Like many of you, I grew up watching cowboy movies and loved the appeal of the old lever-gun-wielding hero.
I always wanted to have a few lever-guns of my own, and have recently been adding them here and there to my collection. I was surprised to see the latest member of the group though, and despite my initial concerns it has turned out to be every bit as appealing.
The Tristar LR94 lever action shotgun has every feature a lever-gun connoisseur would looks for, and maybe a few they wouldn’t have. My first thoughts about a lever-action .410 wandered into why a person would want or use such a firearm.
But after thinking about it for a bit, I figured it would be better to revisit that internal debate after I’d already proven the gun worthy.
Tristar is advertised as something of a more affordable brand, and I was worried that meant they would be cheap and come with comparable performance. The LR94 appears to offer a classy-looking shotgun with all the familiar function of a lever gun.
This brings a modest .410 shotgun performance, with mild recoil and a light load of shot for whatever you might point it at.
TRISTAR LR94 SHOTGUN REVIEW
I was surprised when I opened the box containing the gun, as I was expecting a more traditional blued shotgun with a walnut stock.
As it turns out, mine was a Nickel plated model. They are also available in a matte black finish and a case-hardened color. As I lifted the handsome little shotgun from the box, I was impressed with the finish and quality look of the gun. Beautiful wood with a fine finish all around, and the nickel-plated metal had a bead-blasted look to it.
While it is sorta shiny, it also doesn’t have a hard flashy reflection like a blued shotgun would. Like anyone who ever watched a Western, I jacked open the action to see inside. The lever of the rifle was covered with a handsome little leather-stitched wrap. This was a welcome discovery as it added comfort to the back of your loading hand.
The LR94 features a two-and-a-half-inch only chamber, which makes ammo selection a little easier. The gun comes with a tubular magazine plug installed. This limits the capacity to three rounds only.
This is typically done to accommodate many hunting regulations that require no more than three-round capacity. The plug can be removed to increase capacity to five rounds.
Like most lever-guns the LR94 uses a “squeeze-type” grip safety to allow the trigger to be pulled, which drops the hammer and ignites the chambered round.
In addition to that, the gun has a safety built into the top of the bolt. The safety is twisted clockwise or counter to engage or disengage the safety. The magazine is loaded through a side-gate like most other lever guns.
The muzzle of the rifle uses a Benelli Mobil style choke system and only came with one installed in the rifle. Also, at the muzzle is a clean front sight with a brass bead, easily indexed with the rear adjustable sight. It can be adjusted for both elevation and windage.
After my initial inspection, I was beginning to wonder if this shotgun was indeed going to be as inexpensive as Tristar’s “value experts” motto would suggest. It certainly didn’t appear to be a cheaply built or finished firearm.
|Caliber||.410 2.5 inch shells only|
|Capacity||5 (without plug)|
|Barrel Length||22 inches|
|Barrel twist||Ha! (Gotcha its a shotgun)|
|Length of pull||14.25 inches|
|Choke style||Beretta®/Benelli® Mobil Style Choke (M)|
PROS & CONS
- Very Handsome
- Quality finish and fit
- Interchangeable choke system
- Adjustable sights
- Top safety
- Only 2.5 inch chamber (because I had a bunch of 3”)
- Top safety (call me old fashion, I’d prefer half-cock)
ON THE RANGE TESTING
After toying with the shotgun for a while at home, I decided to get it up into the mountains where it would get used. With a few boxes of ammo, I headed up to see what kind of shotgun quarry I could muster up in these barren spring mountains. I was hoping a squirrel or something might cross my path, but it wasn’t meant to be.
But I was prepared to give the gun a workout either way, as I’d brought a case of clays with me.
And without wasting any time, we went straight to it. Throwing clays and smashing them immediately with the little .410. Despite its much smaller load of shot, I managed to hit most of the targets I shot at.
This was a bit of a surprise, not because I typically miss, but because I was completely new to using a shotgun with both a rear and front sight. It actually came to me pretty easily, and in no time we were dropping dust from the sky.
I may be a bit of a trigger snob, but when it comes to shotguns I am nowhere near as sensitive. I actually had to change to stationary targets to even be able to focus on the trigger pull enough to evaluate it seriously. This also allowed me the opportunity to see how the gun would serve shooting at stationary targets.
During the entire duration of my testing, the gun functioned flawlessly.
This may be one of the strong points of manually operated firearms. They typically work unless something is broken. Making it more of it an “it works or it doesn’t” evaluation. Unlike semi-autos and others that may, at some point, need tuning or other effort to ensure reliability.
The loading of the magazine is simple and doesn’t bite your finger like some others. The positive handling of the shells as they move from the magazine into the chamber is evident, and after firing, they are cleanly thrown aside.
This shotgun will be absolutely familiar and easy to operate for someone familiar with lever-guns and their operation.
