

Related: Unboxing a GForce LVR410 – Budget-friendly Lever Action



Reproductions of Winchester 1887
Chiappa's 1887 Mare's Leg, top, and 1887 shotguns. (Photos:

The Winchester 1887/1901 set the bar high. So high, in fact, that it lives on not through dozens of reproductions. If that’s not a testament to John Browning’s design, what is? All the major players have been rebuilding the uniquely massive-receivered 12 gauge. Think of brands like Chiappa, Cimarron, Pietta, and Taylor’s & Company.  Heck, even Century Arms has been a player in this space. 

While some reproductions are truer in attention to detail than others, the fact remains that lever action shotguns are alive and well. In fact, we can take that lever gun love one step further with spinoffs of the 1887 into compact mare’s-leg-style shotgun builds. Both Chiappa and Taylor’s have capitalized on that area. The former builds an 1887 Mare’s Leg, while Taylor’s has dubbed its shorty the Bootleg. The metrics on both match, with an 18.5-inch barrel, 27.5-inch overall length, and walnut furniture. 

The Non-Shotgun Shotgun: Henry Axe


Henry Axe Lever-Action .410
Henry's Axe is tricky to classify, as it doesn't fit the NFA definition of a shotgun. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Speaking of compact lever-action shotguns, we’ve come full circle back to Henry. Just like the 1887 Mare’s Legs, the lever allure continues to blossom. For a handful of years, Henry has been offering a modernized miniature lever shotgun choice. The Axe, available in either blued steel or polished brass, is a 15-inch barreled firearm – not technically a shotgun – that measures just 26 inches overall. 

Henry Axe Lever-Action .410
That walnut axe-handle-style short stock sure gleams in the sunshine. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

It holds a surprisingly high capacity of five 2.5-inch shells. Its name stems from its dress in American walnut stocks with an axe-handle-style short grip. In case you were wondering, the Axe is a non-NFA item, meaning it’s easily purchased and transferred with a form 4473. Like others in its class, demand has been high since the Axe’s introduction, with waiting lists to purchase one at most dealers. 

Related: A New Lever-Action in the Arsenal – Henry Axe

But Wait, There’s More

While the above represent the most common lever-action shotguns past and present, they’re far from the only options. In fact, a quick study online turns up familiar and less well-known brands putting out lever-action shotguns in recent years, along with quality discontinued gems to boot. Often-overlooked names include Citadel, Rock Island Armory, Legacy Sports, Landor, and even Black Aces Tactical. 

Even Winchester went back to the pool several times over the years, producing limited runs of lever-action shotguns, most recently a 9410 baby bore. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the highly prized initial run of Marlin .410s issued only to shareholders some 100 years earlier. 

No matter your flavor of choice – old or new, small gauge or big bore – there’s a lever-action shotgun for every application. While it’s likely that most of us won’t love them all, who can complain about so many choices? The world of lever-action scatterguns is alive and thriving like never before. 

revolver barrel loading graphic