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Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Mossberg takes a proven, legendary design and mixes in a few modern refinements to create a new lever-action rifle.

It was a black day indeed for rifle weenies when three years ago U.S. Repeating Arms Co. announced it was closing the doors of its New Haven factory for good. That meant two icons of the American firearms industry, the Model 70 Winchester bolt action and Model 94 lever action, would become history.

We know now that the Model 70 is back in production, but from what I'm hearing there are no definite plans to reintroduce the Model 94, which is without question one of the most storied, cinematic firearms of all time. Whether the assumed demise of the 94 had anything to do with Mossberg's decision to begin development of a similar lever-action carbine is anyone's guess, but Mossberg did indeed recently introduce a brand new lever-action rifle.

It's designated as the Model 464, and I was fortunate enough to have gotten the opportunity to examine and hunt with a pre-production example of this traditional lever action in New Mexico last September. I have since received a production version of the gun, and it differs not a whit from the one I hunted with.

The 464 is chambered for one cartridge and one cartridge only: the epochal .30-30 WCF, the round which of course ushered in the smokeless powder era. And when I describe the 464 as traditional, I mean that it is characterized by a thin, slab-sided receiver with exposed hammer; an under-barrel tubular magazine that's fed from the rear through a spring-loaded gate; a two-piece stock; and an underlever with a forward extension that moves the bolt directly without benefit of intervening linkage or a rack and pinion. The genre is typified not only by the Winchester 94 but the Marlin 336 series as well.

In contrast to the traditional lever action is what I'd describe as the "modern" lever gun, of which there have not been many. The genre started with the Winchester Model 95 and Savage 99, followed about a half-century later by the Winchester Model 88 and the Sako Finnwolf--all four of which are out of production--and the current Browning BLR.

Mossberg Model 464

Manufacturer O.F. Mossberg & Sons,, 203-230-5300
Action Type: lever-action centerfire
Caliber: .30-30 Win.
Magazine: 6-round tubular
Barrel 20-in. button rifled with recessed crown
Overall Length 381⁄2 in.
Weight 6.7 lb.
Stock walnut with red rubber buttpad; 137⁄8 in. length of pull
Finish blued
Sights folding rear, bead front; receiver drilled and tapped for scope
Safeties grip and sliding top tang
Price $473

At first glance the 464 looks so much like the legendary Winchester version that most folks would assume it is. On closer examination, however, it becomes obvious that it is not.

For one thing, the bolt is cylindrical like on the Marlin 336, and it reciprocates in a hole bored in the rear of the solid frame receiver forming what is essentially a bridge like on a bolt action rifle.

In fact, looking at the 464 from above, it resembles a bolt action because it's an open-top receiver with a right sidewall lower than the left for side ejection, and the nose of the bolt slides into the receiver ring, just like on bolt guns.

The receiver ring and bridge are of the same height and contour and have the same scope base screw spacing. That makes the scope mount bases for both front and rear the same, in this case Weaver 403A, which is the front base for the Winchester Model 94 Big Bore.


Like the 94, the locking lug on the 464 slips up behind the breech bolt rather than into a deep notch in the bottom of it as on the Marlin. The initial 20 degrees of downward lever movement lowers a pivoting floorplate to which the lever is cross-pinned, thus providing a longer fulcrum to

the lever's forward extension.

This, in conjunction with a toggle arrangement between the lever and the floorplate, provides a mechanical advantage. This initial movement of the lever also lowers the locking bolt within its vertical mortise, allowing the breech bolt to move rearward; in so doing it passes over and cocks the exposed hammer. The last 40 degrees or so of the lever's opening stroke moves the breech bolt fully rearward, during which ejection takes place.

Unlike the Marlin and Win-chester, which employ inertia ejection (the rearward momentum of the cartridge case contacting a static ejector kicks it free of the port), the 464 uses the more modern plunger-type ejector. Located at the nine o'clock position at the left edge of the bolt face, this plunger is different from all others I've seen in that its face has an angled, projecting lip to ensure ejecting cases are precisely directed. Apparently, there's little room between a low-mounted scope and the right receiver wall, so a precise ejection path is necessary.

After ejection and just as the lever reaches its full 90-degree arc, a fresh cartridge is released from the magazine into the receiver, where on the upstroke of the lever an elevator raises it to chamber level and the closing bolt pushes it home.