Accuracy with shotguns is obviously a varying thing, depending on ammunition, chokes, and other things.
I will say this; I was surprised at how easy I found it to hit what I was aiming at. This may just be my misunderstanding of the smaller shot load of the .410, but I felt just as confident shooting it as my old 870.
The quality feel of the LR94 was very tangible; it was just plain handsome. The nickel finish and laser work were immaculate, as were the checkering and finish of the walnut. The leather-wrapped lever was a nice little touch as well, and the adjustable sights seemed a feature fitting a fine firearm.
The LR94 isn’t very heavy in my opinion, and its twenty-two inch barrel makes it easy to point quickly. And with its traditional “rifle” iron sights, it seems easier to aim accurately at stationary targets.
It was an easy gun to pack around and quickly point at things. I imagined myself chasing Chukars through these same canyons but in the fall. The LR94 would be perfect for such an adventure.
The lever action of the LR94 was flawless and familiar, like an old Winchester or Marlin you grew up with. No doubt, it will loosen up a bit with use, making it even easier to shoot.
I don’t use safeties that often, and if I do, I much prefer the traditional half-cock. I know it’s an unfortunate byproduct of our litigious society, but I don’t care for the look of the safety on top.
Obviously this is just my take; you may love it.
I wish I had a few different choke options for the LR94, but I didn’t have any trouble hitting what I aimed at, so maybe that wish was superfluous. The fact that it has a choke system, and you can adjust it to fit your purpose, is a fantastic trait. And being a very common and popular system used by both Benelli and Beretta makes it even better.
The sights of the LR94 are adjustable for windage and elevation. This is very handy if you’d like to adjust them for your use. Most shotguns don’t have or really need adjustable sights, but having them certainly has its upside.
This would be valuable if you plan on using the gun for turkey hunting or something similar.
HOW WE TESTED
The LR94, in my estimation, is a hunting shotgun. There are much better options for shooting clays and such, so I approached this from that perspective.
My father learned how to wing-shoot with a single-shot .410, which is probably why he got so good at it. With a smaller cup of shot, you have fewer chances to hit your target. Or you could look at it as you may hit it just as likely as with a 12 gauge, but fewer times, causing less damage.
.410 shotguns are ideal for shooting small game birds or other small animals for that very reason. Shooting a Quail or dove with bigger gauge shotguns runs the risk of significantly damaging your dinner. A .410 or 28 gauge is ideal for taking these smaller game animals without destroying them.
That is where I think this shotgun shines, in the pursuit of small game animals. With this in mind, I took the gun into the hills where Chukars call, and the squirrels watch closely for the movement of predators. The lightweight LR94 was easily carried around in the hills, and quite pleasant with its smaller size than shotguns that I would typically carry.
While it would work great as a squirrel or rabbit gun, shotguns are made for wing-shooting. With that at the forefront, I decided to shoot a few airborne clays to see how the Tristar performed pointed skyward.
I was quite surprised at how easily it came to me. I had perceived previously that the smaller .410 would prove more challenging to make hits. And yet I found myself dusting one target after another.
My wife and I would spend the better part of an afternoon hand-throwing clays for each other and enjoying every minute of it. We both found great success downing targets lining up the sights of the little Tristar.
The majority of our shooting was done using Federal Game Shock 2.5-inch shells loaded with 7.5 shot. These loads seemed like a perfect fit for the little LR94.
We experienced no malfunctions during the testing of the LR94. It cycled ammunition flawlessly and never failed to produce its pleasant little shove.
If lever-guns are your thing, then you will find this one to be very comfortable. The checkered grip areas feel great in the hand, and the leather-wrapped lever makes it a touch softer on the hands.
Other than changing out the chokes and adjusting the sights to your liking, I am unaware of any other customization for this shotgun. It does come with a front sling stud, so adding a sling is perhaps another option you may enjoy.
I think the nickel/walnut look of this shotgun is quite handsome and a breath of fresh air compared to the constant blued/walnut look of 95% of lever guns.
With an MSRP of $1070.00, the LR94 doesn’t exactly come cheap. Though street prices typically hover around $700.00.
As you’ll see from the alternatives listed below, you can have a lever-action .410 for a little less or significantly more. Levered shotguns aren’t my thing, so I’d have to need one really bad to pay that price. That said, I believe the gun’s quality justifies that price.
After my time with the Tristar LR94, I wouldn’t exactly say I have been converted to the church of the lever-action shotgun. But I am certainly more open to their teachings.
Being my first run-in with Tristar I am also very open to seeing what they come up with next. If the LR94 is a great representative of what they sell, they deserve my attention.
If you find yourself looking for something perhaps a little unique then this shotgun might be right up your alley. I think it would serve as an excellent shotgun for a small game hunting gun, or as simply a conversation piece around a campfire.
The Tristar LR94 brings value and flawless function with nickel plated class in my opinion, and I’d be happy to take it into the woods this fall.