Make Mine A Magnificent Marlin
By John Taffin
The debate raged for more than 125 years with first one side and then the other gaining the winning hand. Now, for all practical purposes, it is over and we have a clear winner. The closing of the Winchester plant and the end of the 100 plus years running of the classic Model 1894 leaves Marlin alone as the only long-time manufacturer of American-made leverguns. The purchase of my first firearm, a Model 39 Mountie .22 in 1956, put me solidly into the debate on the Marlin side. One year later I added two more Model 1894 Marlins chambered in .25-20 and .38-40 and then shortly thereafter a Model 336 in .30-30. It would be several years before I purchased my first Winchester, which was a brand-new pre-64 Model 94 in what else but .30-30.
Foolishly I allowed all but the Model 39 to exit in trades and sales and it would be the mid-1960s before I picked up another levergun. By then I was heavily into the .44 Magnum and decided to add a companion levergun to my Ruger .44 Blackhawk. I ordered a Winchester Model 94 so chambered, however I was so disappointed in its finish and wood I instead took a Marlin 336, which the gun shop already had in stock. I still have that Marlin and it is in the never to be traded or sold category. Over the years some have complained of the Model 336 not feeding the .44 Magnum reliably nor shooting cast bullets accurately. I have never experienced either problem with my loads or factory loads.
Only One Levergun?
I like Marlins and I like Winchesters and definitely enjoy shooting both. However, if I had to choose one rifle from the hundreds upon hundreds offered, not just in leverguns, but rather in all styles, actions, and chamberings, the choice among centerfires would be quite easy. I don't include .22s as they are not a choice but rather a necessity; I don't know how anyone can keep house without a great .22 and someday soon I hope to add one of the slick little Winchester 9422s to my shooting collection. Of all the rifles offered if I had to narrow it down to just one, my choice would be the Marlin 1894C .357 Magnum. There is not much as far as shooting and hunting we cannot do with a .357 Magnum levergun. No it is not for elephants, Cape buffalo, or Alaskan brown bear, however it has been years since any of these have been sighted in Idaho. For the rest of my life a .357 Magnum Marlin would do the just fine. More later on this do it all levergun.
The Marlin .22 Model 39
This is the gun dreams are made of, at least my dreams. It seems just a short wisp of time ago I bought my first firearm and I still remember Saturdays with my friends smelling .22 powder smoke and then getting high on the smell of Hoppe’s #9 as I religiously cleaned the .22 after every shooting session. Its takedown feature made cleaning so easy. Over the years I have learned guns don't have to be cleaned after every session, however I still get high on the smell of Hoppe’s #9. Over the past 50 years this little .22 has accounted for an uncountable number of tin cans, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits.
I learned to shoot with it as did my kids and grandkids in succession. A few years ago I found another one at a most reasonable price and at the same time picked up one of the newer Marlin 39s. That's three .22s for three grandsons and grandson #1 has already been given his and he used it to keep the varmints of the family property in Montana. His dad had used the original to shoot ground squirrels off the local golf course every morning before they opened. Those days are long gone! Marlin has been making lever action .22s since 1891; they know how to do it right.
The Classic Marlin
As the Model 336 the Marlin levergun has been offered since 1948. It was about 1950 I discovered firearms and began dreaming over all the beautiful rifles pictured in The Shooters Bible. I purchased my first Model 336 in the late 1950s, and alas it is long gone. The Model 336 has been offered in several versions, however I was especially enamored by two of them, the 336T Texan and the Marlin Marauder. The two standard chamberings have been first the .30-30 and then the .35 Remington; over the years it has also been chambered in the above-mentioned .44 Magnum as well as the .219 Zipper, .32 Winchester Special, .356 Winchester, .375 Winchester, .38-55, and although it was announced, the .307 Winchester probably never made it to production. The Model 444 is basically the Model 336 chambered in .444 Marlin.
The Model 336 .30-30 and .35 Remington
The basic Model 336 beginning as the Model 1893 is one year older than the Winchester Model 1894 and still going strong. It has been offered with long barrels, short barrels, round barrels, octagon barrels, full magazine tubes, two-third magazine tubes, straight stocks, and pistol grip stocks. It is solidly American manufactured of blued steel and walnut; at least until recently. The latest version, made specifically to use Hornady’s new polymer tipped LEVERevolution load is stainless-steel with a laminated stock. Marlin also offers similarly styled rifles in .45-70, .450 Marlin, and .444 Marlin to match up with Hornady's LEVERevolution cartridges, and they also offers three stainless versions of their standard rifles with walnut stocks and chambered in .30-30, .44 Mangum, and .45-70. Marlin has also pretty much now made the across the board switch from Micro-Groove to Ballard cut rifling on all of their centerfire leverguns making them much easier to find accurate loads with cast bullets while still shooting jacketed bullets just fine.
