November 29, 2023
As long as hunters hunt, shooters shoot and collectors collect, it’s a safe bet that lever-action rifles and carbines are going to be with us. Although Mossberg and Henry have produced traditional tubular-magazine centerfire lever guns since the early 1970s and mid-2000s, respectively, the two preeminent old-school brand names are, of course, Winchester and Marlin. There are literally acres of Model 94s and 336s out there, still doing yeoman service in the deer woods.
But there’s another, little-known lever gun once made by Stevens, and it’s pretty slick indeed. The Model 425 High Power is easily the nicest traditional tubular magazine lever-action rifle you may have never have heard of.
The Model 425 was manufactured from 1911 to 1917, a couple of years before Stevens fell under the Savage umbrella. The number of rifles produced, according to S.P. Fjestad’s Blue Book of Gun Values, was 26,000—a figure that is vigorously disputed by other sources that claim the number is far too high.
Some estimates on actual production numbers are around 5,000 or even far fewer, which would account for the 425’s rarity and subsequent value. This is particularly so in the higher grades that were listed in the Blue Book, in ascending degrees of embellishment, as the 430, 435 and 440. The 440 listed for a whopping $90 upon its introduction. By comparison, the standard 425 went for $20.
The rifle features a 22-inch barrel, a two-thirds-length magazine tube and side ejection. However, unlike the long, round bolt of the later Marlin 336, the Stevens bolt is a shorter, square two-piece unit. When the action is cycled, the bolt rolls back and down. It’s definitely different from the Marlin and not as strong a setup, but adequate for the cartridges chambered to it.
Those traditional lever lovers who’ve never seen or handled one are in for a pleasant surprise. It’s simply a great looking rifle. The walnut stock of this standard grade .30 Rem. specimen is unadorned and features a crescent-style buttplate instead of the the kinder, gentler shotgun style.
But in all fairness, even with 170-grain factory loads, recoil was quite tolerable, despite the 425’s 6.5-pound weight. I expect that the same rifle in .35 Rem. would kick a bit more, but it would be unlikely to promote a flinch in an adult shooter.
The factory rear sight was made by Marble’s and is so stamped. The trigger on the test gun was excellent and crisp, breaking at a hair under three pounds. This, in conjunction with the broad Marble’s sights, contributed greatly to the shootability of the 425.
One factor that indicates the 425 may have been a bit ahead of the curve regarding the competition is the fact that the top of the receiver was drilled and tapped for optics. However, it might be a bit of a chore to come up with the proper mounts these days.
Of course, a major point of departure from the competition was that Stevens saw fit to chamber the 425 to the family of rimless Remington cartridges—.25, .30, .32 and .35—all introduced in 1906 for Remington’s recently introduced Model 8 autoloader.
In retrospect, this probably didn’t do much to increase the Stevens’s chances of commercial success. Leaving out the .35, three of them were pretty much analogous ballistically to Winchester’s .25-35, .30-30 and .32 Special. However, the .30-30 and .25-.35 had an 11-year jump on the Remington cartridges, of which only the .35 is still around.
This, of course, makes a 425 in .35 Rem. considerably more desirable today for those wanting to enjoy the advantages of store-bought ammo. However, the .30 Rem. test gun, courtesy of my shooting buddy Doug Fee, was representative of the most popular chambering back in the day.
Curiously, in what would appear to be a somewhat sneaky marketing ploy, the caliber designation stamp on the barrel of this gun reads “.30-30 Remington.” Nomenclature aside, factory ammunition featured a 150-grain roundnose rated at 2,364 fps or a 170-grain Core-Lokt at 2,114. For all practical purposes, it was a dead ringer for the rimmed .30-30 Win.—unfortunately without the popularity and longevity, of course.
Doug had put together some 150-grain handloads, but the real bonus came when another shooting buddy, Chris Chadwick of Crescenta Valley Sportsman, saved the day by allowing us to dip into a real treasure from his secret stash of vintage ammo. The stash happened to include a full box of Remington Hi-Speed 170-grain Core-Lokt.
The best 50-yard accuracy results were with the vintage 170s as well. We’re talking 2.5 inches for a three-shot group, with two shots about an inch apart. That’s pretty good for the problematic combination of old eyes and open buckhorn sights.
Due to its rarity, value and limited ammo options, the Stevens 425 is going to appeal to a hardcore collector/lever gun “completist” rather than a serious shooter. If you can find one today, expect to part with several grand for the privilege of taking it home. But it’s a neat item nonetheless, providing a look back at a storied company.