Is The Lever Action A Good Bug Out Rifle?

In Bugging Out by M.D. Creekmore

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Lever action rifle ready to bug out By Jim Ballou

For a lot of potential wilderness survival emergencies, a lever-action carbine of one variation or another chambered for a versatile hunting/defense cartridge seems especially practical in my view. With such a weapon you’d have rifle-like accuracy and power in a comparatively compact, portable platform, and for this reason, I believe the carbine lends itself well as the basis for an emergency survival or bug out kit.

I chose to make my own such survival kit out of a Winchester Model 94 “Trapper” carbine with a legally minimum 16-inch barrel, chambered for 44 Remington Magnum (an earlier glimpse of this same project is featured in my book, Arming for the Apocalypse.

I like this gun for this particular purpose because it’s a fast-handing repeating lever-action of a conveniently short and handy size, and its cartridge is not only interchangeable with my favorite revolver but is also quite versatile.

The 44 Magnum has been used since its introduction in the mid-1950’s to successfully hunt every species of North American big game if my information is correct. My little carbine holds nine loaded rounds in its magazine tube, plus one in the chamber.

For me, this is the perfect sit-around-the-campfire kind of gun. If some beast were to suddenly burst into my camp in the middle of the night and threaten my being or the safety of anyone else in the camp, I believe I would feel fairly secure having nine or ten fast rounds of 44 Magnum at my disposal to answer the threat with.

I am aware that this particular variation of the Model 94 is no longer manufactured by Winchester, but I still frequently see plenty of used ones offered for sale. I purchased mine new in 2002 when they were still in production, and I paid around $300.00 for it at that time.

butt sock survival kit

Plate removed, showing small cavity in butt of stock for housing small survival gear.

The used ones I’ve seen lately have been priced considerably higher. By the way, this same model was also offered in .357 Magnum, and I believe one in that chambering would also be an excellent choice for this purpose. Additionally, there are at least a few other lever-action rifles and carbines chambered for 44 Magnum currently available from other gun makers.

No doubt readers will think of other viable or possibly even more suitable carbine designs for their purposes, but whether we opt for a lever-action, semi-auto, pump-action, single-shot, or bolt-action, I think the general idea of a survival carbine would be basically the same.

I began my project by removing the butt plate and drilling a 5/8” diameter hole into the wooden stock, just deep enough to hold a few wooden matches, a hobby knife blade, some sewing needles with a length of thread, a cotton ball (for emergency fire starting tinder), and some fish hooks.

I avoided the temptation to drill a larger hole that would house more gear, being careful to avoid compromising the stock’s structural integrity. After screwing the plate back on, I decided to sew a tiny pocket to the gun’s sling for stowing a short key-shaped screwdriver with the gun that fits the screws used to hold butt plate to the stock.

sling swivel on lever action rifle

A tiny pocket made from leather scrap was stitched to the sling to house the key-shaped screwdriver for the butt plate.

Next, I wrapped the entire buttstock of the carbine with several sizes of utility/survival cord. If there is one type of product more generally utilitarian to a wilderness survivor than cordage, I am not aware of it. When I visit the woods I invariably end up using the cord in shelter building or tent raising, tying down the gear, repairing items, hanging supplies from tree branches, replacing boot laces, etc.

The task of wrapping a rifle stock with cord can be tricky, but I’ve learned a few little tricks that make this process easier and more successful.

First, it is much easier when attempting to tightly wrap any tapered object with cord to start the process from the smaller diameter end of the thing and progress toward the larger portion, because the windings of cord have a tendency to slide apart while wrapping them on a body tapering downward. You will want to keep your wraps even and tight together.

A second trick involves using a wrapping technique commonly employed in whipping the ends of rope with small cord, and this is how you can avoid entirely the use of bulky knots that eventually unravel, while also maintaining a more permanent and tighter wrap.

cordage wrapped around rifle stock

Close up view of the wrist area. Note also that the lever itself has some cord wrapped onto it.

This can be done simply by forming a bight in the standing end of your cord and laying this bight stretched out along the length of the item you want to wrap, and wrap your windings of cord over it together with the (gun stock, in this case) until your windings approach the remaining eye in the end of the bight.