The Model 336XLR .30-30 features a 24” barrel and a 2/3 magazine holding five rounds. Hornady’s 160 grain .30-30 LEVERevolution round clocks out at 2,298 fps and this levergun/ammunition combination has proven to be exceptionally accurate. Firing my normal four rounds and measuring the best three gives groups of anywhere from 1/2” to 1” at 100 yards.
For too many years I not only searched for a straight grip Marlin .35 Remington I even had friends in five other states looking for me. They surfaced with pistol grips, however nary a straight stock was to be found. In my frequent trips to the mountains I often passed a small gun shop which always seemed to be closed. Then one Labor Day weekend I caught them open and spotted a straight grip Marlin on the back shell. I asked the clerk about it and he quickly said, “Oh you don't want that one; it's not a .30-30, its only a .35 Remington.” My heart almost stopped! Finally, here was my .35 and not only was it on sale, it was an additional 20% off for the holiday weekend. I don't know which was more amazing, finally finding it or a clerk in an elk country gun shop thinking the .35 Remington was next to worthless. If there is a better levergun/cartridge combination for use in close to moderate ranges on anything in the lower 48 than a Marlin chambered in .35 Remington I certainly don't know what it is. Perhaps the .356 or .375 Winchester, but only perhaps.
The Marlin .35 Remington does shoot very well with a receiver sight in place. My cast bullet load of RCBS’ #35-200FNGC over 39.0 grains of BLC-2 is right at 2,000 fps with a three shot group at 50 yards of 1 ¼”; Winchester’s 200 PPSP factory load does 1,900 fps and 1¼”, while Federal’s 200 Hi-Shok is just under 2,000 fps and groups into the same 1 ¼”. Both Hornady’s 200 grain RN over 33.0 grains of. AA#2015 and Sierra’s 200 grain RN over 29.0 grains of Reloder 7 clock out at 1,830 fps and shoot nice little one-inch groups.
The Model 336 .44 Magnum
As mentioned I bought the Marlin's 336 sixgunner's companion in .44 Magnum 40 years ago. With its 20" barrel, full magazine tube, and straight gripped stock it was the near perfect woods carbine. It was used for many years and as a companion to a Ruger .44 Flat-Top and has logged many a mile in Idaho’s forests. Years ago I finished the stock with about 15 coats of Tru-Oil and it is still in great shape. However, a real joy found in firearms is taking any one of many 'near-perfect' sixguns or leverguns and making them even more near perfect. To accomplish this with the Marlin 336 .44 Magnum, I had the barrel cut to 18 1/2"; the result is an even easier and faster handling big bore carbine. In 1969, the Marlin 1894 was resurrected and chambered in .44 Magnum replaced the Model 336. In recent years it has been offered as the 1894 Cowboy, a 24" octagon barreled levergun and also in two other grand big bore chamberings, .45 Colt and .44-40.
The Model 1894C .357 Magnum
This is it; my #1 choice for the handiest levergun ever produced. It has been in production since 1969 when I purchased my first one. The .357 Magnum in a lever gun is a totally different performing cartridge than in a sixgun. Performance is more like a .30-30 or even a .35 Remington. Some may choose a semi-automatic as a "survival gun"; I’ll take the .357 Marlin. Compared to any of the bigger bores the .357 Magnum is much easier to shoot with very little felt recoil, in fact it delivers maximum punch for minimum punishment, and 100 rounds of .357 Magnum in a backpack weigh a whole lot less than any of the bigger bores.
Two of these handy little carbines are kept on hand; one with a receiver sight and the other scoped. If I follow my normal mode of operation I need to add another one so each of three grandsons will inherit one and hopefully pass it on to their grandsons someday perhaps with a copy of this article so they can know about their great-great-grandfather. When my son recently spotted a .357 Magnum Marlin at his local gun shop, he grabbed it quickly; he learned well. Marlin not only builds leverguns, they also build family traditions. A couple of years back Marlin introduced a .38 Special version of this levergun complete with case hardened receiver. The original works with both Specials and Magnums, while this one is not quite so versatile. However, properly loaded the .38 Special still serves as a fun shooting varmint gun and nearly silent shooting loads can be tailor made for it.
