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Ed Harris says: “A Hillbilly Assault Rifle? You bet!”

Ed Harris says: “A Hillbilly Assault Rifle? You bet!”

Ed Harris, ballistic experimenter extraordinaire, is back — this time with some details on his “lever action utility rifle”. As usual, he’s got some good ideas!
Modern Sights to Upgrade the Lever-Action Utility Rifle
by C.E. “Ed” Harris, Gerrardstown, WV

I like the 1894 Marlin. I have three of them, in .357, .44 Magnum , and .44-40. Each rifle is equipped with an XS Lever Scout rail and ghost ring peep sights. The rail enables mounting any modern optic, but I’ve mostly used low-powered variable scopes, such as the Millet DMS, in Weaver mounts.

Marlin44MagTrijicon 002
My serious hunting rig, the .44 Magnum, has a Trijicon RX-09 reflex sight with tritium illuminated chevron reticle, assembled to an ARMS double-throw-lever mount. This lends itself to carrying the rifle in slimmed down, scabbard-carry condition and quickly mounting the reflex sight at twilight with full confidence of zero. The reflex sight carries in a coat pocket.

Marlin44MagTrijicon 010

In settled areas an “Evil Black Rifle” may attract unwanted attention. Lever guns have a non-threatening, familiar appearance which “doesn’t scare the natives.” To me this a BIG plus!

The defensive potential of a ten-shot .44 Magnum lever-gun against either two- or four-legged predators is nothing to sneeze at; it is accurate and powerful enough for anything within 200 yards. Admittedly, in wide open country I am a scoped .30-’06 bolt-gun kind of guy, but the vast majority of time here in Appalachia I don’t feel under-gunned with a sturdy lever-action.

I am of Scots-Irish heritage and frugal by nature. I avoid sending jacketed bullets, which cost $0.25 each, downrange unless they are really needed. An effective cast lead game bullet needs a meplat not less than 0.65 of its bullet diameter, being of a caliber which starts with a “4”.


The bullet must weigh 200 grains or more, and be driven at sufficient velocity to provide a 125-yard point blank range. The .44-40 black powder load provides the historic benchmark, while the .44 Magnum with modern cast hunting bullets provides a useful improvement over that.

For recreational use I avoid the popular (expensive) “Magnum Pistol” powders. They yield only 325-350 rounds per pound. Most of my shooting in .44 Magnum is with medium velocity cast bullet loads which approximate .44-40 velocity and energy using 7.2 grains of Bullseye. I get nearly 1000 rounds from a pound of powder!

Wheel-weight metal cast into plain-based, ogival-flat-nosed bullets are adequate. I worked with Tom at Accurate molds to design the 43-230G, a double-crimp-groove traditional design suitable for loading in all of the .44s. My Bullseye load produces 900 fps from a 5-1/2” revolver and 1300 fps from a 20” carbine.

Its benefits are low cost, mild recoil, lower noise. They are fun to shoot and within 50 yards the deer can’t tell the difference. I save my full power loads with jacketed bullets for serious work and fire a few rounds only occasionally to check zeroes; I don’t practice or plink with them. I zero the XS peep sights to hit “on” at 50 yards with the medium velocity Bullseye load. Ghost ring sights are capable of adequate precision; this 10-shot group was shot with .44-40 cast loads at 50 yards.


Full-up magnums assembled with the Hornady 240-grain XTP hit close to zero at 100 yards. Similar sight adjustment works well in reverse with the chevron reticle of the Trijicon sight, which I adjust precisely to put 240-grain full-power hunting loads at the point of the Chevron at 100 yards. My plinker loads then hit close enough to point of aim at 50 yards to drop deer in the garden.

The top opening inside the triangle is 6 minutes below the Chevron point, corresponding to 150-yard holdover with full loads and is close enough at 100 yards with the Bullseye cast bullet plinker load that it doesn’t make any difference.

Similarly, the base legs of the Chevron are 14.4 minutes high and 16.6 minutes wide. When braced across a deer’s back this provides correct holdover for 200 yards with full factory loads. It also gives fun gong practice with the cast bullet, medium velocity practice loads on metal IPSC silhouette targets to 150 yards or so.

A Hillbilly Assault Rifle? You Bet!

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On December 8, 2014
Tags: Ed Harris

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