At that point, you feed the running end through the eye and pull on the standing end of your cord to draw the bight and running end under the tight wraps. I sometimes use two pairs of pliers to firmly grip and keep both ends of the cord taut during this finishing stage.

Finally, I discovered that by adding a furniture tack at the comb of the stock I was able to provide a much-needed ledge to hold back the wraps of cord at that point. Without something like this, there is nothing to prevent the windings of cord from merely slipping over the edge of the comb.

Wrapping the wrist area of a Model 94 Winchester requires some care because there is a safety button in the lower tang that must be depressed by the closed lever before the gun will fire. So, any wraps of cord around that area must not be too thick or interfere with that little button, because if they do the weapon won’t work.

lock bladed knife attached to rifle stock

A lock blade knife with a belt clip fits conveniently onto the stock’s shell holder.

After I had wrapped several layers of small cord on the carbine’s stock, I decided that a cloth shell holder that goes over the buttstock could be a handy thing. After adding that, I found that a lock-blade knife with a belt clip that would firmly slide under the back end of the shell holder could also be very handy to have in the woods. I eventually secured this knife into position more permanently by tying it on using several lengths of small diameter cord.

At some point, it occurred to me that the gun’s sling would lend itself quite well as a shell holder as well as a pouch for more small survival gear. The sling I had purchased for the carbine came with a few cartridge loops already, but I wanted a few more.

bug out survival kit

Examples of lightweight survival gear that can be carried on a rifle sling: 1) small knife, 2) sparking tool, 3) wire saw, 4) button compass, 5) #6 barbed fish hooks, 6) needles & thread for emergency repairs, 7) birthday candle, will sustain small flame for 35 minutes, and 8) band-aids and butterfly sutures.

I discovered that a belt slider with six cartridge loops could be positioned in a convenient section of the sling and stitched into place to prevent it from sliding around. I also discovered that this created a sort of convenient pocket between the belt slider and the sling, inside which I managed to fit a small bag of some basic survival items like a ferrocerium sparking tool, a small knife, a wire saw, bandages, more small-diameter cord and fishing tackle, a button compass, etc.

To make all these goodies thus mounted on the sling (including those spare rounds stowed in the cartridge loops) more secure, I ended up wrapping a handkerchief around the whole works and binding it up with a few lengths of small cord. While the sling may now be a tad bulkier and heavy with all of these things on it, it is still nevertheless usable as a carry sling.

Sling on lever action rifle and ready to bug out

A handkerchief tied on helps to protect the ammo in cartridge loops and all the survival gear on the sling.

Ultimately I ended up with not only a handy little 44 Magnum carbine to take along camping and scouting around in the woods, with its spare ammunition stowed “on board”, but in fact a survival kit system of its own. So, will this resulting mess of outdoor gear form part of my emergency Bug-Out Bag arsenal? You bet it will. With a set-up like this, a survivor would have plenty of possibilities available to him in an emergency.

Bio:  Jim Ballou has worked as a self-employed, independent insurance agent and a freelance writer for over sixteen years. More than sixty of his magazine articles on a variety of topics ranging from primitive and early American crafts and tools to wilderness survival skills have appeared in five periodicals since 2000, including Backwoods Home Magazine, The Backwoodsman, Wilderness Way Magazine, Primitive Archer Magazine, and Modern Survival Magazine.

Mr. Ballou’s first non-fiction book titled: Long-Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age was published by Paladin Press in 2007, and it quickly became a Paladin best seller. This was followed by four other popular non-fiction titles with Paladin Press, including Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance, MORE Makeshift Workshop Skills,Arming For The Apocalypse, and the most recent title, The Poor Man’s Wilderness Survival Kit.

Ballou’s interests are too varied to list here but include blacksmithing, gun collecting, target shooting, reading and learning about history, writing, camping, hunting, fishing, treasure hunting, exploring, experimenting with tools and creative processes, survival and self-reliance related topics, plus all of the primitive skills, among numerous other interests and hobbies. He lives with his wife and two kids in Idaho.

M.D. Creekmore

Owner / Editor at
Hello, I’m M.D. Creekmore. I’ve been interested in self-reliance topics for over 25 years. I’m the author of four books that you can find at as well as Barnes and Noble. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about prepping, homesteading, and self-reliance topics through first-hand experience and now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
M.D. Creekmore