The Model 336 .38-55
Marlin has offered two 336 “Cowboy” leverguns, .38-55 and .30-30 both with 24" full octagon barrels, straight-gripped stocks with checkering on both forearm and butt stock, typical Marlin quality in both excellent wood and blue finish, and standard Marlin sights consisting of the adjustable rear on an elevator and a bead front. Both Model 336 Cowboys, as all of the other 1894 Cowboy Models chambered for sixgun cartridges, carry a full magazine tube under their octagon barrels. Magazine capacity in the full length tubes found on this 336 Cowboy is eight rounds.
With its long heavy octagon barrel the 336 Cowboy, be it in .30-30 or .38-55 chambering "hangs easily" on target from the shoulder in a standing position. Short barrels make dandy brush guns but long barrels are easier to shoot well, at least for most of us. The groove diameter on .38-55 rifles has varied over the years and in different makes and models. A call to Marlin confirmed that their .38-55 barrels are cut at .378". With this in mind I tried cast bullets sized to both .377" and .379" experiencing no practical discernable difference in accuracy. They both shoot exceptionally well. Winchester's factory offering, a 250 grain jacketed flat nose at a very mild black powder type velocity of 1200 fps is a tack driver with groups of 5/8" at 50 yards. I have settled on a loading for my general use of RCBS's 250 grain flat nosed gas check design, #37-250FN, sized to either .377" or .379" and loaded over 33.0 grains of H4895. Muzzle velocity is 1700+ fps and both shoot into 1/2" or less at 50 yards. I can't ask for anything more than that! Buffalo Bore offers some excellent choices in the .38-55. The 270 LBTclocks out at 1,907 fps and places three shots at 50 yards in 7/8" while their 255 JFN does 2,039 fps with an accompanying 1/2" group.
The .30-30 Marlin Cowboy is also exceptionally accurate. I feel the heavy stiff octagon barrel has a lot to do with this. After more than 100 years the .30-30 remains a grand choice for deer, black bear, and in the hands of one who gets close, takes his time, and places his shot carefully, even elk and moose. In the 24” .30-30 Cowboy Hornady’s 150 RN clocks out at 2,350 fps with three shots at 50 yards in 5/8"; Hornady’s 170 FP, 2,220 fps and 3/4"; Remington’s 170 Core-Lokt, 2,199 fps and 3/8"; and Speer’s Nitrex 150 FP goes 2,310 fps and groups in 3/4".
The Model 1894 .45 Colt, .44-40, .41 Magnum
At the SHOT Show 10 years ago it was my privilege, along with Bob Baer and Brian Pearce, to meet with three of the top brass from the Marlin Firearms Company. Baer had set up the meeting through Marlin's Tony Aeschliman, so the three of us, all levergun fans in general and fond of Marlins in particular, could express our ideas as to what Marlin should be offering. We met for over an hour and they listened to everything we had to offer as well as questioning us about other possibilities. I am not going to say that we three were responsible for the great leverguns coming forth from Marlin; in all probability they were already on the same wave length as we were. Whatever the situation, we have since seen the results of exactly what we talked about. Namely, octagon barrels, straight grip stocks, long barrels, short barrels, and old time chamberings.
One of the leverguns since offered is the model 1894 with a 24” octagon barrel chambered in both .45 Colt and .44-40. One of the first things I did with both these was to carefully measure to see how long they needed to be to hold 10 rounds; that measurement came out at 20” and 19 1/2” respectively and both were cut back and fitted with tang sights. I didn't have the .44-40 very long when it was confiscated by Diamond Dot; so a second .44-40 Model 94 as been procured, however it still remains with the original 24” barrel. A couple months ago I was helping my friend Butch Glenn in a search for a .44 Magnum Model 94. We stopped at Boise Gun Company and I found one with exceptionally nice wood on the floor rack. I handed it to Butch to look it over and he told me it was not a .44 but rather a .41 Magnum. These are very hard to find and I was at the counter writing the check before the words totally left his mouth. I have not yet had a lot of time to shoot this new .41, however I expect it will be an excellent companion for an Old Model Ruger .41 Magnum and even a Bowen Custom .41 Special Flat-Top.
