by R. K. Campbell
The handgun’s advantage is that it is concealable, portable and fast into action. All other advantages regarding power and accuracy belong to the long gun. While I appreciate my various big bore handguns the long gun has more appeal for personal defense of a fixed site such as a residence. The long gun is usually more powerful, easier to use well, and has more deterrent power.
The Brooklyn Special is one such long gun. I first heard this term several decades ago. The Brooklyn Special is a short handy rifle dedicated to personal defense. The rifle is chosen for its performance, practicality and legality. In certain jurisdictions a handgun is difficult to own legally, while the rifle is much easier. The application and licensing of the long gun in jurisdictions such as New York City is much less daunting for a rifle. While we may add immoral and unconstitutional to daunting at present, we must work with what we have. A handgun is the first choice for concealed carry, but a long gun is a good choice for home defense.
My idea of a good Brooklyn Special is a 20-inch barrel lever-action rifle chambered for a pistol cartridge. The lever guns are just right for fast handling in tight places. There are some I would steer clear of for urban use based upon the caliber. The .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington offer too much penetration for urban use, at least with factory loads. I don’t recommend handloads for defensive use but I am well aware that the .35 Remington may be changed into a .357 Magnum ballistics-wise by a careful handloader. The Brooklyn Special has just as much appeal for defense in a cabin in Montana as a flat in the Bronx. Light and handy, it can be brought into action quickly against marauding thugs or a bad animal. A great advantage of short rifles chambering the pistol cartridges is that the leverage of the action is proportionately better than with those lever-action rifles chambering a bottleneck rifle cartridge. The action may be manipulated basically with a flip of the finger.
Rifles and Cartridges
There are several rifles chambered for handgun cartridges such as the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. While I would never discount a handy break-open single shot such as the New England Firearms Handi Rifle in .44 Magnum, I think that most of us agree the repeating rifle is a better choice.
The smoothest lever-action rifle ever produced was the Winchester Model 1892. This rifle overcame the various shortcomings of the ’73 Winchester. The 92 features twin locking wedges that are strong and move into battery very smoothly. The leverage of the action is good, allowing quick manipulation. Winchester rifles are scare and pricey, but if a good example were found in .38-40 or .44-40 it would serve well today.
Legacy Sports International (4750 Longley Lane, Suite 208, Dept. GWK, Reno, NV 89502; phone: 775-828-0555; on-line: www.legacysports.com) presently offers a high quality clone of the Winchester rifle known as the Puma. The Puma is offered in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. The rifle is available in traditional blue steel or stainless construction. Many friends and associates have used these rifles with excellent results. Marlin also offers good, light lever-action rifles in .357 and .44, but the Puma is what we have on hand.
The original Winchester centerfire cartridges such as the .44-40 WCF were semi bottlenecked, giving excellent feed reliability. But the modern rifles are reliable with straight-walled handgun cartridges, no mean feat. Cartridge availability also must be considered in your choice. While you may run to Wal Mart and pick up a box of .357s or .44s, the .45 Colt may be another matter. If you shoot cowboy action and like the .44-40, and it is among the author’s favorite calibers, then by all means use it as a defensive rifle. Otherwise the other calibers make more sense.
Load Choice by Caliber
A caution applies to all lever-action rifles. Pointed bullets cannot be used because the bullet nose would ignite the primer of the cartridge in front of the bullet in the tubular magazine. (This has changed when using the new LeverRevolution cartridges recently introduced by Hornady.) Do not use the .38 or .44 RNL bullets which present this danger. In .357 Magnum, loads that work well in the handgun may offer insufficient expansion in the rifle, as velocity is upped by 300 to 350 feet-per-second (fps). Some bullets come apart at this increased velocity. A 158-grain JHP is about ideal. The Federal 158-grain JHP has proven to be quite accurate in my personal .357 carbines. The Winchester 145-grain Silvertip or Hornady 140-grain XPT give good results and are as light as I care to go. None of these rounds offer much in the way of recoil.
If you have on hand a .44-40, the lead flat-nose loads offered by Black Hills Ammunition break just over 1,000 fps. Given good placement, this is a fine defensive load offering little recoil. I would prefer something stronger in a pistol, as this load breaks perhaps 780 fps in the pistol, but in the rifle it is just right. The .44-40 may be loaded quite a bit hotter, but there is little reason. This cartridge has a fine reputation.
The .44 Magnum also has a good reputation and in this cartridge we should be interested in limiting penetration. The Winchester .44 Magnum Silvertip is a kind of ∫-power load with an excellent reputation. In .44 Special, the Hornady 180-grain XTP breaks about 1,000 fps from the carbine, making it ideal for personal defense. I have dropped a 280-pound boar hog with the .44 Magnum. He fell over in an instant without so much as a kick. The .44 Magnum has plenty of power for any reasonable task.
The .45 Colt was not offered in original lever-action rifles but is more common today. I have used the .45 Colt extensively in handguns and find it a good cartridge. The original 255-grain conical load as offered by Winchester is as good a defensive load as you could ask for. The 225-grain Silvertip is a better urban choice, with excellent penetration predicted.
The most powerful of the pistol cartridges offered in lever-action rifles is the .454 Casull. The 300-grain .454 Winchester loading exits the Puma’s 20 inch barrel at 2,000 fps. In constrast a standard factory 300 grain .45-70 from the same maker will break perhaps 1,800 fps. This is power! Cor Bon offers a .454 240-grain load that is a mid-range load, in .44 Magnum territory, well suited for carbine use. Of course, the .454 carbine will chamber any .45 Colt loading. For home defense duty my personal .454 is loaded with .45 Colt loads, using the 255-grain conical from Winchester.
I have not run an extensive test of spring longevity but I suggest the eight-round magazine of the Puma be loaded down to perhaps five rounds. This should ensure against the spring taking a set even if the rifle is left loaded for long periods. If the rifle is kept chamber unloaded it is a simple matter to quickly lever a cartridge into the chamber. Most lever guns now have a manual safety and the Puma is no exception. Just the same, this safety is far from handy and I prefer to rely upon the hammer and its half cock notch.
Rapid manipulation of the rifle is possible with practice. Anyone of normal strength and ability can quickly master the lever-action rifle. Keep your fingers in the lever and briskly move the lever to the fully downward position. The case is ejected if the rifle has been fired. Move the lever to the rest position and a new cartridge is chambered. With a bit of practice this action is very fast.
The Puma is short and light enough to offer real speed in a tight area. Combat accuracy is no problem. Simply put the front post on the chest of the target and press the trigger. When this rifle is properly held, tight into the shoulder, the silhouette presented is little more than that of a man or woman with a pistol at full extension in both hands.
Always be careful not to lead the muzzle around a corner. A thug may grab your muzzle and gain control of the rifle. Never forget the rifle’s length. Rapid manipulation of the action allows for quick back-up shots. Overall, I like lever action rifles for personal defense, just as a generation of lawmen found similar rifles ideal for use in the battle against bad guys. If you are looking for a personal weapon for home defense, take a hard look at the Brooklyn Special. The Puma from Legacy Sports has a suggested retail about $600, depending on finish and caliber. It just may be your best bet.