Editor's Note: This review of the new POF Tombstone lever action rifle was originally published by our sister publication RECOIL. For more in-depth gun reviews and news, go to RECOILweb.com.
Ever since Frank DeSomma founded POF-USA over 20 years ago, the company has marched to the beat of its own drummer. They started with the AR platform, becoming well-known for their line of piston-driven guns amongst a sea of direct-impingement guns. Moreover, not only did POF incorporate a gas piston design, they developed additional unique features to enhance function and reliability, such as their dual-extraction fluted chamber, oversized heat sink barrel nut, and roller cam pin in the bolt carrier. For its next magic trick, POF squeezed a .308 into a .223-sized package with its short-stroke gas-piston Revolution rifle — many of its parts are interchangeable with an AR-15, and the barrel extension, bolt assembly, upper, and lower receiver are exactly the same size.
Since then, they’ve released various iterations and refinements on their AR-platform guns, in both gas-piston and direct-impingement flavors. And in 2022, the company introduced the Phoenix 9mm subgun. The next gun in POF’s pipeline is a bit of a departure from the others. You probably wouldn’t be surprised that they’ve been developing a manually operated firearm. And you might expect that they’d build a bolt gun next, as have many other manufacturers. Not POF.
Above: POF’s new Tombstone lever action PCC is ready for the O.K. Corral, with 20 rounds of 9mm on tap and modern construction and tactical amenities.
Jeremy Selting, their vice president of sales and marketing, told us that POF “decided to take a step back and say, ‘What hasn’t been done before, and how can POF-USA do it first?’ While lever guns have been around for over 100 years, we spun it around and used AR technology with some of the receiver components, added a modular rail, and best of all, had a detachable 20-round magazine in one of the most accessible ammunition types available in 9mm.”
Additionally, a lever gun is legal in ban states and international markets that restrict semi-auto weapons.
Lever-action operating systems feature a cocking handle with a pivot in front of the trigger; the handle typically incorporates a trigger guard and a loop for the shooter’s hand. When you rotate the lever forward, links in the action retract the bolt and extract the spent case. At full extension, the hammer will be cocked, and as you pull the lever back home, a fresh round is fed and pushed into the chamber.
While early examples of guns with lever-operated actions appeared in the late 17th century and early 18th century, it was the 1860 Henry rifle that first saw widespread use and may pop into most people’s minds.
Meanwhile, the Spencer rifle was the first repeating long gun adopted by the military, and both lever-action rifles made their presence known on Civil War battlefields. The effectiveness of their magazine capacity and rate of fire led to the widely known phrase, “It’s a rifle that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long.”
Above: The side plates come off for maintenance, providing a nice view of the lever-action mechanism. The lever engages a toggle link and other connecting links to move the bolt and firing pin back and forth.
The next significant lever-action evolution was the Winchester 1873, based on the Henry rifle and improved with a steel receiver, wood forearm, and tubular magazine with, importantly, a loading gate. Indeed, the Winchester is the most iconic lever action rifle, the “gun that won the West” featured in countless Westerns.
You could say the lever gun was the modern sporting rifle of its age.
In fact, there’s been a resurgence in popularity of lever guns in recent years, with more modern materials and tactical features being added, as well as hard-hitting big-bore models (see RECOIL Issue 39) getting a boost from a dinosaur-hunting appearance in Jurassic World. Still, they’re largely traditional in design, not that different from their progenitors.
POF’s new Tombstone is a lever-action rifle with a 16-inch barrel chambered in 9x19mm. Unlike all the tube-fed guns on the market, it feeds from a detachable box magazine, the 20-rounder that POF developed for its Phoenix subgun. It’s a proprietary polymer design that looks like a curved MP5 mag; it’s a double column but tapers down to a single feed point like a pistol, which POF says works better for a manual action.
Working from tip to tail, the 4150 steel, 1:10 twist, fluted barrel is topped off with a muzzle brake secured with a lock nut. On the other end of the barrel, it’s fastened with a barrel nut.
The AR-ish handguard includes the cantilevered top rail, which attaches to the top of the receiver, as well as M-LOK slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock on the forend. At the muzzle end, there’s a short piece of Pic rail on the top and the bottom, like an underbite. The top piece includes an integral blade front sight with a white stripe.
At the aft end, above the receiver, is an XS ghost ring rear sight, adjustable for elevation and windage via set screws on either side.
Above: The Tombstone handles nicely and points very naturally.
Made of 7075-T6 aluminum, the receiver has a slightly flared magwell; combined with the tapered single-feed magazines, this makes it easy to insert fresh mags. However, the magwell is farther forward from fire control than shooters may be accustomed to with other platforms, so it takes some reps to get used to it.
There are mag releases on both sides, just like POF’s ambidextrous AR receivers — button on the right and lever on the left. If you have fingers like E.T., you might be able to reach them on your strong side. Otherwise, we found it most effective to perform mag changes like with many other subguns — grab a fresh mag with your support hand, push the mag release on the off-side with your thumb to eject the old one, then insert the new mag.
The angular-shaped lever shrouds the trigger; shooters with huge gloved meat hooks might feel a bit claustrophobic in the trigger guard. The cross-bolt safety is reversible, and the hammer has a half-cock position.
Above: The crossbolt safety is reversible. Note the AR-derived ambidextrous magazine release lever.
POF mates the Tombstone with Magpul’s excellent SGA 870 shotgun stock, contouring the lever to fit perfectly. As a result, you can tap into Magpul’s various colors and accessories, such as cheek risers, QD sockets, and spacers, as desired.