Both the .44-40 and .45 Colt Model 94s will serve quite well as close range deer, black bear, and feral hog leverguns and with the proper care for even larger critters. For several generations the .44-40 lever gun was the constant companion of those who roamed off the beaten track. Loaded with Hornady’s 200 grain XTP-JHP over 20.0 grains of H4227 gives a muzzle velocity of 1,374 fps with three shots in 1 1/4" at 50 yards. My cast bullet load consisting of Lyman’s #427098 over 10.0 grains of Unique gives 1,421 fps and a 1 1/8" group; Oregon Trail’s 225 RNFP with the same charge is virtually identical with a muzzle velocity of 1,399 fps and a group of 1 1/4”. We all know the .45 Colt was not an original chambering in leverguns in the 19th-century but is rather a recent phenomenon. In leverguns the .44-40 will normally outshoot the .45 Colt and the Marlin 1894s are no exception. In the .45 Colt Hornady’s 250 XTP-JHP over 20.0 grains of #2400 does 1,580 fps with three shots in 2 1/4". I shoot a lot of Oregon Trail's cast bullets in .45 Colt and their 250 grain RNFP over 10.0 grains of Unique does 1,290 fps with 2 1/2" groups while the same bullet using 18.5 grains of #2400 clocks down at 1,357 fps with a 2" group. Any of these loads in either caliber will certainly suffice for hunting deer size game.
The Marlin Trappers
In the late 1990s Marlin offered two special runs of Trapper-style carbines in .45 Colt and .44 Magnum with a total of 2600 being manufactured. I was fortunate to find both of them side-by-side on the consignment rack at one of our local gunstores inside Gordon’s Grocery Store. These Marlin Limited Editions feature a 16 1/2" barrel, full magazine tube that holds seven or eight rounds depending upon the nose length of the bullet, a recoil pad on its straight gripped stock, checkering on forearm and buttstock and excellent sights, and as with most Marlin leverguns these two are drilled and tapped for scope mounts and they can easily be drilled and tapped to accept Williams or Lyman receiver sights. Identical externally except for chambering, these Model 1894 Trapper carbines also carry different barrels with the .45 Colt having a cut rifle barrel while the .44 Magnum was manufactured with the old style Micro Groove rifling. This is reflected in the testing as the .44 Magnum did its best work with jacketed bullets, while the most accurate loads with the .45 Colt were those assembled with RCBS's 300 grain hard cast bullet with a gas check and Hornady's 300 grain XTP jacketed bullet.
Shooting Jacketed bulleted loads in the .44 Magnum results in Federal's 240 grain JHP, Remington's 240 JHP, Cor-Bon's 260 Bonded Core, and Speer's 270 Gold Dot all coming in right at one inch for three shots. The two former loads, at 1,670 and 1,730 fps respectively are for broadside shots on deer-sized game. The latter two loads at 1,840 and 1,515 fps respectively are for situations demanding deeper penetration; Cor-Bon's 260 is one tough bullet designed for deep penetration on big tough game.
Switching to the .45 Colt Marlin Trapper saw identical results with both cast and jacketed bullets and with both heavy and standard weight bullets. Versatility such as this is rare to say the least. Using Lyman's Keith designed 260 grain hard cast #454424 bullet over 9.3 grains of Universal gives a most pleasant shooting 1,130 fps load that stays right at one-inch for three shots.I prefer heavyweight bullets for hunting with the .45 Colt and had excellent results with both Hornady's 300 grain XTP over 21.7 grains of WW296 and RCBS's hard cast #45-300 SWC-GC over 21.2 grains of H110. Both loads are in the 1375 to 1400 fps velocity range and will both shoot right at one-inch for three shots at 50 yards. I like the Trappers so well I have had two more made up, one in .30-30 and the other in .375 Winchester; the bases are all covered once again.
The Model 1895 .45-70
Earlier we mentioned the Model 1881 Marlin is being the first levergun chambered in .45-70. In 1895, Marlin under the guidance of L.L. Hepburn, enlarged the Model 1893 to become the Model 1895; it would be produced in several calibers, including .45-70, with production lasting until 1917. In 1972, Marlin brought out a modernized version also known as the Model 1895; the latter is a much stronger levergun. The new 1895 is a superb levergun, however it is also one that can be easily improved. A few years back I had Jim West of Wild West Guns build me a take-down .45-70 Co-Pilot with a 16 1/2" barrel on a Marlin 1895. It is a very popular option in Alaska and Jeff Cooper took his to Africa and was quite taken with its capabilities over there on dangerous game.