The lever stops about 1/8 inch short of being fully closed. In this position a trigger block is in effect; only when the lever is gripped and squeezed so as to fully close the lever will the gun fire--and then only if the tang-mounted safety is in its forward or "fire" position. Like most exposed-hammer guns, the cocked hammer can be lowered to a half-cock position where, if the safety is engaged, the hammer cannot contact the firing pin.

The tubular six-round magazine is fed through the traditional spring-loaded gate on the right side of the receiver. The folding rear sight rides on a finely threaded screw that provides windage adjustment; elevation is adjusted by loosening a set screw and moving the notched plate up or down. A brass-beaded blade front sight completes the iron sight arrangement, which is better than most I've seen.

The hardwood buttstock is attached to the receiver via a through-bolt accessible after removing or pivoting the red rubber recoil pad out of the way. With its 20-inch barrel, the gun's overall length is a handy 381⁄2 inches; with the buttstock removed the barreled action is only 221⁄4 inches, meaning you can transport this gun, even with a scope attached, in a case that's only 24 inches long and nine inches wide. Too bad no one makes a case that small.

On my New Mexico antelope hunt I used Hornady's 160-grain LeverEvolution ammo with FlexTip bullets. With a decent bench setup provided by my guide/outfitter, Tim Barraclaugh of Kiowa Oufitters, I was able to zero in at 100 yards, then shoot at 200- and 300-yard targets. There was a good wind blowing, but my sighting-in groups averaged just over two inches at 100 yards. Zeroed three inches high at that range, I was dead-on at 200 yards and 51⁄2 inches low at 250, which was about as long a shot as I would have taken.

As it turned out, I got to within 185 lasered yards of a representative buck on the first morning of the two-day season and decided to pull the trigger. No problem. Even at 185 yards, the idea of using a .30-30 on pronghorn prior to Hornady's breakthrough ballistic development would have been a study in optimism. With it, this old warhorse of a cartridge in a traditional lever gun like the 464 has all the accuracy, a flat-enough trajectory and enough downrange energy to take deer-size game out to 250 yards.

It wasn't until early 2008 that I received a production example of the 464 that I could examine at leisure and test in a more comprehensive manner. To do so I mounted a Sightron Big Sky 1.5-5X using Weaver low rings. The production guns are furnished with an ambidextrous hammer extension that makes cocking and uncocking with a low-mounted scope a lot easier.

In addition to Hornady's LeverEvolution 160-grain Flex Tip load, I had some Federal Classic 170-grain Sierra Pro Hunter, Winchester's 150-grain Power Point and Remington's 170-grain Core Lokt factory loads. The trigger on the test gun was smoother and lighter than I remember it being on my hunting gun, and the safety moved more easily. Other than that, everything else seemed about the same.

This time I had a concrete bench to shoot off of, and it showed in terms of groups that were tighter, though not a lot, from the ones I had gotten in New Mexico. My smallest three-shot group with the Hornady load was one inch even, but the average for five three-shot groups was 1.6 inches, which was about .3 inch better than I got on a previous range session.

The Winchester load was close behind, averaging 1.85 inches. No tiny groups with it, but they were very uniform--nothing over 2.1 inches and nothing smaller than 1.45. I figure that if I'd had a little more magnification than 5X, my sighting error would have been less, and I might have gotten those group averages down by maybe an eighth-inch or so. Still, that's decent accuracy for a bolt action, let alone a lever gun having a much longer lock time and rear lock-up.

Only time will tell if the new Winchester Repeating Arms Co. will resurrect the Model 94, but if it does, this new Mossberg will stand up very well in any kind of comparison. Adding to its appeal is its price: It carries a suggested retail of $473, which represents a real value when compared with the competition.

All in all I think the 464 is a worthwhile addition to the ever-growing Mossberg product line, and I'm betting it will be given a warm reception by those legions of lever lovers out there. And we've just learned that there will be a companion .22 rimfire version of the 464 coming in the fall of this year. Judging from the catalog picture, it looks remarkably like the Winchester 94/22. The rimfire 464 will be all blued steel with a hardwood stock. The gun will weigh 5.6 lbs. and measure 353⁄4 inches with its 18-inch barrel. The full length tubular magazine's capacity is 13 rounds.

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