So you wanna build a space cowboy rifle, huh? Seems to be all the rage these days. Before building and sharing ridiculous revolvers, I too jumped on the tactical lever action bandwagon and thought I'd put together a short guide on how to get started on your own build.
The place to start: the handguard
It may seem odd to start with a a handguard instead of a rifle, but there are only a few manufacturers making lever action handguards and they only work for a couple of models of rifles. Since the handguard is what unlocks the ability to add most of the tactical features, it's best to see what handguards are available then which leveractions they work on. Also, most model of lever guns are available in a variety of calibers, so you'll still have a variety of options in terms of ammo.
Below are some of the more popular lever action handguards grouped by the rifles they work on.
RPP has a detailed list of all the rifles this fits on its website but the summary is that it fits Marlin 1894s, 1895s 336s, 338s, 308s, 444s and 450Ms.
RPP also has a version specifically for the marlin 30-30 Win Compact. You can see it here.
This handguard fits on nearly all Marlin lever guns that have cap on the front of their wood handguard not a band. Examples include Marlin 1894s and 1895's and the 336.
As with the Marlin version, RPP has a detailed list of all the rifles this fits on its website. Generally it fits most Henry's except the 22 LR ones or those with octagonal barrels.
If you have a 22 LR Henry and "need" a handguard, RPP makes a separate one for you. Here's the link.
As the name suggests, these work on Henry lever guns chambered in .38/357, 44 Mag, and 45 Long Colt.
Next up: the gun
Since the handguards above fit on a variety of Henry and Marlin rifles, you have a bunch of options for the gun part of your tactical lever action. Turns out, the gun part is important.
As the space cowboy lever action trend has become more popular, some manufactures have released tactical-ready levers. These are typically colored black (like the Marlin shown above), have threaded barrels and some have picatinny attachment points built into the fore end and/or atop the barrel.
If you stick with a classic model, rather than a "tactical" one, your options basically come down to 1. the round it's chambered in, everything from 22 LR to 30-30 to 45-70, 2. the barrel length, and 3. the aesthetics (finish type). Pretty much everything else is modifiable after purchase. In truth, so is the finish type, but that's getting into either more custom work or a DIY rattle can job, which rarely turns out as envisioned.
Below are some of the more popular lever guns for tactical-izing...
This lever gat is stainless steel, has improved sights, a rail on top ready for optics, and a threaded barrel for your preferred muzzle device.
Similar to the SBL, but in black.
There are dozens of Henry's that are ready for a tactical tune up - just add one of the handguards above. Two that I'll mention here are the X series (first image) and the All Weather series (second image). The X series has threaded barrels and a bit of rail at the front of the handguard.
This one is the lease common of the rifles mentioned here, but for those that want to really really AR-up a lever gun Mossberg's 464 SPX is for you. You can even use your black rifle's stock.
The R92 by Rossi doesn't have as many handguard options as he Marlins and the Henry's but it does come in an all black tactical version with a top rail ready for optics and a threaded barrel.
Finally: go crazy
Once you have a lever action + handguard combo picked out (or one of the tactical-ready lever guns), you're ready to go hog wild in terms of attachments. A lever action with a picatinny rail on top and some MLOK slots on the side is ready for just about any black rifle attachment you can imagine.
The most common tactical lever action accessories are lights, red dots, fixed power or short range scopes, bi-pods, and more recently, stocks.
Just a couple years ago the only aftermarket options for lever action stocks were ever-fancier wood ones. These days, Form Rifle Stocks and Ranger Point Precision have some adjustable / tactical stocks and I suspect more will be on the market soon. Below is glamor shot of RPP's stock, with some bear rounds on standby.
Another recently popular lever action attachment is a quiver. Quivers typically hold a 2 to 8 rounds and mount to any MLOK part of your lever gun. Two of the more popular brands for quivers are Hoptic USA and Ranger Point Precision (shown below in that order).
The Tactical-lite Approach
Another approach to your very own space lever gun is what I'll call "tactical-lite." This is for those of us who already have a lever gun that doesn't have a handguard available for it, or just don't want to go full "black gun" on a lever gat.
Tactical-lite builds can be done through a combination of a scope mount, like the Midwest Industries' Marlin mount show below, and various picatinny rail pieces. There are scope mounts like this available for pretty much any lever action you can imagine. A quick search on Amazon or Google will reveal many options of style, length, etc.
Below is an example of a simple stacking of red dot and laser on my John Wick Revolver Build to inspire your creativity. This style of one attachment stacked with another will work in a variety of combinations on a lever action.
Happy tactical-lever building! If you're looking for more inspiration, check out some of my other revolver builds. Building "tactical" or "space" revolvers has similar limitations in and craziness as tactical lever actions so they may give you some bad ideas.... like this .357 mag revolver build that includes a Sig MCX handguard fiber optic-lit grips and a jade bead for a front sight.