Field-stripping the gun for cleaning and maintenance involves a Torx driver, small parts, and some finesse, so we’d classify it more as a bench-stripping procedure that you’d rather not do in the field. After clearing the gun and ensuring it’s safe and unloaded, remove the side plates — reminiscent of those sweet old Winchesters.
Keep the rifle oriented vertically as if you were on target, or else small parts may fall out of the gun, and possibly to be lost forever in your cluttered garage.
We used Midwest Industries’ PCC vise block; while it’s designed for Glock-compatible lowers, the large-frame side worked fine to hold the Tombstone. A single Torx screw secures the side plates; once you remove them, take a close look at the connecting links, toggle link, and pins. Be sure to take a picture if you need a reference when reassembling the gun.
Remove the links and pins, as well as the pin connecting the links to the bolt. Lower the lever, push in the firing pin, and remove the firing pin retaining pin. Now you can pull the firing pin out of the rear of the receiver; push down on the hammer to clear it. Slide the bolt out to the rear and angle it downward to remove it from the receiver. Reassembly is the reverse of the above.
The Tombstone is very nimble, at just 5.5 pounds, and with the traditional buttstock, it points very naturally, as any skeet or trap shooters out there will understand. It mounts quickly, right on target, and snaps effortlessly from target to target.
So while the integral XS ghost ring sights are nice, this is 2023, and the Tombstone begs for an optic. A reflex sight would be a perfect match for the spritely rifle, so we mounted Atibal’s CRD red dot sight — not only does it have a roomy window, its angular housing matched the Tombstone’s aesthetics. Call us slaves to fashion. The dot is bright, has 40,000 hours of battery life, and it came with a Pic rail adapter for its RMR footprint.
Above: The Atibal CRD red-dot sight has a roomy window, bright center dot, and 40,000 hours of battery life.
Additionally, any serious rifle should have a weapon-mounted light. In keeping with the slim, lightweight theme, we fitted it with SureFire’s Micro Scout Light Pro. Powered by a single AAA battery, it’s tiny, but still puts out 300 lumens (1,045 candela). Plus, its slick, pivoting, integrated low-profile mount sucks it right up against the handguard. Another great match for the Tombstone.
Above: SureFire’s diminutive, AAA-powered Micro Scout Light Pro is a perfect match for the nimble Tombstone, offering 300 lumens and a sleek, low profile mount.
There’s not a lot more fixed Pic rail real estate for other accessories, but there are plenty of M-LOK slots for more goodies. The muzzle is threaded ½-28; we had planned to attach JK Armament’s new micro-sized CCX suppressor. It would’ve been another perfect match for the Tombstone, but alas, we missed our tight publication window.
At the bench, we put the rifle on bags to chronograph and group some loads. Sellier & Bellot 115-grain FMJ clocked at an average of 1,361 fps but delivered the largest groups at over 4 MOA. Ranger SXT 147-grain HP and Winchester white box 115-grain FMJ turned in groups of 2 to 2.5 MOA and muzzle velocities of 1,096 and 1,409 fps, respectively.
Norma’s 124-grain FMJ and 108-grain MHP dialed it up a notch, with best groups of 2.1 and 1.6 MOA, at 1,237 and 1,480 fps, respectively. Finally, lowly aluminum-cased CCI Blazer 115-grain FMJ drilled out an impressive 1 MOA group, with average velocities of 1,336 fps.
The trigger breaks cleanly at 3 pounds, though it has quite a bit of overtravel. However, it’s not a big deal as this is a lever-action rifle; it’s not like you’ll be working the reset.
The Tombstone handles exceedingly well; it presents on target quickly and is maneuverable in tight spaces like hallways.
The lever is smooth, and there’s even a magnet on the bottom of the receiver to ensure it pulls up and stays tight when you bring it home. It’s a blast to work the lever furiously, like an Earp, ringing steel all around you.
Speaking of working the lever, be sure to rack it with authority. As a manually operated weapon, this ensures reliable extraction and ejection. At our first range session, we experienced several nose-up and nose-down feeding issues — these turned out to be due to a bad magazine. But with new mags in hand, we discovered one other thing to be aware of. With certain ammo, the last round in the mag would sometimes bind in the chamber if you didn’t close the action quickly.
Above: The Tombstone uses the same proprietary polymer 20-round magazines as POF’s Phoenix subgun. They feature a single-feed design, typically seen in pistol mags.
It varied by ammo type; for example, on one hand, you could work the action gingerly like a frightened newspaper journalist, and S&B would feed all day long. On the other hand, the last round of Norma MHP had to be slammed home to ensure it fed.
The rest of the magazine would feed fine for us, so if that last round does bind, take it as a signal to reload (there’s no last-round-bolt-hold-open on lever guns). In any case, best practice is to always work the lever as quickly and efficiently as you can, and to be sure to test your desired loads, paying attention to the last round in the magazine, for any mission critical duties like home defense.
The Tombstone isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. The price alone takes it out of mass-market consideration. Fundamentally, some may scoff at the concept of a lever-action gun in 9mm; if we had to choose, we’d take a semi-auto over a lever-action too. In fact, POF would happily supply you with one of their Phoenix semi-auto 9mm guns to fill that role.
But if you’re behind enemy lines in a ban-state or otherwise need a manually operated PCC — or if you simply want a unique, nimble, and accurate carbine that you can rack and clack to your heart’s content while consuming your stash of 9mm — POF’s Tombstone is a funky, modern interpretation of the gun that won the west.
POF-USA Tombstone Specs