While they never caught on like pumps, lever action shotguns are interestingly awesome.
The first lever action shotgun was the Winchester Model 1887, created by John M. Browning. At the time, he wanted to design a pump action shotgun, but Winchester Repeating Arms was adamant about maintaining its reputation as THE lever-gun company, so they asked for a lever action shotgun instead. He delivered the Model 1887 smoothbore, which was chambered for 12-gauge and 10-gauge black powder shells in two barrel lengths.
Later, when Winchester produced Browning's pump-action Model 1893, they updated the Model 1887 as the Model 1901, but only offered it in 10-gauge and with a long barrel, so it wouldn't compete with it's 12-gauge 1893 models. The Model 1893 itself was updated to the Model 1897, which was extremely popular and the first commercially successful pump action shotgun.
While lever action rifles have been popular since their advent and are going through a resurgence in popularity, for some reason, lever action shotguns never caught on the way pump actions and semi-automatics did.
There's nothing about shotgun shells that makes them not work particularly well with a lever action—they aren't longer than a .45-70 cartridges, and the modern lever action .410 shotguns made by Henry Repeating Arms are evidence of how well those can work. A 12-gauge shell is fat, but that just makes the tube, receiver, and barrel bigger, but no larger than that of a pump gun. The ammo works just as well in the tubular magazine of a lever gun as it does in that of a pump gun. In fact, it's much easier to design a lever action shotgun than a semi auto shotgun.
In fact, bolt action shotguns work quite well, too, and have become popular with a surge in the popularity of rifled slug guns among hunters.
While there aren't many, there are a few options for lever action shotguns out there today, including reproductions of the Model 1887, which got a boost in pop culture fame when a sawed-off version was heavily featured in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Today, they are favorites among Cowboy Action shooters.
This faithful reproduction of the 12-gauge Winchester Model 1887 is available in six models, including three that are non-NFA mare's leg style guns meant to emulate the sawed-ff 1887 from T2. Several versions include color case hardened frames, but they don't come cheap—the most inexpensive model is $1,370.
BAT makes several configurations of its Pro Series L lever action shotgun that come with a full stock and a shorty grip in a number of finish and stock options. What's really attractive is the sticker price of about $399.
Henry offers a number of lever action .410 bore side gate lever action shotguns, including the Lever Action Axe mare's leg non-NFA shorty version and their new lever action X Model with synthetic furniture and weather resistant coatings. Unfortunately, there are no Henry lever action shotguns in larger gauges, because the .410s are built on their largest rifle frames. Going up to a 20 gauge lever action would require a completely redesigned receiver.
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