What can a gunsmith possibly do to improve what is already near perfection? Custom gunsmiths such as Keith DeHart specialize in making a Marlin levergun even more efficient and even closer to perfection. Years ago I found two pre-safety Marlin 1895s and turned them both over to Keith. One of these, with a pistol grip stock was turned into a short easy to handle 18 1/2" .45-70 carbine with slimmed down butt stock and forearm; and the other, with the straight butt stock became a long-range 26" octagon barreled rifle. They may both be built on Marlin Model 1895 leverguns but they serve two entirely different purposes. The former makes a fast handling, excellent close range hunting levergun, while the other gives a lot of pleasure for shooting both black powder and smokeless powder loads to extreme ranges.
Garrett Cartridges provides serious .45-70 loads for leverguns. Garrett’s 350 JSP and a 420 Hard Cast HammerHead clock out at 2,300 fps and 2,100 fps respectively; while the really heavy duty HammerHead, which could easily be called a SledgeHammerHead, is a 540 grain Hard Cast load which clocks out over the PACT chronographs at 1,600 fps all from a 22” barrel.
Marlin has not only done its part to keep the .45-70 alive in a levergun beginning with the return of the Model 1895, they have also offered several Limited Editions such as those with full octagon and half round/half octagon barreled models, and then Marlin really struck pay dirt with the Guide Gun in 1998. The Guide Gun was immediately popular as it is one of the handiest .45-70s ever offered. With an 18 1/2" ported barrel, Ballard-type rifling, straight grip stock, and weight of less than seven pounds, the 1895SS became the 1895G.
The Model 444
The .45-70 Guide Gun was so readily and eagerly accepted Marlin followed up in 1999 with the Model 444P, which is nothing more than the Guide Gun in .444 Marlin and dubbed the Outfitter. The Outfitter makes much more sense to me than the original Model 444S with its 24” barrel. Just as with the .45-70 Model 1895, I sent a pre-Outfitter Marlin .444 off to Keith DeHart to be made into an easier handling levergun. The wood was slimmed down, barrel cut back to 18 1/2”, and a full magazine tube fitted. Now I really had something! It's not quite a .45-70, however it is much more powerful than a .44 Magnum when loaded with hard cast bullets at 2,000 fps. Even though it has micro-groove rifling it still shoots cast bullets exceptionally well if they are driven fast enough.
Both Buffalo Bore and Cor-Bon offer Heavy Duty loads for the .444 Marlin. In the 18 1/2” barreled M444 fitted with a receiver sight Buffalo Bore’s 270 JFN does 2,210 fps with three shots in 1 1/2" at 50 yards; their 300 JFN gives 2,095 fps and 1 1/4", while their hard cast 325 LFN clocks out at 2,009 fps and a 1 3/4" group. Switching to Cor-Bon we find the 280 BC at 2,248 fps and 1 3/4", while the 305 JFP does 2,070 fps and 1 5/8". I normally don't like to make choices so I have all three of Marlin's big bore leverguns chambered in .44 Magnum, .45-70, and .444 Marlin converted to slick-handling, woods-roaming, fast into action rifles. They fit right in between the standard offerings and the Trapper versions.
The .450 Marlin
With this newest Marlin chambering, Marlin has simply taken the .45-70 cartridge and brought it into the twenty-first century with a face lift. The new cartridge, while not bearing a Magnum label still gives Magnum-style performance from its belted case which precludes it being inserted in any .45-70 chamber. The rifle itself is known as the Model 1895M. It is so close to the 1895G in the size of the hole in the barrel, weight, barrel length, stock configuration, and barrel twist, that one has to look very good closely to find any difference other than the marking of the barrel.
The 1895M chambered in the .450 Marlin results in an excellent cartridge chambered in an equally excellent rifle. The .450 Marlin as first loaded by Hornady was rated at 2100 feet per second with a 350 grain jacketed bullet, and it has proven to be exceptionally accurate in this Marlin 1895M. At 50 yards three shots grouped in 3/4" while at 100 yards in a strong wind, the three-shot group measured 1 3/4". The .450 Marlin cartridge and the Marlin 1895M have the accuracy and power to take any thing that walks in North America and elsewhere.
The Marlin Exception
Marlin has a long tradition of building, well, traditional leverguns. They strayed from this path in 1954 with the introduction of the Levermatic, a short stroke, hammerless, lever action rifle with a one-piece stock. These were made in .22 Long Rifle as the Model 56, the .22 Magnum was numbered as Model 57, and the .256 Magnum and.30 Carbine version received the Model 62 name. None of these neat little leverguns made it into the 1970s.
have concentrated here on lever action rifles, however Marlin also has an
extensive line of bolt action and semi- automatic rimfire rifles. For the
latest information on what is available and specifications of each rifle, go to